The topic on my mind tonight is living. As in, living the way Christ lived.
I believe we can.
Not only that, but I also believe that God is not USUALLY going to do it for us. There are some instances in my experiences and observations where God did just that, where He changed something, or completely gave someone a new outlook, or some other miracle. But by and large, God has given us freedom, and this freedom has led us to a question.
That question is this; What do we do with ourselves?
Some believe we MUST obey, and MUST do all manner of good deeds to please God. Others believe we must never do anything that looks the slightest bit legalistic, and must not feel obligated to do things for the Lord. Still others believe that if you don’t do “good”, then you aren’t really a believer.
So what’s the truth?
I believe the truth lies not just in our deeds, but in our hearts as well. We can do all manner of deeds if we want to, but the motive behind those deeds is what makes them good things to do, or things we shouldn’t do. Let me explain.
The worst sort of “religion” we can find ourselves in is a type of life where everything we do with the Lord is an obligation, and nothing more. In other words, if we didn’t “have” to do it, we wouldn’t. My opinion is, if that is the only reason we do something, we might as well not do it at all, when it comes to the things of God. Jesus walked squarely into this type of religion when He met the Pharisees. This type of “discipleship” is nothing more than legalism.
Then there is the “works” based religion, which tells us that if we don’t do this sort of thing, and that sort of thing, we must not be “saved”. This type of religion is based upon the good works of man, not of God, the result of which is a man relies on his own goodness for salvation, and not on God. The cross shows us clearly that Jesus did the work of salvation, exactly because we can’t. If we were able to do the work of salvation on our own, what would we look like?
For starters, we would remember every wrong thing we had ever done. We would have to be able to do this, so that we could “make up” for them, literally pay for them. If we left even one sin unpaid for, the gates of Heaven would be closed to us. I don’t want to rely on my memory of all my sins, because I would have no hope of being able to do so. We would be self-righteous, having cleared the debt of our sin all by ourselves, and the death of Jesus on the cross would not have been necessary.
Is there another type of life, though?
Yes, there is. It’s called the kingdom life. In this kind of life, we learn of the things Jesus did, and as we learn, we do. We don’t “do” to earn anything, we don’t “do” to pay for our sins, for that has already been done. We do not “do” because we are obliged to, and we do not “do” because “this is the way it has been done for thousands of years!”
So in this type of life, why do we do what we “do”?
We do it because we can.
We do it for our benefit.
We do it in response to the love of God.
We do it because somehow, we have started to think of someone other than ourselves, we have started to love our neighbor, as we learn to love God.
Please notice that in this kingdom life, we do nothing out of obligation. Please also notice that because we desire to do these things in response to love, we are free to do them without fear, even if these things were once considered to be rituals.
The best example I can give of kingdom life is Jesus Christ. I think we would agree on that. The best example I can give of a ritual Jesus partook in was the Passover. For a thousand years and more, the Jews had celebrated the Passover as a ritual, and by the time Jesus came, it was almost worthless, being merely an obligatory ritual. Yet Jesus celebrated it with His disciples, fully.
If rituals were dangerous for us, Jesus would not have given us such a prime example of participation. His life, and His celebration of this ritual were free from obligation, even though as we look at His life, we can see that Jesus was either obligated to save us, or condemn us by His failure to do so. Which did He choose?
The suggestion I long to make is this; we are free to do all things, even disciplines and rituals. What we “do” is not the issue, because if we don’t “do” something merely because it has the appearance of being legalism, then we are slaves to legalism still. Instead, if we want to “do” something, whether it be a ritual or not, we should just do it as if we are doing it directly for the Lord.
We do these things not because we earn anything. We do these things not for glory, or for praise, or because God can’t. We do them because we can, because we are free to do them, and if we knew how free we were, if we actually believed that, we would do things the likes of which this world has not seen for nearly two thousand years.
Now you can chuckle at my simplicity if you want, and you are welcome to do so. But think about this; is the abundant life a stagnant “do nothing” because of fear kind of life? Or is it a life filled with “doing”, exactly because we have been led to, and enabled to do? The parables Jesus spoke about the kingdom speak of people “doing”.
When are we going to learn that we are free? If we are going to preach freedom, then I say we better know what freedom really is. I say, if you want to read that Bible, even though it is obviously a ritual, then read it. But don’t read it because you have to. Don’t read it because you earn God’s good favor. You do none of that. Read it because God gave it to you, and because you desire to, and because you know the good you will learn.
In the kingdom, all things that truly benefit you benefit your neighbor as well. So if meditating leads you to be more at peace inside, how will that affect your neighbor? Do it because you can. Don’t not do it because you fear ritual. That is slavery still to legalism.
If scheduling a time with God every morning benefits you, then know that it benefits your neighbor as well. Should you stop scheduling it merely because it has the appearance of “obligation”? Never.
I guess what I am saying is, we should stop worrying about what looks like legalism, and just do the things God has allowed us to do, the things He has empowered us to do. We should do them because we can, not because we have to. We should do them because they truly benefit us, and if they benefit us truly, they benefit our neighbor. And while we do all these things, we can always know that we are safe in the Lord, for what we could not do, namely save ourselves, that has already been done.
But if you take one look around you for a moment, you will instantly see that God does not force us to be good, He does not force us into obligation. He gave us freedom to do these things, to our benefit, and the benefit of our neighbor. He made us free to love Him. Can anything we do toward that end ever be wrong?
The danger we face isn't from what we do if what we do is in response to God's love. What is dangerous is the heart behind what we do. For many of us, that means the danger is in worshipping the institution rather than the God who gave us the freedom to build the institution.