Not just barely free
I have to admit - at times I keep score. Not so much in your life, but in mine. I keep score of the things I do that are right steps toward a healthier lifestyle. I keep score of the steps I take in a day by wearing a smart watch. These are pretty 'harmless' things to keep score of in our lives, but when we start to 'keep score' of times we fail to take the right steps, we are doing just the opposite of what Christ does on our behalf. God doesn't 'chalk one up' on our 'account of misdeeds' just because we make a bad choice. We don't earn merits and demerits in some 'heavenly accounting system'. Prayer, going to church, reading our Bible - good actions, but they don't 'even out' the score when we do dumb stuff! In fact, it isn't about evening out any score - it is about all the demerits going away because God only sees the side of us that reflects the 'merits' of Christ!
Because of the sacrifice of the Messiah, his blood poured out on the altar of the Cross, we’re a free people—free of penalties and punishments chalked up by all our misdeeds. And not just barely free, either. Abundantly free! He thought of everything, provided for everything we could possibly need, letting us in on the plans he took such delight in making. He set it all out before us in Christ, a long-range plan in which everything would be brought together and summed up in him, everything in deepest heaven, everything on planet earth. (Ephesians 1:9-10)
The good news we are looking at today is this idea of living more than 'just barely free'. I once read the story of how the circus trained the large elephants to 'stay' where they were supposed to stay. At first, they drove long stakes into the ground and secured the back leg of the elephant to the stake with a length of chain. It allowed the elephant to maneuver just so much, then it would feel the tug to not go any further. In time, the more the elephant got used to the 'distance' they could go while secured to the chain, the less the elephant resisted or pulled against the chain. As time went on, the chains became unnecessary because the elephant learned the 'distance' he was allowed to maneuver and he stayed put.
I kind of look at God's plan for our lives as kind of 'restrictive' at first. As new Christians, we look at all the 'rules' it seems we are supposed to live by - some 'rules' such as go to church, read your Bible, have a 'quiet time' with Jesus every day aren't particularly onerous 'rules' per se, but then there are the ones we struggle with a little bit more that present a little bit of a 'tug' that 'restricts' us somewhat. They kind of rub us the wrong way at first. I could elaborate on a lot of those things people consider God's 'rules', but I will just look at a couple to make this point.
The 'rule' to turn the other cheek comes to mind - one that is harder to do in the moment when all we want to do is defend ourselves or retaliate. Why are we told to turn the other cheek? It represents the grace of God - when least deserved, totally unearned, grace is given. The 'rule' to 'forgive seventy times seven' is not just designed to 'keep the peace' in relationship. It is exemplary of the unconditional love of God. These are more than 'rules' - at first, they are like the 'chain' that holds the elephant - harder for us than we might like it to be. The more we allow those 'rules' to guide our actions, the less we notice there is even a 'rule' being kept. It becomes our way of life.
We don't live 'bound' in Christ, even when we find ourselves 'keeping the rules'. We have learned the value of remaining within the 'boundaries' set by those 'rules'. The distance we can go without getting outside of those rules isn't what matters, it is that we remain securely in the place of safety those 'rules' create for us. The elephant doesn't notice he is no longer chained - he just enjoys being safe where he is placed and lives to the fullest right where he stands. Maybe we need to take a lesson from the elephant today - live more than 'just barely free' constantly chafing against the 'rules' - learn to appreciate those rules are just there for our safety and provision. Just sayin!