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Lately God has been revealing to me the destructive power of “should” in my life. For you to understand what the heck I’m talking about, let me back up.

As I mentioned a couple of posts ago, I recently read this great book called Classic Christianity by Bob George. I’ve really enjoyed it, and in it he challenges this common but misguided notion that many Christians hold:

Salvation is by faith, but sanctification is by works.

Sanctification refers to the growth of the Christian disciple. As we follow Christ we are made more and more like him. That is sanctification. Unfortunately, many Christians mistakenly believe that sanctification is our job to achieve. While salvation comes through faith alone, there is a sense that once you’re in you’ve got a lot of work ahead of you.

As a result, Christianity ends up looking like a bad credit card deal. It’s free to join but there are a lot of hidden fees. We have forgotten that faith is not simply the entry point; it’s the engine that drives the Christian life. You don’t have to justify yourself before God as a Christian anymore than you did when you first put faith in Christ.

Now here’s the tricky part–I KNOW all that. I have known all that for a long time. In my head, that is. Intellectually, I understand that I don’t have to do a single thing to be accepted by God. However, there is an apparent breakdown between what I know and how I’ve been living. And that breakdown can be summarized with one word: Should.

I know that I don’t have to do anything for God to accept me, but there are still a lot of things that, as a Christian I should do. I should go to church every Sunday. I should go to Bible study each week. I should have a daily quiet time. And the list goes on and on.

It’s not that any of those things are bad–they’re not. In fact, all of those things can help a Christian to grow and experience greater fellowship with God and others. The problem is not the activity, but the motive.

If we don’t start with love for God, and we simply dive into the Christian life out of a sense of obligation, then we’ve short-circuited the whole process. While discipline is an important aspect of the Christian life, it should always, always ALWAYS begin with love for Christ.

To give you an illustration, the Christian faith should look more like a passionate marriage than an arranged one. In a passionate marriage, two people delight to love and serve one another. Yes, discipline is involved and sometimes you have to do things that you don’t always like, but it all ultimately stems for your great love for the person. It’s all on an overflow of the heart. An arranged marriage, on the other hand, puts duty first and love second. There is a hope that one day love will grow, but it might not. Obligation tends to stifle passion.

With all of that in mind, be careful of the “shoulds” because they will stifle your passion for God. It doesn’t matter where you started–even if you were the most radical Christian around, the obligation of the “shoulds” will start to weigh you down. Your faith will feel more like a burden than a joy, and it will hinder your love for God in the process. You might even become bitter toward Him.

“Should” is the language of legalism. It is the language of the Pharisees. Those guys had more “shoulds” than you could possibly imagine. They were “shoulding” all over the place, so to speak. 😉 And as a result they didn’t even recognize God when He came to earth and stared them in the face. So cast off the shoulds and focus first on loving Christ. Spend time in His Word. Meditate on His love for you and pray that He would help you to love with an unquenchable passion. Out of that love will flow the fruits of discipleship, not because you should but because you cannot help yourself. And be on your guard because legalism is always just around the corner. When you least expect it, should happens!


  • Valerie says:

    great, helpful post as always! thank you!

  • Andria says:

    Just wanted to say that I loved hearing this message at The Attic (and getting to see you too!). Learning to love God, and then acting out of that love, instead of obligation, has definitely been a theme for me the last couple months, and it’s good to hear I’m not the only one who struggles with the “shoulds.”

  • Sharon says:

    It was great to see you too, Andria!!

  • Bekah says:

    how do we share this with others? Those professing believers who do live by and seemingly only for the “shoulds” but deny that there is supposed to be anything more than that?

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