As a teenager, I was well aware of all the things Christians are not supposed to do. I was told that I couldn’t listen to secular music, no sex before marriage, no immodest clothing, no parties, no cursing, and the list goes on and on.
As I got older, it seemed like my faith was more burdensome than life-giving. Being a Christian became overwhelming and discouraging, because I always seemed to be breaking the rules.
I knew I wasn’t bound to a legalistic faith, but in my aim to be a good Christian, my faith was becoming a heavy weight that I felt responsible to carry.
The line between legalism and the Holy Spirit making us into a new creation seems to blur when we try to do it ourselves. I wish I would have realized sooner that my faith was enslaving me rather than freeing me. I was trying to become a new creation in my own power.
Here are a few signs that you might be trading in your life of freedom for a life of slavery.
1. Your sin plays in your mind daily.
Too often, I would beat myself up about the things I said and shouldn’t have, the facial expressions I made, or the less than loving thoughts I had about another person. I tend to wear my heart on my sleeve and that seemed less than appropriate as a Christian.
I would replay my actions of the day in my head, and they became a burden that I could find no encouragement in. This led to thoughts of how un-Christ-like I was and how far away I was from being a Christian.
Are we still sinners in need of grace daily? Yes. Are we still in need of coming to our Savior for forgiveness? Absolutely. We are works in progress. But that doesn’t mean our sin should suck the life out of our faith.
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1)
The work of Jesus is so much greater than our daily sin. That’s why he came–to set us free.
Your sin doesn’t have to rule your life, your thoughts, and your faith. In fact, that’s the exact opposite of what Jesus desires for you and me. He wants us to live in the freedom that he gives us.
We are freed from the weight of slavery of our sin. So why do we keep picking it back up as if that’s what the Christian life is about? It’s not.
Jesus came to give us a better life. Not one bound up and weighed down. Life in Jesus really is the good life. And not because we don’t struggle with sin or because we get everything our heart desires. It’s the good life because we’re wrapped up in the love, grace, and freedom of Jesus.
2. You judge other Christians through your lens of what a good Christian should look like.
When someone tells you about a certain TV show they watch or you see a person covered in tattoos do you ever think, “Aren’t they supposed to be a Christian?”
Or maybe those thoughts pass through your head based on an outfit someone is wearing that is clearly showing way too much shoulder?
It’s far too easy to observe another Christian’s choices and question the state of their faith. And that’s the thing when you are living in bondage. You become far more critical of other Christians. Your standards of what a Christian should be become far more centered on you trying to maintain the good Christian faith. Or at least the appearance of it.
I’ve noticed that Christians are viciously critical of one another. If I’m being honest, I have to admit that I was once this way. It stemmed from my desire to uphold certain standards of living (that sometimes aren’t even prescribed by scripture) that I began to place those standards on every other believer I saw.
So not only is your faith burdening you, but now that same burden is being unfairly placed on fellow believers. This is not what Jesus intended for the relationships of his people to look like. As Christians, we should not be one another’s biggest critics but rather on another’s biggest supporters.
And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. (Hebrews 10: 24-25)
Now, don’t get me wrong. Scripture does support keeping one another accountable in the ways of the Lord. But I fear that isn’t what we’re doing when we critique one another from afar.
The call to keep one another accountable is never about making a judgment call on their faith, but about restoring them in love and grace. Because that’s what Jesus continues to do with us.
If you find yourself critiquing other believers’ actions based on your personal standards of what a good Christian “looks like,” then it’s likely that you are turning the freedom of faith into a faith of bondage.
3. Your faith is focused entirely on self-restraint.
We all want to see our lives be changed. But sometimes we confuse obedience to the Lord with a life of ruthless self-restraint.
A new life in Christ doesn’t mean you no longer get to have fun. We don’t have to be a bunch of uptight, restrictive people who can’t relate to anyone around us. This kind of demeanor doesn’t make you a good Christian.
What’s so ironic about our desire to live a self-restrained life is that it assumes we have it within us to carry that out. We don’t. Our source for a changed and self-controlled life can only be Jesus. We are not the source of our being formed into the image of Jesus. That comes from outside of ourselves. It is a gift we have to live out, but not one we give to ourselves.
Living a life of self-restraint is not a badge of honor we wave around as a marker of being a “good Christian.”
This doesn’t mean that we are never called to exercise restraint. We are. We’re called to battle against our sinful desires. But this is a spiritual battle that only Jesus can win for us. It’s not about trying harder. It’s about learning to trust Jesus for our transformation.
If you place more value on your ability to live a restrained life than God’s ability to change you, then you might be living in bondage.
Jesus is the source of our transforming lives and he does his work through freedom, not bondage.