Monday, November 22, 2010

Fighting The Law, and other wastes of energy

Times like this is why one keeps any and all notes, and transcribes them to as many places as possible.  This is a slight adjustment to an older piece, which saves me from missing another post.  The message still holds true, and is one of the topics that floats through my head quite often.  The inspiration came from an unusual source though.  A song.  Not a hymn or even a praise chorus, although they often provide inspiration. The song was “I Fought The Law" by The Clash.  The chorus is the main inspiration here, "I fought the law and the law won."  In the vast wilderness that is my mind, I took that thought and began traversing down many a rabbit trail. When I think “law”, especially in relation to religious matters, I immediately look at the Mosaic Law of the Old Testament.  The Israelites were given three books worth of law, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.  While study shows that many of the laws are repeated in each book, there are still many, many laws to follow.  These laws governed not only their worship and how they were to communicate to God, but also their diet, dress, and how to handle many legal matters within the nation.  The laws told them how they could atone for their sins, and what sacrifices were necessary for different sins.  It was by obeying these laws that Israel was sanctified, separated from the world and brought closer to God.  It was by obeying these laws that they were made holy and saved.  So, logic follows that if they were obeying the laws, and offering up the proper sacrifices when they failed, then the people would not need any further forgiveness.
        But included in the law was the Day of Atonement, the annual festival where the high priest placed the sins of the nation on a scapegoat, and then released that goat out to the wilderness, so that the Israelites sins were taken away from them and dealt with by God.  Leviticus 16 gives all the details of the ceremony. Lev. 16:21,22 “And Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the children of Israel, and all their transgressions in all their sins, putting them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a fit man into the wilderness:  And the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a land not inhabited: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness.”  And before the scapegoat is released, another goat is offered as a sacrifice for the people’s sins as well.  After all that, even with the law, the people were still in need of continued forgiveness, every year at the Yom Kippur ceremony, as well as throughout the year with their individual sacrifices.    Now, is this a flaw in the law? It cannot be, since the law came from God, and God would not give us a red herring to chase in search of salvation.  Galatians 3:21,22 confirm this. “[Is] the law then against the promises of God?  God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law. But the Scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe.” No, instead, the law was God’s way of showing us that acts and works were not sufficient to bridge the gap between God and man.  Hebrews 10:1-5 goes into great detail on this subject.  “The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming-not the realities themselves.  For this reason it can never, but the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year make perfect those who draw near to worship.  If it could, would they not have stopped being offered?  For the worshipers would have been cleansed once and for all, and would no longer have felt guilty for their sins.  But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Those good things to come were first Jesus’ sacrifice, followed by the eventual return of man to our place, with God in the New Jerusalem, after the final battle.   We see this again in Gal 2:21 “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness [come] by the law, then Christ is dead in vain”.  If the law can be called flawed, it is an intentional flaw, included to prove a point to mankind. 
        Back on track, however, as time passed, the people tried to fight the law.  Even as Moses was receiving the Law, the people fell into idolatry, wanting a statue to worship, even though they had just seen the plagues on Egypt, the parting on the Red Sea, and the pillar of fire and dust that led them to Mt. Sinai.  The description of Israel by God given in Hosea 4:6 tells of people who by that time had chosen to fight the law by ignoring it. “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because though hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee, that thou shalt be no priest to me; seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.”  King Saul tried to fight the law, going to the witch of Endor for answers when God would not answer his questions.  1 Samuel 28:17-19 tells us the price Saul paid for fighting the law “Because thou obeyed not the voice of the Lord, nor executed His fierce wrath upon Amaled, therefore hath the Lord done this thing unto thee this day. Moreover the Lord will also deliver Israel with thee into the hand of the Philistines: and tomorrow [shalt] thou and thy sons [be] with me; the Lord also shall deliver the host of Israel into the hand of the Philistines.
Another group who tried to fight the law in Jesus’ time were the Pharisees.  They tried to fight the law by expanding it to a point where the boundaries they set were so far behind those set by the Law that they could not possibly cross over the lines into breaking the Law.   It was an attempt to beat the law at it’s own game.  The Pharisees nitpicked the law, laying down the exact numbers of steps that could be taken on the Sabbath, or what fractions of their spices they had to toss into the offering urns to be properly tithing to God.  For their efforts they were called a brood of vipers by John the Baptist, and their teachings referred to as a yeast to be avoided by Jesus.  Luke 11:42 “But woe unto you, Pharisees!  For ye tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”  Paul later declared that Israel as a nation had fallen into this trap of legalism and salvation by works. Romans 9:30-33 “What shall we say then?  That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore?  Because [they sought it] not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.  For they stumbled at that stumbling stone.”
        Even since Jesus fulfilled the law, there have still been attempts to fight the new law.  After His ascension, there were those who thought He was coming back very quickly, so rather then follow the new law laid down of spreading the Gospel, they went out and sat in the fields, just biding their time until Jesus came back.  Paul fought against many different groups who insisted that new Christians conform themselves to Jewish laws or the worship of angels.  These attempts to fight the law continue even today.  In my classes for my pastoral studies program, I read quite a bit about different ideologies and theologies that have cropped up over the last 2000 years since Jesus’ death and resurrection.  Many of them are simply new ways to try and fight the law, either trying to justify compromises they wish to make with worldly beliefs or trying to fill in the gaps with something other than faith, as they are intended to be.  There are schools of thought that claim to be Christians saying that God can save people through other religions, eliminating their need to evangelize those who follow other religions.  There are others who claim that their rituals and laws are necessary for salvation, not just belief in Jesus.  They are all continuing to try and fight the law, just as Israel did centuries ago. 
        So where do we stand now in relation to the law?  Even now, if we try and fight the law, the law always wins.  We know that the law does not save us. Gal 2:16 "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law, for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified". Even if the law could, James 2:10 tells us that “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one [point], he is guilty of all.”  If we attempt to become righteous by the law, fighting the new law with the old, we must maintain everything listed in those three books, which includes not only animal, grain and drink offerings, but such things as not wearing clothes made of two different materials or plant two different kinds of crops in one field. (Lev. 19:19) Instead of walking in the old covenant, which cannot save us, we can walk in the new covenant, which saves by Jesus’ sacrifice.  Rom. 8:1-6 "[There is] therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”  Matthew 5:17 tells us that Jesus did not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it.  Now, rather than having all the rules and regulations to sanctify us, we have faith in Jesus which separates us from the world.  Rather than having to offer imperfect bulls and sheep up to cleanse us of our sins, we have been cleansed, once and for all by the perfect blood of Jesus. 
        We can try and fight the new law, the law of grace by bending it to our own whims, or by trying to prove that the old law is sufficient for us.  We can try and fight with the old law, wrestling against it’s many edicts to no avail.  But either way, whenever we fight the law, the law always wins.  So rather than fighting it we should accept the law which stands now, the law of honoring God, treating others as we would be treated, and believing in the one way, one truth and one light that is Jesus, who finished the law for us, and wrote the new covenant of grace. 

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