Around the time our youngest daughter was looking into colleges and universities I overheard her talking with my cousin’s daughter and I had to smile as one of them exclaimed, “Can’t people just behave themselves without so many rules?!”
Its a fragment of conversation I’ve never forgotten.
In fact, I think of it often when I’m discussing law and grace – or to put it more simply, “What motivates us to be good?” - with university students.
Yes. What does motivate us to be good? This is a conversation I had last week with a stranger in a coffee shop.
A few weeks earlier at the same coffee shop
I had brought my computer expecting to spend the afternoon writing. Unfortunately, my battery was completely dead – a fact I realized only after I had bought my expensive sandwich.
The only other customer in the shop was trying, with somewhat limited success, to engage the owner in a conversation about Admiral Yamamoto. Now Admiral Yamamoto is someone I know about!
So, rather than fret about my dead battery I took up the conversation as the owner escaped into the kitchen. We progressed from World War 2 history to the nature of man – he ventured that all peoples are actually good at heart - and religions – which he felt were all the same.
At this point I had to quench the urge to immediately introduce the concept of original sin and instead tried to pursue common ground. Did he go ever go to church? He goes occasionally because he has some Christian friends, in fact he’s friends with a preacher in the center of the city. And so yes, he sometimes reads a bit of Bible.
Soon it was easy and natural to introduce that verse I’ve thought so much about lately.
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God's kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4)
We agreed, its not condemnation that motivates people to behave, but kindness.
It was exciting as we finally parted ways to hear this man say from himself. “Only Jesus taught forgiveness! Christianity is better than all the other religions because there is forgiveness!”
I’d been thinking about this verse (from morning devotions a few weeks ago) because my husband keeps muttering that most Christians act like Pelagians. Yesterday I finally looked up Pelagianism and I’m not so sure that’s what he means...
I think what’s really bothering my husband is how many Christians subscribe to the Galatian Heresy because when I asked him what he meant he said that although everyone knows we are “saved by grace” almost everyone goes back to the law. Himself included.
Yesterday I skimmed and today I reread Galatians.
Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
This brought me back to all those long discussions with my university students. What motivates us to be good?
Its not condemnation! Remember, it is the KINDNESS of God that leads us to repentance.
Nor is it rules. Galatians is very clear on that.
It is knowing God, feeling His love and wanting to love him back that motivates us to be good.
Daughter having her morning devotions
I used to tell my students it was like my relationship with my children. I never had to make a lot of rules because we loved each other and they knew me, they knew what pleased me and they wanted to please.
And when we blew it – I say we because it wasn’t just my children who screwed up – we forgave. We didn’t live in condemnation. Remember… the KINDNESS of God. Or to use the words in Galatians:
If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
(Galatians 5: 25 - 6:1)