Category Archives: Theology and mystery

Is it Legalism?

 

Occasionally I get a challenge on my use of the word “legalism.”  Some say that I don’t use it right, that I am just using it to categorize people in a negative way.  They think it is unfair for me to use the word to describe those who hold to higher standards or certain kinds of behavior.

What these challengers don’t understand is that I have been where they are.  In fact, years ago, I wrote a little pamphlet entitled, “The L Word,” in which I debunked the challenges of those who pointed at my church and called us legalists.  I said that legalism was only properly used in reference to a system teaching that people can be saved by keeping the Law.  Since I always believed that salvation came through Jesus alone, by grace through faith, I could not have been called a legalist.

Have you ever been right and wrong at the same time and about the same thing?  Well, I have been.  The above assessment is technically correct.  Legalism teaches salvation by law.  What I didn’t understand then is that all forms of performance spirituality stem from and return to legalism.

Now, let me give you a little of the theology I believe.  There is one requirement for salvation and it isn’t something we do.  It is receiving, by faith, the gift God has given to us in Jesus.  That’s it.  Just saying yes.

And that’s where some people disagree.  Yes, it’s faith, they say, but it is also obedience.  It is also doing the things God says.  If you don’t do what God says, then you aren’t really saved, they say.  And I reply: that’s legalism.

If my behavior is a requirement for my salvation, then I am under the law and saved by works.  If it is 90% Jesus and only 10% me, then I cannot be saved because I can never measure up even to that.  It doesn’t matter what ratio you bring out, if it isn’t 100% the love of God through Jesus, given freely as a gift to those who will receive, then it’s legalism.

Still, most performance-based people would agree with this.  And that’s where I was.  But then I began to hear people say things like, “Well, real Christians don’t ___.”   Or even, “I have to wonder if so-and-so is still saved.”  And sometimes, “We have no fellowship with people who don’t ___.”  I began to understand that we still had some requirements in addition to Jesus.

If the teaching produces feelings that some are “real” Christians while others are not; or that a person could lose his salvation on the basis of some evil act or the lack of some good act—how is that not legalism?  It is still under the law and not dependent on the grace of God in Jesus.  It’s grace plus whatever rule or standard the teaching promotes.  If you have to speak in tongues or be baptized a certain way or wear certain clothes in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus doesn’t make real Christians.  He only makes potential Christians.  We have to do the rest.  And if you have to avoid smoking or divorce or television or alcohol in order to be a real Christian, then Jesus can’t keep what He has made.  It’s up to us to keep ourselves in the kingdom and keep ourselves saved.

And—listen—if it’s up to us to keep ourselves saved, then we are under law and not under grace.  And those who are under law are legalists.

So what does your church or organization teach?  What do the people around you say, particularly about others who are not like you?  Are some people “real” Christians while others who profess Christ in some other category?  Are some people you talk about in danger of losing their salvation or of never having been saved because of something they do or don’t do?

Legalism is the antithesis of grace.  It pushes the love of God into a side category considering it something like an influence, rather than the answer and hope of the believer.  The cross of Christ is not enough for the legalist, we must do our part.  And the legalist will tell us what our part ought to be.

The truth is that the cross is enough.  The work of our salvation was accomplished by the love of God in Jesus.  That’s the past work, the present work, and the future work.  All that is necessary, He has done.  Our part is to believe and receive.

And about now the objections are being shouted.  “But what about sin?”  “We have to do our part!”  “What about the commands?”  “What about those people?”  Go my blog page and type the word “sin” into the search box.  You can read my many answers to these objections.

My mom and I used to play cribbage and she often said, “No matter how many times you count it, that’s all you get.”  Count it any way you want.  The truth is still the same.  All the challenges and objections and qualifications boil down to a simple fact:

If Jesus is enough, that’s grace.

If Jesus is not enough, that’s legalism.

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The Trodden Path

Grace 101

 

In Jesus’ parable of the sower, some of the seed falls on the path.  The path is a well-used and recognized walkway around or through the garden.  If you step off the path, you pack down the prepared soil, so you are supposed to stay on the path.  Anyone who walks through the garden without using the path is a troublemaker and trespasser.

You can probably see some parallels already.  The old way is the right way, the only right way.  The traditions and values of the past are sacred.  Don’t mess with what has always been.  If you want to be recognized and valued, you have to stay on the path.

The problem, of course, is that the path isn’t very receptive to the message/seed.  It is not prepared to receive anything new.  In fact, it is hardened against any change.  You can talk all day about grace and the love of God in some churches and among some people and no one will respond.  No one expects to learn something new, so they don’t.

I remember, from my first church, how some people would sit in the back, in the pew they had used for decades, cross their arms over their chests and wait for the sermon to be done.  There seemed to be no way to get the message through to them.  They simply were not interested.  They had been in church all their lives and what they had learned in the past was good enough for the future.

Traditions are not bad.  In fact, they are usually just the definition of “how we do things.”  But traditions can certainly stifle any good news.   Most churches and organizations make traditions quite quickly.  Even newer groups settle to regular styles and perspectives.  Doing something different is uncomfortable.

The message of grace doesn’t fit well into most church traditions.  Oh, they use the word and they hold it high.  But I have watched as the eyes glass over in some groups when I talk about a relationship with Jesus.  Relationships are messy and personal and unpredictable.  They really don’t fit into tradition because each one is new and special.  Jesus interacts with each person in a unique way.

So the message falls on the trodden path.  Never mind that the message was there before the path.  This is the true gospel!  God loves you and provides all you need in the person of Jesus Christ.  He wants you to trust in the person and work of Jesus.  That’s not a new message.  That’s the first and foundational message of the gospel.

But, over the years, the gospel has become trodden under the feet of so many and their ways.  Yes, they say, trust Jesus, but you have to be a member of our church; or you have to be baptized our way; or you have to avoid certain activities and lifestyles; or you have to start doing something.  It goes on and on.  There’s good soil under the path, but it is so packed down from the traditions and policies and doctrines that it cannot receive the seed.

That’s why the grace message seems new.  It reveals the heart of God apart from all the human additions and traditions.   I can’t tell you how many people have said that they never heard this message in their church.  They wonder how it could be true when the church doesn’t share it.  But it is not a new message and, when you begin to understand, Scripture opens up in wonderful ways.  So many have said that Scripture makes sense now that they understand grace.  That’s because you can see the message of the Scripture without the smoke of the traditions.

But we’ve never done it that way before!  Yes we have.  Before all the stuff was added; before all the people with their human interpretations started telling us what to put on the message; before the path forgot that good soil should bear real fruit.  This was the message the disciples took to the world.

God loves you so much that He provided the way of salvation and sanctification and glory through His own work in Jesus on the cross.  He knows all about you, your compromises and failures and fears.  He still loves you and calls you to Himself.  In Him you will find wholeness and peace and victory.

Jesus is the only real answer.

Jesus is the only message of grace. 

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In His Presence

The most important revelation of our lives, the fact that makes the most serious change in us, is the understanding that other people are real.  This happens so early in our lives that we have long forgotten its impact, yet we continue to struggle with this knowledge throughout our days.  So important is this understanding that those who fail to grasp it are handicapped in their relationships and in their daily lives.

In many ways, our television and internet culture has made this even more difficult for us.  Our feelings—emotional connections—for people are manipulated and twisted by fictional stories designed to move us to empathize with people who are not real.  Then, when we see others, perhaps on the news, we feel something less than empathy.  Someone loses their home in a fire; someone’s child dies in a war; someone is hurt in an accident—and we say that’s too bad.  But we will never meet them, never be able to help them in a personal way, and never really care.  The news is just one more source of entertainment, albeit one that isn’t fiction (or so we are told).

I suspect this is part of the reason for the increase in reality shows.  We desire relationship and we want it to be real.  Fiction pulls at our hearts, but offers no connection that will reveal our identity.  I might care about Macbeth or Jean Valjean or Jack Bauer, but I learn nothing about myself in a fictional character.  Somehow the fact that the person in a reality show is a real person seems to promise more to me.  I believe that I might actually be able to connect with the person.  Sadly, the deception of the reality show is that there is little reality involved.

You see, I learn about myself through the eyes and thoughts of others.  In fiction or television I can see them, but they cannot see me.  I need them to see me.  They are the real mirrors in which I learn about myself.

Perhaps you can remember an experience where you suddenly realize that a person sees you, really sees you.  They might have a funny look about them.  They might be looking right into your eyes.  It isn’t a bad thing, but it can be unnerving.  Something has been revealed and you are moved to understand what it was.  And you learn.

And when you realize that a personal God really sees you, you as an individual, the doors to eternity open.  Suddenly your relationship with Him holds the promise of revealing the truth about you.

In response to the last post on identity, TacticianJenro asked how our relationship with Jesus can be personal.  If that is the relationship we are to have with Him, how does it happen?  This is the question that centers our faith and rocks our world.  This is the most important question of our lives.

The answer is intensely personal, yet as simple as the development of any relationship.  Let me risk a few basic suggestions.

  1. Believe that He is real.  Not just an idea, but a Person.
  2. Believe that He has an interest in you.  He sees you.  He knows when you lie down and when you get up, as David said.  He knows what you like and what you want and what you are afraid of and what you struggle against and what you worry about.  He knows more about you than you know about you.  And He loves you.
  3. Believe that He is with you.  He never leaves you.  He is always near.  These are things the Scriptures make very clear.

He is real.  He loves you.  He is with you.  This is not fiction or deception.  This is reality and it makes a difference.

Now, live as though you believe this.  Think about Him.  Talk with Him.  Ask Him things and expect answers.  Walk through life with Him.  That’s what the Christian life is all about.  Service, sacrifice, devotion—all the things of the Christian life that we were taught—all come out of this reality of His presence or they are just more fiction.

The relationship of a young man and a young woman is about being with each other.  They spend time together and learn.  In the process they each learn about the other, but they also learn about themselves.  The more time they spend together, the more they are able to give of themselves.  The more they give of themselves, the more they see and receive from the other.  This is how a relationship is supposed to work.

Our relationship with Jesus is nothing less than the most precious relationship in our lives, but it is just as simple as presence.  Learn to live in His presence.  Let that be your prayer.  The goal and the activity of the rest of your life.

And in the process, you will be becoming who you are.

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A Person

Grace 101

One on one relationships are difficult for those with identity problems.  That makes sense, doesn’t it?

Narcissists, for example, often do very well in crowds or groups but struggle in personal relationships.  The famous line from Linus in Peanuts is, “I love mankind, it’s people I can’t stand.”  We understand that.  Individual people, persons, can be very difficult for us to enjoy.  Individuals test our identity.

Basically, this means I can be whoever I want in a group.  Groups require little from my identity.  I tell them who I am.  They might not accept me, but they don’t challenge my assertions about who I am.  But individuals expect something more from us.

When I put myself out for you to see, I expect you to do the same.  But if either of us is lying, the relationship is false.  You may not be dealing with the real me.  In a group that probably doesn’t matter, but in a marriage or almost any kind of personal relationship, it matters.  People, individuals, want to know the real you or me.

I think it is fair to say that a group is an idea.  A church or a club or even a family is a structure that defines the accumulation of individuals with a certain purpose or attribute.  But a person is something real, something substantial.  Dealing with a person is what defines us.

Now, I am going to step out on a limb here.  I think it is very easy for us to keep God in the place of an idea.  God has all kinds of attributes and we can say that we relate to Him sort of generically, but it is difficult for us to find our identity in relationship with an idea.  Understand that I am not saying that God is simply an idea.  I am saying that it is easy for many to think of Him in that way.  In fact, I think that much of constituency of the church thinks of God as nothing more than an idea.  He is the source of standards, judgment, provision, protection, and more—but they don’t really have a relationship with Him.  He is distant in much the same way as a group is distant in their minds.

But Jesus is a person.  There is something fundamentally different in God presented in Jesus.  He is personal.  He is an individual.

And in Him I find my identity.  I am who I am in relationship with Him.

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Straw Men

“My friend over there does not believe you.  He does not think you can do what you say.  I believe you, but he does not.  He says he has twenty dollars that he will bet against you.  Do you want his bet?”

With these words the speaker prodded the soldier into trying to stick his sword into the wall from ten paces.  He put twenty dollars on the table and threw his sword.  When it didn’t stick, he said loudly that he wanted another chance.  The little man ran over to his friend and came back with the word that another twenty dollar bet would be granted.  But again the sword did not stick.  The soldier wanted another chance and laid another twenty on the table.  Again he failed to stick the sword. 

The little man snatched up the twenty dollars again and said, “My friend thinks you are a liar.”

With that the soldier gave way to his anger and charged the friend who sat in the dark corner of the bar.  But the stranger did not stand or flinch.  And when the soldier saw him clearly the truth was revealed.  The “friend” was made of straw.  Just a form of a man in a dark corner.  The little man, however, was nowhere to be found.

Straw men cause a lot of problems, don’t they?  They seem to be everywhere, in almost any argument.  You hear from them in church complaints: “A lot of people I talk to think . . . .”  You hear from them in gossip: “Did you hear that there is someone in the church who . . .?”  You even hear from them in doctrinal disputes:  “Those people believe . . . .”  But when you look for them, they aren’t really there.

Sometimes the straw men are just lies.  But sometimes they are distractions that allow a person to make a point while you are upset about something else.  And sometimes they are unrepresentative samples used to discredit a whole group.  This last one is what I have been seeing lately.  Find someone who believes what you are against, someone with strange ideas and teachings, and use that person to discredit others who hold remotely similar teachings.

Here’s what I mean: I know of a very small group of people who embrace the grace message and engage in offensive behavior.  These folks like to get drunk, think cussing is cool, and flirt with the most aberrant ideas of doctrine.  Then they write about loving the Lord and being thankful for His grace.  So the people who write against “hyper-grace” use them as examples of why the grace message is wrong.

I just listened to one young man explain why he believes the Biblical message about Satan is outdated and no longer applicable for our day.  He happens to believe almost the same as I do about grace.  But are we the same?  Suggesting that the grace message is discredited because of this man’s errors is a straw man fallacy.  It is no different from bigotry against a certain group of people because of the behavior of a few who happen to be part of that group.

The grace message—the teaching that the work of Jesus Christ is sufficient and complete for our salvation—is firmly supported by the Scriptures.  Any addition to the work of Jesus, any requirement that you or I are supposed to do in order to get saved or stay saved, is error.  No matter how far someone who believes this strays from the truth in other ways, their heresy or nonsense does not negate the truth of God’s grace.

Now, to be fair, using straw men is wrong when we do it as well.  If I watch a group of legalistic church people sneak into the bar in another city and listen to them tell dirty jokes and get drunk, and then suggest that this is what all legalists are like, I would be wrong.  Every idea has proponents who do not represent the whole.

Let’s talk about real issues and stay away from straw men.

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Hyper-grace?

There have been several articles lately referring to the idea some call “hyper-grace.”  It appears to me that the discussion started with an article in Charisma magazine and has branched out to other venues and teachers.  I may take a stab at answering some of their criticisms in future posts, but I would like to discuss this word, “hyper-grace.”

It is a negative word, meant to put people down.  The prefix “hyper” comes from a Greek word that means “over.”  Someone who is hyper-critical is overly critical.  A thyroid gland that is hyper, is over- producing.  The idea is that it is too much, more than necessary, more than what is good.

When connected to the idea of grace, the word apparently means “over the top grace” or simply “too much grace.”  But can you have too much grace?  How does that make sense?

There have been those who have said that we must maintain a certain level of law or performance in our message.  Maybe 90% grace is okay.  Maybe 80%.  After all, grace is nice; but there are still rules and expectations and sins to deal with in life.  Even in the Christian life.  We are still responsible for teaching believers how to behave.

I believe and teach that everything God does for us is grace.  Grace is the activity of His love.  Law, I suppose, is what God asks of us.  That certainly fits with the idea of Scripture and with the teaching of most of those who think that we still need to teach law.  God does His part and we do ours.  Right?

But the whole message of the gospel begins with the understanding that we have failed to do our part.  (God knew we would fail, of course.)  So the plan from the beginning was not that we would do our part and He would do His.  It was that He would do His and He would do ours!  God does His part and God does our part.

Jesus said that He had come to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17)  Paul said that Jesus was the end of the law (Romans 10:4)   The law had become a curse for us and Christ delivered us from that curse (Gal. 3:13)  The story goes on, but the point is that God in Christ has done our part.  There is nothing left for us to do but accept what He has done.

So let’s think about this word again.  If it is all grace—salvation, justification, righteousness, glory, Heaven—and we have done nothing (law) to achieve any of it, then how can any teaching of grace be over the top?  If grace goes all the way to the top, how can it be wrong to go all the way with it?  There is no such thing as
“hyper-grace.”

Now, I know there is error taught among some of the grace teachers.  There is also error taught among the law teachers.  That’s the way things are and always have been.  Error does not negate truth.  Error simply exposes lack of understanding or compromised motives in expressing truth.

When someone comes against what you believe with words like “hyper-grace” or “cheap grace” or even “antinomianism” (yeah, you probably won’t have to worry about that one), remember that this was the basic charge leveled against Jesus by the Pharisees and Paul by the religious leaders of the Jews.  The idea that God would do it all, that we would be saved and kept saved entirely by His initiative and action, goes so strongly against what the legalist teaches that he has to attack with false charges and nasty words.

David Martyn Lloyd-Jones said it so well:

There is thus clearly a sense in which the message of "justification by faith only" can be dangerous, and likewise with the message that salvation is entirely of grace. . . . I say therefore that if our preaching does not expose us to that charge and to that misunderstanding, it is because we are not really preaching the gospel.

For the whole quote, which is worth reading, go to this page.

Just because some don’t understand or some misuse the teaching of grace doesn’t make it wrong.  In fact, understanding grace makes everything right.

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The Gospel of Pragmatism

Pragmatism is basically the idea that positive results are sufficient criteria for determining value, even truth.  In other words: if it works, use it.  One of the most famous pragmatists was a man known as Niccolo Machiavelli.  For Machiavelli, the goal of a strong and controlled kingdom was worth whatever it would take to get it and maintain it.  So he taught that any means was acceptable for the Prince, as long as it would accomplish the goal.  That freedom, even responsibility, would include means considered wrong for others to use for their personal gain. 

For example, the Prince could lie and should lie without compunction for the good of the kingdom.  While lying would still be a wrong action for the regular people, the goal would make it acceptable for the Prince.

It was Machiavelli who coined the phrase, “the end justifies the means.”  Specifically, he meant that the goal of the strong kingdom justified any means.  However, again, this same formula was not available for all to use.  If everyone did what the Prince did, the kingdom would suffer.  The Prince’s goal was above all others because it was for the “greater good.”  Suffering, deception, manipulation, abuse—all were acceptable for the goal.  The value and legacy of the Prince would be defined by how well he accomplished and/or maintained the goal.

Today, if you call someone, “Machiavellian,” you are referring to something negative.  Machiavelli would not think of his philosophy as a way to hurt others or a way to serve personal passions.  He would think of it as a higher level of good, where means normally unacceptable become not only acceptable, but mandatory.

I would submit that Machiavellian thinking has been in broad use among church leaders for a long time.  Some of the easiest examples would be found in fundraising techniques or in maintaining doctrinal control.  Whereas deceit would be unacceptable in other areas, it seems almost common among religious fundraisers.  Whereas separation and unkindness would be negatives within the church community, they become almost mandated in cases of doctrinal deviance.

Teachers who seem able to compromise for the sake of their ministry may see that ministry as a Machiavellian good, with value beyond normal work or ministry, and thus not limited to the same moral standards.  Financially inappropriate practices are rampant within churches and ministries.  Abuse and perverted behavior is overlooked or handled within the system.  Ineffective products or formulas are promoted for the image, rather than their real value.  All for the good of the ministry.

Politicians, community workers, seminary directors, business managers, military leaders—all can be servants of the gospel of pragmatism, the Machiavellian goal.  How many times have we heard the phrase, “If it saves one life, it will be worth it all.”  The goal sounds noble, far above other responsibilities and worthy pursuits.  If the rules of the community are bent in the process, it is argued that the “greater good” was served.

Consider this: Many years ago, the teacher received what he believed was a call from God.  He dedicated his life to that call.So noble was the call/goal that he could justify dedicating the lives of others to it as well.  In fact, it was true service to God, in his mind.  All things could be utilized to serve the goal.

If a spiritual formula didn’t work, but still generally moved the ministry toward the goal, it was acceptable for use.  If the Scripture had to be twisted to fit, it was good to do so for the sake of the goal.  If people had to be used and discarded, that was not too high a price to pay for the goal.  Finances were necessary.  Loyalty was necessary.  People were necessary.  Control was necessary.  Anything necessary for the accomplishment or maintenance of the goal justified any means.  The goal is everything.

What’s wrong with this and what should be done about it?

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Two Plans in One

Grace 101

 

What do you get if you mix one good egg with one bad egg?  A bad egg that’s twice as big!

By the time Jesus came, the Law God gave to convict the people of sin, cover that sin from His sight, and call the people to Him, had become the religion of the Jews.  The Bible makes it clear that there was almost always a small remnant of people who truly desired and followed the Lord.  The rest were focused on the human system we have called the flesh.  By the time of Noah, it was just a handful of people.  After the Flood, it was just Abraham and his family.  It seems to have continued like that through much of Hebrew history.  There were prophets and a few others, but most of the people cared little about the real purpose of the Law.

But the flesh recognizes power and effectiveness.  God’s Law did work to help the people.  Those who followed it found God’s provision and protection in ways that were miraculous.  So the people were drawn to the Law for what they could get from it.  They saw it as similar to their own system, having morals and religion, and they wanted the special benefits it brought.  So they combined the two plans.

Now, this is a gross simplification.  But the point is that the Law, off and on through Israel’s history, was used as a tool of the flesh.  It became viewed as part of the cause and effect process the flesh loves.  Do this and you will get that.  Mechanical.  Mathematical.  Formulaic.  Obey the commandments and God has to bless you.

I want to be honest.  The Law sounds conditional.  If you do this then God will bless you.  You can see it all through the Law.  But you only see it that way because you and I were trained to think that way by the flesh.  The point was that God was giving the people important advice on how to live.  He wanted to bless them, but their own actions prevented His blessings.  He knew, for example, that certain cleanliness practices would prevent diseases.  He knew that rest was important for people and animals.  He knew that giving helped to release people from bondage to money.  He knew what kept them from enjoying His blessings and He told them how to be free from those hindrances.  It wasn’t “Do this and you will get this.”  It was “I want to bless you and here’s how you can receive the blessing.”

The Pharisees of Jesus’ time are the classic promoters of this “religion of the Jews.”  They taught that the Law was to be kept beyond the letter.  They invented more laws to surround the ones God gave.  They built up the system of cause and effect, obedience and judgment.  But they were not the first and they were not the last.  People who served the flesh believed that adding the Law of God to their system would give them the spiritual life they so deeply desired.  It would give them hope and make them righteous—if they did it right.  So everything was about doing it right.

When Jesus came, He said that He was not going to abolish the Law.  He meant the true and good Law God had given for the benefit of the people.  He would fulfill the Law; accomplish the work God had promised to do for them.  But He would abolish the religion of the Jews.  The idea that people could earn spiritual favor by making sacrifices or performing ritual acts of kindness was going away.  That was never the truth.

This is important for us to understand.  God’s Law was just as good as David and others said it was.  Jesus was the end of God’s Law only in the sense of the culmination, the satisfaction.  God’s Law served an important purpose and that purpose brought people to Jesus.  Jesus was the New Covenant that the Old Covenant pointed to.

But the religion of the Jews was just the flesh, the bad egg only bigger.

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The Old Testament Believer

Grace 101

 

As believers today, we are blessed with communion with God through the Holy Spirit and oneness with Jesus Christ who is our life.  We are no longer in bondage to sin and the sin of our past has been washed away.  Because of our heart connection with God, we are free to walk in grace.

None of that was true for the Old Testament believer.

Before the cross, life for those who trusted in the Lord was centered on the Law.  The Law was given by God for the benefit of humanity and there was much good in it.  It may be popular for us today to look on the Law as a negative, but it wasn’t that in the life of the OT saints.  David loved the Law.  The writer of Proverbs called the people to the Law.  It was never bad . . . it was the gift of God.

Sin had entered the world and the people were separated from God.  The cross would come far into the future.  What were they supposed to do?  God gave them the Law.

We usually think of the Law as the ritualistic code given to Moses and, of course, that is the formal version to which most of the Old Testament refers.  But when Adam and Eve left the Garden they wore the skins of animals that had been sacrificed to cover their nakedness.  And the next thing that happens, after their expulsion in Genesis 3, is the sacrifice of Genesis 4.  Immediately a system of sacrifices was set up.  It doesn’t seem to be as structured as what we find in the Law as given to Moses, but the system is there.  So was the concept of sin.  There were things that people should not do and consequences for doing those things.  Moses’ Law simply put it all in written and legal form.

So why did God give the Law to the people?  Because it was good for them!  The Law did three things for the people before the cross.  It convicted, covered, and called.

First, the Law protected them from the consequences of sin by pointing out the danger and setting up a system of discipline.  The people of God would suffer greatly under a culture that allowed adultery, theft, or murder.  Sin hurts people and God didn’t want His people to hurt each other or to suffer pain themselves because of their actions.  He taught them the dangers of sin.  By warning them, God again convicted them of sin.  The people could see the need to live rightly and their inability to do so.

Second, the Law covered the sins the people did commit.  No matter how much God warned them, they continued to sin.  So He gave the sacrifices to cover their sins.  It isn’t clear just how this worked, but it is clear in the Scriptures that the offerings of the people and the priests were designed to cover their sins.

My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and You cover my iniquity. Job 14:17
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Psalm 32:1
You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. Psalm 85:2

 Of course, the sacrifices also point to what we understand as the doctrine of substitution at the cross.  One died for another.  The lamb was killed to cover the sins of the family.  The lamb was innocent and spotless.  Yet the blood of the lamb was given for the people.  This is such an obvious illustration of what Jesus would do for the people that we could see it even if we didn’t have many Scriptures referring to Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Finally, the Law continually called the people to the Lord.  No sacrifice was done without a word of testimony to the authority and love of God.  No ritual, no rule, no requirement was given apart from the promise of God.  It was all designed to bring the people to Him.  He would be their Savior, their only Hope.  They were to trust in Him.

The Law was good.  It was just never meant to bring life.  It was meant simply to bring the people to the Lord.  It convicted, covered, and called.  Those who came to the Lord, His way, found great peace and joy.  They discovered His protection and provision, just as He promised.

But the Law was not the hope of the people.  The Lord Himself was their Hope.  The Law didn’t wash away sin; it only covered it before the Lord.  The Law could never give life.  Jesus came to give life to those who trusted in Him, whether they lived before or after the cross.

The error came when the people connected their plan to God’s plan.

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No Options

Grace 101

According to Baskin-Robbins’ website, the company has created over 1000 flavors of ice cream.  For those of you who aren’t familiar with the company, it generally features 31 flavors at a time.  People, especially children, are intrigued by the variety and sometimes stymied.  They just can’t seem to choose.  They walk back and forth looking, reading the descriptions, thinking about what they might like, and then someone with them or behind them says, “Just choose already!”  That might explain the fact that the most popular flavor sold by Baskin-Robbins is (drumroll please) . . . vanilla.  That’s right!

Sometimes in our country and our culture, we simply have too many options.  We move more slowly because we have so much to decide and much of the “decision-making power” of our lives is spent choosing between options that really are not that much different.  An argument could be made that our affluence actually hinders our progress at a certain point.

But what if you didn’t have any options?  In many countries around the world, no one asks what will be for supper.  They are simply grateful to have rice or bread or potatoes again.  No one wonders what to wear because they only have one set of clothes.  The lack of options almost defines poverty in the minds and hearts of Americans.

Adam and Eve found themselves without options in dealing with the most important part of their lives.  How were they to restore a relationship with God?  How could they find their way back to Paradise?  There was no option.  They were stuck where they were, in the life they had chosen.  The way back was closed.  They were not only spiritually poor, they were spiritually hopeless.

Of course they had other problems also.  Creation itself had changed.  The communion they had with God allowed them to walk among the creatures of the world in peace and harmony.  Nature was tied to humanity, made for humanity, and it fell with humanity.  The ground no longer brought forth crops joyfully.  The animals no longer enjoyed fellowship with humans.  Now there would be work and fighting and death.  And pain.  There would be pain.

But there were no options.  Adam and Eve and their children had nowhere else to go.  Eventually, they turned their backs on Eden and began a new life.

Truly, when people seem to have no options, they become very creative.  In years past I remember many meals of macaroni and cheese from the box.  The box was enough to feed the two of us and cost only 15 cents.  When it got monotonous, we chopped up wieners to add to it or, if we had a little, some sliced ham (my wife drew the line at Spam, but I liked it).  God made us amazingly creative.  We will pretend to have options, even if it appears we have none.

And two paths began to develop.  Now that the hearts of God and man were separate, their ideas of how to handle this new life became very different.  God’s path and man’s path.  After the Fall and before the Cross.

 

Grace 101 is a simple attempt to explain what has happened to us and what God has done for us.  So much of what we have learned has been confused by sectarian doctrines and theological jargon.  It is sometimes difficult to see the message the Lord wants us to understand as we read the Bible or worship together.  The series of posts will be found in the category called Grace 101 and begins here.  Enjoy!

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