Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Inside, Outside, Upside Down Kingdom

(the title is a lyric from one of my favorite Misty Edwards song called Servant of All.)

I meet with a few girls every Saturday morning. It is one of my favorite parts of the week. I love these girls so much and they have taught me much more than I could ever teach them. One of these girls, Katie, was wrecked over a false gospel saying moralism was the way to being in right standing with God; when what should be communicated is that it's JESUS that gives us complete innocence, and therefore a right relationship before God.

This morning I was reading through Romans 5-8. Paul addresses exactly what she is rightfully concerned about in chapter 7-8.

I think our natural tendency is to want to have a list of "do's" and "don't do's" in order to feel good in God's sight. It's how we function in most other areas of life.
In school: if we followed the rules and studied hard, we were commended and did well. If we broke the rules and brushed off studying, we got in trouble and received a bad grade. 
With our parents: if we did what was right, we pleased them and there was peace between us. If we broke their rules, we were unpleasantly disciplined and caused tension in the home. 
In sports: if you scored, points are added and you helped your team towards winning. If you fouled, you had that against you for the rest of the game and hurt the team. 

So we naturally transition this practice of good and bad to our spiritual life.

Paul describes these rules, the law, in chapter 7 as:
That sounds like something we'd all want, right? Good rules that told us what to do to be spiritual and right with God. Give me my checklist. I'll take that. Thank-you-very-much.

But then he says in the same chapter that:
the law's commands, which were supposed to bring life, brought spiritual death instead.
the law aroused evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death.

Wait, trying to follow God's commandments results in spiritual death and doing bad things?  I thought that knowing and doing good will save & protect me but now it's saying that these rules will destroy me.

What's the deal?


Paul says the trouble is not with the law. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, I am in sin's prison. I don't really understand myself, for I want to do what is right, but I don't do it. I don't want to do what is wrong, but I do it anyway. There is another power within me that it is at war with my mind.

He says that when we are told not to do something, it will actually make us want to. It brings those desires within us to life and causes a battle in our minds with what we will actually do, even when we know what we should.

When we are living our life according to rules, there is something within us that wants to rebel.

Here is a recent example. I told Finn not to touch the outlets. Now he will go stand by one and put his hand near it. Then he'll turn and smile at me, as if he's saying, I know you told me not to touch this, but I really want to. At an early age, there is something already in him that wants to test the rules.

This something is sin. Paul had some powerful things to say about it.
Sin took advantage of God's commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. 
Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death.
We can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God's good commandments for its own evil purposes.

At this point, trying to live according to God's rules, or a good moralistic life, seems pretty pointless and frustrating. (I think those of us who lived a majority of our lives trying to be good would know this without being told and the bible just confirms that which we already experienced.)

So if our experience is that our attempts to be good leaves us still longing for more and if our natural selves will always lose to truly being good with God, is there a relief? Is there a way out? 
from living a constricted, rule-based life?
from feeling like you're disappointing God?
from stress and anxiety of always trying to be good? 
from the constant battle in the mind of right and wrong? 
from beating yourself up every time you mess up? 
from the secret ambition to just cast it all away and live anyway you please?

This is the climax of Paul's discussion and in verse 25 through the next chapter he says, Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. Now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to Him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature.  The Spirit of God lives in you and gives you life because you have been made right with God through Jesus.

He has completely released us from a life centered on ourselves and trying to climb our way to God by what we do. We are no longer captive to a life that has to try so hard. This is GOOD NEWS! In fact, it's the best and most life-altering news we could believe. At least, it was for me. It gave me freedom I had wanted all along.

And this freedom we are given actually works paradoxically than what we would imagine. It makes us now want to serve God and produce a harvest of good deeds, instead of a license to do whatever we want.

Paul says it best when he says, Now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. 

Release from law = now able to serve and please God.
God's ways are:

So please join me as I remind myself to stop trying to be good and right on my own. Instead, let's join to put our energy in praising God and learning how to live in & by the Spirit.

Which is my next question, how do I live in and by the Spirit? Any help and insight would be appreciated (haha!)

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