Most Christians I know – myself included – are not afraid that there are divine laws that they have missed, or failed to notice.
Rather, our more prevailing concern tends to be avoiding legalism: that idea that we are imposing regulations on ourselves or others that either exist not at all in Scripture, or exist in merely the form of advice, or strong recommendations.
Thus it was once expressed by someone in authority over me that for a Christian to marry a non-Christian was not sinful – merely not recommended, despite such passages as 1 Corinthians 7:39 and 2 Corinthians 7:14. That directive – Christians to marry only other Christians – is often interpreted in largely utopian terms, i.e. God is telling us what he’d ideally like, and what would be perfect, but if we find someone we are drawn to who is not a Christian, and we can’t find a more suitable Christian partner at that time, we should feel free to go ahead and marry that person.
“Hey God, is it OK if I marry this person?”
“Well, y’know, they’re not a great choice, but…well, whatever makes you happy…”
This is of course makes God very much a creature of the 21st century – a very ‘in-the-moment’, ‘follow-your-heart’ kinda guy who prizes enjoyment and personal fulfilment above all else, and who has no real plans for the future.
The quasi-theological blanket for that thinking is, “God wants me to be happy”, where happiness is defined as what I would like (right now). God wants me to be happy…I know best what that is…this thing is what would make me happy…and therefore this thing is OK with God. I’ve heard it countless times from others, and it’s what my sinful heart often tells me. We are pretty good at keeping in touch with our own wants, and our godliness may sometimes extend only so far as trying to massage what we want sufficiently so that it looks to us like something God wants – or even prioritises – for us.
One thing that tends to get missed is that with most of God’s commands, it is overwhelmingly obvious that his laws are designed for our own benefit. And for those laws that always or occasionally seem not to be what we want, it surely shouldn’t be too hard to take a look at the one who made those laws and trust that he knows best. After all, God is the one who made the universe, the one who sent his Son to die for me to save me from my sin, and from whom I have received everything that is good…perhaps I can take his word for it on this one.
Is it really so hard to understand, for example, that God’s command to avoid drunkenness is not an example of the divine killjoy but a restraint that will save us from many things we may regret, and an openness to all kinds of other temptations?
Bottom line is that God does say no. He does have commands and laws. They are an objective reality and therefore not subject to the feelings, wants, desires or opinions of any individual or society. Nothing that anyone can say will change the reality of God and what he has said.
Not everything that he commanded was merely for the Israelites pre-Jesus death. Not everything he instructed through Paul the Apostle was just for the early church. We do ourselves and others the worst kind of harm when we treat God as nothing more than an adviser whose main weakness is to not know us as well as we know ourselves.
Christ’s death was not in order to free us from moral inhibition, or to give us room to idolise ourselves. Rather, it freed us from the consequences of all the self-idolatry we were born with. As Paul the Apostle put it with such incredulity and horror, “We died to sin [on the cross]; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2).
Having been freed from the desire to put other things before God, we are given the tremendous gift of a desire to love and serve God and glorify him in our lives, which in turn serves as evidence that the change in us is real:
“We know that we have come to know him if we obey his commands.” (1 John 2:3)
May we be able to say with the psalmist, “Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long…I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.” (Psalm 119:97, 104)