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Insight #346 – Are Lists Bad?

It is popular in some circles these days to bad-mouth lists related to following Jesus. But are such lists really bad? One day I decided to investigate lists in the NT. Without much effort, it was easy to come up with 18 of them.

Lists vs. Relationship

One web writer said, “When we follow Jesus into a relationship, we throw all to-do lists out the window.” Really? Why would a relationship with Jesus be so different from a relationship with people in our daily lives? For example, would you even dream of saying to your boss: “I respect and appreciate you, but please don’t give me a to-do list. Let’s just have a good relationship”? Or would it cross your mind to say to your spouse: “Let’s not make any lists of things that we need to do; let’s just cuddle and enjoy each other”?

Here is a list from God, detailing what a relationship with Jesus looks like: “Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor that which is evil. Cling to that which is good. In love of the brothers be tenderly affectionate to one another; in honor preferring one another; not lagging in diligence; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope; enduring in troubles; continuing steadfastly in prayer; contributing to the needs of the saints.” And the list goes on. You can read the entire beautiful list starting in Romans 12:9.

Another person posted, “My legalistic background says, ‘do this, do that, don’t do this, don’t do that!’ Following Christ is not a check list, but a relationship.” On the contrary, in addition to “to-do” lists from God, here is just one of many “don’t-do” lists from God: “Now the deeds of the flesh are obvious, which are: adultery, sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustfulness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, strife, [and the list goes on, ending with] and things like these; of which I forewarn you, even as I also forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit God’s Kingdom” (Gal. 5:19-21).

A Love List

Someone wrote, “It helps to be honest with ourselves sometimes and consider our motives. Are you pursuing a relationship with God or a checklist?” The Holy Spirit agrees that good motives and relationship are vital: “If I give away all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don’t have love, it profits me nothing” (1 Cor. 13:3). Sobering thought. But does that mean I should remove helping the poor from my “list”? Should I discard all lists and replace them with love? Well, what is love? The Holy Spirit continued that very text with a list exploring true love: “Love is patient and is kind. Love doesn’t envy. Love doesn’t brag, is not proud, doesn’t behave itself inappropriately, doesn’t seek its own way, is not provoked” and the list goes on. True love is more than feelings, more than emotional bonds. It reaches from our hearts into our daily behaviors.

It Is Both

Please don’t bad-mouth lists – God’s lists, that is. If you want a good relationship with God, taking His lists seriously is required. None of us keep any of God’s lists perfectly, much less fulfill our relationship with Him perfectly; but that does not mean we should ignore the lists or the relationship! Jesus died for all our sins – outer and inner. Being good on the outside while bad on the inside is called hypocrisy. Thinking we are good on the inside while we are bad on the outside is called self-deception: “The heart is deceitful above all things” (Jer. 17:9). It is not either-or. It is both. A good relationship with God involves our entire beings, our entire lives.