Guilt, Checklists, & Freedom

CoffeeCupThere’s this undercurrent that reappears where I feel stifled in my spiritual life. It feels tight. I feel guilt for not reading my Bible enough, not praying enough, not talking to people enough, not being still enough. Not being enough in general. That does not come from the Lord.

God is not sitting in heaven wagging his finger at me, disappointed that I’m doing something wrong. I’m not even doing something wrong!  [An aside for all the people ready to say, “But we all sin! Every day!” Yes, we do. But I’m not talking about willful sins, sins of omission or commission, but the weight of extrabiblical laws and how they intersect and are raised to the level of biblical commands.] I’m still praying and reading my Bible and thinking on things, but not in the two-tone, one-dimensional, pink-hued way so often described. I still carry so much baggage from, perhaps well-meaning, Christians on what it looks like to be a good Christian, especially a good Christian woman (can I get an amen?).

“If you really love God, you’ll do this…If you really love God, your life will look like this…” You’d read your Bible everyday, first thing in the morning. You’d have a special prayer list for every day of the week. You’d have a list of gratitude. You’d regularly enter into praise and worship. You’d bring meals and help out every time you’re asked. You’d always be joyful with a smile on your face. You’d always be able to say how God is working in your life at any moment. You’d share the gospel with x number of people each week. You’d only watch movies with a PG or less rating. You’d only read Christian novels. You’d only listen to Christian music—and the gospel must be explicitly spelled out in each of these or you’re compromising your witness, polluting your soul.

It’s no wonder why Christianity isn’t appealing. We’ve made it tepid, boring–lifeless. We’ve sucked the life out of the freedom Christ bought for us with all the rules and opinions. And anyone who colors outside the lines runs the risk of being labeled as immature, testing the waters, a rebel–or worse, they’re laughed at and labeled a heretic.

So many rules and regulations, so many boxes to check. How can we keep up? How can we ever please God?

I’ve been reading Colossians for a women’s ministry workshop I’m going to and it’s felt so dry, so restricting, like a wool turtleneck that won’t quit itching. But when I realized I was carrying all this unnecessary guilt to the Word. Guilt over whether I was doing it “right”–the right way, the right attitude, the right answers, the right time of day, the right translation. I was carrying so much guilt and so many checklists to reading the Word in order to “be good enough,” pleasing to God.

But I already am.

As a redeemed child of God, I don’t have to be “good enough.” I don’t have to meet a checklist. I don’t have to, I shouldn’t, approach the Word or the throne of Grace with trepidation, fear of automatic disapproval. That’s not how God has called us as his children.

This isn’t new. It’s a cycle I regularly find myself in. I’m guessing I’m not alone.

“You were running well. Who prevented you from being persuaded regarding the truth? This persuasion does not come from the one who calls you.” Galatians 5:7-8

When I realize it’s not God who is holding a ruler to me and finding me lacking, but man made rules, regulations, and guidelines the Word unlocks, it frees. As it should, as it does. “Where the Spirit of the Lord is there is freedom” (2 Corinthians 3:17). That’s a litmus test unto itself, isn’t it?

Is what is being preached, be it book, article, sermon, song, opinion, blog post, testify to the freedom of Christ?

“For freedom, Christ set us free. Stand firm then and don’t submit again to a yoke of slavery.” Galatians 5:1

Or do the checklists, to dos, rules, and regulations led you into guilt, keeping you from coming to the table and fullness of life in Christ? Do they breed the life of Christ in you or is it a mask of holiness and humility under self-made religious mandates?

“If you died with Christ to the elements of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations: “Don’t handle, don’t taste, don’t touch”? All these regulations refer to what is destined to perish by being used up; they are human commands and doctrines. Although these have a reputation for wisdom by promoting self-made religion, false humility, and severe treatment of the body, they are not of any value in curbing self-indulgence.” Colossians 2:20-23

As believers, aware and in awe of God’s goodness, holiness, love, and mercy we will naturally be drawn to the Word, prayer, and service. It’s often in our desire to please God in innocence we go looking for how we may better please him. We add to what doesn’t need adding to, we accept as normal what is added on, we find guidance in guidelines and before we know it the Truth and man-made rules are so blurred we can’t see the border lines. We find our identity and position before God chained to what does not lead us into freedom.

“For you were called to be free, brothers and sisters; only don’t use this freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but serve one another through love. For the whole law is fulfilled in one statement: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:13-14

Freedom in Christ is much more than we think, more than we can ask or imagine.

But that is more words for another day.

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