I absolutely love the God we serve. I desperately want the world to see a difference between the new me and the old me. Most people see changes when believers forsake their bondage in sin to find new life in Christ, but my life should also be drastically different when I step from simple faith into deep trust. Without my summer in the wilderness, I might not know the difference. To me, faith is the internal belief that God exists and that He is who He says He is. Fueled by ideas, answers, testimonies and truth, it’s a head knowledge that leads to a heart change. But trust is letting God be all He is, with no explanation or reason why. Faith likes its evidence; it may be all the proof I need at the time, but it brings about a fruitful conclusion, something that is real and tangible. Trust requires me to let God work when I could handle things on my own; it could also ask me to act as if the answer is here while it’s still on its way. True trust doesn’t need a reason at all.
When I woke up in the middle of a story I didn’t want to be living, my faith didn’t waver. I had enough experience with Jesus to know that He was right there all the time. My trust however was non-existent. In its place, there was fear and anger and loathing. I wanted to be in charge and to be able to fix things so badly. Loving me through that rotten attitude, Jesus taught me an awful lot in those dim days. I had never trusted Him, but I was ready accept that invitation.
The characteristics of Christ that can now mark my life are earth-shattering. Other than the core personality traits and my physical appearance, everything else has changed. Priorities, sense of humor, attitude, relationships, perspective… God left no stone unturned when He started rooting out evil and planting His seeds of hope in my life. If I was going to trust Him, I would have to be different. No longer in charge of my destiny, I was now willing to give up control.
Living up to the higher standard defined by a relationship with God is rarely fun, but the rewards outshine even the brightest human accolade. Choosing to live above reproach and shunning worldly desires in favor of God is not the simple, easy choice most days. Over time, the desires of the flesh fade and the longing to please God grows, but my human nature is ever present. The attacks of the enemy may look different now, but they are definitely still there. Temptation follows even the strong; your focus and dedication because of God’s love must be more powerful than any outside influence.
When I fully understood the significance of my dedication to God, I was able to love Him more dearly and follow Him more freely. It was like a switch in my brain… my love for my sin and my previous life vanished when I realized why I must live up to my potential in Christ. You see, God loves us. That’s the simple gospel message. John 3:16 is even quotable by at least half of the world’s population. But along the way, we’ve forgotten to emphasize the importance of a deeper relationship with the Lord. Not knowing about Him, not seeing Him at work around us, not just believing that He exists… but falling madly, irrevocably, passionately and crazily in love with Him. Like infatuated lovers who believe the world cannot revolve without their partner, I think that’s the kind of love we’re supposed to find in God. Only that love can birth trust. Anything less and I would still be living in fear.
Here is the point I’d like this post to make… my life is different because I am dedicated to the one I love. Why shun sin? Why make the daily difficult choice to change? Why try so hard to please God all the time? Most people look at my behaviors and the most common answer is that I’m just a legalist. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t sleep around, I don’t do drugs… they observe and wonder, “Well, what are you allowed to do?” I’ll be the first to admit that I do follow a set of rules. There is a list of things I won’t do, places I won’t go, words I won’t say. But I am not restrained by those laws or any others found in Scripture… I am constrained by an unexplainable love. (2 Corinthians 5:14 KJV) The only One that loves me more than life itself has asked me to be more like Him. The Creator of my universe and the Son of my sky has requested that I put Him above all else. I do not obey, cower, listen or move out of fear… I respond out of an undying love for my Savior and my God. I need not fear death, pain or even hell… I am compelled to obey out of sheer gratitude, amazement and delight. Who needs commandments when you have a commitment?
The Law given in the Old Testament revealed just how far sin separated us from God, but it’s told that the Law wasn’t God’s first choice. In fact, it seems that the Lord would’ve preferred a closer walk with man and daily fellowship from the beginning. If the Israelite nation would’ve sought the Lord daily and responded in faith, there would be no need for a huge chunk of history. After the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus; that closer relationship was possible and the Holy Spirit dwelling inside of believers allowed us to recognize our capabilities. Sin still hinders but the possibilities are limitless. Being drawn to God, trusting Him with literally every step and outcome of our life, is the greatest goal we could ever have.
The reason I push the idea of legalism vs. love so persistently is because faith and trust cannot develop where we only rely on what we deserve. Living in the balanced rhythm of goodness and grace is not the easy way; there are ditches on both sides of the righteous road, so truth is not always easy to find. My seasons of legalism were also my seasons of distrust. I was doing all the right things for all the wrong reasons. I’ve seen what self-righteousness can do first-hand. What’s worse is I’ve seen what fear, guilt, condemnation and judgment can do too. Whether convincing ourselves we are good enough or telling other they aren’t, we’re operating in a role that was never ours to play. Even though Scripture says there is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus, Christian society has made sure that there was plenty of condemnation for those that fell short of the expectations of the church.
I’m not sure I can ever repair all the damage done, but there is true freedom to be found in the Lord. In order to promote the backwards kingdom of Christ, one must use both words and deeds. I can’t let people continue to believe the lies that are promoted. Our testimonies tell the truth! Those that ask about God’s work in my life and why I have the behaviors I do often find that I have something much more compelling than regulations. I’m constantly on my guard to make sure that I haven’t saddled a high horse; I’m not afraid to put my pride in its place. I am no better than any other person because I hear and obey God. I could, however, be happier than other people because I’ve found my purpose. I am able to live with great hope, fully trusting and relying on Christ, because I’ve found my one true Love.
Because you’re probably wondering and because I’ve been asked more times than I can count, I’d like to add my list of “rules” here. In actuality, the only rule is that He leads and I follow. The enumerated list below just helps define some boundaries; it gives me a good starting spot. It’s also truth by which I can judge all of my decisions and disciplines. These thoughts are encouraging because they require such little effort on my part. There’s no interpretation, no pressure, and no blame. They ideas are also beautiful because it’s what my heart longs for; putting words to something your spirit feels is refreshingly lovely. For me, living a life directed by God, one that is set apart for Him and His call, probably looks like this:
Rule #1 – Love the Lord your God, in spirit and in truth. (Matthew 22; John 4:24)
Rule #2 – Love your neighbor as yourself. (Matthew 22)
Rule #3 – Feed the hungry, clothe the needy, visit the sick and the imprisoned. (Matthew 25:34-40)
Rule #4 – Go ye into all the world… (Matthew 28)
Rule #5 – Think on these things… (Philippians 4)
Rule #6 – Doubt not… always find a reason to hope. (Romans 5)
Rule #7 – Walk even as Jesus walked. (1 John 1)
Rule #8 – Follow the instructions of the Word. (Psalm 119)
Rule #9 – Believe in the impossible. (Mark 11)
Rule #10 – Bear fruit. (Galatians 5)
In no way is this list the only way to serve the Lord; this is just my reminder. When I’m trusting God, my walk resembles this. It’s a standard that is achievable, but still impossible without a renewed mind and the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit. At times, God asks for the most simple acts of devotion, but there are other times where He requires great sacrifice. I don’t work to earn salvation or to find grace; the reward of dedication and obedience is the relationship I’ve created with God Himself. I love Him. I trust Him. I follow Him. But I’ll never forget that He first loved me.