Someone recently wrote about a question that had come up in Sunday School. The question posed was this: If we are truly “Christ in us as us,” why then are there so many admonitions and rules of behavior in Paul’s letters?”
This is a common question and a fair one. Here are some things to consider.
The first is about the Bible itself. It has a way of meeting a person where his needs are, according to the level of understanding (or lack thereof) that he has. Gideon Bibles in hotel rooms are notorious for “speaking” to desperate people in desperate situations, people who are often unbelievers at the time, and giving them some spark of light in darkness, just at their point of need.
It continues that way throughout our spiritual life. The scriptures mean different things to us at different times. Paul wrote most of his letters to newly-believing Greek believers, people who were without the upbringing in the law the Jews had from birth. I believe there was a necessity on his part to give rudimentary basics to righteous behavior. Don’t be sexually immoral, (which was common in the Greco-Roman world at the time), honor father and mother, obey the civil authorities, honor contracts, speak the truth, seek good things for others, etc.
But these are things we teach children, aren’t they? Even in human society, we assume by the time people have reached adulthood, they know the do’s and don’ts of living and know the consequences of certain behaviors. And human societies have long established laws for those who do not obey the basic moral codes.
It is the same in spiritual life. We are confronted in our new birth with God’s new standards, which often are not the standards we have been living by. There is a time of adjustment, when old behaviors and attitudes fall away, as the new ones from God take their place. It seems to us, during that time, that we are getting this from “outside us,” from preachers or books, etc., but this is the education of the Spirit from within; we just don’t know it yet.
Our message of “Christ in us as us,” is a message for those who have come to full age. It is not for babies, because babies are not ready to fully know who they are. They are just getting to know themselves in very rudimentary ways — discovering their hands, their nose, etc. Everything is outer and everything is about them and their needs. While a baby is a complete human being in infant form, it is still not ready to go out and get a job and take its place in society. It must grow to that point. And we are spiritual babes as long as we are self-focused and self-need oriented — getting our needs met, ourselves straight, etc. And as long as we are that, we are in a state of hearing and being responsive to the outer commandments — the do’s and don’ts — and trying to line up our lives to do or not do these things. It is called “separation,” because in this state we still only know ourselves as if we are alone, separate from God and trying to get to Him or be like Him — separately — and therefore our only approach possible is through and by the law of effort, of trying to do it, of trying to attain. And the rules and admonitions are part of that system.
When I was a child I had a bedtime which was fairly strict in my home, and other rules and regulations I had to follow: clean up my room, chores around the house, etc. When I first moved out of my house into my own apartment, I didn’t do any of that stuff, because nobody made me and therefore I didn’t have to. It only takes a time or two of stopping up your sink with dirty dishes and then stopping up the bathtub as well, to get it through your head that washing dishes is not a rule, but just what one does for a variety of reasons — having dishes to use for one thing, not to mention order, cleanliness, bugs, etc. An adult washes dishes, but not because somebody makes him (usually). It is just part of mature living.
It was the same thing with bedtime. At my parent’s house there was no choice on my part about bedtime. When I got out on my own, I stayed up as long as I liked, and like a lot of young folks, from time to time all night long, which made work or school very difficult and sometimes impossible the next day. Another lesson! Nobody makes me go to bed anymore, but I have learned the needs of my own body and pretty much adhere to those needs — though if I have to stay up later for whatever reason, I can. The “bedtime rule” does not apply to me anymore — since in general my life fulfills the bedtime rule, which was not about the rule, but about getting the proper amount of rest. Same with washing dishes. I don’t HAVE to do it every day and sometimes don’t. If I don’t do them tonight, be sure they’ll be done eventually. My call, as an adult.
So, when one “grows up” in Christ, nobody has to tell him to not lie, treat others fairly, keep your sex honorable, etc. We KNOW, and by His Spirit, we live in the fulfillment of those things. We live truth; we live in consideration of others; we keep our sex honorable. Why? Because we have practiced obeying rules? No, because we have learned who we are, and what “manner of person” we are, because we now know His life is in us, and His life is expressed in us. We don’t do those things out of compulsion, but out of the naturalness of who we are, which is He in us doing the stuff!
Temptation does come, and sometimes it comes in those basic areas, but as we have come into an inner knowing of Christ in us, we have also been exercised in temptation as well, and know that temptation has a far more wonderful purpose than we thought it did in our beginning days. In those days, for many of us, temptation was all about getting us to “go back” to some behavior or lifestyle that we had lived in our unbelieving days. Sometimes it was tough and sometimes we fell. It happened to me. Back then it was all about the behavior, because that is what we thought God was upset with us about.
But in our emerging out of our immature self-focused life, the Spirit opens our understanding in deeper and deeper ways, and we begin to see temptation as God’s means of fixing us in Him and in faith. Before we had focused on the devil and ourselves “fighting the devil,” to “resist” whatever he was after. But now the devil, who brings the temptation, we see as just the mailman, but the letter is from God, and it is with Him that we have to do, not the devil. We give “no place to the devil” as Paul exhorted us in Ephesians.
And we see the things we are tempted with in a different way, too. Temptation brings things to light, and brings the faith of God into particular situations and people. Temptations (trials, tribulations) come and the need or distress they cause are the very point at which we find the provision and person of God. The two greatest examples of temptation in the scriptures are Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness at the beginning of His ministry, and the temptation in the Garden to jump ship, at the end of His earthly ministry. Out of both temptations, Jesus emerged in the power of the Spirit — the first propelled Him into His three power years back and forth between Galilee and Jerusalem, and the second propelled Him through the Cross, enduring Hell and the Devil along the way.
It is this type of purpose that we can see for our temptations today, as we know that we are He in us, living according to the Father in us, who “does the works.”
Another Biblical example of this is Moses. Moses brought the law to the Israelites. Among the laws were the regulations regarding the priesthood and access to the Ark of the Covenant and Holy of Holies. Under the law of God established by Moses, only certain persons, performing certain rituals and wearing only certain clothing, could by law touch the Ark or enter the most holy place. And yet Moses, who did not meet any of those regulations or wear the suit, could go in and out without impunity. Moses, the lawgiver, lived outside the law. In Christ.
So of course all those admonitions and so-called rules are right and have their value, but they are not for the mature, who live out of the inner life of the Spirit. The rules and admonitions are unnecessary, because they are fulfilled in them — in other words, those “outer” rules have inwardly become who we are. That’s why Jesus could break the outer laws of the Sabbath, because He was the True Sabbath, the True Rest of God, in human flesh. And such are we even in our infancy, but there is a day we come to consciousness of that fact, that we have entered into God’s rest, right here inside us right now, and we live from that, and that the law of Love out of which we are created and of which we are compounded, is fulfilled in the present moment in us. We know this inwardly in our faith, and that is the true substance and evidence of what God has done in us.