Friday, August 12, 2011

Living under the Law

A young woman tried so hard to remain pure until marriage.  Her youth group, which she didn't like for various reasons, was pretty up front about the importance of remaining sexually pure.  They explained how sex outside of marriage is sinful.  They probably even warned her about all of the emotional baggage that comes about from these types of non-committed sexual relationships and encounters.  She was on board.  She wanted to do the right thing.

Then she met a guy.  She really liked him -a lot.  They were in love.  It was the first time she had ever felt this way about a guy.  And they had sex.  She rationalized it by explaining to herself and others that she loved him.  But soon after that their relationship took a turn, and they broke up.

What happened next?  She decided that remaining pure didn't matter any more, since she had already blown it.  So, she began sleeping with guy after guy, digging herself into a deeper hole, emotionally scarring herself more and more -all the while covering up those scars with numbness and apathy.  The Jesus she thought she knew became someone she avoided, along with church and Christians.  She didn't like the judgmental people in youth group, which was true, but she was also running away from any further sense of guilt and condemnation she felt.

This is what happens when we, even as Christians, still live under the Law.  It doesn't make us better people.  It shoves us down the path of rebellion further.  She believed that Christianity was essentially this:  you "get saved" by giving your life to Jesus who died on the cross for your sins, and then, as a Christian, you must keep your nose clean and live in such a way as to keep Jesus happy.  And what happens when you finally come to the point where you realize you have blown it?  Well, most religious people will continue to try and make amends and clean themselves up, but sometimes... sometimes a person will see that they have blown it and realize they can't undo what they have done.  So, they run away.  They run away from Jesus, and they run toward a life of "who cares, now -I've screwed it up, so it no longer matters..."

But they never understood the Gospel to begin with.  No, I'm not going to start going after the whole "purity" thing that youth groups try to indoctrinate youngsters with.  I agree with staying pure -not just because the alternative is sin but because life would have much fewer headaches if everyone did.  The issue here is that the Gospel is not grasped, not understood, and it is utterly disconnected with living as a Christian.  The Gospel becomes merely something you need to "get saved," and then we stay saved by keeping our nose clean (i.e. by living under the Law).  Nobody would say we have to be perfect.  Gossip is bad but not that bad, being jealous and spiteful fall into the same category, but for a teen who is told how important remaining sexually pure is, to "break" that is to cross the line which cannot be erased and redrawn.

But what is the Gospel?  The Gospel is the good news of how God has sent His only-begotten Son, Jesus, down into our world to live, die, and rise from the dead for us, to break the curse separating us from God, to defeat our enemies, and to restore us to a new relationship and new people with God.  In other words, the Gospel is about God creating something new and removing all the obstacles keeping us apart.

There are two main ways to keep from being close to someone.  The obvious way is to just avoid them and live as though they are not in your life.  The less obvious way is to relate to the other person like they are a boss, someone to please or placate, someone to keep up appearances for so that they will not react in a way you dislike.  It is less obvious because it appears good on the surface, but underneath all of the pleasing and placating is a heart that is keeping the other person at arms-length.  "Here's what you asked for, nor give me what I want or just let me be."

This is true in both human pscyhology and Biblical theology.  Take the parable of the "prodigal son" in Luke.  There are two brothers -there is the one who wanted the father's money and took it to run away and live wildly, but there is also the brother who always did what the father asked and worked like a slave for him.  At the end of the parable, it is revealed that the "good" brother only wanted the father's things, too.  He placated the father in order to gain control of his things, not because he loved his father and wanted to be close to him.

Living under the Law, while appearing to be "good" (sometimes very good), is just another way to avoid closeness with God.  The problem is not with the Law, per se, because the Law is very good and reflects the goodness of God and the goodness He wants for us.  The problem is us.

But with the Gospel, we who believed are no longer under the Law.  We have died to the Law... in order to be married to a new Husband, to Jesus (Romans 7).  God came down, came close to us, drew near to us, saw the ugliness of our sin, and bore it Himself.  When you see that your Best Friend gave up everything to free you from your prison and have you for Himself, when you see that He knows your deepest flaws and not only loves you anyway but bore the burden of your flaws, does it bring you to live as though he is a boss to placate?  No.  It brings you to live out of love, out of true closeness and transparency with that Person.  And to know that the Person who did all of this is your King only adds to the motivation.

See, the Law is good, but it can never create in us what it demands -a heart which loves God with all its strength and loves its neighbor.  In fact, living under the Law propels us further away from God, as seen with the young woman I discussed in the beginning of this article.  It was her non-relational, Law-based view of the Christian live which created fertile soil for her to walk away once she realized she "blew it."  Only faith, only true closeness with the One who died for us, creates in us what the Law requires: love.  He established and opened the door of that closeness by coming down to you and dying for you and rising from the grave for you to create something new, a new creation, a new life, a new way of relating to God and others, a new people.

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