Monday, October 06, 2008

Law and Grace in the Christian Life

Skip Cartin at Western Avenue Baptist Church has been preaching through Romans over the past year. This image came to mind recently:

God is like a circle. I know God has been represented as a circle because the line of the circle continues over and over and is kind of analogous to infinity. All metaphors for God are incomplete and using a circle in this way certainly lacks much. However, the circle that I have in mind isn't with regard to God as being infinite in the same way that people often use the circle.

My explanation of this symbol is that the center of God is the center of the circle, here marked by cross hairs. The presence of God radiates out from the center infinitely. The circle itself is the point at which one can be considered to be "in God". Outside of the circle, God is present, but one can be considered not to have company with God there.

We tend to think of this circle as being soteriological. That is, we consider what we must do or have in order to be inside of the circle. As such, most people hang around the circle. Some may stray inward while many remain outside the circle, but most "try to be good" and often wipe their brow, rest some, and plateau when they believe they have "made it" inside the circle.

Theologians may debate precisely where this circle should be placed. Those in between the theoretical circles are held in the sway. Are they in or are they out? Can we consider these to be fellow brothers and sister in Christ? Do they truly have fellowship with God?

Blue and Red hang out near the circle's edge. What could they be saying about Green? Could they be clicking their tongues and commenting on all the evil he does that keeps him out of the circle? Perhaps they are planning how they can get him to come into the circle? What do they tell him to get him to come? It depends on their particular soteriology. they may also look with amazement or disdain at Purple. He's awful far in. Perhaps they think he's to heavenly minded to be of any earthly good. After all, unless one hangs out near the edge of the circle, they may reason, one can't help anyone get in.

The attachment to the circle's edge is purely legal. We want to know whether we are in or out and it's falsely comforting to know what we need to do in order to be "in". That's the law. The problem is that the circle is illusory. We think we can be "in" by doing doing good things. However, if we have any sin at all, entering the circle results in death because God doesn't tolerate sin. What Christ has done has removed this barrier so that we can approach God. The message of grace is to head to the center of God. This is true if you are Purple, Green, Red or Blue:

Now, with the circle becomes not soteriological but merely ecclesiological. It's a matter of how you are going to define the requirements of church membership rather than whether or not you are actually saved.

Just tonight I read Exodus 20 with the kids. We visited Matthew 22:34-40 and tried to find the two greatest commandments in the ten we just read. We talked about the sermons we've hearing lately. But the ten commandments aren't the only thing in Exodus 20. We've just been taking Psalms in order each night and we were on Psalm 91 tonight. I won't paste it here - go read it for yourself. I love it when a message comes together on its own.

After God delivers the decalogue, the Israelites are afraid because of the lightning, smoke and trumpet blasting from the top of the mountain and beg Moses to have God not do the talking, but to rather come and tell them what He says. They are afraid of God, and rightly so: the revelation of His presence is terrifying. I asked the kids about the sorts of things that make them afraid and we went from there.

But in the Psalm, we have the testimony of the protection of God. We are encouraged as we follow His law of love that we reside in Him and He protects us. He isn't terrifying at all.

So what's the difference? The Israelites were afraid by the physical manifestation of His powerful presence. They had been given the law, but they didn't yet understand His grace. We would be terrified too. Most of us don't understand the grace of God as we ought. May we learn it so we can rejoice with the Psalmist that we can rest in the shadow of the Almighty.

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