Gods gift of liberty to his children
"If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." (John 8:31,32 - RSV)
Seeking God's favor is a human endeavor recorded in archeological evidence from ancient burial sites. Funerary remains in Neanderthal burial sites almost one hundred thousand years old indicate some type of religious belief existed that long ago.
Any simple notice of a higher power, a "Great Spirit" implies belief in a superior being. Primitive reasoning concluded that offerings to that higher power might gain some notice and perhaps even earn some rewards. So, early on, offerings were made to the unseen god(s) accompanied by presentation rituals with flattering rites and liturgies.
Simply stated, man hoped to find a way to please their higher power(s) and receive gifts and kindness in return. Those benevolent acts by the higher power are what we call GRACE.
One dictionary definition of GRACE is: "Favor or goodwill; mercy or clemency; the favor and love of God."
The problem with that approach was that man neither knew nor understood God. Human spiritual beliefs were inventions imagined by primitive minds, based on observations of human behavior, needs, and wants.
Simply, god(s) was/were made in the image of man. Rituals and liturgies to please the gods were copies of those things that pleased man. So, when the invented deity did not perform according to hopes, more or newer bribes were offered. Offerings of any type are standard marks of all PAGAN religions. Man cannot reach God by "works" - by "doing things."
Whenever we believe God acts because of our own efforts - by something we have done or have failed to do, we are practicing PAGANISM. Paganism is simply explained as superstition and magic.
A review of Old Testament records shows that when God spoke to the Patriarchs, it was by his choice and not because of anything any person had done to deserve the divine visit (http://www.judaism-101.org/)
God moves because of his love of his children, and to better their living conditions. We may ask God to act in one way or another by prayer, but even the amount or intensity of prayers does not move God (Matthew 6:7,8).
To imagine the intensity, words, or quality of prayer impresses God is to imagine we have verbal ways we can use to move God to act as we wish. This PAGAN system is easily disproved by personal experience and Jesus' prayer instructions (Mt. 6:7,8).
Do your prayers always get the results you seek? If they do, you are controlling God. If they do not, God remains God. And if they do not, it is proof you do not have any infallible spiritual formula. You are still dependent on God's love and his gifts, his grace.
All new religious fads are based on some new doctrine that promises a greater measure of God's favor. Look at any popular modern religious figure and their new system(s). Each promises their followers a greater measure of God's blessings - God's grace - because of their "newly revealed theology." All attract followers who think there really is some new way to motivate and energize God to get their wants fulfilled.
When we understand this religious history and apply reason to our own experiences, why do we seek new formulas to earn God's favor? While we hope these acts will "work," we know they will not because of our past experiments always failed.
Our problem comes because we have been raised under LAW (rules) and are accustomed to believing obedience to the LAW (rules) brings rewards and violations of the LAW (rules) brings punishment.
Grace is a divine gift. Because grace is beyond reason and outside human intellect, a person must receive grace to have any words to describe it.
Rules and laws exist in our most important social unit - our family - from our first memories. Because of this, people cannot understand living "free from the Law and being ruled by Grace."
Another reason for missing the message of Grace is that freely given gifts of love in the family, from family members, are so commonplace they become expected and go unnoticed and unappreciated.
Regarding LAW and rules, it has been said, "Any government is better than no government." The word "Government" means an organization that governs or controls people with a system of rules that are enforced by individual and community efforts.
Opposite of law is anarchy where everyone does what he or she chooses, without any community order or rules. Anarchy soon ends with the strongest taking control and then establishing a "government" with rules or laws of their own choosing. Because of this, anarchy cannot last and some sort of government will always exist, beginning within the family unit.
Governmental law requires individual obedience. Law violations bring punishments. All people must obey the law of their government or suffer punishment. Even in democracy, laws control human behavior. What we hope and believe is that democracy is more benevolent and wiser than autocratic governments.
So we are stuck with the law, and have a love-hate relationship with its rules. We seek individual liberty and independent expression - "free choices resulting from free will." We always know our self-expression is limited and governed by society whose power is greater than any individual. How then, can we have freedom and keep from reverting to the old habit of living by Law?
What then did Jesus mean when he said, "If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free."
First, this freedom - this liberty - requires a spiritual change to reliance on God to teach us all things with reliance on God for all knowledge and daily guidance (Luke 12:11,12).
Next, this comes as a result of the "rebirth" that completely changes our personality and plants the Spirit of God in our minds and hearts. (John 3:3-7; Hebrews 8:10; 1 Peter 2:9).
We gain this gift of grace not by our efforts - our works - but simply by asking for the rebirth (Luke 11:9-13). Then what?
With a heart and mind turned to God by the indwelling Holy Spirit, we follow the leading of the Spirit in all we do. With our choices guided by our love of God and of our fellow humans, we do not need any LAW or rules to "do the right thing" in every situation. Proper behavior comes naturally. We can depend on God's spirit to give us the words we need along with proper acts as God directs.
We are free from the LAW and under GRACE. Now free, we must guard against being drawn back in to PAGAN thinking. We must never again be seduced into thinking some particular act or offering, religious or secular, is necessary to please God. His love for us is sufficient. He knows our needs before we ask. His grace, given because he loves us, is sufficient and he supplies all our needs.
(See "Common Sense Christianity" in this Library.)