Tuesday, August 5, 2014


What does commitment mean? I think for many people, commitment means that I'll remain as long as my needs are met and I'm happy. If we are not happy with a job, we leave. If we are not happy in a marriage because our needs are not being met, we leave. There was a time in our history where we were loyal to a company for life. There was a time in our history when we were married for life even though you faced hard times. You went through hard times together. You stayed with the other even if you no longer felt loved or felt happy. My grandmothers were married to drunks. They were afraid, abused and often not happy, but they were committed. 

When we realized that companies were not loyal to us, we realized we no longer needed to remain committed to the company. When we realized we could leave abusive situations, we did. At some point in our history, our own needs and our own happiness become more important than our commitment. Commitment became conditional.

It is not good to stay committed in an abusive situation. While I admire my grandmothers' courage, I'm sad that they endured abuse. I think in our past, we fell into a trap of legalism. We remained committed because it was morally right to do so. We endured abuse, neglect and not being loved because it was wrong to break our commitments. Society and religion told us it was wrong. We felt pride in keeping commitments and too afraid to break them. We would feel ashamed of ourselves if we divorced. People who did divorce were looked down upon by society and the church. 

Now we've swung the opposite direction. Commitments are conditional. Society and sometimes even the church encourages us to leave when things get tough or we are not happy. Sometimes the church fights against the messages of society but in a legalistic way still promoting pride or shame as the motive to stay committed. 

To leave a situation because we are not happy or our needs are not being met is selfish. Marriage is not an institution which is designed to have our needs met and to make us happy. Marriage is a covenant relationship between two people and God. It is a means for growth to become more like Jesus, to become less selfish, more giving, more loving and a better person who truly is an image of the Creator. 

We must learn that God's love for us is unconditional. He is committed to us and our well being. We are not capable of keeping our commitments. We are not capable of loving unconditionally. We are not capable of obeying God's law of love. Jesus kept his commitment to us. He loves us unconditionally. He kept God's law of love perfectly because we cannot. He died for us because we deserved death yet God did not desire that we perish. He redeemed us and reconciled us to him even though we abandoned him to seek our own pleasure and happiness apart from him. We sought our own pleasure and happiness but failed to achieve it because we had abandoned the very source of love, pleasure and happiness. God asks us to recommit ourselves to him knowing we can't keep it on our own. Even though we will continue to break our commitment to God, he will not break his to us. We can be assured that nothing will ever separate us from God's love ever again. 

Our commitments to each other must flow from God's commitment to us. Our love for each other must depend on God's love for us. Apart from him, we cannot keep our commitments. Apart from him, we cannot love unconditionally.

If we are motivated by fear or shame, we will not love and keep our commitments. We may be coerced into keeping our commitments out of fear or shame. We may remain loyal because we are enslaved by fear, but we will not grow in love. Commitment itself does not enslave us. Commitment frees us when we depend on God to keep the commitment. Fear, shame, regret, selfishness, and pride enslave us.

My wife and I signed a covenant when we were married. In doing so, we committed ourselves to God and each other regardless of circumstances. When we signed it, we knew we were NOT capable of keeping the covenant and our commitment. We signed it knowing God IS capable of keeping out covenant and commitment. We signed it in faith trusting God to keep it. We believe our love came from God who is love. We believe God grows our love. I love my wife more now than when I signed our covenant. Our love is strong because our God is strong. We have no fear of divorce because we trust our God. We feel very secure and very free. We are not chained by commitment. We are free. We are bound by love and by God who loves us. That bond cannot be broken because God is faithful. 

What is commitment? In our marriage, commitment is a faithful covenant with God and each other bound by the love God has given us. For us, commitment is for life. We are not bound by a legalistic determination to stay together. We do not live in fear of shame. We are not afraid of breaking our commitment. We are not enslaved by a promise. We are bound by love forever. 

Monday, August 4, 2014

Legalism or Grace

I read a blog written by a woman who regretted that she kept her virginity until she was married. She made a purity pledge at age 10 and kept that pledge. After she married, she felt pain and shame loosing her virginity. She stated that if she would do it over, she would not have made and kept the pledge. She based this on the pain and shame she now felt. Sadly, her problem is legalism and doesn't realize it. She never truly understood the gospel. She only understood moral legalism. She kept her virginity out of pride and shame. She was proud of keeping it and ashamed to loose it. Her motivation was to look good to others it was not gratitude for saving grace.

Christian churches today in America are determined to keep a moral law and to have our children keep a moral law. On the surface, this is good. However, the way we teach keeping the law is often shame based and not grace based. What needs to be taught is the gospel. Children and adults need to be taught that Jesus unconditionally loves them, that he lived a righteous life because we cannot and that he died because we deserve death. Once we accept that he died for us, we will still be saved by grace even if we "loose our virginity." Once we realize that we are saved, we are motivated by love and gratitude to keep the moral law. We tend to teach it backwards. We teach keep the moral law at all cost, change all bad behaviors and then be saved by accepting Jesus. What we need to be taught is that we are all sinners because we break the moral law and nothing in our power can make us keep the moral law. We need a savior because we are incapable of being righteous. God offers us grace to pardon us from our sins. Once we receive his grace, we are also given the power to change. The holy spirit will convict us of sin and behavior that needs to change. He will give us power not to change the behavior but rather change who we are on the inside which will also result in changes in behavior.

I just had a little baby girl. She is 3 months old. It is not my hope that she will make a purity pledge and keep it with all her might. It is my hope that she will enter into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ and allow him to change her from the inside. If she makes a purity pledge, I want her to rely on the holy spirit to keep it. If she fails, I want her to know that she is forgiven and still loved.

We also need to be careful not to teach only grace without teaching moral law. If we don't know the law, we won't know sin. If we don't know sin, we won't know that we need a savior. We need to be taught what is sin and that we are law breakers incapable of being law keepers. What we can't be taught is the law and that we are responsible to keep the law in our own power. We can't keep the law in our own power. We need to be saved and given the power to keep the law. John Bunyan is created with saying

Run, John, run, the law commands, 
But gives us neither feet nor hands. 
Far better news the gospel brings: 
It bids us fly and gives us wings.

The law show us sin but gives us no ability to keep it. Grace gives us forgiveness which gives us both motivation and ability to love. We motivated by gratitude for grace. We obey the law of love with love. We don't follow just a moral code, we live by a higher principle of love. When we and others fail we give and receive grace. 

I will teach her morality and I will punish my daughter when she is immoral, but I will also teach her grace. I will always let her know that Jesus died for her so she could be forgiven of her moral failure. I want her to know she was born a sinner and is a sinner so that she will know she needs a savior.