Monday, July 23, 2012

Freed From a Rule Keeping Religion

A number of years ago, I became involved in a church that later became abusive.  I stayed there for three years and finally left hurt and confused.  I then became involved with a mainstream church and, as I worked through the healing process, I began to realize that the modern day church has become institutionalized and little of it resembles the church that Jesus came to build. 

As I began to understand grace, it surprised me to learn that Christ's death didn't do away with the law.  The law is still in the earth and very much alive.  However, when Christ died, we died too so now we're dead to the law but the good news is that we're alive in him.  So, because our connection to the law was ended at the cross, we no longer have to follow a bunch of rules.

Religion, however, would seek to re-establish our relationship to the law.  Therefore, we've now ended up with a religion that's a mixture of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant.  This combination of law and grace has resulted in a religion that's weak and, for the most part, is ineffective.

The Old Covenant was a works oriented covenant in which righteousness was based on what a worshipper did.  The Jews were required to make specific sacrifices at set times as well as follow proscribed laws.  Their righteousness was determined by how well they followed those laws.  On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest offered sacrifices that took away the sins of the people but, the following year, he had to offer those same sacrifices again.  He did this year after year after year but there was never a permanent cleansing of sin.  Instead, it had to be renewed annually.

The New Covenant under which we now live is based, however, on what Jesus has done.  It's no longer based on our works but it's based solely on grace.  Religion would tell us that "Jesus made us righteous but . . ."  However, under the New Covenant, there are no "buts."  Our righteousness is totally based on Jesus' finished work and nothing else!

Although we no longer sacrifice goats and bulls, our modern Christian teaching has added its own set of rules which we as believers are expected to follow.  We're expected to attend church regularly, pray and read our Bibles regularly and, of course, tithe.  If those rules are not followed as proscribed by the local church, we are considered to be out of fellowship with God and therefore out from under his protective covering.  Our commitment as believers is questioned and we're encouraged to re-commit our lives to God and to the church.  Other "shoulds" may also be added and the list of rules can be endless.

To make matters worse, we're never told how much is enough.  How much of the Bible should we read each day?  How much time should we devote to prayer?  Even 10% of our income, the tithe, is rarely enough because we're supposed to give to God "his tithe and our offerings."  I've heard it said that we don't really start to give until we've given more than the tithe and, of course, the tithe should always be given to the local church.  We can never follow our heart and give where our heart leads us to because the tithe belongs "in the storehouse."  

The New Covenant, however, is not a rule keeping covenant.  It's not based on us keeping the law because we'll never be able to keep it perfectly.  Old Covenant believers tried and failed miserably so God who is faithful even when his people were faithless established a new covenant.  This covenant is built on better promises which are fulfilled in Christ so, therefore they are now not just promises, they are facts when we enter into them by faith. 

As Jesus died, he cried out, "It is finished."  Well, what was finished?  I've heard it taught that he was declaring that the work of salvation was finished but that can't be true.  His death just started the process but it wouldn't be finished until his resurrection and the arrival of the Holy Spirit 50 days later at Pentecost.

No!  Jesus was declaring that the Old Covenant was finished!  It was over and now believers could enter into a new covenant that was based on his finished work.  Then, when the Holy Spirit arrived at Pentecost, he ushered in a new covenant of grace.  No longer do we have to follow a set of laws which are impossible to keep but now we can be led by the Spirit and, in his power, we can live in a new life free from the dictates of an impossible law.  

So, as I follow the Spirit, I can now confidently say, "The law doesn't apply to me!"  And that's the good news of our salvation.  

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