The List

Someone called today and wanted a copy of “the list” from Sunday. I thought I’d go ahead and post it here as well. This is from my introduction to our study of Galatians…

How would you finish this sentence? If I want to be a really good Christian then I must _________. What would you put in that blank? I’m sure a few of you have some answers swimming around in your head that might fit, but I’m guessing that many of you are thinking right now, “I can’t answer that question….there’s not enough blanks!” That’s because many of us here at this church grew up in churches or a religious environment where the answer to this statement is endless.

To be a really good Christian you must…attend every time the doors are open, three times a week preferably, don’t swear, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t associate with people who do, don’t listen to rock and roll music, don’t go to R-rated movies, don’t play cards, don’t use music in worship, take the Lord’s Supper every week, have a daily quiet time, pray, memorize Scripture, give regularly, men-wear a coat and tie to church and kept your hair short, women-don’t wear slacks to church and be modest, neither of you can wear shorts on Sunday, no mixed swimming, no dancing, only use the KJV, go to a church that’s sound in the faith, don’t clap, don’t raise your hands, don’t show excessive emotion in worship, do everything decent and in order, no eating in the church building, no women praying, no women teaching boys over the age of 13, be baptized in the right way at the right time in the right church by the right person, go to a church that has the right name on the sign, don’t mess up, read your Bible and pray to God you make it!

That’s just to name a few. I’m sure you could come up with more and the answers vary depending on which fellowship you were raised in. Yours may include things like you must speak in tongues, show evidence of baptism of the Holy Spirit, believe in predestination or once saved/always saved. The list is literally endless and it’s no respecter of denominations.

Would it shock you for me to tell you that it’s also dead wrong? That there’s really only one answer to the question of what it takes to be a really good Christian. And I hear the objections now, “But what a minute! There are some good things in that list you rattled off, sure some of its traditions that we don’t fool with anymore, but you mentioned some really good practices for Christians!” I agree. But anytime we start using our practices to define our acceptability before God or our righteousness or justification, then we’ve gotten off message. And it’s wrong. Paul would say we’re teaching a different gospel, which is really no gospel at all.

12 thoughts on “The List

  1. Russ, would you mind informing us which ones of the things in "the list" are just traditions? It appears that the things you are referring to as being traditions appear as commands to the New Testament Church. Do you claim to be a minister of the Lord's Church? You have already informed me that you do not believe the Church that Christ established is in existence anymore so what is your role?The comments you have made in this post and many others are wrong. Please at least answer the question as to which of the things in "the list" are traditions. It would also be great if you could explain how a commandment became simply a tradition.

  2. Thanks, Stephen, for completely missing his point.Personally, I have thought about the same things. Russ, I don't know if this is your answer or not, but I find Galatians 5:6b very helpful. "…what matters is faith working through love."I agree that Christianity can become a checklist religion when we get caught up in doing all the right things. Jesus died for us because we CAN'T do ALL the right things. That's where grace comes in. Paul tells the churches in Galatia that if we start placing more prominence on deeds and laws than on grace, then the Christ died for nothing.Read Galatians 5 again sometime.

  3. *Sorry about mis-spelling your name, Steven.Anyway, about which ones are merely tradition (i.e. with no explicit biblical command) here are the ones I spot immediately:attend every time the doors are open, three times a week preferably, don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t associate with people who do, don’t listen to rock and roll music, don’t go to R-rated movies, don’t play cards, don’t use music in worship, take the Lord’s Supper every week, have a daily quiet time,memorize Scripture, give regularly, men-wear a coat and tie to church and kept your hair short, women-don’t wear slacks to church and be modest, neither of you can wear shorts on Sunday, no mixed swimming, no dancing, only use the KJV, go to a church that’s sound in the faith, don’t clap, don’t raise your hands, don’t show excessive emotion in worship,do everything decent and in order [at least in the way we use this command], no eating in the church building, no women praying, no women teaching boys over the age of 13,go to a church that has the right name on the sign, don’t mess up, read your Bible…As ministers of the Word, it is critically important to be able to understand the difference between tradition and command. There are a lot of things that Christendom in general does and says that are nowhere to be found in scripture.I think that it can be highly beneficial to take a closer look at many of the things we argue, debate, and fight over. You might be surprised by what you find when you start digging.

  4. So Russ, I'm trying to get your point here. Are you saying that if I want to be a good Christian then I must do exactly nothing? I'm not trying to make a list that isn't biblical, but didn't the folks in Acts chapter 2 ask this very question? They believed Peter and the other apostles and they asked "What shall we do?" It seems clear from the context that they are asking, "What shall we do to be right with God?" Peter didn't say, "Exactly nothing." He gave them a few things to do (Repent and be baptized). I know it's short, but would you say Peter gave a list? I'm not trying to elevate any traditions here, but Scripture does seem to have some expectations of those who desire to be pleasing to God. Doing those things doesn't make Him love us any more — He couldn't love us any more than He already does — but it is impossible to please God without faith (Hebrews 11:6). Don't we have to, at some level, do something to please Him? I would really like to hear your thoughts on this. I wish I could have heard the sermon Sunday.

  5. Brent,You're getting ahead of me! 🙂 You have to wait until week four for that answer, although I'll give you a hint…it's in chapter 3.Steven,You did miss the point. I would have taken out the word "traditions" if I would have known it was that distracting. It's of no consquence to the point, which was…anytime we start using our practices (even those that are true and good) to justify ourselves before God, we've gotten off course. David,Excellent question! What about obedience? Well, you're a couple of weeks ahead of me as well. 🙂 My point in this message was simply its not what we do or don't do that saves us, its what God does. We are justified freely by faith. And with apologies to my English teacher, faith is not nothing.

  6. Russ,I don't believe I did miss your point. You are saying that all the things in your list are things that are not required of a Christian. If that's not what you are saying then you really need to re-word your entire post. You said, "anytime we start using our practices (even those that are true and good) to justify ourselves before God, we've gotten off course." Practices here is referring to the things you previously listed. You have managed to put baptism into the same category as the length of someone's hair. As a preacher of God's word, surely you understand the importance of the majority of the things in your list. I pray that you never preach a lesson attempting to persuade those in attendance that baptism is just a tradition of man (or a practice of man)Daniel,I must say that it surprises me to see you on here agreeing with Russ. I know for a fact that you know the truth. I do not know when you decided to agree with such false teachings. I notice that you copied the list Russ originally posted with the exception of the line about baptism (there may have been more but that's the one that stood out to me.) Surely you do not agree with the Romans attitude of Romans 6:1. You remember that they thought if there was so much grace to be given out they could continue to live the way they wanted to and be covered by the grace. You said,"There are a lot of things that Christendom in general does and says that are nowhere to be found in scripture." By that do you mean that everything in the list are things that are in no place commanded in the New Testament. I know that's not what you really mean because that would be an incredibly wrong statement.If I have truly missed the point, please explain it to me so I can understand what you are trying to say.

  7. "I do not set aside the grace of God,for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" Galatians 2:21I think this is what we're talking about. Yes, of course faith requires action. Paul affirms this in Gal. 5:6 "…what matters is faith working through love."James affirms it in James 2:14ff. Faith without works is dead. We show our faith by our works.The point Paul (and Russ) is trying to make is that all of these things are in response to faith. Faith is what justifies, not works. Action comes after and through faith.Yes, we are to live differently than the rest of the world. Yes, there are certain actions that God has called us to do. Yes, there are rules that we should follow to live a life in accordance to God's will.But all these things are pointless without faith in the saving power of God's grace. Eph 2:8-9 makes it clear that we are not saved through anything we do. If we could save ourselves then we would have reason to boast about our own abilities. But we are saved through God's grace.It is in our response to that grace that we do things on that "list". For we are created for good works (Eph. 2:10).There is nothing I can do to be a "good" follower of Christ except constantly rely upon his grace to cover up my shortcomings. The best I can do is not good enough. That's the point.

  8. Russ, I still haven't had the opportunity to hear the sermon yet, but thanks for the link — I will listen to it soon. In the meantime, I think I get your point. Jesus says, "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15). We are completely justified to look at someone who flagrantly shows a disregard for anything Jesus said and question their love for Jesus. We cannot, however, flip His statement around and presume that our obedience gains us any merit with the Lord. He is not impressed by our obedience. Indeed, "we are only humble servants." It doesn't diminish the absolutely vital role that obedience plays in the Christian's life, it just doesn't elevate our obedience to the level of God's justification. We are not saved by our works — we work because we have been saved. Am I close?

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