Have you ever noticed how we measure, quite literally, everything?
I suppose it is because we are contained within time, so time becomes our point of reference. We know everything in terms of what is now, what has been, and what may be. It’s how we gain a sense of control over our lives. We age, measuring from one year to the next. We grow, measuring one “state” to the next. We change, and we know this because we measure where we were to where we are now.
We walk around with rulers and tapes and cups and calendars and scales and clocks and thermometers and money. Look around and you’ll be amazed at just how many devices you see, all for the purpose of measuring. In fact, science is the act and study of measuring.
This is both a good thing and a bad thing. We’re encouraged by our progress—where we were compared to where we are now. On the other hand, we’re uncomfortable when we look at a goal and realize just how far from it we still are. I love that I’m smarter than I was at 20. But I hate that I’m more wrinkled and move more slowly.
In the Christian life, what we measure sometimes turns into competition. It rises up out of a desire to be closer to God, which is a good thing. We measure constantly because, of course, we want to be like Jesus. We point to the Bible, look at our lives, and measure the difference. We look at Jesus and do the same. These are the good ways we measure.
But more often than not, we look at each other. Because we like to win, we measure just how far we think we are from Heaven as compared to our neighbors. We take pride in being further up the ladder, down the road, into the journey, older in the faith. We make God our judge rather than our Father.
Beyond that, we reduce our freedom in Christ to a set of rules. Rules are far easier to measure than freedom. That’s because freedom is a release from measurement. It’s like floating in space or water. It has no boundaries; it is immeasurable. It is like God. When we reduce our freedom in Christ to a long list of rules, we set limits to our freedom. We cage it in and make it what it cannot be. We try to measure what cannot be measured.
While this may sound cerebral, it has application for everyday life. Paul referred to it when he wrote to the Galatian Christians who had taken up their measuring devices with a vengeance: “Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you?” (The Message).
In other words, why do we think God loves us? Because we can measure everything we do, and we think it meets his expectations? Talk about ridiculous!
Let’s talk for a moment about sin. Since sin is outside the presence and grace of God, it amounts to slavery because it is bound within the limits of what can be measured. When we choose sin, we choose measurement, being within the confines of something. Freedom is just that—freedom in Christ—and has no boundaries. It cannot be measured. It’s silly for me to say that I’m more free in Christ than you are. If you’re “more free” than I am, it’s got to be because I’m not free in the first place.
Paul summed it up this way.
The obvious impossibility of carrying out such a moral program should make it plain that no one can sustain a relationship with God that way. The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him. Doing things for God is the opposite of entering into what God does for you. Habakkuk had it right: ‘The person who believes God, is set right by God—and that’s the real life.’ Rule-keeping does not naturally evolve into living by faith, but only perpetuates itself in more and more rule-keeping, a fact observed in Scripture: ‘The one who does these things [rule-keeping] continues to live by them.’ Christ redeemed us from that self-defeating, cursed life by absorbing it completely into himself (Galatians 3:11-14, The Message).
Paul continued with this thought.
Legalism is helpless in bringing this about; it only gets in the way. Among those who belong to Christ, everything connected with getting our own way and mindlessly responding to what everyone else calls necessities is killed off for good—crucified. Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts, but work out its implications in every detail of our lives. That means we will not compare ourselves with each other as if one of us were better and another worse. We have far more interesting things to do with our lives. Each of us is an original” (5:23-26, The Message).
Legalism is so tempting, but it amounts to measurement. And a life in Christ is free, absent of measurement. We step out of that freedom every time we step into a life that is measured, obeying rules as if that were the way to gain God’s approval. Except, this is the same God who loves us unconditionally. We are the apple of his eye, wholly unique and treasured by him.
So in the end, we serve one another because of our love for the Father. It’s love, not obligation to some list of rules, which prompts us gladly to lay down our lives for him. We revel in his boundless grace. We live knowing we are sinners saved by that grace. We forgive and love and encourage, and all because of the freedom we have because of Christ’s love and sacrifice.
I don’t know about you, but I’m throwing myself off into the deep ocean of freedom. It’s pretty scary to leave the safe boundaries of measurement. I know full well I’ll inevitably be climbing back into the boat, into the small confines of my selfishness and limited view of life. But I also know I’ll have a look at that vast openness and jump right back in again. And someday . . . I’ll jump in for good.
Jen Wesner is the wife of a pastor, mom to five gorgeous and talented daughters, a serial DIYer, and a lover of books. She lives in Florida.