Lawless Christians

martial danceThere is this never ending dance that revolves around the matter of the Law. (A dance in the way that Capoeira, the Brazilian martial art, is a dance). The first thrust is the suggestion that we no longer need the Law, that Jesus’ sacrifice has taken care of that. This is quickly parried, followed by a riposte from scripture in which Jesus says that he did not come to abolish the law, but fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) A split decision.

We require a ruling, so we turn to our foremost referee, St. Paul, who speaks eloquently (if at times obtusely) on the subject. Variously he chastises those who fall into legalism, like the Galatians, while other times he creates new laws for us to worry about, as he does for the Corinthians.

But rather than listening exclusively to what Paul has to say about the Law I think we can learn more by focusing on his personal testimony. Even prior to his spectacular conversion on the Damascus Road he was a very devout and religious man. He rigidly adhered to the Mosaic Law and firmly believed that he was demonstrating loyal obedience to God. During this same time he also religiously pursued the persecution and murder of his fellow Jews.law books

After being exposed to the love and forgiveness of Jesus, Paul cast off his hateful nature like a badly stained yet expensive suit of clothes. He was able to do this not by following an old, abridged or new set of rules. It was done by identifying with the Messiah, putting his entire hope and trust in him. He expressed terrible remorse for the horrible things that he had done while under the Law just as he expressed grateful amazement at his salvation. Ironically, this salvation was made possible by the sacrifice of the only person to ever obey that Law, a sinless carpenter’s son from Nazareth.

Throughout the Bible we hear the stories of great men that God has chosen to lead his people. They diligently strived to be obedient and they likely did well at holding to the letter of the Law. Even so, they committed horrible crimes and practiced customs that stood in opposition to the Spirit of the Law. (Genesis 20: 1-13, 2 Samuel 11:14, 1 Kings 11: 1-10).

If Solomon is, in fact, the author of Ecclesiastes, he realizes too late that even a tremendously full and rich life serving God could still ring hollow at the end of the day. Unlike Saul of Tarsus, there was no conversion experience, no point early in their lives in which these men ‘repented’ of their ways and turned back to God, at least not in the way that we have been blessed through Christ Jesus.

For my yoke is easy and my burden is light
Matthew 11:30

He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
2 Corinthian 3:6

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  1. #1 by dana on September 14, 2007 - 2:10 pm

    True Christian: I think it is clear following the spirit of the law is not optional. But I say we don’t have to follow the law, because such a statement sets us up for certain failure. If we HAD too, we’d all be toast where we stand because we’ve already failed. Even the bare bones statement of Micah. I’m often not just or humble, and I like mercy more when it applies to me than others — not always of course, but once is enough to be considered a law-breaker.
    But I’m forgiven even for that — breaking even the most simple and basic of requirements.
    To carry further the father analogy. I HAVE to obey my dad, true. But why? For my own well being and the safety of myself and others. But if I break my curfew, he’s not going to disown me. If I say something nasty to my sister, I still get to come back home that night. The prize of God’s love doesn’t rest in our obedience any more than our dad’s love. (though admittedly in a broken world this is sometimes untrue, but you see my point).
    And eventually as we grow up, we find ourselves giving our kids the same rules our dads gave us because we learn that all along, they really were for our own good, not just things our dad made us do for kicks.

  2. #2 by Christian on September 14, 2007 - 3:34 pm

    OK, Dana I think we are both in agreement (not too surprising, that). I understand that the Law is good (of course it is, it is from God). But I don’t think that, as followers of Jesus, that we should be devoting too much time in attempting to obey the law. To use your analogy, as children we needed rules and regulations because we did not know any better. When we become adults we understand the reason for these laws. In maturity, we may appear to be obedient but in actuality we are not, even though we are within the law. Because, for whom are we obeying? Our own consciences.

    In society the laws that we have are most often directed at the least common denominator. There are laws on the books against rape, theft, and murder but I need not be concerned about them. If they rescinded those laws tomorrow I doubt if I would commit any of those actions.

    If I am close to Christ (and no one can get close enough) then I am free of the law because those things that they proscribe are no longer in my nature. If I remain unduly aware of the Law, where I am falling short and where i am succeeding, then I risk feeding (negatively or positively) my ego and taking my focus off of Christ.

  3. #3 by inWorship on September 14, 2007 - 6:41 pm

    Christian Your thoughts make me think of Paul in Romans 7 in which he speaks of doing what he doesn’t want to do and not doing what he knows he should(vs15). He blames the law, not because the law is bad, but because the law proves his sin(vs 91-10). I can see how Paul, maybe because of his past(his deep commitment to the law), struggles with letting go of the law in his life and living completely in the Spirit(maybe an option for his “thorn”). He speaks so heavily in all his writings of this struggle. I grew up denominationally and I can see Paul’s perspective of maybe being trapped by the law and learning to live not under it and maybe not even for it, but by the Spirit.

    “If I remain unduly aware of the Law, where I am falling short and where i am succeeding, then I risk feeding (negatively or positively) my ego and taking my focus off of Christ.”

    I wish I could read that statement and say that I have much to be proud of, but I am definitely more in a negative place.

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