This time of year I always feel guilty. When it comes to the end of May and the weather turns nice, there’s a feeling I get. A rising panic has dawned on me ever since I was a teenager. You know the feeling - you step out into the sunshine feeling free and all of a sudden it hits you: I SHOULD BE REVISING!
Are you the same?
I haven’t sat any exams for years. But the weather turns nice and instantly I feel burdened by the weight of exam season.
It's a horrible feeling. And it's exactly like living under law. Let me list some similarities between being in "Revision Mode" and living "under the law."
In revision mode...
- You never know if you've done enough. Until you see the exam you can't know what you should have been revising. Therefore, no matter how much revision you do, you could always be doing more.
- If you blow off your revision and enjoy the sunshine you never really enjoy it. The knowledge of your coming exams overshadows any fun you might have.
- If you stay in and study you spend the whole time feeling like you're missing out. Everyone else is having the summer of their lives, and you're stuck in the library.
- Negotiating the exam becomes the whole point of study. Not learning. Not love of the subject. Everything is reduced to these arbitrary hoops through which you must jump.
- Techniques become almost as important as understanding. In exams, the ability to conceal ignorance is every bit as useful as actually knowing stuff. Being good at exams can be worth more than being good at your subject.
- The end results for which you aim are all about personal advancement - getting the job or university place that's best for you.
Living under the law is exactly the same.
- The relentless drum beat that drives you is guilt. 'Do more, do more, do more' says the law. And more is never enough.
- You can ignore the law's demands and 'cut loose' in sin, but unless you've been set free by Christ you won't enjoy it. There'll always be the lurking feeling that you should be shackled in religion.
- On the other hand, you can clutch those shackles to yourself in self-righteous pride, but only you know how jealous you are of the cool kids cutting loose. Resentment is rising in you, even (and especially!) as you resolve to be good.
- Loving your neighbour in self-forgetful joy is not your heart-beat. Instead you need to be told what to do. In measurable, manageable, bite-sized chunks.
- Concealing your badness is just as important as showing your goodness. Keeping up appearances is everything.
- The end goal is not Christ's love shared, but your status secured. Your goodness is all about you. Which means it's not actually good after all.
In Galatians 3 Paul likens the Law to "a strict governess in charge of us." (Gal 3:24, JB Phillips). But now we've graduated. Christ has passed our exams for us and earned us the A* (Gal 4:4). The Law has done its job for us and now goes into honourable retirement (Gal 3:25). We can still learn much from its wisdom, we can still consult the old lesson plans. But we're not in revision mode. It can't give us a detention. And its grades no longer apply.
School's out for summer! We're free.
Like the graduate who picks up a book for love of learning, now we can actually pursue the life of Christ without fear, pride, pressure or guilt. Now that there's nothing we have to do we're finally in a position to actually do good! Now that all judgement has been cleared away, altruism is possible! For the first time in our lives genuine love can begin.
The Christian lives under the banner of John 19:30: "It is finished!" So no more "revision mode" spirituality. You've passed the test - with flying colours. Let the summer begin.