LASTing Peace, Beyond Belief, Week 1c

Are rules and laws obsolete for mature Christians? If so, what takes the place of the rules and boundaries?

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Love for the Lawless

A few weeks ago my dog ran away.

It was a perfect, sunny Sunday. We were leaving the house through the garage, so I pressed the button to open the big door, then turned back to grab his leash from the hook on the wall. In less than 10 seconds, he spied two stray dogs across the street and took off. Suddenly, my normally well-behaved dog was deaf to me. As you might expect, happy to be part of the game, the two strays led Brave on a wild game of chase through the neighborhood.

Within moments, they were out of sight. The last tail ducked into the woods at the end our cul-de-sac. Unreservedly, I charged through my neighbor’s yard and into a mass of thorny vines. I plunged toward a small clearing and then scanned the horizon for Brave. No dogs. Anywhere.

Hysterical, I ran the three blocks back to my house. I screamed at my husband, “Brave ran away! He is chasing some strays that were in the yard across the street!” Without waiting for a response, I grabbed Brave’s leash, which I had dropped in my panic and took off again, with no idea where to go.

Because God is good, I didn’t have to look very far. There was Brave, just across the street again, stand stupidly in someone’s front yard. This time when I called, he ran straight to me.

It’s funny when God decides to drop little lessons in our hearts. As I secured Brave to the end of his leash, a recent sermon came to mind. The pastor compared Christians struggling to live “good” lives and follow all of God’s rules to a dog on a chain.

A Christian cannot experience true freedom in Christ while trying desperately to be righteous on his own. Paul talks about this in Galatians 5. But often, we’re afraid that if we break the chain, or unleash ourselves from the bondage of the law, we will lose our closeness to, or relationship with God. At the same time, we often feel frustrated and bitter about having to be “good” all the time.

In my runaway dog story, as soon as Brave realized he wasn’t on a leash, he took off after the other dogs excited to experience the same freedom they had. Similarly, when we understand our freedom from the bondage of the law, there’s a chance that we’ll stray. But it’s vitally important that we grasp what this freedom really is. Otherwise, we cannot fully appreciate what Christ did for us on the cross.

“So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.” Galatians 5:1

Now here’s where it gets really good! Brave came back! He was only missing for about 10 minutes. He knew that life with me was so much better than anything else he could experience in the big wide world. It’s the same way with believers in Christ. Jesus is so much better than anything we can experience or have or become.

Romans 2:4 says, “ Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?”

When Jesus died on the cross, He removed the chain of the law. Romans 7:4 tells us that when we believe in Christ, we are no longer slaves to the law. We no longer have a long list of “do’s” and “do not’s”. And yes, there is the freedom to run away.

But just like Brave knew that I am good to him, that I feed and brush and care for him, those who have trusted Christ know the lovingkindness of the Father. And His kindness draws us back to Him. In fact, Psalm 63:3 tells us that God’s love is even better than life.

“Because Your lovingkindness is better than life, My lips will praise You.”

The Rules Have Changed

The Golden Rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. 

I bet if you stopped a random, professing Christian on the street and asked, “Who gave us The Golden Rule?” their confident reply would be, “Of course, Jesus did.”

I’m here to challenge that. I mean, if we’re going to Love Like Jesus, don’t you think we ought to know how He thought we should love?

Love your neighbor as yourself, is pretty easy, pretty safe as rules go. It leaves the measure of love open ended, held only to a very subjective and personal standard. Any moralist happily endorses The Golden Rule.

It leaves a remnant of plausible morality for an unbeliever; you don’t have to believe in

Jesus to obey it. The Golden Rule creates generous atheists and friendly agnostics. In the end, usually The Golden Rule is quoted with an index finger pointed at someone else’s chest, while the speaker happily forgets that there are three fingers pointing right back at himself.

You sir, how do you love?

So, if Jesus didn’t leave us with The Golden Rule, who did, and what did Jesus command us to do?

In Matthew 22:37, Jesus quotes The Law of Moses in response to a question. The greatest commandment given through Moses was indeed, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.”

But, if you lived in the days of Jesus, would you be content to simply hear a sermon, then head off about your normal duties? Or, would you have been a disciple?

Wouldn’t you want to follow Him everywhere, ply Him with questions, sleep under the stars on the Mount of Olives with Him, be ever so intimate with the Man who loved you like no one else ever had?

If so, then let’s follow Jesus to a private place. I want to hear His words reserved for the company of His hand-picked friends; be one of those who would have experiential understanding of this love.

Let’s share the Passover with Him one last time and be attentive to His final words in the sacred setting:

“A new commandment I give to you, that  you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples.” To be known as His, it is not enough to love others as we love ourselves. As mentioned before, anyone can do that.

At the end of his life, the same man who recorded Jesus’ instruction to love others as He loves us, the man who called himself, “the disciple Jesus loved”, felt burdened to remind us of that commandment and to describe that love more explicitly.

Read 1 John 4.

To love as Jesus loved us, is to:

  1. Love before we are loved (1 John 4:10)
  2. Love beyond the world’s standards of reason
    In Matthew chapter 5, Jesus says over and over, “You have heard it said…, but I tell you…”. Jesus offers and demands something far different than moralism.
  3. Love verbally, confessing Christ and crediting Him as the one who first loved us  (1 John 4:15)
  4. Love others before they repent (while we were still sinners, Christ died for us, Romans 5:8)
  5. Believe and never forget the love God has for us, even when we fail to love as He did. We cannot continue to love as God does if we forget He loves us in our failures.
  6. Love fearlessly (1 John 4:18)

Jesus demands of His followers far more than the world expects. At the same time, He has not left us without means. Let us follow Him closely and learn from Him.

“By his divine power, God has given us everything we need for living a godly life. We have received all of this by coming to know him, the one who called us to himself by means of his marvelous glory and excellence.” 2 Peter 1:3

“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”
Matt. 11:29

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” John 14:27

Dirty Little Lives

If anyone was defiled by Jewish standards, it was Jesus. And He did it on purpose! He touched dead people, he touched spit, he touched lepers. Jesus spoke with Samaritans and mocked the self-righteous, “spot-less” Pharisees. It wasn’t hard to find law-dirt on Jesus.

The Mosaic law commanded that the Israelites avoid many kinds of foods, contaminations and unclean objects. And then Jesus came along.

“And he said, ‘What comes out of a person is what defiles him.’” Mark 7:20 What a paradigm shift! So much for avoiding all the bad stuff, the bad stuff is in me!

A quick look at the Greek word for “unclean,” as used in Romans 14:14, reveals that it is the same word as is translated “defiled” in other contexts such as, Mark 7:14-22. This dirty little word: is from the root word, koinos. In English, this means to “be stripped of specialness, made common.”

Jesus said in Mark 7:14-22, that what defiles a man, or strips him of his specialness and reduces him to the common, is what comes from inside. In this case, the inside or heart, refers to the “capacity of moral preference, mind, character, inner-self, will, the intention.”

So what is the cure? What is the solution? How do I survive my own toxic emissions? There are a several verses that give a clear answer.

First: Romans 10:9
“If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

And then, if you believe in Jesus: 1 John 5:20
“And we know that The Son of God has come and he has given us a mind to know The True One and to be in The True One- in his Son, Jesus The Messiah. This One is The True God and The Life Eternal.”

And finally, if we have been given a mind to know Jesus then: Titus 3:3-7

“For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.”

The solution to living in a common or defiled life is to let Jesus live His life through you. By believing in Jesus, we are given a new mind and heart and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. It is then Christ in us, that regenerates us and renews us and makes us anything but common.

“But you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light…” 1 Peter 2:9.