HATERS OF LIFE
There’s a reason why the battle between the Pharisees and Jesus features so largely in the gospels. It’s a picture of religions’ opposition to life. If you are in any doubt about the religious opposition to truth and life that comes from vested interests - think climate change denial, the hostility of certain sects to life and truth and think the murder of Jesus who was life in Himself.
Legalism is an attitude towards God and a manifestation of religion. Legalism positions us in separation - with us on one side and God on the other and the list of must-do’s in the middle between us and God. The stuff that we try to accomplish to earn acceptance with God. Earning acceptance with God is the strand that unites all false religions, particularly deviant versions of Christianity. Some are a mild jumping through hoops. Others are gnostic through and through.
LAW IS AN ATTITUDE
We should take Paul to be implying that we live from the law whether we hold to one law to all of them, or to a performance orientation that contains us in the law of sin and death that is the knowledge of good and evil. The law of the spirit of life is a person and not a list. This grace phenomenon is Jesus Christ manifesting as you.
‘Through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ Rom 8.2 NIV. Jesus moves us from legalism to life in the spirit of His person.
Michael Kepler, a lay person taught by the Spirit of Jesus writes, “Although the word legalism does not appear in Scripture, the concept is found extensively throughout. It can be viewed as a works-based religion built upon rules, regulations, or do’s and don'ts that are meant to lead to salvation or securing favour with God.
“The results of legalism will lead to fear, accusation, disapproval of others, hypocrisy, a sense of worthlessness, despair, frustration, and guilt, just to name a few. [I know folks who live in anxiety towards Jesus who ‘hope they have done enough to gain admission to eternal life.’]
“Legalism takes on many forms. As a young child eager to learn more about God, I picked up a discipleship book for new believers from the bookstore. It taught me I should share the gospel with at least three people each day, either verbally or by using what were called gospel tracts, in printed form. I was instructed to read ten chapters of the Bible every day without fail.’ Sadly not an uncommon pattern, the good side of which can prompt us to see real life in Christ our life.
PRECEPTS OF DEATH
Any teaching that promotes some addition to Christ is legalistic and as a result, ministers’ death in the name of life.
‘If someone claims to be a prophet and does not acknowledge the truth about Jesus, that person is not from God. Such a person has the spirit of the Antichrist, which you heard is coming into the world and indeed is already here’ 1 John 4.3 NIV. What truth about Jesus? The truth that He Himself is our atonement, our grace, our union with God and our life.
FUNDAMENTALS, PROPOSITIONS AND WORDISMS
Paul rightly warns that the letter kills. He tells us that the letter kills at the same time that he tells us that we are in a new covenant relationship – union so close that Christ is our life. Here Paul is saying that behaviours and routines additional to Jesus will dull our soul and kill our spirit. Quite simply an adherence to laws or rules whether one or many suffocates the life-giving spirit of Jesus in us. Christ in you, Christ your life is the basis of New Testament living. The fact that Jesus loves us as we are - not as we should be – is the ground of our confidence to rely on His life rather than our own performance. Jesus is our life in every way.
CHRIST IN YOU
A ‘try harder attitude’ is not God’s idea. The fact is, that God comes and lives in you by His Spirit. And not because of you but because of Him. Being hidden and intertwined with Jesus makes you like Him. His Spirit pervades you, manifests as you. This is the mystery of Christ come in our flesh, the key aspect of the new covenant.
‘He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant--not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life’ 2 Cor 3.6 NIV.
Our life in God is not a state of achievement. It is our state of being in Christ.
We can choose Christ as our life or we can choose to be like Christ. The first is new covenant. The second is old covenant and a more sophisticated mode of law-keeping. The new covenant is entirely Christ in us. A pseudo-new covenant notion is, ‘Wow! I see how you loved me Lord on that cross. What’s not to like about that? Because of this I will love you so much that I will not do anything bad!’ Well good luck with that.
Brave words. But it’s not the gospel and not Christ come in your flesh. It’s you come in your flesh. Despite your resolve, your protests of love you do not have the power to love Him that much or reform yourself. You will continue to make unfulfilled promises and persist in disappointing yourself. But when we agree to let Jesus love us as we are, our heart is encouraged and we press gladly into the reality of Jesus as our life. What counts is His performance, not yours. Your position in fellowship with God is forever. Just live in that!