Christianity, in some ways, is a faith inherently war-like. Stay with me. It’s Biblical. Paul says in Romans 8:7 that the carnal (unregenerate, fleshly) mind is at war against God. He says in several places that the flesh wars with the spirit within even the regenerate (reconciled, ‘saved’) believer. The war I want to talk about today is the same war that has raged within Christendom since the first churches were planted after Pentecost. It’s the same war that Jesus raged against during His earthly ministry, in open rebellion against the Scribes and Pharisees.
The war between the law and grace (ref Galatians 2:21).
And make no mistake, it is a war. Make no mistake, it has raged in Christianity– perhaps the longest-running threat to the everyday Christian in the history of the church. And make no further mistakes, from Jesus’ perspective, it was an open rebellion.
I encourage you to read all four gospels chronologically. (Free chronological plan here.)
Read the gospels chronologically. Here’s what you’ll find Jesus doing in the early part of Jesus’ ministry. He actively pursues opportunities to defy the self-righteous, legalistic Pharisees who stood guard– as a religious cult, interpreting the law, creating more laws, and enforcing them as crushing burdens on Israel. They defined and dictated the law as the path to God, and excommunicated anyone who didn’t measure up. This was their authority, prestige– their power and influence. This was their control.
Jesus came to break that stranglehold and offer another path to heaven. Himself. Simple belief. Grace.
Jesus healed a lame man at the Bethesda (The House of Mercy) on the Sabbath, and told the cripple to pick up his mat and carry it to the temple– both of which broke the Pharisees’ legal code. They began then, plotting to kill Him. Shortly after, He allowed His disciples to pick grain and break it open in their hands as a snack on the Sabbath– knowing that it broke the Pharisees’ legal code and would bring Himself into open confrontation with them. Yet again, a short time later, He healed a man in the Synagogue on the Sabbath. By this time, the Pharisees were watching Him, hoping He would break the Sabbath so that they could accuse Him.
Jesus could have refused to heal Him, assenting to their authority, and their view of the law– their view of God. He could have waited a day to heal him. He’d lived a while with the disfigurement; what would another day hurt? This would have rescued Jesus from the dilemma of the Sabbath healing. But it would have also assented to their authority, their view of the Sabbath, and their view of God.
Jesus was here to lead an open rebellion against this religious cult of legalism.
He healed the man that day, on the Sabbath. And in defending his disciples in the field of wheat, then defending the healing of the deformed man, Jesus had platform to teach us the heart behind the law, and thus the heart that God wants to communicate to His creation. God wants to lead by influence, not control.
I know that sounds radical– that God doesn’t seek to rule us by control. He’s the Creator and Sustainer of the universe! He’s sovereign! He’s God! Of course He’s in control!
But that’s not what I mean. I mean that He does not want to rule us by force and threat.
In reference to Godly leadership, John Maxwell says (and I summarize, not having the quote directly in front of me): “You can either lead through control or influence. If you seek control, you lose influence. If you seek influence, you don’t need control.”
Wow. What a great lesson for all of us– especially since it’s the same message that Jesus taught and exemplified to the disciples that would become apostles and pastors (Matthew 20:20-28). We are to serve in love because Jesus serves in love.
Take this concept to Jesus’ arguments against the Pharisees’ view of the law.
When they accused the disciples of harvesting on the Sabbath (Matt 12:1-8; Mark 2:23-28; Luke 6:1-5 I encourage you to read these sections, what follows won’t make much sense without it.), Jesus explained the intent of the law. The Sabbath wasn’t given to make man hungry. It was given as a gift and a guard for man. It was given so that greed would not force people into exhaustion, nor interrupt their time with God. It was given as a grace. It was a heart of compassion, shown of God to humanity.
Just as the law of the show bread that dictated that only the Priests could eat it (and only after it had been replaced at a week old) wasn’t given as a burden to humanity. God could look through that law with a heart of compassion and seek to feed a famished David, who was fleeing the wrath of an angry tyrant. Saul was the tyrant. God is the compassionate heart of love. The priests worked, compassionately serving Israel, on the Sabbath. The temple was meant to bring the presence of God to Israel.
Isn’t Jesus greater than the temple? Hasn’t He brought us into the presence of God’s grace and compassion? As the Lord of the Sabbath– the one who defined the law– isn’t He qualified to tell us the heart behind the law– which is to (in part) reveal a compassionate God who loves us?
In the synagogue, notice Jesus’ defense of His action, which was a definition of the law, yet again. Is God’s intent on the letter of the law, or His compassion that health be restored? Is it meant to destroy, or lead us to His grace and compassion? Is the letter of the law any more than the mode of expression that God used to show us His heart before Jesus?
When asked about the letter of the law (Matthew 22:36-40), which was greatest? Jesus said the first two– love God and love others. In these all the others are fulfilled. Jesus said (John 14:15), ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ If you love Him… That’s the only way Jesus ever gave to perfectly keep God’s law– as a loving response.
God wants to rule by influence. He wants to draw us into His presence, knowing that to experience His love, grace, and compassion, we can’t help but be changed. He knows that to really know Him and experiencing His love, we will love Him. We can’t help but respond. Works don’t result in acceptance. Works are the result of acceptance!
Let your eyes drift up on the page so that you can read that again. Let it wash upon you until it soaks your heart and spirit. You don’t work your way to God. You believe and accept, and then He works His way through you.
I think it’s no accident that the Sabbath is used as illustration here. Colossians 2:16, 17 says that the Sabbath was a picture of Jesus, but Jesus is the real thing. In other words, the Sabbath was a spiritual type that prepared our hearts for Jesus. God told us to rest on the Sabbath. Now, He tells us to rest in Jesus’ completed work. On the Sabbath, you worked hard all week and then rested. In Jesus, you rest in Him, and the work comes from that.
I believe that every part of the law showed God’s compassion in some way. It was meant to do two things: Show His character, and prove that we can’t live up to it on our own. It was meant to express God’s compassion and show us that we need His grace. It was meant to drive us into His presence, and then let His presence produce lasting change in us. It was meant to drive us to the only thing that can finish a good work in us– the very presence of God (Philippians 1:6)!
Are you struggling with legalism? Are you locked up in a world of work that continually auditions for affection from God? Please stop. Simply believe and accept. Direct your energies to finding His presence daily, and just live there. I promise, it’ll make lasting changes. Your changes will come as a response and need not exist to earn such presence. Jesus died to give you that presence.
End the war in your life. Let Jesus bring peace.