Deut, James and Mark – Law and Grace

lego 2

Engaging

This is a fun challenge to help us explore the role of Law – not as a strait-jacket that we blindly follow to earn our salvation, but as a helpful guide to how to please and honour God.

You will need:

  • Building bricks, such as Lego
  • A cloth
  • A set of rules (see below)
  • Two teams

lego 1

The object of the game is to make an exact copy of a given shape. Make a shape out of Lego bricks ahead of time, making sure you follow the rules you are using.  Here is my shape. You can copy this or make your own.

Make sure you have enough bricks to make three identical shapes, then cover your model with a cloth.

Give Team One all the bricks needed for the model, plus more bricks of different sizes. Show them the model for 30 seconds, then cover it with a cloth.

Give Team Two all the bricks they need, plus more of different sizes, and a copy of the Rules. They do not get to see the model.

Challenge the teams to make an exact replica of your model, either from what they saw or from the rules. Who will do better?

Now talk about which is the most useful – rules, or copying the model. Probably neither was enough on its own. We need both.

The rules are useful, but not an end in themselves. They are here to help us to copy the master. In the same way, we do not earn favour with God by ‘being good’ and following the rules. But spiritual discipline is useful to help us to model ourselves on Christ.

Here is the set of rules I used – you can make up your own if you like

All red blocks and white blocks are 2×4
All green blocks are 2×3
All yellow blocks are 2×2
Every red block must have a yellow block on top, in the middle
Every red block must sit entirely on top of a white block
The bottom layer must be a W made of three white blocks
Every green block must sit 2/3 on top of a white block and 1/3 dangling
Every white block must be completely covered
Yellow blocks must be on the top layer
Three white blocks must be joined by two white blocks
You must use exactly 11 blocks
The shape must look like a zigzag from the top

Reflecting

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, James 1:17-27 & Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

There is nothing new under the sun. People are the same as we have always been. Moses wrote the same message to Bronze-Age Hebrews in Deuteronomy as Mark did to Iron-Age Jews in his gospel and James in his letter to first-century Christians-under-pressure. We could quote worthies of every age saying the same thing.

It seems to be a message that needs repeating a lot. I’m not sure if that’s a comfort or a disappointment.

What’s the message? We gotta put our money where our mouth is.  We gotta walk the walk, not just talk the talk. We gotta be doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves.

We’ve all heard the good stuff from the Good Book – you know, forgiving someone seventy-times-seven and all that. Can I honestly say that I do it? Sadly, no.

There’s no point just hearing it and going ’Oh yeah, that’s a good idea’ if we don’t actually do it. I’m as bad at this as the next person. It’s so hard to get things from our heads down to our hearts and from our hearts out to our hands.

Doers of the word, not hearers only, deceiving ourselves. That’s the biggy. Deceiving ourselves.  It’s so easy.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a sucker for the easy lie:
“Oh, it’s OK.  I’m under grace not under law, so I don’t have to worry about what I do.  God will forgive me.”

Or there’s the opposite lie (which we often tell ourselves so secretly that we don’t even realise):
“I’m not good enough for God. I must try to be better so that God can love me.”

Oddly, in a way, both of these lies are true.

Yes, I am under grace. Yes, God will forgive.
But it does matter what I do. Grace does not exclude law. (Law always was grace anyway.)

Yes, I am not good enough for God. Yes, I must try to be better.
But not so that God can love me. Works are the result of forgiveness, not the cause. (He always loved me anyway.)

I need constantly to remind myself of the twin truths of resting in God’s undeserved love, and responding to that love by wanting to please my beloved. It’s like the guy ropes that hold up a flagpole or a tent – one pulls to the right, one pulls to the left, and between them they hold it upright. Just one of the guy ropes would pull the tent over. Both working together provide stability and strength.

Salvation is by faith alone – absolutely – but that faith never is alone; it shows itself by ‘producing fruit in keeping with repentance’. (Matt 3:8) Otherwise, it could be just ‘lip-service’, (a phrase we get from Jesus’ words in Mark).

And whatever area God is nagging me about (stop losing my temper with my kids, be more gracious with irritating people, don’t be so arrogant), it is not going to be the same with other folks, so I really need to not judge my sister’s or my brother’s walk with the Lord. Planks and Sawdust. Planks and Sawdust.

 

I guess we could do worse than pray this prayer with Anselm. It’s from 1109, but I’m no different from folks then. There’s nothing new under the sun.

O Lord our God,
grant us grace to desire you with our whole heart;
that so desiring, we may seek and find you;
and so finding, may love you;
and so loving, may hate those sins from which you have delivered us;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen

Anselm 1109

Reading

Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9 New International Version

Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.

Observe them carefully, for this will show your wisdom and understanding to the nations, who will hear about all these decrees and say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.” What other nation is so great as to have their gods near them the way the Lord our God is near us whenever we pray to him? And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?

Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them fade from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.

 

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23 New International Version

The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.)

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
their teachings are merely human rules.’

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

 

James 1:17-27 New International Version

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.

My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.

Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

Credits

New International Version

Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

“Faith and Works” https://web.archive.org/web/20131220114120/http://arkiv.lbk.cc/faq/site.pl%401518cutopic_topicid19cuitem_itemid6343.htm

 


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