This week I finally got to see the movie, The Book of Eli. If you like stories where a lone man has to stand up to the wicked while trying to distribute the word of God in a post-apocalyptic world, then this is the movie for you. Just don’t show it at your youth group. It is extremely violent. Still, it made me think about how people attempt to use God’s word for nefarious purposes.
In the movie Eli carries the last known copy of the Bible. He comes to a town where Carnegie, the local strong man, is looking for a Bible to control people. Eli’s not about to give up the world’s last copy of the KJV to a control-freak, so conflict ensues. Mid-way through the story, one of Carnegie’s thugs asks why they are being pushed so hard just to get a book. In an explosion of rage, Carnegie reveals his diabolical motive:
It’s not a book! It’s a weapon. A weapon aimed right at the hearts and minds of the weak and the desperate. It will give us control of them. If we want to rule more than one small town, we have to have it. People will come from all over, they’ll do exactly what I tell ‘em if the words are from the book. It’s happened before and it’ll happen again. All we need is that book.
There’s a world of truth in that statement. The Bible is universally known as “the Good Book” and rightly so. Its words are inspired and it will point you to Jesus. If you read the whole Bible through the lens of the cross, you will find redemption and life. If you read the written word to discover the Living Word, it will set you free.
But when handled incorrectly the Bible is utterly lethal. Buried within lies the law which, the Bible fairly warns, ministers death (2 Cor 3:7). For thousands of years, men like Carnegie have been using the law-bits of the Bible to control and manipulate others. Their goal is to enslave and dominate and their tools are fear and condemnation.
People have been living under self-imposed law ever since Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Jesus died to set us free from the curse of the law, yet some of us keep returning to the forbidden tree for another bite. Paul warned that we become “estranged from Christ” to the degree that we are under law (Gal 5:4). What makes the grace of God ineffectual in our lives? It is getting entangled again in religious notions about what it means to do the right thing.
I’d like to think that if I’d been Adam, the first thing I would’ve built was a fence around that tree. Then I would’ve put warning signs all over that fence. It’s too late for that now, but it’s not too late to put warning signs all around the law. Below is the beginnings of a list of signs that reveal whether you are living under the enslaving yoke of law or walking free in His divine grace. My purpose is posting this list is not to judge you, but to see you standing firm and free in Christ!
Seven signs that you may be under law
1. You’re not 100% sure if you’re 100% forgiven
God doesn’t do forgiveness in installments. All your sins were forgiven at the cross (Col 2:13) when God the Son abolished sin by the sacrifice of Himself (Heb 9:26). Neither God the Father (Heb 8:12) nor God the Holy Spirit (Heb 10:17) remembers your sin any more. Still not convinced? Then read this.
2. You believe Christians have a duty or responsibility to serve the Lord
Duty and responsibility are synonyms for obligation so this is a mind-set that says we are obliged, or indebted, to God. I’ve heard it said that “Jesus has done so much for you, what will you do for Him?” Indeed, God has given us everything. Ever wondered why? He did it “that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:7). He is not just rich in grace, but exceedingly rich. You cheapen His grace by thinking you have a duty or responsibility to pay Him back. Your responsibility is to believe that He is good and true! It is not our obligation to serve the Lord, it is our royal privilege. It is not our duty, but our great delight.
3. You suffer from performance anxiety.
Performance anxiety is a rational response to the uncertainty of life under the old covenant. But anxiety has no place in the new. We are to draw water from the wells of salvation with joy (Is 12:3). We walk under law in anxiety and fear, but we walk under grace with joy and thanksgiving! “Happy are those whose wrongs are forgiven, whose sins are pardoned! Happy is the person whose sins the Lord will not keep account of!” (Rms 4:7-8, GNB) God has made us His Sons, and with such a Father we need not be worried about anything (Mt 6:32). He is our Provider who delights to give good gifts to those who ask Him (Mt 7:11). Those who serve under the law are insecure, but sons are secure.
4. You think, “God will bless me as I do my part”
The essence of a life enslaved by law is the mindset that says, “I must do something for God.” The motivation may be to earn salvation or some other blessing. But this mindset is anti-Christ and anti-cross. Contrary to what you may think, we are not justified by what we do but grace alone (Rms 3:24). Grace and works don’t mix (Rms 11:6). (And if you’re thinking of James 2:24, read this.) Grace, peace, and every spiritual blessing have been given to us by God our Father through Jesus Christ (Eph 1:3). We are not called to work for God, but to do the work of God. (Click the link to learn more about mixing grace with works.)
Grace is God’s part; faith is our part (Eph 2:8). Faith is a positive response to what God has done. Faith is saying, “thank you Jesus!” Faith is healing the sick and casting out demons, because Jesus made provision for our healing and deliverance at the cross.
5. You think we need more preaching on repentance.
Repentance saves lives, but preaching on repentance doesn’t lead to repentance! A law mind-set emphasizes what people must do (repent!), but grace proclaims what God has already done (everything!). A law mindset uses inferior incentives (fear, judgment) that lead to temporary changes in behavior, but grace (God is good and He loves you!) changes the hardest heart. If you want people to genuinely repent, preach the goodness of God (Rms 2:4).
6. You think you have to overcome life’s trials or Jesus will blot out your name.
It really isn’t about you. Jesus is our overcomer and our victory (Jn 16:33). Everyone who believes Jesus is the Son of God has already overcome the world, because The Overcomer lives in them (1 Jn 5:4-5). Jesus promised the overcomers at Sardis that He would never blot out their name. Ever since then insecure performance-oriented believers have feared He might change His mind and do exactly that. For more on overcoming, read this.
7. You mainly think of following Jesus in terms of giving up things.
Christianity is a divine exchange, our life for his. No doubt you’ve heard people say that following Jesus costs you everything. And it does. You cannot call him Lord without renouncing the right to your own life. But see what you get in exchange! If salvation means nothing more to you than self-denial and personal sacrifice, you’ve missed the whole point. Christ offers us an unfair exchange; our life for His. God favors us with this exchange. We give him our sinful little selves and get everything in return. A law mindset looks at what we give up, but a grace mindset rejoices at what He offers in return! Stop thinking about what you gave up (nothing you could keep) and start enjoying what He has given you (everything!).
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