It’s HARD Living by the List

The book of Romans . . . I printed it out so that I could highlight sections and color code words and draw arrows and fill the margins with question marks and write cross references and draw pictures of stick figures . . . When I was studying through it, then—asking the Lord to make the book fresh to me, to strip away preconceived notions of what everything “had to mean,” and show me what it really meant-—it was then that many important Christian Life truths throughout the book began to crystallize. And I began to understand that Paul was refuting the concept of Living by the List. And he was describing three . . . no, it was four . . . reactions to it. This was immensely important to me, because I grew up Living by the List.

I’ve blogged about List Living before, most significantly  here and here and here and here and here and here and here. But it’s what happens to people when they think their lives should be lived that way, that’s what’s HARD.

Hypocrisy and self-satisfaction (Romans 2). You make your list outward, superficial, easy to keep, and actually, fairly short. My list growing up consisted of what I didn’t do–I didn’t drink or dance or go to movies or play cards. And what I did do–I wore my skirts to my knees when everyone else was wearing miniskirts. It was clear that I was better than everybody else.

Apathy. You look at the List  a little more realistically maybe, and decide it’s impossible and eventually, though you may still go through some outward motions, you give up and turn your attention elsewhere. TV? Sports? Shopping?

Rebellion. You watch the hypocrisy, maybe you even practice it yourself for a while, and it makes you sick. You upchuck the whole thing.

Discouragement and depression (Romans 7). If you as a List Liver start taking the Christian life more seriously and even actually read the Bible, if you just focus on the To-Dos, this is the inevitable result. This was me when I was a little older because I could never repay Jesus, I could never speak to every lost soul I encountered, I could never live as right as I knew I should, I could never, never do enough. Heavy and heavier burdens. A curious mix of Hypocrisy and Discouragement.

One church in particular, a Reformed Baptist church, helped crystallize this concept in my thinking. I knew that many of the people in that church were on anti-depressants. The young people were going astray at an alarming rate. The pastor, a man highly exalted for his eloquent preaching, was ultimately arrested for embezzling. That Reformed Baptist List looked different from the Lists of my past (no activity on Sunday!), but it was an Outward Holiness List just the same.

But our Savior Jesus nailed the List to His cross (Colossians 2:14). He died to accomplish all the Law (ceremonial, civil, and moral, an artificial distinction that the Bible never makes) and to fulfill His own List in us very naturally, as we have faith in Him and receive His love. And His love plays out not in a checklist, but through the power of His Holy Spirit in works of justice, mercy, truth, faith, and love.

His commands are accomplished naturally in me as He loves me, as I love Him, and as He loves others through me. The burden to DO is lifted. The HARDness is gone. This is true Holiness in Christ.

6 thoughts on “It’s HARD Living by the List

  1. Love this post! I lived by the list growing up. It was all I knew. We were supposed to pray this magic prayer, then live by a list and that was the sum of Christianity. We were supposed to try harder and harder and harder. As we failed, the emphasis was always on more effort. I tried till I felt like I was going to break from the pressure, then finally, like others, I quit. Growing up, I never thought I would quit. In pride perhaps, I thought I would endure, but the reality of constant failure when I had tried so hard was just too much. In retrospect, perhaps it prepared me for grace? When I finally learned of grace, it seemed too good to be true. I didn’t believe it for a long time. Once I realized that it was really true, that Jesus had already lived that perfect life in my place and I was no longer under condemnation, it was transforming. It was liberating and freeing and guess what? It made me WANT to obey and follow God – not out of fear, but with delight in the freedom of his love!

  2. For those of us who didn’t grow up with a list (who didn’t even grow up in a church!), Christianity without a list is kind of confusing. What’s the difference between living as a Christian and living as anyone else? Honestly, I think the lack of a meaningful basic Christian list is why so many people I know are following “buddhism-lite” and its “eight-fold way.” If they get “compassion” they can feel like they’re doing well and then there are just eight more things they are working toward.

    It is true that when we cease to measure our progress in righteousness against a list, we cease to practice self-righteousness and judgment. My concern is that as a community we have generally ceased to measure our progress in righteousness against the one true standard, which is God, and to practice the many disciplines God has offered us (which do come in the form of lists) that help us to progress.

    So, for example, when I am told to “agape” my enemy, I’m pretty much at sea. But when I’m given a complete list from Scripture of what loving my enemy requires of me, it’s easier to understand. Scripture says: If your enemy’s donkey collapses under its load, help him get it up. If you find your enemy’s donkey wandering, bring it back to him. That is to say: when I find my enemy in trouble, I’m supposed to help. When my enemy’s key business resources are lost (data gets hacked?) I’m supposed to help, not cheer.

    Of course the weird thing is that the way this all seems to add up in my life is I’m considered a pretty bad Christian and I am a pretty good evangelist. At church I’m not exactly considered a role model. But I go where no Christian has ever gone before and find people who want to learn about God.

    • Thanks for your comment, Carlene! Of course the New Testament has a lot of lists, and I thank God for them; they’re important. The difference that I’m talking about (and that I’ve blogged about in other places) is that Living by the List means looking to the List for [even some aspect of] your righteousness, instead of looking to Jesus Christ for all your righteousness. It means depending on your own efforts to please God, instead of knowing that if you’re *in Christ* you’re perfectly pleasing to God because of what Christ has done. It means walking in the flesh instead of walking in the Spirit.

      Because I’m a new man in Christ, a new kind of love springs out of me, naturally, as long as I’m not quenching the Spirit through my own fleshly efforts (“just be on hand if I need You, Lord, but I think I can handle this one myself”). When I acknowledge my own utter inability and my constant desperate dependence on Him, He energizes me with love for Him and love for others, the fruit of the Spirit, that manifests itself in all the beautiful myriad of ways that He provides opportunity for, as shown in the lists of the New Testament.

      That’s living by the resurrection power of the Spirit. The divine inflow-outflow of grace. God bless you.

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