Standardized testing teaches us from an early age that if you check all of the right answers, you pass the exam and can even get a high grade. The Pharisees of Jesus’ time were criticized by Jesus for their focus on the letter of the law rather than God's intent (Luke 11:42). Me too. I like checklists for accomplishing tasks and saying at the end of each day, "I got it all done!" Even for salvation, I had my checklist-
• Be nice
• Help people
• Don't swear very much
• Obey the commandments
• Go to church on Sundays, EVERY Sunday
• Don’t eat meat on Fridays during Lent
• Give money to the church
Hit the checklist and you have checked the boxes to salvation. As a leftover from my Roman Catholic religious training and theology, I did not fully shed my "road to heaven" attitude. [ES1] [TS2] As I talked to many people, evangelical Christians, believers in God but not Christians, and every other stripe of Christian, I found some, if not most, believed that there was a checklist to reaching salvation (Matthew 19:16-21).
Their lists were actually pretty similar, except the Friday fish part and the EVERY Sunday thing. There was a strong feeling that they should do something meaningful for God. Maybe they should open an orphanage, start a foundation, serve on a board of a not-for-profit…something. It was an insurance policy in case the salvation list wasn't full enough, kind of like adding extra-curricular activities to your college application.
I think that the idea of having a list for many of us comes from two places:
1. The need for a clear path to follow:
It just CAN’T be as easy as loving God with my whole heart, soul, and mind…. loving my neighbor as myself, and spreading the Good News. It must take something more. Every other job promotion did. We all like the assuredness of the "To Do" list with approval at completion. Besides, love isn't a list. I don't really like a lot of my neighbors, let alone love them, so that is tough. A list would be easier.
2 . An implied guarantee of salvation:
If I had a list to check off, then I would get a guarantee. If we were talking about ETERNAL SALVATION, a guarantee would be great. It's a checklist, so I do the item, check the list, take the self-monitored test, get all of the items finished and I'm in! I may not be in the front row of heaven, but I still got in the gates. The last think I want is to be outside the gates in the "wailing and gnashing of teeth" section (Matthew 13:42).
We get to determine loving? How do you measure? Who can say?
As for spreading the good news, I tell everybody at church, right? Doesn't that about cover it?
I really loved this lie, if I am being honest. It fits in with all of my achievement orientation. It can be scheduled and planned for. I get to compete in a subtle way- I can look at other people and see how fast they are moving on their checklist. Like most of my lies on my way to Jesus, they were lies that let me control my relationship with Him. He was not the center of my life. I was comfortably driving the car, holding the map and making good time. It's a great lie and it is a long lie. It is the kind of lie that may have lasted me a lifetime without the blessing of His breaking me. More on that later.
Let's call this malady the "Task Trap." The little Pavlovian response of how good it feels when I complete a list of things that I have to get done. I'm so hooked on this that I go back and write on my list things that I have done earlier that were not on the list just so I can check them off. That's sick! It's mysickness, but it is still sick. In this trap, I have turned my relationship with God into a list of things. When I have done them, I get the gold medal. If you look really close, the operative pronoun is "I." "I" attain heaven through what "I" have done. As soon as "I" have done enough that “I”have decided upon, then "I" am finished. Possibly, "I" have control issues (Ephesians 2:8).
Salvation is a gift.That means it was given. You cannot "achieve it" through a checklist. Christ said that the way not to lose that salvation was to Love God with all of your heart, mind, and strength and to love your neighbor as yourself. Christ also asked that you spread the Good News. These are not ways to gain salvation; they are ways to not lose salvation. Salvation was the precious gift of God through the shedding of Christ's blood (Romans 3:25).
No amount.There is never enough or too much. God wants your heart. Your heart follows Christ's gift. You honor and show your understanding of that gift in how you live your life. That's by putting God first in all things. It's not a checklist.
Joy.The old-maid aunt Christmas kiss, right. You had to kiss her at Christmas on the cheek. She smelled a little funny, had too much make-up on and maybe had lost some of her hair. You still had to kiss her, because it was Christmas. That is not joyful. God is looking for your joy. If in what you do in serving and loving Him as well as following Him is not joyful, then don't do it! Seriously! You are absolved- says so in the bible. Do whatever you want.
There is this natural loss that you will have that you just have to accept for the choice, God is not first in your life.If you make sacrifices just because you feel guilty, do not make them. He doesn't want them (2 Corinthians 9:7). He wants your heart, guilt does not reach your heart; in fact it pushes your heart away. God wants your joy in your life in Him and in being with Him in your heart. There is the lingering question for you - why do you feel guilty? Where in your heart came the “should”where the “want to” ought to be?
I used to have the reverse thinking; does Godhave a checklist for meeveryday? Is it worse, like a life of that puzzle "Where's Waldo?" that I am supposed to look around my life and magically find the clues and good things that He wanted me to do that I missed? If I missed my checklist, then God was disappointed. [ES7] [TS8] This one idea I really slip back into. It's why I give money to the people with the cardboard signs at the intersections; maybe God will see that and think, "There he is, Tom, doing what I wanted him to do." If I just kept missing the checklists, did that make me "un-saved?" You may think that I am joking, but I am not. I really want God to love me and to think I am worthy.
There is that pronoun again - "I."
Here is what I pray for a better understanding and a deeper belief every day:
• God truly loves me
• God is not playing a game of "gotcha" with me with His or my checklist
• Christ is enough and through His death and my salvation, I am enough
• Listen to the Holy Spirit and follow the guidance
So much gets in the way of my relationship with God that I have put there by trying to achieve a list that I can never meet, let alone the list of the creator of the universe. Christ gave us a path that will allow us a closer relationship to the Father and greater peace and joy. By following it, WE are the greater winners in the perfect truth. It is not a scorecard. It is a path.
I actually did find out a relationship between my love for Jesus and my joy in doing things for others that is genuine and profound, but that comes later. It sounds so sanctimonious that I tried to hide it so that you would read it. It's legitimate, it just sounds, I don't know, preachy and a bit smug. You'll know it when you get to it.
sharing with the reader. The idea is that they may hear their own voice resonating with the questions or statements. I do not know when that works or does not work. Maybe this needs a little more review between us.