My wife is part of a Facebook group that will occasionally perform ‘Random Acts of Kindness‘ (RAOK) where people enter a raffle of sorts and the lucky winners receive some small gifts or presents from whoever is performing the RAOK. My wife recently gave away a couple of presents to a few different people on one of these RAOK days. A short while later she received a reply from one of the winners asking if they could be cheeky and ask for a third present.
My wife struggled with what to do. Each of the small presents wasn’t expensive but each one took her about an hour to make and she had already given away six of them. To make it slightly more complex she had a loose acquaintance with the person who was asking for the extra gift outside of the Facebook group itself. My wife felt obliged to give another gift but was somewhat put out because it didn’t feel like she was giving a gift any more, it felt like an obligation.
She asked herself that most common of Christian questions ‘What would Jesus do?’ and was even more disheartened because she felt like Jesus would make the gift because Jesus is perfectly loving and perfectly good and she felt even more guilty for not wanting to do it.
What should she do?
In the grand scheme of things this is a pretty small dilemma but it highlights a common conundrum for Christians. How do we handle feelings of obligation and guilt?
An obligation is a moral, legal or social requirement and it is an inherently negative ideal. That is not to say that it cannot have positive outcomes or that all obligations are wrong (they are frequently not) but it is negative nonetheless.
I fulfill an obligation in order to avoid a negative consequence. Whether the consequences are moral guilt, legal punishment or social condemnation, I only obey because I wish to avoid said consequences. I’m not acting out of love nor am I acting out of freedom, by definition I am bound and required to perform a certain act. This stands in direct contrast to what our heart should be as Christians.
Obligation is the language of the law. Galatians says ‘For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law.’
When we seek to keep our moral and spiritual peace through fulfilling obligation we are replacing the grace of Christ with our own attempts at sanctification. We are seeking to appease our conscience or others with our own righteous works, not the work of Christ on the Cross.
Obligation is not the same thing as conviction. When I am convicted of something it drives me to repentance and to ask Christ for forgiveness and a change of heart so that I worship God by my obedience. Obligation doesn’t lead me to repentance but rather keeps me under a yoke of slavery to the law. Acting out of obligation may make us moral but it ultimately leads to a frustrated and bitter heart towards God as we never feel as though we receive just rewards for our obedience.
I advised my wife that she was under no obligation to make and send another gift. If she wanted to bless this person out of love then she could make another gift but if she chose not to she was not doing anything wrong. There are sins of omission but this was no such example.
Are you frustrated and bitter because you are constantly obeying out of obligation? When you feel convicted do you repent or do you reluctantly and angrily obey whatever obligation you feel is upon you? Do you still relate to God through dependence on your righteous works or do you approach him with a thankful heart knowing that whatever righteousness you have is from Christ?
Perhaps you need to re-look at what Grace is and how we are saved?
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