“There isn’t any hot water.”
“What do you want me to do about it?”
“We are gonna be late.”
“I’ve been ready for 10 minutes. What else do you want me to do?!”
“I love you. It is finished.”
“Okay… what do you want me to do?”
Our default response to every word spoken to us is self-evaluation. “Am I doing enough? Is he accusing me?” From there we usually respond defensively or offensively.
The sound of a command in our ears stirs our self-protective instincts. But the gospel grows roots in a life that is vulnerable (“God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”), not the hard clay ground of self-protection (“Thank you, God, that I am not like this publican sinner here.”).
When we hear law, we respond in defense or in offense. Either It wasn’t me or I’ll show you. This is our hearts.
And things are about to get worse. It’s not just commands. It’s everything. Every word spoken to us. The person unaware that they are justified wholly in Christ’s death and resurrection, hears everything as potential condemnation.
You can say anything to the unjustified person and you will be preaching some form of legalism. “Wait, he said that he loves me. Crap! Have I ever told him that I love him? Think! Think! Can’t remember. Maybe I’ll show him I love him. I’ll tell him I’ll make him dinner sometime. Is that too obvious? Wait, was he trying to say that I don’t do a good job of loving him? But I came to that pathetic birthday party he threw for himself last year! Who throws a birthday party for himself?!”
Conversely, the justified person goes through this thought process: “No matter what is said, no matter if it takes the most obvious shot at me, I rest in Christ’s perfect work on my behalf. No need to self-justify. Even if I am being skewered, Christ’s perfect work frees me from the brutal lure of self-evaluation.”
Obsessing about your performance is not a spiritual task (even if your pastor judges how “convicting” his sermon was by how much you beat yourself up). Self-evaluation inhibits your ability to love your neighbor. The love that comes from the self-evaluative, self-justifying individual is forced and not free, and therefore not love at all. It is transaction.
Those secure in Christ’s perfect work for them can finally shut out the voice of the law that drives them to judge themselves. The haunting voice of condemnation. The voice that hammers at their security in Christ, asking, “Was it enough? Did you do enough?”
You are free in Christ to put that voice to death.
We often hear even the kindest words spoken to us as law. When law and a deep sense of inadequacy rules our hearts, we respond defensively or offensively. The justified sinner responds thankfully to basically everything – good and bad. Grace makes sinners grateful for every breath.
If your preacher tells you that God loves you, stop there. Don’t go an inch further into evaluating the appropriateness of your response. Let yourself be so gripped by the words spoken to you, the words that justify you, that your response is free and not forced. Free worship covered in Christ’s blood is the only kind of worship God is really after anyway.
Christ is for you. Breathe it in deep.