“For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine . . . and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths.” 2 Timothy 4:3-4 This week’s assault on Facebook is 2 Timothy 4:3-4, with assorted memes and photos (one is a shot of the verse, in situ, […]
I saw an old photo the other day of a man I never knew. What leapt out from the faded ink and crumpled paper was kindness, a sense of humor, and generosity of spirit. He looked like someone I would like to meet, and given that we are eternal beings, I look forward to the day that we do.
Interestingly, according to the people who owned the photograph and knew the man, I was right on all my assessments of his character. He was good, kind, loving, warm, compassionate, and full of grace; and those he knew loved him deeply.
Now while it would be easy — and flattering — to say that I was spot-on in my assessment because I am such an excellent judge of character, the truth is that who and what we are comes across more strongly than we think:
“The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart,” Jesus says in Luke 6:45.
“For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.”
In the Shallows
Christians operating on a shallow level — and there are a lot of them doing this — can easily fall into focusing on a tight, literal interpretation of any Biblical passage: in this one, an argument can be made that the actual words we speak, as in, do we swear, are testimony to whether or not we are Christians. Spoken words, they aver, show what is in our heart, and if we are at all familiar with any socially awkward words that rhyme with “truck,” much less say them aloud, or even think them, then we toss ourselves in that “evil man” category.
Now this isn’t a post about swearing — I touched on that in The Sinless Christian — as it is an essay about external appearances versus internal attributes, or, if you will, the longstanding controversy of following the law versus relying upon grace.
No matter how much we toss about the words grace, mercy, and unconditional love, we struggle, as Christians, with the mistaken notion that the way to righteousness is by following the law — we’ll become better people when we attend church, avoid coffee, dress modestly, don’t get tattoos, arise early for Bible study, obey our pastor, and vote Republican.
And while none of these particular strictures can be found in the Old Testament (and most certainly not the New), they’re alive and well in the 21st century, and many believers, in the back of their minds, feel obligated to follow them.
Other Christians do read the Old Testament and take seriously adhering to its laws — not all of them, thankfully — stoning comes to mind — but they pick and choose and impose their dictates upon others.
“What’s your problem with the 10 Commandments?” they demand. “Are you saying that we shouldn’t follow these laws?”
These are great laws, and if any of us were capable of following them, the world would be a better place. And while it’s easy to point at, “Do not murder,” or “Do not misuse the name of the Lord Your God” (“I don’t use profanity”) and put stars on our progress report, things get a little dicey when we talk about coveting our neighbor’s stuff, or forgetting about Mom and Dad, or idolizing Kim Kardashian, George W. Bush, Rand Paul, Bill O’Reilly, or Billy Graham.
But as our fathers moaned years ago when setting up Christmas lights, “When one goes out, they ALL go out!” (technology has solved this problem, hasn’t it?), the law is inflexible:
“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” (James 2: 10)
But we continue to go about it backwards, convinced that if we keep the rules, we’ll get the prize, when the better solution has been in front of us for 2,000 years:
“But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.
“This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ, to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace, through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” (Romans 3:21-22)
There’s that word, “grace,” again, but what does it mean?
Focus on Christ
How about this:
Don’t focus on following rules, looking good on the outside, clamping your hand over your mouth when the driver in front cuts you off (both hands on the wheel, you know).
Rather, “Come near to God, and he will come near to you,” (James 4:8); seek His kingdom (Matthew 6:33); abide in Him and remain in His love (John 15:4, 9). The more we learn about Christ and His love for the Father, and their love for us, the more we naturally fall into doing what He commands — the most important aspects NOT having anything to do with the length of our beard or whether or not we wear our hair up, but that we love the Lord God with all our heart, soul, and mind and we love our neighbor as ourselves. (Matthew 22: 37-40)
If our priority is seeking, loving, longing to understand and know more about God, then what we are inside will change, daily, to reflect what we are focusing on, and we truly will bring good things out of the good things stored up in our hearts —
to the point, that when someone looks, years from now, at an old, creased, faded photo of us, they’ll say,
“I want to know that person. There’s something about them that draws me to them.”
Thank you for joining me at Commonsense Christianity where I always figure I’ll make a mistake, but when I do, I’d rather err on the side grace. And those are the people I’d prefer to be around.
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