It turns out that as humans we really like rules. We are far more comfortable with objectivity than we are with subjectivity. Think about it. When you need to make a decision, are you not seeking for an objective way to make that decision? We make lists of criteria for making the decision or we establish Pros and Cons and some of us even go to the extreme of assigning numerical values to the various decision factors. We feel comfortable when Choice A evaluates out at 12.2 and Choice B evaluates out at 11.9. We can make a decision then because we have objectively evaluated the options and have determined the right solution. We want definitive choices.
The other day I was talking to a friend about – of all things – the biblical qualifications for being a Deacon. If you really read Paul’s instructions to Timothy, none of the qualifications can be objectively determined. They are all subjective. The right way to determine whether a potential deacon candidate is qualified is for a spiritually mature set of men to subjectively evaluate that candidate’s life against the qualification. They should be able to look at the candidate's life and agree - "Yes, he is qualified" or "No, he is not qualified" – except we don’t like to do anything subjectively. Therefore, we create objective criteria. When the qualification that says a deacon must be “faithful to his wife” (1 Timothy 3:12) we say he must not have been divorced. When it says they must be tested (1 Timothy 3:12) we say he must be a tither. When it says he must “not [indulge] in much wine” (1 Timothy 3:8) we say he must never take a drink at all. All of these things are good things that all Christians ought to be able to live by, but they are not accurate interpretations of the qualifications of a deacon. We just are unwilling to make a subjective determination because we are hard-wired to be concrete and definitive.
The same is true of our aspirations to live holy lives before God. When it really comes down to it, we sometimes have a problem with the freedom we have in Christ. Exactly how do I live holy? What do I do? What do I not do? We naturally desire to fall back into a set of rules and regulations. Just tell me what I am supposed to do, right? Even the WWJD Christian culture phenomenon of the late 90s and early 2000s was all about trying to come up with a set of objective criteria for living out our Christian faith. Some people go as far as to put a heavy emphasis on the law, stating that even though we don’t live under the law, we ought to still look to the law as our guideline for what we do – and what we don’t do. Can I say they are wrong? Not really, but at the same time, I can't say that it will result in holiness - and it might just lead to frustration and more failure.
The problem with this approach is that it is still all about behavior modification. The reason that the Mosaic law was considered by Paul to be a curse and a slave master is that any set of religious rituals, rules, or written obligations leads to only one place –frustration and failure. Christ fulfilled (and therefore put to death) the law because we could not achieve righteousness through it. The law is just behavior modification. Any intentional or unintentional replacement of the law that is also based on objective criteria is just a different slave master leading to the same place – frustration and failure.
Even the very noble effort of following the example of Jesus Christ is futile religion IF the goal of following his example is to develop a code of ethics by which to live. Thomas Jefferson did this. He removed all of the supernatural aspects of the gospel and created the "Jefferson Bible - The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" - which was basically a set of life principles to live by based on the life of Christ. When you remove the supernatural, however, you also remove the true power of transformation. The Bible does encourage us to follow the example of Christ, but the goal of following that example is to show us the nature and character of Christ - his DIVINE NATURE and his DIVINE CHARACTER - not to give us objective criteria on how to make moral and ethical decisions. We study the life of Christ to learn about the character of Christ so that we can be transformed on the inside to be more like Christ, not so that we can know how to enforce proper behavior.
Living a life in the Spirit – that is, a supernatural life under the control of the Holy Spirit – is not about following rules or regulations. It is not even about behavior modification. It is about character transformation. How many times have you been faced with a situation in which you knew the right – that is the Christian – thing to do; except that you really did not DESIRE to do it. After a few moments of intense internal debate, you make a decision. Maybe you made the right decision, but maybe you made the wrong decision. The point is, the decision that you made was nothing more than behavior modification because deep down, you still wanted to do the wrong thing. Even if you did the right thing (which was a good decision – don’t get me wrong), you really have not experience true spiritual growth.
When we study the life of Christ and realize that his actions in a given situation are not the same as we would normally act in a given situation, the ultimate goal is not for us to change our behaviors. Granted, the immediate goal is to change our behavior because we definitely should do the right thing. However, the real goal is for us to transform our desires and wishes so that the next time we are in that situation, we will not have to CHOOSE to behave like Christ, we will DESIRE to behave like Christ. That is when we know that real transformation has taken place.
In this past Sunday’s sermon (Listen at: http://pawneeaudio.blogspot.com/2015/07/i-am-transformed.html), I explained how we can achieve this kind of real transformation by gazing into the glory of God. When we see God (or Jesus who is the perfect image of God) in his true form and character (or at least as clearly as we are able this side of eternity), it has a transforming effect on our lives. However, because we see God so dimly, that transforming effect can be slow. In fact, it takes a lifetime. So what do we do in the meantime? Until we are fully transformed at the resurrection, we will always fail. We will never fully be holy. We can try and try and try (again, more behavior modification), but we will never fully get there (because behavior modification ALWAYS fails).
There is hope and encouragement for us in this – the Freedom that comes through life in the Holy Spirit. – and there is no greater chapter in the bible that speaks to our life in the Spirit than Romans chapter 8. It begins with one of the greatest promises in scripture: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1). Why is that? How is it that no matter how often we fail at being holy, we will never experience condemnation if we are in Christ? “[Because] the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom 8:2-4).
Those who are in the Spirit are immune from the condemnation that comes as a result of failure. This is because even though “the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness” (Rom 8:10). Yes, we work hard to be holy. We make the decision to do what Jesus would do – even though we still don’t want to. We gaze intently into the word of God so that we can better understand the character of God so that we can be truly transformed. We work out our salvation with fear and trembling (Phil 2:12). But when we fail, when we choose what we want to do instead of what Christ would do, and when we fall short of the glory of God, we can know that there is more than enough grace to cover over our failures.
How can this be? It is because in God’s eyes you are already holy. Yes, I know you are NOT holy and neither am I, but that is not how God sees those of us who have been covered by the blood of Jesus. As far as God is concerned, we are already sanctified. Hebrews 10:10 says that “we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” In other words, our striving to be holy – our sanctification process – is so that we can become in reality what God has already declared us to be through the blood of Jesus. If you think about that, you will find in it great freedom.
But wait, there’s more. Romans chapter 8 tells us more about this. “Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us” (Rom 8:33-34). Did you catch that? No matter who may bring charges against us for our failures (like Satan – who will be the first to point fingers at us when we fail), the only one who has the authority to condemn us for those failures is Jesus Christ. But where is Jesus Christ right now? He is at God the Father’s right hand side. And what is he doing? He is arguing in our favor. The only one who can condemn us for our failures is actually arguing on our behalf! Now that is freedom! This is exactly what Jesus meant when he told Nicodemus that “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Do you realize what that means? It means FREEDOM!
Freedom not to be concerned that you might make the wrong choice.
Freedom to fail – not that you want to fail, but that it is OK when you do.
Freedom not to be ashamed when you do fail.
Freedom to seek God and know him more personally, rather than spending all your energies trying not to break the rules.
Freedom simply to live for God.