If you don’t sing the right kind of music….
If you dress inappropriately….
If you don’t give to the church….
If you haven’t been baptized the right way….
Or at the right age….
Or in the right church….
If you married a non-Christian…
If you don’t volunteer….
Or attend a bible study….
Or tell people you will pray for them….
If you don’t routinely talk about your faith to everyone you meet….
The list goes on and on. There are so many reasons that a person’s faith can be called into question within the church. And I’m saddened to admit that on more than one occasion I have been the one dishing out some of the expectations.
So often there are arbitrary regulations on what our walk of faith must look like. These regulations are then imposed on each other.
These types of unrealistic expectations were widely circulated among the very first Christian church. Some of the first non-Jewish people to become Christians were told, “Unless you are circumcised as required by the law of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15
But this was not something that God was asking of these Gentiles. The first followers of Jesus thought that all of the faith customs that were important to them must be absolutely crucial for everyone else.
Paul and Barnabas made it very clear that it was not ours to do the exact right things in order to earn the label of “Christian.” That our relationship with God is more than a list of rules and regulations. We will never be able to live up to the perfection of Christ. That’s precisely why we need his forgiveness. Comparing the way God is growing and teaching me to someone else’s growth is a useless and many times damaging practice.
There are two things I am learning about this. First, and I feel the most important, is that it is unfair and foolish of me to impose any expectations on others who are following Jesus. But also, I need to remember that the only expectations that I should concern myself with are the ones I truly see come directly from God.
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” Matthew 22