So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law. 2 Listen! I, Paul, tell you this: If you are counting on circumcision to make you right with God, then Christ will be of no benefit to you. 3 I’ll say it again. If you are trying to find favor with God by being circumcised, you must obey every regulation in the whole law of Moses. 4 For if you are trying to make yourselves right with God by keeping the law, you have been cut off from Christ! You have fallen away from God’s grace. ~Galatians 5:1-4
I used to think that I had to work to earn God’s love. And it’s so funny that I would think that because growing up in church, I always heard the old folks say “salvation is free.” (And it is. Ephesians 2:8) I knew in my head that I didn’t have to do anything to earn salvation and redemption through Jesus, but Jesus’ love? That was a different story.
I had to work for Jesus’ love and approval. In my mind the two were equal. If I wanted the Lord to approve of me, and therefore love me, I had to work. So growing up, especially in my single, young adult years, I was at every church service. I was heavily involved in the young adult ministry and anything else Jesus-related that I could squeeze into my schedule. I wanted to please God. I wanted to show Him that I loved Him and hoped that in return He would love me.
I remember thinking when I was single that I had to walk out the single life in the exact. right. way. I didn’t even want to look at a guy the wrong way, for fear that God would be displeased with my actions. I wanted to show God that I loved him through my actions. I had to get it right all the time. I remember trying to check every box as I struggled to live the single life. I read every Michelle McKinney Hammond book I could get my hands on (which were GREAT, by the way), trying to make sure I was conducting myself the right way while I was single. If I wasn’t walking the single walk exactly how it had been drawn out for me in those books, then God would be upset with me, and wouldn’t love me as much. (And wouldn’t send me a man, I’m just gonna be honest. And I wanted a man!) But that thinking had me busy, and vexed, and scared to speak to any man who wasn’t already married. And I wasn’t very happy beneath the surface, and I didn’t even realize it.
As I reflect now, I realize that there’s nothing wrong with being involved in church and wanting to serve the Lord and his people, and wanting to behave in the way that God instructs me to. All those things are good. But in doing those things, my motive was wrong. And it was exhausting. Somewhere down the line, I got my wires crossed and thought that if I wasn’t at every service, if I wasn’t jam-packing every ounce of my schedule with Jesus-related events and being the good Christian single, then God wouldn’t love me. He wouldn’t bless me.
Recently, I have come to realize that the Lord loves me, just as I am. It’s so weird after all these years of being about Jesus to not have grasped that truth. God loves me even if I do nothing. He loves me and approves of me. He created me and thinks that I’m beautiful and good just as I am. I don’t have to work myself into a tizzy trying to prove to God that I am worthy of His love. That idea was mind-blowing to me. For so long I grappled with the verse at the beginning of the post. “What was I free from?” I used to ask myself. And even in reflecting now, I think that freedom that Paul is referring to, can be freedom from a lot of different things. But for me, it’s freedom from myself. I wanted to hold myself to an impossible standard. In my mind, I had to get it right all the time. And really, if I could do that, what would I need Jesus for?
If I’m going to really just lie on the therapeutic couch that this blog has become, I think I believed this version of God because it was one that I could control. If God really works this way in my mind, then I am in control of how much God loves me, and cares for me. But ultimately, I am not in control–Jesus is. Once I have received salvation, God’s love for me, his redemption, is not up to me. He’s already done it. I could literally plop down, sit cross-legged, and carve my name in the dirt all day, and He wouldn’t love me any less.
So now, with this new discovery, I have taken a minute to just relax and breathe and allow myself to be who I am. If I slip up and curse while I’m mad, it’s OK. The Lord’s grace covers me. If I don’t respond as I should to a co-worker or family member, or don’t act in just the right way towards someone, God won’t strike me down and turn his back on me. It sounds so extreme, but I really was caught up in this type of thinking for such a long time. There is freedom in excepting the salvation and grace of Christ.
I should want to speak in a way that encourages people, and behave in a way that is loving toward my co-workers and family members because that’s what the Lord wants and instructs me to do. But if I’m having a moment and get it wrong, it’s OK. There’s grace for that.
As an aside, this post was difficult for me to write because, in my mind, it doesn’t have that “knock your socks off” effect that my last post had. But I’m finding out that God is not only in the major, in your face events, but He’s also in those everyday, quite lessons and revelations too. I love that about Him.