Monday, October 20, 2014

Walk in the Light

Hi. It's me again. By now you're home from the Feast of Tabernacles. I truly hope you had a great time. I invite you to mull over your Feast experiences, sermons and interactions in light of what I have to say here. What, you thought I was done with the shadows of Colossians 2 just because the Holy Days are over? Nope, sorry. But this is the last one. 

So why on earth did I write all this? Because I wanted to ruin your Feast? To judge you for fasting on the Day of Atonement? No. Not at all. No one here at As Bereans Did is judging you. We know you are trying to obey God the best way you know how.  I wrote this series on the Holy Days because I want something better for you, and God does, too.

Better than what? Better than staying for a week in an exotic location with a wallet full of disposable income? Yeah, I know. It's a hard sell, especially right now. One of my Church of God pastors used to make fun of people who called "law-keeping" a burden. He'd mock them, talking about the prime steaks and fine wine he consumed at the Feast. "Pile it on, God!" he would say. 

It's tough to explain to you how "law-keeping" could be a burden, because the COGs have weeded out so many of the requirements of the Sinai Covenant that don't seem important to us, or aren't practical in modern application. We've whittled down the "law of God" into something that's almost attainable. In doing so, we've put new wine in old wineskins, ending up with a system that neither meets the requirements for righteousness under the Sinai Covenant nor accepts the freedom and grace available to us under the New Covenant. 

The Apostle Paul cautioned the brethren at Galatia against putting themselves in this same position. Though the false teachers in Galatia were different from those at Colossae, Scripture indicates that both groups pressured Gentile believers to adopt tenets of the Sinai Covenant. Paul warned them that if they became circumcised in an effort to attain righteousness, Christ's sacrifice would be of no value to them, and they would be obligated to obey the whole Sinai Covenant (Galatians 5:2-3). And that those who fail to keep the whole law would be cursed (Galatians 3:10). Though these two passages don't specifically say the law Paul references is the Sinai Covenant, Galatians 4:21-5:1 does, without question. The COGs might play word games with Galatians 4:10 about days, months and seasons, but they have a harder time explaining away these verses: 

"Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not hear the law? For it is written that Abraham had two sons; the one by a bondwoman, the other by a freewoman. But he who was of the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and he of the freewoman through promise, which things are symbolic. For these are the two covenants: the one from Mount Sinai which gives birth to bondage, which is Hagar - for this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia, and corresponds to Jerusalem which now is, and is in bondage with her children - but the Jerusalem above is free, which is the mother of us all." Galatians 4:21-26.

"Now we, brethren, as Isaac was, are children of promise. But, as he who was born according to the flesh then persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, even so it is now. Nevertheless, what does the Scripture say? 'Cast out the bondwoman and her son, for the son of the bondwoman shall not be heir with the son of the freewoman.' So then, brethren, we are not children of the bondwoman but of the free. Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage." Galatians 4:28-5:1. 

Those under the Sinai Covenant were in bondage, Paul said. He would know. He had been a Pharisee's Pharisee. The law was his life. He knew the Sinai Covenant was a package deal that man had no authority to alter or edit. If you break one part of it, you were guilty of breaking the whole thing, according to James 2:10. And keeping the whole covenant was a burden. Daily sacrifices. Your family's animals - your livelihood and food source - being killed to make restitution for sins. Vigilance about not mixing the fabrics in your clothing and the seeds in your vineyard. Rules about nocturnal emissions. Rules about what to do if your ox got loose and hurt someone. Rules about marrying your brother's wife if he died. The list goes on. And on. And on. And on. 

Similarly, Peter wasn't talking about practices the Pharisees added to the law when he talked about the yoke he and his ancestors couldn't bear (Acts 15:10). Why would early church leaders even entertain the thought of enforcing the Pharisees' codes after hearing Jesus rebuke them at every turn? Neither was he just talking about circumcision. Remember, circumcision was never just about circumcision - it was the gateway to keeping the Sinai Covenant. Peter was circumcised and it seems he was doing just fine in life. No, Peter was referring to the Sinai Covenant. Israel couldn't keep it, not in a way that pleased God, not in a way that made a hill of beans difference where their righteousness and eternal destiny were concerned. Man's righteousness is indeed filthy rags to God. 

The biggest burden the Sinai Covenant placed on Israel was bearing the cost of their own sin. The economic toll of sacrificing animals your family needed for food was hard enough, but the emotional burden must have been even heavier. Constantly falling in and out of God's favor. Having God's checklist for national righteousness but not being able to keep it. Wanting to do right, falling short and knowing your destiny (and that of your countrymen) likely hung in the balance. Every day, every sacrifice, every dead animal, every spilling of blood reminding them that the wages of their sin was death. Now THAT'S a burden. And COG beliefs about sin and righteousness are not so different today. Only now, they use terms like "ongoing justification" to describe this same exercise in legalistic futility. The Holy Days were inextricably tied to sacrifice and maintaining righteousness. Consider the Holy of Holies, mercy seat, blood sacrifices and other rituals. More importantly, remember that you were CUT OFF from Israel if you didn't celebrate the festivals (see Exodus 12:15). Tell me, is it any different in the COGs today? Try to opt out of a Holy Day and let me know how it goes. Will your pastor or your brethren remind you that keeping the Holy Days, among other physical practices, factor into your righteousness? Your salvation? 

In Luke 18:10-14, we see that the Pharisee's physical efforts gave him a false sense of security. I believe many in the COGs do the same thing today. Doing so can foster a checklist mentality, which can leads to self-righteousness and a dangerous tendency toward self-reliance. In Hebrews 10, we see that the sacrifices, rituals and laws of the Sinai Covenant could never save people. They were powerless to remove sin. It's not that the laws themselves were wrong. They were good, and given by a holy God. There wasn't something wrong with the law, there's something wrong with US. The law never had any power to change  sinful hearts (Galatians 3:21). Israel couldn't obey perfectly, or even close to perfectly, which was what was required under that system. Do you think that's asking too much? Well, would the Father have accepted Jesus' sacrifice if He had sinned even once? Why would the expectation be any different for us today? Because we have the Holy Spirit, right? Well, even with the Holy Spirit, we will never achieve perfect righteousness in this life. Remember Paul's laments about wrestling with sin in Romans 7:7-25? If Paul couldn't do it, what chance do we stand? 

Knowing this, God gave Israel the Sinai Covenant to show them what they lacked. To show mankind what we all lack. And to teach us that our only hope is to place our full faith in Jesus for salvation. Once we do that, it is "our reasonable service" to devote our lives to obeying Jesus in gratitude for the gift of eternal life (Romans 12:1). But His yoke is easy, and His burden light.

Be honest. Even the watered-down COG version of righteousness can be burdensome. 
Especially in the modern state of the COGs. Picking up the pieces of your relationships, rocked by the latest split. They're happening more frequently with each passing year. Driving an hour and a half every Sabbath to meet with the "true brethren" who emerged on your side in the latest split. Ignoring lifelong friends who now fellowship with those Laodiceans only 10 minutes from your home. Angry debates over proper Sabbath-keeping. Gossip, whispering and backbiting among the splinters. Turning down your dream job because it isn't compatible with the Sabbath. Passing up career opportunities because extended time off for the Feast isn't plausible. Straining family relationships over birthday parties, Friday night activities and holiday gatherings. In extreme cases, shunning even COG family members when your church leadership tells you to cut them off. And I haven't even gotten into the emotional burden of wondering whether your record of obedience and repentance are good enough to keep you out of the Lake of Fire. I know it's there. I felt that burden, and many of you do, too. You've told me so. If this is what God requires of us for salvation, then it's worth it. Anything is. We know that if we don't love Jesus more than our family, we aren't really following Him. He predicted His would turn family members against one another. So if this is what God expects of us, then it's worth it. But if it isn't, well, then, that might be different story. 

Now that you're home, consider your experience at the Feast. In the moment, the physical excesses often lead us to overlook the festival's spiritual hollowness. If you truly felt spiritually nourished, then great! But if you noticed an emptiness, you're not alone, even though it may feel that way. There isn't something wrong with you. There's something wrong with the festivals. Something - or maybe I should say someone - is missing from today's COGs. 

If my children know their grandfather is on the way over, they might watch the sidewalk eagerly for a glimpse of his shadow coming toward the door. But once they see grandpa, they run to him and hug him. They focus their attention on his voice, his stories, his gifts. They don't keep watching the shadow. It was meant to be the same way for us, God's children. When we focus the majority of our time and effort on rituals like the Holy Days instead of on our Savior, we are embracing the shadow instead of the substance. We need to keep our eyes and attention on Jesus. When we fail to do so, we will sink into the depths below, just like Peter when he tried to walk upon the sea. 

Jesus is God. He created you. He suffered and died for you. He is deserving of your worship now, not just in the Kingdom. Consider Revelation 4:8, where we see mysterious creatures singing praises to Christ in heaven. If they sing His praises, how much more should we, the redeemed? I know, in the COGs we are not comfortable with all this Protestant "Jesus" stuff.  We believe our relationship is with the Father. Perhaps unintentionally, we have relegated Jesus to the gate code we punch in to get our prayers accepted. We usually keep Him high on our closet shelf and pull Him down around Passover and the Feast of Trumpets. But John 8:19 tells us that if we don't know Jesus, we don't know the Father, either. He is the Way, the Truth, the Life. The Light of the world, and the light we are supposed to reflect. If you are part of the Bride, Jesus wants a relationship with you now. This is not an arranged marriage, and trust me, on the wedding day, you don't want to hear the words "I never knew you." 

From the time sin entered the garden, God has always promised man something better coming over the horizon. The first Messianic hints appear in Genesis 3:15, when God mentions a Seed that will bruise Satan's head. God promised Abraham that the entire world would be blessed through one of his descendants - Jesus. The Sinai Covenant contained even more hints about a coming Savior. These shadows were good, because they came from God, but they were still incomplete. Once the true Light comes, the darkness flees; there are no shadows (James 1:17).  Stop pouring new wine into old wineskins. Stop peering at the New Covenant from the shade of Sinai. Cast out the bondwoman and her son - the Sinai Covenant and the spiritual and emotional bondage it produces. The everlasting covenant in Jesus' blood (Hebrews 13:20) has better promises (Hebrews 8:6), blessings God wants for you, for a more abundant life. Trade the burdens of Sinai for the light yoke of Jesus.  First Thessalonians 5:5 tells us that we do not belong in the darkness. Come out of the shadows into the light of the Lord. It's time to walk as children of light.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11


paul said...

You say " it is "our reasonable service" to devote our lives to obeying Jesus in gratitude for the gift of eternal life." You have divorced morality from reality. Morality is based on metaphysics - the nature of reality. For instance, I change my car oil so as not to wear down my car engine. I inflate my car tires to a certain pressure so as to not over wear/under wear parts of my tires. Crops have to be rotated to maintain a healthy soil chemistry.The purpose of a moral code is the preservation of life and achievement of success - the reasons Christ gave for healing on the sabbath - not gratitude!

Martha said...

Hi Paul, thanks for reading! Let me clarify to make sure I understand what you're saying.

Are you saying the Sabbath is a moral law, since the other 9 commandments are moral laws? You talk about morality as a metaphysical reality but your examples - oil changes for example - are issues of maintaining physical things.

Many of the 10 commandments come from higher moral principles - the Spirit of the Law - as Jesus explained in Matthew 5. The Sabbath was given to Israel for specific reasons and does not appear to have a higher moral purpose. Rest has physical benefits whenever it happens, but it is neither inherently moral or immoral. It's not sin to pull an all-nighter. Paul preached through the night, and Jesus foresook sleep to pray.

Following a moral code definitely has natural consequences (possibly even ones designed by God) but it is not a metaphysical equation for a successful life. So when you describe morality as a metaphysical reality, do you mean that following the 10 commandments results in positive practical outcomes, or do you mean that salvation is the metaphysical fruit of moral living?