I think it was probably in the room last night when we were together for worship. But I could not see it too well. There were not a lot of fist pumps with “Yes! I feel that sting. I know I have been poisoned. But Death, you have no power over me!” Lent kind of teases out that kind of reaction, but it can be a long tease for some of us. It might take even longer for people to start dancing around the room shouting, “Yes! I feel oppressed! I understand how the law has been keeping me down. But Jesus, you have freed me!” But it is all there in the Bible; Jesus-lovers trying to woo people into newness: The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Corinthians 15:56).
I think it might be easier to feel guilty for sin and just keep trying to fulfill the latest or oldest law. Being controlled so often feels like we are in control.
One of the reasons I try to emulate the Apostle Paul is that he is so out of control when it comes to the usual domination systems and he is so moved by the Holy Spirit. Thus, I am getting a lot from my little video parable full of seekers, vato. Even when Paul is abused, shipwrecked or in prison, he doesn’t forget that Jesus just recreated him and that his eternal destiny is just around the corner from the latest mess. The diaper, the deadline, the demand, or the disaster do not derail his delight. He does not create a law so he never has to experience trouble; he lives by a law that turns trouble into life. His wonderful insight results in some great teaching that has been an antidote to the poison of sin and an alternative to the graceless oppression of law for centuries.
The other day we were looking into one striking example of just how exceptional it is to follow Jesus when we explored Paul’s teaching about marriage. If you have read 1 Corinthians a few times, you’ve probably noticed that Paul places his famous “love chapter” in the middle of his teaching about how the Holy Spirit builds the Lord’s followers into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12-14). He does not place it after his chapter on marriage (1 Corinthians 7). By pointing this out, I am not trying to insult everyone who has had the beautiful “love chapter” read at their wedding. But I am pointing out that if you think Paul wrote it because he thought your marriage was the epitome of love, you are wrong.
Paul fully respects marriage as part of the order built into creation. But what he really wants us to know is that Jesus has inaugurated a new creation that is restoring our poisoned hearts and unlocking the manacles of our control systems. You’d think there would be regular dancing and shouting about this. But the poison is really deep and the law is so attractive to us. When Paul talks to the church in Galatia about their temptation to follow the Jewish law he says, “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” and “what counts is the new creation” (Galatians 5:6, 6:15). I keep trying to make this fundamental understanding basic to how I see myself and relate to others: “From now on we regard no one from a worldly point of view. Though we once regarded Christ in this way, we do so no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:16-17).
Paul teaches out of this radically new vision of the world when he writes to the Corinthians about love. He has some very practical teaching on marriage in chapter seven, but I think it can be summed up as: “Marriage is good, but don’t let it get in the way of your life in the kingdom of God.” The epitome of love is not getting married, it is when Spirit-filled people form the body of Christ and live as a new creation. Some of the Corinthians really go with this new grace in which we live. Paul has to oppose one faction in the church whose slogan appears to be “I have the right to do anything.” Paul adds, “but not everything is beneficial and I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Some things are built into creation and it is arrogant to think we can improve on God’s basic design. Other things are built into society and even if we know they are not that important, we still respect them so other people will respect us. You can’t really make a law about everything, you need to be filled with the Spirit of God and be one in love.
An approach like Paul’s requires a great deal of love and commitment. It is a lot easier to be at a level where you are just negotiating with sin all the time or you are dealing with life by making a law. Paul wants a life where love makes a difference and law no long masters him. Lots of Jesus-followers think the love chapter is pretty; Paul thinks it is animating. Many people skip the messiness of relating to God and others and make connections based on mutual denial or politics but Paul is led by Jesus right into all the relating, sorting, struggling and time it takes to be the body of Christ! It is a lot easier to be on this side or that, conform to the laws of one’s side and skip the struggle of the third way that guides our steps though the pressures of the binary world in which we live.
The third way was definitely being followed in the room last night. It is true that some people were still considering whether they thought it was “sin” or just themselves that entangled them. Some people were struggling whether it was just another “law” or it was irrefutable truth that dominated them. Lent kind of teases out those kinds of thoughts. But I think most of us were moving toward the love of Jesus and almost ready to dance. Death comes at us and we apply all the laws we know to stop it. It never works, vato. But sometimes we discover some amazing things in the process, even dancing beyond death.