WHAT CHRISTIANS SHOULD BELIEVE: THE LAW

Note: This is a chapter out of my novel, If God is God (Symbios 1996). I don't agree with Pastor Josh on everything he says, but I think he is very accurate in his explanation of what Christians should believeI'm not seeing that, folks; I wonder why.

 

Chapter 40 - The Law

 The evening service had a larger audience than the morning one; possibly a coincidence, but probably because word had spread that Pastor Felton was "at it again". Josh's concerns about his morning lapses had vanished, now that he knew where they came from, and  he felt confident going ahead with his original plans.

"Last Sunday evening, I said that we'd talk about 'the Law' tonight. For some, this has been a confusing part of Jesus' teachings, because He seems to be saying that all the old rules given before His coming still apply to Christians. Look with me at Matthew 5:17-19. He says that He didn't come to abolish the Law, but to complete it. He says that, as long as heaven and earth endure, not a letter or stroke of the Law will disappear. He says that anyone who breaks even the least part of the Law will have the lowest place in heaven. How do we reconcile this with all the other scriptures that we Christians love so much: the ones that talk about the new way of grace, free from the old laws and rituals?

"The answer comes by reading on, and discovering what God really meant by 'the Law'. What I think comes through loud and clear in the rest of Matthew 5 is that He has made the Law both harder and easier for us. He's made it harder, because prior to the coming of Christ he was letting us 'get by' on the letter of the Law. Now he's demanding that we obey not just the letter of the Law, but the spirit of it as well. But He knows that we can't do that by ourselves - nobody can - so now we have His salvation and grace and Holy Spirit to make it possible.

"Let's go on in Matthew 5 and look at some of Jesus' comparisons of the letter versus the spirit of the Law. Starting in verse 2 1, He notes that the Law says not to commit murder. That's fine, says Jesus, but just as bad as murder are the feelings that could lead to murder. The letter says don't murder; the spirit says don't nurse anger against your brother. Note He didn't say don't get angry; he said don't nurse anger; take care of it. You can't have really effective contact with God until you've squared away your personal relationships.

"Look at some of the other ways He has made it hard for us. Verses 27-28: having adulterous fantasies (lusting in your heart) is as bad as committing adultery. Verses 31- 32: the letter of the Law says don't divorce a woman without giving her a note of dismissal (a small concession to women, who had virtually no legal standing at that time); the spirit of the law says don't divorce at all. Verses 33-34: don't break oaths; the full Law says don't make oaths! Verses 38-39: eye for eye, tooth for tooth, becomes turn the other cheek. If someone wants your shirt, give him your coat, also! And folks, it gets worse - look down to verse 43. The 'easy' Law says love your neighbor, but the 'hard' Law says love your enemy, as well as praying for your persecutors. I love the way Jesus finishes up this section. He asks what's so great about loving those who love you. Anybody can do that! The tough thing is to love the unlovely - to fairly and compassionately deal with people who may not be your cup of tea. That's what raises you above the masses - that's what separates Christian from non-Christian. Verse 48 concludes by saying that there must be no limit to our goodness, just as there is no limit to God's goodness.

"Did you ever read this before? Is it in your Bible, too, or did somebody just slip it into mine? Can Jesus be serious? Why, if we approached the world as he seems to be suggesting, the world would run roughshod over us!"

Josh paused, looked around, and listened. Every eye was on him, and there wasn't a sound in the church. There were no extra sounds in his head, either. Praise the Lord!

"But is it impossible? Without  God's Holy Spirit, I truly believe it is. On our ·own, we just don't have enough control. We all know that we don't normally plan to get angry. And we don't usually think about thinking lustful thoughts before we actually think them. (Good tongue twister, that!)  President Jimmy Carter publicly admitted to impure thoughts about women, which got him ridiculed and lost him supporters. But I always appreciated his candor, because I think he was confessing for every man and woman in the world. He didn't say he dwelt on those thoughts, or went out and acted on them. He just said he had them. In this world, which is still temporarily under the partial control of Satan, it is impossible not to be afflicted by thoughts of hate, anger, greed, lust, selfishness - you name it. The important question is, what do you do with these thoughts?

"Here's where the Christian starts out with some willpower, and ends up with Holy Spirit power. We all have a will, remember; we can choose to do things or not do things. As an example, Jesus said not to commit murder or adultery, and we can obviously will ourselves not to do either of those things. The letter of the Law is within our personal control in virtually all cases. We can go farther with willpower, too, by using it to keep us out of situations that might lead to worse events. We might not be able to completely stop the occasional lustful thoughts that Jimmy Carter confessed to, but we can make it a lot harder for them. We can avoid pornographic literature, and we can refuse to listen to or tell obscene jokes. Obviously, we can stay away from topless bars and adult bookstores. In other words, there are many ways our own wills can keep our minds from becoming gardens where weeds of impurity can grow.

"Not all situations are as straightforward as this one, however. Some get trickier, because we are so used to living in and with the world that we may not be hearing some of the things that Jesus is saying to us. We may find it difficult even to acknowledge that Jesus is asking Christians to be different from non-Christians. And I'm not talking about lust and crime, now; I'm talking about what we believe and how we act in all facets of our lives.

"I'm not going to give you a bunch of answers tonight - I'm not sure I know the answers - but let me pose some questions for you. For example, Jesus said no more 'eye for eye' judgments; we turn the other cheek, now. What does that mean to you as a Christian, and what should you and your willpower be doing about it. How about His direction not to sue, but to come to terms with people short of a law suit? Are you following that direction? Jesus said to love your enemies, and love those who despitefully use you. What does that mean? Are you doing as much as you can?

"As I said, I don't have answers for you tonight, but somebody does - God's Holy Spirit. To get those answers, you need 'the mind of Christ'. To get the 'mind of Christ', you ask for it through the Holy Spirit. And it is essential! Folks, you may be reading your Bible, going to church, and living life the best way you know how. However, if you are not asking the Holy Spirit to illuminate, interpret, and clarify what you read, hear, and see, you are not using your resources to the fullest, to do what Christians should do and to be what Christians should be. Brothers and sisters, we are called by God to be different from the rest of the world. Are you different?"

There was some stirring in the church as Josh shot out his challenge. For a moment, he seemed to sense angry sparks jumping from place to place in the congregation. "Thank You, Lord," came loud and unbidden from his lips. The congregation quieted.

"I think that some of you are remembering scriptures about salvation coming by grace, not by works, and your minds are rebelling at all this talk about what you have to do to be Christians. No, you don't remember it wrong - we are saved by grace through faith. But that should set off a perpetual motion machine in the individual Christian, and also in the Christian community. Because we believe, we act. As we see the fruits of our right actions, others begin to believe. Their conviction causes us to believe even more strongly, and on and on it goes. In Matthew 5: 16, Jesus tells us to let our lights shine before men so that they may see our good works - repeat, works - and so glorify God. In Matthew 16:27, it's recorded that Jesus said we would be rewarded according to our works. In James 1:22, we're admonished to be doers of the word, not just hearers of it. 'James' went so far as to say that faith without works is dead. I repeat: because we believe, we act!

"It all must seem very difficult, learning to trust the Holy Spirit for answers, and sometimes even for the questions. But God is so wonderful, He's given us His Holy Spirit even to show us how to get in touch with the Holy Spirit! How's that for magic? No, not magic; just God! In other words, the Holy Spirit first gives us the hunger to find out how to live life more fully as Christians, and then is the enabler to let us actually do it. He reveals 'the Law' to us, and then makes it possible for us to live under it. No, not just to live under the Law, but to actually thrive under it.

"God has challenged us to let Him be God in our lives. Some of us have accepted that challenge. As I said this morning, this isn't a game; it's a very serious commitment. It's one we all should make, for the good of the Christian community, for the 'Body of Christ' of which we are all members. You can make it. Right now, later tonight, tomorrow - any time at all - you can accept God's challenge to move beyond the letter of the Law to the spirit of it. You can be full-time Christians - fully working parts of the Body of Christ - rather than just part-time church people. It isn't anything that I or anyone else can do for you. Just as you had to make your own personal move to accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior, you have to keep taking your own personal steps to  enter  into His  fullness. I'll pray with you and for you, but you have to make the choice.  I hope you will, tonight."

The services dismissed without any outward sign of much of anything. Josh had to take it strictly on faith that he was doing the right thing. He was pretty sure he'd find out soon enough how well he was being received!


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