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Category: Guilt

Overlooked

‘Martin Luther was once approached by a man who enthusiastically announced that he’d recently become a Christian. Wanting desperately to serve the Lord, he asked Luther, “What should I do now?” As if to say, should he become a minister or perhaps a traveling evangelist. A monk, perhaps.

Luther asked him, “What is your work now?”

“I’m a shoe maker.”

Much to the cobbler’s surprise, Luther replied, “Then make a good shoe, and sell it at a fair price.”’ -Tullian Tchividjian

Isn’t it interesting how people want to do something big and extravagant for God?  They put off the small things that they could be doing for the potential of the monument they plan in their mind.  We reason, “I want to demonstrate my love for God in a grand gesture”.  We put off the little things we can do in favor of the greater gesture.

But, sometimes life erodes that grand gesture you were planning.  Other demands and obligations take away what you had been building.

So, when others give more money, or build some fantastic monument (of one type or another) to God, we look at our own meager offerings and feel a bit ashamed.

What is your grand design for God?  Have you been hoping to put in some big offering in the plate?  Maybe you are developing some other grand gesture.

Yet, God is often found in the small things … no, the smallest things that we do.  Making a child’s lunch before school.  Picking up a friend who has a doctor’s appointment.  Calling someone.  Sometimes, we are not even aware that these small things are the very things that God receives the most glory for.

When the Son of God became incarnate, He set aside His glory to do so.  He didn’t come in great pomp and celebration.  He came as a lowly baby born in a stable.  God became man.  Jesus talked to people, He touched people, He ate with people, He traveled with people, and He lived with people.  What’s more to the point, Jesus is one of those people, He’s one of us.

Then, He descended further into the inglorious muck.  He took your sin and mine on to Himself.  “He who knew no sin became sin on our behalf”.  Only to be crucified on a Roman cross and be buried in someone else’s tomb.  He appeared lowly, weak and defeated.  Even any human glory that He may have had was stripped from Him just as His clothes were.  His shame was public.

There was no greater memorial ever built that could match Jesus’ body pierced, bleeding and hanging from the cross, though.

So, when Luther addresses the cobbler, he looks at it through Christ’s lowly work on the cross.  Although the cobbler thought he could glorify God by serving in a higher, ‘holy’ occupation, Luther saw that the man could glorify God in His mundane occupation.  There was no need for a life-altering career change.  He could serve God by … making a good shoe and selling it at a fair price.

Bound or free?

Why do I do what I do?

Over the short course of my career as a bi-vocational pastor, my eyes have been opened to the nature of sin.  It is not that I am pre-occupied by it.  The Lord made me in such a way to desire more than the simple answer.  I always want to know the answer to “why?”

It might go something like this; I see someone gossiping.  I understand that gossip is a sin, but if you simply address the surface-level sin, then you are treating the symptom, not the illness.  Other pastors might say, “Well, the root is sinfulness!”  That is true, too, but this statement doesn’t address the issue.

In my experience, it is helpful to consider the factors which lead someone to behave in this way.  I want to understand human behavior.  Buried under the human psyche, the surface sin might be emanating from something much deeper.  Maybe some kind of pain or trauma that the person has had.  Maybe a feeling of vulnerability that lies just beneath the surface.

So, whatever the case, I have come to realize that a person who spends their time gossiping is in bondage.  Just as a person who rebels against God’s Law is not free, but in bondage.  Just as another who judges their fellow man is in bondage.

A person can recognize that they are bound; they can clearly see their own issue(s).  They can even feel guilty or convicted by their behavior.  Yet, they are unable to change their behavior.  They are slaves of sin.  This understanding helps me to be compassionate towards the person.

Hiding from ourselves

It would be easy to separate and divide others outside the church from those inside the church.  We could say, “Yeah, but look at what they do!  They’re much worse than I am!”  Religiosity blinds us from the fact that “YOU are the man!”  We don’t want to admit that we Christians are the ones who need to be set free from the “law (read rule) of sin and death”.

In order to do this, we set up complex structures of excuses, justifications or claims of ignorance.  Sometimes, we just don’t want to see our sin.  To be honest with you, it’s because the old Adam (or Eve) in us doesn’t want to be seen for who he/she is.

We are so bound by desire to preserve the old Adam , that we will pretend to be faithful on the outside just so the old Adam never gets exposed from the inside.  Let’s face it, the old Adam is good at hiding.

As sons and daughters of Adam, we hide behind piety which keep us in control.  Instead of letting God have His way with us, we have strengthened ourselves against the God who would save us from sin.  In reading the Gospels, you will find that it was the religious leaders, so invested in their own piety, who resisted the free Gospel of Jesus Christ.

No Surprise

It comes as no surprise, then, that the most Christian among us display these ‘cracks in their armor’.  Why?  Because they are not cracks at all.  Gossipers, rebels, the judgmental all see themselves as righteous, not really needing God at all.  All of these manifestations of sin are the evidence of bondage to sin.

This principle can be applied to nearly anyone who displays gross sin.  Please understand, I am not saying that we are excused from sin because we are enslaved by it.  All of these behaviors emanate from our own hearts, not someone else’s.  The devil didn’t make me do it.  It’s in my blood and in yours.

Our hope isn’t in our piety or religious observance, in fact, these are contributing to the problem.  You and I are tempted to overcome sin by behaving in a “Christian” way.  It won’t work.  Our good behavior cannot end our bad behavior.  It simply keeps the old Adam in control.  Instead, we need to find outside help.

“Who will rescue me from this body of sin and death?”

Paul the apostle writes the above in Romans 7:24.  In fact, He uses the present tense verb, am in the phrase, “wretched man that I am!”  Paul is describing his present condition in relation to the law.  What is this Holy Apostle to do?

He writes this, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord”.  Paul has abandoned himself (and his impeccable reputation) in light of his awareness of depth of sin.  He looks to the outside savior.  He looks not to the old Adam for overcoming sin that he sees in himself.  Instead, He looks to the New Adam, who overcame sin for him.

The experience Paul writes about is meant to help his readers identify with his plight and his salvation.  We are inside the struggling heart and mind of Paul, the Apostle.  And, he is not too proud to share his struggle with us.

His salvation came from the outside.  His Savior came from the outside.  Your Savior is completely outside of you, too.  He is on the cross dying for all of your sin and mine.  He is the only sacrifice for sin.

The church is where the outside work of Jesus makes a difference on our insides.  Not because we are religious or faithful, but because He is faithful to come to us in the proclamation of His Gospel.  He is faithful to be present in, with, and under the bread and wine (or, grape juice).  He is both the author and perfecter of our faith.  His forgiveness is a living forgiveness that is distributed by both word and sacrament.

Start new again.  In fact, start new every week.  Come wicked sinners.  Because, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst” (1 Tim. 1:15).  And, in the end, He will have His way with you anyhow (Forde).

Thanks be to God.

 

 

 

How to bind a human conscience

For all the pastors trying to get people to do what they should, here is an easy set of directions to follow;

Preparation:

In order to be truly effective, you must gloss over any scripture that speaks of the finality of Christ’s work, or the continued unconditional work of Jesus Christ in the life of the believer.  If you let them know this, what will be the motivation for sanctification?  For example, where it is written Jesus is the author and perfecter of faith (Heb. 12:2), add the idea ‘if you follow His commands faithfully’.  This will give you the entry to dictate what application points the congregation needs today.

Method:

1. Assume that All of Scripture has application points for believers.  They want something to do, and your job is to make the action points crystal-clear.  If you have difficulty finding application points, expand the amount of scripture you’re covering until you find some

2. Separate verses from their context to emphasize their importance.  James 1:22 reads, “But prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves.”  This is ready for your application points to the congregation.  Don’t forget that these need to be tangible actions they can follow

3. Other verses don’t seem to be ripe for application, but you can overcome that if they are general.  1 Pet. 1:16 states, “Be holy for I am Holy”.  “Being” isn’t really doing, but you can expound on this verse and explain that this verse means we have to keep clean from sin.  Then, you can give them 5 or 6 ways to do this.  Philippians 2:12 states, “Work out your salvation in fear and trembling”.  Ignore the fact that this is written to a group (your is in the plural) and move right into private morality.

3. Do NOT preach out of the Old Testament!  Although there are many good rules to follow in the Old Testament, that part of the Bible does not apply to Christians

4. Give your sermon a catchy name like, The seven steps to a better prayer life, or Nine ways to overcome sin.  When people read the title, they know they are going to get some practical instruction.  This empowers them to believe they can do it

5. Remember, people are sheep.  They need to be directed at every turn.  Without the guidelines you give, they will end up outside the sheep pen

©John Dostal 2016

It’s about relationship, not relgion (?)

Spiritual, but not religious

20140913_095005(0)[Grapes becoming raisins]

Have you ever heard someone say, “I’m spiritual, but not religious”? Maybe they said it to you after you invited them to come to church.  How did you respond?  What did you think?  Were you thrown off-guard and feel that you were being judged because you are “religious”?

Many in the church have accepted this form of thinking. They say things like, “It’s a relationship not a religion” to distinguish how they worship God.  But, why the distinction?

Rev. Bryan Wolfmueller explains that many evangelicals are adopting this phrase because they see religion as law, and relationship as gospel[1].  In other words, religion is the repetitive, meaningless, impersonal and somewhat legalistic practices of a church without God.  It’s empty and hollow at best.  At its worse, it prevents one from having a real relationship with God.  It’s deadly.

He goes on to explain that relationship is gospel to those who embrace this thinking.  It is free, flexible, personal, and liberating.  To a culture that is bound in so many ways (work, children’s activities, commitments at home, etc.), this personal spirituality is preferable to formal corporate worship.  Our problem, then, is a lack of direct contact with Jesus.  Relationship is life-giving.

To be honest, life-giving sounds a whole lot more positive than religion.  I can throw off all my cares and simply relate to God.  And modern evangelicals are right to point out the need for a Christian to read the Bible on a daily basis as a part of this relationship.  A poll taken in 2012, though, shows that Christians in America aren’t doing this across the board[2].  Less than 20% read the Bible daily.  Despite all the English versions, despite colorful covers, despite cross-referenced Bibles with color maps and concordances, Bibles are gathering dust on Christian nightstands.

Modern American Christians do read, however. We read books on spirituality, recovery, self-esteem, end-times drama and even weight-loss from the Christian bookstore.  Because, let’s face it, the Bible is a challenging book to read.

It is a sad state of affairs. Martin Luther, who was a Bible scholar commented, “For some years now I have read through the Bible twice every year (emphasis mine). If you picture the Bible to be a mighty tree and every word a little branch, I have shaken every one of these branches because I wanted to know what it was and what it meant.”[3]

It is here that many of us (if not all) would admit that we don’t read the Bible as much as we should. We’ve, “gotten behind” in our readings.  And, maybe you are feeling a bit guilty right now as a result.  Who would want to continue a relationship where guilt and shame has poisoned the waters?  “I don’t want to feel condemned”, we might say to ourselves.  It’s easier to bury it under the busy-ness of our lives.  And thus, the relationship stops growing.  It goes dormant.  Eventually, it dies.

Now what? Some people decide that they will do a ‘Bible reading plan’.  They will re-commit themselves to their daily ‘quiet time’ and “really do it this time!” They are willing to set aside friends and family for this personal devotion.  And, by force of will, they push through for the first few weeks, but then, life starts to encroach.  Billy gets sick and needs to be taken to urgent care.  There’s a sale at the store, and we need to stock up on food.  My boss has called me in to work late again.

Or, we start to lose interest. The stories in Genesis (not fiction) give way to laws.  Laws give way to endless genealogies.  The walk through Scripture reading becomes a burden.  So much for the gospel of relationship!  Mid-way through Leviticus you think, “Can I get through this?  Maybe I could skip ahead.  Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.  I’ll skip to the Psalms and come back later.”

Eventually, you have skipped over half the Bible and realize that you’ve cheated. Now, you’re feeling guilty again.  “I just can’t do it.  I give up”.

And this is where many people end up after years of trying. They decide it’s futile.

The problem for the church is that it has made Bible reading into what Confessional Evangelicals call Law. That is, it is a demand and a requirement that God places upon you.  If you do this, you will have a relationship.  If not, you need to re-commit your life to Jesus.

The Christian is in a cycle of hopelessness. Despair for failing to fulfill the requirements of this relationship overwhelms the individual and they suffer in silence.  They are forced to cover over their relationship in fear of judgment from fellow believers.

Now, something spiritual is taking place.  The heart (deceitfully wicked as it is[4]) condemns the believer; they become bound by condemnation.  Instead of promised freedom, liberation and hope, despair, guilt and shame rule over you.

And that, my friends, is the Devil’s work. Making something that God meant for refreshment and encouragement into something oppressive and enslaving is clearly the theology of the devil worked into the church.  So, God must rescue us from this body of sin and death!

He does this by starting with … Scripture. Hear the following truth; 1 ‘Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death’ (Romans 8).  And, 3 ‘For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering.’

God did it! He has set you free in this relationship.  He doesn’t condemn you when you haven’t read your Bible in a while.  Instead, He beckons you to hear His Word of forgiveness and grace.

You see, the problem is not that we don’t have a relationship with God, it is that we have a law-based relationship with God. In verse 2 above, it is better read, “… through Christ Jesus the rule of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the rule of sin and death.”  You are no longer under the rule and dominion of the devil and the heart.  Christ has set you free.

But, how can I learn about this true freedom? You can hear about it in the proclamation of Christ’s Gospel given in church.  You can read about it in His Word.  You can find out more through the small catechism and the confessions of our church.

The Son of God hasn’t come as a new Moses, giving new and better laws. Nor has He come to give less laws or easier laws.  Jesus Christ has come to fufill the Law[5].  And, He has already done it!  All of the Holy requirements for Spiritual perfection have been fulfilled by Jesus Christ.

Additionally, we are called to go to Him when we feel any kind of condemnation for our relational shortcomings: ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). John continues in this letter: 19 ‘By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him; 20 for whenever our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and he knows everything’ (1 John 3, ESV).

Our relationship with Jesus began when we were buried with Him in baptism and raised through the very same waters as mentioned in Colossians 2:

6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. 11In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.

13And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

See, you just read a bunch of Scripture! That didn’t hurt a bit, did it?  And, if you don’t like to read, just find the Bible on C.D. somewhere.  You can listen in your car or at home.  It’s God’s gift to you.  It’s not a ladder of perfection that you have to climb.  It is God’s word of promise (Old Testament) fulfilled in Jesus (New Testament) for you.  Now that’s a good relationship!

And now, may the grace of God keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,

Amen.

Pastor John

[1] http://issuesetc.org/2015/02/17/2-responding-to-evangelical-proof-texts-christianity-is-a-relationship-not-a-religion-pr-bryan-wolfmueller-21715/

[2] http://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2012/september/new-research-less-than-20-of-churchgoers-read-bible-daily.html

[3] Martin Luther, Luther’s Works Vol. 54, 165

[4] Jeremiah 17:9, ‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (NIV)

[5] Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (ESV; Jesus speaking).

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses.”

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Isl...

Statue of Liberty National Monument, Ellis Island and Liberty Island, Manhattan, in New York County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This message of compassion toward immigrants to the United States can be found at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York City.  It bears a striking resemblance to a statement Jesus made as recorded in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

Emma Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” and donated it for the building of the pedestal for the statue of Liberty.  Her family had been immigrants from Portugal and were Sephardic Jews.  The complete poem reads thus:

“The New Colossus”

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

-Emma Lazarus, 1883
As I continue working with immigrants from all over the world, I am moved by stories of escape from political persecution, poverty, lack of opportunity and religious persecution.  Many of my recent students are Christians who have left Syria to escape the violence that has killed many of their own.
When they arrive in the United States, they come to a land of peace.  They come to a land of hope and promise.  They come to a land of freedom and liberty.  That’s not to say the U.S. doesn’t have it’s issues, but it’s a far cry from the everyday stresses of survival that they have had to live with.  Most people are grateful to come here.
After Jesus spoke about the Judgment of the cities of Israel who rejected Him, He offered this,
28 “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Christian, is your soul burdened by the guilt, shame and hopelessness your pastor has heaped upon you?  Have the “biblical principles” told you that you need to be “squeaky clean” in order to come to God?  Do you fear that, despite all of your best efforts to hold to the demands of the the law, you are falling behind and cannot make up the ground?  Do you feel hopelessness, despair, and defeat?
Then, Christ welcomes you to come to Him.  He doesn’t ask that you clean yourself up, because that is His job.  He simply wants you to come.  It wasn’t ever-cleaning Martha who did the right thing by sitting at the feet of Jesus, but Mary who gave up on her own effort to please God and see that Jesus pleased God for her.
Jesus welcome you now by saying, “Come to me…”  He doesn’t say this to the perfectionistic, self-absorbed, self-righteous, self-cleaning and holier than thou church member.  He says this to those who see their failures, weaknesses and willful sinfulness.  He says this to those who despair of their own ability to keep the “application points” their pastor gives them every week.  Jesus says this to you and me.
And, He continues to say this.  “Come to me …. and I will give you rest”.  This rest is not just for the now.  It’s not just in this place, but He has gone before you to set up a place in Heaven for you to live with Him forever in eternal peace, rest and glory.
The welcome mat is laid out for us, and that welcome mat is the broken body of Jesus given for you.
Now and forever,
Amen

The cultural re-definition of sin

English: This is the top left photo of File:Wa...

English: This is the top left photo of File:Washington for Jesus 1980.jpg uploaded by User:SoftAnswer (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It was bound to happen.  In a culture that rejects God (and therefore, objective right and wrong), man has taken on the role of god.  Whether it is the anti-theist camp, environmental saviors, or “breast milk is the best milk” crowd, someone is out to judge your actions.  This proves that there are no true relativists when it comes to morality.

I have read and heard these judgements in various forms.  Health-obsessed people judging overweight Christians for having potlucks.  A man in a park judging me vocally for giving a duck a french fry.  In these cases, and others I have heard about, people have assumed godhood and the right to judge and condemn others based on whatever modern attitude prevails.

But before I get to far in the cultural analysis, it is important to note that judgmental attitudes can be found everywhere.  It is not simply a modern movement.  In fact, it might be fair to say that Christians in the U.S. have had their fair share to play in creating judgmental and condemning attitudes.

Judgment and condemnation of others has existed throughout human history.  The Pharisees condemned Jesus for eating with “sinners”.  Judaizers in the early church judged gentile believers, thus prompting Paul to defend the gentiles in the book of Galatians.  In the early church, rich Christians judged their poor brothers, prompting James to write the book named for him.

Ultimately, both Jews and gentiles judged condemned and executed God in the person of Jesus Christ.

There is a place for judgment.  In fact, both Galatians and James are written to utterly destroy the false judgments of Christians criticizing one another.  But, what is the point of the judgment of judges?  Both Paul and James were inspired by the Holy Spirit to write scathing condemnations of other believers.  The end goal was to bring these judgmental people back into the church with a more humble attitude and a recognition of their utter need of Christ for forgiveness.

John 7:

16Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me. 17Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own. 18Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. 19Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”

20You are demon-possessed,” the crowd answered. “Who is trying to kill you?”

21Jesus said to them, “I did one miracle, and you are all amazed. 22Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a boy on the Sabbath. 23Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? 24Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” [emphases mine]

When confronted by religious people who judged and condemned Jesus, Jesus points out their sin.  The fundamentalists who condemned people over and over again without reflecting on the fact that judgment doesn’t bring about repentance are now the brunt of the anti-theist movement (for good reason).

Romans 2:

1You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. 2Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. 3So when you, a mere human being, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance? [this was written to Christians]

And where do we see God’s kindness?  In God’s total judgment of human sin by pouring out all His wrath upon Jesus.  He has died for our judgmental attitudes.  In fact, He has died for all judgment.  He, Himself, is the mercy of God for Christians, anti-theists, environmental saviors and the “breast milk is the best milk” crowd.  Now and forever.  Amen.

Children of promise

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (...

English: Hagar and Ishmael in the Wilderness (Gen. 21:14-20) Русский: Агарь и Измаил в пустыне (Быт. 21:14-20) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Galatians 4:

24These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother.

If you’ve read much of the Old Testament from Exodus on, you might get the impression that God is really interested in Israel.  And, you’d be right.  He spent a lot of time making a people His own who had no claim on God whatsoever.  God called them out of Egypt by Grace.

They wandered in the desert and were provided for directly from the hand of the Lord.  Yet, God took the time in the midst of this “transitional period” to give them the Ten Commandments.  Why?  Weren’t they getting along?

But before the ink on the stone had dried (figuratively speaking), they were building a golden calf to worship.  Israel was a nation of … idolaters.

Of course, that is symptomatic of mankind in general.  Israel, like Adam, were the best possible representatives of the human race.  But they couldn’t remain loyal to Yahweh or Moses long enough for them to “finish business”.

As time went by, Israel broke these and many other laws that the Lord gave them.  Time after time, they would be taken by other nations into slavery as punishment.  Eventually, they added more laws to God’s laws so that they wouldn’t get close enough to break the real thing.

It’s like if you told a child, “don’t pick up that vase”.  The real problem is you don’t wan them to drop it, but to make sure this doesn’t happen, you anticipate and give them a command that subverts their intent.

This was the situation with Israel as Christ entered the picture.  The Pharisees asked why the disciples of Jesus broke their rules.  Jesus would respond by asking them why they broke the rules of God.

And so, Israel was at it again, making a golden calf out of man-made laws.  They were worshiping their own obedience, their own morality, their own righteousness.  They became living idols to themselves.

This Pharisaic form of Judaism crept into the church, as well.  Paul, who was a Jew of Jews, absolutely rejects the notion that returning to law will “right” the behavior of the non-Jewish converts to Christianity.  He asserts that the judaizers in the church were sons of Hagar and Ishmael rather that Sarah and Isaac.  Why?

Because they held that their sonship was maintained by their efforts to hold to God’s Law as revealed in the Old Testament.  They had forgotten the foundation of the Ten Commandments which read “I am the Lord your God who brought you up out of Egypt.  They had forgotten that they were not a people before God chose and rescued them.  They had forgotten how He parted the Sea.  They had forgotten how the Israelites were fed by bread from heaven and water from a rock.  They had forgotten that they stood on the mercy of God.

They were children of promise who sold their birthright for the bitter meal of Law-keeping self-idolatry.

But, Paul speaks to the gentile converts and says that they (like Israel) were children of promise.  They were children of old, old Sarah.  They were the last born.  They were not the “seed”, but were children of Ishmael who were transplanted into the stump.  They were adopted by God Himself in Jesus Christ.  They were now sons of the living God.

The laws that they lived under were slavery to every form of gross sin under the sun; temple prostitution, orgies, drunkenness, jealousy, envy, etc.  They were slaves to their desires.  Their gods were their stomachs.

But it was for freedom that Christ had set them free.  Was He setting them free to observe the Pharisaic morality invading the early church?  No, He was setting them free to live in the constant light of God’s mercy, forgiveness and grace distributed through the body and blood of Jesus Christ.  He was setting them free from gross sin, so why would he want them to learn the Pharisaic idolatry of the judaizers?  That is religious sin.

We face this today in the church.  Many would like to enslave you with demands, guilt and manipulation.  These vipers should not think that they will receive one thing from God.  They have become idolators of the worst sort.  They have abandoned Christ and all His mercy.  They have returned to the vomit of self-righteous living.  And they want you to follow along.

I suggest telling them this, “Get behind me Satan!  The Son has set me free.  He has fulfilled all of the Law’s demands and has been fully punished for my sin.  There is no other name on earth or in Heaven by which a man may be saved, including yours.”

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