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.

Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Staying free

Have you ever been set free from something? Like debt? There’s nothing quite like getting out from under the stress of knowing you owe someone money. But I’ve learned over the years that there’s a big difference between my reaction when I have to pay my own debt and when someone pays my debt for me.

Seagull flying - Galveston, TX

Seagull flying – Galveston, TX

Today’s verse is Galatians 5:1.

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.

The Book of Galatians was written by Paul to the Church at Galatia. The Church at Galatia had started to turn away from following Christ and believing in His sacrifice as what saved them, and instead they were returning to the Law. They were trusting in their own actions and in their rituals to save them instead of believing that Jesus had already done it. And that’s one of the reasons Paul wrote to them, to remind them who they were and to tell them that what they were doing was wrong.

As a distant, third-party observer to Scripture, it’s easy for me to stand back and criticize the Galatians, just as it’s easy to criticize the Israelites, for their poor choices. Whenever God would intervene in their lives and save them supernaturally, they would rejoice and turn back to Him for a season. But shortly afterward, they’d go back to living the way they always lived. Like nothing had happened at all.

But as much as I would like to think that Christians living now are different, our choices demonstrate that we’re just the same. And I’m not really talking about sin here, though. At least, not the sin that we think about. When I think about sin, I think about lying and stealing and cheating and immorality. But the sin that was going on in Galatia wasn’t any of that. The sin in Galatia was pride, turning back to religion, trusting their own righteousness instead of God’s.

Why are the shackles of religion so hard to escape? Why do we think we have anything to do with our own salvation? Why do we think we have to pay for any of it? Where does that come from?

When I have to pay my own debt, I hesitate before I go into debt again. Why? Because it’s hard work to pay my own debt. It’s grueling. But when someone else pays my accumulated debt for me? Well, there’s nothing I have to do. I don’t feel it. I don’t suffer or struggle. So it’s more difficult to avoid going into debt again. That’s the way it works for me, at least. I don’t know if it’s that same way with everyone.

The struggle with salvation is that I absolutely can’t pay my own debt. I have no way to pay for my own sins, and that’s why Jesus did it. He loves all of us enough that He didn’t want to be separated from us for eternity. Hell is the only way I could even begin to pay for my sins, but God doesn’t want that for anyone. That’s why He sent Jesus to make a way for us, to provide a choice for us.

But somehow, even though the choice between eternal suffering and Jesus is clear, people still choose to try to pay for their own sins through good works, through being a good person, through going to church and learning Scripture.

It’s like a slave who was set free running back to his master and requesting to be shackled up again to face a life of brutality and forced labor. Why does it make sense in the church when in “real life” people look at you like you’re an idiot?

So what does this mean today?

Be careful.

Pride is sneaky. It appears in so many forms, and it’s so difficult to fight sometimes. But if you’re trusting in anything other than Christ to save you, you’ve allowed yourself to be made a slave again.

Even if you already follow Jesus, if you think your church attendance or your Bible knowledge or your charity work makes you right with God, you’re telling God that Jesus didn’t need to die for you.

Even as a believer, I’m always tempted to try to prove to God that I’m worth His time. I want to show Him that I deserve His goodness. But in all honesty, I can’t. I can’t be good enough. I can do my best. I can try my hardest. But even on my best day, I’m not perfect, and that’s what I need to be good enough for God. And that’s beyond my capability. That’s why I have Christ.

So watch your step and listen carefully to what people in the church tell you about your salvation. Check everything against Scripture. Don’t just take it for granted that the people you’ve always listened to are telling you the truth. Check me. Check anyone who says they think they understand.

Salvation is free. And since it didn’t cost us anything, it’s easy to take for granted. So don’t. Remember what Christ did for us and leave the Law where it belongs, as a reminder that we’re not perfect.

Nothing’s certain but death and taxes

When I was a child, I never really understood what people meant when they told me that death and taxes were the only certainties in life. Now, as an adult, I get it, although it seems to me lately that the only certainties are death and raising taxes . . . but that’s a topic for another blog post . . . .

I find it very interesting that most people in the college age group don’t think about death. Even high schoolers think about it. And practically no children think about it. It find it fascinating because death was something I thought about a lot, even as a child. I’m pretty sure it started with the death of my great grandmother — we called her Grandma Great because she was so cool.

I remember very clearly the day that she died. She was in Wichita. My family and I still lived in Houston at the time. We got the phone call, and my mom told us that Grandma Great had passed away. And for the first time I remember feeling the odd paradox of sorrow mixed with joy, that strange unexplainable feeling a believer gets when someone who knows Christ has died.

I wasn’t very old, but I was old enough to comprehend the fact that Grandma Great was in heaven and that she wasn’t in pain anymore and that she was probably up there dancing the Charleston again, like she hadn’t been able to do in years.

From that moment on, I think I looked at death differently. For that reason, I think I was able to survive the deaths of friends in high school later on, knowing all of them had been believers, knowing I would see them again.

I’m not sure how many people in my age group now think about death. Probably more than people who are in college. Normal college and high school age kids tend to think that they’ll live forever. But I do know that a lot of people are scared of it.

I suppose, on one hand, it should be scary. I mean, it’s something unknown, and it’s not exactly something you can prepare yourself for. I suppose you can read books about it, but stories of near-death experiences vary a lot. Some people see lights. Other people hear voices. Some folks see angels. Others float through tunnels. I’m not discounting any of those stories, but to me that doesn’t sound like a lot of detail.

I guess I’ve just gotten to the point in life where I recognize that death will come sooner or later (if Christ doesn’t come back in the mean time), and that there’s no point in being afraid of it, even though I don’t understand it. Because, at the end of the day, what is death? I think I mentioned this yesterday. Death is one of those terms that people misunderstand and misuse a lot. On Earth, we get the idea that death is the end of something. Like the death of a dream. Or the death of a tree. Or the death of a salesman. No, wait. =)

But death isn’t the end of anything. Death is simply separation. When we die, the person we really are keeps on going, keeps on living, and simply relocates either to heaven or to hell. There’s no in between. There are no ghosts haunting the earth. There’s no purgatory. We die. We go to heaven or we go to hell. That’s it.

So as long as you know Christ, heaven is where you’re headed. And I guarantee that’s nothing to be afraid of. Do we really believe it, though? That’s the part that’s hard to get sometimes. But we, as Christians, have nothing to fear from death. We shouldn’t be afraid of it. Because death is powerless over us. It can’t control us and it can’t stop us.

The verse this morning is out of 1 Corinthians 15:55-57

55 O death, where is your victory?
      O death, where is your sting?[a]

 56 For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. 57 But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

According to this, death has power over people because of sin. And sin has power because people can’t obey the law.

And that’s true. God gave us the Law, the Ten Commandments, to show us that we can’t be good enough to get to heaven on our own merit. No one has kept the Ten Commandments. People have tried, but everyone has failed. No one on Earth is perfect enough to keep all ten of them every moment of every day for their entire lives. And if you wanted to get into heaven on your own, that’s what you would have to do.

So because we can’t keep the Ten Commandments, our sin keeps us separated from God, and if we die physically our broken souls with our dead (separated) spirits can’t be in the presence of God as He is holy and perfect and we aren’t. Death has power over people because we sin.

But what is the Bible about? What is the story of Jesus about?

People who believe in Jesus aren’t subject to the Ten Commandments. Maybe you’ve heard the phrase, “I am not under law but under grace.” Christ came to Earth and lived a perfect life. He never broke one of the Ten Commandments. His life was flawless. He was innocent. And because He was innocent, He had the capability to sacrifice Himself for us. Because He had never sinned, He could pay for those of us who had.

So those who believe in Jesus are freed from our subjection to the law, freed from the power that sin has over us. And since we are no longer controlled by sin, believers are no longer controlled by death.

It comes down to how much you love your Earthly life, I guess. If you love your family more than God, I suppose death is a frightening prospect. I struggle with that one. I’m not afraid of death, but I’m afraid to leave my family and friends behind . . . even though most of them know Christ. I feel like my presence in their lives keeps them safe. But that’s silly. What can I do to protect anyone? God is the one who is in control. And when He says it’s my time to go, I will go, and I have no say in it. And we just have to trust that God knows what He’s doing, that He’s got a plan, and that He really can take care of everything after we leave this Earth.

Death can’t control me. It can’t control you. And we shouldn’t be afraid of it because when the time comes for us to die, we will be with God if we believe in Jesus.