Keeping it legal?

Law-Gospel2You see the police cruiser on the horizon and you … Slow down? Drop the cell phone? Grab for the seat belt? Or, if you are doing nothing wrong, you just keep driving. Most of us do not ‘love’ the laws that govern us so we when we see an officer that could enforce consequences, we feel the need to change our behavior. What if we adjusted our attitude toward those laws and observed them not to avoid a citation but because we see the value in them to protect public safety?

Jesus taught those of us who follow Him that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) Pharisees were excellent rule-keepers! They parsed the Law of Moses and wrote long texts to apply it in their daily life situations. But, they were something like us with police officers. They looked for ways to keep it legal but failed to appreciate the spirit of the Law which was to show them how to please God and find a whole life.  Do you serve Christ in a similar way? Do you look for the line of minimal discipleship, just enough to keep your conscience from feeling too much guilt?

Jesus addressed attitudes more than actions.

Regarding the commandment not to murder, Jesus moved the line way back and told us that the issue we needed to change was our anger that led to contempt for another person. When we take the stance towards another that says – “You are a worthless individual,” it is an issue of concern to our Heavenly Father.

Regarding the commandment about adultery, Jesus said that an attitude that devalues another person, making him or her into an object to satisfy our lust is as much a concern to our Father as having sexual intercourse.

He spoke of keeping our marriage commitment and corrected the error of the Pharisees who thought divorce was acceptable as long as the paperwork was in order! “You can’t use legal cover to mask a moral failure.” Jesus said. (Matthew 5:32, The Message)

When it comes to our words, Jesus warned about abusing words in a way that allows us to make one impression while leaving ourselves wiggle room to do what we want to do.  We need to memorize this – “Simply let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one.” (Matthew 5:37, NIV)

Are you a good Pharisee or a beloved child of God?

That is the question, friend, that we must put to ourselves. If we reduce our Christianity to compliance with the commandments, even the more scrupulous observance defined in the Sermon on the Mount, we fall into a legal mentality, a fear-based religion that enslaves us to guilt and fear. The Gospel is not ‘do better, be better, get better.’  Christ came to save us from our sins, not by writing stricter rules for us, but by liberating us from the old cycle of fear and failure with love.  He is not lurking in the shadows alongside the road of life, divine radar at the ready, waiting to catch us so He can issue a ticket to us. He is inviting us to know and treasure Him so that the lure of temptation that comes our way pales in comparison to the glory of His love.

Let’s really ‘enter the Kingdom.’ Let’s pray for the Spirit to help us to delight in the Lord, heart-deep. Paul says that we learn to ‘keep step with the Spirit.’  “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives.” (Galatians 5:24-25, NLT)  Sons and daughters of the Heavenly Father, we are loved and led to lives that leave behind the idea of just ‘keeping it legal’ to discover the joy of His holiness.

Here is a word from the Word.

“Sing a new song to the Lord! Let the whole earth sing to the Lord!
Sing to the Lord; praise his name.
Each day proclaim the good news that he saves.

Publish his glorious deeds among the nations.
Tell everyone about the amazing things he does.

Great is the Lord! He is most worthy of praise!
He is to be feared above all gods.
The gods of other nations are mere idols, but the Lord made the heavens!
Honor and majesty surround him; strength and beauty fill his sanctuary.

O nations of the world, recognize the Lord;
recognize that the Lord is glorious and strong.
Give to the Lord the glory he deserves!
Bring your offering and come into his courts.
Worship the Lord in all his holy splendor. Let all the earth tremble before him.”
(Psalm 96:1-9, NLT)

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