The last few months have been revelatory for me in ways that are not entirely easy to quantify. I’ve had periods of time in the past where things are made clearer everyday, and then other moments when it seems like I’m hearing nothing new. I chalk these up to the cyclical periods of life and try to be more cognizant and thankful for the moments when the revelation flows. As that revelation has flowed, I’ve heard fresh words in my spirit and have endeavored to share those where I can and on the platforms afforded to me.
By revelations, I’m not referring to new things that have never been heard before, but rather fresh insights for me. They may even be things that are new to you, or at least they are a new way of thinking of an old thing. Revelation is relevant to the person for whom it is revealed. It may simply be repetition for someone further down the road, and it may sound like heresy to someone further back. In any case, I’m an open student, listening, questioning, and contending.
Some of the things that I’m seeing through new eyes are things like the identity of the believer, and how our understanding of identity is strengthened or weakened based on what we do with it. I’ve journeyed back into the wilderness with Jesus to see how He faced His dragon, and come out with insight into how important it is for my identity to face a challenge so that I know who I am and what I’m capable of.
Lately, I’ve dug deep into the story of the Gadarene demoniac and his encounter with Jesus. It has opened my eyes to the condition of an entire generation, particularly of young men, and their isolation and confusion. It’s inspired me to reexamine what it means to be clothed, seated and in your right mind. I have a new excitement about robing a generation in righteousness, helping them be seated in a place of rest, and resist the spirit of fear, cowardice and timidity that holds them back from being the agents of change they are destined to be. I’m thrilled at the very real possibility of young people coming into the understanding of these truths and then going back to their communities to make an impact. We don’t need more people joining the inner circle of Jesus’s disciples simply to sail away from Gadara. We need a generation to confront the isolated, the lonely, the suicidal, the neglected and the marginalized. In other words, we need to be sending a generation into their own wilderness to face their own dragon so that they too realize what they are worth in the world, and are fully prepared to engage it head-on.
My journey through the Gospel of John has uncovered one nugget after the other. I’ve seen the ministry of Jesus through a sharpened lens, how He confronts chaos, reaches through the veil and borrows the skills of His Father, transcends time and space and gravity and positions Himself as the new Elisha, the inheritor of a double-portion, the rightful firstborn Son and eventual King.
These are but a few of the recent examples of things I’ve wrestled with and worked over and dispensed out in lessons and bible studies and conference pulpits. For each insight there seems to be another that is birthed out of it, branching into another area, often in ways that I couldn’t have imagined and stirring up questions I had never thought to ask.
One such area that has had my attention of late is a renewal of thought in concern for the law. My journey in grace has had the law as a focus but mostly in contrast or opposition. I’ve preached the sermons (and written the books) of how Moses gave the law but Jesus brought (or IS) grace and how one can’t balance grace externally with performance or law. Speaking of one revelation compounding upon another, that idea of an external balance led me to several sermons on establishing the internal balance of grace, which is Spirit-led activity, manifested as our rights and our responsibilities. See how one thing leads to another?
I’m as adamant as ever that there is no value for your righteousness in the keeping of the law, and that no one is really capable of such anyhow. The law works to establish guilt as Paul told the Romans, and to shut the mouths of men. He also told Timothy that it is best used on the unrighteous and godless man, for it shows him his failure and brings him to the end of himself. The law also enflames sin and has a curse attached for failure. In short, it’s not an effective tool for right-living and it was never designed to be. Which leads to the question, what was it ever good for? Paul called it holy and good, but most grace teachers end up asking, “Good for what?”
The common answer is that the law is good for exhausting you and leading you to the realization that you can’t keep it on your own. If you end up exhausted and frustrated you will turn to Jesus so that He can do it for you. While I agree that this is indeed what happens many times, I’m not prepared to say that these results are universal, and I’m certainly not convinced that this was the spirit in which Israel received the law. The results aren’t universal because it simply doesn’t always work that people are exhausted with rules and then they turn to Jesus. Many times people are exhausted with rules and completely turn away. They give up on God and the church and they run into the world with the fully exhausted thought that they simply can’t do it so they might as well give up trying. We can blame the church for a mixed message, but on the face, the theory that the law will exhaust you and make you see your need for Christ doesn’t exactly hold water.
This leads to my second thought. I don’t think Israel received the law, or was even given the law for that matter, so that they would become exhausted on their works. I think the law was given for a far greater reason but that Israel mistook the reason and thought that if God gave them the law then they would be even greater in His eyes if they were to keep it. This led them to adding little additions to the law and re-interpreting it so that it covered even more aspects of life and living. The thought was that if a little law was good, a lot of law was better. Eventually, according to Romans 9, Israel sought righteousness through the keeping of the law because they were ignorant. This tells me that righteousness was NEVER available to them through the keeping of the law, they just mistakenly thought that it was. This begs the question, “If righteousness was never the end-game for the law, then what was the end-game?” The answer to that, is the reason that Jesus said He came to fulfill the law.
In fulfilling the law, Jesus was not claiming He would do so by not sinning, though, to be clear, it’s obvious that Jesus did not sin. For Jesus, the fulfilling of the law was found in loving people. As Paul would write in Romans 13:10, “Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.”
If love is the fulfillment of the law, then it seems reasonable to say that God gave Israel the law so that by performing it, they would show love to their neighbor. As Jesus answered the question, “What is the greatest commandment in the law?” as “Love God and love your neighbor,” and then He ups the ante. He doesn’t position these as simply the greatest commandments but rather He states that the Law and the Prophets actually hang, or are dependent upon, these two. Remove loving God and your neighbor and the law and the prophets become useless. In short, and this isn’t entirely popular but must be said nonetheless, remove love from the law and the prophets and whatever you are reading is useless, baseless and might even be motivated by the wrong spirit. At least that’s what Jesus called Elijah’s calling down of fire upon the prophets of Baal.
Let’s concentrate for a moment on the famous Ten Commandments. We have all broke at least one, at least once in our lives. Keeping them can’t make us righteous and due to the finished work of Jesus, breaking them most certainly can’t make us unrighteous. But as Paul established in his letter to the Romans, being made righteous wasn’t the point of those commands anyhow. The point was that we would love people. To help make this point, let’s use a very American way of thinking about this. Let’s talk about rights, liberties and freedom. In other words, let’s use the Bill of Rights as a way of understanding the Ten Commandments.
The Bill of Rights in the American Constitution is the first ten amendments to that doctrine. Their very existence was a source of great contention among the founders. The framer of the Constitution, James Madison, opposed the Bill of Rights as he felt the states were sufficient protectors of individual liberty. Alexander Hamilton opposed them as well, stating that if no liberties are enumerated, the people retain everything and that by naming them, there will be those left out. Proponents included Patrick Henry, who argued that the legislature needed to know the extent of the rights of the people.
Twelve amendments were presented; ultimately ten were ratified and became what we now consider irrefutable American liberties, particularly the first and the second amendments. In these we have freedom of speech and press and religion and peaceable assembly, including the right to petition our government and the often controversial and argued right to keep and bear arms. While these are a list of our rights and freedoms, they are actually a list of protections, not so much from the government but from one another. The Bill of Rights ensures that no majority can overrule the freedoms of the minority. You do not need a large body of voters on your side; you have a Bill of Rights.
This concept works because we are not a pure democracy, but are rather, at least in theory, a republic. Benjamin Franklin is credited for having said that pure democracy is two wolves and a sheep discussing what is for dinner. The majority would rule, even at the expense of the minority. The beauty of the Bill of Rights is how it shields the rights of the minority from the potential tyranny of the majority. A pure democracy tilts toward a dictatorship, for the majority would in no way be beholden to the protest of the minority.
Through a spiritual lens, we could say that the Bill of Rights forces the majority to at least afford the minority their liberties, or better said, in a way, it makes the majority pay attention to the minority, whether they want to or not. The Ten Commandments worked much the same way for Israel. They weren’t designed to make a man righteous any more than the Bill of Rights were designed to make a man an American. The Ten Commandments were designed to protect your neighbor; to keep you from running over them, and to afford them the opportunity at life that you had.
Consider the first five commandments, which basically dealt with man’s relationship to God. God didn’t need protected by these laws, but Israel did. The first five were basically to protect Israel from herself. It kept her out of idolatry and spiritual confusion. It focused her on finding time to take a real rest and to honor family and tradition. Without these, man becomes an island, and he is useless to the world around him.
The last five commandments dealt with man’s relationship with his neighbor, and they were designed to protect your neighbor from you. You may not be able to love them, but if you at least didn’t lie about them, steal their stuff, kill their kids, sleep with their spouse and lust after their property, you were doing the next best thing. Where the law couldn’t make you love, it at least kept you from doing the hateful things. Did it work? Yes, if you did it. Did it transform you from a hateful person to a loving one? No, not in a million years.
Jesus showed us the fulfillment of the law, not by living right but by loving right. Under the New Covenant we aren’t bound to the Mosaic Law, but we don’t need to be. We have been given a new love commandment, which comes with new love equipment. We are a temple of the Holy Spirit, and we have been instructed by our founder to love one another the way Christ loves us. I don’t need a law that tells me what to do in order to know that if I am loved in the midst of my failures, I should probably be doing the same to my neighbor, even in the midst of theirs. This is why the Kingdom expression of love transcends the whole “eye for an eye” philosophy (which is touted by the law by the way) and graduates to loving your enemies and praying for those who persecute you.
So let’s remember that the law was for a specific people in a specific time in a specific place. It hedged them in from their enemies and it taught them how to treat one another. Grace is better in every way, for it transcends specific time and place. It is the goodness of God, flowing to us and through us for all people in all times. Grace replaces the law in that out of belly flows rivers of living water, and these waters bring flowers to the desert of man’s soul. We are the conduit of the love of the Father, and we don’t need a list to tell us how to do it. The Bill of Rights protects the minority from the majority. The grace of God protects us all from one another, and teaches us that indeed, we are our brother’s keeper.
Grace to you.