Are We Letter of the Law People?
We are raised to be “letter of the law” people. We learn to obey our parents. Our teachers. Our traffic laws. The laws of our nation. The trouble is that we’re not very good at following the letter of the law. All one has to do is to drive the streets and highways of our regions and country to realize that the way we follow the traffic laws amounts to little respect for the laws. Compliance is strictly on a voluntary basis, at best. The underlying rule we follow is more about doing what I can get away with rather than observing the law. We regularly ignore the dictates of our conscience and our laws.
Jesus summed up the 600+ laws and commandments of the Torah in Two Commandments: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength; and Love your neighbor as yourself. The letter of the law was no longer relevant; we were to live by the Spirit of the law instead. [Matthew 22: 36-40] No longer are we to adhere to each specific law about how to treat our neighbors, for instance, now we are to always deal with them with love. No longer are we to worry so much about the Sabbath and worshipping idols; now we are to bring our whole selves before God in love. We don’t have to worry about each individual law about worship, for example, and how we are to be before God: if we bring our whole selves before God in love, we cannot do anything that would offend Him.
When we go by the principle of the law, instead of the detail of the law, we have to live always by the principle. Every single act would be aligned with the love of God and neighbor—no matter who that neighbor is.
The trouble is that we do treat our neighbors as we treat ourselves—distrusting, unloving, unforgiving and more. We don’t accept who we are, all that we have said and done, all that was done to us. We deny our pain and suffering or at the very least repress it, so that we don’t have to suffer anymore, or so we think. We only bring the best of ourselves to God, unable to admit our flaws and shortcomings. We won’t forgive ourselves or our “neighbors,” people who have hurt us or ourselves for hurting others. We can’t deal with our own imperfections and therefore project them out onto other people at whom it feels good to rail for the very things that we do. It’s a curious way of looking at Jesus’ Two Commandments, ignoring their major import for us.
Standing naked before God, with no defenses, with our whole selves, owning all that we are is a powerful thing to do. We make no apologies; we hide nothing; we are just exactly who we are—every single thing that has happened to us, every single thing that we have said and done, warts and all. It’s actually a relief to own all that we are. We no longer have to put tons of energy into hiding our more vulnerable parts. We can be the first to acknowledge that we are flawed human beings. To be honest about ourselves can release a lot of positive energy, our best creative energy that had been suppressed before.
To be honest about ourselves means that we are also honest about other people. We see their flaws and realize that they echo our struggles, too. We can now be present to them, whereas before we were projecting our own stuff on to them. Now we can accept them, love them, challenge them if we need to, embrace them if they need that. We can be wholly present to them, to anyone the Lord puts in our path.
And we’re being present to God as well. We’re meeting God in His presence, fully and completely bringing our flaws and good points, our talents and deficits–our whole selves. And there, in His presence, we are accepted and embraced and welcomed and restored to our rightful place in His kingdom. [Luke 15:11-32] For as long as we hold God at arms’ length, as long as we try to hide parts of ourselves from Him(which He sees clearly anyway!), we will have a severely limited relationship with God. When we bring our whole selves, holding back nothing to His service, we enter into a partnership with God that knows no bounds. There in His presence will be everything we need to fulfill our purpose. There in His presence will He be amplifying our efforts so they will be successful. There in His presence will be His love and forgiveness for us. There in His presence we can relax at last.
To be letter of the law people means that we are not following Jesus. We are not living what He taught. Let’s put aside our feeble attempts to follow the laws that we choose to follow and to ignore the ones we don’t want to follow. Let’s step up to the plate, to borrow a baseball term, and to put our whole selves into every ball we throw, into every game we play. Let’s love God with all of ourselves and our neighbors as ourselves!
Questions to ponder over the week: Am I a letter of the law follower of God? Am I super-obedient about some things that I think are important? Or do I follow the principle of the law that Jesus stated in the Two Great Commandments? Do I follow His guidance through the Holy Spirit? Am I grounded in the Lord?
Blessing for the week: May we be the people of God who are so grounded in the Lord that we cannot disappoint him in any way. May we be blessed by His love and forgiveness and really love and forgive ourselves as He does. May we be shining love in this world wherever we go.
If you want to see the whole blog post for this week, go to bythewaters.net/blog.html. Also there are archives of my blog going back to 2011.
Here is an excerpt from my new book, “Exodus: Our Story, Too!” taken from the introduction:
“The Exodus story is the great epic of the Old Testament. It takes five books of the Bible to tell the tale. It’s not just the story of the Israelites and how God led them outof slavery in Egypt and, finally, settled them in Canaan. As with many other stories in the Bible, it is a story for everyone who loves God and who would love to be able to bring their whole selves to God. It is the great template that God has left us for how we go from slavery to the world’s ways to God’s ways, to living in the kingdom of God.
The story follows the traditional, classic spiritual journey in its steps of awakening, purgation, illumination and union. We will be looking at the Exodus story through the lens of these steps. The longest part of the journey is the wilderness experience, a place where no one wishes to stay. Its barrenness, however, facilitates God’s desire to reshape those who would love Him and follow Him wherever He would take them. After the years spent in the wilderness, the Israelites have been transformed into people who can live in His kingdom, obeying God’s will, expressing His qualities of peace, love, and goodness.”
If you live in Charlotte NC, you can find it at Park Road Books, or on amazon.com under my full name, Patricia Said Adams.