Thursday, July 6, 2017

Don’t Tell Me No



Romans 7:4-6, “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.  For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.  But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code” (NIV).

I have read this so many times, but never quite like today.

Sinful passions are aroused by law.  Yes.  I think this is true.  As someone who doesn’t particularly love following rules of any kind, I can testify to the fact that I am infinitesimally more likely to do something if someone tells me I can’t.  This is, of course, ridiculous—at least to a certain extent.  I will do things I do not even want to do, if someone feels I am incapable or simply less than ideal for the task.  I am so stubborn.

To underscore the severity of my tenacity; the other day, my kids were talking about what would happen if either Phil or I died.  I have blogged about this on a fairly regular basis, because they talk about it all the time (honestly, at length at least once a month).  I’m not sure why it is such a preoccupation for them, especially for my youngest two who have basically been raised on rainbows and unicorns and nothing bad ever happening in the world.

If you read my post giving specific directions to Phil, “If I Die First,” then you understand my need to remain in control of everything and everybody, even post mortem.  But during the aforementioned conversation the tables were turned. 

Phil said something to the effect of, “Maybe I’ll just make a list of everyone your mom shouldn’t marry if I die.”

There was a brief moment of thoughtfulness, and then Grace (my fifteen year old daughter) exclaimed, “Oh no, Dad!  Do not do that!  You know she’ll intentionally marry someone from that list!”

I wish everybody had laughed next, but nobody did.  No list was created.

Weirdly and ironically, the first few verses of Romans 7 are all about marriage and death, and I was not even going to go there with this post until I started writing it…

But let’s return to this idea that we (and, come on… I really mean ‘we,’ because it’s not just me) are prone to do the things we’re told not to and to want the things we shouldn’t have.  I don’t know why.  Undoubtedly, someone will want to throw the sinful nature into the mix, but I’m less and less sure that’s it.  Interestingly, this clip of Scripture from Romans seems to indicate that the remedy for this is freedom from a law that binds us to a specific set of yeses and nos.  As if we might not even dwell on such passions if they’re not out of reach based on some arbitrary guideline—don’t tell me no, and I’ll stop wanting it.  Hmmm….

Oh, how I love Augustine (or, at least this modern translation of my favorite quote of his):

“Love God and do whatever you please:
for the soul trained in love to God
will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

I wonder if this is a good interpretation of Romans 7:6 and what it is to live by the Spirit.  I also wonder how our lives might be radically transformed if we substituted many people and ideas for the name of God (but maybe after we get it right as originally written, first):

“Love Phil and do whatever you please:
for the soul trained in love to Phil
will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

See… no need for a list…

“Love Miah and do whatever you please:
for the soul trained in love to Miah
will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

“Love the church and do whatever you please:
for the soul trained in love to the church
will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

“Love the Earth and do whatever you please:
for the soul trained in love to the Earth
will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

“Love your enemies and do whatever you please:
for the soul trained in love to your enemies
will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

“Love peace and do whatever you please:
for the soul trained in love to peace
will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

“Love truth and do whatever you please:
for the soul trained in love to truth
will do nothing to offend the One who is Beloved.”

To die to law is actually much more difficult than we might imagine.  Even if it’s a struggle to keep rules and do the right thing all the time; it’s actually convenient to have a checklist at the end of the day.

Did I envy today?  Nope.  Check.
Did I lust today?  Nope.  Check.
Did I steal today?  Nope. Check.

Living poured out in genuine love is more difficult.  It is losing yourself for the sake of the Other.  It is finding yourself in the sake of the Other.  I think there is a temptation to think a life without rules—a life with limitless freedom—is appealing, but it is actually a grueling responsibility.  To die to the law is to belong to another… to Jesus… and if sharing in his death is demanding in ways we don’t often consider; sharing in his resurrection is even more so.  Love costs everything.
 
L.

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