Disarmed and Dangerous

Faith Recovery Podcast
Faith Recovery Podcast
Disarmed and Dangerous
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In “Disarmed and Dangerous” we say that living saved is living above rules.

The elementary principles of the world are disarmed and dangerous. Jesus disarmed them by nullifying the law and with it rule-based living. Even though this is so, we must beware of them since we tend to resort to them again.


Episode Notes:

Point: We encounter the elementary principles of the world through rules.

The elementary principles of the world don’t need to be codified to operate, but rules facilitate their reign. Laws define the extent to which authorities can control the actions of the citizens under their purview. Laws facilitate the operation of authority by prescribing governmental power over the citizens. For instance, a person driving over the posted speed limit will have a ready answer for the traffic cop’s, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” Laws governing every detail of this type of interaction reduce the need for force in enforcement. Laws facilitate the operation of authority, but they also limit it. Police officers, judges, representatives, and even the president are all subject to the laws in the United States. We need authority, but it can easily become oppressive, so legal codes attempt to mitigate oppression while retaining the social order. 

Rules also streamline the process of conformity. Institutions produce bylaws and policy guides to prescribe acceptable behavior for their participants. POA covenants detail cultural conformity regarding the appearance of individual property within a neighborhood. Employers produce handbooks and work to produce a corporate culture that reflects their brand. I’ve lived most of my life in the shadow of the Walmart home office and I’ve seen firsthand the impact of insisting that everyone in management refers to employees as “associates.” People naturally conform to unspoken norms but when they do get spoken in the form of rules, it helps everyone conform more quickly.

Religions prescribe taboos and rituals for their adherents. These prescriptions can take the form of laws in theocratic societies, or they can be enforced by social censure in more secular ones. The Hebrew scriptures outline civil and cultic requirements in tedious detail. These instructions informed jurisprudence even under a monarchial rule which helped Israel maintain a level of equality and justice for all its people. Ultimate civil authority resided with the Mosaic code. The cultic elements such as in Leviticus produced a vivid cultural salience among Jewish society. The law, as Paul called it, helped the Jews remain a distinct people even through centuries as a dispersed nation.

Rules are so ubiquitous in human society that we might fail to recognize the elementary principles hiding behind them. In our highly litigious and individualistic society, we might come to assume that we obey the law simply because we don’t want to go to jail. Or we might tell ourselves that we obey the policy manual at work just because we don’t want to get fired. Our relationship with rules could make us miss the fact that we obey laws that we could safely ignore or that we buy in to the company line when the boss isn’t around. If Paul is right that rules serve these elementary principles of the world, then the fact that we continually produce rules is proof positive that we live under the sway of invisible social forces.

Point: Christ has nullified rule-based systems, but the basic principles of the world remain disarmed and dangerous.

If rules merely represent the dominion of the elementary principles of the world and yet we’re supposed to be free of them, then we must be free from rules as well. Remember that in Galatians 4:1-3 Paul called the elementary principles of the world a guardian over humankind until the coming of God’s Son. A few verses earlier, he speaks of the Mosaic law as guardian over the nation of Israel “until faith came.” Later in Galatians 4, he warns these Gentile converts that submitting to the law would be a return to subservience to the elementary principles of the world. In chapter 5, he exhorts them to remain in freedom by not submitting to the requirements written in the Old Testament. In other words, rule-keeping is a reversal of the gospel of Christ.

In Colossians, Paul described religious rules as weapons used by the elementary principles of the world to oppress God’s people:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

(Colossians 2:13-15 NIV)

Since Jesus has “disarmed the powers and authorities,” we mustn’t allow them to influence our actions. As Paul went on to write,

If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” (which all refer to things destined to perish with use)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men?

(Colossians 2:20-22 NASB)

Point: We must be free of the guardian to become moral adults.

Freedom from external pressures and enticements is mandatory to the Christian because Christ died to set us free from the elementary principles of the world. But if these basic principles are essentially benign and if laws aim at keeping them that way, what need could there be for such radical freedom? Why would God pay such an awful cost to free us from our guardian?

We can’t stay under the guardian because God wants grown children. Rules can be comfortable. Religious people often swing towards legalism because they’re looking for structure. They want to know what they should do without having to go through the pain of decision-making. In other words, they want to be treated like children. Unfortunately, such people never develop an authentic ethic beyond, “Do what you’re told.” That might work for small children, but it surely shouldn’t characterize God’s full-grown image bearers.

The elementary principles of the world and the rules they wield work to keep humankind from facing the self-destructive consequences of their own defiance. Their proper role is to restrain human wickedness. According to Paul:

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers…

(1 Timothy 1:8-9 NIV)

Laws exist to constrain unrighteous people. The application of laws to righteous people is a misuse. It suggests to them that they would do such things if unconstrained and they come to believe it. They become moral infants afraid of their own character. When they encounter the least bit of freedom, they flee to the familiar folds of their nanny’s apron. There, they are once again absolved of tension to make good decisions. This tendency can affect even people we consider very spiritual.

In Galatians 2 Paul recounts a time he had to rebuke the apostle Peter in front of the whole church.[i] It seems that Peter had been eating with Gentiles in Antioch but shunned them after other Jewish believers arrived from Jerusalem. We’re told that Peter’s hypocrisy was due to fear of this Jewish contingent. I assume it regarded the Jewish practice of avoiding ceremonial defilement which would always be present at Gentile feasts. It seems the defilements might have gone beyond ceremonial, though. Paul seems to suggest that Peter may have compromised his morals in some way at one of these Gentile banquets:

“But if, in seeking to be justified in Christ, we Jews find ourselves also among the sinners, doesn’t that mean that Christ promotes sin? Absolutely not! If I rebuild what I destroyed, then I really would be a lawbreaker.

(Galatians 2:17-18 NIV)

As an observant Palestinian Jew, Peter could rest assured in his personal performance of the law. However, that performance owed greatly to living in an observant society. The real test of Peter’s character would come while surrounded entirely by pagans with their raucous indulgence and casual inter-sex interactions. Did Peter get drunk? Was he acting a bit too familiar with one of the female dinner guests? Whatever he’d done, he felt ashamed enough to cease eating with Gentiles when he came under Jewish scrutiny. Maybe he was afraid to scandalize the name of Christ through his own actions. Paul puts that concern to rest by saying, “Hey, if you messed up, that’s on you.” Then he tells Peter that the real transgression is to build again the law-driven religion which kept Jews and Gentiles apart.

I relay all of this to point out that only those who come out from behind authoritarian religion can discover and develop their true moral core. Children need directives and supervision, but the application of those same controls on adults infantilizes them. Attempts to shelter young adults in the home, youth group, and Christian college retard their moral/spiritual development. In many cases, they come to resent the authority over them and rebel (only to find themselves in the custody of conformity). If they don’t rebel, they will become morally hollow puppets of their church. Such religion produces cowardly conformists. We must be free to become truly conformed to the image of Christ through and through.

Point: Religious rules incubate hypocrisy.

Servants of the basic principles not only lack moral fiber, but they grow an immoral alter ego behind the veneer of compliance. Laws and social norms can only address actions. This brings the focus entirely on behaviors and especially the ones which signal insider status with the group. I’ve seen whole churches of people who would never use an instrument on Sunday morning but who were secretly having affairs even with each other.

Jesus called down this curse on the hypocrites of his day:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean.  In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”

(Matthew 23:27-28 NIV)

I’ve been around long enough to see this illustration as an immutable spiritual law. Wherever you find a shiny behavioral veneer, you can be assured of moral rot hiding just under the surface.

The best that people will become under the elementary principles of the world is outwardly obedient. The worst they’ll become is moral deviants hiding from public scrutiny. We don’t celebrate “yes men,” or conformists. And every kind of hypocrite is universally disdained. We must be free from external control if we are to have any hope of genuine moral development.

Point: Religious rules dilute pure motives.

Maybe you’re thinking of a good legalist you knew. I’d suggest that you probably didn’t really know them, but let’s pretend you did. Even if a rule-driven person comes to obey from the heart, their morality will always be in question. For instance, suppose they remain faithful to their spouse in thought, word, and deed their entire life. Will that faithfulness be due to a genuine love for their spouse or will it be merely enlightened self-interest for fear of divine retribution? Perhaps they could say that it was both, but wouldn’t that dilute the pure love their spouse would prefer to receive?


References:

Crossing Over

This post isn’t for everyone.

It’s for the people who sense that something is wrong with this world.

It’s for those who grieve over the hurt they see around them and regret their part in it.

You’re right, there is something wrong and you’re a part of the problem.

You also need to know that it doesn’t have to be that way.

The Bible tells the story of what’s wrong with our society and it tells us how to cross over into a new society governed by trust and love.

First, here’s what went wrong:

Our original ancestors were given the opportunity to live in paradise. In paradise, they enjoyed perfect harmony with their environment and each other in God’s presence. At some point they chose selfish ambition over peace and intimacy.

They would now suffer an existence characterized by alienation from God and from each other.

As these early ancestors reproduced, their brokenness multiplied along with their progeny. In time, hate-filled and violent people would populate the earth.

Noah and His Family Crossed Over

Rather than allow continued degradation, God declared that he would destroy the evil society by means of a massive flood:

So the Lord said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.”  But Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord. (Genesis 6:7-8)

We’re not told why, but God selected Noah for special treatment while everyone else faced impending doom.

You’re probably familiar with the rest of the story. God instructed Noah to build a massive, water-tight wooden box which would hold male and female representatives of humankind and animals. Then a flood destroyed all life outside of the great wooden box. After the waters receded, all the inhabitants came out and repopulated the earth.

In the ark, Noah crossed over the waters into a new society.

Sadly, selfish ambition came off of the ark in the hearts of Noah and his family.

Abraham Crossed Over

As Noah’s family reproduced, his descendants formed a new evil society which the book of Genesis describes like this:

At one time all the people of the world spoke the same language and used the same words. As the people migrated to the east, they found a plain in the land of Babylonia and settled there.
They began saying to each other, “Let’s make bricks and harden them with fire.” (In this region bricks were used instead of stone, and tar was used for mortar.) Then they said, “Come, let’s build a great city for ourselves with a tower that reaches into the sky. This will make us famous and keep us from being scattered all over the world.” (Genesis 11:1-4 NLT)

These people made selfish ambition a corporate enterprise. They came to realize that they were stronger together and came up with ways to cement their corporate identity. To establish permanence beyond their individual lifespans, they would build a great city. They also planned to memorialize themselves through an impressive achievement, the tower. These monuments to their corporate strength would also maintain it by keeping everyone together.

God disciplined these people for pulling together around selfish ambition. He confused their languages and scattering them to the four corners of the earth.

In the next chapter of Genesis, God calls a man to become the antithesis of Babylon’s arrogance:

The Lord had said to Abram, “Leave your native country, your relatives, and your father’s family, and go to the land that I will show you.  I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others. I will bless those who bless you and curse those who treat you with contempt. All the families on earth will be blessed through you.” (Genesis 12:1-3 NLT)

Abram was from a city called Ur which was located in the region of Babylonia. God called him to leave the corrupt society of his nativity to wander in an unknown land. To reach Canaan from Ur, Abraham had to cross over the Euphrates River. From then on, he and his descendants would be know as “Hebrews” which means, “the crossed over.”

Because he trusted God enough to cross over from dependency on humankind, God would give Abraham everything the people of Babylon had attempted to seize for themselves. In addition to that, God would use Abraham as a vehicle to bless everyone on earth.

Moses Crossed Over

After four hundred years, God’s promise to make Abraham’s descendants into a nation came true. The Hebrews, whom God had taken to develop in Egypt, multiplied into the hundreds of thousands. They were now a nation that would be known as Israel.

Fearing a revolt, the Egyptian king put the Hebrews under forced labor. In time, they called out to God who sent Moses to rescue them from slavery.

Through Moses, God inflicted a series of ten plagues on Egypt until the king let Israel leave his country. After they left Egypt, they wandered in the wilderness for a couple of weeks finally making camp next to the Red Sea.

Then the king, regretting the loss of his large slave labor force, marshalled his army and pursued them into the wilderness. When he caught up to them, the Israelites were terrified. God told Moses to lift his staff over the Red Sea and it parted. Israel walked through the sea on dry ground, but the Egyptians were all drown as God released the sea upon them in the midst of their pursuit.

From then on, Israel’s old masters had no control over them. They were free to serve the one true God and to depend on him for everything they needed. Moses and Israel crossed over the Red Sea from an evil society to a life of God’s guidance and provision in the wilderness.

Like with Noah’s family, selfish ambition came through the water with Israel. In time, they started to think just like the people of Babylon. They demanded that God give them a human king so they wouldn’t have to trust God to deliver them from their enemies. Throughout their history, they continued to reject God until he finally sent them back to Babylon as prisoners of war.

John the Baptist Crossed Over

Because of his promises to Abraham, God returned Israel to their own land after seventy years in Babylon.

Even though they had been through so much, Israel continued to chase selfish ambition. By the first century C.E., the priests in Jerusalem had become puppet rulers for the Roman Empire. They talked about following the will of God, but they didn’t do it themselves. When push came to shove, those Israelite (now also known as Jewish) leaders would do anything to protect their grip on power.

At that time, God sent a man named John into the wilderness to speak a message of correction to Israel. He told them that they needed to change their ways because God was getting ready to come to them. The people who listened to John’s message were baptized by him in the Jordan River. This baptism was a crossing over from the compromised and corrupt religion of Jerusalem into a pure devotion to God.

Jesus Crossed Over

Though he was born to a virgin as the Son of God, Jesus lived an ordinary human life until he was around thirty years old. Then he went out to the Jordan to be baptized by John.

At first, John didn’t want to baptize Jesus because he knew that he didn’t have any sin to turn away from. Jesus urged John to comply, because it was God’s will for him to be baptized.

When Jesus came up from the water, the Holy Spirit descended on him in the form of a dove and a voice from heaven called out, “This is my beloved Son. I’m pleased with him.” At his baptism, Jesus crossed over from carpenter (the trade he learned from his earthly father) to Christ (the calling given to him by his heavenly Father, God).

Jesus Christ went around teaching everyone and performing miracles. He called out the hypocrisy among influential religious people of his day. The respectable people hated him, but the outcasts loved him and followed him everywhere.

When Jesus came to Jerusalem, the religious leaders felt threatened by him. They schemed to have him executed by the Romans on a cross.

Jesus had told his disciples that this would happen. When Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, heard this prediction, he called Jesus aside and said, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!”

Jesus responded harshly to his concerned friend, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns.” (Matthew 16:22-23)

At his death, Jesus crossed over in a way that nobody else had until that time. By submitting to a wrongful death, Jesus let go of all selfish ambition and trusted his life fully into God’s hands. He didn’t just cross over through water. He crossed through death.

Because of his obedient trust, his Father resurrected Jesus never to die again.

Jesus’ Followers Crossed Over

Fifty days after Jesus rose again, the Holy Spirit came from heaven with a loud rushing wind onto 120 of his followers who were praying in Jerusalem. The Holy Spirit gave them the ability to speak in languages which they hadn’t studied. People from all over the city gathered to hear them. Since it was a special holiday in Jerusalem, Jews were present from all over the Roman Empire. Everyone heard these followers telling about God’s wonderful deeds in their own native tongues and they were amazed.

Then, Peter stood up and told everyone how God had sent Jesus to be their perfect king, but they and their leaders had rejected him and had him crucified. Peter also told them that God had given proof that Jesus was the Son of God by raising him from death and by pouring out the Holy Spirit.

The people in the audience were crushed by this news and asked what they should do. Peter responded,

“Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.” (Acts 2:38-40 NIV)

Peter called them to cross over, through baptism, from participation in their corrupt society to life led and empowered by God through the Holy Spirit.

Creation will cross over at the end of this age.

Peter appealed for his audience to save themselves from the degrading influence of their corrupt generation, but he also knew of a greater peril they faced.

When Christ returns, we’re told that fire from his presence will cleanse every vestige of human sinfulness from the earth. Then he will renew creation to God’s original intention. In this way, all of creation will cross over from corruption to flourishing.

Those who’ve crossed over now – who’ve chosen the world to come – will belong in that renewed earth. Those who’ve chosen the illusory rewards of this present age will be incinerated with it at the return of Christ.

God doesn’t want to condemn anyone, but in the course of renewing creation, everything from the old, corrupt system, including its inhabitants, must be removed forever.

This same invitation is open to you today.

Just like Noah and his family or Moses and the Israelites, God wants you to leave behind your way of life and cross through water to a life led and empowered by his Holy Spirit.

Unlike Noah’s family or the Israelites, you must leave your selfish ambition behind, because baptism in Jesus’ name requires that we trust God like Jesus did. His cross becomes our crossing. Because he died for us, we must for his sake “die” to our desires, our dreams, our egos, to ourselves. Then, we become spiritual Hebrews who’ve severed our unhealthy dependencies to wander as strangers in this world, listening only to our God and accepting the blessings he has promised.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rods Wielded by Men

Just yesterday, I presented a message on the end of Luke 18 where Jesus heals a blind man along the road just outside of Jericho. The man had heard the commotion of Jesus’ entourage and asked as to the reason for the uproar. Some at the front of the procession inform him that it’s because Jesus of Nazareth was passing that way. In response, he begins to shout, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”

Israeli_blue_Star_of_David

What was it that made this beggar associate Jesus with David?

Jewish people in the first century were awaiting the coming of a great king that would be the true successor to David according to a promise made in 2 Samuel 7:12-16:

When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands. But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever. – 2 Samuel 7:12-16

As we continue through the narrative, it would be easy to conclude that Solomon and his gilded reign were the fulfillment of this promise, but the Jews of Jesus’ day didn’t see it that way mostly because they were no longer a sovereign kingdom ruled by a Davidic monarch. What about that whole, “establish forever” thing?

Christians believe that the blind man in Luke 18 was correct about Jesus’ identity. Let’s consider each of the traits of the Son of David from this promise in an attempt to see what he saw:

  • He would be “raised up” after the death of David.

According to 1 Kings 1:43-48, David himself made Solomon king on his throne while David was still alive. The successive descendants of David obviously came to power after David’s death, but none of them could be said to have been “raised up,” since they all started at the top.

Isaiah predicted that Messiah would grow up before God like a shoot out of dry ground (Is. 53:2).

According to the gospels, Jesus rose from and earthy existence in a blue collar backwater to divinely endorsed rabbi. Then, he rose from corpse to king.

  • He will be David’s physical descendant.

Solomon and all the others including Jesus met this criteria. This part of the promised coupled with the previous part begs the question, “From David’s vantage point, why would his physical descendant need to be raised up?” It would need to happen after the chain of earthly succession had been broken.

The Son of David must be a physical descendant born after Israel’s defeat and captivity.

  • I will establish his kingdom forever.

We might understand this to mean that the one to come would always have descendants on his throne, but wouldn’t that be superfluous? With Solomon excluded as the fulfillment, why would David care which as yet unborn descendant sat on his throne or to which other random descendant it was passed next?

The one to come will not have to relinquish the kingdom because he will never die. His throne will be established because he won’t ever have to vacate it.

solomonsTemple

  • He is the one to build a house for my name.

Yes, Solomon built the temple, but we’ve already excluded him as the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. If the promised descendant isn’t Solomon, then the house to be built isn’t the temple.

Jesus told his disciples, “I will build my church.” (Matthew 16:18) We think of church as a building, so Jesus’ words don’t sound strange to us, but the word for “church” literally means, ” a called out group of people.” Jesus intentionally wove two images together to express the sort of house he came to build for God. In the context of Matthew 16, Jesus told Peter that he would be the first stone in an edifice made up of called out people.

Peter perpetuated the imagery he received from Christ as he wrote to those who like him had been installed in God’s house,

As you come to him, the living Stone —rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 2:4-5

  • The relationship between the one to come and God will be son to father – that is, one of loving discipline and unconditional love.

This one always struck a sour note with me. “When he does wrong”? Has Jesus done wrong? Does he need discipline for his own affronts to God or offenses against people?

Medical-Aspects-of-the-Crucifixion-of-Jesus-Christ-Part-III-w1

It struck me (no pun intended) today that this promise speaks to the union we have with Christ. At his passion, he was literally struck with “a rod wielded by men, with floggings inflicted by human hands.” We know that wasn’t because of wrongs he himself had done, but wrongs for which he took the blame. Christ has so committed himself to his own people that their sins have become his wrongs. But, this fatherly chastisement didn’t end with the cross.

When Jesus appears to Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus Rd., he asked, “Why are you persecuting me?” (Acts 9:4). The author of the letter to the Hebrews encourages them to face persecution because through the hands of men God disciplines them like a father (Hebrews 12:7-11).

1686_SAHIWALCHURCHMEMBERS
photo credit: icommittopray.com

In Christ, the promises to David convey to us. We are the sons of David. We have come into God’s kingdom not as subjects, but as sons – co regents and co heirs with Christ. In our enduring hardships, God continues to fulfill his promise to train his son, the son of David. Persecution is as much our birthright as is a seat at God’s table or our future possession of all creation. Unlike Christ at his passion, we never suffer alone because he continues to be persecuted with his church. Why must we suffer persecution? Because we continue to do wrong. We’ll never be condemned for those wrongs, but we must learn to desist from them.

Peter describes the blessed fruit of suffering with Christ in these words,

Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude, because whoever suffers in the body is done with sin. As a result, they do not live the rest of their earthly lives for evil human desires, but rather for the will of God. – 1 Peter 4:1-2

God’s promise through Samuel can only be fulfilled through one person who has ever lived. Because of what he suffered, he can include all people in that promise since his suffering was for their wrongs. In Christ, we are sons of God and sons of David. Our suffering on his behalf certifies our claim on the throne.

Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. -Romans 8:17