Elaine’s Truth

I have only met my friend Elaine a handful of times in person. We both happened to be available on a weekday once, so we took a road trip together to WILKESBORO!!!!! to see Zach Galifianakis lead story time at the Wilkes County Public Library. It was awesome. We were also briefly involved in a writing group together where I admired her honesty and courage with words. Other than that, we’ve just stalked followed each other on blogs and social media for the last several years. Here she is to tell us her truth.

When I was invited to write a “That’s my Truth” blog post, at first I thought I might write something about motherhood. But life intruded with a more pressing issue: The question of the Law, and how much of it we as Christians are expected to keep.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to make a theological argument. Paul did that very eloquently 2000 years ago, and wise and intelligent people have been dissecting his argument ever since. When I was in high school, reading the New Testament, I couldn’t reconcile Paul’s arguments with what my church was teaching me. Free from the law? How could that be? Everyone knew that you had to be a good person – no illegal activities, no sex, no smoking, no lying, etc. So what on earth did Paul mean by being free from the Law? It didn’t make sense because Paul was teaching something very different from what my parents and church were teaching.

I chose to avoid my confusion by doing the “safe” thing and obeying the Law, at least the parts of the Law that I had been taught applied to me. That meant I could eat bacon, but I couldn’t have premarital sex. I could drink alcohol, but I couldn’t get drunk. I could go out in public while menstruating and not worry about making a bunch of people unclean by sitting in public seats, but I wasn’t sure if I was allowed to be in authority over men.

But after college, as I meditated again on Paul’s words, I came to a startling conclusion: He really meant them. We are free from the Law. And not just the parts of the Law that Jesus addressed (like food), or the parts of the Law explicitly mentioned by Paul (like circumcision). The whole shebang.

The very first church council ever recorded was about this very issue – how much of the Torah were non Jews required to follow? (An aside: At the time, this meant the first five books of the Bible, along with all the rabbinical laws, known as the Mishnah. It didn’t just mean the 10 Commandments, or the literal Hebrew text in isolation.) In Acts 15, we see a group of new Christians struggling with this issue. And after much thought and prayer, they decided to pick 3 laws for the non Jews to follow. Three. Out of over 600 written Hebrew laws and countless additions and interpretations. And they weren’t chosen from the 10 Commandments either. Just avoid food sacrificed to idols, don’t get involved in sexual sin, and don’t eat meat that was strangled and still has blood in it.

Here’s my truth. When Paul said we are not under the Law, he meant all of it. We live under grace. The Law is valuable because it gives us insight into God’s will and God’s preferences. But it is no longer binding on Christians. We can choose to disobey any Law we wish, because we are not under it. We are not slaves; we are free heirs with Christ. We have already been purified and are holy in God’s eyes.

When we pick and choose which laws to follow and which ones to disregard, we are committing idolatry. Instead of putting our faith in the Holy Spirit and developing a sensitivity to His voice, we put our faith in a system of rules interpreted for us by other fallible humans. We seek knowledge rather than wisdom. Wisdom is life by the Spirit. It requires us to meditate on God’s word (yes, even on the Torah), and to spend time in prayer, and to learn how to hear God’s voice.

Many Christians are threatened by this and I have been condemned for it. But thank God, I live under grace. So even if I’m wrong, I am forgiven, I am free from condemnation, and I will stand justified in God’s eyes, no matter what. THAT is the good news of Jesus. That we are truly free from the entire Law. We live under grace.

To read more from Elaine, check out her blog or her other blog. Thanks, Elaine!

Author: beth

I'm told that I'm cleverly stupid, and that's why people are friends with me. And here I thought it was because I was so dang cute...

5 thoughts on “Elaine’s Truth”

  1. No condemnation here but I will offer a gentle corrective. Elain is a very thoughtful and articulate Christian (which is good) but she may be falsely dichotomizing (that may not be a word but you know what I mean) without realizing it. Her articulation unintentionally undermines the authority of God’s written word, which is the normative way the Spirit has spoken. It leads to “throwing the baby out with the bath water” as the old saying goes.

    What she has put forward is called Antinomianism. Antinomianism leads to Mysticism as her explanation shows. The majority of Protestants have always held that the word Law is used in three different ways throughout the Scriptures. Some times it means the whole O.T., sometimes it means the first five books of O.T. (also called Pentateuch, Books of Moses, etc.), and sometimes it means the ten commandments (Exodus 20 or Deut.5) specifically (also called the “Moral Law” or the “Decalogue”). These multiple uses create confusion and interpretive difficulties.

    The majority of Protestants (will not speak for Rom Cat or Eastern Ortho) have held that our right standing before God no longer hinges on our keeping God’s law perfectly because only Jesus has kept the law perfectly. His perfect obedience is applied/credited to us as we receive/rest/trust in him and his work rather than our own. The ceremonial/civil laws of the OT were for national Israel; those are no longer binding on believers. But the ten commandments or moral law is still in effect. We can’t keep them perfectly but they are a rule of life. They are an explanation of what it means to Love God and Love your neighbor. The first four of the ten are about worshiping God rightly and the other six are about how we love our neighbor. So to live out the ten commandments in obedience and thankfulness for what God has done is to walk in the Spirit. Again, our keeping them does not merit Salvation. We are not able to keep them perfectly because of our sin. But by the power of the indwelling Spirit, we strive and seek to grow in conformity to them in thanks for what God has done on our behalf.

  2. In Galatians, Paul clarifies this grace/Law dynamic a bit- the original Mosaic “Law” ( which was not around during the time of the Patriarchs, yet Abraham engaged in a very personal relationship with God) was intended to teach us very plainly that God is Holy, and no matter how hard we try, we, in our own strength/efforts cannot undo the separation, disobedience/”sin”, brought into this dynamic. The law was given to make us comprehend how separated from the Lord we are, and the effects sin has had on our existence. The death and resurrection of Christ fulfilled the Law, in that through Him we now have access to the Almighty, through the forgiveness of sin. BUT WHEN we see our need for His forgiveness, and humbly come to Him, seeking relationship WITH Him, we “lose” our lives/denying our sinfully inclined selves, and surrender to Him daily, allowing HIM to transform us by the power of the Holy Spirit. “From glory to glory He is changing me”. “Christ in me, the hope of glory”.” It is no longer I that live, but CHRIST that lives IN me”…”Walk in the Spirit and you will not even consider succumbing to the desires of the flesh”. Obedience then becomes a response to Him out of that love relationship we have WITH Him every single day, and as the result of this obedience in love (not duty), engaging in communication/hearing from Him and sharing with Him we are transformed spiritually, and walking in grace turns us into people who now by nature are like Him- the writer of the old Law. Over and over again in the Old testament, the prophets admonished God’s people by the word of the Lord to “Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion Everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the alien or the poor.Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.” and again “He has shown you, O Man, what is good, but to do justice, to love mercy and walk humble WITH your God.” Until we understand the restoration work of the cross, receive forgiveness, and enter into life with Him, allowing His Spirit residing in us to change us, laying down the “old man” with the deeds of the “flesh”, we WILL NOT DO justice, love mercy, nor follow Him well, because without Him, we will try to accomplish within our own abilities, a work that only HE can do within us, and WILL do within us, if we surrender. Philippians 1:6

  3. I can agree with most of what Mamma Hames has said but I would add to it and quibble with one small phrase.

    She has correclty pointed out that the Law [particularly the ten commandments] was

    “intended to teach us very plainly that God is Holy, and no matter how hard we try, we, in our own strength/efforts cannot undo the separation, disobedience/”sin”, brought into this dynamic. The law was given to make us comprehend how separated from the Lord we are, and the effects sin has had on our existence.”

    Protestant thinkers call this the first use of the Law. It convicts of Sin and makes us aware of how Holy God is and how far we fall short. Ultimately this awareness is caused by the illumination give by the Holy Spirit.

    The second use of the Law is to restrain evil. As people follow the ten commandments especially when it is back up by a civil judicial code there is some restraint of sin and evil. Things are not as bad as they could be.

    The third use of the Law is to guide believers in what will please God. They are motivated to keep it (though not with perfection in this life) because they know it pleases their Father and is a summary of what it means to love God and neighbor; to do justice and love mercy.

    Anglican theologian, J.I. Packer, summarizes the three uses of the Law (Decalog) here: http://www.oocities.org/gary_bee_za/packer/lawinaction.htm

    The three uses is what I would add and what most Christians today are pretty unfamiliar with in my experience.

    I would quibble with the false division that goes on in phrases like “obedience in love (not duty),”. It is assumed in our time that to do ones duty is to do it without love. Or that loving someone does not include anything dutiful. I believe this to be a mistaken assumption.

  4. Mark, I hear your concern about me undermining the authority of God’s word. Thank you for allowing me to respond to that.
    I do believe that God’s word is authoritative. But I believe that when we try to apply it as an authority over 21st century situations we begin to fall into problems. This is when the Law becomes a false idol. We need to read and meditate on the Law in order to gain wisdom rather than knowledge.
    You mention that I preach antinomianism which leads to mysticism. First, I am not preaching anything: I am explaining my own interpretation of how the Law impacts my relationship with God and others. Yes, my position is within the area of antinomianism. But what is wrong with mysticism? Your phrasing suggests that there is something wrong with mysticism and I would love to hear more about what you mean by that.

  5. Thanks for listening to my concern Elaine. Again, let me reiterate what I said. “unintentionally undermines the authority of God’s written word” was the phrase I used. I’m sure you probably do believe in the authority of God’s word. That’s why I used the word unintentional. I also said God’s written word referring specifically to Scripture. Jesus is known as the word of God incarnate.

    Actually I did not mention anything about preaching. I did not say you preach anything. Please reread my initial response.

    I have come to the conclusion that Mysticism is unhelpful at best and possibly heretical at worst. I’ve also come to the realization that my tribe (evangelical Christianity) has strong currents of Mysticism in it. To question it may get me kicked out. That’s how influential it is.

    I have drunk deeply from the fountains of Mysticism that evangelicalism encourages. Thomas Merton, Brennan Manning, Henri Nouwen, Thomas R. Kelly, etc. I’ve prayed the Divine Hours and taken graduate level seminars on Spiritual Formation. These folks all say helpful things and they also say/teach things that I’ve decided are not so helpful.

    The number one concern I have about Mysticism is the way that it privileges subjective inner religious experience of the individual over objective conciliar religious truth. I’ll try and look around for some helpful but concise critiques of Mysticism and post here. This is all I can do at this moment.

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