We all want to be better at something.
Some want to be better at relationships. Others want to be better at organizing or a hobby or a sport or—you name it. There seems to be a societal push—even an unwritten command—to be, well, better.
Being better is a noble ambition, but Christians must be careful about how we understand better. It is easy to determine to be better at something and immediately come up with the steps necessary to make it happen. We’ll starting doing some things and stop doing others. Depending on our personality and temperament, this can be easy or daunting. The changes may or may not come. They may or may not last. And, if you’re like me, when they don’t come or they don’t last, you give up for a while before starting all over again with a similar list of do’s and don’ts.
Without a doubt, doing certain things more or less will lead to changes. However, if your goal is to become a better Christian you need to get rid of the list—and I have only one reason for saying that: Jesus.
It is easy to get caught up with our religious to-do lists:
Read the Bible
Go to church
Give your money
Help the needy
Love your enemies
Tell people about Jesus
… and the list goes on.
I worry that our focus on to-do lists is only making us better at being religious without cultivating the relationship that really matters.
Answer this question honestly:
What matters more—the things on your religious to-do list or knowing Jesus?
The answer should be knowing Jesus, so why do we put our focus on doing things instead of knowing Him?
Heres’s another question:
When you don’t do the things on your religious to-do list, why does it make you feel bad—because you didn’t keep up with your list or because you don’t know Jesus better?
Honestly, I feel bad because I have a list of to-do’s that aren’t to-done and not knowing Jesus better is merely a by-product of that. Though true, that’s the wrong answer.
In Matthew 11:28, Jesus said, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” This was said against the backdrop of cities whose religious leaders wanted people to follow religious rituals and, essentially, to-do lists. But here’s the great part:
To a world that lived by do-do-do-do-do-do-do, Jesus didn’t say, "Do!"
How many of us feel bad for not doing enough? How many of our friends and family have given up on the church and even on Jesus because they felt they weren’t good enough or weren’t doing enough? When we live based on what we must or must not do, we’re missing out on an amazing part knowing Jesus: grace.
If your faith is strengthened or weakened based on how well you’re keeping a religious to-do list, you're forcing yourself to live under a self-imposed law; not grace.
Your faith should always be encouraged first and foremost by our Savior, Jesus, who the writer of Hebrews calls the author and perfecter of our faith. We leave it up to Him; that’s where the “rest” from Matthew 11's "I will give you rest" comes in.
When the basis of our faith is Jesus, we can truly find rest in Him and grace to forego our to-do lists. THEN, we read the Bible, pray, evangelize, etc. as a result of knowing Jesus and the grace he provides. We should not do these things in an attempt to “earn” closeness with Him. Rather, because we are close to Jesus, we “do” things and those things draw us even closer.
When Jesus is your Lord and Savior, you never have to earn anything from Him. (After all, you didn’t earn your salvation in the first place—it’s a free gift by grace, through faith, in Jesus Christ!) Instead, enjoy knowing Him more and more by doing the things—gladly—that you used to do only out of self-imposed obligation.