As presented to CCC 8/21/11
Last week we learned about how we, as Christians, need to stop living under the law or even under a hybrid religion that combines the law with grace. Instead, we should live 100% under GRACE, but even knowing that I think it’s still hard to walk in that. So today, we are going to discuss this topic a bit more.
The law is so ingrained in us, I will be the first to admit it may take time to even realize how it rules us. But God, in His wisdom and power, is doing that in my life!
First, look at me. Today, I stand here and I am wearing flip flops. In the 80’s I called them thongs, but my kids tell me that is inappropriate nowadays. I am teaching Bible Study wearing flip flops and THAT IS JUST WRONG! I was raised that you should NOT wear these to church and certainly not be on the PLATFORM is such sinful attire!
Oh, clothing certainly is an area that is STRONGLY ruled by the law. Years ago, when I first became a Christian in a Foursquare church, I was encouraged to wear long dresses and very modest clothing. Now I am not saying to dress immodestly, but it really felt like the girls in our church were encouraged to dress much more modestly than the boys. I followed the rules because I wanted to be a good Christian girl as many of you did as well. At least we could wear pants and shorts, unlike Deana’s upbringing, but at CHURCH we were told dresses were the best approach. That even existed when I began to play the drums at church! I mean, hello – drummers have to sit with the snare between the legs, and I had to wear a DRESS????? Never mind that, I was told it was more important that “ladies on the platform wear dresses than if they had to sit in a unfeminine manner while there”. The law for law’s sake is silly sometimes!
And so, to break that, I asked “will it be a sin to wear flip flops today? Will I feel more holy if I wore closed toe shoes today?” Now, remember the whole “all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial” study last week? I will say it would be VERY inappropriate for me to stand here in a bikini – and I won’t even explain to you how traumatized you would be – but there ARE some reasonable do’s and don’t about these things. But the LAW that flip flops are “signs of sin” is just hokey. And what kind of burden do we put in these sort of areas to people we are trying to bring to church so they have FREEDOM IN CHRIST?
Ah come on, come to church! We want to love on you! But make sure you don’t wear flip flops! God FORBID you come as you are! Clean yourself up before you come to OUR church.
Now, this is not a big deal at CCC, where this stereotypical church rule is not as prevalent, but you get my drift? What is something that YOU feel is required to do before you come to church? Is it a man made law or requirement?
That can also be true for those who judge people who dress nicely for church – it goes both ways!
I am reminded how the Jews who received the grace of Christ struggled with this sort of thing, too. In fact, even APOSTLES OF CHRIST got into drag out fights over this issue!
Galatians 2:11-21 (Paul is sharing this story)
When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.
When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
“We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.
“If, while we seek to be justified in Christ, it becomes evident that we ourselves are sinners, does that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, I prove that I am a lawbreaker. For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God. I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!”
Thousands of years later, are we STILL claiming that righteousness can be gained through our actions and/or the law?
But the law is not as obvious as this in many of our day to day activities. It finds its way to permeate the way we think! For example, I started my new job this past week and was able to go out to lunch with some of my co-workers. That was really great, to connect with them outside of the office. So here we were at In-N-Out Burger and somehow the topic of “being unclean” came up. One of my co-workers began to explain to us that to Jewish people in Biblical times, if they touched a dead body they could not stay within the city or attend temple activities for about 6 weeks. And then he went on to share the story of the Good Semaritan.
His version went something like this:
One day a man who was seriously injured laid on the side of the road. At the same time, a priest who was heading to his duties in the temple was walking down the street. The priest, wanting to avoid the man, went to the other side of the street and passed him. In the mean time, the Samaritan – who was the dirtiest of the dirty by the virtue of being a Samaritan – helped the man immediately. He even paid the inn keeper to care for him and promised to come back and pay any amount due, as long as the man was cared for.
And the moral of the story? The priest cared so much for God, that he knew he could not touch the man because he would be unclean and then he would not be able to serve God and God’s children for several weeks. And we, as Christians, could be more concerned about serving God like the Priests of the Bible and yearn to remain clean for God.
But how does it read in the Bible?
Luke 10:25-37, as told by our Lord Jesus
On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
“You have answered correctly,” Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.”
But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”
In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he fell into the hands of robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, took him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
“Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”
The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”
Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Our Lord did not say that the priest or the Levite acted as neighbors to the injured man. Instead, it was the Samaritan, the most unclean in their society! It is clear that the LAW was not lifted up in this parable (aka, do not become unclean) but rather the compassion of LOVE. And how important it is that we take the time to find out where are “law blinders” are touching on stories where it totally changes the true message!
That leads me to share with you a friend of mine – a former co-worker of mine is an Orthodox Jew. Now, it may seem that I am picking on her or her beliefs, but that is not what I mean to do. She is just a great example of what we ALL do in some areas of our lives.
My friend – I’ll call her Laura – was born in Israel although her parents were from Europe. She has always lived an Orthodox Jewish life. She observes the Sabbath by observing Shabbat beginning each sundown on Friday to sundown on Saturday. She observes all the religious holidays, studies the Tanakh which is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text’s three traditional subdivisions: The Torah (“Teaching”, also known as the Five Books of Moses), Nevi’im (“Prophets”) and Ketuvim (“Writings”)—hence TaNaKh. She only eats kosher food (which was fun when we’d go to client sites that made things like sausages!), and follows the law in every way that she could.
And you know, it was great fun to ask her about her beliefs, to compare our views of Bible stories, and ask about certain things. Like, did you know there is such thing as kosher wine? When I asked her what made wine kosher, she said basically that is was produced by Orthodox Jews, and the process itself was not special. But going through these “kosher lessons”, some things were revealed to me.
For example, there were several rules that Laura shared with me related to the Sabbath:
• You could not cook, so all food was prepared before sunset
• You could not carry items in or out of your home
• You could not work (or even have non-Jews serve you!)
• You could not “light a fire”
But then, when I asked more questions, things got a bit more complex
• You “could” cook, as long as it didn’t get the food too hot
• You could probably carry small things outside of the house
• She would NOT work, so that was not an issue. But some would tell her reading her kindle was sort of like work since she was a computer programmer and the kindle was like a computer. She didn’t agree with that.
• “Lighting a fire” was subjective, as many Orthodox Jews believed that also meant you could not turn on electricity during the Sabbath. Laura didn’t take it that far, but she said sometimes if others were in her house she would at least turn the lights on BEFORE Sabbath and leave them on so that she wasn’t LIGHTING anything……..it was already on.
Where is became even more complicated was in the day to day activities at work with Laura. For example, at our work we had to account for 100% of our time even though we were salaried employees, due to how we billed our clients. Laura would often say she would enter times very late at night or even early the next morning on days where she knew she needed to leave early, even though she actually worked at different times or even days.
This speaks to a recent Harvard Business Review article that I read that shared many “high moral standard” employees often break the most rules because they feel they stay on the “straight and narrow” so often that a little turn here or there is permissible.
And really, what I am trying to point out that basically, the more rules you create to make you FEEL righteous, the more parameters you will create to circumvent those rules! And yet, these rules make us feel holy, special, set aside, and so many other things.
And then there are those of us who do all we can to be acknowledged as “good people”. It reminds me of a church I visited once, where it was preached from the pulpit why members of that congregation were better than everyone else. Some things the Pastor shared:
• The men wore suits
• The woman wore dresses
• The children went to the church’s Christian school
• The members NEVER went to movies, few watched TV, and NO ONE listened to worldly music
• They followed the Bible to a “T”, and sin did not live in their house
• They only sang songs from hymnals, just as God intended
• Because of these actions, God listened to these members more than any other souls on the earth.
You get the gist of it.
I am NOT saying any of those activities are wrong or right, just sharing their view of themselves. In fact, I have to say that I was indirectly called out because it was said that “no woman” in that church would EVER sin by wearing pants, though I was there in such horrible garb! So, I walked out understanding this – they had arrived and were righteous, at least in their own minds!
And yet, when I went out to my car in the parking lot – the church’s LOCKED parking lot and where they made sure only church members parked – there was a huge dent in my car. A dent that was not there before I parked my car that morning. And there was no note saying, “Hey, call me and we can work this out.”
All the things that they were “doing right” did not make them righteous. And yet, whoever dented my car, if they have Jesus in their heart, was already righteous even though they hit my car and took off! They were righteous because of CHRIST, not because of anything that Pastor shared…….and their righteousness was not negated by their actions with my car.
Here is what Paul says about these examples.
Romans 2:17-29 (The Message) – picture yourself and your rules as the Jews Paul is talking to. Whatever it is that makes you feel holy or the actions you do that makes you feel like you deserve God’s grace:
If you’re brought up Jewish, don’t assume that you can lean back in the arms of your religion and take it easy, feeling smug because you’re an insider to God’s revelation, a connoisseur of the best things of God, informed on the latest doctrines! I have a special word of caution for you who are sure that you have it all together yourselves and, because you know God’s revealed Word inside and out, feel qualified to guide others through their blind alleys and dark nights and confused emotions to God. While you are guiding others, who is going to guide you? I’m quite serious. While preaching “Don’t steal!” are you going to rob people blind? Who would suspect you? The same with adultery. The same with idolatry. You can get by with almost anything if you front it with eloquent talk about God and his law. The line from Scripture, “It’s because of you Jews that the outsiders are down on God,” shows it’s an old problem that isn’t going to go away.
Circumcision, the surgical ritual that marks you as a Jew, is great if you live in accord with God’s law. But if you don’t, it’s worse than not being circumcised. The reverse is also true: The uncircumcised who keep God’s ways are as good as the circumcised—in fact, better. Better to keep God’s law uncircumcised than break it circumcised. Don’t you see: It’s not the cut of a knife that makes a Jew. You become a Jew by who you are. It’s the mark of God on your heart, not of a knife on your skin, that makes a Jew. And recognition comes from God, not legalistic critics.
Stop cheating on Jesus with your own theatrics at righteousness.
Here are some more examples, which I have pulled from Andrew Farley’s book THE NAKED GOSPEL.
First, let’s go back to the times of the Israelites. Back then they were in the middle of the desert and had their Tabernacle, where sacrifices were made to God. Imagine one day a priest found a PERFECT lamb, with no one blemish. The priest rushes to the Israelites and said, “WOW! I found THE perfect lamb, and after I sacrifice it to the Lord, we will NEVER have to perform any other sacrifices! ALL of our sins – FOREVER – will be covered!”
The Israelites, in their excitement, accept the sacrifice and then dismantle the Tabernacle and begin to live a guilt-free live “under the blood”, knowing that the perfect lamb has done away with sins once and for all.
Of course, you and I both know this never happened like it says here. Instead, the Israelites continued to give animal sacrifices over and over as no single sacrifice was enough to perfectly cleanse them. Hebrew helps to explain this:
Heb 10:1-2 NIV
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship. If it could, would they not have stopped being offered? For the worshipers would have been cleansed once for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.
Now, WE know as Christians there WAS such a lamb in Jesus Christ, and it is confirmed in the Bible as well:
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
Because of Jesus, there is no longer a need for the tabernacle, the temple, or the daily sacrifices. We have been cleansed ONCE AND FOR ALL. There is NO method or procedure required for us to remain forgiven. Instead, we are invited to depend on the onetime sacrifice as the means to lifelong forgiveness, without any strings attached.
1 Peter 3:18 (first portion)
For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.
But maybe you’re like me – heck, like so many of us humans – who thinks, “Yeah, that’s great! But I need to ASK for forgiveness. I need to repent.” OR “I need to act this way or that way to prove I am holy” or so many other things.
I may even quote 1 John 1:9 which says
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
I am not a theologian, and this verse is complex when taken out of context. But let me clarify something very quickly as this is really a different lesson altogether:
• This is the ONLY verse in the entire NT that says there is a method for maintaining daily cleansing.
• It is not in Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, or Thessalonians.
• When 1 John was written, Gnostics has infiltrated the church and popularized the idea that Jesus was only spirit as God would never stoop to the level of being human.
• Further, Gnostics also did not believe sin existed
• John was trying to show the Gnostics both views were incorrect. Because of that, John purposely uses physical words in his opening statement to challenge this Gnostic heresy. Later, he says that anyone who doesn’t believe that Jesus came in human flesh is NOT FROM GOD (1 John 4:3)
• As such, John was not talking to true believers, because we know Jesus walked on the earth. Instead, it was addressed to non-believers, or Gnostics who had entered the church. In fact he says in 1 John 1:8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.
• True believers in Christ KNOW they are sinners, because to become a Christian you have to admit you’re a sinner!
• As such, John here is concerned with Unbelievers, encouraging to confess their sins, so that they can accept Christ and be saved. Or, in other words, the verse is an invitation to become a Christian. Once you’re a Christian, the confessing is done.
• Notice verse says, “from ALL unrighteousness”? There is no one-by-one concept here!
So, let’s break that down and think about this. I asked myself, “do I REALLY believe that I have the power to control the power of Jesus’ blood to forgive?”
“Do I REALLY believe if I talk to God more and more, he will pour out more of His blood, because He’s holding some back from me now?”
And then I asked myself this: Do I REALLY believe the blood of Jesus was sufficient to bring me a lifetime of forgiveness and cleansing, or do I actually believe it was lacking, and therefore I need to fill in the gap with my own efforts?
Crazy questions, yes?
So let’s talk about and try to understand God’s economy – from the beginning of time, cleansing included BLOOD which covered sin. The animal’s blood is what covered the Jews, and the blood of Jesus is what covers us today.
Hebrews 9:22 says it this way
In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.
But even with knowledge, we push the truth away, saving that is for heaving, but POSITIONALLY on the earth “once and for all” does not work. Maybe it’s because it feels way too easy!
“You mean I don’t have to do ANYTHING to be forgiven? That doesn’t sound right.” My human pride doesn’t want to admit that it really IS a free gift, and that I am not powerful enough to extract my own salvation. And, truthfully, what would I do if I didn’t have my daily list of sins to feel guilty about anyway? I mean, I was taught all these years that I need to confess my sins, to ask forgiveness, and take a truthful tally of my sins.
But there’s no blood in those actions, is there?
Do I REALLY believe the blood is only effective in HEAVEN? That it lacks power here on earth so I need to do my piece? Aren’t remembering, confessing, asking, and claiming MY powers?
Ultimately, it becomes OUR responsibility to make the cross carry real benefits in the present.
And that’s just plain cheating on Jesus! At it’s plain insulting to His sacrifice, don’t you think?
In adopting this fine-sounding belief system, we fail to recognize that the cross is a historical event. Its effects are already accomplished, no matter what we believe or claim. Our actions do not cause more blood to be shed.
So I encourage you – start accepting the fact that, as a Christian, you are saved by grace! Today, tomorrow, it’s done. Repeat the following truths as much as needed:
• Only blood brings forgiveness
• Jesus’ blood will never be shed again
• Therefore God is SATISFIED
• And I enjoy lifelong and eternal cleansing
• Jesus plus nothing!