It’s been said that the sign of a lawless people is the obsession of making more laws. A similar dynamic is apparent in the moral formation of any group of people, even the people of God.
In Jeremiah’s own way, with the words that he had to communicate, Jeremiah presents an interesting picture of the people of God.
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.” -Jeremiah 31:33-34
Jeremiah speaks of a day when the law vanishes (at least in word commands) and becomes flesh… I think someone else may have alluded to this idea as well. (note: the Incarnation) This appears to be the Hebrew idea of “knowing.” Knowledge is embodied, lived. Not just known cognitively.
As we trace the moral vision of the people of God after the resurrection there is a dedication to shrink commandments and particulars, right? Jesus is asked to condense 613 commands into a “greatest commandment.” He links two together; the famous Shema from Deut. 6 and the neighborly vision of Lev. 19:18.
Note how “fuzzy” these commandments are. Jesus doesn’t give a checklist or “what to do.” It’s almost as if Jesus says, “If this is your aim, you’ll figure out the details as you go along.”
In no way is Jesus giving room for a license to sin or the space to slide holiness towards our preference. He simply says love is ultimate. Under the Christian canopy, love is the ‘alpha and omega’; before we can know, we first to love. To say it another way, “We love, therefore we are.”
What is troubling, then, is to hear Christian dialogue that is full of word commands and not flesh. “You are not in God’s will unless your family looks like this,” or “You should only raise your kids like this.” “Christian family planning goes like this…” “There is no way you can be a Christian and vote for that person.” “Wow, I’m concerned about your salvation (and stuff) if you enjoy reading books by that author. My people have told me that they are dangerous… even though I haven’t read them myself.” “You should really avoid that particular style of Christianity.” “If you pray these types of prayers, things will work out better for you.”
Isn’t it interesting how much we try to substitute God’s sovereignty for our preferences… our passionate preferences? Someone has once noted that some Christians from a particular tribe who claim to uphold God’s sovereignty (the idea of God holding all things together, etc) are the first one’s to send pre-emptive strikes towards something that may possibly… that has the potential… to slide down a slippery slope… towards something… that I don’t agree with… entirely.
So much for sovereignty.
Even F.F. Bruce, an author high on every Evangelical’s reading list, said, “The apostle Paul would turn over in his grave if he saw biblical readers treating his epistles like Torah.” Indeed, trying to re-inact Paul’s world/situations through his letters is difficult; we don’t share the identical issues that Paul, as pastor, engages. We do, however, read and ascertain Paul’s continual desire to lift up Christ and the message of the resurrection all over the pages. Paul leads through the lens of the resurrection to particular people, in particular time, in particular situations.
The longer our story continues, the more types of people we include into the people of Jesus, the less and less room for “word commands” in our midst. Even Dietrich Bonhoeffer, before his death, began to toy with the idea of a “religionless Christianity.” (He literally said, “If religion is only a garment of Christianity- and even this garment has looked very different at different times- then what is a religionless Christianity?”) This is something that popular authors are beginning to explore in this particular religious climate.
In sum, “word command Christianity” does not make disciples, but branded individuals. Note the next time you fellowship with someone from another faith community. Do you share genuine fellowship with one another? Or are your words crossing theirs as you both talk over one another and try to dominate the conversation. Another way to put it: if you or I cannot fit into a different church than the one we currently go to, we have been branded, not discipled. We are co-dependent upon what we’ve heard and we will crave more of it in order to survive. If we have to have people tell us, “know the Lord,” God’s law is not written on our hearts.
The new humanity that Jeremiah tries to sketch here are people of “relaxed obedience.” (a term from Dallas Willard) To have relaxed obedience is to know the Lord and to know that you are not alone, nor do you have to do the work that only God can do. These disciples do not compare themselves to one another, nor do they shove particular spirituality on another, but trust that the law of God is written on their hearts, that is, the law of love.