Do You Need to Change Your Filter?

By Beth Demme

A toddler points off into the distance.

I spend a lot of time in my mini-van. My garnet Honda Odyssey is only a few years old, but I have over 99,000 miles on it.

I don’t know where my Odyssey has taken me, but apparently we’ve gone there a lot.

Last week the van told me it needed an oil change. I ignored it for a few days because I resented how bossy the van was being. I decided the van could have an oil change when it was convenient for me. I diligently ignored the flashing yellow lights on the dashboard. I pretended the intermittent, and then constant, notification message didn’t annoy me. (By the way — I have learned not to do this with the fuel light!)

Several hundred miles later when I finally decided it was convenient, the mechanic said I needed not only an oil change, but also a new air filter. “This blackened filter is limiting the air intake for your engine. It needs to be replaced,” he said as he held up the offender for me to see.

Sometimes a filter gets so dirty that cleaning it isn’t enough, it has to be completely replaced.

The air filter in my van was making it hard for the engine to breathe.

Hmmm. I can relate.

Looking back on my journey with God, I can see how often I’ve filtered my faith. The filters started out well, but over time they got clogged and began to choke my faith. Two biggies for me were legalism and literalism.

I want to explain myself, but before I do, I also want to say that if you are a legalist and/or a literalist, let’s be friends. I don’t dislike you, we just see things differently. I believe God loves us both. Let’s be guided by Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ, God forgave you.” (‭NIV)

Legalism

I used to see God through a filter of fear. I wanted to know the rules I needed to follow to avoid God’s wrath.

The benefit of this filter was the certainty that came with following the rules. For a time, having certainty made my faith seem invincible.

Eventually, fear/legalism/rules choked the love out of my relationship with God. It made our talks stale and robotic. One day, we just stopped talking.

Literalism

As a person seeking rules to follow, it helped to see the Bible as a book of rules.

I used to read the Bible through a filter of literalism. That filter made me part of a comfortable club where we all knew exactly what God wanted. Like legalism, literalism put everything into nice neat boxes. It made God more understandable and, therefore, more manageable.

Ultimately, literalism filtered too much life and vibrancy out of God’s incredible story.

In both cases, I allowed my need for certainty, orthodoxy, and “right” thinking to clog the filter. Once the filter was clogged, love stopped flowing through.

As the mechanic explained, there are times a clogged filter needs to be replaced.

I’ve replaced legalism and literalism with living loved. In Mark 12:30-31,  Jesus says the greatest commandments are (1) to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and (2) to love your neighbor as yourself.

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I hope to spend the rest of my life unpacking the truth of those two commandments and exploring the opportunities they create. Along the way, I’m sure to find other filters I need to clean or replace. There was a time that would have left me feeling defeated and unworthy. Now I know better.

I’ve replaced the need for certainty, the need to fit God into a box, and the need to have a faith that seems invincible with the opportunity to #LiveLoved.

With love as my primary filter, I’m able to seek a relationship with God based on awe and wonder, not fear. I now choose to read the Bible because it opens my mind to new questions (not answers), and exploring those questions deepens my relationship with God.

I couldn’t see it when I was mired in my need for certainty, but sometimes questions are more important than answers.

What about you? Are you filtering your faith? Are the filters helping you breathe easy or does it feel like they are choking you? Tell me about it in the Comments, on Facebook, Twitter, or via e-mail.


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(Originally published on www.bethdemme.com, June 3, 2015 under the title “Legalism, Literalism, and Love.”)

A Christian who loves to think, read, and laugh. A wife and mom with more love than I deserve. I have a passion for public speaking. I'm a blogger and a lawyer, but wait ... there's more, I'm still figuring it all out.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments I deem offensive or off-topic.

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