Am I under the Law or under the Grace and Truth of the Gospel?
Years ago, I had several warm conversations about living faith with a nice, God-fearing co-worker. He told me how our earlier discussions had resulted in several changes in his lifestyle. For example, he had stopped drinking beer, had begun reading the Bible more, and had significantly limited his TV use. “When it comes to my soul’s salvation, I will leave no stone unturned!” he said. It seemed that I had mainly spoken about the gift of living faith and how it was safe to live in the fellowship of God’s children where a sinner is forgiven. I thought I had said very little about life choices that follow living faith. Realizing that our discussions around the Bible had been the law to him, I then offered him the very core of the gospel, the forgiveness of all sins. Sadly, he denied that call. This friend remained living under the law.
The Word of God contains the Law and the Gospel. The law has two purposes: First, to guide society and its laws; and second, to cause man to realize his sinfulness so that he is driven to Christ and humility to accept the gospel. The law is preached to the unbelievers and the gospel is preached to everyone. As a child of God, do you feel that the law is demanding perfect choices from you in order to become acceptable to God? Or do you believe that the gospel has made you acceptable already and directs you to the right choices? The fullness of the gospel contains both grace and truth. “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Jesus prayed on behalf of His believing disciples: “Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth” (John 17:17). Faith affects our whole being, how we think, act, and speak and therefore our activity choices.
How Does Grace Teach Us to Live?
Being a sheep in Jesus’ flock and following Him in life go hand in hand. “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me” (John 10:27). Following Jesus, we try to make the right choices in the righteousness of life that stem from the righteousness of faith.
The Apostle Paul writes to Titus how the grace of God that brings salvation also teaches (Titus 2:12). According to Luther, Paul here summarizes the teaching on the righteousness of life in relation to one’s self, neighbor, and God. In this world let us live soberly (pertaining to crucifying one’s own flesh), justly (referring to one’s neighbor), and devoutly (relating to God).
The Bible, the Highest Guide of Our Life and Faith
We often wonder if a certain activity is acceptable for us or our children. In answering the question, the Holy Scriptures is the ultimate guide and truth. We should seek for the old paths of the Scriptures, but how do we do it? From the Lutheran confessional writings, we can conclude the following three important points on how to apply the instruction of the Bible in our own lives today:
1) If the Bible clearly prohibits something, let it be prohibited.
2) Let us not build on something which has no scriptural basis.
3) Let us use Bible phrases in agreement with their meaning in their original context. First, understand what the author meant to convey to the original recipients and then apply it to our lives today.
With a little bit of reading, the Bible gives clear direction to us concerning certain activities, such as drunkenness, playing video games with sinful content, talking bad behind someone’s back, dating with an unbeliever, etc. For other activities, the instruction may not be so obvious and we may need to consider the teachings of Scripture in a broader sense.
The Holy Spirit, the Interpreter of God’s Word
The Word of God was written into the Scriptures by the Holy Spirit. The same Spirit opens it for us and makes it alive. “He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). We have our Lord’s promise that the Holy Spirit will be in and with us, His disciples (John 14:17). The Holy Spirit has guided believers in past centuries and teaches also today. It is safe to rely on former believers’ positions that are backed by and in agreement with the Holy Scriptures. We hear the voice of the Good Shepherd at services and other gatherings and there, too, receive direction regarding our activity choices.
My Conscience and the Conscience of Others
God has given a conscience to every human to guide in what is right and warn of what is wrong. The Old Testament often refers to the conscience as “heart.” The New Testament uses the Greek word suneidésis, which the King James Bible translates faithfully as con-science, knowing together. Implied in the word is the reality that the other people’s understanding of right and wrong affects the understanding of an individual. We know this even from our own experience, observing different cultures, or just following the change in our own society. “Love wins,” proclaim the proponents of same-sex lifestyle. This is a beautifully wrapped claim for a lifestyle clearly prohibited by the Bible. “Love wins” may appeal to a person’s conscience because it seems so embracive and caring. However, we need to put aside the map of modern society’s norms and pull out the good old map of the Word of God. Therein we find the truth of the gospel for orienteering through life with the compass of our conscience.
When Consciences Point in Differing Directions
Whether an activity is suitable for the life of faith is not always so clear cut. Should my child take part in watching a movie that is part of the school curriculum? What extracurricular activity is fine for my child? Should I join my co-workers for a project-completion celebration and sip my Coke? In situations like these, we comprehend Christian freedom in choosing what seems appropriate at any given time while striving to keep faith and a clean conscience.
When there is no clear revelation of the Word of God whether an activity is suitable or not, it is understandable that occasionally believers who believe the same way can have differing views on a certain activity. The Bible does not teach a strict “my way or the highway” approach but rather teaches a path where brotherly love is preserved. Paul instructs us to avoid making a matter where consciences differ a stumbling block for anyone’s faith. Paul discusses this at full chapter length in Romans 14. Faith is personal but a believer keeps his personal faith in the fellowship and unity of God’s congregation. Jesus teaches us the true sign of the disciple: “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35). The Pharisees had lists of dos and don’ts. Jesus’ disciples are to live for Him and follow Him in His sheepfold in a way that brotherly and mutual love is cherished and preserved.
Faith Is the Most Important Thing in Life
Sometimes we might find only after taking part in an activity whether it was good or bad. If we begin to feel that a certain activity is a burden for our faith or if it causes secrecy within family or with other believers, it is better to not continue partaking in it. We cannot take the following figurative speech of Jesus literally, but let us hear its message clearly: Do not let any activity become a reason for losing your faith. “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell” (Mark 9:43).
We can always turn to God for guidance, especially in the very difficult choices in life that just do not seem to have an answer. He will guide. Let us put our trust in Him.
How do we know if an activity is appropriate for me or my child in the endeavor of faith?
There is not a perfect formula to follow but maybe the following points would be helpful to consider.
1) What does the Bible say?
2) Pray to God for an answer.
3) How does my conscience guide?
4) How do other believers’ consciences guide?
5) What does the voice of the Spirit say in
6) What kind of choice would best preserve the mutual love of the believers?
7) Based on previous experience, did this activity prevent me from believing freely?
8) What has been the effect of this type of activity in the lives of others?