As I noted in a previous post, the Lord often takes us on seemingly roundabout paths in order to mature us in Christ. This has been particularly clear to me in my few significant relationships with young women throughout the years. I have made numerous mistakes and foolish choices, as well as a few good ones, but as I gaze back over the last 10 years or so I can see the route that the Lord caused me to travel in order that I might know myself and my Savior more intimately. It is a strange way indeed that He works, but glorious things are brought out of it.
A month or two into the fall semester at MSUM I met a young lady named Kelly and slowly got to know her. She was a cool girl. After several months of me denying my own interest and the Lord aligning enough circumstances to make me unable to do so anymore, we started dating. It’s been a bit over 3 months now, and from the outset our relationship has been quite different than any that I have experienced, and out of it I have begun to see problems in much of what I was taught about relationships and romance as I grew up in an excellent Christian home and solid Evangelical church. I’m immensely grateful for what I received in those years, but there are some things which seem to me to be in direct contradiction to the gospel, and therefore I deemed it worth writing and sharing my thoughts with all who would read.
During my teen years I read through books like “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” and, “When God Writes Your Love Story,” and heard numerous youth group lessons on dating relationships. Through all of it ran the thread of moralism, which left me with the idea that if I was a Christian I needed to work hard to have “Christian” relationships, or else the Lord would be unhappy with what I was doing and the thing would end. Though it never would have been stated in so man words, it seemed that the true Christian was meant to pile up rule upon rule in order to keep themselves from sin and therefore in God’s favor, particularly in relation to the opposite sex.
It was highly recommended that young couples sit down and list out their boundaries, explicitly setting the posts for the fences that would keep them from sin. Spending time alone together, particularly late in the evening and in private were summarily condemned. Those who had been noble enough not to date or compromise themselves by holding hands with someone of the opposite sex were held in high regard. A couple good friends of mine made commitments that we would be truly holy and not even kiss a young woman until the day of our marriage, or at least not until we were engaged. That’s just how Christian we were. In all of this it was clear that there were rules to keep and procedures to follow in order to have a pleasing, God-written love story.
As well intentioned as these recommendations and practices were, they led to a concept of legalistic moralism much like that of the Pharisees who added law upon law in order to keep men from breaking the law. Their focus was on the transformation of action rather than heart. It’s not that what I read in those books or heard in those messages was wrong in and of itself, they simply didn’t go far enough. Through both the content and the method by which it was taught, I got the idea that I just needed to try harder to change my actions, whereas the scriptures make it clear that our hearts must be changed in order for there to be any lasting effect.
In Colossians 2 the apostle Paul deals with a similar problem in a young church that is divided over the issue of what laws need to be enforced in order to keep the people from sinning. Rather than directing the young Christians to books on how to live according to God’s principles for life or offering laws that will help prevent sin, he declares,
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations—“Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
– Colossians 2:20-3:3
Oh how contrary the Apostle’s logic is to that of most good, church going people today! Where we declare all manner of rules must be put in place in order to prevent sin, Paul mocks such rule making as having “an appearance of wisdom” but instead creating futile “self-made religion” that has no power to “stop the indulgence of the flesh”. Paul’s view of rules is that they will never succeed in controlling our sinful nature. Rather, “through the law comes knowledge of sin,” therefore, “the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me.” (Rom. 3:20, 7:10, 11) We apparently have yet to learn this fact. More rules never brings more life. Quite the opposite. Far from enabling us to escape the smog of the city, a taller building only makes for a more terrible fall and surer death at the end.
In place of the futility of law making and keeping, Paul gives the basis of all sin conquering; being raised with Christ (see also Romans 6), and the means by which this conquering takes place, namely, by setting, “your mind on things that are above, not things that are on earth”. It is our death, resurrection, and life in Christ and with Christ in us that brings freedom from sin. To fight on level ground with our sinful nature inevitably leads to defeat, so the Lord has raised us with Christ and hidden our life in Himself. It is from there, far above as we dwell in Christ, that we find freedom. Miles Stanford says it this way
It is this new life, our Christian life, the life that is already hid with Christ in God, that we are to yield…unto our Father. It is the only acceptable life – the life that He has already accepted in His beloved Son.
– The Complete Green Letters, p. 105
Far from the fruitless labor of striving to bind our inescapably sinful flesh by more rules, the Gospel declares emphatically that those in Christ have “died to sin” and are “alive to God”. Rather than focusing on the law and, therefore, our own failure and petty strength, we are to forget self and learn to gaze upon Christ. It is only there, beholding, “Christ who is your life” that our flesh will be held powerless and we will, by the Spirit, put to death all wickedness. And oh what glorious freedom comes in this manner of walking! It has led to great joy in my relationship with Kelly, and inspired more love in me for my Savior who has truly completed all the labor and purchased complete freedom for me in Himself.
That is the goal of God’s sanctification; not mainly that he would create a people who are squeaky clean and live nice lives, but that we would become people who are humbled by our own utter lack of power and praise Christ for the fact that He has accomplished it all, thereby becoming like the Son who looked solely to His Father in all things. We are to be a people who do as God commands in Isaiah 46, saying,
Turn to me and be saved,
all the ends of the earth!
For I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn;
from my mouth has gone out in righteousness
a word that shall not return:
‘To me every knee shall bow,
every tongue shall swear allegiance.’
In my next post I’ll touch on how this has worked out between Kelly and I, as well as address some common concerns that this type of thing tends to bring to the fore. By all means, comment with your thoughts, disagreements, and the like!