In my last blog post I looked at how we need to leave behind the legalism and the guilt of all religions, including Christianity and move on instead to a life lived in the knowledge of God’s love for us and a life in which we are free to choose a better way because we can actually recognise the consequences of our actions beyond a crude religious-legal structure.
The mistakes made by many a grace-embracing Christian are (1) to feel a need to constantly repent of sinning (law breaking) rather than to feel remorse for sinning (not living the way we know we should) and (2) to see grace as the great catch-all, the final say, the ‘I don’t need to do anything any more’. Some even go so far as to say it’s okay to sin because then there will be more grace…
What does Paul have to say to this? “Shall we go on sinning so that grace may abound? by no means! for you have died to sin“.
You have died (with Christ) to sin. But that isn’t where it stops.
“On the third day he rose again”.
And so do we.
Free from the shackles of religion we can now choose to heed the words of Jesus, Paul, the many others whose voices we hear in scripture and indeed God Himself. Not out of necessity, but because we want to.
I received quite a strong reaction to my previous post – partially around negativity. That was deliberate. That was the death, this is the resurrection. Previously, I ended with a question: what does it look like?
Well, here’s my take on that:
Be Filled with the Spirit
What was the first thing of note that happened to the disciples after Jesus left them to it? They were filled with the Spirit of God. To try and explain/exegete/expand on this would take more than a couple of paragraphs (it would probably require an entire web site) so I won’t try and do that here.
But what I will say is this: the temple curtain tore and there was nothing there. God goes from being the object of our worship (the idol, the statue, the thing we can tangibly see or imagine) to the method of our interaction with others. That’s not to say we can’t interact with God as well, but there’s a shift in our perception. No longer is God to be grasped, avoided, held back or anything like that. No – God is accessible to all, and is in all. We have, in Paul’s words, the power of God within us.
How can we possibly expect to experience a life changed by God if we do not acknowledge God in ourselves, God in our relationships, God in nature and God in others? It is this acknowledgement that I believe Paul refers to when he speaks of our need to accept in faith what Jesus has done for us.
When we are filled with the Spirit of God, when we focus our lives to listen to that spirit, then we will recognise better than our clouded judgement allows us just when it is that we go against God’s way, when we offend, hurt, damage or injure someone. We will know because the spirit of God is in us and guides us.
Have Your Heart Broken
Under Law, we are obliged to help those in need. We must do things to make the world a fairer place. But this leads to systematic, tokenistic giving, without any real relationship involved. You’ve only got to look at things such as giving money to charity to see the parallel between that and the precise way in which Old Testament Law around crop harvesting was interpreted.
Filled with the Spirit, we find that our hearts – through prayer and meditation and life experience – become closer to God’s heart. We begin to recognise a world through God’s eyes rather than our own. It is at this point that we begin to feel the pain that God feels. We see all of the problems around us and our hearts are broken.
Sometimes our hearts become hardened. And so we must pray and meditate in the Spirit that our hearts would become softened again. But in allowing our hearts to be soft, to be vulnerable, we find the same compassion within ourselves which God has for us. Indeed, “We love because God first loved us”. That’s when we’ll start to see real change in the world.
This is what Paul is talking about when he asks us to be hospitable, to give generously and so on. It’s not a Law of legalism, it’s the Law of Love.
Give Yourself Rhythms
The problem with this compassion of course is that we dive into it headfirst and it burns us out. We end up having no energy left because we’ve tried to go and solve the world’s problems all by ourselves and all at once. It’s just not something we can ever hope to actually achieve.
So instead, I suggest that we need rhythms. Again – the Law stipulated that we must pray in a specific way, at specific times of the day, month or year. I wouldn’t advocate a return to that requirement. Rather, because we recognise that these rhythms are good for us (“Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath”) we choose to create them.
The beauty of our new rhythms is that they are no longer one-size-fits-all. We don’t need to go to church every Sunday, confession every Saturday, Morning Prayer every day at 7am. But we can do these things as and when they are helpful to us. Personally, I find it helpful to begin and end my day with prayer, and to have a space once a week to focus myself on God and be reminded that others are doing the same. That may or may not be true for you, but some sort of structure is always going to help.
These rhythms help us to focus on God and others rather than on ourselves, and they provide rest from the busy, bustling world around us.
Take Part in Communitas
Finally, we avoid burning out by doing life together. But not just for the sake of togetherness. In his wonderful, encouraging, helpful and inspiring (can I recommend it enough? no!) book, “Exiles”, Michael Frost talks about the idea of Communitas rather than Community as a group of people bound by common purpose where that purpose is higher than “community” on its own.
I think this is what we need. We come together as a community because we must, because we recognise that we’re after the same thing and we can’t do it alone rather than because we are told to (such as the pressure to attend particular aspects of Church) or because God tells us to or anything like that.
Communitas is important over community because if we exist for existence sake we lose track of our mission, we become introverted, and we don’t live life in all its fullness. And seeing as we’ve managed to break the stranglehold of Law, we really don’t want to then not experience life in fullness by managing to burn out!
So I think there’s an exciting life beyond Christianity. I think it involves God and I think it is sustainable and sensible and structured – but not in a way which induces guilt if it isn’t followed to the letter. I think that we can see a world transformed if we allow God’s guidance in us, allow God’s heart to shape ours, make sure that we spend time doing the things that sustain us, and live and laugh and play and work with others.
Next up, The New Heavens and the New Earth.