Remember that game that you would play as a kid where two teams got on opposite ends of a large rope and there was a ribbon tied in the middle and each team pulled against the other to drag them to their side? In the game of tug-o-war you must employ a strategy to beat your opponent by putting tension on the rope, maybe you put your biggest guy at then end of the rope as an anchor or you use a pull and give strategy to throw the other team of their rhythm. Whatever you do it is to get the other team to your side so you can be victorious.
Being a disciple of Jesus has often become like this game in some aspects, we are left to preach the good news of Jesus Christ and war against the tension that is created between grace and the law. More often than not you will have believers on opposite ends of the rope trying to pull others to their side, that the most important aspects of the faith are the grace of God while the other side says, no it’s obedience to the law of God that really matters. So as brothers and sisters in Christ we war against each other and bring discord over trying to resolve the tension created between grace and law.
I want to put before you today that God never intended us to solve this tension, but rather, learn to live with it in balance and harmony, and in the tension is where we see the true character of God. Grace and the Law is not an all or nothing proposition, there is balance between the two. Jesus was the perfect example of what a life lived embracing the tension looked like, rather than resolving it. Allow me to take the next few moments and explain this concept and why I believe so much pain in the church and unresolved pain in the world is exacerbated by the believers inability to embrace with the tension.
Back in the 70’s the Police Dept. of the State Connecticut had a regulation, a law that after the 1st snowfall each vehicle in squadron had to have chains on its tires. One day after a particularly bad winter storm, a woman called into the police to report an accident where a state Trooper’s car had ended upside down by the side of the road.
“Is anyone hurt?” the dispatcher asked.
“I don’t know,” the woman replied. “But, he is acting a bit bizarre. He’s standing on the car trying to put snow chains on the tires.”
I think it is pretty clear that that officer knew what the law was, so why was he putting the chains on after the accident? Well, he was doing it because there was a penalty associated with violating this law, even though the chains would do no good in the cars current situation he was wanting to avoid the penalty the law demanded.
For any law to be effective it must have penalties and you can see these instituted when God gave the law to Moses in Exodus 19:9-15:
“The LORD said to Moses, ‘I am going to come to you in a dense cloud, so that the people will hear me speaking with you and will always put their trust in you.’ Then Moses told the LORD what the people had said.
And the LORD said to Moses, ‘Go to the people and consecrate them today and tomorrow. Have them wash their clothes and be ready by the third day, because on that day the LORD will come down on Mount Sinai in the sight of all the people. Put limits for the people around the mountain and tell them, “Be careful that you do not go up the mountain or touch the foot of it. Whoever touches the mountain shall surely be put to death. He shall surely be stoned or shot with arrows; not a hand is to be laid on him. Whether man or animal, he shall not be permitted to live.” Only when the ram’s horn sounds a long blast may they go up to the mountain.’
After Moses had gone down the mountain to the people, he consecrated them, and they washed their clothes. Then he said to the people, ‘Prepare yourselves for the third day. Abstain from sexual relations.’”
The law of Moses began with penalties, without a consequence nobody would pay attention to what has been put there to protect them.
Laws are basically good. However, they do have a few weaknesses:
1. While they exist to protect us they cannot make us better citizens
2. They cannot change the results of our poor decisions nor can they undo the damage caused by bad behavior
The law serves a purpose but it is imperfect. This is true of every law ever written, even the law of Moses,
“If there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant (built upon the Law) no place would have been sought for another” (Hebrews 8:7).
This is why Jesus came to earth in the form of man, so the law could be fulfilled of the things it was incapable of. Jesus gave us the ability to change from the inside out and he would heal our past mistakes, but he did not stop there, he also said going forward I will call you my children and I will pour out blessings upon blessings on you as you are now heirs to the kingdom of Heaven.
In the book of John chapter 1 this concept is explained and beautifully laid out:
John 1:1-5 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.
Jesus took upon himself the penalty for sin, he fulfilled the price of our sin so that we no longer had to be bound in the chains of our poor decisions, no longer have to be overcome by the sin nature but instead are given a new nature, His nature! This is the good news of the Bible, this is the greatest news a human being could be given. All of your past mistakes, hurts, sickness, and shame can now be laid down at the foot of the cross and exchanged for a crown of glory.
So why does a tension exist between the law and grace if Christ has done all I have pointed out? The answer is really quite simple, we are still on this earth bound by the laws of nature and the laws of the land. While we have been set free from the powers of sin and death we still must live among them. When we look at the life of Christ we have to ask ourselves if he followed the law of the land while walking among us.
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth, (John 1:14).
The answer is yes he did, this is clear in his response to the question on whether believers had to pay taxes or in the book of James when he asks if we should go on sinning because we are now covered by grace and he says, may it never be so!
Rather than destroy the tension that exists between the law and grace Jesus showed us how to live with the tension and to be ok with the tension. In fact he calls us to be more than just, ‘ok with it,” he actually wants us to embrace it. Embrace it in our own understanding of sin in ourselves, in our neighbors and our enemies. When we embrace the tension in this way we begin to get a clearer picture of how God loves us and when that picture becomes clear we cannot help but fall on our knees before him in humble gratitude for what he has done on our behalf.
Discerning Reflection: What side of the rope do you find yourself more naturally pulling on? Do you struggle with God’s grace on sins that you view as worse than your own so you want his justice to come on those people and therefore pull for the side of the law? Or are you someone who tends to turn a blind eye to the sins of others in the name of love and therefore excuse yourself of your own sins as well pulling for the side of grace? What would it mean for you to embrace the tension of the two ideas existing together and letting God change you from the inside out.
Prayer: Father, help to see your son on the cross. Help to see my sins upon him and to be humbled by it. So humbled that I cannot help but rejoice in the freedom that was afforded me through your grace. Would that realization lead me to repentance and love of others who have not yet realized this beautiful truth of your love. Teach me to embrace the tension these two ideas create and give me a supernatural love for those around me that I may be a light to my community as I bring the good news of Jesus Christ, Amen.
Guest Discerning Dad
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