Monday, October 04, 2004

Freed from the law

When God spoke to Moses on the Mount, he delivered to him both a detailed, proscriptive law, and a pattern for the construction of the tabernacle. There were details for nearly every contingency. When questions arose about the application of a particular law, Moses would receive supplemental instruction directly from God to clarify.

Was God's pattern for the tabernacle more like a sketch or a blueprint? Was the Law He gave to Moses more like a sketch or a blueprint? Are the new testament scriptures more like a sketch or a blueprint?

I think it is evident that the patterns given on Mount Sinai were more like blueprints, while the new covenant "pattern" is more like a sketch. While we sometimes wish we could have every detail of our service to God spelled out, we should be careful what we wish for. A law like that has been tried before, and mankind failed miserably in meeting up to it.

There is a great deal of difference between the proscriptive nature of the law, which was designed to set specific boundaries for God's people, and the "law of Christ," which is meant to draw us to Him out of our own free will. One is like a fence, the other like a magnet. One was a book of codes, the other is a law written on our hearts, making the book of codes obsolete.

Hebrews 8:13 - In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

As I raise my children, this difference between the two concepts is very obvious to me, the lawgiver of the family. It is not uncommon for one of my kids to come to me and say "they won't let me play cards with them." It is extremely frustrating, because I keep trying to teach them that I shouldn't have to make a law for every contingency that comes up. I shouldn't have to issue a verdict for each situation, and say "let her play" or "wait until the next game."

They should be able to take the principle of love for their brothers and sisters and their desire to please me, and apply that to each situation. If two kids are excluding a third, the third, ideally, should act out of love for the others and not press the issue. At the same time, the two who are doing the excluding should be ashamed when they recognize what they've done to their brother or sister, and work to make amends.

But alas, I'm raising kids, not adults. So I continue to lovingly tell my kids of my goal, that I don't want to have to make legislation for every disagreement they have. When I do have to legislate from the bench, usually both parties are sorry they escalated their complaint that far.

But I'm sure that I only feel a small slice of the frustration that our Father in heaven must feel when we find ourselves wanting, needing, and searching high and low for laws to satisfy every contingency in our quest to be like His Son. It's normal. It's natural. But, like my kids when they need me to clarify "my law," I wonder if it's not a sign of immaturity. And I wonder that, based in part on Paul's letter to the Christians in Galatia.

In that letter, Paul writes:

Galatians 3:10-12 - For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them." But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for "the just shall live by faith." Yet the law is not of faith, but "the man who does them shall live by them."

Recently, reported a real-life illustration of one of Paul's points in this chapter:

Earlier this month, the staff, faculty, and Board of Trustees at Virginia's private Alexandria Country Day School had a Mexican-themed dinner complete with margaritas. For some reason, the leftovers were placed in a school refrigerator. On September 10, it was mistaken for "limeade" by school workers and actually served at lunch to students in the third, fourth, and fifth grades. The mix-up came after the school ran out of milk. An embarrassed and contrite Harvey promised that booze will now be banned on campus and all faculty parties will be held off-site.

The first transgression was in giving the children alcohol, but another law was added because of that first transgression. Now, no alcohol or staff parties will be allowed on campus. This is exactly what Paul meant when he wrote:

Galatians 3:20 - What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions... (NKJV)

Laws are added because of transgressions. They are meant to fence us in with explicit boundaries, like a training leash for a dog. They keeps us from going too far and exercising our own judgment, because the judgment of how far we can go has already been made for us. When we try to run past the limits of the law, we are yanked back by its short leash. But the law, like the training leash, is only a tutor, and was meant to be set aside when the training was complete.

Galatians 3:21-25 - ...if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. But before faith came, we were kept under guard by the law, kept for the faith which would afterward be revealed. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (NKJV)

It is both liberating and frightening to consider that we are no longer under a schoolmaster, but that faith has been substituted for law. The new covenant letters are not a set of regulations to be interpreted and wielded as legal documents. They are not like the training leash, which confines us, but represent the setting aside of that old leash. The new covenant letters are a collection of inspired words intended to unify and edify, not divide and confine.

There comes an age where every child has to make decisions for himself in the real world. He must reach a point of accountability and maturity where God expects him to take responsibility for his own free will. That is where we are at in world history with respect to mankind's relationship with God. We have been entrusted with our own free will, and may use it to serve ourselves, our peers, or our God. That means we are no longer fenced in by a book of codes, rules, and regulations.

Romans 7:6 - But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (NIV)

In Paul's letter to the Colossian Christians, he gets even more explicit:

Colossians 2:13-14 - And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. (NKJV)

I'm convinced of this: He didn't nail one codebook of requirements to the cross in order to institute another. We are truly freed from the law, but we can use our newfound liberty in Christ for good, or we can use it for self-indulgence. To use it for self-indulgence with no regard for others or for our God is sin. To use it for others and for service to our God is godliness. Just as in our civic life, with freedom comes responsibility.

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