March 19, 2007

Rules and misplaced faith

For anyone raised in a world of rules, the Gospel is difficult to understand. Rules say, if you do this, you will be acceptable. In the spiritual realm, if asked how to get to heaven, or how to please God, most people will say, Be a good person. Obey the rules.

The Bible does have rules, lots of them. God commands obedience to His rules too, but the Gospel comes along and says that no one is saved by keeping the rules. Not only that, it says no one is even able to keep the rules. We all fall short.

What is the point? Why would God give us a long list of shall’s and shall-nots that we cannot obey anyway? Paul answers that question in Romans 7. He says that the impossibility of keeping the rules shows him an important truth about himself: “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have know covetousness unless the law had said, ‘you shall not covet.’”

This seems a human principle. A rules is just there for the breaking, sort of like I’m not thirsty until the water is turned off. I don’t want chocolate cake until my scales tell me I should not have it. Make a rule, and something in me says I should break it. The rules show me that I am a rebel. That rebel response does not make God’s rules wrong. They are good, as Paul also said, but their purpose is not to give me life and a right relationship with God, but to show me how badly I need Him. I cannot be what He wants me to be all by myself. The Gospel offers freedom, and that death-to-self and a new life that is rightly-related to God by grace, not rules.

But I’ve noticed how easy it is to slip back into thinking that I must do this and I must do that in order to please God. Keep the rules. Such effort is frustrating, to say the least. First of all, I’m deciding which rules to keep (God-playing), and then I can’t keep them anyway. I get this sense that I’ve never done enough.

God says anyone who wants to please God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him. "Without faith, it is impossible to please God."

Faith sees God as the supplier of all that I need, not a demander that I produce. When I am trying to please Him, I don’t bring my self-effort, my list of do’s and don’ts. Instead, I come to Him with a desire to love and obey Him, asking Him for whatever I need to fulfill that.

Being a good person is impossible apart from the grace and gifts of God. Getting to heaven is impossible apart from faith and from the grace and gift of eternal life. Obeying the commands is also impossible, because when I try, my focus is on me and my faith is in me. Even though that old, sinful nature is dead and powerless, every time I try to live (an oxymoron) according to its power, I find out all over again that I don’t have what it takes. I should never trust myself, for trying to obey the rules clearly reveals to me that I don’t measure up to that kind of trust.

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