Trying to live by the Law, or any attempt to be sanctified by the Law, is like living by a fence.
I wrote about this is in two other posts, “Why we really do need freedom from religion” and “Is it ‘hyper-grace’ or just God’s radical grace?” which will provide further explanation and allow me not to belabor those points here.
And why is this a problem, you might ask? Didn’t Jesus say He wouldn’t do away with the Law? Isn’t the Law written in our hearts under the New Covenant?
Ah, yes. But that’s not how we tend to apply the Law today, and this is where the problem lies. Let me explain.
Living by the Law is a fence that puts a boundary around what is acceptable and what is not. Which interestingly enough, is quite subjective in churches today. Some say our clothing matters, the right kind of music, our hair style, no drinking, “bad” movies, etc. And as long as I stay on the right side of this fence of acceptable behavior, I’m okay. But if I go over, I’m condemned. Also, if I see anyone else go over this behavioral boundary, I can condemn them too.
Under the Old Covenant, it was a LETHAL FENCE! For most things, if you violated the Mosaic Law, you were stoned…killed. In Leviticus, the term “put to death” is used 25 times.
Of course, we don’t literally put people to death or stone them anymore, do we. No, here’s what we do. After we’ve decided which sins are acceptable and which are not, we now have the right to judge them. We “stone” them by criticizing, rejecting, hating, demonizing, withholding forgiveness, back-biting, gossiping, etc. After all, they’re not like us–they’ve crossed the fence!
Foolish Galatians–separating the Ceremonial Law from the Moral Law
This is why Paul even called the Law, written and engraved in stone, a “ministry of death” (2 Cor.3:7-8). But which part of the Law was written and engraved in stone? Right, the Ten Commandments–the moral law.
But according to our “foolish Galatian” gospel (mixing Law with grace) popular in evangelical circles today, God only did away with the ceremonial Law but not the moral Law. The problem, of course, is that not only did Paul call the moral Law a “ministry of death” but both he and James said you cannot separate any part of it (Gal.3:10; 5:2-4; James 2:10).
I taught on this subject last year, going through Galatians, and have a much more thorough outline on it. If you’re interested, you can get a copy of that outline here… But for the purpose of this post, I will briefly summarize.
What’s wrong with living by the “fence?”
I will live sin-conscious instead of God conscience. My awareness is on the fence, on “not sinning,” and trying to manage my behavior (staying inside the fence).
It actually hinders me from relying on the Holy Spirit. My focus is on performance instead of abiding in God’s love (John 15:9-10), which is the only thing that fulfills the Law. I’ll continue to live like a religious orphan, separated from the power of God that actually enables me to live a godly life (Titus 2:11-12). Trying in vain to produce fruit that only comes from the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23).
If I’m focused on the fence (not sinning), I will automatically focus on the behavior of others. On those I’ve deemed that have “crossed over” my subjective behavior line, comparing myself to them instead of Jesus (2 Cor.10:12).
I will want grace for myself but judgment and retribution on everyone else. I will never hold myself accountable for my own behavior. So, as Jesus said, I automatically become hypocritical and judgmental (Matt.7:1-5). For instance, if I have some weakness–maybe gossip, anger or being unforgiving–you should overlook it with grace. But if you have offended me in any way…how dare you!
If I’m the one getting caught, I will just hide my sin better next time! Just look our prison system. It may restrain but does it rehabilitate? We know that unless they have an encounter with the love of God, they’ll just work harder not to get caught next time. Isn’t this true? Likewise, this is the pathetic state of a church culture of behavior modification and sin-management. It creates a religious façade that only pushes sin deeper into secret–filling people with shame and guilt rather than the freedom promised by the gospel.
There’s more, but you get the idea…
Am I condoning license to sin? Absolutely not!
As Paul said, dead men don’t sin (Rom.6:1-2). I am condoning being managed by the Holy Spirit instead of the fence. For Paul seemed to think that if we walk by the Spirit we won’t fulfill the lusts of the flesh (Gal.5:16).
Welcome to the New Covenant.
For we must understand that Jesus obliterated our living by the fence so that we could live by the Holy Spirit. As Dr. Andrew Farley has pointed out, Jesus came for two reasons: to bury us under the Old so He could establish the New. For, without this fence, there’s no more subjective standard to judge others, no more hypocritical and self-righteous pretenses. We can’t go on figuring out all our legalistic loopholes to make us appear like we’re living inside the fence. We must live by faith.
The only thing managing us is the Holy Spirit. But fear not, He’s pretty good at it. 🙂
And the “new” is the freedom from this lethal fence, freedom from religious bondage. It’s the freedom that Christ died for (Gal.5:1).
And that’s called the GOOD news that brings great joy!