There are three problems with seeing Christianity primarily in terms of following rules.
First, this notion is just wrong.
Second, it obscures the fact that the solution to our problem is not following rules, but forgiveness.
Third, it gives the impression, as William Wilberforce said, that Christianity is “a system of prohibitions rather than privileges and hopes.” A focus on rules overpowers the emphatic New Testament ethos of joy, making the Christian faith wear “a forbidding and bloomy air and not one of peace and hope and joy.”
Archive for May 19th, 2012
Andy Naselli shares this story from D. A. Carson, The God Who Is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story; Leader’s Guide (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2010), 33–34:
A young school teacher in Northern Ireland once told me how she taught the substance of these early chapters of Genesis. Fresh out of college, she found herself a job teaching “religious education” (still common in the United Kingdom) to young boys in a rather rough school. She was making no headway at all. She decided to try another approach. Using plaster of Paris, she got them to create their own little creatures (one imagines that some of them were pretty grotesque) and then, over the next days, their own world, complete with a village, animals, a little lake, fences, and so forth. She had the boys make up the “backstory” behind each little creature and begin to weave the accounts together. Eventually she asked them to pool ideas for some rules or laws that they thought they should impose to preserve some order. The boys came up with quite a number, including a prohibition against going too close to the edge of the “world” less they fall off and break, and a prohibition against going into the lake, where of course they would dissolve. These and other “laws” were grouped together to see if they could be boiled down for simplicity. The boys decided that the one law “Do what I tell you” was the most comprehensive.
The next day, the teacher came into class and asked them to imagine that one of the little creatures the boys had created stood up and said to his maker, rather defiantly, “Leave me alone. This is my world, not yours. I’ll do what I want. I certainly do not want you telling me what to do. Get out of here and leave me alone!” How, then, should the boys respond?
There was a moment of stunned silence, and then one of the boys volunteered, “I’d break his bloody legs!”
That is how the teacher introduced Genesis 3. And of course, the degree of culpable betrayal and defiance that we human beings display against the perfectly good, wise, and sovereign Creator is infinitely greater.
For more information on The God Who Is There, see here.
Here’s a prayer for the Lord’s Day–a model for how we should prepare for Sunday morning:
We pray thee, assist us in all the religious services of this thine own holy day. Go along with us to the solemn assembly, for if thy presence go not up with us, wherefore should we go up? Give us to draw nigh to thee with a true heart, with a free heart, with a fixed heart, and in full assurance of faith. Meet us with a blessing: Grace thine own ordinances with thy presence, that special presence of thine which thou hast promised where two or three are gathered together in thy name. Help us against our manifold infirmities, and the sins that do most easily beset us in our attendance upon thee; let thy word come with life and power to our souls, and be as good seed sown in good soil, taking root, and bringing forth fruit to thy praise; and let our prayers and praises be spiritual sacrifices, acceptable in thy sight, through Christ Jesus.
The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied. (Proverbs 19:23)
Franklin D. Roosevelt coined one of America’s iconic maxims in his first inaugural address: “the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” It’s not true.
Roosevelt was trying to quell the national panic of financial crisis, urging Americans not to succumb to “unreasoning, unjustified terror which paralyzes needed efforts.” It is true that irrational fear must be resisted. But it’s not true that fear is the only thing we need to fear.
In fact, fear itself is not wrong. God actually designed us to be fearers. Fear is a faith-revealer. What we fear reveals what we trust. It’s a strong response to a perceived threat commanding us to protect our hope. In that way it governs our behaviors.
That means fear really isn’t our problem. If we fear the wrong things it’s because our faith is in the wrong things.
There’s the real issue for you and me. We have a lot of fears because we have a lot of unbelief.
Every time we are sinfully fearful — fearful of something God tells us not to fear — it is a moment of unbelief exposure. It is a place in the kingdom of our souls that has not yet been conquered; not yet fully under the rule of Jesus Christ.
Israel’s conquering the Promised Land is God’s metaphor for us in fighting unbelief. In the face of Canaan’s fortified cities and giants the Israelites were told:
Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
They were called to face their fears because it would train them to put their trust in the right Hope. “It is the Lord your God you shall fear” (Deuteronomy 6:13). Learning to fear the One Right Thing would free them from the tyranny of fearing a myriad of wrong things. The same is true for us.
Today, if the Lord has you facing fortified cities and giants of unbelief and you find yourself fearful, hear his words and be encouraged to press on:
- “Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you” (Deuteronomy 31:6).
- “The fear of the Lord, that is wisdom, and to turn away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).
- “Oh, fear the Lord, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack” (Psalm 34:9)!
- Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God… He will come and save you” (Isaiah 35:4).
- He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things” (Romans 8:32)?
- For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
- “Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).
- “Do not fear, only believe” (Mark 5:36).
There is only One Thing we have to fear, and it is not fear. It is the Lord. Through fear he will teach us faith.