There is no way around the fact that we need laws, rules, guidelines, boundaries, structures, schedules, goals, plans, and so on to live and thrive. There are proper ways of gardening and then there are things we do to actually kill our plants or grass or flowers or hoped for vegetables because they weren’t done in a timely or seasonally appropriate manner. For the parent of a newborn and toddler, schedules allow for predictability in the child’s world so that everything isn’t just survival. The schedule actually serves the sanity of the parent even as it ensures the child is being well cared for rather than just in survival mode as the captain of the family ship. However, there are those who go a little wonky with the “schedule” and begin to micro manage not just every minute of the day but exactly how each minute goes, extending into interactions with those outside of the family who are expected to conform to their “family schedule”. My own pendulum swings wildly between go with the flow flexibility (which often leaves our home a mess and eventually my nerves frazzled when the disorder finally mounts up high enough) to Army captain controlling micro-manager (which usually finds me in an angry, intolerant mood beating up everyone who dares cross my systems and orders.) If in the practical dailiness of life we have this much trouble finding a “Gospel third way” between God’s good gift of order and direction and God’s good gift of grace, it is no wonder that in sermons, blog posts and Christian writing the objectively wonky affection for new laws in place of Jesus’ third way is so enticing.
Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others. “But you are not to be called ‘Rabbi,’ for you have one Teacher, and you are all brothers. And do not call anyone on earth ‘father,’ for you have one Father, and he is in heaven. Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one Instructor, the Messiah. The greatest among you will be your servant. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. Matt. 23:5-12
The Law was always provided to show men a word picture of Jesus, the perfect and sinless Adam. The idea of the Law is to put in front of God’s children the reality that the standard for holiness and perfection is so high they can never meet it…but the second Adam can, will, does and then “imputes” or credits it to God’s children as if we had met it. Does my inability to every meet the perfections of God’s righteousness excuse me from the demand? Of course not. But it means that if I want to be holy as He is holy, I am going to have to believe that I can only be holy because He is holy on my behalf.
Where the Pharisees really got it wrong was by lowering the standards of the law enough to allow them to think they were meeting them. It is what we all do. We pick stuff that we think we can do (eat nutritionally, turn off the t.v., adopt an orphan, etc.) and stand proudly in our faithfulness to God’s Kingdom even as we look down upon those who aren’t meeting the limited aspects of the Law that we think we are fulfilling.
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Matt. 23:25-28 Before I stand smugly in judgment of “all those Christians” to whom this is addressed, let me come right out and say unequivocally that it is addressed to me. This needs to be addressed to me each and every time I forget that it is not my outward responses to the person and work of Jesus which make me clean before His throne of judgment. My “choosing the right path”, “asking the right question”, associating myself only with those of high character, “being radical”, “living dangerously” and any other form of new law that is both motivating and missing Jesus cannot become the anchor of my faith and the security of my living. I don’t get more points for following Jesus. I’m going to follow Jesus if He has called me to do so, really whether I want to or not, just like Jonah. I don’t get more points for my swell attitude, because if ever my attitude can be described as joyful or peaceful, those are fruits of the Spirit not of my own determined good will. I don’t discard the Law but rather acknowledge, with humility, any resemblance in my life to the requirements of the Law, the life of Jesus, has it’s basis only and fully in His person and work and not in mine. Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. Matt. 5:17 When I slip into communicating with other Christians or those who don’t believe at all, that my “good standing” with God is a product of my own credit, I have replaced Jesus with myself. When I offer to others hope based on their decision making, I also am heaping burdens on their shoulders should they fail to make “the right decision”, fail to date the right person, or fail to make the most adventurous decision for Jesus. I begin to sell something other than Jesus to the Beloved of God and begin encouraging their trust to be placed in the way they live out their faith rather than in the object of their faith alone. Sound like a viper-like thing to do? It is a clever appeal which has been made since the Garden. But unfortunately, it kills the plants, flowers and vegetables because there is only one Gardener through whom and by whom life thrives. You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. 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. 3:1-6 Honestly, I’m most tempted to start making new laws in my house when things feel out of order and I think I’m most tempted to start screaming out new laws to other Christians when things in the world around me seem out of order too. But what God is asking me to remember, from Adam onward, is that I can trust His dominion rather than trying to seize it for my own. God does not need for me to yell at others to bring about His good work, like an army sergeant trying to motivate with condemnation. By faith He has brought me from death to life and is completing the good work He began in me and I must have faith that this is no less true inside my home for my family and outside in the world around me.