In my recent pursuit of reading through the Bible in a Year (a reading plan), I have been plowing through the Old Testament like a champ. I am not one of those deep thinkers, that stays on a particular chapter and verse for a whole months. I am more of a 'big picture' kind of gal.
So here is one of the 'big picture' the Lord has been showing me.
There is no formula.
That's it, the end.
I repeat. There is no formula.
The reason this is so profound to me? When I was a young Christian, I thought that there might be a good formula to follow for those who wanted to get closer to God.
I like organization. I like to know what is expected of me, and I like to make goals. I like it even better when those goals are able to be easily crossed off as I accomplish them. So where is the "one, two, three step" program in the Bible. You know what I mean..... the "do and don't" list. Oh wait, I think it's called the Law, but in modern language, we might call it something like, The Formula.
Well there isn't one. Like I said. Or at least not a working one.
In fact, the glaring truth that the Lord has been emphasizing to me, is that this is exactly what the Israelites wanted. So He gave them the Law. They wanted a formula instead of a relationship with God. God offered them a relationship with Him when He came down on Mount Sinai and spoke to the people directly, but they couldn't handle that. It was too scary, with boundaries and warnings, and there was lightning and smoke and thunder. Who knew what was going to happen next!
If the Israelites had experienced this in our modern times, they might have made the complaint "well it was just too unpredictable to try to be that close to God", and of course, they would be right. God is so unpredictable! So awesome! So not fitting into any kind of box that we could fashion. The very opposite of a formula.
All that to say, my quest to discover if there are certain things that I should or should not do in order to get closer to God is now a mix of yes AND no. The Law is still inspired by the Lord. He didn't just make a bunch of rules for the sake of rules. He told the Israelites exactly what it took to be close to Him and to be His special people. Wanna hear more about my ideas about the Law, check it out here.
Yet if the Law was enough to bring the Israelites closer to God, then they wouldn't have failed again and again, but the Law was not enough to inspire them to live rightly before the Lord. Fear of the Lord was good, but not enough to keep them living correctly, to abstain from sin, for the long run.
What was missing was relationship. The heart connect with the Lord. They didn't understand the why behind the rules. They didn't understand God's great big love for them. They didn't understand Him as a father, and at that point, He hadn't really reveal Himself as such.
But I wonder if He might have wanted to reveal Himself as the Father, but no one ever pressed in close enough to discover that side of Him. Except maybe David. It is the delight of the Lord to hide a matter, in the hopes that we will search the matter out and discover more of the Lord in the process (Proverbs 25:2). Anyhow, that one there is just a theory.
Yet He wanted to be close to them. He wanted them to be His own special treasure from among the nations.
The problem. He is a HOLY God, and not just anyone can come to Him. Sure, He accepts us as we are, especially when we receive salvation thru Jesus, but He doesn't expect for us to stay the way we are. He is looking for a transformation, and thankfully, He's the God to do it.
Since Jesus came, we now have:
A)the blood atonement for our sins, forever! score!!!
B)the Holy Spirit, a gift from Jesus to help make it easier for us to connect with the heart of the Lord and be more and more transformed into the likeness of Him. Yeah for us!
When we know and feel and can understand the heart behind all of the rules and commands, it makes it so much easier to live a life holy and set apart to the Lord.
Here is an example to show the difference between relationship and the Law. When the government tells you to stop drinking alcohol, you do it, because if you don't there is a big scary fine to pay. You could even go to jail, and that is bad, so you try to stay away from alcohol. Yet the Prohibition of the 1920s is a great example of how a law is not enough. The hearts of the people were the same, and fear of the government was not enough to stop them from breaking the law. They did break the law, a lot. But then, what if your mother (on a personal level) asked you not to drink and explained how worried it made her when you drank and she hugged you and cried over you and begged you not to go out and drink with your friends because she loved you and wanted the best for you. I bet it would be a whole lot harder to go against your mother's word than the word of the government. Why? Because you have a relationship with your mother. Same issue being addressed, but different approaches applied. When you understand the Lord as a Father, it makes us more prone to want to please Him with our 'good' behavior. We don't want to disappoint. He isn't just some distant judge waiting to punish us, He's our Dad. Make sense. I hope so.
So back to the story. Understanding the heart of the Lord makes us want to live a life Holy and set apart for His purposes.
That is my ultimate goal by the way. My desire is to be holy and set apart to the Lord as a special possession to Him. I want to be pleasing in the Lord's sight because I am so grateful for all that He has done and been to me. Salvation is the greatest gift, but there is so much more to the Lord than just that. He is so amazingly awesome!!! Those words don't even do Him justice.
Even still, let me be real. I know I can never be perfect, but my goal is to attempt to get as close to 'perfect' in this life as possible, as a gift to the Lord. The smallest attempt at saying 'thank you for who You are' in my life.
So do I accomplish this by following the Law, or do I rely on the Grace of the Lord to bring about the transformation? I feel like the answer is Yes and Yes! Both.
We do our part (try to follow the Lords commandments and instructions) and the Grace of the Lord does His part (the impossible transformation part, breaking down walls and mindsets). I heard someone put it this way once and I liked the picture: I put my one dollar worth of effort onto the table, God puts His millions worth of grace on the table, and we mix it all up, and call it a partnership. We are partnering together to bring transformation into my life. It wouldn't be a partnership if I didn't have to invest anything into the deal. Does that make sense?
However, I know some people are probably looking at this post and seeing 'religion' all over it. I've talked about the Law not being bad, and about 'holiness'.....but what is religion, really?
Religion is just holiness done with the wrong heart motives. Holiness is very pleasing to the Lord, but religion is not. Religious people are following a formula (pharisees), but there hearts aren't connected to their actions. Holiness is when people allow themselves to live a certain way because of a deep heart desire to love the Lord through the way they live their life before Him. BIG DIFFERENCE! But sometimes it can look very similar in the natural. Only the Lord can fully see our hearts motives.
I am totally not talking about earning anything here people! It isn't about earning, or striving, or even taking all the right steps. It's really about Love! I love Jesus so much, that I am willing to live my life in such a way, so that I can be as pleasing as possible to the Lord. I want to position myself before Him so as to receive more of Him, and be able to feel more of His love. Ultimately I want as much of Him in me as possible, in this life. The short version = I want more God.
So how does one do that? Well that is my whole thing. It isn't a formula. The Law isn't enough on its own. With only the Law, the Israelites fell into religion, and then sin and more sin. It takes relationship with the Lord to really live for Him. It takes the Lord, period, to be able to love Him properly.
We are so imperfect, there is no way we can do it on our own. It took Jesus dying, it took Holy Spirit coming, it takes dying to our flesh daily, and yet we still come up short in so many ways.
However, the Lord values the process as much as the end product.
My point, and I hope I am doing it justice, is that just because we know we can't be perfect in this life, doesn't mean we should let that deter us from trying to live holy unto the Lord. What we can do in this life is pay attention to the Law (not as a rule book, but as a list of ideas of things that are pleasing to our Father in Heaven). We can also dialogue with the Lord, and ask Him what He thinks we should try to do. He has some great wisdom that can be tailored down to our specific needs; wisdom that can help us to overcome the major 'sin' obstacles in our lives.
Because the way we live IS in direct proportion to how close we can get to Him.
He is a HOLY God, so people who are living in compromise and rebellion and sin, and not repenting of those sins, are not pleasing in the Lord's sight. Therefore, they may not draw near to the Lord. His very nature forbids it.
Repentance is big, but my goal is to get to a place where I can live (at least most of the time) in such a way that I have to repent less and less often for the same offenses. I'm not just continuing on in my sin and compromise and then throwing up a quick repentance prayer every week or so to cover myself. That might work if the Lord was human and couldn't read our hearts like a book. But He can!!!
To continue to sin, without real repentance (repentance = owning the sin, asking forgiveness, and then making war against that sin in our life by taking real steps to try to keep from sinning in that way again) means those sins are not forgiven, even if you are a Christian.
Whoa, that was even heavy for me to read, and I just wrote it.
Back to the main point. It isn't a formula.
So when my life is built on relationship with Him, then there is no formula of how to get closer. I can't look at so and so's life and then do what they are doing to try and get the same results. I can't follow every letter of the Law in hopes that my 'good behavior' will get me closer to the Lord. It is through sitting, and talking, and learning more about the very person of God. Allowing Him to lead and guide me in a tailor made adventure with Him (called life). And it is about doing my part, whatever the Lord tells me to do (that is my part). He tells me to do it, and then He gives me the grace to do it well.
There you have it. The working relationship between holiness and grace. I do my part in pursuit of holiness, and God's grace fills in the gaps and makes my effort enough to accomplish the goal. Together we talk about my progress and get to know one another better, and in the end, my reward is being able to experience more of the presence of the Lord. To be able to draw closer to Him.
Let me tell you, it is worth the effort for the reward!