In the Mosaic law there are 613 laws. 613 things commanded by God, given to Moses, delivered to the people. Do the things those 613 laws say to do, or don’t do what they forbid, and you’re in good shape with God. Violate one of them, and you are in trouble.
I think sometimes we are under the impression Christianity operates in much the same way. Do what God tells you to do, stay away from what He forbids and He’s happy with you.
I sometimes think we want it that way.
That’s why we’ve created a religion called Christianity. We’ve set up some rules, things to do and not do. We’ve set up a set of requirements for how Christians act and talk and think. Stay within the lines and you’re in good shape. Stray from the way and you’re in trouble. It’s cut and dried. It’s easy.
The only problem is that it’s not what the Bible teaches.
In fact, it couldn’t be more opposite from what the Bible teaches. “Just tell me what to do. 1, 2, 3. Give me the list.” What makes us think God will fit in our little box? What makes us think we can get away with that?
Romans 7 is Paul’s lament at his inability to live that way. I think most of us see our ourselves in his struggle: doing the things we don’t want to do, not doing the things we should. We find ourselves trapped by the requirements of religion and living in the guilt of our inability to measure up. It turns out our “easy way” of rules and regulations is actually much harder than we think. Religion is a harsh taskmaster.
But then there’s Romans 8.
Paul realizes that life of do’s and don’ts – the law of sin and death – in Romans 7 is a man trying to live by the old standard of the law, and is not the essence of the gospel. In Romans 8 Paul comes to terms with what the gospel really brings to our lives. It’s the good news that we are no longer judged by the old standard: those 613 things we should or should not do. We are instead judged by the redemptive work of Christ. We are now under the law of liberty in Christ.
Living in liberty is a little scary. There is no roadmap. There is no set of regulations meant to keep me between the lines and guide my decisions. Living like a free man means having to seek the Holy Spirit and having to search the scriptures for myself. There are no stone tablets being brought from the mountain. I don’t have the comfort zone of my list of rules to make me feel good about myself.
Living in the freedom of grace means I have to accept a God who works in ways I don’t always perceive, understand or (at times) agree with. It means the standard by which I’ve always judged myself and others no longer applies. But if I’m going to follow Christ, I have to do it His way. Not my way. Not the way of a religious system set up to alleviate me of my guilt.