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, for example, 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. Social media? 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 lived and 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.