Monday, August 15, 2011

Does God need the 10 Commandments to tell Him how to live?

I am about to enter the gateway educational facility for Lutheran ministry for the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod, Concordia University. Within a few years, I will be serving as a pastor/teacher in a denomination that has a history of over 500 years, but not much of a footprint in the African American community.

There are certain things that I have learned that were familiar to me after my years in discipleship. My current church home, Promise Lutheran of Murrieta, is a place where God's love for us, expressed in the life, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, is preached and taught regularly. The joys of Christian service are also regularly expounded by Pastor Chris Deknatel, M.Th. There are a few things that I was ignorant about, because they weren't discussed very often in the Church of God in Christ world of which I have been a part for most of my Christian life. Strangely enough, one of them is the relationship between Law and Gospel, how they are ministered, what role they play in my life, and how I can see them in the Scriptures. Understanding this is probably one of the most important things I must do in order to effectively serve, being faithful to the Lutheran vision of the Gospel of Jesus Christ

For many of my Christian brothers and sisters, discussions about this are the farthest thing removed from their minds. Many of you are happy to be heaven bound, glad that your sins are forgiven, and not too worried about the fine print in the arrangement. As long as God does a few things for you, get you a nice job, get you a raise on that nice job, get you a attractive spouse to go with that nice job, get you a nice house with a reasonable mortgage to live in while you working at that nice job, married to that attractive spouse....

Now, there are some of you who enjoy a good theological discussion...or should I just put it out there; some of us just love a good debate about theological stuff. I admit, I have a little bit of that in me. Is it in my flesh or in my spirit? Are these spiritually edifying exercises in iron sharpening? I think the only way you can tell is, if you can't walk away from getting in the last word, you might be a "debatoholic." You know, like "My name is Delwyn; I'm a debatoholic." "Hi Delwyn..."

Now there is a legitimate issue on this, though. It was serious enough that Paul wrote about the issue extensively to the church in Galatia, and touched upon it in his letters to Colosse and Ephesus. When Christianity was developing, the New Testament was in the process of being written, and the Old Testament was, until close to the end of the first century, the only complete collection of Scripture that everyone had. It would have been relatively easy to continue the old process of proselytization, turning Gentiles into Jews via circumcision and teaching about the Law of Moses. That was, in fact, what some Jewish Christian tried to do in Antioch (see Acts 15), but their efforts were rebuffed by the church leaders in Jerusalem, including James, the brother of the Lord, and Peter. In the end, the saints at Antioch were given guidance on their conduct that would enable them to live in a way that pleases God, and enabled them to have a good testimony in their community.

I have intensely studied this issue for a few days now, and one thing that I have learned is that the concepts of Law and Gospel are found in both the Old and New Covenant. A good definition is that those portions of the Word of God which speak of what we must do in order to be righteous are defined as Law, while those portions of the Word of God which speak to what God has done in order make us righteous are defined as Gospel. The Law condemns us to death; the Gospel rescues from the condemnation declared by the Law. Both are of God, and both are holy.

Ok, but what does that mean to those of us who are not theologians, who are not tasked with preaching or teaching? What does this mean to me as I go about my day-to-day living? For one thing, maintaining the difference between the two is important because the Bible declares that the two are not synonymous, and they cannot be mingled. Christ did not come to bring a new law, but to bring into fruition the grace of God. At the same time, Christ's fulfillment enabled Him to break the cycle of death that held mankind in its grip, because He had done nothing worthy of death. He chose to lay down His life, and, by virtue of his fulfillment of the Law, He had the right to take His life back up again. God has declared that we may have Christ's legal righteousness placed to our account through faith in Him, and we can be made partakers of His righteous nature - enabling us to live like Him (2 Peter 1:2-4)!

Does this give us the license to walk contrary to the new nature of Christ, now placed in us by grace through faith? God forbid! We no longer need the Law to guard us, when we walk according to the Spirit, anymore than God needs the Law to tell Him what He should and should not do. Either the Spirit really does lead us, or we are deceiving ourselves. Either we are led by the Spirit of God, indicating that we are children of God (Rom 8:14), or we deceive ourselves, and His Word is not in us (1 John 2:6). God cannot lie, so when God says that these things are so, then we must confess that they are so (Rom 8:16-17).

I suspect that someone, somewhere, will accuse me of attempting to destroy the Law - as if I could! The Law exists entirely independent of me, It does not require my support for its existence. In order to preach the whole counsel of God, I must proclaim the Law of God as well as the Gospel of God. What I cannot do, however, is give anyone the impression that there are two ways of salvation, one which involves my effort, and gives me a basis for boasting before God of my righteousness, and another that rests upon Christ, and takes away any basis for boasting in my righteousness. There has always been, and there will always be, only one way of salvation - by grace through faith.

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