The standards we live up to

We all have standards (and expectations) – standards that we try to live by and standards that we want others to live by. When I became a Christian at the age of 17 I quickly learnt the standards that were expected of me from other Christians. Those standards were: serve in church, read your bible everyday, don’t get drunk, don’t have sex outside of marriage, be a Calvinist, be a complimentarian, go to prayer meetings and make sure you root out your idols everyday.

Some of these are very cultural, I learnt this when I went to Peru and found that the standards of Christians there were very different. (In each culture they believe they are doing things biblically)

This has led me to think about this quite a bit recently. I realised that trying to live up to other people standards is crippling and leads to a path of guilt and feeling terrible. Why? Because I can’t live up to anyone’s standards or rules for living, I can’t tick anyone’s boxes and they can’t tick mine. To be honest I can’t even live up to my own standards! (There is a difference between standards I impose on people and a contract you have with work, like with relay there is a standard of you will do a study response and hand it in on time and I expect that, yet even in that there must be grace.)

In Tim Kellers wonderful booklet “The freedom of self-forgetfulness”, he says:

“I cannot live up to my parents standards – and that makes me feel terrible. I cannot live up to your standards – and that makes me feel terrible…Perhaps the solution is to set my own standards? But I cannot keep them either”

There is often a great feeling of guilt or shame when we don’t live up to someone’s standards – we feel like they are disappointed with us, they expected us to perform better and we haven’t and we haven’t ticked their boxes and we start feeling like a bad Christian, a second rate Christian compared to them. As I think about this and can resonate with this which I think it leads me to two things:

1. A word to leaders – what standards are you setting? The standards you set may lead people to death. Living under rules leads to a great burden. What about speaking more of Christ and showering your followers/sheep with the living water of Christ? Let your people enjoy the freedom of grace that Christ gives us. This makes me think how I will mentor my relays next year and students – will I set standards that causes death? Or give great freedom of grace with the overflowing living water of Christ. Speak more of Him and hearts will be changed and warmed.

2. A word to our guilty hearts – This feeling of trying to live up to people’s standards or your own standards will lead to death and brokenness. But Tim Keller says that there is a better way:

“Do you realize that it is only in the gospel of Jesus Christ that you get the verdict before the performance?… The moment we believe, God says “This is my beloved son in whom I am well pleased”

Look at that! In Jesus we don’t have to perform – Jesus gave us the verdict and we didn’t lift a finger to perform. Our identity isn’t bundled up in how we live, or how we perform or how we live up to the standards of our church leaders, boss, friends, spouses and ourselves. Because you won’t ever live up to those expectations and we are not meant to. Our identity is wrapped up and clothed in Christ! There is no guilt in him. All that we may do in church, in our relationships, at work must come out of a love of Christ and knowing how much we are loved by the Father.

So then…

Reading my bible can’t come from the standards of “you should read it every day” but it should come out of a joy and love of wanting to know more of Jesus.

Serving in church shouldn’t come out of bullying or feeling guilty that you aren’t doing enough, but it should come out of a love for Christ and a love for those that are in him to see that they drink deeply from the springs of eternal life.

Evangelism shouldnt come out of fear of hell, guilty remarks of “this is what Christians should do” or bullying, but it should come out of a love for Christ and a joy in sharing the one you love with others in whichever style you want to.

If those areas are a struggle (and they always are for me) and I feel guilty then I need to remind my heart of Christ and sit at his feet, drink from his living waters and enjoy him which may take longer then people wish or I wish, but it depends on our hearts and how broken we have felt from these things. I really believe in time as we sit and enjoy Christ we will thirst for him in his word, we will outwardly pour love on those around us and in church and we will naturally speak of the one who binds broken hearts.

Would love to read your comments:

– Has living up to other people’s standards caused you guilt and heartache?

– How have you overcome that?

– Does that challenge you with how you set your own standards and standards for other people to follow?

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3 thoughts on “The standards we live up to

  1. Only in Christ do you get ‘the verdict before the performance’ – LOVE that!

    It is so hard to break free of our inner legalism, and so easy to fall into creating ‘standards’ for ourselves that we can keep so that we can pat ourselves on the back and convince ourselves that we are doing well. Even trying to escape from legalism there is a danger of falling into a different legalism (to what extent does ‘don’t lay standards on people, just preach Christ?’ or ‘only do things when you really want to and are full of love for Christ’ become its own kind of legalism? 😉 )

    For me, it really helps just to remember that whatever my own standards for myself, I’ve already broken God’s standards – and I’ve already met them in Jesus. It’s not a foolproof method of escaping legalism by any means, but for me, it just helps to remember. I take comfort in the fact that the people of God are told so many times in the Bible to remember something!

    A final story – one of my friends stepped away from the church because she felt it laid impossible standarrds on her that she couldn’t keep. Then, a few years later, she confessed to me that she had even broken her own standards, and was disillusioned with her own capability to be a moral person. Happily, that led her back to Christ, though this time without the sense of added burdens, just saved by grace! It really is SUCH good news!

  2. Thanks for your comment Tanya and for sharing that story of your friend. Its sad on one hand that she had to leave the church, but so great on the other hand that she was led back to Christ 🙂

    I agree, we are all legalistic – even in our love for Christ. But its such good news that all standards are met in Christ – which I think I need to hear more for my heart and I need to speak more for the hearts of others. I need to hear more of this good news of Christ then hear “you must do this, or be like this…”

  3. Yes – I think most of us intrinsically think we need to DO something to meet God’s standard, even when we know with our good theology that there isn’t anything we can do to fix ourselves. There are some who are prone to laziness who need a kick up the backside and told to do something every now and again (and i have benefitted from these occasional kicks) but most of the time we just need to be told that God is good and He loves me (or God is nice and He likes me, as Adrian Plass would put it). That’s my equivalent of your phrase ‘the good news of Christ’ – the thing I need to hear in my mind and heart over and again.

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