LAW-LIVING vs GRACE-LIVING

We rejoice in the fact that we live “under grace” rather than “under the law.” We feel that law-living, with all the “thou shalls” and “thou shall nots,” would be a demanding, dreary existence. By contrast we see grace-living as warm, comfortable and full of joy.

We thank God for the fact that we live in a post-resurrection period rather than the era characterized by the Mosaic law and the interpretations it spawned. But grace-living is as difficult as law-living.

While law-living had  hundreds of specific requirements, at least each person knew exactly what was expected.  His religious duties were outlined in detail. Everyone was expected to meet the same requirements. By contrast, grace-living requires each of us to constantly seek and find, within the framework of scripture, God’s will. Grace-living for me may not be exactly the same as grace-living for you. And we celebrate this flexibility.

The Mosaic law was first given to a group of people who had no training or experience in developing their own society and culture.  They had been slaves for many generations. The law-living required of them had societal and sanitation aspects, as well as spiritual considerations. The commands of the Torah were only the ABCs of Gods revelation of himself. Jehovah 101 if you will.

By the time Jesus was born, God expected the Hebrew people to be ready for a more personal, detailed expression of His character and nature. Jesus was the advanced course given by a Father that longed to be known and understood by those He loved. This explains Jesus’ statement in John 14:9 “…he that hath seen me hath seen the Father.”

Jesus did not cancel the ABCs of earlier times. He expanded them and built on them. He expects us to follow the “Thou shalt love” commands of Matthew 22:37-40 just as rigorously as the rabbis of his day followed the Mosaic law.

Listening to God’s Advice

Suppose I was the world champion rodeo bull rider.  I had mastered all the techniques and tricks of the trade. I was the best that ever existed.

Then two years ago I retired.

Now my son wants to be a top tier rider. He is in his second season. I try to teach him all I know. He listens, but when he climbs on a bull he ignores my advice. In event after event he gets bucked off. His pain and injuries are mounting up week after week.

Each time he hits the ground it hurts me, too, because I love him. I know it would be so much better for him if he would just listen and follow my instructions.

So it is with God when I try to live my life outside his advice and commandments. Life would be so much easier and successful if I just followed what He has told me in his Word. When my stubborn nature leads me away from Him I get hurt and He suffers because He loves me.

Christian Repentance

Public repentance (which preachers often call for from the pulpit) may be more difficult for a Christian than for an unsaved person. This is especially true when that sin was something that directly damaged another person. Such behaviors include adultery, character assassination, robbery and fraud.

A Christian is usually aware an action is sinful before he does it, but he still chooses to do it. He ignores God’s teaching. He knowingly breaks God’s laws. On the other hand, the unsaved may not have been aware of God’s prohibition of a specific action. He had no moral compass to ignore. He can often truthfully say “I did not know it was wrong.”

When the Christian faces his sin He must say “Forgive me, Father. I knew I was sinning and I did it anyway.”  The unsaved can approach God with “Forgive me. At the time I really did not know I was sinning.”

A Christian is likely to face public embarrassment in his social circle when he confesses and repents. The unsaved person faces no such condemnation from his friends because to them he was only doing as expected.

Our prior knowledge of good and evil may make repentance after salvation more difficult than our original repentance at the time of our salvation. If we had assurance from fellow Christians that they would be as forgiving and accepting as our Father, repentance would be much easier.

Jesus accepts us each time we return to Him and acknowledge our sins. He instructs us to accept our brothers and sisters just as quickly and completely. He will give us the ability to do so as we lean on Him.

The Part Of Me I Withhold From God

As God’s children we give Him many things. We give him our intellect as we study his Word and memorize passages of it. We read theological literature and get exposed to the thoughts of religious leaders of the past. We allow Him to shape our minds.

We give Him our money. We tithe, donate to mission offerings, support building programs and contribute to programs that support the homeless and unfortunate of our society. He has access to our money.

We gladly allow Him a reasonable amount of our time. We attend Sunday School and worship services each Sunday. We go to choir practice and prayer breakfasts and home Bible-study groups. God is allowed to guide us during large chunks of our time.

We make our physical strength and abilities available to Him. We spend two Saturdays a year helping out at “Repair and cleanup” day at our church. We help neighbors with yard work and other chores when necessary. We help rebuild homes and churches in hard-hit areas after weather disasters. God can use our hands and feet.

But a part of us that we tend to withhold from Him is our attitude. We balk at allowing Him to control, and maybe change, our feelings and reactions toward church staff, family members, people of other races, those in certain economic levels and members of various political parties or religious groups.

In Mark 2:22 Jesus taught the futility of putting new wine in old wineskins. It may be that our attitudes are the old skins of our day and the new wine is further revelations of Himself that the Holy Spirit cannot show us because of our mental rigidity.

Inflexible attitudes cause us to whine when God expects us to shine. Which of our attitudes are we refusing to yield to Him?

Specific Repentance

Many people believe (and I agree) that when we pray for God to bless others, our requests are more likely to be granted if we pray for specific blessings. Rather than “Father, bless Johnny today” we should pray “Father, help Johnny pass his math test and behave in the lunch room and remember to bring home his dirty sweat socks and feed the cat after school.”

The same principle holds true when we pray for forgiveness for ourselves. Instead of “Dear Father, forgive me for all of my sins today” we should pray “Dear Father, forgive me for snapping at my kids and for the name I called the driver of that black pick up and for criticizing my boss and for laughing at that crude joke I heard during the coffee break at work.”

Specific sins call for specific confession and repentance.

But what if no specific sins come to mind while we are praying? Then our prayers should be “Dear Father, show me the exact ways I disappointed you today. Make me aware of them so I can confess and repent. Give me the wisdom and strength to resist them tomorrow.”

Such prayers will no doubt prolong our prayer times. When we linger and allow the Holy Spirit to be bring specific sins to mind we are more likely to achieve intimacy with our God, which is the main purpose of prayer.

God’s Audiovisuals

For me, as a child of God, every day is a time of learning in the classroom called “life.” God is the master teacher. He uses audiovisuals to help me become what I need to be.

One day the lesson goal may be patience and the audiovisual He uses is slow traffic.

The next day the lesson goal may be courage and the stock market takes a triple-digit dip.

The following day the lesson goal may be self-control and I spill a glass of milk at the breakfast table.

Later on the lesson may be love and I have to spend three hours at work with the most obnoxious guy I know.

Another day the lesson may be cheerfulness and I wake up with pain in both knees, lower back and shoulder.

If I wasn’t such a slow learner God might not have to use such harsh audiovisuals and my life would be more pleasant.

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Am I as willing to be used by God to help meet the needs in the lives of others as I am to use others to meet my own needs?

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When I look at people who are different from me, am I more likely to judge rather than love?