It appears that some people feel a little threatened by the theme of this thread. I didn't start this thread to justify legalism. I started this thread because sin failed me, failed me so utterly, that when I began this journey into Jesus Christ, it was the most profound relief I have ever known in my life. And the most profound grief as well, because I was so old when I took the first step, and now that I have had a chance to prove to myself, and to permit Jesus Christ to prove to me, just how well the Biblical lifestyle works in practice, I grieve and grieve for the life that might have been mine in Him...
Again I say, sin failed. Sin failed with spectacular futility. Sin killed the man I called my brother, someone whom I loved as someone else would love their own child, parent or closest sibling. Sin didn't just kill Bruce, it tortured him to death -- slowly. And it tortured me to the brink of death watching it happen to him. Sin fails, That is the sole purpose of sin is to fail, that is the only thing sin can do, failing is the only thing sin does do. Dear Bruce proved in the purest expression of insanity that I have ever had the horror to witness that when sin is killing you slowly, it can and does feel very good in an agonizing but irresistible way... Thus this thread, in which I will explain what a difference the commands of God made in my mind, my heart, my soul, and why I find Scripture of such great high value that I read It every day for Its own sake... And why I love Jesus Christ for Who He is... And why I so deeply respect what He is asking of me...
The beginning of my journey into Christ was a search for the truth about God. The question in my heart was an enormous boulder of a burden named WHY. In 1998, I had come to the absolute end of my desire to live another impossibly painful day, due to the very fact that I had lived almost my entire life guided by sin, and everything sin had guided me to do had failed utterly. By the time I reached that point in 1998, I had tried every sin that interested me, and between my own sin and the sin of the unbelievers I called friends and comforters, everything I had tried had failed, and I had had enough. That night in late summer 1998, I had a serious argument with God Himself. I wanted to die, God said "No", and as serious as anything a human being could ever ask would be my question "And Your point is???" I was angry, because all I had ever known was suffering; I was confused, because I was fully convinced I was a complete failure as a human being. Born female, yet utterly unable to prove myself with the arts and graces of feminine charm, I honestly considered myself subhuman. I find it difficult to imagine anyone hating themself more than I hated myself... I wonder if that could be possible. So what possible point could there be in my being alive to suffer yet more proof that I was born a failure and could never be anything else? Oh yes, I had some questions for God all right, because one thing I had very clear was that if He wouldn't let me die in 1998, He wasn't about to let me die a year or two later. If you think I'm kidding, you've never lost an argument with I AM...
So I searched. And searched. I started with church, but I found sin in the churches I tried (a total of 3, in a city on the Southeastern coastline), and sin failed me. So I went back to the most ancient myths and legends of my Irish ancestry, seeking God in a time when no one had ever heard of Jesus Christ, but I found only more sin, much darker, uglier sin, and that not only failed me, it sought to enslave me... I was drowning in my own blood by then, and no closer to the answers I was utterly determined to discover...
Finally, a dear Christian man at a factory where I worked stood with full assurance that only comes from knowing for an absolute fact, and stated "The only way to the Father is through His Son Jesus Christ". At wits end, I decided there was nothing to lose by asking, and everything to gain if what he said was indeed true. So I asked for a Bible, which I would read for myself, and that Bible, translated in just plain recognizable English, translated by responsible scholars who know what they're doing, would be the only explanation of what exactly Christianity is all about that I would be willing to accept. I was in no mood to trifle with these issues...
My first mentor, teacher, friend, guided me to the NIV translation after listening to my already experienced concerns about working with a translated text of anything, since when I say you're at the mercy of the translator, I know exactly what I am talking about. I spent 10 years working with translations of ancient mythological texts, the good, the bad and the totally inaccurate. My teacher started me in the Gospel Of John, since my questions were exactly about the truth about God. I was absolutely captivated by what I found, from the very first words:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
6 There came a man who was sent from God; his name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify concerning that light, so that through him all men might believe. 8 He himself was not the light; he came only as a witness to the light. 9 The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.
10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.
14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
To a mind trained in a broad context of spiritual thought and philosophy, these Words were utterly captivating. If this was the basis, I was interested, very interested. I drank in this first taste of Holy Scripture with absolute fascination, I had read many ancient texts, but nothing I had ever seen or heard of resembled this! But Jesus was unquestionably Jewish, could an Irish person unconditionally embrace a Jewish God? Isn't that the same thing as an American person embracing a Norse god, just another subjective interpretation of who or what God might be? The 10th Chapter of John held the answer:
7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
These verses answered that first question, and led to the next question, so what am I supposed to do with this then, what do You want? The next answers were tucked away in the 14th and 15th Chapters...
23 Jesus replied, "If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 He who does not love me will not obey my teaching. These words you hear are not my own; they belong to the Father who sent me.
25 "All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.
John 15:10-12 (New International Version)
10 If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.
What beautiful things to ask. This was indeed the spiritual Light, the Genuine Light I had been seeking, the Light I knew had to be out there somewhere, because everything everyone had ever told me about spirituality was invariably phrased as either darkness or Light. In fact, even as I typed that last, I remember how shocked I was to find the exact same terminology in the Bible that had been being used in a deep conversations in a sophisticated pagan online forum. So by the time I finished the Gospel Of John, I knew deep down that I had finally found the truth about Who God is, and that if I kept studying this one Text, I would find out the What, Why and how of this so very important Truth...
The key to everything God is trying to get through to us is love, so I shall begin this next installment of everything Jesus Christ has been so patiently teaching me with this Scripture
1 Corinthians 13:1-3
1 If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
Love seeks not blind obedience, but communication, connection and understanding which is leading to the single goal of what is best for one, and by extension, best for all. The church is described as the Body Of Christ, not as a tabernacle (ie building). If the church were a tabernacle, then all we would need is a collection of properly cut stones, so we would indeed be under law, but we are not under law, the tabernacle, we are under Grace, the body. So what does modern medicine tell us about our bodies? Our bodies are made up of cells, which are grouped as organs, which work together to form the whole body. Only when all the cells are in good health, working properly, are the organs also in good health, can the body operate as it should. Sometimes this is exactly the case, but in this lifetime, that desirable condition never lasts indefinitely, so we have medical solutions to these things. The desirable medical solution begins with early detection and correction. Catch the problem early, heal the troubled cells, and all is once more well. It is only when the problem is allowed to fester, that the problem worsens. So, if someone should cut their foot, for example, and the cut is not kept clean and attended to, the infection will spread, and if still left unattended, the infection will fester until the foot must be cut off, lest the infection reach the heart and kill the whole body.
So, the problem was never the infection, the problem was the response to the infection. So I cut my toe, and it gets infected. Should I get a hammer and try to beat the infection to death? Thats a good description of legalism. Rather, should I begin treating the infection with soap and water and see if that works? That would be the first step of Grace. Say soap and water don't work, so I try a mild ointment, but the infection is stronger than the ointment. I still don't need a hammer, I need a better treatment. This is how Grace works, coaxing the hurt believer to keep trying until we are able to understand the nature of the hurt, why it hurts, and what we may be able to do differently to heal the hurt. This is the beginning of the function and purpose of God's commands, to diagnose, to offer alternatives and to heal in Love.
We were designed to think, act and interact in a certain way, but when sin entered through Eve and through Adam, the way we were supposed to be was so severely damaged that God nearly gave up on humanity completely. It was that bad. Sin both separates us from God, and causes all sorts of things to completely malfunction.
5 The LORD saw how great man's wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them." 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.
1 Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save,
nor his ear too dull to hear.
2 But your iniquities have separated
you from your God;
your sins have hidden his face from you,
so that he will not hear.
So the function and purpose of obeying Biblical commands is to teach us how to restore the connection with how God intended us to think, act and interact as closely as possible to what He originally had in mind. However, as long as the response is uneven, the response to God, the response to others, even the response to our selves, this reconciliation will not go smoothly. God is well aware of this:
We all stumble in many ways. If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.
I believe it is still safe to say that nobody is perfect, so actually living the Biblical lifestyle in a sin driven world is, by nature, going to be an uneven process. Our best hope, then, is to get more right than we do wrong. While we practice that fine art, the best way to make progress is to do what we can, and hold on to that much, then pray and study the Word until we are ready for the next step. This is how genuine Christian growth works in practice.