Friday, August 17, 2012

The Problem With Lists

Today we are looking at something that makes everyone feel comfortable: Lists. For some reasons lists bring a comfort and give the sense of life being achievable. If we have a lot to do we make a To Do list. Grocery shopping is made so much easier with a grocery list. A list is a must during Christmas as we keep all our gift buying organized. So there is a place and a purpose for lists. But not all lists are to be done. Sometimes they are simply for the purpose of comparison.

When it comes to our relationship with Jesus many of us find it easier to have lists. We especially like it when we find lists in the Bible to tell us what to do and what not to do. The only problem is that this is not the purpose of these lists. Consider Colossians 3:

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. (Colossians 3:5)

Sounds good; these are the things we are not to do. God is not pleased with this kind of behaviour. Paul explains:

Because of these, the wrath of God is coming. You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. (vv.6-7)

Okay, so this is the stuff that comes against God's holiness, that separates us from him, that belongs to our former life, before we met Jesus. Paul adds a bit more to the list of the things we must not do:

But now you must rid yourselvesof all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. (v. 8)

Sounds like a list we should write down and carry around with us. Yeah! That's a plan!

It might be a plan but it is not the purpose of this list. If that was the intention then why are we told we are no longer under law but under grace? Why does the Word say that Jesus took the law and nailed it to the cross? If we could just follow a list of commands why did Jesus have to die?

Our life with Jesus is all about a total surrender to him. It is about our death and our new life which we only have in Jesus. It is all about loving Jesus and being totally captivated by him. This list presents to us what no longer is part of us so that if we recognize any of this in us we know that there is something wrong with the relationship.

If you are having sex with every boyfriend or girlfriend you have then there is something wrong with your relationship with Jesus. If you can't control your anger and end up hitting things or yelling at people there is something wrong with the relationship. If there is greed and filthy language, desires that go against God then your love for Jesus is just not where it is suppose to be.

This list is not a do and don't list but more like a warning label.

You don't have the power to effect change in your behaviour other than trying to conform. But conformity is not an agent of permanent change. Sooner or later the true character of the heart will reveal itself. Only the transforming power of Jesus Christ can make us a new creation and that new creation only too gladly allows the character of Jesus to be revealed in it. It is the daily submission, the resistance to temptation, keeping our eyes on Jesus, setting our heart and mind on things above that allows Jesus to have his way in us.

It is so easy to fall into the mentality of lists, which is fine for the purpose of being organized but is useless for spiritual growth. God has given us road markers so we will understand his progress in us and to help us remember our daily need for submitting to the Spirit. We misunderstand Paul's language "put to death" which is to die with Christ and be brought to life in him, as well as "rid yourself" which happens with daily surrender out of an all encompassing love.

Simply put, pay attention to the signs but don't do the list.

1 comment:

David Bergsland said...

People love lists for the samereasons they love legalistic churches. They're not required to think or be responsible. All they have to do is follow the lists. Lists are easier to rationalize also—or was that laws provide loopholes...