Monday, April 18, 2005

Which Law Written On Our Hearts

These last couple of weeks have been the toughest of my spiritual walk yet, but also the most glorious time of a revelation of the finished work of the Cross that Paul so powerfully explains in all his letters. It’s an incredible journey when you find out that you are no longer a sinner, and that God dealt with sin two thousand years ago. It’s a marvel when you finally grasp that sin is no longer an issue with God, and that God already views you as perfect, holy and without blame (righteous) in Christ apart from your performance or works. Religion on the other hand keeps on reminding us of that which is no longer an issue for God – THE LAW OF MOSES. And that's all I hear lately - IT IS FINISHED - and no matter which page I turn to in the Bible, it speaks of this wonderful revelation from the heart of God. In essence it’s the difference of being under the law or being under grace. Oh, we preach grace, talk about it, write books about it, but almost always with the law still safely shackled to it. My own conclusion is that 99% of books on grace are just debates about mixing two covenants, and that it’s a far cry from the revelation that Paul teaches in his letters. The words that constantly echo off the walls of my mind are “where there is no law, there is no more transgression of the law.” Thus, to still draw right and wrong from the law by definition means that we are under the law and not under grace. Bonhoeffer and other great ministers taught about making grace “responsible,” and although I see their hearts on the matter, their methods almost always lead to being back under the law. Then there was also Paul and James who saw the matter of grace without works, and grace with works, in stark opposites, and even had bitter disputes about the matter. Sadly, all of these neat definitions still produce cause and effect religion, which is no different from the blessings and curses of keeping or violating the law.

We are all familiar with the verses that God will write his law on our heart, and for most of my walk with God, I assumed this to mean the law of the old covenant. However, Paul dismantles the law as the ministry of death and condemnation not fit for a righteous person. Why on earth would God write such a code on our hearts? What would be the purpose to inscribe a code which MUST lead to wrath? (Rom 4.15) So it seems to me that all of this is an attempt to restore the law with grace, whereas I now clearly see them as mortal enemies in our relationship towards God. Jesus fulfilled and completed the covenant of the law on the Cross, and either it was ALL nailed to his body, or it was not. Either he settled a new covenant between God and man based on grace, or he did not. We already know the law declared all of humanity guilty before God, and if the natural outcome of the law is wrath, then all we have to do is answer the question about who drank the cup of God’s wrath for violating the law? It was nothing other than the law that taught us good from evil, right from wrong, and from which we draw morality. Before the law came, people knew something was wrong, but they had no way of defining what it was, and so the law became necessary to complete the outcome of eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Did Christ fulfill the law? If so, then why do we still go around judging people based on the precepts of the law? If God nailed this old guardian to the Cross, then why do we still make it the guardian against which we measure people and spirituality? Is it perhaps because we don’t trust the fact that God promised to guide people himself under the new covenant? Or could it be that we still inject the law because we really don’t have a full understanding of God’s view about us?

My Christian mentors taught me that the law expresses God’s character; his likes and dislikes if you would. In a sense that is true, but I think most of all the law teaches us the character of man apart from God. It’s only a shadow of the perfect man that would be acceptable to God – his Son, and at its core, the law forbids being human because it is spiritual and we are not apart from Christ. Its requirements are righteous, but we know that nobody could keep the law, and God had no illusion that we would fail in all our attempts at keeping it. Christians who walk around saying “at least I am trying” live in the same pitiable state as we did under the law. If ‘trying’ got the job done, then Israel would have been the most holy and righteous people walking the earth – but we know they are not. The law begins to makes perfect sense if you understand that God needed a way to show us that we are ALL guilty in our own efforts (self-righteousness) and that none of us sought after him by its demands - not a single one.

And then you might ask where does this leave us with the whole issue of morality? How do we decide morality if the moral code of the law is no longer in effect? (And you might disagree with this premise, but I come back to where there is no law, there is no transgression of the law). Paul tells Timothy that as long as there are people who do not possess the knowledge of their righteousness in Christ, that laws (not the law) are necessary, but the law is not intended for a righteous person. So let’s circle back to my earlier comment about the law that’s written on our hearts; if it’s not the law of the old covenant, then what law is written on our hearts in the new covenant? It’s the law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. It’s the law that teaches us there is no condemnation between us and God. It’s the law that teaches us that nothing can separate us from the love of God. It’s the law that teaches us that God already declared us righteous, holy and without blame before him in Christ apart from our works or performance. This is all in Christ, and Paul's definition of a righteous person - not someone who still walks around with a “sinner” mentality. In Christ we are no longer sinners, but righteous because Jesus removed the very obstacle that declared us unrighteous and sinners before God – THE LAW. It’s the finished work of the Cross that brought us near to God without our performance or efforts, and it’s this revelation that brings God's peace and rest to our hearts. It’s this new law of the Spirit that brings the fruit of love, joy peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control into our lives. If sin was the natural fruit of the first covenant without our help, then how much more will the fruit of the second covenant be part of our lives without our help as we embrace this new law? We cannot produce an ounce of it, it's a natural outcome of this new law.

The law (of Moses) was not given for us to judge one another with, but to judge ourselves against while we still lived under it. If we become judges of the law, then we become the very “gods” we thought we would become by eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Living out such a position makes us no better off than still being under the old covenant, and we can only end where the Pharisee’s did; they boasted in the laws they could keep, and justified the one’s they couldn’t. And we all know that if we break one of these laws, then we are guilty of breaking all of them. But you and I, all of humanity was declared in violation of the whole code of the law two thousand years ago. Unfortunately we have scores of teachers and preachers who still proclaim a mixture of the law alongside grace, but they do not understand what they are saying or the things they insist on so confidently (1 Tim 1.7). Such teachers promote useless speculations rather than God’s redemptive plan that operates by FAITH (1 Tim 1.4), because “by the works of law shall no flesh be declared righteous before Him, for through the law is a knowledge of sin.” (Rom 3.20) Want to hear such a useless speculation? The other day I happen to skip across a "Christian" radio station when the minister confidently declared that the only difference between the old and the new covenant is that we no longer stone people to death for violating the law, but that all of the demands of the law are still in place. What a detestable speculation, and no wonder the Church at large is such a confused mess.

Now I am not suggesting there is no such thing as morality - God forbid. Even Paul addressed this issue at length in Romans 6, but I believe we misunderstand his teaching on the subject. Because of our English translations of the Bible, we have viewed sin more as a verb than a noun. Most of the time when the New Testament writes about sin, it writes about sin as a noun, and not as a list of do and don’ts (sounds like the law). Thus when Paul addressed this issue of not sinning because we are under grace, he was not referring to sin in the sense of a verb, but more definitively as a teaching (doctrine) of sin (the law). Read Romans 6.15-23 and see how Paul describes that once we were slaves to the teaching (doctrine) of sin, but that now we should rather be slaves to the teaching (doctrine) of righteousness. I don’t wish to explore the whole context of righteousness in this essay, I simply wanted to point out that he was referring to two different doctrines as opposed to a list of do’s and don’ts.

Then, don’t you know that Paul says the mind of the law (flesh) is at war with the mind of the Spirit, and that they desire opposite things? These two minds will never desire the same things, and no wonder so many Christians are at war within themselves trying to please God. This double mindedness about trying to mix the law and grace makes man unstable in ALL of his ways. Contemporary teachings are nothing less than trying to make the flesh holy in the same manner that failed under the first covenant. Major Ian W. Thomas is right when he says “there is nothing quite as nauseating or pathetic as the flesh trying to be holy!” The only way out of this dilemma is to understand that the law has not been an issue with God for more than two thousand years now. Believing this will save your soul from this dreadful war and your attempts to uphold two opposing covenants. God settled the matter ONCE AND FOR ALL in Christ, but it is of ourselves that we make it an issue once again, thus falling from grace and crucifying Jesus all over again. God purposed the Scriptures (law) to imprison everything and everyone under sin so that the promise could be given — and because of the faith OF Jesus Christ — to those who believe this truth. (Gal 3.22) We have been reconciled to God at the Cross while we were still God's enemies, and knowing this truth is what causes the life of Christ to save our souls daily from cause and effect religion (the law). (1 Cor 5:18-19)

So, here I am, looking at all the books on my bookshelf that “explain” this Christian walk, and they just look like faint shadows of that which I have seen this last while. Suddenly they seem so superficial, and I must have read the Bible more in the last couple of weeks than in my entire spiritual walk. Like the law and the letter, these books are empty of any saving life in itself - it's time to move on. I look back at many of the articles that I posted on my blog, and all I see is law, law and more law. It was for freedom that Christ has set us free, but mixing law and grace is not freedom; it’s still the law. I will therefore not convert most of those articles as I said I would, but would much rather devote the new ezine to material that explores Paul’s gospel of grace and peace. I grappled with this for quite some time, and hence my silence in posting new articles. I now have peace about the matter, I have peace about who I am in Christ, and all I want to know going forward is Christ crucified.

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