Law and Principle

By: Rich Preuss

Mark 2:23

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the grainfields, and as his disciples walked along, they began to pick some heads of grain. The Pharisees said to him, “Look, why are they doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

We live in a law-based society. Laws are good things. They are necessary for ordering our lives and our interactions with others. Because we are so cognizant of law, we can easily view our actions in terms of laws or principles; how we relate with others needs to be within the borders of certain laws and principles. We can also view our interaction with God in the same way. God gave us the Ten Commandments and there are certain principles in scripture by which we should order our lives.

Once we know the laws and principles, we may be tempted to think we have figured out God. We have the formula and now we just need to plug it into every decision we make. The classic problem with this approach is the question we would ask ourselves as kids: If someone came to your home to kill your brother who was hiding in the closet, and asked if you knew where he was, would you tell the truth? If you didn’t, it violated the principle of truthfulness. If you did, then you were complicit in your brother’s death.

Recently I watched a documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German minister who lived in Nazi Germany. Bonhoeffer lived an inspiring and exemplary life. He also lived out a principle of pacifism. His family became privy to information implicating the Nazis in the holocaust, and Bonhoeffer struggled with the principle of pacifism he had embraced versus participating in the attempted assassination of Hitler. In this struggle, Bonhoeffer came to understand that we must live out of the will of God, not out of principles and rules.

To be living in God’s will, we need to have a very close personal relationship with the Lord. It is out of this relationship of love that we can properly choose our actions for God’s glory. In these choices, we may never have the luxury of knowing that we are right. We can only love God and choose for him out of that love.

It is in doing this that faith manifests itself. Faith isn’t just believing a set of rules or principles. It isn’t just believing historical facts about Jesus. Faith is the understanding that God is living his life in us, paying attention to his life in us, and making that life a reality in space and time. It is the Incarnation being played out in our lives every day. When we understand this, we begin to see the importance of everything we do. Our lives are unfolding God’s life to everyone we meet. May the true God be revealed through each of us today.

TAKE THE CHALLENGE: Do I allow myself to lose focus on God himself, instead becoming overly concerned with following “the letter of the law”? Do I cause others to fall into this way of thinking?