Law vs. grace

August 11, 2015

Do you know what “ham salad” is? Well, for most of us it has little to do with “ham” and even less to do with “salad.” No doubt some folks actually prepare it with ham but we mere mortals make it with bologna… or shall I say “coagulated fat and cholesterol.” Anyway, it’s a mixture of the aforementioned “ground, mashed fat”, mayonnaise and dill relish. It’s then smeared onto a bread of your choice; preferable spongy white bread so as to get as little nutritional value as possible. If you haven’t had it or seen it, then you must be from another planet or at least from a different country. It’s somewhat of a staple in American sandwich lore. Not unlike peanut butter and jelly, BLT’s, or egg salad sandwiches. Anyway…, I can’t stand it! It’s a waste of good “fat” as far as I’m concerned. But here’s the rub. I do like sliced bologna, dill pickle and mayonnaise sandwiches. Do you get that? It’s exactly the same ingredients albeit a different consistency. I would go so far as to say that the sandwich I just mentioned looks much like the ham salad sandwich, 10 seconds after entering the mouth. That doesn’t make sense, does it?

There are a lot of things in our lives that don’t make sense if we take the time to think about them. Few of us are really consistent in our thoughts and beliefs. For the most part we live flying by the seat of our pants and we choose our values and morals based on what’s advantageous for us at any given moment. For example, I had a conversation with a couple of friends a few weeks ago. I asked this question, “Should Christians obey the laws of the land?” (Assuming they are consistent with our faith. I’m not talking about civil disobedience here.) Furthermore, is it sin if we do not? And is sin a problem? Can I suggest that many, if not all of us, will answer “yes” to those three questions. And yet we regularly drive over the speed limit with little thought about that. The other example that I discussed with my friends had to do with remodeling our homes. In our community you can’t really hang a piece of dry wall in your house without a building permit, and yet so many of us ignore those sorts of things.

I know someone will say something like, “Yeah, but speed limits are somewhat ‘general,’ or ‘everyone goes over them,’ or ‘they set the limits knowing you will go faster, so it’s okay to travel 5 mph over the…’ blah, blah, blah…” Don’t get me wrong; I regularly drive over the posted limits. My car knows well the speed of sound. Well okay maybe not that fast. But I fully admit that I am breaking the law and it troubles me more than I like to acknowledge. I have no desire to rationalize my “speeding sin” even thought it seems small relative to other more grievous things.

I guess all this has something to do with Christian integrity. How can we address the immoral laws of the land if we are unwilling to follow even the simple ones? Seriously how can we? I might add that it’s hard to discuss this without spilling over into legalism. But that’s just the point isn’t it?! Doing what’s “legal.” Keep in mind that “legalism” in and of itself doesn’t have to be bad, at least from a secular perspective. It primarily means “religiously” following the law. Of course it’s not the same in our faith. In the faith, when “law” replaces “grace” we lose sight of Jesus and that is SO EASY to do!

I was taught early in youth ministry that “relationships take precedent over programs,” i.e., all that we plan ought to be about facilitating relationships, not about just creating funny, creative, attention grabbing “shows.” And yet I have seen too many youth leaders spend an inordinate amount of time on programming at the expense of meeting and getting to know kids. We almost always gravitate toward program and away from relationships. In the same way, we are drawn toward “law” and away from “grace.” It’s easy to see in churches that have “rules” against seemingly everything and yet they don’t come across as being very loving. It is possible and essential that we do both! We need to follow Biblical precedents AND love those who don’t at the same time. Anyone who says that Christianity is easy isn’t really a practicing “Christ One.” Try loving those with whom you stridently disagree or who you think are misleading your kids, or who have values that you believe are ungodly and morally damaging. Once we get that under control maybe we can move on to other important issues. After all, what did Jesus say about the most important commandments? Love God. Love everybody else.

Maybe I should say something brief about “love.” Sometimes love means saying “no.” Think about that.

Today I should have called this “meanderings” instead of “ruminations.” Sorry about that. I also should have posted this last week but Ellen reminded me that there is no “law” saying that I have to do this weekly, so I’m relying on grace.



2 thoughts on “Law vs. grace

  1. Thanks Bill for today’s post. I became more aware of my own law vs grace issue when Tyler, my son, came into my life. He is a very black versus white kind of person. I didn’t really notice how much of life is lived “in-between” and what that means or doesn’t mean for us as Christians who strive to have some sort of integrity in our living.

  2. This reminds me of a quote from Abraham Lincoln, who once said about a colleague, “I do not like that man. I need to get to know him better.”

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