So I go to a church that talks a lot about the topic of grace. Lots of people think this is dangerous. I agree. Grace turns the world upside down. It levels the playing field so nobody can boast about how good a Christian they are because they go to church, or how good of a Christian they are because they don’t go to church. We find a way to boast about anything, don’t we?
Grace — the idea that God gives us what we don’t deserve — is at the center of the gospel. But it’s not the only aspect of the gospel.
Growing up, church was influential in my life, but perhaps not as influential as the books, magazines, and novels I read, and studies I went through, either by myself or in small groups. In one of those studies, called The Truth Project, the guy talked about the purpose of education. In fact, the very reason education began in Europe and America was to discover more about God by discovering more about His world.
Sidenote: It amazes me how many people don’t see any connection between knowledge and and spirituality. Science and faith. Since when did these things become mutually exclusive? Sure, you can’t feel your way into a math problem. But if you’re like me dad, you’ve probably never been more in love than when you’ve seen how beautiful numbers and patterns are when they fit together perfectly. Why discover how the human body works if you don’t know why the human body is even a thing? If there is no why to math and science and space and history, then I wouldn’t give a shit about school either, guys. But if at the end of the universe and the math problem there is the beauty and love and intentionality of a God who loves me, I’m all over that. And I was.
Needless to say, I’ve studied not only a lot about academia, but about theology. And the same rule occurs: If you try to understand how God works without grace (that is, why He gives a bean about us in the first place), you’ll be at a loss.
But grace, just grace, without the rest of the story?
It’s like a man’s strength without the rest of him. Or a woman’s beauty without the rest of her. It undermines the whole thing when you forget about the rest.
And that’s why I’m here today to talk about the law. When I talk about the law, I’m referring to rules in general. When people in the Scriptures talk about the law, they are referring to all the rules God gave the Israelites, a nation He set apart to light up the rest of the world, so to speak.
Lots of people who haven’t read the Bible (probably because they don’t see the why behind the what) critcise the law. Well, they actually criticise Christians for claiming to believe the Bible, which contains these laws. They’re like, “Your Bible says to kill women who commit adultery and kill people who are gay and kill people who wear two different kinds of fabric together.” And they hate you for it. Or maybe they hate God. Or maybe they’ve just never known what love really is for themselves. But they’re ignorant of the why behind these laws. But Christians, so are we.
Lots of Christians, whether they read the Bible or not, criticise the law. It’s funny. God is the one who made these laws. They talk about how God loves them, and that they’re free from the law, then they forget that this is the same God who made these laws. But then, God is also the one who became human and did not kill the woman who committed adultery. Bipolar much?
Maybe we’re afraid to answer this question. If God flip flops, if He is inconsistent, then what is consistent? Nothing. Think about it. Society also flip flops on whether homosexuality is okay. It flip flops on how it treats black and white people, rich and poor people, the strangers and the spoiled-by-birthplace. Heck, I’m inconsistent. I tell people what I’m gonna do, and I don’t. And I tell people what I won’t do, and I do it.
If there’s anyone who could possibly be consistent, it would be God. So this is worth looking into. Why did God make these harsh laws, then seemingly break them on his knee and throw them aside? Where does He get off?
I have a friend who is a dad. His kids were really giving his wife a hard time today. His son had this horrible temper tantrum. He was kicking and biting his sister. He was yelling and screaming in public. He was making other kids really freak out and be afraid of him.
The worst thing was, my friend knew his son knew better. So he was driving home from work and told his son on the phone that he was going to have to discipline him when he got home.
My friend was so heartbroken. He knew it was going to hurt his son to discipline him. But he knew that if he didn’t follow through with his promise, his son would continue with the behavior that hurt him and others around him, because he would know he could get away with it. (If you say you’re gonna punish your kid, and then you don’t, your kid is growing up with really inconsistent things, and will feel less of a locus of control, because what you do doesn’t always have consistent good and bad consequences. That’s scary and confusing and all.)
So anyways. My friend gets home and he keeps his promise. It’s hard on him, because he doesn’t like seeing his son hurt. But it’s not because his father hurt him, it’s because he wants to make it clear that his son’s actions were what hurt him. He wasn’t angry or in rage or anything. He didn’t do it to satisfy his own anger as much as he did it so his son would be a better person. The best thing was, when my friend left, his son ran up and gave him this huge hug. He loved his daddy. He wanted to make him happy and be the best son he could be and be a good big brother, too. And that’s what made my friend cry.
So, how this fits in. I asked my friend, “Did you like when your son had these temper tantrums?”
He tilted his head back in sacrcastic satisfaction. “Oh. I love it.” Of course he didn’t.
“Did you feel closer to your son before his temper tantrums, or after?”
I could see him picturing in his mind that tearful goodbye hug just hours before. “Definitely after.”
“That’s the law.”
The purpose of the law.
Okay guys. So here’s what we get wrong about the law.
If you’ve been acquainted with any religion at all, you’ve been told that the law is supposed to help you be a better person.
If you’ve read the Bible at all, you see that one author writes, consistently with the rest of the Bible, that the law actually does the exact opposite to us:
“Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.”
Paul, in his letter to a church in Rome (Romans 3:19-20)
Here Paul states on the main purposes of the law. Not to show how good we are, but how far we fall short. When you take a test and your test is compared to the answer key, it shows what you get right, but the marks on your page are what you got wrong. You don’t start with a 100% and get docked off. You start with zero, work towards 100, and fail.
So it is with the law on its own. But remember that the law came from a loving God. So why did a loving God create a law?
When we sin, we are far from God. But when we try to obey the law on its own, we are still far from him. I think if I had a son who grew up and moved out and was successful and never talked to me, it would be even more of a tragedy than if I had a son with a brain disorder who lived with me well into his forties. Because he falls short by societal standards, but at least he’s near to me.
Why I think you’re so tired all the time.
I have another coworker. She grew up in a religious home. Very strict. She left and went to college and partied and all that. She regrets it now. But I don’t think she went running back to strict laws, either. I get the feeling she thinks both are equally as empty. In fact, she even told me she wouldn’t mind if she just died. Maybe, I hope, she is excited to go to Heaven, though maybe not so much to be near to God… but to be free from the law.
The law. Apart form God, it’s annoying as hell. Literally. Because you can’t live with it and you can’t live without it. IF you try to live up to it, you fail, and you wanna die. If you totally abandon it, though, your life sucks and you get herpes and lose all your money and you want to die there too.
So, many of us, like my coworker, are just… weary. We’re tired of trying to be perfect, but we’re tired of messing up all the time. So we just… live in this limbo land of being a “normal” person. A person who isn’t religious, but who is nice. A person who isn’t totally selfless, but who loves when it works and quits when it doesn’t. But we’re still not free, are we? That’s why I think you’re tired all the time.
What if the law was part of what we needed to be brought near to God?
I think of my friend again. If his house was like my coworker’s childhood, and everything was just about keeping things in order… that would totally suck. If he was inconcistent with his discipline, or spoiled his son, his son would be loved, true, but he wouldn’t see it. He would still feel in need all the time. In need of toys. In need to get attention at school. In need of rebellion and adventure. In need of consistency.
But the way my friend handled this situation fascinated me. His son messed up, His son was disciplined. And his son ended up recognizing his need and his love for his dad… more than if he had never thrown this tantrum.
And his dad… his love would not have been revealed to the same extent if his son was just perfect. Because, who knows if he actually just loved his son because he made him look good as a dad or something? But because his son messed up, you could see that his love was not because of his son’s behavior… his concern for his son’s behavior was because of his love for his son’s simply being his son.
I’ve always tried to be perfect.
I thought that, even now that I’m forgiven, because Jesus died for my sins, you know, that I was still to get back on track on try to obey the law. It was like, instead of running up and hugging my dad (aka God in this situation), I took his discipline and turned it into fuel for my car to run and go do things apart from him again.
God cares about my character. But I’m missing the point.
His goal in me isn’t perfection. It’s nearness.
When I don’t kick my sister, I’m like him, and therefore I’m near to him. But when I do kick my sister, he draws near to me, and I’m near to him. That changes me, but his goal isn’t to change me. It’s to be near me no matter what.
And you know what? I think, in some way you’re totally going to think is blasphemous, but I don’t care — I think we’re closer to God because we sin than we ever could be if we were just perfect.
There is a reason he made the law. But there’s a reason he lets us break it, too.
He wants us to know what it means to be broken and loved.
Because there’s something far more beautiful
about a disobedient son
hugging his heartbroken dad…
than a successful perfect man
off somewhere being successful
and his dad is just stuck at home
watching TV and crying inside
just wishing his son would come home.
So why care about the law if I’m not under the law anymore?
Often in church we talk about not being “under the law,” but “under grace.” Paul talks about this in Romans, too. Because Jesus died for me, I’m free from this lose-lose situation where the law just nags at me all the time, telling me I suck, or at least to just try harder.
But even Jesus says he didn’t come to abolish the law. He came to fulfill it.
So when you read the Old Testament, or when you go to school, or when you read a book, don’t be afraid to find God there. God is there in the cosmos. God is there in the law. God is there in the Ming Dynasty. The more you seek him, the more you’ll find Him.
The more you study the law, the more you’ll realize how glorious it is that God is righteous, and yet, He is jealous of your time and attention, and he wants to be with you, and sit with you on the couch, and move all the religion and success and guilt aside to be near you all the more.
God wants to know you. All of you.
And love you. All of you.
And take away what is not you…
so you can be more “you”
with him than you were before
when the law was in the way,
when your sin was in the way.
God cares about justice and rules and the law so much because he wants to extract everything that is YOU from everything that is NOT you
until you are fully known, fully near.
God wants to know you. He’s not afraid of your darkness. And he’ll take it off your shoulders. He’ll take off the burden of the law… and he’ll take off the burden on your sin. But in the process, he’s gonna tell you just how heavy those things were so you know just what is involved in him setting you free.
So anyways. I just wanna say, don’t be afraid to know God. To study the word and to study His world, and to investigate other beliefs and find that He is still the truth, because whoever made this world, all its arrows everywhere are gonna point to him like a magnet.
The more you grow in your faith — it’s not that you will become a better person. The more you grow in your faith, the more you’ll realize the depth of your sin, the depth of his love for you — and how far he had to come to get to you to be near to you. And it will produce in you this beautiful thing called Nearness.
Thank the Lord that God is the opposite of us. Because, in the world of magnets, the nearest things to Him are the ones that realize just how opposite they are.
We can be near him even now.
We don’t have to just want to die.
Because the shadow proves the sunshine.