This is in response to some comments on my last entry. Comments are limited in their usefulness in responding. I needed time to think things out so I could try and put them down in writing. This is long so …
The quotations of scripture are from the New Living Translation.
“I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God’s way of making us right with himself depends on faith.”
But Paul also says in 1 Corinthians 10: 23, 24 and 29b to 33:
23You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is helpful. You say, “I am allowed to do anything”–but not everything is beneficial. 24Don’t think only of your own good. Think of other Christians and what is best for them…
29…Now, why should my freedom be limited by what someone else thinks? 30If I can thank God for the food and enjoy it, why should I be condemned for eating it? 31Whatever you eat or drink or whatever you do, you must do all for the glory of God. 32Don’t give offense to Jews or Gentiles or the church of God. 33That is the plan I follow, too. I try to please everyone in everything I do. I don’t just do what I like or what is best for me, but what is best for them so they may be saved.
Galatians 4 and 5
I think you have to read the two chapters in Galatians together. I don’t think that there is much contradiction between these two chapters. When you get to Galatians 5:18, Paul says, “But when you are directed by the Holy Spirit, you are no longer subject to the law.” Then in vs. 22 and 23, “But when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, he will produce this kind of fruit in us: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”
I grew up a rule keeper. I didn’t watch movies; listen to popular music, smoke, drink, dance, party. I went to church and other “Christian” activities. I was a good kid and even tried not to embarass my parents too much. I was a good student. I learned to love God as I knew him and to love and care for those in need. The rules didn’t seem hard at the time but I know I was not at ease in the “world” or with non-Christian friends. That being cut off from the world however was sort of like part of the package deal of living for Christ. I believe that those who helped plant my faith in God did not intend to make the faith legalistic. They did the best they knew how but the whole atmosphere of the church was one of adherence to a set of standards as the hallmark of faith.
My parents lived under these rules too. Yet the faith which I saw in them was not just observance of rules – it was deeper and manifested itself in love and concern for others. So I saw faith lived out and tolerance for others practiced. Watching them, I learned to love God in ways that went beyond just obeying rules.
By the time I entered university I had dropped adherence to some of the rules but others had become comfortable and important to practicing my faith. These rules I either tried to impose on other people who were interested in the Christian faith or used them to keep myself separate. I most likely alienated my fair share of people who may have found God if I had been less hung up on rules and behavioral standards. I did not intend to change. I didn’t even know I needed to change until I was confronted with faith that was clearly as valid as mine – just that the rules didn’t match up. I believe God was beginning to teach me that he was about more than living up to standards. I also broke some of the rules I knew were very important; so, as I was learning that God was bigger than my own small set of rules, I found myself guilty of breaking some which I knew were not just petty rules. When you violate some of your deep principles, guilt is hard to let go of.
Finally, I got the fact that God’s grace was really sufficient and that only his grace was enough. My guilt and a lot of my fears were just kind of dropped; like a heavy load that you hang on to for a long time and then your fingers fail and it all slips out of your grasp. They were too heavy and I have no intention of picking them up again (although every now and then I lift a corner to see if maybe I could pick them up again – forget it – they are still heavy).
Maybe I see this whole thing – the dichotomy between the law and freedom – is that Jesus by fulfilling the law became the one we were to follow rather than the law itself. Having our lives conform to his then means we are in fact carrying out what God intended by giving the law; that the whole intent of the law was to enable us to live in relationship with God, pleasing him as we were created to do.
To me the passages written by Paul setting out how not to live are not attempts to set new rules to follow or even restatement of the old law. They are counterbalanced by his talking about a whole new way of living; admonitions to demonstrate evidence of the Holy Spirit being in control.
Because I have a relationship with Jesus Christ and he has promised to send the Holy Spirit to me to help me, I want the Holy Spirit to control me, to teach me and to bring my life into conformity with the life that Jesus has planned for me. I seek closeness with God.
If the Christian life were simply a matter of following the rules it would possibly be clearer – not free but more precise, with well defined limits. If God were a distant God we would need the set of rules. Instead God offers us this intimate relationship of love; like children to a father, like a bride to a husband; which is more complicated while at the same time being simpler. I want, above all else, to maintain this relationship. In my marriage I am faithful to my husband because of love for him not because of the rules of a contract which I entered into. Likewise, my relationship to God is maintained by my desire to be his and his love for me, not by my compliance to the law.
I am compelled by the desire to maintain and deepen the relationship with God; to look to God for what he wants. This I find in his word as I read it and as the Spirit of Jesus reveals things to me from it. I have to talk with him. Since God is real, living and present with me, he is constantly available to me for help. So I have this simple directive – follow Christ’s example. In all honesty, that can be a whole lot more complicated that a simple set of rules.
So this freedom that Christ bought at such a price is what I believe he wants us to experience. I am not totally free of the desire to get my own way but, when I do, my relationship with Jesus suffers. If I try to live life without him, I start to see the desires of my sinful nature take over. Even if I succeed in living by the rules that are being pushed, I risk breaking off my relationship with Christ who wants me to rely totally on his grace not on my own efforts to adhere to a set of rules. And success in abiding by the rules tends to inflate my own ego by engaging in a comparison with others who may glaringly fail.
In fact, I think that having rules sets us up for failure since if we keep them we tend to feel self righteous – and there we have failed again. Living in a love relationship with Christ is a constant reminder that it is only by his grace that we live at all.
St Augustine of Hippo said all this much more succinctly in his famous statement, “Love God and do as you please”