Written by: Dan Lacich in Ask a Pastor on October 25, 2010
I was in a discussion group on grace and someone asked a tough question:
If God has unconditional love and we are saved by grace alone, then why do we have “rules” we have to follow? Why can’t we just do what we want without rules and then pray for forgiveness after?
I had an answer that made sense to me, but it apparently didn’t translate well. Help please!
There is an understandable confusion in the minds of many people when we talk about grace and God’s unconditional love, yet there seem to be a lot of rules we must follow in order to be accepted by God. The confusion begins with the understanding of the rules. Sadly many people have been taught, either directly or by example, that you have to be “good enough” for God to accept you into heaven, or at the least for some people to accept you into church. With that kind of understanding of the rules, it is impossible to understand grace and unconditional love. They just don’t fit together.
The rules of living that God gives us in His word are not intended to as a benchmark for getting God to commit himself to us. Instead they function as a statement that we have committed ourselves to God. God has already demonstrated His commitment to us in numerous ways, not least of which is sending Jesus to the cross out of love for us. We can’t do anything to make God love us more than that. What we can do is show our love for God. The things that the Bible calls sin, are things that grieve God’s heart. They grieve Him in part because He knows that such things ruin our lives in the long run. It doesn’t take much to see how stealing, adultery, deception, addiction and a host of other things have destroyed countless lives. They are things that grieve God because they are in direct opposition to His character and what He knows is right and just. If we truly love God then we should have a desire to avoid those things which grieve Him.
Having been married for more than 30 years there have been a few occasions over the years in which I have had to check myself and change my behavior out of love and commitment to my wife. Socks on the floor and toast crumbs on the counter come immediately to mind. Not a big deal in some estimations but things that she finds difficult to accept. Will she keep loving me when I fail in these areas? Will she forgive me? She has so far and I think will keep doing so. But because I love her, I have made a very conscious effort to pick up socks and clear the crumbs, not so she will love me, but rather, because I love her.
I suppose I could just keep throwing my socks around and letting crumbs fall were they will and tell my wife that she needs to keep forgiving me. Many people do that with God in a very flippant kind of way. The problem with that approach is that it abuses and denies the relationship. It treats grace and forgiveness as some sort of requirement that is an automatic thing. Just push the grace button or pull the forgiveness handle and poof, you are magically forgiven. Relationships don’t operate that way. God’s grace, love, and forgiveness are tied to our relationship with Him. We would never want someone to treat us that way in a relationship and should not expect to be able to treat God that way either.
So God’s rules are not intended to gain His approval and love. His forgiveness is not some sort of cosmic restart button that we can push with no concern for the relationship. Instead, my following God’s rules shows God how much I love Him. My asking to be forgiven shows that I want our relationship to be right.
Shouldn’t “him” really be “Him” when referring to God or Jesus? (I have always wondered about this!)
According to the accepted rules for capitalization, whenever a pronoun, like he, or him is referring specifically to God, then that pronoun should be capitalized. This is actually true for any deity and does not apply just to Christianity but is a rule of grammar.
In Psalm 15 what does “who swears to his own hurt and does not change” mean?
When trying to understand what the Bible means to say, there are a couple of simple rules that are very helpful. One is, always look at the context. In the case of Psalm 15:4 we need to read the whole Psalm. The easy part is that it is only 5 verses. A second rule is always let the easy to understand verses shed light on the more obscure or difficult verses. I have included Psalm 15 so we can do both those things.
A Psalm of David.
O LORD, who may abide in Your tent?
Who may dwell on Your holy hill?
He who walks with integrity, and works righteousness,
And speaks truth in his heart.
He does not slander with his tongue,
Nor does evil to his neighbor,
Nor takes up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
But who honors those who fear the LORD;
He swears to his own hurt and does not change;
He does not put out his money at interest,
Nor does he take a bribe against the innocent
He who does these things will never be shaken.
First we notice that David asks a question, “Lord, who may abide in your tent? Who may live on your holy hill?” It is the same question just asked in a different way, who can get close to God and live where He lives? The rest of the Psalm answers the question. Generally speaking the answer is that the one who lives the right way can dwell in God’s sanctuary. That is very clear from statements like, “He who walks with integrity” and he who “does not take a bribe against the innocent”.
In the middle of those very clear statements is “He who swears to his own hurt and does not change”. So how does that fit the context? How does it answer the question of who may dwell on the Lord’s holy hill and in what way is it similar to the other clear answers? The one who swears to his own hurt is the one who is honest and stands on his word, even if it will cause him some pain or hardship. The person who stands by his word and doesn’t change, even if it is in his best interest to do so, is a person of integrity who can dwell in God’s sanctuary. The swearing here is not using foul language but making an oath of your word and standing by it.