Let’s just start with this.
If you are a person who identifies as a Christian, but who constantly feels the burden of religious expectation, the weight of following all the rules in order to be a “Good Christian,” or the anxiety of never doing enough to “get to heaven” (and I know there are many of you out there), I have one thing to say to you.
Lay it all down.
You were never meant to carry such a heavy burden in this life. You were not purposed for holding up such an impossible weight. You were not created to live in such a state of perpetual anxiety.
And do not let anyone, not even the leaders of your churches, try to convince you otherwise.
For the entire biblical narrative is a grand, sweeping movement over thousands of years documenting people continually misunderstanding the nature and character of God and what God wants from them.
They believed God was more concerned with their offerings and sacrifices, with their zeal and participation in religious rituals and celebrations, and with how fastidiously and obsessively they followed the “right rules.”
God, lovingly and longingly, seeks only our undivided hearts so that God’s love may be made manifest through your life.
God has never wanted your outward, righteous-looking gestures or your strict religious adherence.
God has never wanted you to follow the “right rules” to be a “good Christian.”
God has never been interested in your perfect performance in order to make the cut for Heaven.
God has only, and always, wanted your heart.
Do you understand what I am saying?
God does not want your tithes and offerings.
God does not want your Bible studies.
God does not want your weekly church attendance.
God does not want your weekly communion.
God does not want your baptism.
God. Wants. Your. Heart.
Because when God has your heart, your life will be transformed.
What is the point of giving your offerings, if we neglect those who are in need? What’s the point of going to a Bible study to learn more information, if we don’t forgive people and then harbor anger and animosity toward them? What is the point of perfect church attendance each Sunday, if we then marginalize people or people groups and continue on with a divisive spirit? What is the point of weekly communion, when we make no attempt at patterning our lives after the cross-bearing, self-sacrificial Christ? What is the point of baptism, if we still live like the person who was supposed to be buried in baptism? What is the point of any of it, if we do not walk daily in the Spirit of God?
Our religious rituals and observances are only meaningful if expressed through a transformed heart, a changed life.
But so many of our churches have made religious rituals, observances, and rule-following more important than a transformed heart and life, as if it is by virtue of our religious rituals, celebrations, and rule-following that God is pleased with us and by which we are saved.
And that is simply wrong.
The profound tragedy is that this perspective and belief system turns the unmerited grace of God completely upside-down and makes us continually worry that we are never quite doing enough to make God happy. And so we work harder and harder to do all the “right things,” to make sure we are on God’s good side so that we might make it to Heaven one day.
Not only is that wrong, it is an impossibly heavy weight and burden for anyone to carry. It is a weight and burden we were never meant to carry. And it is a weight and burden that completely misses the point of who God is and what God intends for our lives.
It was Jesus who said, “Come to me all you are burdened and I will give you rest,” and then, “I have come that you might have life and life to the fullest.”
And that’s the Good News.
That in Christ, you have been forgiven.
That in Christ, you have been given rest.
That in Christ, you have been made to be free.
That in Christ, you have been recreated to experience life in all it’s fullness.
That in Christ, you are saved only by God’s unmerited grace.
And that in Christ, you are God’s handiwork, created for good works.
So if you constantly feel the burden of religious expectation, the weight of following all the rules in order to be a “Good Christian,” or the anxiety of never doing enough to “get to heaven,” lay it all down. Seriously, lay it all down.
Religious expectation has never been the point of this life. And when you finally realize that, you will be free.
I remember a few years ago when my younger sister, who lives in the town where I grew up, was leading a Bible study with a group of women whom she had never studied with before. As they each took a turn sharing with the others, my sister always prefaced her comments with, “I hope one day, if I make it to Heaven…”
The other ladies listened for a week or two and then one of the ladies spoke up and said, “Why do you always say, ‘If I make it to Heaven?'”
My sister, having never thought about what she had been saying all those years, just sat there in stunned silence. She tried to clarify, “No, what I mean is that I hope I have done enough to go to Heaven one day.”
The ladies continued by telling her that it is only through the grace of God by which she is saved.
It was an amazing moment in her life.
The heavy burden of religious expectation she carried all her life had been cast aside.
The impossible weight of following all the rules to be “good enough” that she had been living under was finally lifted.
The perpetual anxiety and burden of never knowing exactly where she stood with God, at last, faded away.
That too is available to each and every one of you right now. It is your time to quit living under the heavy-handed, man-made expectations of religion, and walk into the freedom that God has always wanted you to experience.