Struggling With Legalism
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The Apostle Paul, in presenting the grace of God, wraps up Romans chapter 5 with the words “where sin increases, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). Anytime grace is preached, and the liberty we have in Christ is made known (Galatians 2:4, 5:1) and the freedom we have from any fear of punishment (1 John 4:18, Romans 8:1), legalists get uncomfortable. Namely, because it sounds like we're saying we can do anything we want without fear of condemnation, and to that, I would say, that's exactly what scripture is saying. (Romans 8:1, 1 Corinthians 6:12, 10:23). Often the rebuke against such notion is that we are preaching licentiousness, but that couldn't be farther from the truth. In fact, Paul addresses this. While Paul ended Romans 5 with the reality that the grace of God is more powerful than the sin of man, it's like he anticipates the objection of his audience in that such a statement is preaching licentiousness, that is, that we can just go ahead and keep on sinning so that grace would increase. But at the beginning of the next chapter, chapter 6 he says this “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? Far from it! How shall we who died to sin still live in it?


People in their legalism are so scared of turning the grace of God into an opportunity for sin, into licentiousness that they refrain from applying the grace of God at all in their lives. Paul is saying, yes indeed there is no condemnation no matter what for those in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1) but for those in Christ, they have died to sin. How then can one who has died to sin still live in it?


You see, someone in Christ has the Holy Spirit working in them both to will and to work for His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13). Because Christ is in them they actually agree with the law in their inner man, that what the law said is indeed good (Romans 7:22). Such a person then, while completely free to do anything at all, anything they want, would then not want sin. Why? Because they don't like it even though they struggle with it. Therefore they wouldn't turn grace into a license to do more because they don't care to do more, actually because of God in them, they want to do less, and for those people, specifically for those people, God says you need not fear My wrath when you stumble and sin for you are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14).


Actually if you look at that full verse it says “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under the Law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14). Those who seek to be justified by works remain under the law. This is often why legalistic Christians who struggle with sin continue to struggle with sin. Because as long as they are seeking to fix themselves in their own strength, that is, by their own efforts (see Galatians 3:3), they then get no help from grace as grace and the law are mutually exclusive. In fact, one who keeps himself in the bondage of the law likewise keeps himself in the bondage of sin, for as this verse says, sin is their master as long as they are under the law.


For those that rely on God's grace however they come out from under the dominion of sin because sin only has power through the law. Those that rely on grace actually have lasting changes toward righteousness not because they did something to merit it, but because God did in them. Scripture puts it this way: “for the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all people, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and in a godly manner in the present age, “ (Titus 2:11-12). It's actually the grace of God that brings about godliness even in this age, not our own self made rules and regulations. God's Spirit who works in us a love for God also makes us eager to do good works (Titus 2:14, Philippians 2:13). Not a people who are obligated to do good works, that is no longer required (Romans 4:5), but rather a people who want to do them but are free not to as well.


When someone insists on asceticism for themselves they are only fooling themselves (Colossians 2:23) and it usually means they lack faith (Romans 14:1-3). When they impose asceticism on you though they are trying to defraud you of your free gift in Christ (Colossians 2:16-23). The fact eternal life is called a "free gift" means it can't come with any requirements, stipulations, or strings. The moment any of those things are added it's no longer free nor a gift, but becomes a wage, at least in some degree, that you then earn. But as it is, salvation is a free gift, and the fullness of salvation and sanctification required to get into heaven are completely God's doing (Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 Thessalonians 5:23), and thus we trust in Christ who is able to keep us from stumbling and present us without fault and with great joy before the throne of God (Jude 1:24, Colossians 1:22), just ask the thief on the cross as He did nothing to earn it, actually he had just been hurling insults at Jesus (Matthew 27:44), yet upon asking he received the full benefits of paradise without lifting a finger to earn it (Luke 23:42-43).

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Jesus, in His last breath before death declared "it is finished" (John 19:30). I believe this to be much more profound than merely alluding to His suffering on the cross but rather the accomplishment of redemption from the demands of the law and the ransom it held over our heads because of sin. I believe this is a victory cry of Jesus who stuck it out until the good pleasure of He and His Father were accomplished (Isa. 53:10, Heb.12:2).

What's equally beautiful is His heart seen in His first post-resurrection message for His disciples, "go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'" - John 20:17b. "My brothers", Having accomplished their redemption He now recognizes them as full-fledged family inasmuch as He is. Furthermore He doesn't merely say He's ascending to His Father and His God, but recognizes He's also ascending to their Father and their God and wanted them to know that. What an unusual way to speak if not for any other reason than to point out that you now share the same Dad! (Rom. 8:15). Many times Jesus had spoken of "My Father" or "the Father" (John chapter 14 for example) but prior to this in the book of John He had never been referred to as "your Father". The significance of this was huge.


Of all the post-resurrection messages, the first word He desired His disciples to hear was one identifying them as being now His family in every respect, as brothers with the same Dad (Rom. 8:15). Prideful and narcissistic people seek to keep their status above others, Jesus set His status aside (Phil. 2:6), eager to bring everyone up to His level...even as His family, making them fellow children of God as His brothers and sisters and thereby joint heirs to the kingdom, and thus sharing in His glory (Rom. 8:17)...for free (Rom 6:23).


Isaiah 53:11 speaks of God looking forward to this moment from long ago. "As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied". In other words it was this very moment of accomplishing your rebirth, inclusion, adoption, and eternal life, that He looked ahead to that gave Him satisfaction that all the anguish would be worth it. Jesus in John 16:21 likened it to a woman in labor; "whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world." Peter used a similar analogy in Acts 2:24 in speaking of God raising Jesus up, "loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it". The Greek word for "pangs" literally means "a birth pang".


What we're witnessing here in John chapter 20 is the joy in Jesus Christ that is causing Him to no longer remember the anguish that brought about that joy. The result far outweighs the suffering so that the suffering becomes trivial in comparison. It's not that the suffering is made smaller, but your redemption to Him means that much. Any lesser reason wouldn't have been sufficient motivation to endure, but Hebrews 12:2 tells us that it was "for the joy set before Him [He] endured the cross". You are that joy, He did that for you.


Matthew 27:50 records Jesus, having now accomplished all that was required to redeem you, breathing His last and giving up His spirit. The very next verse, the VERY NEXT VERSE, verse 51 records that the veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. Like God's hands already had a firm grip at the top of the veil as He watched His Son's success approaching. The very same veil that separated God in the Holy of Holies from man who was anything but holy...that is up until this very point. Then, the moment the birth pains were over and Christ's work was finished (John 19:30), God immediately ripped it wide open without delay, why? Because He could! I'd bet this was anything but a clean tear, He had been looking forward to this moment for a long time (Isa. 53:10). Because of Jesus man could now come to God, and God was unhindered from coming to man and making His dwelling among them without risk to them (Mat. 1:23, Exo. 33:20). God who "longs to be gracious to you" and "waits on high to have compassion on you" (Isa. 30:18) now could...and nothing was going to stop Him! His Mercy came running like a prisoner set free.


After Jesus sends word by way of Mary I love His next interactions recorded in this same chapter. At least 3 times He starts His encounters with the words "Peace be to you" (John 20:19,21,26). Jesus is eager to dish out for free what He worked so long and hard to accomplish. Peace with God. A cheerful giver spends a lot on a gift because of the joy of giving it. There is never a more generous and cheerful giver than our Lord and Father. Though the gift cost Jesus His life and our Father His Son, the joy of gifting that to you freely was well worth it to Him, and now that He can, He's dishing it out in abundance to all who would receive it (John 1:12, Mat. 22:9).


"Peace be to you". He gives that out freely as if it weren't crazy expensive. Cheerful gift givers often do similar things in order that those who are the recipients wouldn't shy away from accepting it. We downplay the cost like it was no big deal in order that the recipient would be more inclined and comfortable taking it. Though we incur significant cost and time we say things like "oh it was nothing" or "it's no big deal" and we make up excuses as to why it makes sense for them to have this gift. Why? Because we want them to have it. What is important to a cheerful gift giver is not the recognition of their costs or efforts that went in, but the joy that comes from the recipient being blessed. That joy overrides all costs incurred to accomplish it making such costs trivial by comparison. The fear of the recipient rejecting it and therefore not being blessed causes us to even justify them having it, even trying to make them think they earned it if that's what it takes because who gets the credit isn't more important to us than the recipient receiving it.


I often wonder if something similar is going on when Jesus said things like "your faith has saved you" (Luke 7:50, 8:48, 18:42). Maybe by saying that, we are okay with accepting salvation because we may be less inclined to receive such a gift if He said, "Me doing everything right followed by being tortured extensively and enduring excruciating pain, agony, and humiliation saved you". Shoot, Peter wouldn't even allow Him to wash his feet (John 13:8). The truth is, for our Father God this cost Him His Son, and Jesus would literally spend His entire life and death paying for this, and then so easily He dishes it out "Peace be to you". That, I'd say, is the downplay of the millennium. What you may not notice that happens in the background is how much joy it gives Him to give this to you (Luke 15:20) and how important it is to His heart that you receive it (2 Cor. 5:20, 2 Pet. 3:9). You need not pay Him back, nor do you need to understand it's full value or what was needed to accomplish it. For Him, He just wants you to receive it and every time someone does all of heaven erupts with Him in much rejoicing and celebration (Luke 15:7,10,32).


I believe this post-resurrected, pre-ascension Jesus gave us not only understanding into the heart of God but a glimpse of what heaven will be like. The price has been paid, the birth pains are over, and now Christ is Himself beginning to enjoy His inheritance, that is, you (Eph. 1:18), and He will continue to do so for all eternity (Luke 12:32, John 14:2-3).


As I see how excited Jesus is to dish out His extremely hard earned accomplishment freely on others I think to myself "man that would be fun to bless like that". Then it hit me, that is what sharing the gospel is. It's like a dad who purchased the best gift for his children and tells those whom received it first to then go give it to the others (Phil. 1:7, Mat. 10:8). Thus we become partakers with Christ in His blessing! (Rom. 10:15, Col. 1:12, Heb. 3:1). While if there was nobody to give He would make sure you got it Himself (Luke 19:40) but since we are present, how it must compound His joy when we delightfully share His joy in blessing others with His graciousness!

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Many of us view God like an insurance company. Though the company is marketed as being for you with commercials showing agents popping out of nowhere and solving all your woes with a snap, yet should you actually file a claim they will do all they can to keep from paying you. They'll shift responsibility, drag their feet, or disqualify you through contractual loopholes because you forgot to cross an "i" or dot a "t". The higher the claim amount the more vehemently they will fight to find a way to not pay for it. The underlying reality is they are only for themselves under the ruse of being for you, they sell you grace, but have no desire to deliver. They serve you as long as it ultimately serves themselves. Insurance salesmen are standing by, ready and willing to answer all your sales related questions and insure you the moon, but try and reach a claims agent and you'll often be forced to navigate corporate phone mazes, endure long waiting times, and should you get through you'll be inundated with tasks, paperwork, and hoops to jump through, beating you through attrition, leaving you wishing you had never filed a claim in the first place... and for them, that's a victory.


Likewise we view grace like the insurance itself. Like the more we contribute the better coverage we get. Or we see it as something only to be used sparingly and maybe not even then. Perhaps for something out of our control, but what about when we're at fault? Then we often hesitate to file a claim, concerned it will go on our record, rates may go up, or the insurer might drop us altogether. Some so worried they will abuse it never use it at all. The amount of times people pay out of pocket for that which they have also been paying insurance to cover is staggering, yet we do the same with grace (well we try).


Many view God in the same light, missing the fact that He LOVES to pay out claims because doing so restores His children, regardless if it's self inflicted (Isa. 53:10, Mat. 1:21). What's important to Him is that you remain fully restored and debt-free. God is a God who not only loves paying off your debts, but announces how excessively rich He is (Eph. 2:4, Exo. 34:6) and invites you to come and boldly make withdraws anytime! (Heb. 4:16). Should you file a claim with God 70x7 times, He will no less hasten to pay it the 490th as He did the 1st (Mat. 18:22). Why? Because He WANTS to and can! As the cross demonstrates, zeroing out your balance means far more to Him than the efforts needed for Him to accomplish it (Heb. 12:2). While the goal of the insurance company is to benefit themselves at your cost, God is just the opposite, His goal is to benefit you at His cost (Mat. 20:28) even paying your claims that haven't occurred yet, and amazingly paying the claims of those who are insured with His competitors. (1 John 2:1-2, 1 Tim. 4:10).


His company model would be frowned upon in the world because He's the kind of salesmen who does everything He can to give you all the insurance for free, no strings attached (Rom. 6:23, Gal. 5:1) and pays for them with His own blood, sweat, and tears (1 Pet. 1:19, Luke 22:44, John 12:27). He commissions His agents to watch over you (Psa. 91:11-12), and should the law come knocking, incredibly He takes the blame and vehemently defends your innocence before the magistrates (Rom. 8:33-34), always presenting you faultless, unblemished, and above reproach, as one who had nothing to do with the crimes He's now taking ownership of (Col. 1:22, Jude 1:24). Knowing death is imminent, He prepared His most trusted Helper (John 14:16) to continue with you forever after His departure, thinking solely of you as He went to the cross (Heb. 12:2). In His will He named you as the full beneficiary of everything that He earned in this life, crediting it to you as if you had earned it (Rom. 8:17, 2 Cor. 5:21).


The worst thing a person can do with someone like Him is not accept His free gift. Not just for our sake, but for His. If you're unwilling to make such an insurance claim for yourself, than do it for Him! God is a cheerful giver and there's nothing more He wants from you than for you to let Him bail you out, bless you, love on you, and spend all eternity in fellowship with you as His child (Heb. 11:6). He cares not who's at fault (Rom. 4:8) nor how many offenses there are (Rom. 5:20), He only cares that He gets to fix it and restore you. That is His hearts desire, and that is what held His arms out wide on the cross (John 10:18, Heb. 12:2). So for God's sake embrace His grace and make His heart glad and joy full! (Luke 15:7, 10, 32).

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If you love Me, you will keep My commandments. - John 14:15


Too often this is not only mistaken as a command but it's preached as such by many influential teachers. I believe this is largely due to presuppositions brought into their reading of scripture. Legalists particularly default to this being a command, completely mistaken that it's not a command but rather an evidentiary statement. In other words, Jesus is saying that the keeping of His commands is evidence of your love for Him. He is not trying to manipulate you like perhaps a family member would when they say "If you love me, you'll let me have the last brownie" (John 14:21), nor is He asking you to show what's is in your heart as He already knows (John 2:24). He's simply stating that one thing will give evidence of the other, much like James said about faith (Jam. 2:18). John would also write similar things in 1 John in order to reassure Christ's followers that the love they had for each other and for God was evidence of His Spirit in them, "for love is from God, and everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God" - 1 John 4:7b (see also, 1 John 3:18-19, 5:1-3). The lack thereof was also evidence of not knowing God: "the one who does not love does not know God, because God is love" - 1 John 4:8. Love is the evidence of (or lack thereof) fellowship with God, not a command in order to make it happen.


Further proof is given of this being evidentiary as just 6 verses later, in this same upper room discourse, Jesus reiterates "The one who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me". In other words, you can tell who love's Jesus because of their keeping of His commandments. To say this is somehow a command is to twist it into a work rather than being evidence of. If this were a work, in other words, if you needed to show God you love Him by keeping His commandments, or if keeping His commandments resulting in a love for Him, than the Pharisees must have been head over heals in love with God for nobody followed commandments better than they (Mat. 5:20). Yet Jesus said of them "This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me." - Matthew 15:8. If we do the acts of love toward God without actual love in our heart, then the same can be said about us.


The Pharisees may have had a lot of the right actions but they had all the wrong motives. They were not lovers of God, they were lovers of self (Mat. 23:25). Because of this, though on the outside they did a lot of right things, Jesus said they were "whitewash tombs" who inwardly were "full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness" (Mat. 23:27). Jesus then instructed them to first clean the inside of the cup and dish so the outside would become clean also. In the same way, one who loves God, in other words, one whom the Spirit has poured into them the love of God (Rom. 5:5) will bear His fruit of love and springing up from the inside will be love's attributes (Gal. 5:22-23, 1 Cor. 13:4-8) testifying of His presence. It's basic cause and effect. Christ said out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Mat. 12:34) and similarly "the good person out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth what is good" (Luke 6:45a). The cause then is that which fills the heart (Luke 6:45), the effect is the treasure that comes from it. The Pharisees were constantly trying to showing loving effects, but without love in their hearts, therefore they did terrible at it for their cause was all wrong; their cause was for their own purposes. If we try and obey God's commands for any reason other than out of love in our heart (Psa. 40:8), we'll not only fail miserably as the hypocritical Pharisees did, but like them, we'll twist all of them to suit whatever other reason is in our heart.


One who loves God and loves His neighbor will instinctively follow the commandments of God because all of the rules God gave were entirely on the basis of love (Gal. 5:14). Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the great and foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ Upon these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets.” - Matthew 22:37-40. Therefore, if you love God and love your neighbor, you will keep the commandments and instructions of the prophets because that's the effect of love! For example, if you love someone you WILL (not shall) act according to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 toward them. So when Paul writes "Love does not seek its own benefit" (v5) then one who loves his neighbor looks out for the neighbors benefit over their own. It's not a command to do the work, it's evidence of the love for them in their heart.


The commandments of God were never going to bring about any righteousness, they didn't in Moses day, and they won't in our day (Rom. 8:3, Gal. 3:19). The law of Moses wasn't given to bring about righteousness in a person (Gal. 3:21) but rather to show them the lack thereof and bring light to the presence of sin and point them to their need for a Savior (Rom. 7:13, Gal. 3:24). The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." - Galatians 3:24.


Commands from God are evident as they usually proceeding with something like "you shall", or "remember to", not phrases like "if you" which could be seen as optional or voluntary. God's commands were never optional but were required of every human without missing one of them (Gal. 3:10, Jam. 2:10) with the intent of making sin known (Rom. 7:13). God knew we had it, but until the law came, we didn't (Rom. 5:14, 7:7).


Whether it's Old Testament Mosaic laws or New Testament seemingly perceived "commands", regardless it comes down to this. We can't do them, only God can (Mat. 5:17, Rom. 3:31), therefore it's foolish to think we can, or even that we can help as nothing good dwells within our flesh (Rom. 7:18). On the contrary, if we have the Spirit then we need not worry "for it is God who is at work in you, both to desire and to work for His good pleasure." - Philippians 2:13. It's only those who lack faith in the Spirit to accomplish what that verse says who concern themselves with "getting busy" trying to keep commands. One who has faith trusts they're justified (Rom. 4:5) regardless if they eat meat or not, or observes the sabbath or not (Rom. 14:1,5). One who is weak in faith concerns themselves with trying to help the Spirit along in their own strength (Col. 2:20-23, Rom. 14:1) trying to be perfected in the flesh (Gal. 3:3).


The fact is, with Christ we can do all things (Phil. 4:13) but without Him we can do nothing (John 15:5). Our focus shouldn't be on keeping the commands, but let the commands have their purpose and point us to Christ (Gal. 3:24). Once there, our eyes shouldn't be on what we are doing or not doing, but they should be fixed on Jesus (Heb. 12:2) resting in what He's done (John 19:30) and trusting in what He's doing (1 Thes. 5:23, Phil. 1:6). And while Christ warned that a branch cannot bear fruit of itself, He likewise promised that the one who abides in Him "bears much fruit!" (John 15:5). He doesn't qualify it with "might" or "could", but simply those that abide will bear much fruit. So therefore let us not worry about what is happening outwardly like the Pharisees who kept washing the outside of the cup and dish, or even Martha who was distracted with all her preparations (Luke 10:40), but, like Mary, let's do the one thing that is necessary and rest in our refuge Jesus Christ (Luke 10:42, Mat. 11:28-30), trusting in His promises to work in us His fruit (Gal. 5:22-23), Who gives us both the desire and the ability to work for Him (Phil. 2:13), and accomplish the works He already prepared beforehand (Eph. 2:10).

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The human race loves playing the technical card. Yes I'm talking to you. The person whom when someone says "good night" after the clock rolls past midnight you smugly reply "good morning". When your child says "can I go outside to play?" and you reply "I don't know CANNNN you??" When your spouse says "I'm going to hop in the shower" and you say "don't hop." "I see you got a hair cut", where you reply "I got several hairs cut". When you're asked to spell your name and you reply "Y-O-U-R-N-A-M-E" and do that little chuckle you do afterwards. Don't even get me started on the amount of grammar police online (I suck at grammar) who completely, miss, what's, being, said, because, of, an, out-of-place comma! Arghhh!


We're a people who find it more urgent to point out the typo in a news article then share what is being reported in it. We're a people who might name our dog "ten miles" just so we can say we walked ten miles. As kids we create games around technicalities and delightfully kick someone out because "Simon didn't say". As adults things don't change. A very intelligent individual with a head full of knowledge provides the correct info on Jeopardy but is disqualified because their reply wasn't in the form of a question... pfft!


Even my wife is mad at me because I never buy her flowers... I didn't even know she sold flowers.


Har Har Har (that's how my dad would have laughed at my above joke). Full disclosure, I'm just as refined in the art of technicalities as the next guy. Many of my frivolous arguments have started with the words "well technically..."


Unfortunately as humans our love for technicalities isn't restricted to that which is humorous with consequences staying in the range of annoying to really annoying. It's also employed in much more serious ways with much more serious consequences. Companies lose millions because of a contract that was written up with a comma out of place. Robbers go free because an officer neglected to show him a search warrant before entering his house. When I worked security at a grocery retailer while stopping a shoplifter I came face to face with a murderer that had just been released from prison on a technicality because though he just months prior shot someone at point blank while robbing a convenience store, the law he was convicted under was later rules unconstitutional and was thrown out therefore so was his conviction along with it. And though surveillance showed exactly what happened, it didn't matter. Why? Because under the U.S. constitution you technically can't be tried twice for the same crime even though he would still be convicted by one of the many other laws that still condemn murder.


You know who else loves technicalities? Satan. And it's most definitely not for humor. And unlike your dad he is much more skilled and cunning (Gen. 3:1), tempting people and leading them astray. To Eve Satan asks "Has God really said, 'You shall not eat from any tree in the garden'?" (Gen. 3:1). To Jesus Satan said "If You are the Son of God, throw Yourself down; for it is written: 'He will give His angels orders concerning You'; and 'On their hands they will lift You up, so that You do not strike Your foot against a stone.'" Twisting scripture is usually done through the art of technicality and Satan's a pro.


We men understand the letter of the law, we love it, we're familiar with it. Unfortunately we love it to much. We'll sacrifice the spirit of the law for the letter of the law. The pharisees did this too and Jesus said to them, "You blind guides, who strain a gnat and swallow a camel!" (Matt. 23:24). The pharisees were so entrenched in the letter of the law and completely missing the spirit of the law that when Jesus was about to heal a man with a withered arm, they were looking to see if He was going to violate the Sabbath (in their eyes) and in so doing they may have reason to accuse Him (Mark 3:2). Jesus knew their schemes however and had an apt response:


And He *said to them, “Is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath or to do harm, to save a life or to kill?” But they kept silent. After looking around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, He *said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And he stretched it out, and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately began conspiring with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might put Him to death. - Mark 3:4-6


We are so used to others, our parents, our friends, the government, religious leaders, ourselves and even our kids (kids by nature are lawyers) playing the technical card that we've begun to incorporate that way of thinking into all that think or do. If that's not bad enough our laws, contracts, disclaimers, and the like are all written with the letter of the law in mind. Even in the church and various ministries the fear of being caught on technicalities is always looming so we set up surveillance systems, members sign waivers before missions trips, ministries never leave the ground because insurances won't cover them. All so that we can be prepared should we forget to dot an 'I' or cross a 'T' and the legal system comes knocking at our door.


You know who I've found to be experts in the law? Criminals. When I worked law enforcement I was amazed at how knowledgeable criminals were of the legal system. Not the spirit of the law which they should fear, but how they could manipulate the letter of the law, the technicals they learned to play that would protect them from facing the consequences of their actions. Like the murderer I mentioned above who went free on a technicality, criminals know exactly what you as law enforcement are allowed and not allowed to do and if they play those cards right they can disarm you on a technicality, them and their corrupt lawyers. Satan is the ruler of this world (John 12:31, 14:30, 16:11), we shouldn't be surprised that it's systems follow after his nature (Col. 2:20, John 8:44, Eph. 6:12).


It's really hard to get away from this way of thinking. Either as the bad guy using the letter of the law to your advantage (and we've all been the bad guy), or as the good guy fearing those that would use the letter of the law against you (and we've all been the recipient of this). When you're raised in a world that trains your heart from a very young age that the letter of the law is something to be mindful of, we carry that into all that we do. Unfortunately because that gets so deep-seated in the fundamentals of our thinking we have a very difficult time not projecting that onto God as well. Not only do we project that onto God, but all too often absent from the mind is the spirit of the law which is what God actually intended in giving it (Matt. 22:36-40, Gal. 5:14). We've been so indoctrinated by the letter of the law-observing-world, that we forget that God's ways are not our ways and God's thoughts are not our thoughts (Isa. 55:8-9).


While I've met those who think God is going to let them into heaven based on a technicality; in the church I've met far more who think God is looking to disqualify them based on a technicality. I myself have struggled with this way of thinking. That I will be the one exception that God's grace can't cover because of some loophole in the contract I failed to see. In lieu of grace, looming in my heart is this trained feeling that is always waiting for the other shoe to drop. Then when you hear about things in scripture like the "unpardonable sin" you lock onto them like that's the loophole that is gonna be the "gotcha" that keeps you out of heaven. We put ourselves in a nasty predicament. Our hearts will not rejoice that we're accepted until we can with certainty rule out all "gotchas" yet our minds do not have all knowledge so we never arrive at that certainty and therefore never feel the peace of acceptance.


If you can relate I'm glad you're here but sorry you struggle with this too. It's a miserable feeling when our hearts refuse to allow us to embrace the joy of the Lord because of all this messed up programming we have that is vetoing it. It's not that there aren't things that tug at our heart to be joyous about, they tug, but it's that those things are shot down almost immediately because of the fear of this technicality we feel disqualifies us. Oh how we desire certainty, yet on the path of searching for certainty are countless technicalities we simply can't rule out so certainty is never achieved. Our hearts starve for feeling the good of the Lord and yet it's our hearts that won't allow us too. Messed up isn't it.


Can I share with you some good news now?


Your inability to feel God's love for you doesn't disqualify you from God's love. Your doubting God's love and goodness being for you doesn't nullify God's love and goodness being for you. You may feel God is the prosecuting attorney with you in His scope but more accurately He is your defense attorney who is presenting you blameless (1 Cor. 1:8, Col. 1:22). Christ did not come to condemn the world, His desire for coming wasn't so you'd have no excuse, but that you might actually be pardoned by His blood (John 3:17).


1 John 3:20 says that even if our heart condemns us, that God is greater than our hearts! This is a verse specifically for us with broken feelers and it speaks on who has the ultimate authority, and guess what, it's not your heart! Thank God. This means that even though our feelers are broken, that's ok! If you're waiting for your fleshly heart to "feel" saved, it may not, and that's ok. But you shouldn't conclude on the basis of what your fleshly heart feels that spiritual rebirth hasn't happened or that God is somehow withholding compassion (Psa. 77) as that's not His desire (Isa. 30:18). God is greater than our hearts and therefore our hearts don't have the final say on these matters. The heart is evil (Jer. 17:9), and therefore should not be trusted (Prov. 3:5-6). If you continue to walk this life in all you do allowing your heart to guide you; being evil it's rarely going to be your advocate.


God often calls us to be courageous in scripture. Courage is quite different than bravery. Bravery is the heart not being affected in adverse circumstances. Courage however is making the choice to press on despite the heart being heavily affected by adverse circumstances. For me, this is choosing (not feeling) to take God at His word. Salvation is not a difficult thing as if God doesn't want to give it to you unless you dot all your I's and cross all your T's. Faith is not a work. Take God at His word.


For example, scripture says:


"For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” - Romans 10:12-13


Now if you're here, It's highly likely you've already called, and if like me, multiple times. Notice there's no technicalities listed there, call on the Lord = saved. Many write me concerned that when they've called they've "fooled themselves into a false conversion", in their minds they ruled it's not genuine based on some technicality, often on the technicality that they don't feel it. They come with a broken feeler and erroneously judge their salvation based on that broken feeler not feeling it. They conclude, even though they don't know what it would be, that there must be a technicality that has disqualified their faith because their feeler hasn't responded positively to it. Faith however, is not a feeling.


God isn't looking to exclude people based on technicalities. He's not someone who's eager to say "gotcha" at the gates to heaven and send you away. God who didn't spare His own Son WANTS to save. Don't think He's made salvation a far off thing, it is not (Romans 10:6-8). God wants to save (Eze. 18:23, 32, 2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:3-4, Tit. 2:11, Heb. 2:9). Luke 12:32 says this: “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (NKJV).

You know what I want? To eat cake..specifically Costco cake because it's the best. The problem is I'm intolerant of dairy, wheat, and eggs... to my grief all three are in Costco cake. If I eat those things I don't just get gassy, I swell up, break out in hives, and sometimes can barely walk or move my arms for weeks. Even though that's the case I still want Costco cake. If someone could give me a magic pill that suddenly made me completely compatible with those ingredients, well I'd take the pill and the wife and I would be having Costco cake for New Years this year and we'd both rejoice because she loves me and would be happy to see me finally get to eat what she knows I want to eat (she really is a sweet heart).

You know what God wants? To save. The problem He had was the sin in man was something He was intolerant of. Even though man had sin it didn't diminish His desire to save. Amazingly God didn't just conclude "it is what it is" and leave it at that but His desire to save was so powerful and great that He begin searching for what would allow Him to execute His love toward us. Covenants were made, laws were given, but righteousness (which literally means rightness with God) wasn't being accomplished. Yet God still couldn't take it; amazingly His love wouldn't give up. He wanted it to bad so He went to dire lengths. While I gave up on Costco cake, God decided to pursue what He wanted at all costs. Therefore He sent His only Begotten to die for us. His Son who was one with Him would be separated and turned over to the hands of men to be tortured, punished, and killed. Why? Because God couldn't bare us to suffer in our own sins, Because God amazingly wants us. He loves us. God couldn't bare to not see us with Him in heaven, His want for that is to great. Scripture says that God was pleased to crush Jesus, to put Him to grief (Isa. 53:10). Now that would be a morbid verse if it wasn't for the latter part which says "If He renders Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring". Hebrews 12:2 states of Jesus that it was the joy that was set before Him whereas He endured the cross. God wasn't pleased to crush Jesus, God was pleased at what crushing Jesus meant. Jesus sacrifice was pleasing to God, a fragrant aroma (Eph. 5:2) because of what it accomplished.

God found a way to deal with sin that He might get what He wants, our salvation, His inheritance (Eph. 1:18). God found a way to free Himself up from any intolerance of us that He may do what He's always longed to do. To lavish His grace on us. Isaiah 30:18 says "Therefore the Lord longs to be gracious to you, And therefore He waits on high to have compassion on you." Do you see the heart of God yet? Do you think God who so badly wants to save, and the angels who all rejoice in heaven over one sinner who repents (Luke 15:7,10) are looking for a way to disqualify you from what they want for you? God who did not spare His own Son that you might be saved isn't also looking to catch you on some loop hole in the contract nor to disqualify you on a technicality. For this robs Him of what He so very much wants, that is, to adopt you! (Eph. 1:5). Likewise the angels whom receive great joy when one changes their mind about God isn't hoping to somehow deliver to you a "gotcha" as that would go contrary to their desires. One cannot desire to save and at the same time desire to not save by way of a technicality. God is not a God of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33).


If someone provided a pill for me that freed me up to eat Costco cake without consequence you can be sure my desire isn't to find another reason to not eat it, why? Because I WANT to eat it. Because I want it my battle is actually trying to fool myself that the consequences aren't as bad as they actually are, I'm actually trying to disqualify the disqualifiers that I might be freed up to do what I want.


A friend from my teenage years named Rob Decou who's earned the nickname "crazy Rob" completed what's called the Uberman Triathlon this year (2020). Only 7 people have completed it solo, he's the 7th. He has trained his whole life for this, conditioning his mind and body and learning how to shirk pain and press through it. 21 Miles of swimming, 400 miles of biking, 135 miles of jogging, did I mention this was in death valley during 100+ temps? As a friend of mine said, this thing makes the Ironman challenge an afternoon picnic. Some do this triathlon as a relay team...Rob did every part of it himself, only one so far in 2020. He is an amazingly driven man, gifted to press on during pain, but this still brought him to the brink. He even fell asleep while biking and got some pretty good road rash. In the water the current pushed against him and he spent hours through the night swimming against it and getting nowhere. Now can you imagine when he got near the end, just about to complete the 135 miles on foot through death valley with the finish line in sight, but then looking down just before crossing it and seeing his shoe was untied he decides to quit the entire thing and go home. That after all that Rob would throw in the towel because "runners shouldn't run with untied shoes". Ridiculous, if road rash didn't stop him, or swimming against the current in the dark didn't defeat him, if a lack of sleep, pain throughout, and very hot temperatures didn't thwart him, an untied shoe surely wouldn't. Yet God did a far more amazing feat in every way and we somehow think He's going to not finish it because of some equally ridiculous technicality. Paul puts it this way.


What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? - Romans 8:31-32


For I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work among you will complete it by the day of Christ Jesus. - Philippians 1:6

Faith isn't a trick to perform, it's not a feeling to be had, it's not a work to be done. Faith is merely and simply allowing God to do what God so passionately wants to do, and amazingly, that's to save us, sanctify us, adopt us, and bring us home. The shortest salvation prayer I've ever heard was simply a man who looked toward the heavens and said "Fine!" Why? Because you need merely let the Savior do what the Savior does, it's in His very name! (Matt. 1:21).

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