Much of Christian life has been filled with rules and regulations. Do this and don’t do that and God will be happy with you. And if you measure up then you are acceptable to the church as well. But if you don’t then neither God or the church will be able to accept you. And so for Christians everywhere life is a struggle to constantly measure up to an external life of requirements in order to be acceptable. And when we can’t measure up we put on a good face because if anyone knew we were not able to live up to the requirements of being a Christian we would no longer be acceptable. It is no wonder the world thinks the church is full of hypocrites.
All through time we have been trying and struggling to measure up. Nothing has changed. The law of Moses was given to people as a list of what was required to be acceptable to God, and we have been trying to live up to it ever since. And there has never been a single person who ever lived who was able to live up to the law of Moses. No one except Jesus. And yet we still struggle. Might I suggest that this is not what the law was given for. It was not a list we needed to live up to be acceptable.
So what was the law given to us for? Romans 3:20 says For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. So if the law wasn’t given to make us acceptable to God, and that is what we are struggling to do then what was the purpose of the law? Well the last half of Romans 3:20 says The law simply shows us how sinful we are. The purpose of the law was simply to show us that we were and could never be acceptable to God on our own merit. In fact the scriptures teach that “All of us have become like one who is unclean,
and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” So all of the things we struggle to live up to that we think make us acceptable to God and the church are like dirty greasy rags when compared to God’s righteousness.
So how then are we acceptable to God? Only by the work of Jesus in us are we made acceptable. Scripture teaches that we are the righteousness of God in Christ Jesus. It is a done deal when we accept what Jesus did on the cross for each one of us. So then why do we struggle so much. Paul asked the same question in Galatians 3:3. Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? We struggle and struggle and can get nowhere because we forget what the law was given for. To reveal to us that we can gain nothing at all before God by anything we do. It is impossible. And yet we struggle.
The task we have is to allow God to make changes in our lives, responding to His hand and direction. Only then can we become who He desires us to be. Only then can we allow the people around us the same freedom to become who God wants them to be. The apostle John said, when asked if he was the Messiah, “I’m baptizing you here in the river, turning your old life in for a kingdom life. The real action comes next: The main character in this drama—compared to him I’m a mere stagehand—will ignite the kingdom life within you, a fire within you, the Holy Spirit within you, changing you from the inside out. He’s going to clean house—make a clean sweep of your lives. He’ll place everything true in its proper place before God; everything false he’ll put out with the trash to be burned.”
John said that the kingdom of life of Jesus would ignite in us, changing us from the inside out and making us to be who He desires. This is the whole thesis of Paul’s writings in Romans 7. When he says that he is a wretched man who could not live right before God, and when he wanted to do right he would do wrong, he is simply recognizing his standing before God. He recognized there was nothing good in him except Jesus and nothing he could do would bring him closer to God. Ever. He recognized the purpose of the law. And only the life of Jesus in him being allowed to live out through him would bring him into living the life that God wanted. Paul’s struggle was over in himself.
So why do we struggle? We don’t need to. Psalms says “EXCEPT THE Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” Even if we were able to build our lives by the outward standards of the law, we would be expending all that energy and effort for no value. It would be of no value at all. And yet we struggle. I think it is time for us as Christians to let go of the rules and regulations we have and to stop judging ourselves and each other by standards that God never set. Time for us to respond simply to the hand of God in us and allow Him to live His life in us, bringing us into what He desires for us. That is what Jesus wanted. He said to come to Him and learn the “unforced rhythms of grace”. We don’t have to work at becoming. We simply need to surrender and allow God to work in us. That is what Philippians says. “For God is working in you, giving you the desire and the power to do what pleases him” That is the kingdom life in us. We can stop our struggles and allow God to do what He does best, making us to be like Jesus. Something we cannot do ourselves