Greatest Hits: What CAN I Do, Then?

(Originally Posted September 18, 2007)

Since I won’t be writing much while I’m on Spring break this week, I’ll be posting some of my previous favorite articles, slightly edited in this case.   I’ll be back at it on Monday, March 29th.

Much as we claim to hate them, there’s something kind of appealing about the simplicity of rules, isn’t there? Do Not Feed The Lions. 45 MPH. Keep Off The Grass. Simple. There are people whose careers have been dedicated to figuring out rules for other peoples lives: advice columnists abound. There’s even a book called The Rules. Heck, there’s an entire genre — the “self-help” genre — that’s dedicated to giving people rules for everything.

So here’s the quandary: as believers, our lives are no longer defined by our adherence to the law. God’s word makes it perfectly clear that we cannot live up to the standards God has set.  That’s the bad news.  But the good news is that the Eternal God came into time and space in flesh and obeyed God’s law, to the letter, in our stead.  We are free from the penalty of the law and from its curse.

But… I like rules. I would love it if someone would just tell me exactly how I’m supposed to behave.

So, rather than striving for Christlikeness, for actions defined and bounded by grace and characterized by love, I make myself a little rulebook. Don’t look at x. Don’t say x. Don’t think about x. Don’t do x. This much of x is all right, but this much is too much. No flirting. No R-rated movies.  No romance novels. No ice cream.

With all that running through my mind, is it any wonder that I stopped today and wondered, “Well, what CAN I do, then?”

You might be surprised –or, if you’re alive, you might NOT be surprised — at how difficult it is to figure out how to act when all you have to go on are injunctions and prohibitions. It’s like a professor who gives a writing assignment, and when you ask for help he tells you, “It shouldn’t be written in Swahili and it can’t be about the 17th century Spanish monarchy.” Not helpful.

In my daily interactions, I’ve discovered that the Law of Christ is harder than rules. Far from being an easier way to live, Christian freedom is much more complicated and mentally taxing than legalism. It requires that I search God’s word. It requires prayer. It requires discernment, and accountability, and community. It results in mistakes, sometimes mistakes I don’t even realize until later. But it also produces humility, maturity, wisdom, deep friendships, equanimity, contentment, and joy. It causes me to trust the Lord, because there’s not always crystal-clear dictation in Scripture for the minutiae of life (by which I mean, there’s no 3 Corinthians 8:14 that says, “And to my single sisters I say, not I but the Lord, that thou shalt behave thusly toward handsome young men…” Although, wouldn’t that be kinda awesome? Anyway).

“This side of heaven,” as my dad says, I’ll never have it all figured out. I’ll continue to fail in how I strive to be like Christ. But I praise God that he is already at work, never sleeping, always faithful, until I am conformed to the image of his Son.


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