‘I slept in and so didn’t get to do my 20-minute personal devotion this morning. I feel like God is disappointed with me.’
When I was a young Christian in high school and university, I understood that Jesus died for me, and I was forgiven. Nothing could now separate me from the love of God. And yet it still seemed to me at the time that, having settled my salvation, God now gave me a new set of rules to obey. Some were in the Bible, others were not.
Apart from the morning devotion thing, there were rules about witnessing, love and my unruly thought life. Some of my evangelical friends had other rules about smoking and drinking, not going to the movies and not playing cards.
In the old days, Lutherans believed women should cover their heads in worship and were not allowed to speak or vote at congregational meetings or serve as leaders. They were allowed to play the organ, teach Sunday school, form ladies’ guilds and of course clean the church buildings. Men should not have long hair. Dancing was also out of bounds for some, but I never understood how ‘the twist’ would lead to immorality.
The trouble was that I was never very good at keeping all these rules and so I constantly felt guilty. In my mind’s eye, God was frowning on me. Around that time, I did manage to read the whole Bible in a year. God must have been pleased with that. I could almost hear his ‘well done, good and faithful servant’. I had performed well, and surely that is what God wanted and how he evaluated my life. Most of the time though, I was sure God condemned me for my feeble attempts at discipleship.
Read Romans 7:14–25.
Have you ever felt that God condemned you for your feeble attempts at discipleship?
Why does Paul finish on a note of hope in verse 25?
My approach to Christian living was performance-based. When I thought I had done well I could kid myself for a little while that I was finally succeeding. Mostly, that was not the case. It was all about how well I kept the rules.
For all the talk I heard about grace, the law, it seemed, still had the final word, and that was a heavy burden to bear.
Read Romans 8:1–11.
How does this help us with our feelings of unworthiness?
What role does the Holy Spirit play in discipleship?
I have since discovered that in his letter to the Romans, Paul clearly tells me that I am now under grace and not under the law (6:14) and that I am therefore not condemned because I am in Christ Jesus (8:1).
In his letter to the Galatians, he puts it bluntly: ‘For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery’ (5:1). Jesus died to set me free from the law, not to give me better rules. Therefore, I should not make myself a slave once again.
I should not surrender the freedom Jesus died to win for me. Quite simply, I should not be living under a burden of guilt.
Read Romans 8:31–39.
Now reflect again on Galatians 5:1. What does Paul mean when he tells us not to submit again to the yoke of slavery?
What would your life be like if you didn’t focus on your performance but rested instead in what Jesus has done for you?
Rev Dr Steen Olsen is a retired pastor of the LCANZ, a former director for Mission of the LCANZ’s South Australia-Northern Territory District, former president (bishop) of the Lutheran Church of New Zealand and director of its Media Ministry. He is the author of Bring Jesus: Making Sense of Mission and co-author of Spirit Filled: Normal Christian Living.