I was a teenager during the 1960’s. We talked a lot about freedom. Sadly, in our struggle to be free, we often chose lifestyles that led to slavery. The apostle Paul spoke to another time but his teachings also resonate with us. Christians have been set free by Christ. In this freedom we are to stand firm. We live in the grace of Jesus. Our trust is in him. He is our hope. True faith shows itself through a life of love. There were people in Paul’s day for whom this was not good enough. They wanted something more tangible than the faith, hope, and love that come from knowing Jesus. They turned to the Mosaic law. “Perhaps if I have myself circumcised then I will have the security that I now lack? Isn’t circumcision the sign and seal of the covenant? I need to know that I am right before God and surely this will prove it.” To the apostle, this attitude separates a person from Christ. Instead of holding on to him, trusting him, awaiting him, and working for him, things that really count, the focus becomes whether or not I have the externals down to the point that I can know that I am right with God. Trying to be justified by anything other than trusting in Jesus Christ is to fall away from grace. We need to keep our eyes on Jesus and off of ourselves. Anything else fails us and ultimately turns into a yoke of slavery.
On the other hand, the psalmist makes it clear that freedom from a desire to be justified by law is a far cry from rejecting God’s law. If you think about it, love for God’s law is love for God. The law is God’s guidance to his children. What kind of father gives no guidance to his children? The Old Testament is clear that God gave his Word to his children because of his love for them. So, to the psalmist, God’s promise of salvation is mercy. His word of truth, namely, his ordinances, is our hope. The psalmist can walk at liberty, in that very freedom we all desire, because he seeks God’s precepts. Thus, he delights in God’s commands and vows to keep them forever. What a shocking statement to an antinomian world to hear the psalmist say, “I will lift up my hands to your commands….” To meditate on the Father’s statutes is truly counter-cultural.
We still must be careful, though, to maintain our focus on the Spirit of Jesus. There were occasions in which Jesus did not fulfill the external rituals of his day. He seems to have done this to point out the hypocrisy of those who focus on externals and forget that religion is about a heart given over to God and God’s people. So, to those who made a big deal to ceremoniously wash their hands before eating but whose hearts were “filled with plunder and evil,” Jesus said that the God who made the outside of a person also made the inside and we ought to be at least as concerned, if not more so, about that inner geography. Washing your hands but then hating your brother is like washing the outside of a bowl but not managing to clean out the rancid meat that is in it. To Jesus, the remedy for this spiritual myopia is to give alms. When we give to others instead of focusing on ourselves, this cleanses our hearts. Then, Jesus says, “everything will be clean for you.”
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