St. Augustine made the following statement that always seems to rattle a few cages: “Love God and do what you will.” For rule-keepers this is flat out heresy.
Spoken somewhere between 354-430 A.D., Augustine had discovered the truth about a relationship with God: Rules don’t keep you, God does.
In the beginning we find that Adam and Eve simply “walked with God.” God told them they could eat freely of anything in the Garden of Eden except from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. In other words, that was the only “rule” they had: “Eat from it, and you will surely die,” God said.
We know the rest of the story. They ate after Satan’s temptation and died spiritually. For the first time, they experienced a divine separation – shame, fear and hiding became their and our modus operandi. Sin was passed through their genes to the human race, and it took Jesus to remove it and give us life:
“Here it is in a nutshell: Just as one person did it wrong and got us in all this trouble with sin and death, another person did it right and got us out of it. But more than just getting us out of trouble, he got us into life! One man said no to God and put many people in the wrong; one man said yes to God and put many in the right” (Rom. 5:18-19 The Message).
Oral tradition was in effect until the time of Moses. That is, generations passed the knowledge of God to their descendants by the spoken word. We have no record of oral tradition in the Bible except that prior to Noah, people knew enough about right and wrong that God judged the world and flooded it for their violation of it. Things had gotten so raunchy that the Bible says, “Their heart was on evil continually.”
God later gave Moses the Lawgiver the Ten Commandments that included everything pertinent to understand sin against God and man. “Thou shalt not” was forever embedded in the hearts of humankind. And unfortunately, that’s the part about God that most people remember and TRY to live by. After the initial Big 10, the Israelites came up with 613 laws until law became downright ridiculous to the point that the Pharisees, in order to “keep the law of the Sabbath,” rebuked Jesus for healing a man on that day because they considered it a “work”!
Law conscious Christians
Some Christians are law-focused rather than grace-focused. Like the Galatian church, they think “keeping laws and rules” justifies them instead of faith in and the grace of Jesus. And even when they understand this error, they often miss the mark by becoming “law-keeping” New Testament Christians. They’ve just given up the Mosaic Law for New Testament ones! A lot of these folks worship the Bible instead of Jesus. It’s wonderful to know and hide the Word in our hearts, but for some people – because they lack spiritual intimacy with God Himself – their excitement revolves around learning verses, Bible studies but not about the ONE who lives inside them.
The sin cycle
Speaking as one who knows this firsthand, our heart will commend or condemn us, according to how well we’re keeping the rules or performing. We become afraid to sin because God “may not be there for us.” This kind of fear is not godly fear because this person doesn’t trust God as a Keeper. This kind of cycle results in even more sin and self-condemnation because trying harder increases even more performing and failing and so on. Until the performer dies to himself/herself and their inability to stay in control of themselves, thereby “keeping themselves saved,” grace is opposed (Jas 4:6).
As long as law operates in us, we will actually sin more because the harder we try, the more the law has rule over us. God’s solution to this was to provide grace through His Son. It’s hard for people to grasp that the Law was given that sin might increase and thus out constant need for a savior, who provides the grace we need:
“The law was brought in so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more,” (Rom. 5:20).
It is a characteristic of human nature that, in different ways, we try to add to the “finished work” of the cross. Legalism is an inherent part of our sinful human nature for we find salvation by faith in Christ alone, hurtful to our spiritual pride. The Church and individuals have frequently repeated the foolishness of the Galatians. In all our Christian activities, it is easy for us to miss what matters most to God, love for God and love for our neighbor (Matthew 22: 37-40).
Evangelicals often pride themselves on their superior knowledge of the Bible, and Pentecostals\Charismatics usually claim a superior spiritual experience, while older denominations sometimes pride themselves on centuries of tradition. Yet it is easy for all churches of all persuasions, within the community of the Christian faith, to be blind and deaf to uncomfortable biblical truths.
In every culture, the gospel will be clothed with some cultural traditions. Whether we like it or not, we all depend to some extent on Christian tradition. The problem seems to be that we do not realize this reliance. Consequently, there is the ever-present danger that what some call “principles,” or “essentials of the faith,” or “dogma,” become legalistic rules and the basis of a performance-based false Christianity (an excerpt from LEGALISM? VERSUS ?GRACE: A Study of Two Contrasting?Lifestyles?Within The Christian Church).
“Only Agape keeps us from sinning”
Bob Mumford, “a papa” in the faith, says that only agape love can keep us from sinning. On the basis of 60 plus years in the Lord, Bob says he’s been in many moves of God. “I’ve been to three hog callings and a county fair” is his way of saying he’s seen it all in one form or another. His knowledge and intimacy with God, especially since he experienced and wrote The Agape Road, have taught him that God is a keeper, whose love is given freely to us and is to be incorporated in us so we can freely give it away. The focus on and reception of this perfect love will indeed cast out fear (1 John 4:18), and on this perfect love hangs all the law and the prophets:
“One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “?‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Matt. 22:35-40 NIV).