It is amazing how quick I am to exclude various aspects of my life from the reach of the Gospel. What I mean is that I am a “new law” making factory and hold on to these rules with unquestioning commitment. Many of these new laws are culturally conditioned, societal norms that are so ingrained into “the way things are” that it never occurs to me to even examine them. I assume the value of “good” or “bad” or “best” or “worst” that my culture has determined is undeniably straight from God’s heart, so to disagree or reject these values must also be to rebel against God’s holiness and authority. Yet, a surprising number of these new laws under which I labor are actually about morally neutral aspects of life to which I’ve attached some extra-biblical significance.
For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.”Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus, so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit. Gal. 3:10-14
I take really good things, like in this case, being a self-sacrificing mother, and subtly make it a new condition for my righteousness and for my children’s future health and well being. For instance, if I can ever complete a day in which I feel like I have actually put my children first in all things, given them my full attention all day rather than just babysitting or even ignoring them, I feel good. (Like the rich young ruler, I naively call myself “good” based on some notion of my own law meeting righteousness.) However, in the majority of the time when my attentions are divided to things like house work or a phone call or even ministry to people outside of our home, I feel terrible guilt and condemnation and a sense that I will pay for this “neglect” of their fragile souls in the future in a most irreparable way.
I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? Have you experienced so much in vain—if it really was in vain? So again I ask, does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham “believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Gal. 3:2-6
A deeper problem with new laws is that they lead to idolatry. As long as I am trying to earn or maintain my own righteousness, I am going to turn to means other than the promised Seed, the person and work of Jesus, for this righteousness and blessing, and also fear that idol for its ability to curse me beyond the reach of His rescue. There is a basic assumption, just below my conscious awareness, that though it is by grace I have been saved and through which He is growing my faith and restoring more fully His image in me, here is an area from which this truth is excluded. I have begun to believe that it is by my works that the people around me will flourish or perish, that it is by my faithfulness to this particular task that I will stand or be disqualified from God’s favor and blessings. AND, in my particular case with motherhood, the cultural description of what good mothering looks like is not actually a biblical mandate. (Substitute “good friending”, “good neighboring”, “good employee or employer status” and so on.)
Just like other areas where God is determined to show me that HE is the one who wills and acts through me according to His good purpose, just as it is GOD who will complete the good work that HE began, He will create a Gospel “third way” between my notions of “good mothering according to culture” and the ways these definitions are in reaction to “despicable, selfish mothering” as demonstrated by those we deem neglectful, abusive or otherwise reprehensible in this category. He removes my children from the throne of my worship (though I would never have called it that) and returns Himself to that rightful position. This means that serving Him first (perhaps through that phone call, ministry to others besides my children and other household or community tasks) will ultimately be serving His will for them as well. Why do I assume a dichotomy between God’s creation of me with my particular gifts and Bodily function ( body of Christ, not awkward personal bodily issues) and His good purposes for my children? Is it not possible that if He were calling me to be Mayor or a nurse or a musician this would also be part of His good purposes for my children rather than my lifelong assumption that anything other than them at the center of my devotion all day every day is some sort of parenting adultery? (again, substitute job devotion, neighboring/friending devotion, etc.) Or, lets say even in this I have it all wrong and am heading toward a path of egregious neglect or sinning against my children by divided attentions. Is that outside the reach of His redemptive purposes for all of us? Whom shall I fear?
Though my heart may condemn me over new laws to which I cling, if the Son has set me free, I will be free indeed. And this freedom isn’t to serve myself without guilt, but to serve more passionately and recklessly without fear of condemnation, whether the feet I wash are my children’s or those outside our home. I am at peace with Him because of His work, not my own.
…and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith. Phil. 3:9