The days I wake up and make a list of items I want to accomplish for that day are typically great days. I feel accomplished. I’ve completed my tasks and there is peace. Those days when I don’t have my to-do list can seem chaotic. I can stare at the clock anxiously wondering what to do next. I enjoy schedules because they give me a framework and rules to go by through the day.
Rules provide comfort. I know when I am aware of what needs to be done and what is expected out of me, I am comforted. I don’t fear—I know and understand what will be required of me for the day. I’m not surprised at the end of the day if I’m tired because I knew that for that particular day I’d have much to do. There’s security in my schedule. There’s security in having the rules.
My security and my hope are misplaced. There is never a day where I fully complete my list. Every day has trouble and every day brings with it more that needs to be done. So even when I check things off of my to-do list my satisfaction is short-lived. My hope cannot be found in my rule keeping. And neither should our hope be found in our performance before the Lord.
Justification by faith alone secures our salvation in Christ without an ounce of our effort. There is nothing we could ever do to save ourselves. Only the finished work of Christ on the cross can satisfy the wrath that we deserve. We were dead in our trespasses and it’s by grace alone through faith alone that we are made alive in Christ.
And some of us simply prefer to be told what to do. There’s no problem with that. The problem is when we obey God’s Word as a means to earn His already purchased favor. The declaration “It’s finished” for the rule keeper is hard to believe. They must mean “it’s finished but” or “it’s finished when” us rule keepers want to add. Nope, it’s finished. Period. Nothing left to add. It’s finished and you can’t earn it. You can’t obey God enough to earn His favor because it’s already been earned through the blood of Jesus.
Yet we know that there’s something within us that feels good when we do good works. So when I don’t accomplish my daily tasks there can be days when I’m anxious or feeling less-than great. We can have these same feelings when we sin and it is most likely condemnation and self-righteousness. When you do well, you feel great about yourself. I didn’t yell at my kids all day, one might think, I think I can approach the Lord in prayer now. By the grace of God, our relationship with Him is not dependent on our good days and our bad days. He desires for us to draw near to His throne of grace at all times. Our relationship does not depend on us—it’s all about Him.
And therefore it is unnecessary for us to walk around condemned. There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. If you are tempted to think that you must obey perfectly or you cannot approach God and if you stand accused and maintain a prolonged posture of lament, you are under condemnation and not grace.
The rule of law in the Old Testament was given for our benefit. The law reminds us of our sinfulness and points us to Christ. It also helps us to understand the righteous requirement of God that can never be achieved without Jesus. For me, it gives me a glimpse of God’s holy character. He is set apart and not one ounce of imperfection is in Him. That is why we need Jesus! The whole Old Testament sings of the coming of Christ. He came and fulfilled the law. Now we have the joy of following Christ and submitting to His will revealed to us through the Word. It is our delight to obey God because we now know that Jesus paid it all. We delight in obedience not because we can earn anything but because He was the suffering Servant and His ways are good—and for our good.
But we fail. And we don’t only fail—we plum blow it at times. Every single day we break the law of God. So for the rule keeper we have a dilemma. We can either obey God and believe that this great salvation really did accomplish what He said it did or we can continue to strive. Obedience is good and beautiful but obedience cloaked in self-righteousness and condemnation is legalism. Jesus says, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). All who labor in hopes of earning favor before God, Jesus says He will give you rest.
Trillia Newbell is a freelance journalist and writer. She writes on faith and family for The Knoxville News-Sentinel, and serves as the managing editor for Women of God Magazine and Lead Editor of Karis, the Women’s Channel of CBMW. She guests post frequently at The Gospel Coalition and Desiring God. Her love and primary role is that of a wife and mother. She lives in Tennessee with her husband Thern and their two children. You can learn more about her via her site www.trillianewbell.com and follow her on Twitter: @trillianewbell.