The heart vs. letter of the Law

If your spouse spends all day cooking a large meal for the family and they need to run out to pick up a cake for the dessert, they may leave you with some warning like “Don’t you and the kids fill up on chips and spoil dinner!”  Let’s say they leave and you are very hungry, so you go into the kitchen and find a large package of cookies.  You yell at the kids to come and join you and then you proceed to eat about 15 cookies each, have you done anything wrong?

This is the example that’s been on my mind lately in regards to much of Christianity.  So many Christians, pastors, teachers and others seem to view much of Christianity as Old Testament, Old Covenant plus Jesus.  So, we end up with saying things like “you have to tithe to be a Christian,” or “you have to go to church to be a Christian, because that’s how you remember the Sabbath, but coming to church doesn’t make you a Christian – it’s just one thing on a long list.”

It’s with “fear and trembling” that I even broach this subject because of it’s somewhat radical to most of what we’ve been taught.  The problem is that we’ve heard for years “it’s not about lists” but then we’re giving a list of things we need to perform.  Our mouths are saying one thing, but our expectations, lessons, and even life demonstrated is saying another.

I think what Matthew 5:27-47 shows us is the heart of the Law.  Jesus points to things that are written as the letter of the Law and then goes on to the heart it points to.  Similarly, you eating cookies obeys the letter of what your spouse said, but misses the heart or intent of what your spouse meant when they said that.  It was the Pharisees who were excellent at obeying the letter of the Law while missing the heart.  That’s why Jesus described them as white-washed tombs.  It’s spiritual dress-up; looking great on the outside but dead and unchanged on the inside.

We love the faithful tither, don’t we?  As a church leader you count on that tither week-in and week-out.  If you think about it though, they’ve done nothing but follow the OT Law.  It’s legalism, really.  We don’t like that because it supports our churches and our ministries, but it’s almost like we don’t mind turning a blind eye to it because it has an ends we can get behind.

Legalism to me is any time you do something to the letter of the law without the heart.  It’s all in motivation.  If you are a 10% tither because that’s what you were taught, then you’ve missed it.  First of all, please find it in the New Testament for me.  Second, if you make that decision on what to give without praying over it, without asking God what you should give, then haven’t you effectively removed him from the process?  If God is living through you by the Holy Spirit, have you stunted that part of your life from growing by not even considering that God may want you to give more?  How is the heart of Christ being displayed when you write a check for 10% without even asking Him to reveal His will for you and His money?

We don’t like to think about what people would, or better yet, what they wouldn’t give if we didn’t tell them 10% was the bare minimum.  Sure, there would be people who would see it as a way out, but they were just fooling themselves to begin with.  If you are a nature-transformed, born-again (ewww, we hate that word today don’t we?), life of Christ imparted to with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit follower of the risen king – you can’t help but give, as He directs you.  His very nature is in you and his nature is generosity.  His nature is one that looks at the fulfillment of comfort, happiness, and entertainment for self last.  So you give and give and it doesn’t make sense to people watching because you aren’t looking out for yourself down the line.

“You don’t have a safety net?!”

“Well no duh, He said he’d supply my daily needs, why would I need a safety net if I’m just responding to what he’s laying on my heart?”

Maybe if you prayed about it, God would reveal 10% to the church and nothing else.  Maybe if you prayed about it, you’d hear, “Freely you have received, freely give,” and percentages wouldn’t even come to mind while you give to those in need as placed on your heart, causes placed on your heart, missionaries placed on your heart, pastors placed on your heart, the church expenses as placed on your heart…

What if you came to church because it was the blessing of celebrating with the rest of the Body the awesomeness, glory, and worthiness of God, Jesus, & Holy Ghost and not because if you didn’t you knew you’d get that guilt inducing look or phone call from someone at church?  When Christ fills you, it’s “get to” not “have to”.  You get to be used to bless someone else.  You get to share in this or that.  You get to be used as a vehicle of Christ’s love, not that grit you teeth and say “I love you because I have to.”

Legalism also is really saying, “Tell me the bare minimum I have to do. I want to be seen as good and I want to go to heaven, so what’s the list?”  It isn’t looking for a relationship or the very life of Jesus flowing in and through you, it is looking to make one righteous; asking what do I have to do to not get into trouble.  It’s the very definition of self-righteous and is as dirty rags.  Francis Chan said a better way to understand what’s being said is rags used during menstruation.  Considered unclean for the Jews, your every effort to make yourself righteous just keeps you unclean.  You don’t wash a dirty plate with a dirty rag do you?  Only something clean and holy can make something else clean and holy.  Only “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”  We are only righteous in Jesus.

So Christianity is just it’s namesake: Jesus.  It’s not Jesus plus my efforts, plus my talents, plus my faithful tithing, plus my faithful church attendance.  It’s just Jesus.  Don’t be distracted away from that focus and He will live through in such a way that the fruit you bear will look radical compared to those living by the letter.  You’ll gather with other believers and your giving will be sourced by the creator of the gift.  When we know him, when we know his heart like a wife knows her husband’s heart, then you are no longer looking to just “not eat the chips” but you are ready to enjoy the banquet that’s been prepared.

UPDATE (9/17/11): Came across Romans 7:6 recently and it struck me how something I felt God had revealed to me, which I blogged about here, was confirmed in His Word even more clearly.  To God be the Glory!!

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