How do we honor God? By keeping the Law? By keeping ourselves pure? By showing compassion?
Listen to the audio version:
“Teach us your way, O Lord, that we may walk in your truth.”
In this passage we find Jesus “breaking the law!” That’s a bit of a problem for us because we read 1 John 3:4, which says that sin is lawlessness, and we interpret that to mean that sin is a “willful transgression of a known law of God.” We reduce sin to breaking the law which isn’t what 1 John says and which is probably a weakness in our theology of sin. Worse, now Jesus is breaking a law! But Hebrews tells us that Jesus was without sin so Jesus could not have broken the law (if that’s really what sin is). Egats, what a mess.
We solve this little conflict by claiming, “Well, Jesus didn’t break God’s Law. He only broke those silly human laws the Jews made up.” (So, it’s okay to break human laws?) Of course we have to now ignore Romans 13:1 which tells us to be subject to governing authorities—yes, even religious authorities. Of course there are better ways to conceptualize sin than to reduce it to voluntary transgressions of known laws (in which case ignorance would truly be bliss).
Let’s set this discussion of sin aside for a moment because there’s actually something more important to consider in this passage. In most sermons or lessons I’ve heard on this topic the Pharisees usually get set up as straw men. It’s easy to dismiss their foolish legalism and pat ourselves on the back because we’re so much better than they are (ironically much as the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable does in Luke 18:11).
The truth is that just as the ancient Jews developed many regulations around the Sabbath, all to ensure that they kept God’s command to honor the Sabbath, so we today create many regulations to ensure that we honor God. The Nazarene Church is famous for its “little black book” called The Manual. Sometimes I think we’re supposed to sleep with it under our pillows. Actually Nazarenes are far from the most legalistic Christian tradition out there. That may surprise some Nazarenes.
We Evangelicals spend a lot of time in our small groups, Sunday school classes, and Bible studies trying to determine the best way to follow God’s will (which is essentially the way Evangelicals talk about the Law without talking about the Law). We want to know if we have to tithe on gross income or only net income. We want to know which movies it’s okay to see and which we should walk out of. Our teens want to know exactly how far sexually they can go before marriage while still honoring God (which base?).
We have all kinds of questions about how best to follow God because this is really important to us. We actually do want to honor God. It was also important for the Pharisees. There’s really little difference between us and them. We are both committed to following God to the best of our abilities and we often have little tolerance for anyone who’s not following God like we are.
Yep, better not be too quick to devalue those “human laws”. We hold our own in high value.
- Can someone never break the law and still sin? Can someone break the law and not sin? How should we conceptualize sin?
- Have you ever been irritated with another Christian for acting in ways you didn’t consider proper? Maybe they didn’t raise their kids right. Maybe they spent their money in ways you didn’t approve. Maybe they were pro-choice. Maybe you were the irritant!
- What honors God? Is God honored by right belief? Is God honored by purity? Is God honored by compassion? If someone were to look at your life or look at your church, and that was their basis for answering this question, how would they say we are to honor God?
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