1. We cannot save ourselves by any means – living by the rules will not do it.
2. We cannot fix ourselves before we come to Christ – only he has the power to transform us from the inside.
There is no set of rules to live by that will justify us in the sight of God. I come from several generations of Christians. My ancestors were not Church of God blue-bloods, they were among the founders of the Free Methodist and Pilgrim Holiness churches. Believe me, when it came to rules the ChoGers had nothing on us – we weren’t more holy or stricter, but we were comparable. We lived by rules, were defined by the rules we kept, and never strayed – at least not openly. But we still had pride; a sense of honor in the rules, in keeping to the code of conduct. No one did it better than us. Whenever we fell short, the guilt was wonderfully horrible. It wasn’t until college that I really began to hear that I could not earn my salvation by keeping a set of rules. People talked about it, but I still didn’t really get it.
In graduate school I ran into my first adult Christians of different theological traditions. Scott and Roger were Reformed Calvinists, Mark was a charismatic, Markian was Catholic, and Nancy was a Universalist. Each of them was devout in their faith and completely different from me. Their rules and actions were different. Roger and Scott would occasionally drink beer, though neither would get drunk. Nancy was accepting of almost anyone as long as they believed in God as creator. At first, I felt superior in my exterior holiness, but looking back; it was a fool’s game. Each of these dear people had grasped something about God’s love that I had failed to. God loves us no matter what we do. My actions did not make me either superior or holy – just self-satisfied and arrogant.
God defines holiness. Since I am not God, I cannot force myself to behave in a Holy manner. No matter how hard I try I will fail. Fundamentalism in any faith tradition leads to irrational and illogical behavior – occasionally to extremism.
Of course the crisis point came when God convinced me that I did not have to live by a set of rules to be acceptable to him. Jim illustrated this very well with the illustration of the perfect Easter egg. They are nearly impossible to make – no matter how hard we try. Whether we are trying to fix a broken marriage, break an addictive behavior, or overcome excessive greed – our efforts are doomed to an unsatisfactory balance of pride and prejudice. What is lacking is the fulcrum of grace.
We do not overcome – God overcomes. The real, tangible miracles of life; those without physical explanations are almost always spiritual. The unbelievable transformation of a violent man into a peaceful, loving soul is miraculous! The turn-about seen in the life of an abused, bitter, and selfish woman as she becomes God-sufficient rather than self-sufficient is the stuff of awe and wonder. In short, it is God who does the “fixing” not us. We are houses in need of repair: rotten floorboards, leaky windows, and moss-covered roofs. The house cannot repair itself – it is in need of a carpenter.
Take these wherever you want them to go - I simply offer them as a starting point for discussion.
- What are the blocks to living a life free of the legalism that so many of us grew up with?
- Why are people who grew up away from the church pulled into the security of legalism?
- What is it about living by a strict set of rules that is so comforting?
- How can "love for God" overwhelm our "need for acceptance" in the here and now?
- How do we know where the lines between legalistic rules, church traditions, and sin intersect?