It is absolutely crucial that we understand that our works arise from faith in the fact that we are justified by the blood of Jesus Christ and that alone. Our works have no merit at all in relation to our legal standing before God our Father and our ability to come to Him freely. We approach God our Father freely because of what Jesus accomplished for us on the cross.
That is basic theology. It needs to underpin everything we think about who we are and what we do.
So, with that understanding, we read the rest of the Scriptures in a different light. The Old Testament Law (the Torah, or first five books of the bible) are now expositions of what pleases God. They become a place to learn how to live in a way that blesses both God and us. The 10 commandments (Exodus 20:1-17), for instance, describe the fundamental ways in which we can please God and be a blessing to others.
All of Scripture is God breathed and useful for instruction (2 Timothy 3:16). In Exodus 18 there is a lovely passage about Moses father-in-law Jethro. The respect that Moses shows Jethro is an example to us all of how we should treat our elderly relatives. Moses bowed low before Jethro and kissed him (Exodus 18:7), he showed respect and affection in equal measures. Moses then took on Jethro’s advice without quibbling with him. Considering that Moses was hearing directly from God and would go on to write the Torah, this was an impressive sign of his humility. But then he was the most humble person on the face of the earth at the time (Numbers 12:3).
One of the most fundamental ways we can read the Old Testament with New Testament eyes is to understand that the law is not given as a stick to beat us with but that that stick was already used on Jesus (Col. 2:14). The Law is now powerless in that regard. But as a way of knowing God and what He wants, the Law is crucial. If you love God because of what He has done for you, then you will also love His Law because it shows you His heart.
Recently my head has been swimming with ideas about dimensions beyond the four we live in (height, length, breath and time). No more! I’m going to play by the rules of the game God has set up in those four dimensions. There is where sanity lies.
So what are the rules? This is how I understand them:
We all make mistakes, fail, sin, whatever you want to call it. Perfection in this game is impossible except for Jesus. The rule is that when you sin you confess it, receive forgiveness, get up and go again (1 John 1:5 – 10).
Love is the answer to everything. As long as we keep on loving God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbours as ourselves we can’t go wrong (e.g. Matthew 22:37).
Love starts and ends with God and particularly with an understanding that Jesus died a horrible death on the cross for us. Keep remembering this and it cannot but produce love in you (e.g. 1 John 4:19).
God’s means for remembering is what some denominations call “Breaking of Bread” and others “Holy Communion”. Jesus wants us to meet together with others regularly and remember what He did together (e.g. 1 Corinthians 11: 23-25).
The mechanisms that God uses to enable us to please Him are grace working through our faith in Him we don’t see (see Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and Romans). So we believe and God in response gives us a whole pile of good things we don’t deserve including peace, health and (dare I say it) wealth primarily in our relationships. The thing is not to take them for granted, we really don’t deserve all the blessings we receive. God blesses us so we can bless others who He also loves just as much as us.
Faith is a gift of God which we receive when God first intervenes in our lives and grows as we continue to let Him intervene. Some people call the first intervention the baptism of Christ, others the baptism of the Holy Spirit, others call it being born again. The important thing is that you have it and continue to experience the reality of God’s presence in your life since it is He (the Living Word) that creates faith in you and without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). Most Christians acknowledge that they have had this encounter by being baptised in water – an outward sign of an inward reality (1 Peter 3:21).