Rule keeping, modesty, grace and the Gospel – which one of these is not like the others?

I really love thought experiments.  The study of Christian Ethics takes real life situations and helps you see how your faith and knowledge of God’s word plays out in every day life.  It can often expose where you are deficient in understanding and applying the Word.  See below from Tim Challies:

The first question: Can you dress immodestly and be sinless? I think you can. Imagine that you have traveled to a foreign country. You did your research before you left home and thought you understood how to dress. But when you arrive, you walk out of the airport and find that you have blundered. Maybe you did not understand that women are supposed to cover their heads in public; you did not know this, and now you are in public with an uncovered head, drawing shocked looks. In a scenario like this you have not sinned because you genuinely wanted to honor God and the people around you. You simply didn’t understand how to do this.

The second question: Can you dress immodestly and be sinful? Of course you can. You can dress in such a way that you draw attention to your body. You deliberately arouse sexual desire and attract attention because you desperately want to be noticed. You can do this as a man or as a woman and when you do so, you are sinful in your immodesty.

The third question: Can you dress modestly and be sinful? Yes, you can. You can wear a burlap sack that covers every inch of flesh and every hint of shape, yet be full of pride. Dressed in this modest apparel, you can look around judging others. You may even dress modestly, but want others to notice your modesty, something that is actually immodest!

Many modesty discussions turn into. “Only this high. Only this short. Never in this combination”. Rules!

The 3rd idea caught my attention.  This is exactly what the New Testament Pharisees did. They wanted to keep the Ten Commandments so they created hundreds of other laws that would keep them safely within the ten big laws. Paul sees this in the church in Colosse and understands that while the rules may have been well-intentioned, they were actually very, very dangerous. He tells the church that while rules like this do have an appearance of godliness, they are actually of no value when it comes to the most important thing—addressing the heart. These people could follow every rule and still be utterly spiritually rebellious. Paul knew this because had been a Pharisee. He had been the most zealous follower of rules and the most righteous person in the nation. But then he met Jesus and immediately realized that the rules had not helped him but hindered him, they had not brought freedom but captivity. He had almost followed the rules straight to hell.

This is the problem with many self-help books [even or especially Christian].  Follow these rules and you will be “good” without an ounce of Gospel or grace mentioned or implied.  Soon we become captive to the rules; the rules become our salvation and our sanctification.  Rules themselves are valuable and necessary but it is how we view them in our heart that make them sinful.

If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world,why [as if you were still alive in the world] do you submit to regulations—21 “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” 22 (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? 23 These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.  Colossians 2:20-23 ESV.

Rule keeping my appear to be spiritual, but with the wrong [prideful] heart it actually promotes nothing more than confidence in self rather than in the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

Obey the simple commands of scripture [sanctification] with a humble heart knowing it is by the power of the Gospel that you can and by God’s grace that you want to; but not going beyond what is written.

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