Keeping the Law

This post was written by Pat Badstibner of World Prayr, editor/compiler of Energion title Walking in God’s Grace. It is a response to one of the posts linked in our online discussion on law in scripture.

This is a response to Bob Cornwall’s post titled COVENANT RULES AND REGULATIONS – SERMON FOR LENT 3B (EXODUS 20).

First, I want to thank Bob for laboring over this sermon and then sharing it on his blog. Bob shares some good insights here. Right off the bat, Bob hits on an excellent point. “The God who created the universe is a Covenant-Making God… We’re included in this covenant through our faith in Jesus.”

What a wonderful truth of Hope given here! According to 1 Peter, this promise has been extended to us through Christ our Lord… (1 Pet. 2:9). Bob’s final paragraph is a challenging and encouraging mouthful of truth. I’m grateful that Bob included this statement; “Jesus, who didn’t reject the Torah but embodied it in His life, death, and resurrection. In doing this, Jesus showed us how we could love God and love our neighbors.” By doing so, Bob has opened the door to allow me to develop an overriding concern.

Differing Foundations

Bob and I might share the same conclusion. But, I question if our foundations are not different. Foundations are established by whether we conclude that we are doing for our relationship with God or resting in the assurance that our relationship with God is a done deal. Since Bob starts with the covenant established through the Ten Commandments, let us begin there to laying out the standards, “the demanding and commanding.’’ God expects us to perform these rules and regulations. A standard, when changed, changes the character of God to one of not being so “demanding and commanding. I am thankful to Bob for also sharing that quote from Rabbi Barry Schwartz.

It makes the following commandments subjective to each person’s understanding of life and life experiences. Rather than that of a “demanding and commanding God,” it is a standard established by the “fully” in Exodus19:5-6, and elsewhere we find the word “all” (Deuteronomy 6:5, Ezekiel 14:6, 1Corinthians 10:31). In the tenth paragraph, Bob shares the following: “Besides, these rules aren’t all that burdensome. Yes, most of them start with the words “do not,” but they are straightforward. Do not make idols or misuse God’s name. Do not steal, commit adultery, or lie about your neighbor. As for the Sabbath, it reminds us to take a break from our labor. But as Rabbi Barry Schwartz reminds us, according to the Torah, “the demanding and commanding God is first and foremost the liberating God.”

Easy, Non-Taxing, Not Oppressive

In this paragraph, I find that Bob and I, might build that conclusion on different foundations while coming to the same conclusion. Let us begin with the first statement; “Besides, these rules aren’t all that burdensome.” I think it is necessary first to describe the word burdensome. Merriam- Webster defines burdensome as; “imposing or constituting a burden. That’s oppressive!” Google dictionary defines burdensome as; “difficult to carry out or fulfill; taxing.”

The standard we gave takes this definition a step further and provides us with a meaning of the word burdensome as posing impossibility. In Matthew five, Christ gives us a deeper understanding of these rules and regulations. The first thing we should note is that they were so straightforward and burdenless that He encouraged us to follow the example of the Pharisees whose righteousness He praised.

It did not quite happen that way, as Christ cranked up the requirements (Matthew 5:17-48). As He finishes laying out His explanation of the Mosaic Law, He sums everything up with two words, “BE PERFECT.” If all that was needed to maintain these rules and regulations was external obedience, then the Pharisees had it nailed down.

Just Don’t Externally Commit

Nonetheless, while praising their external obedience, Christ said that their outward obedience was merely paint covering the fact that their heart and the motivation behind the obedience itself possessed no life (Matthew 23:27-28.). Pointing to the fact that mere external obedience was not enough, something more was required. Perhaps, therefore the Torah quotes Moses as saying that God wants all our heart and mind. (Deuteronomy 6:5).

It implies that God wants everything that is us, our very essence, including down to our deepest desire. Perhaps, therefore Rabbi Schwartz defined God as “demanding and commanding.” Giving us quite possibly a contradiction with Bob’s “isn’t burdensome.”

Paul also elaborates on the Law’s burden, as he tells us that the Law accuses and kills (2 Corinthians 3:6; Romans 2:15). Suppose we are to believe that the Law is easy to carry out and fulfill its demands. In that case, we must also accept that our ability to do so would also allow us to maintain rightness with God and maintain our relationship with God. Yet, Paul’s very words and life testimony tell us something else (Romans 7).

Life Says Wait A Minute

Paul also tells us that the Law always produces the opposite of what it intended (Romans 7:10). He further exposes that these “rules and regulations” were never meant to sustain our relationship with God or any covenant (Galatians 2:14-21). The burden of the cross also supports the impossibility of these commands. We like to take the cross’s beauty and highlight what it accomplished, but the cross’s brutality is just as significant as it supports these Laws’ burdens.

Finally, from the fall to Noah, to David, to the old testament prophets and continuing throughout the New Testament, we find one consistent truth; a truth that has remained pervasively consistent throughout the history of humanity, including our own lives. Christ showed absolutely no hesitation in believing that we will always break these commandments. He was not just convinced we would continuously break them; He was an optimistic pessimist about our ability ever to keep one to the standard God “demanded and commanded.”

Heart Issues

This is time to look at another part of Bob’s statement.” Yes, most of them start with the words “do not,” but they’re pretty straightforward.” The first issue with this statement is the keeping of these commandments. Like Christ and the Apostle John noted about keeping them that it was not just external obedience, but a heart deep motivation issue of the heart (See Matthew 16:19; 1John 1:15).

The second issue with the statement is that there is an opposite do for every do not; and vice-versa. Pointing to the truth that the things we omit or fail to do are as much a failure to keep these commandments as those things we commit. We call these sins of omission.

In other words, it is not enough to cuss someone out who just cut you off in traffic. The thought or desire should not have entered in our desires or minds (1John 1:15). In, the fact you should have blessed the other driver by praying for them (Matthew 5:44). So, right there, in the heat of the moment, your deepest desire should be to follow the example of Christ and to glorify God by praying for the idiot who cut you off.

This points that the truth found within the first Law is the confirmation that it is not enough to morally and willfully choose to do or not do these things, but we must desire to want to do or not do these things. Everything that is us, our very core, down to deepest desires, must want to do. Let’s take a look at a couple of these Laws. So, let’s look at a couple of these Laws.

“Don’t make idols.”

An idol is anything you trust to make life right, easier, better, find solace in, or give you pleasure apart from God. Since the fall, our chief idol has been self, ‘Me, me, and me.’ I deserve, I am entitled to, or there is this, I am offended. Whenever I find my value, worth, significance, and identity in something other than Christ, I will make it an idol. After all, the heart wants what the heart wants.

Is pleasure or comfort the key to life? You may have an idol. Do you need everything to fit, be in order, work out the way you think it should for life to be right? Maybe you are worshipping the idol of control? Always working to please others, fear their disapproval or displeasure, the idol of approval may be tugging at your heart.

That must have morning coffee, wine for dinner, binge TV program, gardening moment, exercise burn, or anything else that is needed to give you that burst, calming, soothing, relaxing moment or that enables you to cope may be an addiction. All addictions are signals that our hearts and affections are leaning toward other lovers. Not all idols are bad things. Tim Keller calls an idol a counterfeit god: “A counterfeit god is anything so essential to your life that, should you lose it, your life would feel hardly worth living.”

“As for the Sabbath, it reminds us to take a break from our labor.”

Now, this one sounds easy right, do not do anything on Sunday. There is a reason the first commandment is thou shall not have any other God’s. If you cannot keep the first one, you will fail at all the others. There is a reason James said if you break one, you break them all (James 2:10). Self is the biggest idol we have; self-sufficiency and dependence result in our inability to rest from our labor. Our identity, value, worth, and significance are tied to proving that we are valuable contributors to the community and society.

We should do that, but OUR identity, value, worth, and significance should only be found in Christ. When it is not, we will not know the heart and emotional rest. The biggest addiction the idol of self has is self-righteousness.

When we are laboring to be seen as having the right stuff, and enough exhaustion and busyness will be our default, not rest. It is not that work is bad; God established work. The failure is found in our motivation that keeps us from fully knowing emotional, spiritual, and physical rest from proving and establishing. When we struggle to believe we are loved unconditionally and entirely by God, rest will always escape us. When accomplishment drives us, performance will be the lover that always needs more.

“All day long we hear loud voices that demand ‘Prove you are worth something; do something relevant, spectacular, or powerful, then you will earn the love you so desire.’” -Henri Nouwen

We are all do-it-yourselfers, as we try to prove ourselves capable. We all want a sense of belonging and knowing we are loved. If we do not find these things in Christ, we will falsely believe that it is up to us to prove we are worthy of belonging and loved. Escaping us even on the Sabbath will be emotional and spiritual rest as we continue in our labors to belong and be loved.

Deep And Wide

Each commandment is far more profound than anything that should be labeled straightforward. They were meant to be burdensome and impossible so that they would continually push the Israelites towards God. If they had been easy to do, then their addiction to self-righteousness would have feasted on their ability to do them over others, just like ours.

Instead, they were meant to draw hearts away from the idol of self. They were given an impossibility factor to draw souls to hear again and again of the incredible rescue. Creating within them and us a greater thirst to hear of God’s love for us, continually and serving as reminders that just as the wilderness was not the home of the Israelites, this is not our home.

Our Journey Of Freedom

Not living from knowing that God has established the relationship, we have been set free and are deeply loved and treasured is the first sin. The sin makes it impossible to be obedient in the “commanding and demanding” God requires. The Law given was more than just a set of simplified “rules and regulations.” They were meant to reveal us, to show need, and to point us who are faithless, selfish, and weak to the God who is faithfully pursuing hearts. In this regard, the “commanding and demanding” God establishes the covenant based on Himself and then reveals the way out of the imprisonment they had known in Egypt.

The loving, graceful God was giving not restrictions but invitations to the life of freedom.  As we learn to live not for the establishment of a covenant or relationship with God, but in the secure knowledge that through Christ it has been established is when we realize the freedom found in Christ’s words that His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). We discover what the Apostle John meant when He said that God’s Laws are not burdensome. He pointed out that they bring freedom as they establish the boundaries of slavery and freedom (1John 5:3). When living from belonging and being known, these impossibile laws become guides towards Bob’s conclusion in this post.

“Christianity is not a religion; it is the announcement of the end of religion. Religion consists of all the things (believing, behaving, worshiping, and sacrificing) the human race has ever thought it had to do to get right with God. About those things, Christianity has only two comments to make. The first is that none of them ever had the least chance of doing the trick: the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sins (see the Epistle to the Hebrews), and no effort of ours to keep the Law of God can ever succeed (see the Epistle to the Romans). The second is that everything religion tried (and failed) to do has been perfectly done, once and for all, by Jesus in his death and resurrection.”

 Robert Capon, Kingdom, Grace, Judgment: Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus

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