A couple of years ago, I realized that I was spending way too much time on social media. When I was sad or lonely or insecure, I would get on Twitter or Instagram, post something I knew would provide the affirmation I needed, and wait for the likes and comments to give me my daily hit of confidence. For Lent that year I gave up social media. I hoped this season away would not only break my addiction but would help me work on my desire for human affirmation.
A couple weeks in, I was frustrated and drained. I couldn’t figure out what was going on, but I was constantly in a bad mood. After a discussion in one of my favorite classes, I walked home feeling like a total failure. That’s when it hit me: I had shifted all of my desire for affirmation from social media to my performance in class. I had put a rule in place I hoped would not only restrain my behavior but change my heart. That rule had no power to transform me, it could only reveal the deeply rooted nature of the sin in my heart.
Paul reminded God’s people that the law was not able to fix them (Romans 8:3). It could reveal their sinfulness or restrain some of the effects of sin in their community, but it could not redeem or restore them. The law could not defeat sin, especially because of the sinful humans that imperfectly use and apply it. Many of the confrontations Jesus had with the Pharisees were not due to their love of the law but their sinful use of it: to justify themselves, to oppress others, or to elevate themselves above God.
In this season of Advent, we practice the waiting that the people of God have always practiced: waiting for the Messiah, and now, waiting for His return. The failure of the law to redeem set the stage for the Good News God’s people always longed for. Christ took on human nature for the sake of redeeming it. Through His sacrificial death, we have hope—eternal hope and current hope that the Holy Spirit will work in us to produce faithfulness and holiness we could not achieve on our own.
There’s nothing wrong with setting rules for yourself, as long as you know their limitations. After my realization in the middle of Lent that my rule wasn’t changing my heart, I added a new practice for the season. I continued my fast from social media, but I added some intentional time of prayer and meditation on Scripture. The fast revealed my sin, but I needed the Holy Spirit to do the work of rooting it out and restoring me. It doesn’t matter how good our rules are or how much strength we muster to follow them. Any attempt to live the Christian life apart from the Spirit will end in failure. This Advent, we can rehearse the first waiting of God’s people—for the coming Messiah and the freedom He brought us—while we practice the second waiting for His return and our complete restoration.
Week 3 Challenge:
In what ways has your life turned into all the ways you “follow the law”? Have you slipped into a legalistic mindset in any area of your life? This week, reflect on the ways God shows you His faithfulness regardless of your actions. How can you move forward and eliminate legalism or a works-based mentality from your life and your walk with God?
Week 3 Reading Plan:
Week 3 Memory Verse:
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