Thursday, November 14, 2013

Life without Lane Lines

A large intersection down the street from the Seminary has been under construction for a few weeks. Last week they poured new asphalt and the street is nice and smooth. But there are no lane lines yet and suddenly a street with previously three lanes now has four! The first time I approached the intersection I almost ran a red light. I had no idea where to stop and, like a typical mother, my right hand instantly stretched out to protect my purse, as I just missed the traffic coming from the other direction. After I had calmed down and crossed the intersection safely I started thinking about how much I really like rules. I want to know where on the road I am supposed to drive and where the other people on the road are supposed to be.

This spills over to the rest of my life. I want to know what I am expected to do and when I am expected to do it. I want to know that others will follow the same rules I am trying to follow. In my mind this creates order and predictability, which I am very comfortable with. As a matter of fact, the people who really seem to not bother about rules, or make them up as they go, scare me a bit. I never know what they are going to do next.

However, the step from liking rules to being legalistic is very small. When I start measuring my success in how well I have kept the rules I have taken that step. Or, worse, when I start judging people according to how well they keep the rules I have come up with, I have really succumbed to full on legalism. Rules, in and of themselves, are benign. As a matter of fact they are there to provide guidance for us to live in society together. How I respond to my, or anybody else's ability to keep them is not.

Dr. Fred Chay from Phoenix Seminary has compiled a legalism self test. Here are a few highlights from his list of "You might be a legalist if...(condensed)

  • You feel you have to meet everyone's expectations and win the approval of others
  • God's love depends on what you do
  • You think you fall short because you didn't have enough faith, it's not strong enough, you haven't prayed enough, or you need to be a better person
  • You are convinced that God is predisposed to be angry with you, and that your goal in life is to keep Him happy by doing things that will impress Him
  • You worry that people might take advantage of grace if it is preached too much
  • You feel that your "superior commitment" to follow Christ allows you to be above others in your church

Scripture has the antidote: Live by the Spirit; walk by the Spirit; follow the Spirit; listen to the Spirit. Galatians 5:18 actually says, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." Paul is referring to the Mosaic Law, but the point is that if we become so in tune to the Spirit that we don't need to worry about whether or not we are following the rules. The Spirit leads us in every circumstance to do the right thing.

One of my favorite verses has been Isaiah 30:2, "And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, 'This is the way, walk in it,' when you turn (deviate) to the right or when you turn (deviate) to the left." I want to learn how to live like that. Even when there are no lane lines.