Sunday, November 30, 2008

Advent Sunday

Thank you again to you all for your good wishes, prayers and thoughts on the death of my dear brother David.  I want now to get back into the routine of blogging and thought the best way was to post the next in my series under the label Romans!  As it happens, it fits in quite well with the theme of Advent!

Talk Four: The Way of Love 

St Paul tells the Roman Christians that they are to give themselves totally to God’s service and calls on them to ‘wake up’ and live the sort of life that God wants them to live.  He tells them: 

‘Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ 

Knowing what is and what is not good is not always easy.  Daily we are confronted with difficult decisions in our own lives.  At times, we are faced with ethical choices in which it is hard to know what is right and wrong.  In my own Church, at the moment, there is much argument and division over the issue of homosexuality.  Some think it always wrong, others believe it is a valid way of life if based on faithfulness in relationships.  How are we to know?  How are we to discern God’s will?  How do we know what is good and acceptable and perfect? 

Before Christ came, discerning God’s will was in principle relatively straightforward.  If you wanted to get it right and do what was right in the sight of God, then you kept the Law, that is, the Law of God in Old Testament.  Certainly, the Law needed to be understood and interpreted, but it was in the Law that God revealed his will for his people and showed them what was required of them. 

After Jesus’ death and resurrection the Church had to decide what to do about the Law.  Most did not think there was an issue.  Of course, they should go on keeping the Law.  It was, after all, God’s Law.  If the Ten Commandments had been God’s commandments before Jesus came, they were still God’s commandments now that he had.  When it came to people who weren’t Jewish and had not kept the Law before they became Christians, then clearly they should keep it now that they had.   

Paul had himself been devout in keeping the Law before he became a follower of Christ.  He describes himself as having been zealous for the law and blameless when it came to keeping it.  In Romans, though, he takes a very radical view.  He argues that when someone becomes a Christian they die to the Law and are freed from it and from its demands.  They don’t serve God that way any more.  The Law was alright in its time, but it has had its day, its time is up.  We don’t serve God that way any more. 

Paul doesn’t argue that Christians have died to and are freed from parts of the Law, but that they are freed from all the Law.  Paul wants Christians to serve God in a new way.  A way not based on rules and regulations, but on love.  Love, says Paul, is the fulfilling of the Law.  The Law pointed to the way of love and now in Christ the way of love has arrived, the Law can bow out of the picture its job done. 

St Augustine said: ‘love God and do what you want’.  This has been taken up in popular culture where people believe it is ok to do whatever you like as long as you don’t hurt anyone:  ‘What I want, I have should have’.  And not to get what I want is to risk psychological  damage.  St Augustine’s point, however, is that if you love God, you will want to do what He likes and that our likes, wishes and desires, will be His.  It is this sort of love that is the will of God for us.

But how are we to love this way?  ‘Put on the Lord Jesus Christ’, says Paul.  Our way of life as Christians is now based not on the Law, but on a person.  We are to conform our whole lives to Christ, to seek to live like him and be like him.  This is no easy task.  Indeed, it is far harder and far more demanding than keeping commandments and Laws.  This is why, Paul tells us, God has given us his Holy Spirit.  The Holy Spirit is the power of God to enable us live in the way God wants us to live.  

It is the Holy Spirit who makes the way of love possible.

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