Monday, May 6, 2013

Why Follow the Law?

I remember being frustrated at my mom when I was a kid. My frustration occurred whenever my family and I would go on long trips. Mom and dad would take turns driving to ease driver fatigue, and for some reason, it always seemed like dad drove faster than mom. I’m not sure if it was really true or not as I don’t remember looking at the speedometer with dad driving, but I do remember looking over the car seat to gauge how fast mom was driving. The needle never went above 55 mph. Yes, back in the day when the speed limit was 55, I don’t remember my mom driving any faster than that. As a kid, this was excruciating! My sister and I wanted to get where we were going faster, and it just seemed like when mom was driving, it took forever. We’d beg and plead for her to drive faster, but she wouldn’t. She obeyed the law.

I got to thinking about this earlier this week as I prepared my sermon. I especially thought about it in light of Jesus’ words which begin our Gospel lesson this morning, "Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words; and the word that you hear is not mine, but is from the Father who sent me."

This text can be a bit problematic for those of us who believe to the core of our being that God’s love for us is not contingent upon what we do. Jesus seems to indicate that the Father’s love hinges upon whether or not we keep Jesus’ word. And if we want the Father to love us, then we’d darn sure better keep Jesus’ word. If we want Jesus and the Father to make their home with us, then we darn sure better keep Jesus’ word.

Now, it is not my intent to lessen what Jesus says this morning. Neither am I going to stand up here and tell you what Jesus "really means." You can read His words plainly right there before you. And without trying to make those words say something they really don’t, I want to take a moment to look at Jesus’ teaching very carefully.

Let’s start with the first phrase, "Those who love me will keep my word..." "Those who love me," Jesus says. I think this is a very important place to start. It is not the first time Jesus spoke these words in the 14th chapter of the book of John. In fact, Jesus says this phrase or something very much like it not only in verse 23, but also in verse 15 and 21. "Those who love me will keep my commandments," Jesus said. Why will they keep His commandments? Why will they keep His word?"

I think there are at least two possible reasons. The first is fear, and the second is because out of respect for what Jesus has done and will do. There may be more reasons, but for the sake of brevity, I will focus on these two.

First, to focus on fear. Remember the story about my mom’s driving when I was a kid? Why do people follow the speed limit? Usually, it’s out of fear. We drive the speed limit because we do not want to get ticketed. We don’t want to pay a fine. We don’t want our insurance to go up. But there is a problem with the primary motivation being fear. Sorry, Jack (Brandes, Austin County Sheriff), I know you are sheriff and all, but I’m about to explain why fear is a terrible motivation for keeping the law using the speed limit as an example.

The first thing I think we should note is that even though there are speed limits, there are a ton of people who disobey them–a ton. Anyone who drives knows this. Just drive down I-10 in the 75 mph zone at 75 and see how many cars still pass you. So, even though there is a law, why are people constantly breaking it?

Because they have little to actually fear. When fear is the motivation, unless you can rapidly and consistently enforce the law, people will begin losing that fear. When it comes to driving, there are many, many more cars driving than there are patrol officers. In addition to this, patrol officers are sometimes very random in who they stop and who they don’t stop. You can drive a hundred miles without seeing a cop sometimes.
Consequently, the chances of actually being stopped for breaking the law drop precipitously. And when you do not fear getting caught, you do not fear breaking the law. And when you do not fear breaking the law, the law gets broken–quickly and easily. Hence, the number of speeders on the highways and bi-ways.

I believe this is why God operates on the concept of grace. I believe this is why God chose to give the law, but then to stop using fear as a means to get you and I to follow it. If there is no punishment; if there is no immediate consequences; if we can seemingly get away with breaking God’s commands with no harm to ourselves, we will disregard it and continue to do it. God used fear at one time. He’s changed tactics through Christ.

"If you love me, you will keep my word," Jesus said.

Which brings us to the second reason to obey the law–respect. As I said to the kids in the children’s sermon, there is generally a reason laws and commands are put in place. Most parents give their children this command, "Do not play in the street." Now, we give them this command because we want them to be safe. There is a chance, in some places a higher chance than others, that they could be seriously injured or killed by someone not paying attention while driving through.

All kids push boundaries. They will wander into the street from time to time–even intentionally. But as parents, it is our job to explain to them our reasons for giving them the commands. If we tell them, "We aren’t trying to spoil your fun. We aren’t trying to hate you or limit your ability to be fulfilled. We just know the consequences of playing in the street. We know what can happen." If our children love and respect us, they will hear us. They will understand the wisdom behind the commands and rules. Even though they are tempted to do otherwise, they will realize, we are looking out for their best interest, and they will follow our commands. Not because they fear us, but because they know we love them and are looking out for them.

This is magnified a hundred-fold with God’s love for us. As Christians, we realize that God has sacrificed Himself for us. God took on human flesh in the person of Jesus of Nazareth and died on the cross to save us from our sin and give us eternal life. God acted on our behalf and for our safety. He willingly showed us His great love for us by doing what was unheard of–until this point in history, no religious faith had ever had their deity die for humanity. This made Christianity singularly unique. God is willing to die for us because He loves us that much.

And how do we respond to this great love? How do we treat God with the knowledge of His sacrificial nature...with the knowledge of His grace and peace which is given to us...with the knowledge of His willingness to take our sins upon Himself so that we may be forgiven? Do we respond with indifference, or do we respond with love for God and respect for His commands? I think you know where I come down on this issue.

So, returning to Jesus’ statement, "Those who love me keep my word." Of course we do. We do so out of love and respect for Jesus and what He has done. This means that the second part of this statement "and the Father will love them and we will come and make our home with them," is simply stating the obvious results of what happens when a person loves Jesus. When a person comes to belief in Christ they do so because they have experienced His love. They willingly follow His commands out of respect for what Christ has done, and they experience the love of the Father and the sense that Christ is with them each and every day–each and every moment–making their lives full of the peace which passes all understanding.

Go therefore and keep Christ’s word, not out of fear but out of love. Amen.

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