Archive for the ‘Law’ category

Stop Making it Difficult

March 17, 2014

The first church fight addressed issues we grapple with today.

Who can be part of us?

What do you have to do to belong?

don't make it difficult

The issue, back then, was do you have to keep the law to be/become a Christian?

The fight is recorded in Acts 15. After the fight, James summarizes the key principle in verse 19 (NIV):

It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.

In other words, make it easy. The rule applies to those who have and those who are turning.

Make it easy:

  1. Invite people to turn TO God. It’s easy to point out what’s bad. Turn away from drugs, sex, and rock-n-roll, for example. But, the gospel is good news, not bad.
  2. Forget about fixing people. Let God fix.
  3. Err on the side of grace. When in doubt choose compassion over confrontation.
  4. Avoid arguments on peripheral issues. Trusting Jesus is THE issue. Nothing else matters until that issue is resolved.

Four rules:

The four rules James gave gentile believers in Acts 15:20 (NIV) illustrate the “make it easy” rule.

Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.

  1. No “idol” food.
  2. No sexual immorality.
  3. No strangled animals.
  4. Drain the blood.

Why these rules? Acts 15:21 (NIV):

For Moses has been preached in every city from the earliest times and is read in the synagogues on every Sabbath.

James says the principle of “don’t make it difficult,” applies both ways. Jewish believers in Jerusalem are working to make it easy for Gentiles to turn to God. Gentile believers should be concerned for the Jews in their communities. Make it easy for them to turn to God, too. Avoid offensive behaviors for the sake of the Gospel. 

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Why So Much Self-Righteousness

October 22, 2012

I often see self-righteous believers who think they are better than others. I’m not proud of it, but I’ve felt that way too.

Worse yet, unbelievers often complain that Christians are self-righteous – holier than thou – people.

How do we get that reputation?

We become self-righteous when we reject faith and grace and embrace law and works. Legalists are always arrogant. Grace always humbles.

Justification:

Even if you don’t feel it, all believers are declared righteous – JUSTIFIED. God’s declaration of your righteousness isn’t a fiction. He’s not closing his eyes and pretending. Justification isn’t a fairy-tale  It’s a validated verdict by God the judge. (Rom. 3:23-25)

How many of your sins has Jesus taken away? Is your guilty conscience greater than God’s verdict? Can you accept what God says?

Justification is a grace-benefit received by faith alone. It’s not a behavior-based benefit like rewards.

Self-justification:

Even though justification is a grace-benefit, nearly everyone feels a need to earn it. Jesus says there are two attributes of those who validate their own righteousness.

Two qualities of the Self-Righteous:

First, they look down their noses at others.

Second, they compare themselves with those they deem less worthy.

Read Luke 18:9-14 to get the word from the horse’s mouth.

Self-justification – self-righteousness – forces you to find a point of comparison below yourself. You need to compare yourself with someone less worthy in order to feel better about yourself.

Condemning:

Who has judged you as “less worthy?” I’ll tell you who judges me, Christians. Sure, there are a few unbelievers who love to gossip and put down. But, by far, it’s people who claim to be Christians who are putting other Christians down.

Why do we condemn? If Jesus is right, we are self-validating, self-righteous Pharisees.

Note: There is a difference between thinking someone is wrong and using their wrongness as a point of self-righteousness.

Stand With not Against

May 21, 2012

Christians are notoriously great at standing against and tragically weak at standing with. Here’s a surprising “standing with” story.

Deceit:

Joshua 9 explains a peace treaty that was executed based on false information. The Jews – even though decieved – honored the agreement. In Joshua 10 the Gibeonites – dishonest treaty makers – are attacked by surrounding cities. They call to Joshua – the one they just deceived – for help.

Just deserts?

At this point in the story I’m thinking; see what happens to deceivers, you’re getting what you deserve. Liars will be friers! But Joshua marches God’s army all night long to stand with and defend deceivers. In addition, God miraculously “stands with” by joining in. He kills Gibeonite enemies by throwing giant hail stones from heaven.

With:

God and Joshua stood with “sinners.” More than that, Jesus stands with sinners. He serves them, gets uncomfortably close to them, and ultimately sacrifices His life for them. Or should I say, “For us?”

Contaminants or companions:

Legalistic Christians believe sinners are contaminants to be avoided, corrected, or improved. It’s pathetic, safe, and self-serving. Improved unbelievers end up in the same place as unimproved. It’s all about Jesus, nothing more, nothing less, and nothing else. (You might need to read that last sentence again.)

They called Jesus a “friend of sinners.” It wasn’t a compliment. It was an insult from the righteous elite.

There’s a legalist in all of us. For example, when I see “friend of sinners,” I think them not me. Law prompts me to stand against, apart, and above. Grace prompts me to – serve, get close to – stand with.

Note: I’ve used the term “sinners” in this piece to create an “us/them” dynamic. It’s an artificial distinction.

Breaking the Grip of Arrogance and Legalism

May 18, 2012

Churches are filled with arrogance because we think we know things we don’t and believe we’re doing things we aren’t.

The Pharisees – the most arrogant people in the New Testament – thought they were keeping the law but they weren’t. They were actually breaking it. They thought they understood the law but Jesus said it was all about Him. They missed it completely.

Arrogance and legalism go hand in hand.

Moving toward grace and away from law:

  1. Avoid comparisons. “I’m better than …” is pure law! If we must compare ourselves with someone try Jesus. We are no better than anyone! Sure, we may commit “smaller” sins. Well aren’t we special? Grace isn’t extended based on performance, ever. Everyone always needs grace.
  2. Help rather than instruct. Get dirty – get up close and personal. You can see arrogance in self-justifying huddles that stand aloof. When I’m in legal mode I get smarter and smarter.
  3. Trust God with others. Legalists are great at wringing their hands over real or potential mistakes. What if someone makes a mistake? Get over it. Jesus choses people who make mistakes. He chose you didn’t He? (This has nothing to do with organizational policies and procedures that help people succeed and minimize the chances of failure.)
  4. Keep giving chances. Grace doesn’t say, “I’m done with you.” Dang that’s uncomfortable…unless we are the ones getting more chances. Then it’s great.
  5. Ask for and extend forgiveness. Few things exemplify grace better than forgiving.

First and foremost:

Ungraceful believers don’t believe grace. Everyone who receives grace extends it. If we aren’t extending it, like the Pharisees, we think we understand something we don’t.

Overcoming Narrowitis

May 17, 2012

Narrow Christians think other Christians should be like them. That’s what makes them narrow.

Some are all about evangelism and others about fellowship. Still others are about caring for the needy. Then there is the “righteous group” who are all about truth and teaching. Diversity isn’t the issue, arrogance is. When we believe others should be like us we become arrogant asses. (Ass is in the King James Bible)

I’ve been an arrogant ass many times. I judge others by my gift, for example. I think my gift – which expresses my way – is the best. All others are less important than mine. In arrogance, I think mercy-showing is fine but my way is better.

Different is different not necessarily better.

If legalistic ungraceful believers had their way, the whole body would look like them, ugly!

An illustration of diversity and humility:

Galatians 2:8-9 (ESV) … for he who worked through Peter for his apostolic ministry to the circumcised (Jews) worked also through me for mine to the Gentiles … and when James and Cephas (Peter) and John … perceived the grace that was given to me, they gave the right hand of fellowship to Barnabas and me, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised. (Diversity)

The power of the church is in diversity and openness not narrowness. Grace is wide and free. Law is bondage.

On more step:

Grace goes beyond allowing, it enables. It’s one thing to say, “That’s great for you, go serve the gentiles.” It’s graceful to say, “How can I help you on your way.” Allowing is passive. Enabling is active. I don’t want to allow diversity. I want to enable it.

The desire to make people into our image is natural. Passion to help people become the people God made is graceful.

Powerless laws – enabling grace

March 3, 2010
enabling power

Grace Enables

Traffic signals have legal authority but no power to control the flow of traffic.

The weak link in living by rules and regulations is their lack of enabling power.  The best a rule can do is tell you to stop or start a behavior.   For example, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart,” tells you what to do but can’t enable you to do it.

Laws can’t enable.  Speed limit signs tell you not to exceed their limit but they have no power to control your speed.

Laws can point out violations.  We feel the sting of violation every time we get a speeding ticket.  By the way, like laws, legalists can only do two things; point out violations and condemn.  They are like nagging parents constantly point out our faults and telling us what to do.

Finally, laws incite a desire to break them. I know it’s wrong but telling me not to do something makes me want to do it.

In summary, laws explain desired behaviors but they don’t enable desired behaviors.

Grace Enables.

In 2Cor. 12:9, grace is synonymous with enabling power. “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”

I wrote this poem in the back of my Bible.  I don’t know the author but it explains the difference between impotent laws and enabling grace.

Work, work the law demands
but gives me neither feet nor hands.

Grace a sweeter message brings
it bids me fly and gives me wings.

Before you get the wrong idea, please notice that God’s enabling grace did not turn Paul into a super saint.  During enabling, Paul continued in weakness.  Empowerment isn’t exemption from weaknesses but enabling through weaknesses.

What expressions of enabling grace have you seen?  How do you respond to the idea that enabling grace is not exemption from weakness?

Grace Freak

Dan Rockwell

You can receive Grace Freak in your email. It’s free.  It’s private.  Go to the main page of Grace Freak by clicking the blue banner at the top of this page, look in the right-hand navigation bar, enter your email and click subscribe.  Note:  if it doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter for a confirmation email.

Fruit follows filling

January 24, 2010
Fruit

Fruit follows filling

The New Testament commands believers to be filled with the Spirit.  That means we should live under the positive controlling influence of God’s Spirit. 

The legalist’s way of being filled is earning the filling by obeying.  They say, in order to enjoy the positive influence of the Holy Spirit you have to read your Bible, pray, fast, go to Church, put money in the offering, or any number of other religious activities.  Legalists believe that God’s blessings FOLLOW our obedience.  First we obey and then God blesses us.

The grace way of being filled with the Spirit is opposite the legalist’s way.  Under grace reading our Bible, going to church, praying, giving, or any number of other religious activities are the result NOT the cause of being filled with the Spirit.  The fruit of the Spirit follows filling.  It doesn’t precede it.  Legalists have the cart before the horse.

Obeying is the result of being filled not the cause.  In other words, we do not earn or deserve the positive influence of the Spirit by obeying.  We obey because we are filled.

Believer let me encourage you to welcome the controlling influence of the Spirit into your life by faith.  Then, and only then, can you live the way God wants you to live.  Anything else is a fraud.  Can you think of some things people say you have to do in order to be filled with the Spirit?

Grace Freak

Dan Rockwell 

You can receive Grace Freak in your email.  It’s free.  It’s private.  Go to the main page of Grace Freak by clicking the blue banner at the top of this page, look in the right-hand navigation bar, enter your email and click subscribe.  Your email address is always kept private.  Note:  if it doesn’t arrive, check your spam filter for a confirmation email.