That's me. Well, a pharisee is what I've been acting like for quite some time now. No sooner than me throwing in the towel, quitting my performance of Christianity, did this reality hit me. One day, visibly frustrated, my friend expressed her displeasure with our constant debates. Of course I defended myself, but I realized in doing so I was only digging a deeper hole. So, for a moment, I stopped thinking of how unfair her sentiments seemed to be, and considered the worst. What if I am prideful? What if I do always think I'm right, so my opinions are really facts I believe other people just haven't been exposed to yet? What if I've come up with my own rules of what holiness looks like? What if I really do look at people who don't have my "convictions" as less righteous than me? What if what I've thought was a pure desire to be holy and honor God has really been a drive to gain righteousness, because I didn't believe righteousness could truly be given to me without my works earning it for me? What if my view of God has been pretty low, especially in the unconditional love department? What if...I'm a pharisee?
As I began thinking through the implications of that discovery and shared it with a wise young woman at our church, who's helping me not go completely crazy lately, she directed me to Galatians 3: 2-3
2 Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh?
She basically used Scripture to call me a fool! (Yes, I caught that.) But first, I had to answer the initial question. Had my works or faith earned me the Spirit of God, which is evidence of my salvation? Well, of course I'd say I didn't earn salvation. I can't. But, would I say faith granted me salvation? I was suppose to say, "Yes!" Or "Duuuh." But since I'm on a no-pretending fast, I couldn't answer that confidently. Instead, I asked a question that opened up a world of discovery. "Well, I know believing in Jesus is my only hope for salvation, but what about all the commandments? God gave those for a reason, right?" To which my friend replied, "Well, what about before the commandments were given? How were Abram, Noah, Enoch and Job righteous in the eyes of God?" (Come on Caresse, you oughta know this, I thought. I realized in that moment how often I much rather appear knowledgeable than admit I'm not sure or don't understand something if it seems like I should understand it.) "Uhh...God must have given them a special pass as the children of Isr-wait...no...that's wrong because you're saying before Abram had offspring and before Moses was given the commandments. Well...I don't know," I reluctantly mumbled.
Oh the inadequacy to disciple others and be in a position to share Him over the past years I instantly felt. Yet, simultaneously, three words had freed me. I...don't....know. See, when you're performing, you gotta know everything. When you read or hear something, you have to instantly affirm belief in it. The show must go on. When you're pretending, you gotta fake it 'til you make it. But with God, as long as we pretend, we won't make it. He'll never actually know us. So, I admitted that I didn't know the answer.
Genesis to Galatians and the love in between
Genesis 15:6 -"And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness," she read aloud.
Wait...what? What exactly did Abram believe to be counted as righteous? The previous verses in chapter 15 tell of a covenant God made with Abram to bless him and his offspring. And guess what? What Abram believed was what God said. He believed in God's promise, which stamped his righteousness. And here's what I'd somehow missed the weight of—it was an unconditional covenant. The blessing (which turns out to be ultimately fulfilled in salvation through Christ centuries later) was given to Abram by faith. He had no rules to keep in order to impress God; all He had was God's promise to believe, and that's what he did.
"Well then, why were all those commandments given?" I wondered.
"To govern, but it wasn't about looking at 600+ commandments and trying to figure out how to keep each one in order to be righteous. They were commandments to govern them. What they were and you are supposed to focus on is what God said to the Israelites before He gave the ten commandments," my friend responded.
"I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery." -Exodus 20:2
"Focus on God being your God," she followed. Realize He has graciously, of no merit of my own, brought me from being a stranger to Him and a slave to sin and now calls me His own. Out of that recognition, let Him therefore be Lord over my life.
"Ok. But knowing just how perfect God is, by virtue of all the commandments, makes you feel like you have to obey a bunch of rules," I replied.
"And then you start adding rules on top of those rules to keep you from breaking the original ones," she joked.
"Exactly!" I confessed. "Because I read about Jesus, and He makes it even harder. I realize that I'm still a sinner even if I don't fornicate, because I lust in my heart. So, then, I have to come up with rules to keep me from lusting. And then, of course, I put those rules on other people," I admitted. "But wait- Jesus came to fulfill the law. As in, He came to live out all 600+ to perfection and within His heart remain completely pure as well. So, He was basically telling the Pharisees to keep calm and sit down, because they weren't as righteous as they presumed. He was exposing their hearts. He is exposing my heart. Not for me to go get a heart monitor that I constantly check, but to show me it's impossible to please God...without faith. Oh shoot."
"23Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. 27For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. 28There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slaveg nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise." Galatians 3:23-29
Oh. my. world.
So, I don't have to work for my righteousness? I don't have to think through every possible thing that could be sinful about everything and think through for other people too? Seems too easy, if God is as holy as His commandments make Him out to be.
And that's when it clicked.
Yes, God is holy, and His standard is perfection. We ought to tremble at His holiness and flee from sin. But why? Why should we look at the teachings of Jesus and the apostles and pray for the Spirit to empower us to reflect Christ? Why should we keep the commandments in our hearts and minds? For one, to have an accurate picture of God. And secondly, to have an accurate picture of ourselves. The law reveals a need for Jesus. Its goal was to govern an otherwise ungovernable people, but also to make them see just how jacked up they are and how holy God is. But not for us to wallow in our helplessness, and not for us (especially me) to overestimate my righteousness. It was to stir within us—within the children of Israel even—a hope, a craving, for a Savior. As Ray comfort wrote, "Nothing reveals calvary like Mount Sanai." And the Good News for us is that we got that Savior. We have the blessing Abraham believed God for.
But what did we really do to get it? That's what I don't get.
Simple. In case you missed it like I have been, or thought you already had it, or my words were not clear because I tend to ramble, this blog is "for all of us who have a hard time getting it through our brains that all we did was nothing, BUT the love still came," as the song says.
All you and I actually did, as in earned, was NOTHING.
Thank God for giving us faith to believe and receive unearned promise.
Sometimes, we don't have to understand.
"Life becomes utterly free and daring when [you realize] the strongest being is for you."
Just accept His crazy love.