If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.
Save me, for I am yours… – Psalm 119:92-94
I’d like to pick up on a position I advanced in yesterday’s post (“Speaking Up“), and invest a little thought in some counterpoint. Not so much in opposition to my thinking, but as a way to expand the conversation and make sense of the tension that exists between reformation and tradition; between the New Testament and the Old; between freedom in Christ and devotion to religious code; between – ultimately – grace and the law.
I may be guilty of being cavalier sometimes in my dismissive approach to the religious right, political evangelicalism, and fundamentalism, but I also recognize the importance and the beauty of laws and principles.
I quoted from Psalm 119 because the entire poem stands as a deeply moving representation of love and respect for God’s law. But – and by way of clarification – so does Matthew 15:
Jesus said: “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:
“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’”
My point here is that I believe we easily misread the purpose, the intention, and the true nature of what we understand as God’s Law. Let me explain: God purposes to restore an authentic relationship with each one of us; reconciliation is written into the heart of every divine initiative recorded in scripture. The reason the law exists, then, is not to create a chasm of separation between the Creator and the creation, but to navigate the road back.
But the law did not achieve this end. In fact, the law became an end to itself, enslaving people in its details and becoming a legalistic exercise in futility.
One thing the law did achieve, however, was to illustrate the impossibility of building a tower of rules and regulations high enough that we could climb it, pat ourselves on the back, and step into God’s Kingdom. Instead, and as Paul so clearly quoted Jesus, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”
Or, in the words of Romans 8:1-3a, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son…”
The purpose of the Bible – both testaments – is to tell the story of how a people wrestled with God’s call to redemption, and how a person, finally, became our redemption.
- Jesus – just like the law – invites us into relationship with God;
- Jesus – unlike the law – offers an elegant solution: “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full” (John 10:9-10).
This is an invitation absolutely anyone can accept. Any person – without exception and without demonstrable credentials in law-keeping – is welcome to walk with Jesus.