Randall Gerard writes back...

Location: Out West

An old-fashioned guy grappling with new-fangled ways.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

A Letter to my children...

Dearest children,

We had family devotions today around Romans 7:1-12. In this chapter Paul is instructing us on the relationship of the Law to sin, and why it is we cannot be saved through law-keeping. In the first six verses, he compares the law of marriage to the state of being 'under the law'. The phrase 'under the law' means to be subject to; and in this context, is used as 'to be subject to as a way of salvation'. Paul tells us that a woman is bound to her husband for as long as he lives, but if he dies, she is free to marry another. By the same token, as people descended from Adam, and born in sin, we are naturally bound to the Law, unless someone dies and frees us. Jesus has died and is now alive in order that we might be united to Him by faith and we are no longer 'under law' as a way of salvation. When we repent and believe, we also die. We are buried with Him in the waters of baptism, and raised to newness of life. Thus, Jesus is both the one who has died, and our new husband. (This analogy, like all others, is not perfect, but only serves to make a point. Don't read too much into analogies.)

Verses 7 through 12 deal with the law's tendency to produce sin in us. It sounds counter-intuitive, doesn't it, that something that is 'holy, just and good' (vs. 12) should produce just the opposite? But the inability of the Law to save is not rooted in any deficiency in the Law, but in our own sinful natures. The Law is a reflection of God's perfection, and we are not perfect, therefore we are not able to keep it in our own strength. Even more than that, if we do strive to keep it in our own strength, we will only succeed in sinning all the more. Remember, this is being written by Paul, the ex-pharisee. Paul, the ex-persecuter and murderer of the church, the one who said he was 'blameless' with regard to the Law; and yet until the Damascus Road, he was dead in his sins despite all the outward religion he had in abundance. Religion can't save. Law and rule-keeping, whether God's or man's, cannot give you a new heart. 'Without faith it is impossible to please God', says the author of Hebrews.

Paul uses the example of covetousness, saying that he would not know covetousness if the Law had not said 'thou shalt not covet'. When you were little, we often made rules for you to follow in order to protect you. Like all children, though, merely saying 'don't touch that' produced in you the desire to touch it. That's why your chubby little fingers were thumped (alot!). It is human nature to desire what you can't or shouldn't have. Covetousness is the inordinate desire for good things or any desire to do evil. It is inherently sinful to want another man's wife or anything else that is his, because these desires lead to adultery and theft. It is not inherently sinful to want your daily bread or shelter; in fact, Jesus tells us to pray for the things we need. Yet, covetousness is a very subtle sin, and we are often unaware of it until it leads us into more blatant sin. When Jesus was tempted by the devil to turn stones into bread, He didn't refuse to do so because bread is a bad thing, or He had no hunger. He refused because it is wrong to put God to the test. It is wrong to want something more then we want God's will and timing for our lives. Jesus knew He would eventually have food, if He would only be patient and await His Father's provision at the proper time.

You and I often go astray at this point. We often race ahead of God, seeking what we want RIGHT NOW, just like the prodigal son who wanted his inheritance right now. This is the sinful, covetous spirit behind most indebtedness. Rather then patiently working and saving, and being content and thankful for what we have, we borrow and spend not fully counting the cost, and wake up one day a slave to our own desires. 'I owe, I owe, so off to work I go' is no joke, though we often chuckle when we see the bumper sticker. I won't say that all borrowing is sinful, but to the extent it is motivated by covetousness, it is. I'll give you an example of what I mean. You both know we are trying to sell the house, so we can buy something less expensive, so we can afford to see you more often, save for land etc. I believe these are all wholesome desires given to me by God. But Godly ends must always be sought through Godly means. Yesterday, mom and I went to look at some less expensive properties, and saw a few we liked. In the process of seeking a way to perhaps purchase one, we sought the advice of a mortgage lender. He explained what a bridge loan was; that it was basically borrowing the equity you have in your house, and using it to purchase another house. The down-side, of course, is it could take awhile to sell our house, and in the meantime interest is accruing on the loan, and we could end up making payments on two houses. Not only that, but there are closing costs and other fees to pay up front. We decided it was potentially just too expensive. So, then this banker offered a way around the problem. We could simply open a home equity line of credit, pay no fees or closing costs, and have only a $500 dollar pre-payment penalty upon the sale of our house, after we paid off the loan. To recieve all these benefits, all we had to do was neglect to mention we're selling the house when we apply for the loan.

Well, it shames me to say that I actually considered this dishonest scheme for a full 24 hours. And then I re-read Romans 7, and considered anew the characteristics of covetousness. But surely God wouldn't mind a small omission in the interest of spending LESS money, instead of MORE, would He? And besides, bankers have been bilking me with their fine print for decades; why shouldn't I use their own usurious system against them? You know the answers to these sinful rationalizations already. A half-truth is still a lie. No, we will wait on the Lord instead. We will trust Him to find us a buyer, and we will trust Him to find us something else we can better afford. My point is, be wary of your desires, even your good ones. You can want good things for the wrong reasons; or seek to accomplish good things through the wrong means. But the Lord does all things well, if we will only trust and obey.

I love you both.

Your Dad