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28 October 2010 @ 11:35 pm
Law and grace  

This was inspired by the previous post.

Under the law, it was bad to murder and to commit adultery. The Jesus came along and said we shouldn’t even hate our brother for no reason—or look at someone else lustfully.

Did Jesus say these things simply to raise the bar a bit on our moral behavior? Did He want us to go from being Pharisees who could consider ourselves morally righteous because we didn’t murder anyone or have sex outside of marriage to Christians who could consider ourselves morally righteous because we didn’t hate anyone with no reason at all or look at someone else with real serious lust in our hearts?

I doubt it. First of all, Jesus doesn’t say “I set the bar here—and no higher.” On the contrary, it seems that He is always willing to set the bar as high as He has to to make His point. In fact, when He encounters someone who claims to have kept the whole law, He sets the bar to the ultimate extreme, far beyond anything the law even hints at. He tells this person to give everything he has to the poor.

In other words, Jesus is setting the bar at the God level. He says as much when He tells the one who comes to Him “There is only one who is good, and that is God.”

Did Jesus point to His own moral perfection as the ultimate standard of goodness to condemn us or simply make us feel guilty? I doubt this as well. He plainly tells us that He did not come to condemn or to judge, but to save. So what could His purpose be?

I think it might be reasonable to suggest that He is calling sinners to repent. He is letting us know we are sick and we need a doctor. Even our noblest deeds are as filthy rags compared to the purity of benevolent, selfless love that we find in the divine order of things. Any hope we might have that our obedience to some set of rules we extract with tweezers from scripture will bring about our redemption is a feeble one. We will always make rules to suit ourselves. And we will always break them anyway.

There are no rules strict enough to form us into what God originally intended us to be: His own children in His own image and likeness. For that, we need Him. We need His life in us. We need Him to breathe on us, to breathe His nature into us. This is, after all, what He did when He first made us in the garden. And it is again what He does to His disciples when He gives them the Holy Spirit after His death and resurrection.

He Himself is the way and the life. Not rules or commandments—which, though useful as indicators of our sanctification can never be the agency by which that sanctification occurs. We need Him to transform us, to re-order us. By this re-ordering, we become righteous in a way that transcends mere rule-keeping.  We become as Him.

He call us to Himself, because in Him alone is our redemption. And He is sure and faithful to perform it for His own Name’s sake. Hallelujah.

(Deleted comment)
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 29th, 2010 02:50 pm (UTC)
Yes. But I'm also suggesting that the help we need is not to become better law-keepers. :)
(Deleted comment)
pastorlenny: grillpastorlenny on October 29th, 2010 03:08 pm (UTC)
I think your screenname and icon alone make it patently obvious that you are the most rotten and awful of sinners imaginable. :P
(Deleted comment)
Beckymacychick on October 29th, 2010 04:22 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure but I THINK he was being sarcastic. Kind of hard to tell with the internet.
Rachel S.loopyzany on October 29th, 2010 04:53 pm (UTC)
I don't think
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I don't think <lj-user="pastorlenny"> is suggesting that he is the one to judge which sins you have committed, I think he's saying that Jesus is.
Jayspartakos on October 30th, 2010 05:37 am (UTC)
Becoming better law-keepers will not get us into heaven. But don't you think it might help make us better people here on earth?
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 30th, 2010 05:58 am (UTC)
I don't think that at all -- because it is not suggested anywhere in scripture or in the writings of the Church Fathers.

In fact, acording to Paul, law-keeping only draws us away from God. It is only by being done with the law once and for all that we can come to rely fully on the indwelling of God's Holy Spirit:

For I through the law died to the law that I might live to God. -Galatians 2:19

Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another -— to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. -Romans 7:4

Paul makes it pretty clear in both of those epistles that we cannot have both the law and the indwelling life of God. At some point, we have to abandon the external mandate and trust the internalization of grace.

Jayspartakos on October 29th, 2010 02:44 pm (UTC)
I agree with pretty much all of what you're saying. Where it gets fuzzy is the "okay, now what?".

Clearly, Jesus was saying that following the letter of some rules was not sufficient. Okay.

But does that mean we should throw those rules away and not be concerned with them? I don't think so, necessarily.

If we are going to try to live our lives as best we can in his footsteps, it is helpful to have guideposts, to let us know when we might be straying from the path.

I guess I'm trying to say, there's never a point where you can say "here, I'm good enough", but there are plenty of markers that can tell you "you could be doing better". Should we be concerned with those markers or not, in your opinion?
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 29th, 2010 02:56 pm (UTC)
I pretty clearly said something about "indicators of our sanctifiction."

The issue is whether we understand our measurable moral performance as being what God's redemptive work in us is really all about. That is, did Jesus die and rise again so that:

1) we would behave better?
2) we would get to heaven despite our imperfection?
3) we would be transformed?

Our answer to this question will, I believe, significantly impact how we understand and deal with sin in our lives and the lives of others.

Edited at 2010-10-29 03:11 pm (UTC)
Rachel S.loopyzany on October 29th, 2010 04:49 pm (UTC)
I pretty clearly said something about "indicators of our sanctifiction."

Um.... I don't think you've said anything pretty clearly. I'll be honest, your attempts to waltz around words like "sin" are confusing your point and it sounds like I'm not the only one who's having trouble following you. :)
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 29th, 2010 05:27 pm (UTC)
So the point I tried to make about rules being possible "indicators" of how our sanctification is progressing -- but not being the actual means by which we are sanctified -- was not clear?
Jayspartakos on October 30th, 2010 05:31 am (UTC)
I will admit I missed that.

As to the answer to your question, I want to say d.) all of the above. :)

Or rather, I believe Christ died and rose again for #2 and #3, and he lived and taught for #1. But all 3 were clearly his mission on earth, IMO.
Beckymacychick on October 29th, 2010 04:23 pm (UTC)
So, in other words, no matter how good we are or how much we do to serve the needy, we could always be better or doing more?
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 29th, 2010 05:22 pm (UTC)
Not exactly. What I'm saying is that our redemption is not about us "being better" or "doing more." It is not about our moral performance on a scale of 1 to 10 -- or even 1 to infinity. It is about God's endowment to us of His own life.

An emphasis on the externals of moral behavior distract us from this core truth about the triune God's redemptive purpose.

"I haave come that they may have life, and have it more abundantly."
slev: Christ Dudeslev on October 29th, 2010 08:14 pm (UTC)
I think where we need to go with this is the concept that it's a combination of the letter and spirit of the law, and a combination of action and motivation.

Rules-lawyes who follow the letter of the rules, twisted to work contrary to their spirit, are as bad as those who break the rules. Those who do evil with good intent and those who do good with evil intent are as bad as those who do evil with evil intent.

Thus we must live within the letter and spirit of the law, each moderated by the other. Our acts and motivations must be positive and good, motivated by love and compassion.

In order to achieve this, we need to be aware of ourselves, our thoughts, deeds and motivations.
Etched with marks but I can dealfinding_helena on October 30th, 2010 02:54 am (UTC)
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 30th, 2010 03:20 am (UTC)
Please see my comment below. The idea that we somehow combine letter and spirit seems quite alien to the NT writings.
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 30th, 2010 03:19 am (UTC)
Thus we must live within the letter and spirit of the law

So you disagree with Paul, who writes that "the letter kills?"

And you agree with the letter, which tells us to keep the seventh-day Sabbath?

Why does Paul write that "Now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed?" And elsewhere that "You also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another -- to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God?"

Paul certainly doesn't seem to be suggesting a mixture of law and spirit anywhere.

Edited at 2010-10-30 05:30 am (UTC)
Jayspartakos on October 30th, 2010 05:36 am (UTC)
How do you reconcile that with Matthew 5:17, or the book of James?
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 30th, 2010 05:46 am (UTC)
Matthew 5:17 poses no problem whatsoever. In fact, it supports the notion that it is Jesus who fulfills the law -- not us. This is why we are no longer concerned about the laws regarding sabbath-keeping, for example. Jesus is now our Sabbath. See Hebrews 4. We rest fully in Christ, continually. The seventh-day Sabbath was only foreshadowing of the true and great rest we have in Christ.

Remember, Jesus Himself tells us that all the Law and Prophets were testifying about Him. This is what the Israelites of the Second Temple period could not see. We have to be on guard that we do not allow ourselves to similarly fail in reading the Hebrew scriptures Christologically.

I'm not sure what issues you ee specifically in the book of James.

Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord, as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

Notice how Peter points out that we are actually "partakers of the divine nature" -- and how he doesn't refer to the law-keeping at all, but rather to "knowledge" (epignosis) of Christ.
slevslev on October 31st, 2010 11:41 am (UTC)
Notice how Peter points out that we are actually "partakers of the divine nature" -- and how he doesn't refer to the law-keeping at all, but rather to "knowledge" (epignosis) of Christ.

That ties into something I've been looking into. Have you perchance a reference for this please?
pastorlennypastorlenny on October 31st, 2010 12:41 pm (UTC)
II Peter 1
slev: Pislev on October 31st, 2010 11:40 am (UTC)
You see, here I wrote in a stream of consciousness, and the letter of my words and their intent where different, hence exemplifying the need to recognise the spirit of the law.

Perhaps we should say that we must act with the letter and spirit of the law moderating each other. The letter of the law is not enough. Moreover, Jesus commanded us and showed us by example, to act with love and compassion, tolerance and understanding. To us this would be law ad any law that invalidates this is thus over-ruled.

Where a law is believed it should be followed. Which laws are to be believed is a matter of debate. The eleven commandments, surely, but beyond this, the editorial fiat within the bible makes it difficult to discern the teachings of Jesus from later politic and earlier historical account.