Why, or why can’t this thing called “Christianity”–this disciple-life, this following-life, consist of an extensive list of actions that I can check off as I complete them?
Remember the old B&H offering envelopes? With the checkboxes? Goodness, as a little girl I loved those boxes. Did I bring my Bible to church? CHECK. Did I attend Sunday School? CHECK. Read my Bible Daily? CHECK (looking at the pictures counted, didn’t it?) Visits? (I wasn’t ever really sure what this meant, but I probably checked it anyway). Yeah, I loved those checkboxes and using the stubby little pencil in the pew in front of me to fill it out.
Not much has changed. I love lists. I love tangible tasks. I think the Checkbox feature in Evernote is the best thing since sliced bread. Better than sliced bread, actually. I even have checklists for my daily tasks: Sweep the floor. Fold the laundry. Clean out the car on Fridays.
I’ve even gone so far as to make lists of how to care for people in my sphere of influence—lists of what I can do to care for my neighbors, my church members, those in need. Good Acts, per se. UGH, how incredibly pompous that sounds. But it is true.
So, yeah. There is real appeal to me to have a “religion” that consists of clear, concise, tangible “good acts”. Somewhere I–and many of you, I suppose–became wired to earn approval. To get that “Gold Star”. And, sadly, too often that translates perfectly into how I try to shape my relationship to God.
I want Him to be happy with me. I want Him to be pleased with the things I “do”. I even want Him to be proud. The idea that His grace and love extends to me simply because I am His child is something that I just can’t seem to grasp well. More than that, it is something I can barely stomach–the whole “unconditional-ness” of it all.
I’m reading through Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion. Ok, yes, that’s a pretty nerdy thing to do. And yes, it feeds directly into my achievement side, such as reading War and Peace did last year (as in, CHECK–off my to-read list). But I’m also reading it because I have questions about scripture, and I like to read dead guy’s writings on such things. So far I’ve waded through Free Will (which was surprisingly disconcerting) and have delved into what I thought would be safer territory…the law.
Because Calvin’s words brought me right back to (probably) where I should be–where I need to be: Remembering that I do scripture work and read my Bible and give care to the hurting and share hope with the hopeless and do supposedly “good acts” (blankets to the homeless? CHECK Dresses for orphans? CHECK Groceries to my shut-in neighbor? CHECK–ugh, ugh, ugh) out of obedience to God’s words and out of gratefulness for the grace He has shown me, and for the love He has given me for those around me that I honestly probably wouldn’t have if not created by Him to have it.
Here are Calvin’s words:
Since, in fact, the Lord foresaw that the Israelites, after receiving the law, would inevitably try to devise new ways of serving him unless he kept them on a tight rein, he proclaimed that in his word is found the very perfection of righteousness which ought to hold them in check.
And what of us? We, to be sure, are bound by this same word. Undoubtedly it was always the case that the Lord intended his law to be the most perfect instruction in righteousness. We nevertheless are not content with it, but go to extraordinary lengths to fashion and devise one good work after another. The best way to cure this fault is to have it firmly fixed in our minds that the Lord gave the law to teach us perfect righteousness, and that it teaches no other righteousness than that we should conform ourselves to the divine will. It teaches us also that there is no point dreaming up new forms of work in order to obtain God’s grace, since his lawful service consists only in obedience, and that to pursue good works which lie outside his law is gravely to defile his true righteousness.
I am so like the Israelites. So like them. I want to devise new, CHECKBOX worthy ways of serving God. Ways to please Him. Ways to gain His acceptance. But that is not God’s desire.
The purpose of the law is to teach us perfect righteousness. No other righteousness will do. It just won’t. Creating legalistic acts of serving God to please him is a vain pursuit.
That’s not to say that I shouldn’t do scripture work, or regular, earnest prayer, or providing care for those in need. I should–in fact, I should do even more so, but not as acts to gain His approval or pride or acceptance, but rather do all of these in love colored by obedience.
And obedience colored by love.
Deuteronomy 4:9 ~ Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.