What if the United States government passed a law that said there was no speed limit any longer on federal highways? I know some of you would sign that petition in a heartbeat. “What would it really feel like to get this new car up to full speed before the next stoplight?” Or “I wonder if this Smart Car can actually do over 55 mph?” This isn’t just a thought experiment. Montana has a long history of dealing with this issue.
Until 1974, Montana had no speed limits. And again from 1995 until 1999, they tried it again. The law stated that motorists were required to drive in a
“Reasonable and prudent manner.”
But that proved too difficult to interpret personally and in court, so the Montana Supreme Court struck down the issue saying that requiring people to be reasonable and prudent was “unconstitutionally vague.” In other words, people didn’t want to have to figure out how to be reasonable and prudent. They just wanted a written law that was easy to follow… or break if you wanted to.
A far more egregious example (wink, wink) of this behavior happened at our church a few years back. It seems that there were some very hungry children that would come in and wipe out the doughnuts so that anyone that came in after them was out of luck unless they wanted to lick the powdered sugar off the plate. One concerned parent decided to take it to the senior pastor. According to her, this behavior had to be stopped and the only way to stop it was to post a large, laminated, black and white poster above the snack table stating the new law. I picture it looking something like this...
New Doughnut Limit: 3 DPH (Doughnuts per Hour). All offenders will be prosecuted!
Thankfully, no sign went up. The pastor explained that this church was based on Grace, not the Law.
So what’s going on here?
These examples point out something very powerful about sin and the law. You see, there were two sets of laws given by God. For ease of discussion, let’s call them the Old Law and the New Law. Under the Old Law, we had a set of posted rules to follow like:
DON'T KILL PEOPLE and DON'T LIE and DON'T STEAL PEOPLE’S WIVES AND GOATS AND STUFF.
This first set of laws was given to a specially chosen group of God’s people known as the Jews. If you are even half paying attention to life on this planet, you are probably familiar with at the most famous subset of these old laws called the “Ten Commandments” that were written on stone tablets by God Himself. But God gave Moses another 600 (and change) which are written down for us in the Old Testament.
Then Jesus came and everything changed! Not only was there a new Sheriff in town, but He also brought along a new law as well: The Law of the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. Wow, that sounds like an interesting new law. With this new law, you are freed from the speed limits (and doughnut limits) of the old law. But the key to understanding how awesome it really is doesn’t reside in what it frees you from, sin and death, but rather, what it frees you to, love, joy, and peace. In other words, rather than limiting us by telling us what not to do, the new law blows the lid off the possibilities of amazing things that we can do.
Not so quick Phillip! What’s so wrong with the old law?
On the one hand, it seems reasonable to set limits on things. After all, going too fast on the freeway in certain circumstances can hurt or even kill people. And eating doughnuts till you puke isn’t always the best bet right before church. So, the only way to make sure that people don’t hurt themselves is to post up the law and punish anyone who breaks it, right?
We sure are victims of overly simplistic, binary thinking sometimes. We assume that the only alternative to being a rule-follower is to be a rule-breaker. But that sucks! I really mean it.
That kind of thinking sucks the life out of everything that Jesus made to be so amazing.
You see, there is a third and more excellent alternative to being either a rule-follower or a rule-breaker, you can simply be a Jesus worshiper and a love doer! In fact, His word tells us that trying to follow the old set of laws kills us, but following Him instead gives us life! And not just any old life, but deep, rich, meaningful, joyous, “I want what she’s having” kind of life! We go from glass half full people to glass overflowing people. Or for those of you with kids (or who are kids), we go from being Eeyores to Tiggers!
Let's be clear though, the old law and the new law are not equal. They are not a simple choice like chocolate vs. vanilla or jazz vs. hip-hop. The old law has no power to make you right or free. It cannot bring life. It cannot make you perfect and it doesn’t make you happy. It can only bring death. In fact, the Bible calls it the “law of sin and death” and the “ministry of death.” And here is the kicker, the old law was never God’s intention for mankind. In fact, the only purpose it has is to bring people to desire Jesus and His new law of Life, Love and Liberty. But now that Jesus came, we are no longer in need of the old law so time to let it go!
The old law is unattainable. Not knowing any better, people try extremely hard to keep the old law, but they always fail. The new law is a gift that doesn’t require any effort, only trust.
You cannot fail the test because there is no test.
Instead of having to work hard to earn your reward, Jesus simply gives us all the best stuff for free. I’m not exaggerating, the word says that He will pour out His love directly into our hearts. So, the currency of the new law is love and we are given a full bank account. Or more accurately, we are given an overflowing, never-ending bank account. All He desires of us is to share it with Him and the people around us. That doesn’t suck!
Why not both?
Why not just have both sets of laws? If God gave both, then maybe he wants us to keep both, right? Wrongo! The word tells us that God desires for us to “cast out” the old law and never bring it back into our lives again. Without Jesus, the old law demanded respect, but Jesus is far greater than the old law could ever have been. The Bible even goes as far as saying that keeping the old law after believing in Jesus is insulting the very blood He shed for you. Why? Because when He died and resurrected, He gave us the opportunity to become perfect and sinless and holy. His sacrifice was so amazing and excellent and perfect that we could never even come close to matching this gift in our own effort. So...
Attempting to follow the old law in order to make yourself good enough for God is basically telling Jesus that you don't need Him.
But if we don’t have posted laws, then how will we know how fast to go, how many doughnuts we should eat, or how to treat one another? Let’s look deeper into this for a moment. There is another reason why God doesn’t desire His children to blindly follow a set of rules.
It’s not that God wants mayhem and anarchy. He just wants us to work together with Him and others to find personal, loving and creative ways to figure things out.
Maybe the police officer still pulls you over for speeding, but you are able to explain that you need to get to the hospital because your husband was in an accident. He then turns on his police lights and leads you there at a safe, but expedient 90 mph. Instead of scolding the boy for eating too many doughnuts, you might have to sit down and talk to him about why he is so hungry on Sunday morning. Maybe you find out that his parents are broke and God inspires you to get a group of people to pull some funds together to stock their shelves for a few months.
I hope that all of you have seen the movie “Dead Poets Society”. If you haven’t, please pause here and watch it now…. See you in 128 minutes…. Ok, now that we have all seen the movie… Wait, what? You still didn’t watch it? I’m not kidding you, forget that deadline. Your taxes can wait. Using the bathroom is over-rated. Go watch the movie! We are all waiting for you so we can finish this post...
Ok, I can finally make my analogy. Man-made Christianity based on the old law is like “The Welton Academy for Boys” depicted in this movie.
Devoid of anything wonderful, it is a life defined by discipline, conformity, and fear of failure.
In fact, some Bible translations even call the law a Schoolmaster, just like the stern character in the movie played by Norman Lloyd. As Headmaster Nolan, it was his job to enforce the tenants of the drab existence that Welton called success. To fit in, we must accept the shallow definition of our existence and daily divulge ourselves of any passion that we may have for something more meaningful.
But the new law of life with Jesus is like the freedom and passion that some of these boys found under the inspiration of Mr. Keating. Instead of telling the boys that they had to read 100 chapters a day and write a bunch of reports that give the answers that they think the teacher wants to hear, he challenges them to think for themselves and explore the real meaning of life.
You see, life that is actually worth living, not just talking about.
Instead of constantly preparing themselves for some future state, they were encouraged to savor every moment of this life for the intrinsic value that it has right now.
We here at Matthew’s House want to encourage you to cast off the chains of the old law and embrace the freedom that Jesus has given you. We believe that one of the greatest forms of worship that we can display is to fully trust in the righteousness that Jesus gave us and to put zero faith and energy into trying to be righteous on our own. We believe that the old law reduces life down to a thin veneer of binary choices and consequences.
The law of liberty exposes the rich possibilities of every moment and gives us the ability to extract and share the beauty in even the most mundane circumstances.
For a deep dive into Christianity and the Law, check out more posts in the Reboot category of Matthew's House. ( https://www.mattshouse.org/retool )
Finally, if something struck you as wonderful, sad, frustrating, confusing, or just downright conversational, then, by all means, write a comment down below. We hope to strike up some good discussions about these topics.
Carpe Diem… Seize the Day!
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