On an otherwise unfettered day, content to be at home extracting the last days of summer’s leisure before the pace of fall kicks in…I am troubled by a gloomy companion, a faithless crony that rides on my shoulder under the name of Great Expectations. (Not to be confused with Dickens’ book by that name which has been my summer’s reading project, finished just this morning!) It natters in my ear to the effect that: What I do is not enough. What I should do is unending. While what I could do, if I would remains a dark presentiment. This sense of not living up to expectations—God’s, my own, others’, threatens to steal today’s contentment.
I’m determined to have done with it! And as I sit to take captive these errant thoughts and turn the light of Scripture on them my determination is heightened by the realization that this is not purely for my own sake. For those around me likely feel in me this same sense of expectation with which I struggle—that they somehow be ‘more’—this illegitimate condemning, binding, stifling sense that they are failing to meet expectations—mine, their own, God’s and fellow believer’s.
We are all called to freedom–freedom to be who we are meant to be, to become who God has wired us to be, to live out His design for His great glory…without guilt, without disappointment, without regret.
This I want for me. This I want for all of us. But how? To silence the voices of unmet expectations, do I cease to read? Do I run from the Book that is also Life to me? Do I stay away from all things ‘church’? Do I turn a deaf ear to others?
Is this really a means of relief? Or will it instead shut off the very words of truth that would point us all to freedom?! The Word, the Body, the fellowship with Father and Son by the Spirit—we cannot live without these, only flounder into ways that seem right but in the living of them are hollow dead ways. Whether we choose to try harder or to give up trying in our quest to be free of endless expectations, our ways are dead ends apart from dependence on God.
We all fall short of the glory of God.
I will never live up to even my own expectations, let alone God’s, by trying to get it right, by hoping to do enough, be enough, sacrifice enough, obey well enough. Alas, conscientious Lindy, always wanting the directions to be clear so she can follow them to the “T” and so gain approval and thereby her significance in the world—be justified by keeping the rules. ( ?! ) And lo,
I’ve run headlong into a brick wall:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.
How can I be so dense? Isn’t this basically saying that keeping the rules doesn’t work?! Can’t work. Won’t work. Makes no one significant! Keeping rules may look good, to people. It may make me feel good about myself. It may impress others (or not!), even gain one a reputation as a good person (or ‘sweet’ or ‘nice’ or some such ambiguity)…but it is of no relevance (did I admit that? Can I say this?) in God’s sight as far as currying favor is concerned.
For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
It’s the comparison to His goodness that’s the real rub. Nobody measures up with that. It’s no use trying.
Some figure this out more quickly than others. Shutting their ears to all expectations, they do whatever seems worth a try–determined not to heed the ill-trained conscience, not to resent or regret the consequences, not to give credence to any lofty expectations that might spoil the journey…they steel their souls to previous counsel, warning and instruction determined to find a new way, to find freedom. In short, to find rest for their souls outside the burdensome keeping of rules.
But alas, there is no glory here either. And the glory of God is what we were made for—to live in awe of it, to relish it and to reflect it. Only God’s glory will satisfy the deepest parts of us.
If such glory is not found in the summoning up all our sin-bent efforts to do good things and follow fine rules, then where?
If it is not discovered in a self-directed flight from restrictions and the qualms of conscience, then where?
Jesus beckons: Come to me. You’re tired. You’re carrying a load I never designed for you to bear. Here, tuck your head into my yoke. Walk with me. My load is manageable. My burden is light. You’ll find rest here, even while you’re working your way through life… (Mt.11:28-30)
This is what redemption is about. Technically, it is accomplished already. Practically, its effects are ongoing in the believer. I need it, still. You need it. We all are dead without it. God reaching down to provide a sacrifice good enough to cover our insufficiency, still. God, justifying the ungodly, by faith.
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness…
God offers Himself freely still, for any disabled body’s benefit. Only terms: recognize you’re disabled and receive His offer to be righteous in your stead, this “righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.” You don’t have to measure up. There are no expectations, only that you bank on Your Benefactor’s goodness, by faith, to pay your debt.
And how do these reflections help me TODAY with all the shoulds and the coulds and the doubts that play havoc with my contentment in being who I am, where I am, just as I am in this moment, for His glory? They remind me that justification isn’t found in reading commandments (or rules, or instruction manuals) and seeking to implement them. Bringing glory to God is not a matter of begrudgingly putting aside the joy on my plate to attend to a peripheral round of ‘duties’ that should (?) take priority.
Justification is mine by faith in the One who provided it. I’m not called on to prove it by my works, but to believe it and the works prepared for me from the foundation of the world will flow from my life. Justification calls me to believe that His righteousness is enough. He is in me and I in Him and as I abide in this Love, He will lead me in paths of righteousness for His glory’s sake. By faith I can offer this day, this moment, to Him–my body His instrument, as is. The rules hold no threat of condemnation. He will conform me to them as I walk with Him holding the Spirit’s hand, governed by the ‘perfect law of liberty’, destined for glory—”the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Rom.8:21)
And as He beckons me to “Come”, lay down my load of expectations, I take Him at His word, no matter how unlikely it sounds–this is faith. And I bow my neck again to carry His yoke—only the humble find rest. And together we walk through the doubts and by-pass the shoulds and coulds and pull only the weight I was designed to pull, digging the furrows together that are my lot to plow, trusting Him for the planting and the harvest, awestruck with this bountiful redemption He is accomplishing in me. This is the path to glory—my truly great expectation!
“And those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified…” (Rom.8:30)
And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Gal.20b,21
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Gal.5:6)
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law…the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. (Rom.3:20-25)