Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Gray Matters: Response #2

This response is to a comment left by Andrew Fountain. Now, I'm sure he has a better answer than I do, but I wanted to give it a shot. This is a question I wrestled with last year as I was coming out of legalism and back into grace, and I believe God gave me some revelation. That doesn't mean I'll get it all right though! As always feel free to engage with me over this.

"Here is a question for you Julie: I fully agree with what you say about legalism, but when I read the gospels, Jesus spends a lot of time giving commands. He says things like "If you love me, keep my commandments", "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love." (Jn 15:10) and then "Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him." (Jn 14:21). My problem is how to relate this to grace. I firmly believe that God's love for me is not conditional on my performance, so how am I to understand these verses?"

I remember when these kinds of questions were rattling around in my brain as I read and re-read Romans and Galatians. I would read a glorious passage about God's grace and immediately that loud and obnoxious 'BUT' would resound in my tired little brain. 'But, but, but , what about all the New Testament commands? Didn't Jesus make the law even harder?' (i.e. instead of don't commit adultery, don't even look at a woman with lust... (Mat. 5:28) So I decided to have a look at 1 John since I remembered it as book that is tough on us, you know, not much grace for you if you sin, a good old pull-yourself-up-by-the-boot-straps no-nonsense book of the Bible. That's how I was always taught it growing up in the church anyway.

So lets have a look then. One thing I was searching for was some clearer meaning on what Jesus meant by 'commands'. What commands was he talking about?
I was shocked to find that 1 John commands very little, I mean, if you're making a list of commands, it's going to be pretty short. And I was delighted to find a very clear passage telling exactly what God's commandments are!

"And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he commanded us. Whoever keeps his commandments abides in him, and he in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us." (1 John 3:23-24)

Not only that, but I found assurance that I'm already keeping his commandments because I have the Holy Spirit. In fact I discovered the whole book to be not designed to make me question me salvation but to assure me of God's love and my place in him. Rather than being harsh commands about not sinning, John points out that we no longer go on sinning the way we did as unbelievers and that this is proof that God's seed abides in us (1 John 3:9)

So 1 John 3:23-24, along with verses like:

"Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet," and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." Romans 13:8-10

seem to echo what Jesus himself said:

"If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you." John 15:10-12

So my first answer to the problem is that Jesus' commands are not the same as the Law. We are now under the Law of the Spirit of life, as opposed to the law of sin and death (Romans 7:6, 8:2). We have died to the law (Romans 7:4-5) and we now live by the Spirit ALONE. We no longer have any relationship at all to the law. The only proper use for any part of the law is to convict unbelievers of their desperate need for a Saviour and Mediator who will wash away their sin and impart perfect righteousness to them so they can be acceptable to a Holy God.

As I read over the Scriptures dealing with 'law', I see that there are two distinct systems of law. One is the law as seen in the Old Covenant, the other is the law of Christ or law of the Spirit. If we confuse the two, we'll get into trouble. We are dead to the old law. We are not law-breakers or lawless, and we do not teach people who are married to the law to disregard it commit spiritual adultery, but we teach that if we die to the law then we are no longer subject to it (Romans 7:1-6). Our relationship with the law is completely over and now we are married to Christ so we obey Christ, not the law. To teach people that we should obey any part of the law is like teaching a wife that she should submit to another man besides her husband, and so lead her into adultery.

The second thing I want to throw out is just that Jesus had a reason for making the law 'harder'. He wanted those who thought rightousness could be gained through the law (either for justification OR sanctification, see Galatians 2:17-21)to see that it was a hopeless effort. He was trying to show them that they needed a Saviour.

I had a much longer Scripture-filled response to post and lost it all last night. I'm too eager to listen to Andrew Fountain's message so I'm ending it here. I'm sure there's a lot more I could say but I'm not going to, not right now anyway. Believe me, this topic will always be one of my favorites...grace, that is... Besides, I much rather you studied Romans/Galatians or listened to Rob Rufus or Terry Virgo or Andrew's message, or pretty much anyone else that you'll benefit from far more than from me!


Charity said...

Hi Jul

I'm curious about one thing with all the talk about grace. How do you make that sit with all the talk about "accountability" that there is in Newfrontiers?

jul said...

Hi Charity. Thanks for your comment. To be honest, I'm not familiar with all the talk about accountability in Newfrontiers since we've never really been part of a Newfrontiers church (yet). We soon will be.

However, we just spent about 8 years in a church which heavily emphasized accountability and my personal thoughts are that accountability is highly overrated. I'm not sure I can even find a Scriptural premise for the kind of accountability that is often encouraged in churches. I much prefer teaching people to have real relationships and fellowship with one another as the early church did devoting themselves to "the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer"(Acts 2)

I've been part of 'accountability groups' in the past with very little good fruit to show for it. They are largely manufactured methodology to try to produce in us the fruit of the Spirit by adding another 'law' to our lives. Flesh give birth to flesh and in my experience these groups tend toward a focus on our sin and do not build faith but rather encourage all kinds of 'good' advice and ideas for plans (and precious little prayer and power in the Spirit) to conquer our sin. In other words, they are counter-productive.

I'm sure what I've just said is very controversial hehe. It's my own personal opinion due in part to my personal experience, which is subjective. But as I said, this kind of accountability has been widely taught without much Scriptural premise. I think it's a practise that should be closely examined in light of Scripture to see if it truly lines up with God's method of sanctifying us.
As far as Newfrontiers, I'm not afraid to disagree with things sometimes! And we shouldn't be. Humble leaders will listen and examine their teaching in light of God's Word and either change their views if they are wrong, or gently teach us where we are wrong. Unfortunately this doesn't always play out (believe me I know!) but that's part of being in a church family that includes lots of not-yet-perfect people. One thing I've learned from my experiences is that we can't put any person, no matter how annointed or godly they may be, up on any pedestal or spiritual plane above us. We will always be hurt when they sin if we place false expectations on them. And we may not confront them in their lovingly in their sin as we should if we view them as above us.

I encourage you to feel free to e-mail me if you would like to share any of your personal story with me. Coming out of legalism is a very difficult time and for me it was also a time of intense spiritual attack. I'll be praying that God pours out his abundant lavish grace on you and reveals himself as your devoted loving Father.

Believe me, 'all the talk about grace' will never never stop!!! I am absolutely convinced that it's the only way. I also highly encourage to listen to Rob Rufus on grace. It was and still is revolutionary in my life and God brought me much healing through his preaching.

Charity said...

Hi Jul

Thank you for your lengthy answer. I believe that you are absolutely right about accountability being another form of legalism - I've been there and done that, as they say.

I believe too that it should be possible to disagree with things, but unfortunately in my experience things can become very unpleasant if you do.

I'm so pleased to read that you're experiencing God's grace. I'll see if I can write something coherent down to e-mail you, but it may take some time as life is pretty busy at the moment. Where can I find your e-mail address? (Maybe I'm being thick and it's really obvious, but I can't see it...)

Praying for God to be with you and bless you.

jul said...

No, you're not thick , I am! I thought I had a place on here to e-mail me but I don't. I just added an e-mail button to my profile so you can just click on my name here (jul) and look for it. And I'll see if can also get some kind of contact button onto my blog. I look forward to hearing more from you. Thanks for your prayers as well.

Charity said...

Hello again

When I click on your name, I get a message saying "The Blogger Profile you requested cannot be displayed." Maybe you inadvertantly ticked a box or something on there when you were editing your profile?

jul said...

Thanks for letting me know. You were right, that's exactly what I did. It should be fine now, I also added a contact link to the side.

Joel Brueseke - Grace Roots said...

Hi Julie, I found your blog this morning while doing a bit of blog surfing. Just wanted to say I like this post. I think it goes along very well with a series of posts I just did on my Grace Roots blog. In it, I try to build the case for why Jesus made the law harder. As you point out here, it was to show people their need for a Savior. Hope you don't mind - I linked to your post on my blog. :)

It's always wonderful to find others who are growing in grace! God bless!