God’s Law is a ruler, not a sledgehammer

I don’t really like rules. I understand why we need laws. Without them, everyone would just do whatever they felt like, and everything would be completely chaotic. And that being said, some rules are okay. The rules that are things I would have done anyway–driving safely or not taking illegal food into the movie theater or paying my taxes. But what about God’s rules?

God’s rules are significantly harder to obey. I don’t want to be kind to people who are unkind to me. I don’t want to forgive people who hurt me. I don’t want to do what God says is right instead of what I think is right. That’s hard. That takes faith and trust that God’s rules are superior to our own understanding, and I rarely have the strength to do that.

So what happens? I fail God. I can’t meet His expectations. And I end up feeling like a loser. And that’s the point, right?

metric-cmToday’s verses are Romans 5:20-21.

God’s law was given so that all people could see how sinful they were. But as people sinned more and more, God’s wonderful grace became more abundant. So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God’s wonderful grace rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

While it’s true that the purpose of the law is to point out our imperfection, that’s not what God is trying to communicate. Yes, we need to understand that we can’t keep the law. We can try and try with all our strength, and we’ll still fail. You have to be perfect to keep God’s Laws, and only Jesus has those credentials.

But the point of the law isn’t to make us feel like losers. The point of the law is to help us realize that we need a Savior.

God gave the law as an example of His perfection. If you could keep His commandments, you could be worthy of Heaven. You could stand in His presence without shame. But nobody could do it. Not one single human He created. We all screw up. We all focus on ourselves more than God. We want what we want, and we don’t care what God says about it. Or we listen to what God says and then do our own thing anyway, knowing full well that there will be consequences. And then we beg and plead for help to escape the consequences we fully deserve.

Seriously. People are a mess.

But God knows that.

Jesus came and lived His perfect life and gave it up freely as a sacrifice to pay for our broken souls. Because Jesus died for us, we don’t have to fear the Law. Yes, the Law is still true, and if you break the Law, there are consequences. That much hasn’t changed. But the Law can’t condemn us. Not as long as we believe in what Jesus did for us.

So when you screw up, don’t sink into a pit of self-loathing. Don’t sit there and hate on yourself and call yourself names or give into that horrible little voice at the back of your brain that always says nasty things. Yes, recognize that you broke the Law, but instead of wallowing in your guilt, take action. Change your mind. Don’t do it again. Ask forgiveness. Move on.

Without Jesus, you’d be doomed. So would I. So it’s a good thing we have Jesus, because I screw up all the time.

Don’t fear the Law. The Law can’t hurt you. It doesn’t exist to hurt you or to shame you or to guilt you into submission. The Law is there to help us understand that we can’t ever be perfect. We can’t ever be good enough. That’s not a statement intended to hurt you. That’s a statement of fact.

If it were up to the Law, we’d all be condemned. But for those who believe in Jesus, the Law has no say. Grace is our anthem. Jesus’ sacrifice made us right with God, made us right with the Law. We don’t deserve it. We could never earn it. It’s a gift, pure and simple. Free, open to everyone, no strings attached.

The Law isn’t a sledgehammer to beat people down with. The Law is a ruler that helps us see we can never measure up. And Grace is the still, small voice that whispers we don’t have to.

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Some hungry-looking piranhas

Christians aren’t supposed to eat each other … but we’re really good at it

The church was created for a number of purposes, the biggest being to reach out to people who don’t know Christ and explain how to have eternal life through Him. Another purpose of the church is to support believers. It’s a place where people of like faith get together to worship Christ and learn about Scripture and help each other grow.

Sadly, in my experiences, the church in America is less like a support base and more like a tank of piranhas. They will devour any other fish who happens to come along and doesn’t fit in, and in difficult circumstances, they will devour each other.

Some hungry-looking piranhas

Some hungry-looking piranhas - Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Today’s verse is Romans 14:13.

So let’s stop condemning each other. Decide instead to live in such a way that you will not cause another believer to stumble and fall.

There has to be a point where we in the church focus less on finding fault in other believers and instead focusing more on how we live our own lives. Now, am I saying that when another believer gets involved in sin, we should let it go? No. That’s not what I’m saying. There are times and places for holding each other accountable. But holding each other accountable is completely different from condemning each other.

That’s what we do in the church. And I’m not talking about nonbelievers. This verse sounds to me like it’s written to Christians.

Christians are terrible about condemning each other. Another believer puts a toe out of line, and instantly they become public enemy number one. They are shunned. They are spoken ill of. Everyone around them treats them like they have leprosy.

Really? Is that how we’re supposed to act? Doesn’t everyone sin? Isn’t the church supposed to help and support people? If we can help and support people who don’t know Christ yet, why can’t we do it with people who share our faith?

Again, don’t misunderstand me, there are circumstances where some people who claim to be believers need to go their separate ways, but not for a single sin. Not if they are repentant and genuinely seeking forgiveness. But the church treats all the same many times. And we focus too much on finding faults in people and bringing them up.

But what about ourselves?

Before we condemn someone else for faults in his or her life, we need to look at ourself in the mirror. How many sins that we condemn others for have we committed today? How many indiscretions and imperfections do we criticize others for because we can’t fix them in ourselves? How many times do we take out our frustration on other people simply because it’s easier than righting something in our own life?

We need to live in a such a way that prevents other believers from falling into sin. If you follow Christ, we are called to live a life above reproach, not just among nonbelievers but among each other.

Care more about the mistakes and choices you are making, rather than finding fault in another believer. And who knows? If you turn your life around and live the way you’re supposed to and love others and make choices in your life that help others, maybe other people around you will understand. More people watch you than you know. And it’s not your job to straighten them out. It’s your job to live a life that points directly to Christ, that keeps other believers from stumbling.

Being a piranha is overrated. Live the way you’re supposed to, and God will take care of the rest.

Condemnation

Condemned buildings have always fascinated me. I don’t go walking around inside them but I like to look at them and wonder what they used to be like. When I see them now, they look worn out and rundown, but they weren’t always that way. Once they were new.

This will sound kine of random, but my drive into work is a pleasant one. I enjoy driving so the distance doesn’t bother me. The only time I run into trouble is if I don’t get out the door by 7:00 am. By 7:30 or so, the “traffic” in Wichita can get a little unpleasant. I hesitate on the word traffic because Wichita really doesn’t have traffic — not truly. If you’ve ever done any driving in a big city, you would understand. But if Wichita has traffic problems, it has them at 7:30 am and 5:00 pm. At 7:30 am, the worst of it is where 235 branches off into 135 and 254 (I think it’s 254; I rarely go that way so I don’t remember). It’s a terrible bottleneck, and if you’re not paying attention you’ll run right up the tailpipe in front of you.

So sometimes, if it looks like that particular junction is backing up worse than normal, I take a detour. I jump off on Broadway. If it were at night time, I don’t think I’d go this way. But at 7:30 in the morning, most of the dangerous types are sleeping. And Broadway runs right past my building so it makes sense to use it as an alternate route. 

The Broadway stretch is fascinating to me, though, because on one side of the street are diners, worn-down clubs, taverns, bars, sleezy motels, and other establishments like that. On the other side are the railroad tracks, and beyond the railroad tracks are buildings. Large industrial buildings. And if they aren’t condemned, they probably should be.

There’s this one particularly large building that my imagination runs away with whenever I look at it. I can imagine what it looks like inside. It’s probably completely wrong, but it’s interesting to think about. And I wonder what it used to be. I wonder what its purpose was. Did a lot of people work there? Why is it abandoned? What happened to the company that used to make it its home? Was the building not up to code and that’s why it had to be abandoned? Did the company go belly up? If that’s the case, why didn’t someone else move in?

I don’t know what happened to that building to make it uninhabitable, but I know that something had to give way. Whether it was the company leaving or the taxes being to high to maintain whatever business operated there — maybe the building was filled with asbestos or maybe there was a catastrophic fire — there’s no one in it now. There’s no life in that building any more, and because there’s no one there maintaining it, it has fallen into disrepair, and with the normal passage of time, it eventually reached the point where it’s too dangerous to let people walk around inside it. It’s condemned.

This is totally random, but I guess this is just the way my mind works. I thought about this giant old condemned building when I read the verse today.

Romans 8:1-2

 1 So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. 2 And because you belong to him, the power[a] of the life-giving Spirit has freed you[b] from the power of sin that leads to death.

People can be condemned too. People can be so rundown and worn out by sin that they are dangerous to be around. We’re born condemned. When we’re old enough to understand right from wrong, we automatically choose wrong; it’s how we’re wired. And like a building that’s fallen into disrepair, our lives start crumbling from the first moment we cross the line and disobey God’s laws. And by the time we reach adulthood–maybe sooner in all honesty–it has probably become apparent that no repair we are capable of is able to fix the real problem.

But someone who has given their life to Christ will never reach the point where they are useless, where they are too worn down to be used. Christ restores that which is broken. He renews what fell apart years ago. And not only is He capable of rejuvenating a life that is condemned, He is able to help us maintain it so that it never breaks down again.

There’s no condemnation in Christ.

He doesn’t look at us and tell us that we don’t meet His expectations or that we’re not up to His standards. Of course, we’re not. That’s the point.

Without Him, we are condemned. Period. We don’t have the strength or the power to maintain our lives without Him. Well . . . maybe we can exist without Him, but eventually that kind of life will fall apart like a building that is left to the ravages of time. With Him, our lives will never fall apart. There may be times when it feels like it does, when it feels like the entire world is crumbling to pieces, but on those days we have to set aside what we feel and rely on what we know.