Law vs Grace:
What was Jesus saying?
When I became a Christian in 1979, I started to attend church and read the scriptures. I was taught by well-meaning people, who loved God and told me things like:
- "Jesus was telling the Jews that their Laws would never make them good enough, and that they had to rely on God's grace instead."
- "Jewish Law failed!"
- "Drop being Jewish and become a Christian."
- I was told that Jesus was very controversial (to the Jews) and that's why he was crucified.
Many of Paul's writings were used to confirm this view of the anti-Semitic Jesus, and in my innocence as a new believer, I did not argue what I was being told, because there seemed to be support for what they said.
Unfortunately for those people, I kept reading. I saw something else, that they did not want me to share with them. They had caught a small slice of His message, and had applied it in history without applying it in modern times, missing the boat greatly.
In talking with many people and scholars, I see that Jesus said nothing that an orthodox Jewish person would take as controversial. They already know that keeping the feasts and laws and oral traditions do not save them. That is not why those are kept. They are kept because they are traditions that remind them of their place before God, and all that God has done for their forefathers and all that God promises to do for their sons and daughters.
Jesus did condemn religious leaders that used their position for personal reward and gain, or abused the traditions or their position for other reasons. Jesus never, never, never condemned any Jewish observances! He merely pointed out that surface-level interpretations of what was happening, that mere obedience to tradition without heart-felt commitment to the One that gave all those tradition, was a waste of time.
Jesus spent much time contrasting tradition with the will of God. What should we hold more important: doing things the way we always have done them or listening for what God may want us to do in the current situation? Jesus showed His contempt for systemic beliefs by healing the blind three different ways! His focus was not on HOW the healing occurred, but on WHO was the source of the healing!
Also, Jesus was not new to this concept, as even Samuel quoted God to Saul saying, "Obedience is more important than sacrifice." Samuel did not act as if following rules was more important than following God. Neither did Noah, nor Moses, nor David, nor Jesus. The writer of Romans aludes to a long list of witnesses to these same facts. Jesus was not first with much of what He said, and like the prophets before Him, He did it with authority (and the blessing of God).
Well, I am convinced that this slice of the message applies to today as well. We who call ourselves Christians should not rely on the fact that we have accepted Jesus to assume that we are going to please God no matter what we do from now on. Many people have been punished by God over the centuries, so we should be aware that God hasn't changed, and those of us that focus on the wrong things in our religion will also be in trouble.
Why do you attend church on Sunday? "Because my daddy did" is an accurate answer, yet a terrible one. More important that "immersion" or "sprinkling" is knowing why one has a baptism in the first place. Are you following a set of rules or are you following a living God, who talks, who walks, who has preferences for today's events as He has had over the thousands of years that He has had followers on this planet?
Don't be a Christian who has replaced "Jewish Laws" with "Christian Laws" and thinks that their "righteousness exceeds that of the Pharisees". Are you a "good Catholic" because you listen to the priest, or are you a "person of God" because you listen to God? Are you a "good Baptist", or a "good Muslim", or a "good Presbyterian / Methodist / Lutheran / Episcopalian / Christian / Brother / Friend / Disciple (etc.) because that is your focus? If so, rejoice! You have the ability to be a "person of God" if you just shift your focus!
People have asked me if God has ever spoken to me. The answer is yes, a million times. The real question is whether or not I heard Him, recognized His voice and whether or not I obeyed or acknowledged what He said. Since God is alive, He still speaks. Only dead people don't talk!
How do you recognize God's voice? The same way I have learned to recognize my in-laws' voices over the phone. WITH PRACTICE! The closer the relationship, the more time you spend with someone, the more you invest in getting to know them, the easier to recognize them and their impact on your life. To know God's voice, listen. He is talking to you. Ask Him for His help in hearing him. Be serious in your desire to find Him and His will.
Forget the rule book, whatever religion you claim. Get to know the author of the scriptures better than you know the scriptures!