Thursday, February 28, 2008

The letter of the New Testament - Part 3

Tell me something. Is the fruit of the Spirit meant to be a list of things that we work on in our lives in Christ? What do you think when you read these words from the Apostle Paul? "The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control." Do you zero in on perhaps one or two (or more) of the "fruits" that you think perhaps you are lacking in, and then determine to start working on making them a bigger part of your life in Christ? If so, it's my personal belief that you have missed the whole point! :) It would seem to me that your daily life in Christ is not really a matter of life, but a matter of letter.

I've heard of so many different Bible study groups that study these fruits as if they were rules that we need to follow or as if they are projects that we can work on in our lives to become better Christians. For example, I've heard people say things like, "I'm really working on patience right now." I've heard of nine-week study guides... with a focus on each different fruit every week. I've even listened to nine-week sermon series' with the same sort of focus.

By the way, did you ever stop to think that perhaps the fruit of the Spirit is so much more than a simple list of nine things??? These are nine wonderful things that the Spirit works out in our lives as we abide in Christ and walk in step with the Spirit, but God's fruit goes far beyond this little list!

The point is that so many of these things that are really a result of us abiding in Christ and allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through us are turned into should's and shouldn'ts, and do's and don'ts. They become letter to us. They become things we shoot for or aim for, rather than things we trust the life-giving Spirit to produce in us as we rest in Christ.

I might turn a head or two with my next statement, but yet I think many of you "get" it. I think we can even turn grace into letter! How is it possible to turn grace into law? It's very easy! I've seen it done time after time.

Grace is God's power working in us as we rest in Christ. Grace is not a matter of "you should do this" or "you ought to do that." Grace is the source of holiness and godliness in us, but it never operates out of an insistence that life be lived a certain way, or else. Grace is not pushy. Grace is not manipulative. But man oh man, some people can use grace to be manipulative and pushy!

I heard a sermon on "giving" one time. (Actually, I've heard countless sermons on giving)! But this one sermon in particular pushed a few of my buttons because while grace was mentioned, I think it was misused. In the midst of this sermon on giving, Paul's words from 2 Cor 8:7 came up. "See that you also excel in this grace of giving." Not only was this tiny phrase taken out of context, but in the midst of this sermon on giving, giving became a "should." It became a rule for us to live by, rather than something we do cheerfully as we truly grow in grace. It got even worse, at least from my point of view, because the insistence that we grow in the grace of giving was topped off with what I believe was a manipulative invoking of the Holy Spirit. In short, the gist of it went something like this: "The Holy Spirit is in you. And if the Holy Spirit is in you, and if you are living by God's grace, then you 'should' be more generous and you 'should' start giving more!"

(By the way, this reminds me of something I've heard Paul Anderson-Walsh share at least a couple of times. This is not verbatim... it's from memory so forgive me if the details are fuzzy. I think Paul said he was visiting Bob George in Texas. He was going to be speaking, and a woman asked him what topic he was going to be speaking on (I think she wanted to put it in the bulletin?). He said the topic was going to be, "Don't Let Anybody Should On You." :) If you say that out loud, it might end up sounding like not such a nice topic to be talking about! I think the woman said something about not being able to print that (what she thought she heard). ;) Anyway, the point is clear: don't let anybody 'should' on you!)

So many things that were meant to be a representation of life are very easy to turn into letter. For example, we've had some great discussions on this blog and other blogs lately about the subject of "church." The matter of the assembling of the saints can very easily become letter to us if we make it into some sort of rule to follow rather than a wonderful part of our life in Christ in which we can freely come together to encourage one another and build one another up.

Even our "gifts and callings" can become letter. We may feel called to a certain function within the body, and at first we may gladly embrace what the Spirit is doing in and through us, but eventually it might become something we "must" or "should" do. It becomes a "rule" in our life in Christ rather than a joyful expression of His life in us.

And what about Bible study? What about prayer? What about "being a witness?" What about "go and make disciples?" All of these things are spoken of in one way or another in the New Testament, and sadly they've become letter rather than an expression of Life.

Can you think of other things that are meant to be life, but we (the church) have turned them into letter?

Why do I bring all of this up? It's most certainly not just to "complain!" I don't think complaining in and of itself will do a whole lot to help the problem. But I do bring it up because I believe all of this causes lots of problems in the church and I hope we can all encourage one another in the truth. The Spirit gives life but the letter kills. Now, our spirit will not actually die because of any of this! Our spirit remains one with God even if we don't fully realize or understand it all! But the part of us that can be "killed" by letter is our soul. Our joy, our peace, our understanding of God's unconditional love for us and His acceptance of us. Our overall desire and love for Christ can actually be quenched when we replace Christ with godly principles! That doesn't sound right, I know! But if you've tried living by "principles for Christian living" for any amount of time... I don't really think I need to try to convince you.

The substance of the Christian life is a Person. He has a name. Jesus. He is our life.

"We have died and the life we now live in the body we live by rules, instructions and principles?"


The live we live in this New Creation life is not our life that we live. It's the life of Christ.

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4