Principles Are Better Than Laws – Part 5

So far in this series I’ve been thinking about God’s laws, that is, the way God designed things to work properly. This includes the best behavior for us to achieve abundant life as he originally intended it to be when he invented life and existence.

I’m thinking about this, because I’ve developed more and more of a sense that God actually intended for us to have a magnificent life on earth as his image bearers, even going so far as to send his Son to forgive us for our failure to have such a life. This is another way of saying what we are used to hearing: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Why did we choose to fall short (first Adam, and then the rest of us)? That’s a good question, but at least part of the answer is confusion. God is not the author of confusion, but satan is, ergo, we are confused. We are so confused that we think obeying God is about earning his favor so he will bless us. If that is true it is a primitive way of putting it, and one which leads to failure.

If you think that God has given us rules to follow so that we can earn his blessing, then you will be a legalist.  You will assume you ought to follow those rules, but you will constantly battle the desires to do something else instead, and you will constantly feel guilty.  Driven by guilt, you will obey the rules sometimes, leading to pride, and disobey them other times, leading to shame.  

But there is a better way to think about it. This is why I say principles are better than laws. God’s laws are nothing less than principles for living according to the objective reality that he has caused the world to be subject to. God’s rules are simply the principles of reality by which we function best in this world. They are the means whereby we will experience life as abundant. They are the means whereby we will achieve the most ethical success possible and the greatest joy possible. They are the means whereby we can achieve something closer to Jesus’ standard, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees” (Mt 5:20), and “you must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Mt 5:48).

God has given us grace in that he sent his Son to take our sin, and give us his righteousness, but most people fail to make use of that righteousness to achieve joy and the glory of God (the same glory that we had previously fallen short of).  

In an earlier post I said that being a Christian is its own reward. This is what I meant. But because we fail to see God’s ways as the honest and true ways to live in creation for the greatest life possible, we fail. We don’t have to.

In part 4 of this series I was looking at the first commandment as the first principle.  I wrote about what God does not mean when he tells us to have no other gods before him.  Now, I want to consider what it DOES mean.  I can be brief.  

When God gives the law that he is to be our only God and the most important thing in our lives, he is saying that he is the source of all truth and goodness. Everything that is true emanates from him, from his nature. All the other laws, or principles, flow from who and what he is. He is love, he is truth, he is goodness, and he is all the fruit of the Spirit. To bow down to God is to bow down to reality, to the way things are, and, of course, to the author of all of it.

To bow down to any other is to put something before God. As a person, he deserves our highest praise and allegiance because he is truly the highest and greatest. But it also means putting his ways above all other philosophies, and his morals, including the rest of the commandments, above all other systems of morality or philosophy. The rest of the posts in this series will continue to look at several of those, but for now, we start with the first and best, to love and honor the first and best, God, as the first and best. We honor God and all his ways. Everything else is a derivative of that.

Sin is a Mayonnaise Sandwich

My wife hates mayonnaise.  I asked her what would be something gross to eat, and she said a mayonnaise sandwich.  I asked her if she likes chocolate.  She said yes.  

I said, “If you were hungry and wanted to eat some chocolate would you accidentally eat a mayonnaise sandwich?”  She said, “No.” I said, “Why?” And she said, “Because I hate mayonnaise, and I like chocolate.”  

This conversation happened because we were talking about sin.  Why do people sin?  Why do Christians think they want to sin?  Part of the answer is that they do not know that sin is a mayonnaise sandwich, and righteousness is chocolate.  

In an earlier post I said that being a Christian is, in part, its own reward. I don’t mean that the rewards in heaven for being a Christian aren’t greater than anything we can imagine, but that the “life” (and life abundant) of a Christian is very rewarding and fulfilling if you know what you are doing.

In my aforementioned post I said that the problem with the older brother in the prodigal son story (Lk 15:11-32) is that he doesn’t know how good he has it.  He thinks it would be fun to go live like his foolish younger brother, as though the life he (the younger brother) has been living in a far country, squandering his money on hedonism (death) and being reduced to eating after the pigs was some great time.  It was not a great time, but a bankrupt existence he was glad to leave behind.

Meanwhile the dad says to the older brother something like, “You and I are always together, and all my stuff is your stuff.  You own the world and have an awesome life, so why are you complaining?”  

Why would we complain about eating chocolate? Why would we think we wish we could eat the mayonnaise sandwich (or whatever food you hate)? Because we are confused. We don’t understand that our purpose on earth is to live. Living entails more than just continuing to breath. God always holds out the choice between his way, and some other way. His way he calls “Life,” the other way he calls “Death.” His way I’m calling “chocolate,” the other way I’m calling a “mayonnaise sandwich.”

According to God’s way there are bedrock principles of virtue that are based in the reality of life and existence with a body and a spirit. Truth, justice, love, productiveness, creativity, purity, contentment, and excellence are all part of God’s way. These are the principles by which through Jesus we pursue our lives, for our own sake, and ultimately for his sake and his glory. Seeking to live accordingly is going to be the most rewarding and powerful way to seek life.

That is what it means to seek the kingdom of God and his righteousness. That’s the chocolate that we actually want, and if we aren’t confused about that, we will never settle for a mayonnaise sandwich. Choose Life and live.

How Jesus Restores Mankind

A virgin teenage girl, named Mary, was visited in her room by an angel, Gabriel. He told her that the Messiah, the savior, that the Jewish people had been awaiting for centuries was finally coming, and she would be his mother.  This was startling and more than a little puzzling, because, as she said, “I am a virgin”. The messenger explained that God, the Holy Spirit, who is the third person of the Trinity, would overshadow her and she would be impregnated with the Son of God. In this way her son would be fully God and fully man.  Whether or not Mary realized it at the time, this fact was crucial to the whole rescue plan that God had had since the beginning.  

Jesus would come to save the lost, and that means a whole host of things beyond that we will go to heaven for believing — no small thing.  But it also means that we can be restored to the image of God according to his original intention, and that we can be a part of restoring the world in the same way, both here in this age in some limited capacity, and certainly in the next when Jesus returns.  Let’s look at four main aspects of Jesus’ ministry to see what he has done, and how we can apply it to our lives in order to begin living the life that God has called us to.  These are the atonement, the teaching of Jesus, particularly in the sermon on the mount, the understanding of losing our life to find our Life, and coming of the Holy Spirit for empowerment and abiding in Christ. 

The Atonement

The first and most important aspect of Jesus’s life is that he was born to die. In my very first blog post I said that God is the great I AM. This means that he not only exists, he is the source of all life, goodness, and laws about the way things are, from physics, chemistry, and math, to philosophy. In the beginning was the Word, the Logos, The Greeks may have thought of this as simply reason, but it is much more than that. John 1:14 says this Logos, the “Word, became flesh and dwelt among us.” All that God is, and all that is true is embodied in this. Truth flows from God. That two plus two equals four flows from God. Love in all its forms flows from God. Justice flows from God. Value flows from God. Life flows from God. Light flows from God. Glory flows from God, who is the standard of all glory.

God is the source of all truth and justice. As such he can only be perfect.  He is perfect in every way, but particularly in the realm of justice.  He does all things in a way that is right, or righteous.  It is very hard for humans, who are not perfect, to grasp this fact and why there needed to be a substitutionary sacrifice for the evil that is in the world, the imperfection which is an affront to the Creator.  The Father, like the father of the prodigal son, waits and longs for our return to him and to his way of existing, which is not only perfect, good, and righteous, but designed for human flourishing to the glory of God. 

There must be a just way to restore creation without himself acting unjustly. This is why Jesus had to be fully man — so that as a man he could restore men — and fully God — so that he could actually accomplish a sinless life, making himself the only proper sacrificial lamb for all time. The Bible says the law could not accomplish it because men could not keep the law. But the righteousness of God was manifested “apart from the law” in Jesus Christ (Ro 3:21) so he could be the just and the justifier (Ro 3:26), meaning God could be the one who demands justice, but also, lovingly, provides justice. Jesus lived a life of perfection, though he was tempted like us. He never once sinned. Satan tempted him and he never once gave in to temptation.

Then, he allowed sinful men to arrest him. He watched his friends abandon him like cowards. He stood silently as his enemies mocked him, beat him, and gave him a farce of a trial, a formality, and then they killed him by crucifixion, hanging him by nails in his hands and feet up on a Roman cross. The Lord of Glory was killed for our transgressions, uttering with his last breaths, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they are doing.”

And so his followers could later go back to Jesus’s words to Niccodemus in John 3:

14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Whoever believes in him, meaning, whoever believes that they are a sinner and in need of a savior, and puts their faith in Jesus, will have everlasting life. They will go to heaven forever when they die, or Jesus returns. Whoever does not believe, will remain condemned. As John the Baptist would say in the same chapter,

“36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (Jn 3:36).

So we are saved for eternity from the justice of God to come, but too often this is thought of as, eternal life will start when I am dead. But this is not the case. Eternal life begins at regeneration. This is the nature of this eternal life. The first and most important step is to trust Jesus for salvation and new life. The Bible says that when we are saved we are made into a new creation, to walk in the newness of life.

Tomorrow we’ll start a multi-part series of articles that get into the Sermon on the Mount in order to think through some of the key teaching points in Jesus’ ministry. These have great significance for how we deal with the problem of being fallen and broken in the image of God