The following is written in preparation for an upcoming sermon. If it sounds preachy or Christian-y, that’s intentional…
When I was a teenager, my parents found themselves frustrated with how forgetful I could be. Like most kids, I was tasked with certain chores every week. Unfortunately, I struggled with a lack of attentiveness, lost in thought and not always concerned with what should have been considered priorities of the day. So sometimes the trash didn’t get taken out on Thursday night, or the windows went unWindexed, or the soda cans piled up because someone just plain forgot to take them out to the garage, crush them into little aluminum discs, and dump them into the recycling bin.
“I’m saving aluminum … and space!”
To combat this issue – or maybe just to wake me up to how troublesome my inattentiveness could be – my parents crafted a large, poster board chart complete with a detailed grid of black-lined rows and columns listing all of my weekly chores. They laminated this thing and affixed it to my bedroom door (totally ruining my chosen decorative aesthetic) along with a black dry-erase marker. The agreement was that every day I would consult the chart and do the corresponding chore or chores. On Friday, I would collect my allowance based on how many of these chores I completed.
The thing I hated most about the chart, though, was that in order for a chore to be considered “complete” and for me to be paid for it, I had to check off the corresponding box. For example, I might remember to take out the trash on Thursday night, but if I forgot to check the box before Friday afternoon, I forfeited pay for that chore. No check mark-o, no dinero.
I wish I could tell you that I quickly learned to complete my chores and check all the boxes, but, sadly, that wasn’t the case. On Fridays, that chart looked less like a blacked-out bingo card and more like a chessboard after the players have taken several of each other’s pieces.
Or whatever wackadoo game this is.
But if the chart in all its formulaic detail taught me one thing, it was that I have a persistent problem with attentiveness. The chart didn’t create the problem, but it certainly made it obvious, just as my parents suspected it would. These days, my forgetfulness takes the form of remembering responsibilities my wife asks of me, or constantly misplacing my keys or my wallet because I’m rarely paying attention to what I’m doing when my hands absently put them down.
The Desert Fathers spoke often of the need to develop a deep awareness of God. I can only hope they didn’t feel the same about the location of one’s iPhone or sunglasses.
I sometimes find myself wondering whether or not the chart should make a comeback, either in my house or in my office. However, those teenage years spent with the thing affixed to my door taught me that as explicit and audacious as the chart was, it couldn’t fix me. And, thankfully, I’m now married to a wonderful woman who is willing to bear with me – in sickness and in health, in attention deficiency and total recollection – even when I let her down and forget to take care of something she asked me to do. And as inconvenient as it can sometimes be to engage in an impromptu scavenger hunt all over my house for my misplaced keys or my cell phone or my wallet (or, most of the time, all three), I have yet to experience any terrible or irreversible consequences born out of those delays. If anything, it’s made me more patient and understanding with other people’s absent-mindedness. We’ve all got our issues…
I feel your pain, Arny.
Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore, the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. (Gal. 3:23-26)
Something like my love-hate relationship with the chart (emphasis on the “hate”) is the difference between living under the influence of “the law,” and living by faith in Jesus. Paul’s letters in the New Testament continually refer to the fundamental change that has taken place ever since Jesus died on the cross and was raised to life again. Before this earthshaking event, the only way for a person to be justified (that is, to be considered righteous and in good relationship with God) was to carefully follow a detailed set of rules and regulations. It started with what we know as “the Ten Commandments” but there was a lot more to the law than just those things. (If you’re curious how much more, just read Exodus through Deuteronomy and see if you can make it through the whole thing without the desire to bang your head on a table, either in frustration or because you passed out from boredom.)
But according to Paul, the only thing “the law” made clear was that no one could perfectly follow it in its entirety. In other words, just like my parents’ chart made it clear that I have a problem with attentiveness, the law made it clear that every person has a problem called sin.
Another metaphor I was toying with was how the invention of antiperspirant deodorant made it clear that, if left to their own devices, people stink.
There’s nothing religious or overly spiritual about this problem we Christians call “sin.” At its heart, sin is selfishness. It is rebellion against a certain standard of thinking and doing for the sake of temporarily indulging a personal desire that goes against the standard. We’re all guilty of selfishness from time to time – we’ve all got our issues.
The good news that Paul goes on to write about is that the law was never really meant to be the way a person becomes righteous or experiences a relationship with God. In his letter to the Galatians, he calls it a “disciplinarian.” In the Roman Empire, a father often instructed one of his slaves or appointed one of his house servants to the task of looking after his son. This “disciplinarian,” or guardian, would accompany the boy to school and would make sure he behaved himself and was faithful to his studies. Often, the guardian was given the authority to discipline the boy if he misbehaved. Additionally, the guardian would report back to the father on the boy’s progress and lifestyle.
And, suddenly, the theological implications in this film shine with new light!
Eventually, the boy would mature enough that he no longer required a disciplinarian. Paul claims this is what happens with salvation in Christ. We don’t need a disciplinarian keeping track of our behavior and revealing when and how we’ve gone wrong. We don’t live by that standard anymore. Rather, we live under a new promise. We are made righteous solely by our belief and trust in Jesus’ forgiveness. Or, as Paul writes, we are “justified by faith.”
Does this mean the problem of sin is gone? Are we no longer capable of selfishness? Nope – the problem is still there. However, the way we understand it and react to it has totally changed. We live under a constant reality of grace, a canopy of forgiveness that doesn’t change based on how obedient we are (or whether or not we knowingly check a particular box next to a list of good deeds). The law remains, but its purpose has been fulfilled. Lesson learned.
As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourself with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:27-28)
We have come to Christ, who saves us and erases every human-made distinction by which we’ve grown up living our lives. “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female…” That’s good news! It means we don’t have to view our lives in terms of nationality, political viewpoints, economic status, or even gender relations. And we certainly don’t view it based on how successfully one person or group follows the law as compared to another. The Declaration of Independence included the statement that “all men are created equal,” but the only place we will ever experience that statement to be fully true is under the canopy of forgiveness that exists at the heart of a relationship with Jesus.