December 1, 2013

Law-keeping is not the Gospel

Some claim to keep the commandments of God, and say if they do this or that, God will accept them, or if they don’t do this or that, God will not turn them away. Studying God and creation teaches me one important truth; the triune God has life, perfection, and all that He needs in Himself, including love. He didn’t need to create anything, but did so as a free choice. He made make people with whom He could share His glory, people who can enjoy an intimate relationship with Him.

Yet He does not need our love or response. He gave us the freedom to make that choice. It is vital to realize there is nothing anyone can do to make themselves more loved by God. His love is about who He is, not about who we are. To start with, His relationship with humans was perfect — until sin entered the picture.

Sin (basically going our own way) is an affront to the holiness and love of God. To help us see that, God gave precepts and laws to show us the extent of His standards. We have a concept of goodness, but His holiness transcends all our ideas. For that reason, we all fall short of His righteousness and . . .

For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. (James 2:10)

The moral law of God demands perfection. It does not make allowances for our strengths or weaknesses but remains the same for all people and for all time. Those who claim to keep the law or think that they are “good enough” are in the dark about the reach of this standard of God. Actually, the Apostle Paul called this condition of darkness as being spiritually dead. He says that sin separates people from God and deadens our understanding of biblical spirituality, even saying of himself . . .  

I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. (Romans 7:9)

When Paul realized this, the Spirit of God convicted him of sin, but before that, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was to him a lie. He persecuted Christians because he determined their faith was in error. He was oblivious to the perfections God wanted.

But one day Jesus confronted this man and he became aware of his sinful condition. He fell on his face before God, aware of His need for mercy and grace.

This happened to me too, and when it did, Jesus came into my life and changed everything. After being a Christian for many years, I am still deeply aware of the impossibility of getting right with God or staying right with God through anything that I do. The law says that if I am going to go that route to become righteous, then I must be perfect. I must keep the whole law, without one failure. How impossible. Who can obey God to absolute perfection? Only Jesus did that, and that is why I must look to Him and only Him to rescue me.

As for the laws of God, I also see that their power includes an ‘if.’ He never coerces me. In one mood I wish He did, that He would make me do the right things. Yet in another mood I wish He would leave me alone. This shocks and saddens me, but only when I realized this battle in my heart between the flesh and the Spirit did I also realize my utter inability to make myself perfect. I know also that those who do not experience this inner tension are still “dead in their sin” and have not known the life-giving power of God.

I see in that battle a different kind of hope. Instead of thinking that I can be and do whatever pleases God, I realize that it is only by the gift of faith and of His presence in me that I can do anything. My flesh is useless and always falls short of His glory.

Abiding in Christ is vital. Without Him, I can do nothing. But abiding in Him is not a passive attitude. It means making deliberate choices to obey God in total dependence on Him for that obedience. Then, when I make those choices, He will “tax the remotest star and the last grain of sand” to come to my aid and make it happen. This obedience is not to save myself, but demonstrates that He is the One doing the saving. Hallelujah!

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