(The painting shows the two sides of the temptation to be under the Law)
ADVENT DEVOTIONAL, 2017
REIGNING WITH CHRIST
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cummin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy, and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Matthew 23:23-24
FJ HUEGEL: Indeed, the “flesh” is forever drawing them (Christians) back to legal standing before God, though the cross of Christ may have forever nullified such a position. For “flesh” glories in its own achievements and in grace there is no ground for such vainglory. “Flesh” must struggle to achieve on an independent basis for such is the nature of its pride. So it turns with great satisfaction to law which provides a platform for the exercise of its imagined powers. Ah, it is a subtle thing, this “self-life” which is never so strong as when it is given opportunities for expression through what is good and just and holy.
The enemy (Satan) knows that when he has the Christian looking away from Calvary to Sinai; there is for him, the enemy, untold advantage. He needs but accuse (he is the accuser of the brethren), and, so long as the Christian’s position is legality, even though it be Biblical law, the Christian has no weapon of defense that will save him from the adversary. He goes under. He begins to take the voice of the accuser, who loves to cloak himself as an angel of light, for the voice of the Holy Spirit. Or he may think it is conscience. He begins to see all his faults and shortcomings and sins in a new light, if such darkness may be called light. As never before he “confesses,” but it brings no relief. As never before he struggles to “measure up,” but it is a blind alley. He will never find anything here but despair. And well it will be for him if his cry be such as Paul’s: “Oh wretched man that I am!” with its accompanying: “Thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”
Moreover, there is a further temptation for the Christian in retreating from dependence on grace to flirting with the law. It is not actually necessary to fulfil the law to appear to respect it. You can do the things that make you appear to be the most holy—things determined by the political and denominational persuasion of the group you belong to—without ever placing your own life under the costly grace of the Holy Spirit that afflicts the comfortable and brings conviction of sin. Conviction of sin, by the way, is very different than condemnation, because one is the first step in being free from sin while the other is the first step into bondage. A return to flirting with the law may deceive us into thinking we are “making it” on our own, because we are externally righteous according to our own evaluation. All the while the deep sin that comes from a sense of self righteousness is a spiritual infection that festers.
PRAYER: Dear God, I don’t want live by a sense of self righteousness, even a sense sanctified by the terms “dignity” and “self esteem” if these terms come to mean a loss of the humility, for humility is the result of utter dependence on your undeserved kindness and grace in Jesus Christ. Grant that I would neither listen to the accuser when he besieges me with condemnation and guilt for my sin, nor to my own mind when it assures me that I am “a pretty good guy” who has nothing to be ashamed of before God. I want neither to be excused or condemned, but forgiven and shaped by your Holy Spirit. In Jesus’s name. Amen.