Tag Archives: rules

Good enough?

Paul faced fury in some quarters for allowing Gentiles full believer status without conversion to Judaism; it provoked persecution and the division of the Christianity from Judaism. But does it matter now? or is it of purely historical and specialist interest? In fact, arguments about the Law are still current and important. It may help to look at what is being said around our reading of Romans 4:13-25. In Romans 3:31, Paul claims to uphold the Law, that is the Old Testament as we know it. As chapter 4 starts, he turns to Abraham, who believed God. Genesis 15 tells us that Abraham, childless, believed God when promised that he would have as many descendants as there were stars in the night sky – and Paul makes the point that this is before the giving of the Law at Sinai, and before the rite of circumcision.

“And he believed the LORD, and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.”

Genesis 15:6

Abraham didn’t win God’s reward by outstanding action, heroism, or moral excellence. It was his trust, and God’s goodness, that brought them together and gave him hope. Unlikely though it may have seemed that an old couple could have a child, he thought the God who said it reliable, and believed. That’s a long time ago, but the relevance to us is in the question: “What brings us into relationship with God? How do we connect, and eventually get to heaven?”

There have been, and still are, a great many answers. Some refuse to believe it is possible – yet the interest in the spiritual continues. Some rely on drugs or mind-altering techniques – but that lacks reality, and permanence (though the damage can be lasting). Some insist that matters of the spirit mean getting away from the material, by changing your view of reality through fasting, meditation, chanting etc . .

The most common alternative to Christianity is the idea that if you are good, you will be rewarded, and if good enough, you will make the grade and “pass”. In many ways, this was the Jewish position. The Law told them what was required, so they studied, set up safeguards against breaking it, and thought themselves separate and superior.

Wrong, says Paul. Good is good, but you will never be good enough for God. No. Christians come to God as never good enough, but trusting – and that trust or faith is the key to finding God. What do they trust in? Not themselves, their effort or goodness, but God. v35 “us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our sanctification.” We trust God, but more specifically, Jesus who died for us and was raised.

What caused a fuss in the first Century was the idea that both Jews and Gentiles reached God in the same way like this. What causes division in the twenty-first Century is that faith, rather than achievement, knowledge or experience is the key. That makes all believers equal – equal in finding God through faith, equal in failure to deserve or earn or require his recognition.

Correction !?

(There is a Dialogue Sketch on this gospel available at http://www.andrewknight.org.uk/dialogue-sketches/index-of-dialogue-sketches/matthew-1815-20-community-gossip-and-heaven/ )

Surprisingly, in a world where individualism reigns and everybody does their own thing, this is signing-up time. Students are committing to courses: school, college, or just evening classes and church housegroups.  Of course, many things you can do on your own: buy the book, manual, video and get on with it. But its easier with a real teacher and the fun of a group. Sometimes it helps when you are tempted to duck a wet evening in February to know that you will be missed. There is support and help in belonging.

So also in Church, but sometimes we damage that. When we don’t relate to other people, or do it badly, we weaken the encouragement, and make it harder for church to challenge or correct.  What! you say. You have no intention of being corrected? Well, read today’s gospel (Matthew 18:15-20) more carefully! Any community not only has values and rules, but ways of enforcing them.  They can be good or bad. Bad would include gossip, and arbitrary exclusion – being thrown out without warning or explanation. Good ways of enforcement might be – well, as in Mt – a careful proportionate response, with checks for truthfulness and the avoidance of kangaroo courts.

The Romans reading (Romans 13:8-14, especially verses 8 and 9) quotes Leviticus 19:18, and Jesus, about loving your neighbour as yourself. That is not just about being co-operative when they ask for help – lending tools over the back hedge. It is certainly much more that “doing anyone a good turn”. To love your neighbour is to have a real concern for their wellbeing, so if their life looks as if it might not be leading to heaven, you need to love your neighbour. It may be to say something to turn them again to God; it may be to point out what is happening in warning; or perhaps the only opportunity you have will be to give an example. The lesson from Ezekiel 33:7-11 sets out the responsibility, and not only for Old Testament prophets.

It’s signing-up time. Perhaps you will do some course, learning a language or skill. I certainly hope you will join in with a Church (and perhaps its groups!). One way and another we need to sign up to a congregation where we encourage one another on the way to heaven, and when necessary correct and warn one another of danger in the careful way Matthew lays out.

We have to love our neighbour, and to let them love us, for that is a central part of our faith. Loving our neighbour includes not letting them wander the road to hell without warning, or encouragement to take a better route.