One of my favorite song-writers Jack White wrote these words in the year 2007:
You don’t know what love is
You do as you’re told
Just as a child of ten might act
But you’re far too old
You’re not hopeless or helpless
And I hate to sound cold
But you don’t know what love is…
You just do as you’re told
Now I’m pretty sure that he was writing this song for a friend who he thought was getting walked on by somebody. But these words also apply to what I want to address in this entry.
I feel that too many of us don’t really know the love of God, we just do as we’re told. Maybe we’re the types that are bent on obeying God but don’t truly experience His love for us- which is sad because it is so readily available if we would stop striving to prove ourselves. Or maybe some of us don’t really understand what we believe at all, and we’re searching for what is right, true, free, liberating, and life-giving.
Wherever you’re at, I think the words of this song can apply to you- it’s a spot that I’ve found myself in before. “You’re not hopeless or helpless and I hate to sound cold… But you don’t know what God’s love is- You just do as you’re told.” Maybe you just blindly obey God, or maybe you don’t really know Him at all. And there’s more out there for you than just that.
Here’s a little chunk of my story. When I first became a follower of Jesus, I thought it meant that I had to truly suffer for my sins. I sold all of my secular music CDs, I even sold my drum set because I thought it would make me sin. For the first 6 months of being a believer, I would fast and pray and torment myself, thinking that I was going to disobey God and He would punish me. And all of this after the realization that Jesus had shed His blood for me, loved me, and God had sent Him to die in my place! The thing is, none of this effort would make me stop sinning, because it was so difficult to do on my own.
Not only that, but everything I’ve done FOR Jesus has somehow become a law that I shove down people’s throats at one time or another! I’ve done this with the styles of worship I like, with helping the poor, with reaching out to non-Christians, with stuff that some guy wrote in a book besides the Bible. You name it- I’ve turned every fresh, new conviction I have into a rule! I’m talking about some things that are good, that we as believers should be doing. Unfortunately, it’s very natural for us as human beings to worship things besides God Himself, even when we know God Himself!
So what I’m wrestling with in this entry is very offensive to me!
Some people reject Christianity in America today not simply because they are immoral, selfish, or deceived into believing false things about life, though these are all reasons why people reject Jesus. But some people reject Christianity in America because of us… Christians… and we think we’re doing a great job obeying God, but don’t even realize that we have put our own self-created “lock” on the door into the Kingdom of God and relationship with Jesus, and we’re standing on the front porch of the house of God, kicking people out, and not giving them a chance to go in.
But we don’t do this in an obvious way. We just set up rules for ourselves and teach everyone we have a close influence on to follow them. Some of these “rules” are clearly in the Bible but they’re taken to extremes. Some of these rules aren’t in the Bible, but we still fool ourselves into believing that they’re better than what the Bible says! Is that even possible? It happens all the time! I DO it all the time!
But we’re not alone. It didn’t take long for the First Century church, the earliest followers of Jesus Christ, to have people creep in and add rules to the gospel that was saving people’s lives from sin and destruction. These were self-righteous rules that kept the people feeling that they were holier than other Christians, especially these “ex-pagans”.
Paul, an early apostle of the church, dealt with this issue in his letter to the Christians in the region of Galatia (which is the modern day country of Turkey)
Let’s enter into the world of the book of Galatians. We can’t accurately understand what Paul is saying to us until we look at the world he was in at the time of writing this… And can I recommend something? Buy yourself a good study bible that has notes to help you understand what things in the Bible really meant in their context. There are a lot of things that can be confusing and interpreted wrong if we don’t understand what they correctly meant. I recommend the ESV Study Bible, and there are other good ones.
So let’s go into the world of Early Christianity…
Many of the first Christians were from a Jewish background and upbringing, and they continued their Jewish mode of life- because old habits are hard to break! They were creatures of habit. They attended the synagogue and temple, offered sacrifices, observed Mosaic rituals and dietary taboos, and they socially separated themselves from the Gentiles, because in too many of their minds- these people were dirty sinners- way too messed up to ever be as holy as they were. It’s somewhat similar to the way a lot of “conservative” Christians view people who live a liberal type of lifestyle.
Some of these believers of a Jewish background were trying to require Gentile Christians to submit to circumcision and practice the Jewish way of life. Before Christ came, a Gentile who believed in the God of Israel would have to do these things, and still they weren’t allowed into the inner court of the temple. That’s right- what actually began as a directive from God to show Israel that they were to be His holy people inevitably became a reason to be prejudiced and judgmental, keeping these people in the “court of the Gentiles”- segregating them from the inner court and acting like there was NO WAY these people could get as close to God as they could!
The early church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, was wrestling with whether Gentile Christians, who were unwilling to become completely Jewish, should be treated as second-class in God’s Kingdom, or counted as equals with Israel. This was a really hot topic in these days, because it was turning the whole religious world completely upside down!
To see into this situation a little more we’ve got to understand what was happening in THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL. This was a group that met to try and figure out how to respond to Gentiles coming in by the droves to follow Jesus! Let me just summarize what happened there. It was in Acts 15.
There were believers from a Jewish background that were trying to force believers from a pagan background to be circumcised. They went as far as to say that they had to be circumcised to be saved.
Hopefully I don’t need to explain what circumcision is, right? 🙂
So this plethora of Gentiles are pouring into the church because the apostle Paul and his sidekick Barnabas are reaching them! Many of them are coming out of pagan, immoral, rebellious lives where they worshipped many strange gods and had plenty of weird religious rituals.
Obviously, they were not changed overnight- when we read the the letters of Paul to the churches it’s easy to see that Paul especially was trying to help them to follow God and honor Him with their lives, and they were messing up plenty and getting confused!
But you can see in Acts 15, the people who really got who Jesus is are were simply glad to see these gentiles coming to Christ! They were happy that word was getting out and people’s lives were being transformed! But of course, the holy-rollers were in the crowd too. They didn’t celebrate. They just thought of how they could make themselves look more righteous- “These people need to get circumcised and keep the whole law of Moses!” they said to themselves… And they had the best intentions- I mean, after all, the law said that God’s children had to be circumcised! Yet still, these religious legalists were missing the point entirely.
So first the believers got together and discussed this to make sure that they were in line with what God wanted to say. Then Peter got up and talked about how God had always wanted to make Himself known to everyone- including the Gentiles, which the Old Testament had spoken about. Then Peter said something really important, He said; “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”
See now, the law hadn’t been wiped out by Jesus. He had fulfilled the law by His life and death, and the way to obeying God had been changed! Peter even said it- “The law showed us how sinful we were and it was such an impossible drag to try and obey it, why should we return to trying to keep it perfectly when Jesus did what we couldn’t do for ourselves?”
Legalism was a huge sin in the early church, and it STILL IS! Some of us in the church don’t fully embrace God’s love, we just think that if we do what He asks, He’ll bless us, and then we fail and fail and fail… If only we knew God’s love for us- we would fail much less.