The resurrection of Jesus Christ closed the era of law and opened the era of grace. Some Christians still haven’t caught on. No wonder the world hasn’t.
Under law, people must obey or face punishment. Old Testament law defined God’s will so stringently that no one could possibly live up to it. Some people thought they kept the law and harshly judged others. Failing to keep love, they failed to keep the law. Very likely others recognized the impossibility of ever being “good enough” and gave up in despair. Certainly many figured out some decent minimum observance and hoped God would be satisfied.
What do we find in the church today?
- Some people so concerned about others’ sex life, what others drink, choose for entertainment, etc. that they come across as harsh and judgmental.
- Some people who come to church and leave feeling condemned because they measure their feelings against what they hear in the sermon or see in everyone else’s Sunday behavior.
- Some people who consider themselves good Christians because they try to live a good life.
- And fortunately, some people who, to some extent or another, understand grace.
But unfortunately, in one poll after another, the behavior of church people is not discernibly different from that of the world. No wonder the world thinks the church is full of hypocrites. Too many of us have only the dimmest idea of how Christians ought to live. It’s too easy to fall into the trap of living under law.
The promise of grace
Before he died, Jesus explained the coming new world to his disciples. He said much more than one blog post can ever cover, but I’d like to point out one short passage:
If you love me, you will obey what I command, and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counselor to be with you forever–the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you. — John 14:15-17
Let’s not misread the first part. Jesus doesn’t say that obedience is the test of our love for him, as some may suppose. It’s not a burden; it’s a promise. Whoever loves Jesus will keep his commandments. Moses could never have made such a promise, but Jesus did.
And how can Jesus promise that when we love him we will obey? Because the resurrected Jesus would ask the Father, who would send the Holy Spirit to the church. The disciples already knew the Holy Spirit.
After all, that is the Spirit of Christ. Jesus had lived with them and taught them in bodily form. In one passage or another, Jesus promises that the entire trinity will actually take up residence in the believer’s heart.
The law says, “behave or else.” Grace says that the Lord of the Universe is not only among us corporately as a church but within us individually as believers. And what does that mean? For openers,
- We can read Scripture and the Teacher will open its meaning to us in a way that will influence our daily choices.
- We can confess our struggles, and the Councilor will advise us on how to change our thoughts, words, and deeds to become more Christlike.
- We will develop such exquisite pain at our own sin that we become less concerned about others’. And of course, we will recognize that soothing that pain by more radical obedience becomes almost easy. The Helper lives in us.
- Eventually, we reach a lever of spiritual maturity that those under law can’t imagine. In that state, we have a more profound impact on others around us by gentle counsel than we ever had back in the days when we judged others’ sin harshly.
What do you think when you read or hear John 14:15? Does it seem like a burden? You’re still under law even though Jesus has offered his grace. Does it seem like a promise? Cling to that promise and be transformed by how it will renew your mind.
Photo credit: Public domain, from Wikimedia