Maturity

“When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me.” ~ Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:11

For the most part, I was a good kid. I behaved.

Noting that, one of my grade school teachers let herself be overhead telling my parents that she thought I had an “old soul.” I still don’t know what that means, but I liked the sound of it.

In junior and high school, I didn’t have an urge to rebel or act out or express my teenage angst, and as a result there were not very many rules in my house. Call when you’re going to be later than you thought; let us know when you’re out with the car; that sort of thing. There really wasn’t much need for rules.

Then I went to college. There really wasn’t much need for rules there as far as I was concerned, but there were plenty of them anyway. Rules pretty much regulated everything about a student’s life except how many times per minute one should breathe.

(During banquet season – we had banquets instead of dances; it was a very conservative Christian college – the dean of women had a letter read to all of the girls in the dorms beforehand, detailing how wide the straps of gowns {straps were required} had to be {1-1/2″}, and so forth. She closed it by saying, “Women who fail to abide by these instructions will be asked to change in front of their dates.”)

I was not a flagrant violator of rules at college, but because there were so many – and such a large number without any apparent value in preventing perfidy – I was unaccustomed to the onslaught of temptation to commit an infraction from time to time. I discovered that working technicals for drama productions gave a person some leeway on having to sign in to one’s dorm at 10:00pm, and actually made it possible to leave campus and have some two-or-three-day-old coffee (the best kind) at the truck stop near the highway during the wee hours of the morning.

That was about as wicked as I got. Sorry if that disappoints. But I still felt a little guilty.

I quickly became acquainted with the Romans 7 frustration felt by Paul about law.

And since then I’ve come to terms with the conflict of law versus grace in scripture on the theory that some folks just need rules. Some of them just like rules. They’re comfortable with rules. Rules let them know where the boundaries are. Some folks need rules to help them control themselves. Some folks need rules to help them control others. For them, rules rule.

So, of course, when they read scripture, they see what they like … and they see rules.

But then Jesus comes along, followed soon after by Paul and others, and everything gets messed up. The rules don’t sound like rules anymore. There are very few “thou-shalts” and “thou-shalt-nots.” Instead, there are beatitudes … words of comfort for people who are struggling with living a life pleasing to God; people who basically don’t need any more rules; people who have been marginalized and terrorized by the rules built upon the rules built upon the commandments God intended as instructions to help people live peaceably with each other and to express His love and holiness.

People who are being ruled to death: by Rome, by their own collaborating local government, by their own religious leaders.

They didn’t need any more rules to rule them. They needed love, healing, encouragement, comfort, respect, forgiveness, freedom, faith. They needed an Example of what God meant to convey with all those rules, a perfect Example to imitate and respect. They needed a Redeemer who could be perfect when they couldn’t be, and take their guilt away through His guiltlessness. They needed a mature older brother to point them back to the loving Father from whom they had fled and taken and squandered.

They needed fewer rules, and better instructions: Love deeply. Don’t judge. Forgive. Give. Share. Go the extra mile. Serve. Believe. Live fully. Die faithfully. Live eternally.

That’s exactly what Jesus brought, taught, shared, lived, died and brought to life again.

It’s called “grace.”

So when folks who like rules read the New Testament, they’re confused. They can’t find as many imperative rules there, when they were so easy to find in the Old Testament written when humanity was young and immature. Surely, they think, the rules must be there. If most of the old rules were abrogated by the authority of God in Christ, then there must be more and tougher rules to take the place of the missing ones.

Some folks reason that the rules must be hidden in scripture, and that with superb and unjaundiced logic, they are capable of ferreting out the rules and proclaiming them loudly and enforcing them on everyone else (and often, even themselves).

And – right or wrong – I’ve come to the conclusion that this reaction is simply immature. It’s foolish. No one has perfectly unprejudiced powers of logic and reason (fictional character Mr. Spock notwithstanding). The conclusion that rules are hidden in scripture is not a conclusion at all, but an assumption that is treated as fact. It’s based on a preference for rules over grace. That’s hardly unbiased behavior.

The old rules still have value: like a schoolmaster, they teach us what behavior God wants us to understand as good – and why (~ Paul, Galatians 3:24). But the old rules do not have ultimate value: like a prison warden, they enslave even the kid who wants to do right … by presenting temptations that are unlegislated under grace (~ Paul, Galatians 3:23).

And grace provides what law cannot: it saves us. Rules can only condemn us, because none of us is perfect (~ Paul, Romans 3:23).

Grace also provides help: the very Holy Spirit of God and His Son Jesus, invested in our hearts to guide us into all truth and empower us to live Christ boldly and comfort us when the world gives us our licks for doing so – eventually even breathing into us the eternal life that completes the life we’ve exhaled for the last time here in this world (~ Paul, Romans 8:11).

God, of course, still wants our obedience. But He wants our obedience to the gospel of our Lord Jesus – which is parallel in 2 Thessalonians 1:8 to “know(ing) God.” Rather than following an old law about sacrificing lives in worship, He wants us to lead sacrificial lives of worship (~ Paul, Romans 12:1-2), just as Jesus did.

He does not expect perfect obedience to law, especially to law that consists of doctrines contrived by men (~ Paul, 2 Timothy 4:3). In fact, when people do that and try to pass off their laws as God’s, He says it invalidates their worship (~ Jesus, Matthew 15:9; Mark 7:7).

The message of law is “Shape up – or else!”

The message of the gospel of grace is “Grow up in Christ.”

At some point, we really need to outgrow the infantile craving for rules, the desire to rebel against them or use them against others … and accept the love and grace and gift of the Holy Spirit, Who brings maturity, completion and salvation:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. ~ Paul, Ephesians 4:11-16

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9 thoughts on “Maturity

  1. Am I the first to comment on your new blog!?!?! I actually read this post last nite over at the old blogspot. Very informative. Very right about the emphasis on maturity. In fact, MY favorite book of Scripture emphasizes that as well, as the writer says the mature have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil. (Perhaps that’s why they have no more need for law?) Also says the immature are unacquainted w/the teaching about righteousness.

  2. Royce, at the bottom of the left-hand toolbar there’s a button for “Tools” – click it and then click on “Import.” You’ll be taken to a page where you can click on “Blogger” (or several other formats). Click on “Blogger” and select your Blogspot blog … then click to approve access using your old Blogspot log-in … then wait all night.

    I finally had success when I didn’t do anything else on the computer during the import; just walked away, went to bed, and came back to see it done the next morning. Before that, I had tried about nine other times, and I would only get a partial import.

  3. Good stuff, Keith.

    “Women who fail to abide by these instructions will be asked to change in front of their dates.”

    I doubt any of their dates would object…
    Bazinga

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