I wanted so badly to do it right. Whatever the Christian life looked like, I wanted to represent it well.
A people-pleaser by nature with perfectionist tendencies, I knew that if I could just find the hidden list of do’s and don’ts of the church, I’d be set. I’d memorize it, practice it, and ace the Christian test.
I would make Jesus, and those around me watching, proud.
It took me years to realize how very wrong I was.
While I was wanting to do things for Jesus, He was whispering, “It’s already done.” While I was trying to work for Jesus, He was saying, “Peace. Be still.” While I was thinking I had something to prove, Jesus was telling me, “I proved it all.”
I don’t know where I got my idea of having to work my way to acceptance. I never read it in the Bible, and I surely never heard it preached. Was it somehow caught instead of taught? Was it a way of life in the church rather than a mandate from the pulpit?
The modern church, like it or not, has a faltering reputation in the eyes of the world. We are known for what we dislike, whom we dismiss, and how we disapprove. We are known for having a list of do’s and don’ts, and we are known for withholding acceptance from (and raining judgment on) those who don’t make the cut.
We aren’t known first for our love.
Sometimes we present to the world the very wrong idea that coming to Jesus requires sacrifices beyond the one He already made. While living for Jesus will lead us to sacrifice, (giving up comfort, excess, wrong beliefs), accepting His love doesn’t require it. There is a huge distinction, and perhaps, we the church, are teaching it wrong.
In the Old Testament, sinners seeking forgiveness quite literally had to shed the blood of an animal. No blood meant no forgiveness. But with Christ, the Old Testament sacrifices are no longer necessary, and the blood of the Lamb, Jesus, covered all sin for all time.
“It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Hebrews 10:4
But I’m afraid we’re still telling people to, metaphorically, slay some animals so Jesus will forgive them and love them.
Want to be right with God?
Teach Sunday School.
Don’t drink alcohol.
Volunteer at the soup kitchen.
Adopt a child.
Have quiet time every morning.
Check the proverbial boxes, and you’ll be doing the right Christian things. It seems this is what the church requires to be part of God’s family.
We can’t perform tricks to earn God’s favor. We – His kingdom – exist to show that actions can neither earn nor forfeit the mercy of the Savior. His grace is free. We exist to invite people to receive, not compel them to act. We exist to point them to the sacrifice, not demand one from them.
There’s a fine line between doing things for love and doing them from love. We can never do enough for Jesus to love us. He already does, and His love is irrevocable. Once we understand and accept that love, His Spirit compels us to act from a place of love. The order is crucial – receive, then act; accept, then do.
It’s our responsibility as members of His church to lead people to Christ, not require sacrifices from them first.
As a high school English teacher, Jennie always encouraged her students to chase their dreams. After nine years in the classroom, she recently left to chase her own dream of writing. The mom of two writes about enjoying whatever life throws your way, even if (and especially when) it isn’t what you planned. Her own unexpected journey is now her ministry.
When she’s not braving the elements at her son’s sports practices or driving her daughter to gymnastics, she loves to run and to read what the Amazon fairy delivers! She is active in the church she helped launch, and during football season, her blood runs orange for the Clemson Tigers. You can find Jennie’s blog here.