This week we are exploring the ideas of boundaries, commandments, and freedom.
Christians can spend a lot of time talking about and drawing boundaries. We need boundaries in life, but the boundaries Christians tend to put so much effort into have nothing to do with the life of Jesus. In fact, often these boundaries intentionally or inadvertently keep people away from Jesus.
One of the areas bad boundaries show up is in the area of doctrine.
If you have ever spent much time exploring different Christian traditions, you have no doubt encountered a few whose main concern was their doctrinal purity. There are a whole host of religious traditions whose bread and butter is becoming the doctrine police, and base their existence on making sure people get their doctrine right.
Other people to be specific, because they already have it figured out.
It is a tiresome way to live.
So allow me to introduce some doctrine to our blog (didn’t see that coming did you?). Doctrines are beliefs which help us better understand God. So here is a doctrine I think is important:
The loving God of the universe is revealed wholly and entirely through Jesus on the cross.
The cross, which we celebrate and focus on during Lent, is the ultimate revelation of who God is. If you want to know what God is like, look at the cross. If you want to know what you are like, look at the cross. This God lovingly made you and loves you so much that when you jack up all the intentions God has for the world, God is willing to leave the place of power and might and die to transform you and your world.
The cross is God’s ultimate act of love for all of humanity. The cross assures that there is nothing which can separate you from the love of God. Not death. Not sin. Nothing. God loves you and believes you have infinite value and worth.
It is difficult to say you are a Christian and not agree with this.
Yet so much of Christianity lives, speaks, and thinks like Doctrine Number 1 is not true at all. In fact, this is one of the first things we give up.
We trade in the picture of God in Doctrine Number 1 for a lot of different things. Sometimes we trade this version of God for a God concerned with doctrines 2, 3, 4, …. Maybe we trade it for a God who is aligned with a political party or denomination. Sometimes we trade it for a behaviorist God who is primarily concerned with our ethics and morals.
When we do this, we begin to create a picture of God whose love and grace has limits. Because when you press hard enough, most of us believe it does. When you don’t hold this doctrine, when you don’t support this ideology, when you don’t behave in this way, when you have screwed up too much, grace runs out. So we are constantly trying to answer the question:
When does grace run out?
Allow me to answer that question definitively based on doctrine number 1:
It. Does. Not.
Not for you. Not for me. Not for anyone. God’s love grace and mercy has no end. We either accept it or we don’t. (Side note: I wrote a little bit about this idea last week).
Yet most of us believe it does. Maybe we feel like God has run out of grace for us. Maybe we are hoping God runs out of grace for someone else. We manifest this question in myriads of ways, but so many Christians live life with the assumption that grace has a breaking point.
The cross should be our ultimate boundary marker for what it means to be a Christian. And that cross tells us grace and love have no end. Any other picture of God goes against this primary belief about who God is.
This is why anytime I am struggling with a doctrine or theological concept, my first question always is: What picture does this paint of God?
Once you see what kind of picture something paints of God, you can then ask if that picture aligns with Jesus on the cross.
In the ancient world the first stone placed for a building was called a cornerstone. The entire rest of the building had to be aligned with this one stone. Every stone laid after the cornerstone was aligned with the cornerstone in order to make the building work.
Peter says Jesus is our cornerstone.
The work of a Christian is the work of aligning ourselves with Jesus. We need constant confession and repentance do this, but it is our primary task.
Think about parenting for a minute. I love my children because they exist. They have done nothing to earn that love, their existence is what makes me love them. Because of this love, I set boundaries for them, but I do it because I love them. This distinction matters.
Imagine I didn’t care if my kids existed. All I wanted was a clean house. I would show affection and appreciation only when they picked up their rooms and their toys from the living room. What would they think of me and who would they grow up to be? (And trust me if this was true, my 3- and 6-year-old would live on the street. With me. Because my wife would have kicked all three of the slobs out.)
If all I was concerned with was kids behaving and any form of “love” shown to them was based on behavior, I would completely wreck my children and their lives would be all out of whack.
But if I love them simply for the fact that they exist, it changes the nature of the relationship.
If I think God is a god of ethics and behavior, I am going to align my entire life in that way. But if I think God is a God whose love never ends and is proved by the cross, I build the rest of my life around that. When I align my life with the cross, my boundaries, ethics, and behavior will be fundamentally changed, but it changes the nature of the relationship.
God is not concerned about your morals and ethics. God is concerned about you. God is not trying to get anything from you. God is not trying to stroke God’s own ego. God is concerned about you and your well-being. Where we start makes all the difference.
All of the rules and commands you find in the Bible exist not so we earn God’s love by doing them, but by helping us see the ways we are not aligned with the cross. Rules and commands in the Bible are God saying: this way of living doesn’t work. And I don’t want it for you because I love you. Stop trying to live in ways you weren’t intended to live – that’s my kid you’re hurting!
We set boundaries and follow guidelines because we trust that this God who was willing to die for us wants to show us the best way to be human.
That is why doctrine number 1 is important. It is in fact, the most important thing for Christian faith. We always have to start with the love of God being revealed through the cross.
Everything we do, say, and are as Christians has to align with the cross. When it doesn’t, we need to repent. And repentance is simply re-aligning with the cross. This is what Lent is all about. Re-aligning with our true Cornerstone: God revealed through Christ on the cross.