The United Press International posted a video of a house in Arkansas that was being transported by a tractor-trailer.
Everything was fine until the house reached a traffic light in town. The crest of the roof was higher than the large, somewhat drooping, traffic light. To be able to pass under the traffic lamp when the light turned green, two of the moving crew climbed to the roof. As the house passed under the traffic lamp, they lifted it high enough for the crest of the roof to clear it.
So what’s the big deal? Well, if I was a super stickler for the letter of the law, I’d raise objections to what they did. I’d say, “Wait a minute. You can’t tamper with that light. It’s there to control traffic and you are impeding its function. What you’re doing is not lawful.” I’d certainly also cite the two men on the roof for not wearing seatbelts.
But did these men break the rules by lifting the traffic light? Did they try to skirt the law or tamper with its function? No. The traffic light was not meant to be a limbo pole to restrict the height of passing vehicles. It was meant to regulate the flow of traffic so that each intersecting lane could have its turn at passing through the intersection. When the light turned green for the moving house it was authorized to pass through the intersection and make a right turn. And this is what the crewmen helped it to do.
You know, the same dynamics are at work when we apply the Bible to other people’s behavior. Sometimes we are so adept at making God’s word far more restrictive than it was ever meant to be. Consider a biblical example—the observance of the Sabbath. In Exodus 16:29 Moses told Israel that God had given them the Sabbath. He reminded them that there was a day when they were slaves in Egypt when their work was utterly relentless and without rest (Deut. 5:15). Therefore, the Sabbath was for their benefit, not their detriment. Jesus affirmed this by saying, “The Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Further Jesus said, “It is lawful to do good (to heal, help, and deliver) on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12; Mark 3:4: Luke 15:10–17).
A Few Examples
But the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, especially the Pharisees, greatly expanded on the application of the Sabbath. They and their predecessors developed long lists of things forbidden on this holy day. For instance, according to the traditions of the elders, one could travel no more than 3,000 feet (2,000 cubits) from his home on the Sabbath.
And while the Law allowed a hungry person to pick an apple from his neighbor’s orchard, or some heads of grain from his neighbor’s field, or some grapes from his neighbor’s vineyard (Deut. 23:24–25), the traditions of the elders forbade it on the Sabbath. Why? Because, in the Pharisees’ mind even such meager picking constituted “threshing” or “harvesting.” This is why the Pharisees condemned Jesus’ disciples for picking and eating grain on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23-28).
On the Sabbath day the “Oral Law” allowed a person to drink vinegar if they had a toothache. But they were not allowed to swish some in their mouth. Why? Because that would constitute “practicing medicine.” This is the reason why the Pharisees condemned Jesus for healing people on the Sabbath Day. According to their traditions (the “Oral Law” which was eventually written down to become the Mishna), Jesus was “practicing medicine” on the Sabbath.
But God’s commandments are not meant to be a barrier to helping other people or to living one’s life. God intended the commandments for our benefit, to keep us from harm and excess.
Yet many Christians seem determined to make the Bible a painful yoke to labor under and a bitter pill to swallow. Instead of mending our lives and drawing us into a loving and intimate relationship with Jesus, their gospel is all about keeping rules and suffering guilt every time one’s performance is less than perfect.
But the message of the gospel is that Jesus paid the penalty for all sin—past, present, and future (Rom. 3:25–26; Heb. 9:24–28). Therefore, for all who embrace Him by faith there is no condemnation whatsoever (Rom. 8:1; John 3:18; 5:24; 1 Thess. 1:10; 5:9). And God has fully reconciled us to Himself through His Son. So the sin that once separated us from God has been eternally deleted. So there is no place for guilt and condemnation in the believer’s life.
The Holy Spirit’s Work
More than this, God has sent the Holy Spirit into our hearts to regenerate us and renew us day by day (2 Cor. 4:16; Titus 3:5–6). The Holy Spirit works in our hearts to make us want to do God’s will and empowers us to do it (Phil. 2:13). Therefore, we who believe in Jesus now serve God in “the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:5–6). This is a fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy that God would write His law on our hearts and that we would all know Him personally (Jer. 31:33-34). It’s a fulfillment of Ezekiel’s prophecy that God would put His Spirit in us and motivate us from within to keep His commandments (Ezek. 36:26–27).
This is what God called us to—for Him to live inside us, to motivate us to serve Him, to renew us daily, and to commune with us. Let God’s word feed and nurture you. God didn’t give us His word to be a taskmaster over us or to bring condemnation. God is for us, not against us.
Dear Father in heaven, You have called me into a loving relationship with Your Son. But Satan always wants to intrude on us to make me feel as though You’re always displeased with me. He always wants to turn Your holy word into a rigid instruction book. But You call me to intimacy with You. Please help me to allow nothing to mar that. Amen.
In article photo: Air assault exercise by the U.S. Army licensed by CC BY 2.0