Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Concerning Lawlessness

Even in the Garden, God provided laws for man: (1) “…be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth…” (Genesis 1:28 KJV) i.e. grow in number and in virtue having lordship and head rule over the earth; then (2) “…of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:16-17 KJV) i.e. fast from the tree of knowledge of good and evil with the incentive not that God will kill them but their action will invite death unto them and death shall be the consequence of such disobedience.

They had these two laws in the Garden (including one prohibition) and it was for their own good, for their betterment, and proper order in his life with God and the rest of creation.

In the Old Testament, there is a commonly recurring phrase “in his own eyes,” and this is not a healthy thing. Generally the Old Testament uses the phrase in a negative sense. “Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the LORD weighs the hearts” (Proverbs 21:2 NKJV). And “Do you see a man wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Proverbs 26:12 NKJV).

This thinking even appears at the Fall. “And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die: For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil. And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat” (Genesis 3:4-6 KJV).

The episodes in the Old Testament we read concerning the rebellious and sinful pursuits of man towards God’s good laws (which are for his health, benefit, and well-being) find their beginning in man taking his life down a path right in his own eyes. God commands Cain to raise his countenance and master sin. Anger was right in Cain’s eyes. “So the LORD said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? And why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it’” (Genesis 4:6-7 NKJV). The men of the antediluvian world had a vision towards evil. “Then the LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Genesis 6:5 NKJV). Then at the Tower of Babel man’s pride becomes a righteous pursuit in his eyes. “And they said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth’” (Genesis 11:4 NKJV).

At Sinai, the Hebrews could not understand a formless God. It was right in their eyes for a god to have a creaturely form. So they made the golden calf. After a few generations in the Promised Land, it was right in their eyes to have a king. They sinfully thought a man should be king over them and not God. So God told Samuel to give them a king even though it was a rebellion against Himself.

This feature of man pursuing sin from what is wise in his own eyes and yet is really a rebellion against God is also in the New Testament. The word given to it is “lawlessness.” This word is used by the Lord and His Apostles.

The Lord says, “…Lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12 NKJV). St. Paul writes, “do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (II Corinthians 6:14 NKJV). And St. John explains, “whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness” (I John 3:4 NKJV).

For many who call themselves Christians today, they have a hatred for rules in the Church. They do not believe God would require rules for their relationship with Him. A simple love of God is all that is needed and is what God gives. They see rules as an invention of men. Rules are only used by modern day Pharisees to control simple-minded folk and keep them away from a direct relationship with God.

Such thinking, although popular, is ahistorical, unscriptural, and even demonic. Part of the problem is thinking of law in the Church as a legal code of rules that should be followed to escape God’s guilty verdict. Or one thinks of “Law” as only applying to Israel before the coming of Christ. This is not how the Lord, Apostles, and the Church has understood the law of God.

The law of God is every command of God given by Christ and the Holy Spirit for the health of the Church and all Her members. They are certainly not a code of legal obligations. This thinking has always been alien to the Church. Every command of Church and the laws of God are for healing of man’s broken communion with the life-giving God. We do not seek to satisfy God the Judge with a completed checklist. God is the One Who heals.

Part of the law of the Church includes canon law. With canon law, most of it is regarding the Church as a whole and clergymen. So, canon law is not as totalitarian as some might believe. With canon law the pastor applies it with exactitude or economy. The law is the same and it speaks to an incarnational truth. However, within the context of the pastor and the needs of his spiritual child, the law is applied with exactitude or given an economic condescension for the greatest benefit for the improved health of the penitent.

“The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple. The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart: the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes. The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring for ever: the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, yea, than much fine gold: sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb. Moreover by them is thy servant warned: and in keeping of them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:7-11 KJV).

In the Church, the law is no longer written out for us. We are not obedient to tablets or papers in the age of grace. This is not the conscience, man has always had this. This is not new emotions or new thoughts, the Church makes a clear distinction between these and the Law. This is the Holy Spirit in the heart. “Ye are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read of all men: Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (II Corinthians 3:2-3 KJV.) This is the fulfillment of prophecy: “But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33 KJV).

In a Vespers hymn for the feast of Pentecost, we chant “He bringeth together all the laws of the Church”. With the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Church, the law is now on the heart of the Spirit-bearer. Such a saint is indicative of where the Church is. The Spirit gives life and informs man on how to come to God. The Prophet Ezekiel foretells, “for I will take you from among the heathen, and gather you out of all countries, and will bring you into your own land. Then will I sprinkle clean water upon you, and ye shall be clean: from all your filthiness, and from all your idols, will I cleanse you. A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them. And ye shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers; and ye shall be my people, and I will be your God” (Ezekiel 36:24-28 KJV).

This is the relationship that flourishes from the spirit-filled law and obedience to it. Our opinions cannot do this, our emotions cannot do this, and our conscience alone cannot do this. One who confuses these things with the Spirit of God is in the sorriest state who cannot be helped by God. Such a man does right what in his own eyes. One needs to wake up and realize the war taking place in man against God. Even the Apostle Paul recognizes this (cf. Romans 7:23). Discernment is a critical virtue for following the will of God in one’s life. We must discern between God’s will, rationalizing our will as God’s will, and not being deceived by the world claiming God’s will or superiority to it.

With the guide of the Church, informed by the God, the Apostles, and Spirit-filled Fathers, we do not need to figure it out. We have a sure guide, an established path, and a clarity of movement towards a heavenly way of life. This is why Paul says, “Remember them which have the rule over you, who have spoken unto you the word of God: whose faith follow, considering the end of [their] conversation. Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and forever” (Hebrews 13:7-8 KJV). Therefore, have humility, trust the Church which is the Bride of Christ. The Church is our Mother and only seeks to care for us and bring us into a good and loving life for the glory of God.