Jump directly to the Content Jump directly to the Content

Lead Me On: God Doesn’t Want Our Good Behavior

He sees through the tactics we use to make ourselves look good.

It’s hard to resist the idea that being a believer means being “good.” Sure, the Bible does tell us about how we should live, but it’s more than that.

Which puts us in the awkward position of making clear, cogent points about the Bible without falling back on the pressure to simply “be good”— that’s a different thing altogether.

Like a burnt offering.

Burnt offerings were Old Testament to-dos for drawing closer to God by showing repentance via an outward sign or sacrifice. Today we have a cross, and a stone rolled away to tell the Christian story of no more burnt offerings needed.

But burnt offerings are sticky little buggers that creep into our habits, taking good things and mutating them into something different—like when we do good things for the wrong reasons. When we care about reading Scripture so we can say we read our Bible rather than actually be changed by God, for example, a good thing turns into a burnt offering.

And truthfully, when we do this, you can see it all over our faces.

It’s a lot like what Tina Fey once tweeted, “’And make it obvious.’ —what I assume some ladies getting plastic surgery say.”

Burnt offerings may be the Christian culture equivalent of plastic surgery—it’s taboo to talk about, yet everybody seems to be doing it. Just when we think we’re pulling off the look of being moral, productive, contributing citizens, we’re actually showing everyone just how un-free we are.

That’s a problem.

It not only misses the freedom that believers were promised, it undermines it. How do we keep burnt offering behavior out of our rhetoric, out of our reasoning, and out of our repentance?

Sometimes we must be shown what not to do in order to know how to proceed in the right way. Case in point: pretty much everybody in the book of Galatians.

Overcoming the good-behavior-as-a-burnt-offering mentality proved to be a problem for religious leaders at the time Paul wrote his letter to the Galatians. Which is a little odd because their hero of yore, David, knew better.

David wrote, “Sacrifice and offering you did not desire . . . burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. You do not delight in sacrifice or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart.”

Why hadn’t rumor spread to the Galatian religious leaders that when the rubber meets the road, heart trumps burnt offerings? The offering God really wanted was their hearts.

Even if that were clear, though, it’s never easy.

God set before people a blessing and a curse. The blessing: him. The curse: mistaking that the blessing was not a blessing—or was less of a blessing, or something we could earn out of our own effort.

Sounds like a certain “circumcision group” Paul describes in his letter to the Galatians. They were all, I’m acceptable and good because I’m circumcised and you should be too. Their circumcision was a burnt offering, and it was a kryptonite to the freedom God wanted them to have.

“Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you had?” Paul asked the Galatians (4:15). That’s a good first step to noticing if we’re turning toward burnt offerings. Have we lost our joy?

David asked for his joy to be restored (Psalm 51:12). It came from something outside of him. He knew from where his blessings came. He knew the blessing himself: God.

Burnt offerings have a way of driving us away from the blessing God has for us. They have a way of taking away the freedom we once felt with God. They lay a lot of burden on us. Just look at how it affected Peter, causing Paul to confront him.

Paul asked the Galatians, “How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Gal 3:3).

Bad decision.

Trying to make ourselves perfect will require a never-ending pool of energy for a to-do list written in invisible ink. Its activity makes us look alive and astute, and yet fails to wake us up.

Waking up is not an easy thing to do.

It calls for a lot of things, like positive talk and positive thought, and most especially, delivery on a unique promise that is a lynchpin to disabling the yoke of burnt offering pressure.

It’s a promise of love, and it will take a lot of nerve on our part to “keep our head” when discerning the freedom that comes with that love.

That love is a verb, exacted by something outside of us, on our behalf, enabling us to serve others, and unabashedly dedicated to healing us and restoring our joy.

Receiving and expressing it takes practice.


Because, as Tina Fey has wisely tweeted, “No one your age has any idea what they're doing either. No matter what age you are.”

It’s an enormous responsibility to live a free life. A disciplined, repentant, doctrinally sound, free life. Rejecting burnt offering behavior that doesn’t infiltrate our hearts is a good start. Thankfully, there’s a father who would like to help us, if we will let him.

Janelle Alberts’ writing shines a lighthearted spotlight on Bible character plotlines and trending pop culture train wrecks. Prophets and prime time could not look further apart, until things get personal, in which case, we all have a lot more in common than we thought. Alberts tackles this concept for parenting and faith publications, and can be found at www.janellealberts.wordpress.com. It’s hard to resist the idea that being a believer means being “good.” Sure, the Bible does tell us about how we should live, but it’s more than that.

August10, 2015 at 8:00 AM

Recent Posts

When Your Calling Is Challenged
As hardships come, you have 1 of 3 options.
What Is Calling?
Defining this “super-spiritual” word
Cultivate Your Calling in Each Stage of Life
Angie Ward discusses cultivating leadership amid ever-changing responsibilities.
Should I Stay or Should I Go?
How to know whether to leave or stay in your ministry context.

Follow us


free newsletters: