Thursday, May 25, 2017

The Law Is Nailed to the Cross

Preached at South Salem Friends Church
May 21, 2017

I’m a missionary kid. My parents went to central Africa, right at the end of WW II. I was born in Kansas, but went back with them at 6 months old. Eventually, they put me in a School for Missionary Children, a boarding school. I was seven.

At boarding school, I had to make my bed, tidy my drawers and surface spaces, dust and sweep my room every morning. While I was in classes, my dorm mother inspected the rooms, and if they were not up to her standards, we came back to find our names in the doghouse. We had to clean it to passing standards right away.

If we got put in the doghouse three successive days, we were confined to our rooms for the time between school and supper. I can’t remember what happened if our tidiness still didn’t meet standards, but I’m guessing it involved more of the same.

It was embarrassing to be put in the doghouse and have the fact posted in public. But even worse was the consequence for wetting the bed. My roommate was a chronic bed-wetter, and every morning she had to drag her soiled sheets up to the laundry room and wash them out by hand. Again a public event. One night I had a bloody nose and had the same consequence. I told everyone who would listen that it was a bloody nose, not wetting the bed. This public humiliation was hard to bear.

And once in school, still seven years old, I didn’t have my homework done. I was so afraid of the teacher’s response that I wet myself, and the urine ran into a puddle under my chair. But I remember in this case that the teacher scolded the boy who laughed at me and made him clean it up, and she sent me to the dorm to change my clothes without berating me.  After school, she asked me why I was so frightened, and I explained that I had heard her scold a different boy who didn’t do his homework and threaten him with a spanking, and so I expected the same. She said, "He almost never does his homework."

And that same year, I deliberately broke a rule by reading a Nancy Drew mystery under my covers with the flashlight after lights out. My roommate told on me, and I had the book confiscated and was in significant trouble.

This is vivid to me because at seven, I entered a system of law different from what I had previously experienced. I didn’t know before that time that I should make my bed. I doubt if I knew how to make it, even. I didn’t know about homework. Learning to read with my mother had been a game. I was unaware of obligation, to a large extent, though of course my parents had a few rules. And since at home we had to turn off our electricity at 9 p.m. or so, I may have been reading by flashlight without penalty before I went off to boarding school.

Now the apostle Paul has some interesting things to say about sin and law in Romans 5:12-21:

I need to make some things clear, says Paul.

Before a command was given, sin was in the world, but it wasn’t counted against anyone.

(To connect this to my story, my not making my bed was not a disgrace before I went to a school with rules.)

Paul says: Sin is not part of the reckoning without law. However, until God gave the Law to Moses, death had the upper hand even over those who did not directly disobey God’s command as Adam did.

(For me as a little girl, even though I wasn’t penalized for messiness before I went to school, there was in fact messiness, and someone had to clean it up. Messiness does rule if no one cleans. And when there is a rule against messiness, shame arises. And shame is a kind of death.)

In fact, the Law came in so that we humans could see how sinful we are, how prone to error; but where sin increased, grace hyper-increased, grace filled and overflowed the deficit caused by sin.

Adam is a prefiguring of Jesus Christ In his effect on those who came after.

And if Adam involved all humanity in sin and death, how much more does Jesus involve all humanity in the grace of God. Adam’s trespass brought a condemning judgment, but Jesus’s free gift brings many trespasses into favorable judgment.

Just as through one human, sin, error, trespass, disobedience came into the harmony of the cosmos, with sin came death, and death passed through all humans because all sinned—to repeat: if by one man, Adam, death ruled over humanity, how much more will life gain the upper hand, and people will receive abundance of grace and the gift of being set right with God and will reign in life by the one man, Jesus.

Therefore, as by the disobedience of one man all were condemned, so now by the obedience of one man all are set right with God and brought into life.
So just as sin has ruled through death, even more grace rules because grace makes people who they are meant to be even into eternal life.

Paul is very repetitive about how grace through Jesus Christ dominates and dismantles the law and with it shame. But it’s hard to imagine living without rules. So who can we look at to see what that kind of life is like? We can look to Jesus.

Jesus himself said, I have come not to blow up or break apart the law, but to demonstrate what it looks like when someone understands its true intent and fulfills that intent. Matt 5:17-18 (fulfilled = completed, filled up, satisfied, accomplished) Paul, reflecting on the work Jesus did, said, “Christ in his flesh abolished the law” (Eph. 2:15).

This is what it looks like for Jesus to fulfill the Law: Jesus and his disciples were not scrupulous about following the law to wash up before eating. Jesus violated Sabbath restrictions and had the nerve to say that both he and his Father were still working. He said work done to help was holy and not a violation of the Sabbath laws. Jesus said that God had set up Sabbath laws for the welfare of humans, rather than creating humans so they could obey Sabbath laws. You break Sabbath in order to circumcise, to cut a person up; yet you want to kill me for breaking Sabbath to make a person completely whole (John 7:22-23).

Jesus touched the dead and the lepers. Both made him unclean—unable to participate in temple worship. The same is true for the woman who was bleeding.

Jesus did not condemn a woman taken in adultery, stoning her to death as the law required, but instead told her not to make that mistake again. Jesus called the Pharisees to account for their marriages and the hardness of heart that destroyed their married unions, but when he met the Samaritan woman, he brought her serial marriages into the light but did not scold or condemn or shame her.

Jesus consistently told people to examine their own hearts and behavior before judging how others were being obedient. Did Moses give you the Law, and none of you keep it (John 7:19).

The Law was given by Moses; grace and truth came by Jesus Christ (John 1:17).

Whoever loves another fulfills the Law, and love works no harm for another (Romans 13:8-10).

Jesus showed us what it means to love another and thus fulfill, or fill up, or satisfy, the Law.

The Law foreshadowed good things to come but could not bring them about (Heb. 10:1).
Paul says that the Law is useful like a schoolmaster.  The Law was our schoolmaster to bring us to Christ, but now we are children of God by faith, and in Christ there is no Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female, but all are one in Christ (Gal 3:24-29).  We are dead to the Law by the body of Christ; we are delivered from the Law (Romans 7:4-6). The earlier commandment has been annulled and replaced by a better hope in Christ as our high priest, through whom we draw near to God (Heb 7:18-19).

The fact that we can’t keep the Law, in other words, creates in us the awareness of ourselves as sinners in need of grace, and the need for grace drives us to trust in the character and work of Jesus Christ. And when we put our trust in what Jesus has accomplished through his death and resurrection, and we trust God’s Holy Spirit to lead us every day, we live in freedom, not under the law.
We are justified by the faith of Christ, we believe in the character and work of Jesus Christ; we are dead to the Law so that we may live to God; we are crucified with Christ, and now Christ lives in us and we live by the faith of Christ who loved us and gave himself for us. We do not reject the grace of God by saying that righteousness comes through the Law (Gal 2:16-21).

Keeping the Law does not justify, but we are justified freely by grace through the redemption accomplished by Jesus; justified by faith in Jesus, not by works of the Law (Romans 3:20-24, 28).

The Hebrew and Greek words we often translate as “sin” have in them a number of pictures that help us understand this theological concept.

Sin is To Miss the Way, to Stumble, to Wander, to Misstep, to Slip, to Stumble.

Sin is To Miss the Mark, to Miss the Goal.

Sin is To Fail at the Assignment, To Avoid, to Neglect, to Overstep.

Sin is To Run the Wrong Way when Terrified, To Lose Oneself.

Sin is To Bend, to Make Crooked, to Distort God’s Truth.

Sin is To Overturn God’s truth, To Trespass, to Rebel, to Break Away From, to Defect.

You can see that “sin”—or trespass, or iniquity, or transgression, or other synonym—is a living word that works on several levels of intentionality. 1) We can try to do right and end up messing things up even if we have given ourselves to God, and 2) we can decide to do wrong, and 3) we can deliberately assert that we belong to ourselves, not to God. All are kinds of sin. The last is most dangerous.

As John says in the first letter, if anyone says she or he is without sin, they lie. But if we confess or own up to how we have messed things up and gone the wrong way and avoided what we know God wants from us, God is faithful and just and will forgive us our sin and clean us up and set us straight. This verse is about how those who want to belong to God can keep themselves moving with rather than against God.

There is a path God wants us to travel through our lives; there is a purpose toward which God wants us to aim; there are things God wants us to do; there are things God wants to make plain to us; there are principles God wants us to live by. What are these?  Jesus said the two great commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor as ourselves. How do we do this? We live out of love as much as we can, we ask God how to live out of love and we do what God puts before us to do, and we try not to harm our neighbor or ourselves. And when we fail, we confess it to God and let God work to help us do better the next time we have an opportunity to show love. We live under the law of liberty and we count on our gracious God to help us use our freedom lovingly.

Speak and act as those who will be judged by the law of liberty (James 2:12).

For in Jesus Christ all that counts is faith working through love (Gal 5:5-9, 13-25).

God chose to birth us through the word of truth; we need to humbly accept that word which is planted in us and which can save us, and obey it, the perfect law of liberty; be quick to listen and slow to speak and slow to become angry (James 1:18-25).

But if we really are living and walking in the Light, as He is the Light, we have true fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ the Son cleanses us from all sin and guilt. If we say we have no sin, we delude and lead ourselves astray, and the Truth is not in us. If we admit we have sinned and confess our sins, He is true to his own nature and promises and will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness  (1 John 1:7-9).

I started out talking about the shame of finding myself in the doghouse because I couldn’t measure up, and about being humiliated for my human frailty. I added in the fact that sometimes I deliberately broke a rule. However, I did not want to own myself rather than to belong to God. This kind of active rebellion can occur in church-goers and in atheists, and it prevents the rebels from knowing that God is Love.

The Law helps us realize we have missed the mark and are sinners in need of grace. However, when the Law brings us to the point of trusting Jesus, it has done its work and has no more to say to us. We know that Jesus is the answer to our frailty, our imperfect attempts to do the right thing, our mistakes, and even our deliberate wrong-doing. We know that when we come to Jesus, he does not condemn, even when he does instruct. Sadly, we can also turn our backs on God and insist on owning ourselves, of earning our own way, and when we do this, we cannot grow in grace and we rely on keeping rules rather than obeying the Holy Spirit of God.

Let us give ourselves to God, accept the grace Jesus gives, and live guided by the Holy Spirit. Let us embrace our freedom to live out love for God and neighbor.



Malcolm Magee said...

Thank you.

Ralph Beebe said...

Very powerful! Well worth reading. Thank you, Becky!