Jesus Creed

Jesus Creed

Negative and Positive

Psalm 119:3 says “They have done no wrong, but have followed God’s ways.” The one whose identity is shaped by Torah, by the revealing words from God, are characterized by (at least) two attributes:
They don’t do some things and they do do some things. They don’t do what is wrong; they do do what is right. They avoid sin; they do what is good.
We can react against negative piety at times — wrankling under the prohibitions: “don’t do this, don’t do that, don’t say this, etc etc.” Our reaction is at times justifiable; loving God is more than “not doing specific things.”
But, we are foolish to think that there aren’t some things that are bad and contrary to God’s plan — and we are wise not to do those things.
In fact — though we have to be very careful here — there is a sense in which not doing sin is a way of doing what is right. (Again, not doing something is not the same as doing what is good.) If the “not doing” is shaped by this thought — I shouldn’t do this because it is not of God — then the heart is in the right place. If the “not doing” is shaped by this thought — others will hear about me — then our heart is misplaced.
R. Akiva said Israel responded to the prohibitions with “Yes” while others said Israel said “No.” Saying “Yes” to God’s “No”s is a good thing.
Still, I maintain that the one whose identity is shaped by God’s revealing words will be characterized (at least) by both what they don’t do and by what they do do.
It is good to be free. It is unwise to use our freedom to do what we shouldn’t do.

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Ted Gossard

posted November 1, 2006 at 6:03 am

Good and needed by us who have been raised in backgrounds in which a “do and don’t” ethic seemed to be the crux of the matter, rather than our relationship to God.
Thank God for the Spirit, who brings his children around to righteousness as to how it is worked out in our lives. We need both the Spirit and the Word/Scripture here, in the context of community. And of living in this world as we are now, which this Word is all about.

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Beyond Words

posted November 1, 2006 at 9:03 am

Scot, can you please clarify for me the “others will hear about me” part of this statement: “If the “not doing” is shaped by this thought — others will hear about me — then our heart is misplaced.”Thanks!

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Scot McKnight

posted November 1, 2006 at 9:06 am

Beyond Words,
I think we are on the same page. If we are “not doing” something because we fear others might hear about it if we did do it, then our motivation is off base.

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posted November 1, 2006 at 9:50 am

“…loving God is more than “not doing specific things.”… But, we are foolish to think that there aren’t some things that are bad and contrary to God’s plan….”
We tend to be prone to one of two equally troublesome errors — to think God requires very little of us and to think God requires adherence to a long list of rules. These days the former seems to be the more common error. This will be a good series to address that error (and probably the other as well).

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John Frye

posted November 1, 2006 at 9:58 am

Since love for God and Torah motivated God’s people, then to say “Yes” to God was to say “no” to countless idols and to say “Yes” to Torah was to say “no” to thousands of possible sins. The ancient Hebrews knew that behind every command, precept, law, etc. was a huge heart of powerfully redeeming (liberating) love.

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Matt Wiebe

posted November 1, 2006 at 10:35 am

“Saying “Yes” to God’s “No”s is a good thing.”
Hmm, this sounds like a good sermon-y catchphrase.

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Jim Martin

posted November 1, 2006 at 12:05 pm

Well said! This kind of clarity is very helpful and timely as well. I am enjoying this series.

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posted November 3, 2006 at 2:19 am

The great thing about a negative command, as Newbegin has pointed out,is that it leaves you free.Positive commandments telling you exactly what to do in every situation dont leave you any freedom. A negative commandment leaves you freedom within limits—like a fence around a garden.It leaves the children within the garden free to develop their own games, to do their own thing, but they know that outside the fence their is danger. And Israel throughout all the years has been deeply grateful for this gift.
Thank you Scott for doing this series.

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Michelle Van Loon

posted November 3, 2006 at 7:30 pm

When my kids chafed at my “no’s”, I used to tell them that inside every “no” was a “yes”. “No, you may not eat bags of half-price candy corn for breakfast” wasn’t the end of the story. “Yes, you may have toast or cereal or waffles…” Not that it’s always as simple as this – sometimes the yes inside the no is hidden in mystery and accessible only by trusting in the character of God.

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