Friday, August 18, 2006

You're On Your Own

I think of myself as a Christian and I hope those who know me agree with that assessment. Christianity exists in tension between mercy and justice. The mercy business is for when you fail to obey God's law. And justice is how well we all measure up against God's law. I think that's fairly simple.

I go about confident in the imputed righteousness of Christ that I claim by faith alone. And I try to do what's right, as an expression of gratitude, as a matter of obligation, I figure I have to live right. Living right means obeying God's law. Nothing more or less than that: God's law. God's character is imaged in God's law and it an unconditional perpetual ethical obligation. That sounds bad but it's Good. It's the baseline against which the Good is measured. If I'm a good person, I'm obeying God's law as well as possible.

But law gets cluttered. There's the "law" of Roe v Wade that says a woman's privacy gives her the legal right to abort her unborn children. There's the "law" of my alma mater that said not to listen to the Moody Blues in the dorm and keep my hair cut length short enough it didn't touch my ears. There's the "law" of whatever my mom said about smoking and drinking. Is a pattern emerging?

Jesus condemned the Pharisees. Consider the Sermon on the Mount where he explains what God had in mind in Torah about God's moral character. Contrast with what the Pharisees did to fulfill all righteousness. It was something different. They made their own law to keep instead of God's law that they clearly could not keep. That's what damned the Pharisees, they substituted their own legal framework for that of God.

There's more. What is the purpose of God's law? It serves as a target, a benchmark that illustrates how we fail to measure up. A mirror that shows us our face is dirty. You wash your face with soap. Don't try to use a mirror, it breaks and the shards cut you up. I used to stop there in my condemnation of legalists. Now I go one step further.

You can't use the law as a basis of competition for social status. Think about a gathering of fairly upright people. The book of James condemns deferring to people on the basis of riches. Ah, but consider spirituality. How does the Evangelical acquire status and lord it over his peers? By being more holy than they are! How does he do that? Why by keeping to a stricter ethic than they do! That's what *I* do. When I utter one of those bad words you shouldn't say, I go "oops," and look around at who heard. Any Evangelicals? No, whew.

"That's a pretty cavalier attitude about sin, isn't it brother Poling?" Actually, it's the whole point of this essay. (Another Evangelical status seeking behavior is use affected language like brother or sister or beloved.)

(I don't think saying those vulgarities and rude words are violations of the 3rd commandment. That's the command not to say the NAME in a useless fashion. Consider how people say, "Oh my God!" or "God, no!" That's what I think the 3rd commandment prohibits.)

I figure that God helps people keep HIS law and use HIS law to become more like HIM. I used to get all bugged at the sins I'd pray about and get absolutely no traction on overcoming. And I was quite insistent about how God was't keeping his promises about improving me. But then I started asking myself, are these God's laws or are they Baptist laws? I looked through the Bible and I didn't find anything on the subject. But I saw all kinds of real things God commanded that I didn't keep and that didn't bother me.

When you try to keep God's law, by faith God provides grace to live out Christ's righteousness at that point. When you follow any other rule set, you're on your own.

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