Feeling accomplished. Whether you are a type A personality, driven and determined to achieve a lot or a more laid back, relaxed individual who takes life as it comes, we are all alike in our desire to feel like we accomplished something at the end of each day or week. Granted, what we hope to accomplish may differ greatly depending on our circumstances, season in life or any number of other factors, but people who are happy to achieve absolutely nothing are very rare indeed.
There are, of course, many positive sides to this, but there can also be some unintended negative consequences. As we saw this past Sunday, one of those consequences is that we begin to live out our faith in a formulaic way. Just as we operate at work with lists and procedures in order to get the most done in the least amount of time, so we are tempted to follow Christ in the same way. If I may cut to the chase, it doesn’t take long to realize that living this way results in a rollercoaster ride with peaks of self-congratulation when we live up to what we think is best and dips of discouragement and despair when we fail to meet the expectations we have either set for ourselves or allowed others to impose on us.
This highlights the difference between living the Christian life as a formula rather than approaching it as an apprenticeship. When we live by a formula – a set of self-imposed or other-imposed expectations to which we look to measure our own success – we are relying on what we think we can do. When we approach discipleship with Jesus as an apprenticeship, however, we begin and continue with the knowledge of what we cannot do and thus we develop an ever deepening appreciation of why we must submit to the Master every day.
To put this in terms related to Galatians, living by formula means hoping to be justified and find favor with God by the degree to which I fulfill whatever laws I think make me more holy. The subtle hideousness of this way of living is that we are slowly replacing Jesus with something else: laws or a set of rules. This is why Paul begins his letter with such force – calling down a curse upon any who add to the gospel (in this case rules / laws) because to add to the gospel is ALWAYS to take away from Christ.
When I step back and consider the Galatian situation, it strikes me as ironic that in their zeal to be good Christians they made Christianity an idol rather than keeping Jesus as their King.
Our default is to live by a formula because that keeps us in control, but the reality is that where sin is present control is always an illusion. Living each moment as an apprentice to Jesus means ever looking to the Master not only to save, but to sustain.