Law and Grace
Three Types of Laws
John the Baptist told the people that simply being a member of God's assembly was not good enough to please God. So, the people kept asking him, "What should we do?"
"The person who packed extra clothes should share with the person who needs clothing to stay warm at night," John kept saying. "The person with food should share with the hungry."
Tax men came to be baptized by John. "What should we do?" they asked John.
"Don't collect more money from the people than the Romans tell you to collect," John answered.
Even the Roman soldiers kept asking him, "What should we do, too?"
"Don't beat up people for their money. Don't threaten to lie about people in court so they will give you their money. Be happy with your pay," John replied.
Based on Luke 3:10-14
The people who came to see John were good people. They obeyed the laws. But that didn't seem to be enough for them. They felt something was missing. They wanted to be closer to God.
God gave us laws for our good. When he created us, he gave us limits, ways our bodies and our world works. This is called the "natural law." God wants us to work within human nature for our health and well-being.
God also gave us the power to make and change civil laws, the laws made by government. This power comes from our worth and dignity as human beings. "Civil law" includes our rights and freedoms as citizens.
Finally, God showed us how he wants us to live as his children. He "revealed" his "Law" to his people. First, to the Israelites in the Old Testament (including the Ten Commandments). Next, to followers of Jesus in the New Testament. Jesus taught to love God and others.
So, there are three types of law: natural law (the rules of nature), civil law (the rules of government), and reveal law (God's rules). But simply following these laws does not give us the right to brag, to insist that we can prove ourselves to God and others. We cannot "justify" ourselves before God. No, it takes more. For, only God can bring us close. Only God can begin the soften our hard hearts, forgive our sins, and make us his children. Our question, like the question of John's audience should be: "What can we do to know we are God's children?"
God sent a man named John. John came to preach, so he could tell everyone about God's Light, and, so they would believe what he preached about the Light. John wasn't the Light. John came so he could tell others about the Light.
Based on John 1:6-8
The crowds around John wondered if John was the Messiah. After all, they waited eagerly for the coming of God's savior. But John said to everyone, "Listen! I baptize you with water. But there is someone coming who is greater than I am. He is so great, I am not even fit to untie the straps of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire!"
Based on Luke 3:15-17a
When John pointed out the fact we cannot please God by ourselves, he showed us the person who could please God: Jesus! And he showed us the way to know we are God's children: the gift of the Holy Spirit!
When we believe in Jesus, he gives us the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit invites us to come closer to God. (God's invitation is called "actual grace.") When we accept the Spirit's invitation, the Spirit brings God to live in us. (God's life is called "sanctifying grace.") Over time, the Spirit strengthens us to praise God and do good things almost naturally. (Strength from God to live out the Christian life is called "habitual grace.")
The Holy Spirit worked among John's audience. The Spirit invited them to seek God. The questions John heard was proof of actual grace at work. But they would have to wait for God's Savior to receive God's life, sanctifying grace, the "baptism of the Holy Spirit."
God's Invitation and Life
Soon after Jesus began to preach, John the Baptist was arrested by King Herod. When he was in jail, John heard the kinds of things Jesus was doing. John sent some of his followers to Jesus with a question. "Are you the one John said would come? Or, is there someone else we should expect?" they asked.
"Go tell John what you see and hear," Jesus answered. "Blind people can now see. Deaf people can now hear clearly. Crippled people can now walk. People with diseases are now healthy. Dead people live again. And the poor have the Good News preached to them. The person who doesn't doubt me is really happy!"
Based on Matthew 11:2-6
Why did John ask Jesus if he was the One to come? The question was for his followers. They needed to know Jesus was God's Messiah. They needed to know God's power, his very Spirit, was at work in Jesus. They needed a challenge of faith: Happy is the person who doesn't doubt Jesus!
Like the followers of John, we are challenged to follow Jesus. But we cannot do it alone. We need God's help. We need his invitation. We need his life. We need his strength to live out our lives as God's children. We need the gift of the Holy Spirit: grace.