I’ve been thinking a lot about checklists since David’s sermon on Sunday. He did a great job of describing the way we imagine God constantly standing over our shoulder, monitoring our every thought and action and marking down all of our failures on some sort of divine checklist. The result? A profound sense of condemnation–the unshakable feeling that God is perpetually disappointed in us, the conviction that God wishes we would get our acts together so he wouldn’t have to keep on doling out so much grace.
Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course. God isn’t stingy with his grace; he’s more lavishly generous than we will ever understand (check out Psalm 103, especially verses 11-14). And God doesn’t keep a running tally of how many times we’ve committed the same sin, his disappointment increasing with the frequency of our failings; when we seek his forgiveness, he wipes the slate clean (see 1 Corinthians 13:6 — “Love keeps no record of wrongs”). Yet it can be so, so hard to really believe that — to live in the day-to-day conviction that there really is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
I think part of the reason is that we still keep those checklists in our head, even if we know that God will forgive us when we mess up. And not just that: I think that those checklists are often ours more than they are God’s. They’re what we think God wants from us, what we imagine he demands of us. But the problem is that our idea of what God’s checklist looks like can be incredibly skewed. And so we find ourselves condemning ourselves for not living up to a standard that may not be God’s standard to begin with.
Don’t get me wrong: Scripture is plenty clear in lots of ways about how we’re supposed to live, and it’s also clear that God cares how we live. But somewhere between “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength” and “What do I do about this coworker who is driving me absolutely insane?” things can get kind of messed up. We know we’re supposed to love, but we don’t necessarily know what it looks like to love. And whether it’s because of our own sin or our brokenness or the woundedness we carry from others, we can end up with a pretty warped understanding of how we ought to love people. We confuse humility with self-negation. We mistake servanthood for doormat-hood. And we end up condemning ourselves for not living up to a standard that doesn’t reflect God’s desires for us in the first place. (We also end up condemning others for not living up to our ideas of God’s checklist… but that’s another blog post.)
The point is this: we don’t just need Jesus to wipe clean God’s checklist for us; we need the power of the Holy Spirit to give us new eyes to see what God’s checklist really says in the first place. Or, for those of us who tend toward the perfectionistic, maybe it’s better to think of it not as a checklist, but as a goals statement. Not as some list of criteria that God hopes we’ll one day live up to, but as a description of the kind of life and heart that God wants to help us grow into. Not a checklist for our lives, but a guidebook — from a God who is as lavish with his grace when we falls short as he is with his praise when we flourish.
According to whose checklist are you evaluating yourself? What would happen if you asked the Holy Spirit to give you new eyes — God’s own eyes — by which to see it?