Gods Law, in the hands of many Christians, is like a nuclear bomb in the hands of a teenager. The teenager doesn’t really know how dangerous it is, and will play with it, and use it, as he sees fit to his own purpose. He might even think that he now has the power to, and is obliged to, save the world, and will use it that way. But in effect, he will end up doing the quite opposite of what Jesus did. It turns out that you can only use a bomb to one thing. Threaten and kill people. Nothing else. The same thing goes for law and commands.
“As I observed earlier, the greatest evils are, with alarming regularity, done in the name of goodness. When we finally fry this planet in a nuclear holocaust, it will not have been done by a bunch of naughty little boys and girls; it will have been done by grave, respectable types who loved their high ideals too much to lay them down for the mere preservation of life on earth. And lesser evils follow the same rule.”
// Robert Farrar Capon: Kingdom, Grace, Judgment – Paradox, Outrage, and Vindication in the Parables of Jesus
I see it happening over and over again. Christians who think it is their job to “encourage” other Christians to being obedient, through law and commands. And it almost always happens through biblical texts, pulled out of context. And it always ends up in a bloody mess.
The law kills. Only grace – the one way love of Jesus – can bring back to life.
“Whether or not an utterance can be called law depends on how it is heard, not how it is meant.”
// Mockingbird: Law and Gospel – A Theology for Sinners (and Saints)
What happens for many Christians is this:
1) They will acknowledge Gods Law: Yes, I’m not perfect, and does not love God and people as I should.
2) Then they will acknowledge Jesus as their saviour and Lord. That in Christ, we are saved.
And this is where it goes so wrong, for so many…
3) Many Christians then believe, that it is now not only their job, to be morally upright and obedient to Christ, and get other Christians to do the same, but many also thinks that they, through the Holy Spirit, now have the power to do it… So they go right back to Gods Law and commands.
That’s a big problem, for a whole bunch of reasons.
First, some will call this, “the third use of the Law”. But that is a misunderstanding. At best, “the third use of the Law”, is simply a heading that points in the wrong direction, because it is no longer law. If anything, all it can be, is a description of what love looks like. At worst, if we understand “the third use of the Law”, as being actual law, it is a lie, and we have nullified God’s Grace (“Christ is the end of the law …” Rom. 10:4).
“no law has been created that has the capacity to engender what it demands.”
// Paul F. M. Zahl: Grace in Practice – A Theology of Everyday Life
Law and commands, can do one thing, and one thing only: Threaten and kill – and nothing else. So, after receiving Gods grace in Christ, why would you want to go back to the Law (which Jesus has already fulfilled for you)? Why would you want to kill that again, which God has just brought back to life?
Sometimes, I have a vivid image of this scene in my head. There is a lot of Christians standing in the middle of a room, talking, not about Jesus and the astonishing freedom we have in him, but about how we should live our life. Talking about all the religious rules and laws that they think we should now be following, to be “real Christians”. Like being part of an outgoing Christian community, saving people from hell by evangelizing them, having no sex before marriage, going to church every sunday, being morally upright, loving people, and so on.
In the shadow of one of the corners of the room, Satan rolls around on the floor, laughing his ass off, because he just got a whole bunch of Christians to think that they can now fulfill, and should fulfill, at least parts of the law for Jesus, instead of just being astonished by the fact that they are the ones Jesus saved single–handedly. And remembering that he, while hanging on the cross, told us that there was nothing more to do (“It is finished”), and that we now stands in his grace, freedom and peace.
This is the way, Satan will take your God given peace and freedom from you. He will make sure, that you are so preoccupied with the law, all the things you think you have to do, and all the things you think can go wrong, that you forget the unconditional love, peace, freedom and hope, that you have already been given, through Christ.
Dammit, why do we keep forgetting that? What happened to our astonishment of what God has done for us through Christ? Why are we so quick to forget the love, freedom and peace we are given, gratis?
Secondly, we are not given the Holy Spirit, so that it is now possible for us to live perfectly morally lovingly upright lives – or even just get close to it. If that was the point of the Holy Spirit, then what Paul said in Rom. 7, ends up being a serious problem…
“For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.”
// Rom. 7:18-19 [ESV]
Paul was given the Holy Spirit in Acts. 9:17, but later, in Rom. 7, he says that he doesn’t do the good he wants, but that the evil he doesn’t want, is what he keeps doing. If Paul couldn’t do it, even after he received the Holy Spirit, then why do we keep thinking that we can?
Thirdly, there is a lot of bad, more or less mainstream, interpretations of the Bible out there. And it always ends up in commands & law, that isn’t really there, or has already been fulfilled by Christ. An example of this, is Heb. 10:25. I wrote about this verse, in danish, last week. Afterwards, I have seen this verse used, exactly in this way…
In Heb. 10:25, we read:
“not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”
A lot of Christians take this, as being a command. Their interpretation of this verse is that it is a Christians duty, to be part of a Christian community, go to Church on sundays, be in some kind of bible study group, and/or similar. But that is not what this verse is.
At first, this verse might sound like a command, but what many Christians seems to overlook, is that this is not even a whole sentence.
Dear fellow Christians, please stop pulling Bible verses out of context like that. We wouldn’t do that with any other text, so why do we keep treating the biblical texts like that?
Most of the Bible has only been divided into chapters, since the early 13th century, and into verses, since the mid-16th century (See Wikipedia). But a verse doesn’t have to be a full sentence, and will often not be understandable on its own. This division is helpful when we need to point to a specific location in the text, but we can’t use it, and should probably totally disregard it, when we try to figure out what the text means.
In the Danish translation of the Bible, Heb. 10:23-25, is one long sentence. In English translations, like the ESV, and NIV, Heb. 10:24-25 is one sentence, but it begins with “and”, so to figure out what it means, we still also need at least verse 23.
Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
// Heb. 10:23-25 [ESV]
Now, what is the overall theme of these verses?
The overall theme is what we find in verse 23 – that is the anchor for verse 24 and 25. The main point here is not that meeting together is a Christian duty, but that we should hold fast to the hope we have in Christ.
Now let’s zoom out a little. According to the ESV Study Bible, the original recipients of the letter to the Hebrews, were Jewish Christians, and it was written in the first century, probably before A.D. 70.
If we look at chapter 10 as a whole. Verse 1-18, is about Christ’s sacrifice, once, and for all. And verse 19-39, is about confidence in Christ, and perseverance in the faith.
Now, remember, this was written to Jewish Christians, approx. 1950 years ago, in a totally different culture than ours. One of the big differences here, is that their culture, was way more oral, than ours. And we are way more literary, than they were. They didn’t have their own private Bibles and their own private library’s of books. They didn’t have websites, Internet fora, and blogs, and they couldn’t just contact each other, whenever necessary, by email, telephone calls, SMS, Skype, Internet chats, and so on. We can, and that changes things.
This means that today, verse 25, is a description of how that looked like for Jewish Christians, back then. When they needed to hear Gods word, and be encourage, they probably didn’t have that many other options, than to meet each other in person. Today we have. You can call a friend, read and study the Bible on your own, or in a group, go to church, chat online, make a video call, and so on. This is not a command about how we should do it today. Jesus won’t love you more, if you go to church, and he won’t love you less, if you don’t.
The main point of Heb. 10:23-25, is that we should keep our eyes on Jesus, and the hope we have in him. But exactly how we do that, will look differently for each single one of us, depending on stuff like our personal situation, and our personality. And it will certainly be different from how Jewish Christians did it 1950 years ago.
If you need to just sit alone, studying your Bible, or maybe reading a book about Gods love for you, instead of going to church, or a Bible study group, go ahead and do it – without feeling guilty. The point of these verses is not that meeting together is a Christian duty. But that we keep our eyes on Jesus, and keeps remembering the hope, peace and freedom he has freely given us.
Taking verses like Heb. 10:25, pulling it out of context, and setting it up as if it were a Christian duty, is not only a lie, it has the potential, at least in some situations (where it is actually heard as law), to be fatal. Not at least if we use it in a situation like what Adam McHugh talks about, in Susan Cain’s book, Quiet:
“The evangelical culture ties together faithfulness with extroversion,” McHugh explained. “The emphasis is on community, on participating in more and more programs and events, on meeting more and more people. It’s a constant tension for many introverts that they’re not living that out. And in a religious world, there’s more at stake when you feel that tension. It doesn’t feel like ‘I’m not doing as well as I’d like.’ It feels like ‘God isn’t pleased with me.”
// Susan Cain: Quiet – The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
If, in a situation like that, you pull up Heb. 10:25 as a Christian duty, towards a Christian introvert, the more probable effect is that you just killed that persons relationship with Christ. Because, just like a bomb, that is the way that the law works. It kills. And many introverts will certainly hear it that way, as if you just threw a nuclear bomb against them… and worse of all… you did it in the name of Jesus. In the end, that person might end up with the wrong image of who Jesus is, and all together leave him… for the wrong reasons!
And we do the same thing, with a lot of other Bible verses.
Please please, stop throwing around with Bible verses, pulled out of context. Especially if they can be heard as law.
It’s like throwing around with nuclear bombs… somewhere, somehow, it will go off, and create a bloody mess. Even if that wasn’t the effect that you intended it to have. And maybe, some people will turn their back to Jesus, because you pretended that the bomb belonged to him, even though it was yours. Whatever bombs God had in his arsenal, Jesus has taken them, and disarmed them all, and made sure that they won’t explode in our face. So if it explodes… well, it probably didn’t come from Jesus.
So again, why is it that we keep thinking, that we can get people to do stuff, by setting it up as law, commands, and duties? It didn’t work in the old testament, it didn’t work in the new testament, and it wasn’t what Jesus did, because he already knew it wouldn’t work. Instead he disarmed the Law, by fulfilling it. So why would it work today?
We have to stop preaching Law, Gospel, Law. Because when we end with Law, we misrepresent Jesus, nullifies his unconditional love, and gives people the wrong impression of who he is. And that either because of law, that we have invented, or because we have been crawling back to Gods Law, which Jesus has already single-handedly fulfilled for us. And we do it because we fear, that what he did for us, might not have been enough.
While hanging on the cross, Jesus didn’t say, “Now, go fulfill the law, as I have done”, or “I will love you more, if you just go to church each sunday”. He said, “It is finished!”
“I find myself laughing a lot. Every time I remember that I’m forgiven and loved (that I have unlimited free sins and blank checks), I get the giggles. In fact, Christians are the only people on earth who have something significant to laugh about.”
// Steve Brown: Three Free Sins – God’s Not Mad at You
Fourthly, we are not here to save people. As Christians, we are here to proclaim the Gospel… and that’s it. We couldn’t save ourselves, we admitted that much when we accepted Jesus into our lives. Why would we now be able to save others? The only thing we can do, is point towards him, who can. Saving is Gods responsibility, not ours!
That takes a buttload of weight of our shoulders, because if we were responsible for saving others, we would now have to manipulate, threaten, and try to force people to say yes to Jesus (Which, by the way, wouldn’t work). Because if they say no, we would be at least partly responsible. And with that comes some sort of punishment, for not saving that person.
“It is so freeing to realize that we don’t have anything to prove or to protect. We don’t have to fix anything. God doesn’t need any help. He did fine before we came along and will do fine long after we’re gone. The great thing about being a Christian is that you can forgive, love, and encourage ’em all, and then let God sort it out.”
// Steve Brown: A Scandalous Freedom
So, remember: Law and commands, will always threaten and kill, and nothing else. Only the Gospel can bring to life.
The Law is necessary to help us see that we can’t do it, and are in dire and desperate need of Jesus. But afterwards, never leave people dying on the ground, always point to Jesus and his love, freedom and peace. He is the only one that meets our needs, loves us, and heals us, exactly where we are. When we trust Jesus, and keeps our focus on him and his love for us, and start basking in his freedom, that is when Satan suddenly stops laughing.
Never ever use Law and commands after you have pointed to Jesus, as if we should now at least be able to do parts of the Law, or we have some sort of a Christian duty to fulfil for Jesus. “It is finished”, and Christ is the end of the law!
Stop being so damn scared of ending up doing something so terribly wrong, that Jesus will leave you. He has promised that he won’t (See Rom 8:38-39)! You will just end up messing around with the law, as if what Jesus has already done for you, wasn’t enough. We have already gotten away with murder – the murder of Jesus – and God didn’t hold it against us. Instead, he used it to save us. How much more proof do you need of his radical love for you?
When you read the Bible, if you read Law, always see it in the light of the fact, that we couldn’t fulfil it, but that Jesus did it for us. And if you read about Jesus, and his grace, always see it in the light of the Law we couldn’t fulfil. Always try to understand what you read, in context.
So dear Christians, in the name of Jesus, please stop messing around with the law. And please, stop pulling Bible verses out of context, especially if they can be understood as law.
Never give law, without also following up with grace, by pointing to the radical freedom and peace we have in Christ, the fact that he has already fulfilled the Law for us, loves us immensely, and will never leave us.
And that counts for you too, even if you have been messing around with the law, and has been giving people a wrong impression of who he is – or ends up doing it in the future.
Jesus still loves you, and always will. Now, leave that nuclear bomb alone, you don’t need it anymore, and go out and bask in the light of his love, freedom and peace.