Jim: I wanted to get your take on a theological/spiritual issue that seems directly related to emphasis of your Web site. I realize I am rehashing a lot of old material between us, and I know you're plenty busy and my e-mails can get rather wordy, so only address this if and as time permits.
One of the things I have really appreciated about your ministry, Jim, is your emphasis on the grace found in the cross of Christ. It was under the influence of grace-centered teachings that I gave my life to Christ just over ten years ago and it is the prism of faith through which I still strive to view others and God. I think where I struggle is understanding what role the law now plays in our lives since we are under grace. (By law, I don't mean the Mosaic or Judaic law, per se, but simply that sense of right and wrong or principles that all of humanity shares).
It is clear from the New Testament that the law no longer has any hold on us as far as the guilt, oppression or condemnation or illusionary power to give life it held on humanity before the cross - God reconciled the world to Himself by expunging the power of sin and the law through Himself in the person of Christ on the cross. This much I get (or am getting, at least!)
The question, then, is when we are told that we are dead to or liberated from the law, what does that mean? I ask this because there are many grace-oriented, or 'deeper life' teachers, past and present, that state that we are now liberated to live by the "Spirit's leading," and not the law. While this is apparently true from the testimony of the Scriptures, doesn't God's agape Spirit still always lead according to the Royal Law - expressing our love for God through outrageous love toward our neighbor?
Some grace-heavy teachers seem to indicate (our outright state) that since only God knows what will ultimately benefit another, it is only as we express the life from within or His Spirit's "leadings" that we fulfill the basic command to love our neighbor, and to reference our own understanding of love is to live under the law, or eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The result is that the fruits of the Spirit as listed in Galatians 5, or the expressions of love as expressed in I Corinthians 13, become wildly ambiguous terms. Basically, if it comes from a sense of peace with the Spirit from within, it must be kind, loving and holy, no matter how contradictory to all that is deemed unkind, unloving or unholy by our conscience, the Scriptures or common sense. God's intentions are all that matters, so my actions are justified as an expression of God's love, no matter how apparently unloving, as they are a means to an end. In an effort to let the peace of Christ rule, or "umpire," our hearts, one unhesitatingly follows the "Spirit" despite the reasonable protests of the soul, deeming any ethical consideration or sense of human ethic as fleshly or failure to rely on the mind of Christ.
Enough. Any thoughts on my long-winded thoughts? Until then, know that I appreciate your insight and I hope all is well in sunny Florida.
Hello, my friend, Will,
I think where I struggle is understanding what role the law now plays in our lives since we are under grace.
You know, sometimes I think we try too hard to make sure our view can't possibly be collected together in a list, as if one's ability to do so would reveal our view as being law. But the essence of living under law is not about having ethics or principles but about the underlying premise that one needs to be ruled by ethics and principles in order to make them happen. Law is for the lawless and rebellious, not for the righteous ... not for the new creation. Law demands that one must conform to an outward standard in order to bring order out of disorder. In truth, the law can only keep the lawless and rebellious in check and create a society that is held together by mutual agreement and understanding of the basic need for order out of chaos through a system of right and wrong, or of good and bad behaviors.
Are the standards evil? Of course not. Is the need for standards evil? Consider instead that without such standards societies fall into chaos and ruin. Now, no doubt many evil standards have been adopted in different societies, but the basic standards of God found in Moses' Law - as well as in many other societies' standards - are not evil but good. In other words, the realities to which those laws testify are pure and right and good.
Ironically, some have come to hold a grace position in which the mere mention of "pure", "right" or "good" can only be seen as the manipulations of a legal system that has capitalized upon such concepts. But we need to remove the legal system from our perceptions of true life so we can see purity, righteousness and goodness for what it truly is. Our beings resonate in their reality, which is a far cry from the lifelessness of pretended obedience. After all, just because rigid rules have been established in hopes that the concepts in question could become reality doesn't cause the realities of purity, righteousness and goodness to become anything like the pretense of such things.
In other words, according to the various standards of right and wrong that we grew up under in this world we learned to pacify the basic sense of true right and good to which our consciences have testified. That there is an absolute purity, goodness and righteousness is not in question; that we have come to accept such things as having been achieved because they were accomplished in a technical way is.
What do I mean in saying they were accomplished in a technical way? In fact, this is what we have always understood about such accomplishments. For we have always known full well that our doing of right and good and being pure can only be considered so by having made numerous adjustments along the way, and then accepting our achievements by comparing ourselves one with another. There is no other way we could ever consider what we had done as being right, good, or pure. For we knew what it took to get to that place ... and we knew our right, good, and pure was as fragile as the shifting whims of our particular society, or our own unstable conscience.
Consider Paul's words to Timothy, for they make a rather potent summary of what he wrote on in length elsewhere in his letters.
For some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions. But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, with which I have been entrusted. 1 Timothy 1:6-11
Realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious...
On the one hand, he includes a matter-of-fact listing of those who are controlled by their flesh, sinners, ungodly, etc; on the other, he has explicitly made it known that those who are righteous - ie those to whom Christ has become their very righteousness - are not the target of the law. Even though some view Paul as showing his "legalistic" side in writing words like these he has done so to make the incredible life vs. death distinction that establishes the insane logic by which he so clearly puts lawmen-wannabes in their place. He exposes such wannabe teachers-of-the-law by how they use the law, which is ignorantly. It makes no difference how knowledgeable one seems in the things of the law or how one sets himself up as being an authority, the simple fact that such a person doesn't understand the lawful use of the law only exposes his ignorance. After all, the Pharisees - being some of the smartest people in the whole world at that time - were the kind of people who "do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions"
For God to have made us to live under grace was not made to happen by him removing ethical or moral considerations, as if the mention of such realities must be in and of themselves legal, or traps of legalism. No, God brought us into this grace by having removed the one condemned - the one devoid of life - through Christ. It's not just that he brought about a new way of life called "grace" but that he has brought this grace to pass by killing the one under bondage to the old and raising him to new life. The "Spirit's leading" is not some kind of divine directive by which we follow certain impulses or "leadings" but is in fact the reality of the life of God in us by whom we now live. In this, I'm not saying we might not have impulses to do certain things, but it is a fleshly mistake to consider that our life of being led by God's Spirit is defined by a string of such impulses.
Being set free to be led by the Spirit of God is to be set free from the law of sin and death, which is exactly what our former life was all about - whether we were moral or not. We were confined to live according to the elementary principles that guides the whole world. Interestingly, the law as given to Moses was based upon these same elements.
and to reference our own understanding of love is to live under the law, or eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
Something that sticks out to me is that what it means "to reference our own understanding of love" might easily create a rather ambiguous concept, as I see it. One the on hand, we might be holding to fleshly expectations of love so that unless someone does what we think they should do the way we think they should do it we will judge it as not being loving. On the other hand, having been made alive we have been given understanding that over-rides our former understanding. Everything we learned in the world regarding love was merely a mirage of the real thing. It was the appearance of water in the desert that became sand in our mouths.
Anyhow, I have to stop for the night so I'll send this off now. Let me know of any thoughts, okay?