Growing up I was one of the ‘good’ kids. My parents expected me to live the way they taught, and for the most part, I did. I never got in trouble with the law, drank to excess, or used the drugs that were increasingly common in that era. My “Christianity” was, at least in my teen years, most about keeping the rules. Though I was a church-going kid, my relationships with the Lord was largely second-hand, a borrowed faith of my parents. I did what I was taught, mostly because of fear. Mixed into my motives for obedience there was a real desire to honor my Dad and Mom, whom I loved.  In truth, however, the state of my heart often did not match the way I looked to others. As I matured, my faith grew and what was mostly a ‘religious’ experience became an expression of devotion to the God I learned loved me. His love, as John says, reached me and I learned to love.

Key question for today is this –  Is your faith heart-deep, growing out of a desire to know and serve Jesus, or is it shaped by compliance with spiritual and moral rules to avoid a pained conscience or to gain approval from your church?

In my morning reading, these words of Jesus spoke to the importance of going beyond keeping rules, becoming a transformed person. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you 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 5:17-20, NIV)

Jesus says that those who desire to know Him, to enter into His life, will discover a whole-hearted love for God. “I warn you—unless you obey God better than the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees do, you can’t enter the Kingdom of Heaven at all! Pharisees were excellent rule-keepers! They studied the Law of Moses and wrote long lists of rules on how to live. Jesus, knowing their hearts, understand that their true motive had more to do with keeping it legal and looking good, than actually getting to know God. In a comical, yet pointed, criticism of their hypocrisy, He said of them, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.” (Matthew 23:23-24, NIV)

Jesus addressed the formation of attitudes that lie beneath our actions.  Regarding the commandment not to murder, Jesus moved the line way back and told us that the issue was 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 with someone who is not our spouse. 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)

When we reduce our Christianity to mere compliance with the commandments, the beautiful life of faith, rich in love and holiness, gets twisted into 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, like a cop in a speed trap; 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. I love the wisdom of the Spirit that encourages us to give ourselves without reservation to God, and reminds us that it is not outside in, but inside out, an overflow of that which is heart-deep. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1-2, NIV)


Rescue Story

(Zach Williams sings this great song hope)

There I was empty handed
Crying out from the pit of my despair
There you were in the shadows
Holding out Your hand You met me there

 And now where would I be without You
Where would I be Jesus

You were the voice in the desert
Calling me out in the dead of night
Fighting my battles for me
You are my rescue story

Lifted me up from the ashes
You carried my soul from death to life
Bringing me from glory to glory
You are my rescue story

 You are You are
You are my rescue story

You are You are

 You were writing the pages
Before I had a name
Before I needed grace oh
Singing songs of redemption
‘Cause every time I ran away
You were louder than my shame

 You never gave up on me
You never gave up on me
You are my testimony oh

 You never give up on me
Oh You never give up on me
Oh this is my testimony oh

 You are You are
Oh You never gave up on me
Never gave up on me
You are You are
Yeah You are my rescue story

 Andrew Ripp | Ethan Hulse | Jonathan Smith | Zach Williams

© 2019 Anthems of Hope (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

Be Essential Songs (Admin. by Essential Music Publishing LLC)

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