Thinking Out Loud

October 21, 2013

Which Comes First? Conforming to Spiritual Requirements or Receiving Grace?

From the book, Look to The Rock, by Alec Motyer (p.41)…

…Nevertheless, law is really and truly law. The terrors of [Mount] Sinai were real and palpable (Ex 20: 18-21, Heb 12: 18-21). This was no contrived display of religious fireworks designed merely to cow and awe. The cause of the whole manifestation of fire and cloud, earthquake, thunder and lightning was simply this: that “the Lord descended in fire.” (Ex 19:18). This is what he is like. His holiness is not a passive attribute but an active force such as can only be symbolized by fire, a force of destruction of all that is unholy. At Sinai this holy God came to declare His holy law.

It is at this point that the sequence of events in the great historical visual aid bears its distinctive fruit: In the Old Testament as in the whole Bible, the law of the Holy God is not a ladder of merit whereby sinners seek to come to God to win His favor and climb “into His good books;” His holy law is rather His appointed and required pattern of life for those who by redemption have been brought to Him already who already belong to Him, and are already “in His good books.” The Law of God is the lifestyle of the redeemed.

Somewhere in the middle of reading that section, I started thinking about the difference between law and grace in terms of the “How Do You Spell Religion?” presentation which I’ve outlined here. I see this as another way of looking at man’s attempts in more of a chronological method:

If each of the checkmarks below represents the keeping of one or several commandments and the cross represents acceptance by God, many people feel that their story should unravel something like this:

Keeping the commands to earn God's favor

 

…and many church people force people to conform to this pattern.

In fact, what the Bible teaches is that living “a ten commandments lifestyle” is more of the fruit of experiencing the grace of God. The commandments were never requested of Israel’s neighbors, they were the cadence of a life lived in fellowship and communion with God. While they are phrased in a “Don’t do this” manner, they could be interpreted — or lived out — in more of a I Cor 13 way: “Doesn’t kill, doesn’t steal…” etc. That’s also in keeping with a “before and after” way of looking at life that incorporates life transformation. So it looks like:

Keeping the commands in gratitude for grace received

…that’s mercy; that’s grace.

When we have been the recipients of such love, we will of course want to respond; we will want to offer something back to please the One who gave Himself to redeem us.  If we understand that, we understand the good news of the Gospel.

Of course, there is always the issue that most of the general population can’t name all ten commandments, and if they do, they tend to focus on the “second tablet,” the ones having to do with interpersonal relationships, and neglect the first four, having to do with our relationship with God. In either model people will strive to make God happy through various means relating to that second group of commands and will forget that what makes God happiest is when we put Him first, honor Him with with our worship, honor His name, and honor His day.

 

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August 27, 2010

I’ve Got A Postsecret

In balance, Post Secret is one of the darker places on the internet.  It’s also a curiosity because it combines online interaction with the necessity of snail-mailing a postcard to an address in Germantown, Maryland.  High tech, meet low tech.  The postcards are handmade, or at the very least, amended versions of commercial products; all containing a confession.  (I suspect some send them in envelopes for privacy and protection of their art mini-masterpieces.)

Most of the overt confessions involve some type of sexual infidelity.  Affairs or affairs of the heart; cheating on a spouse, etc.  Closely following are other transgressions of the ten commandments, including stealing things from a workplace or lying to a friend.   Apparently there is a need to come clean to someone, anyone; a need to have someone to confess to; explainable if the person is of Catholic background, but that doesn’t apply to the majority American respondents.

Not all the secrets at Post Secret involve something that the writer themselves did however.   Unlike other online confessionals, this one also gets a fair degree of mail from people who have simply been hurt.   They may have been someone’s victim, or they may be a victim of circumstances.   Or they might just be expressing an anger or an angst that not all is right either without or within.


A surprising number of the thousands of postcards displayed online each year involve a loss of belief or a loss of faith, such as the one above.  (Many are more blunt, just saying, “I don’t believe in God anymore;” often with the punchline, “I’m a pastor.”)  It’s interesting that while the average person’s ten commandment list would focus on the ‘second tablet’ there are at least some people responding who regard ‘first tablet’ sins — commandments one through four — as equally serious, especially the overarching loss of regard for God Himself.

It is as though this type of confession weighs equally on the heart of the person taking the time to compose the postcard.   There is a disconnect that has taken place between themselves and God, and somehow, they know God is not at fault.  (“If God suddenly seems distant, guess who moved?”)

Of course what is most sadly lacking, especially from a liturgical point of view, is the assurance of pardon.   Ignoring the fact that the confession may have been misdirected — confessing to a stranger or online community of strangers only eases the desire to tell someone — there are no next steps; there is nowhere to begin climbing back to right relationship with either themselves, another party, or God.  Not even a Hail Mary.

Instead, the Post Secret simply squats online for a few days — or longer if it gets picked up in one of the print editions — like a traffic accident that no one is bothering to clean up.

In The Pursuit of Holiness, Jerry Bridges says we never see sin correctly unless we see it “as against God.”   In other words, even the casual theft of office supplies is a sin against God.   We don’t fail ourselves, or fail our spouse or boss or relative or neighbor; ultimately we “miss the mark” with God.

But the assurance of pardon is that if we confess our sin, with faithfulness and according to a justice we can’t always comprehend, he will pardon that sin and help us to work out that sin-nature that caused it.

If God had a website confessional; people would walk away feeling new, and cleansed, and whole.

He’s got something better.

Wanna read more?   Here’s a continuation of this discussion at Christianity 201.

The reason Moses always appears holding two Styrofoam flutter boards is that the first four commandments involve sins against God and the second six involve sins against other people; often referred to as ‘first tablet’ and ‘second tablet.’   See, you learned something today about flutter boards.

So far, no link.   I know.   Post Secret contains content that is certain to offend some readers of this blog, but if you’re looking for the link, this is it.

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