“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash—along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ. Yes, all things I once thought were so important are gone from my life. Compared to the high privilege of knowing Christ Jesus as my Master, firsthand, everything I once thought I had going for me is insignificant—dog dung. I’ve dumped it all in the trash so that I could embrace Christ and be embraced by Him. I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ—God’s righteousness.”
Philippians 3:7-9 MSG

When I initially began writing this post, I had a completely different topic in mind; however, God decided that what I wanted to write was not what He wanted me to write. These verses found in the book of Philippians truly make me want to jump up and down and begin screaming, “Hallelujah!” every time I read them. Because every time I read them, I am reminded of where God brought me from. You see, before I truly had an encounter with my Savior, I just played the part. I went to church—I was actually a leader in the church. I even prayed and read the Bible on occasions, but I was dead in sin and living in darkness. I was out doing whatever I wanted—drinking, having sex, whatever. I was depressed, hurt, and had a heart full of hatred and unforgiveness. Before I really got saved, I had even become suicidal and tried to kill myself. I was so concerned with how others saw me, it drove me crazy. I stretched myself thin trying so hard to play the part of a Christian so others would think I’m good that I wasn’t actually a Christian. What I didn't understand is this: it isn’t about how others see you; your outward appearance means absolutely nothing. It isn’t about whether or not you go to church. It isn’t even about (and hear me out when I say this) knowing the Bible.

Don’t get me wrong. Two out of three of the aforementioned statements are important: knowing your Bible and going to church are indeed things that Christians usually do, have the desire to do, and absolutely should do. In fact, God tells us to meditate on His Word day and night and that His Word is like a light unto our path; and we need to be able to surround ourselves with other believers and come together to worship God and strengthen each other (best and easiest way to do that is through church). However, neither the steeple nor knowing and being able to quote good, old King James (or New King James) is going to get you to Heaven. Following a set of rules and regulations will not get you to Heaven if you are following those rules for the wrong reasons and if your heart is not in the right place.

So many of us—and I also used to be included in this category—are convinced, deceived even, into believing that doing good things or being a “good person” is going to be good enough. I hate to be bearer of bad news, but it’s not. I spent so many years of my life going to church and doing all of the things that were deemed as “right” in front of everyone I knew, but when I was alone by myself; I was left with the ugly mess I seemed to have created. I was miserable, and I felt so guilty every time I talked to another person because I felt like I was living a double life. I acted one way at church. There, I was good, had it all together, and served God. However, when I was alone, I was a completely different Amber. There, I was miserable, hated myself, sinned even though I knew it was wrong, and absolutely did NOT have anything together. For a while, I was deceived into believing that just because I went to church, just because I knew how to pray, just because I read the Bible on occasions and could quote scripture that I was okay and would get to Heaven. But I wasn’t okay, and I was heading straight for Hell.

What I didn’t understand then was that being a Christian isn’t about following these rules and this list of do’s and do not’s. It isn’t about going to or being active in a church building. It isn’t even about whether or not you think you have it all together and are living your life right. It’s about love: God’s love that is in us and through us and all around us. Love is the very thing that encompasses all that we believe. Love is the only reason why Jesus sacrificed Himself for us. He didn’t have to do that; He wanted to, and He wanted to because He loves us so much that He was more than willing to die in the most gruesome way just to say “I love you” and just so we could have a way to be saved from our own, sinful nature. God doesn’t care about your actions. He cares about your heart.

Many of us have heard the scripture where Jesus stated that if we loved Him, we would keep His commands. I want to make two things very clear. One, you cannot say you love God and then not keep His commands, and His commands have been made very obvious. Two, you cannot twist this scripture around. Jesus did NOT say, “If you keep My commands, then you love Me.” Your works do not define your love for God; your love for God defines your works. Your works do not make you love Christ; your works MEAN you love Christ. When we love Christ, we do things like reading the Bible and praying and telling others about Him simply because we love Him. When you go out of your way to bring gifts and flowers to that special person in your life, why do you do it? Because you love them. When you spend hours upon hours talking to and thinking about this special person, why do you do it? Because you love them. When we go to church, when we talk to God through prayer, when we do the things He asks; we should it because we love Him—not because we’re afraid of Hell or because that’s what we were told to do. It should simply because we love Him, and He loves us.

My challenge to you is to put away all of these crazy practices, beliefs, rules, and regulations. Put away all of the things that don’t matter, and focus on Christ. If you want, do as the verses in Philippians state and throw it all in the garbage. Ask yourself this: do you love Him? If you do, you will have the desire to keep His commands. But you won’t do it because other people are watching or because you think that by doing this, you’ll earn your way to Heaven. You’ll want to do it simply because you love Him. And He has and will always love you unconditionally and more than you could ever imagine, so don’t think that simply because you make a mistake you’re not or can’t be saved. His grace is sufficient and His love never ending. He will help you get back up on your feet, so you can keep going down the path of righteousness.

“You call out to God for help and He helps—He’s a good Father that way. But don’t forget, He’s also a responsible Father, and won’t let you get by with sloppy living.” 1 Peter 1:17 MSG

Published by Amber Oglesby