This morning as I was driving my daily 45-minute chauffeur route to drop my children off at their respective schools, I thought of a statement that I heard yesterday. The statement was something to the effect of, “I love the Hellfire and Brimstone preaching and that’s what I want to hear in church.” ***To the friend who made that statement, this post is in no way a knock to your statement, but it did get me thinking. Love you!!***
So, I’m thinking “Hellfire and Brimstone” which led to thinking about the song “Let it go” from Frozen which led to thinking about a mental picture I had once during a time of prayer. Does that all sound crazy? Is anyone else picturing Alice in Wonderland? That’s ok, it’s how my mind works and I’d venture a guess that most of your minds work the same way (remember those dreams you have where you’re in one location and then suddenly another and it all makes sense in the dream? Yep, we all get those!). 😉 Now, here’s the explanation of where the trail led.
When I was thinking of “Hellfire and Brimstone” preaching, I thought of how many people I know who grew up under that kind of preaching and how hard it is to let go of those beliefs. Thankfully, I did not grow up physically or spiritually under that type of teaching, but I know many many people who did and I’ve heard their stories over the years. The basis of that type of preaching, as best as I can tell, is to use the fear of going to Hell as a way to get people to act right (follow the rules, etc.). I remember years ago hearing another of my friends say that she felt more comfortable under the “Hellfire and Brimstone” teaching because it was what she always knew and it felt “safe” to her. In other words, she felt like she had control of her destiny…follow the rules, go to heaven; don’t follow the rules, go to hell. Simple, right?
So, as I was thinking of her words from the past I thought of the song “Let it go.” That could just be random but I don’t believe so. “Let it go” quickly sent my mind to this mental picture I received one time while in prayer. It was good and it was perfect for me so I wrote it down in my personal prayer journal, but I’m going to share it with you today. 🙂
August 19, 2012
Sunday morning service during a call for ‘repentance’ I prayed to lay down the burdensome structure, order, planning in my life that goes too far. I saw a picture of a maze or labyrinth from above (meaning I was above the labyrinth looking down. I didn’t write that part in my journal but I can still see this picture just as vividly today as the day I received it. God is awesome!). I was standing in one corner and suddenly all the walls lifted and were gone. At first I could still see the markings on the ground where the walls had been but they faded quickly. I was left in a wide open space without a path or direction. I saw myself start to panic and thought I would scramble around frantically trying to find the way out, but then I felt God say, “I’ve got you. I’ll guide you. It’s ok.” ***Looking back now, it’s kind of funny to think that I was frantic over navigating an empty space. Why wouldn’t I just walk straight to the other corner and exit? I don’t know, but at the time, I was in pure panic mode and God used this example because He knows me. I’m His daughter. 🙂
I still remember receiving that picture standing in Sunday morning service. I remember the actual physical reaction I felt in my body as I saw all the walls lift and I was left in this wide open space with no structure, no plan. My body had an actual ‘fight or flight’ type reaction from this picture. You see, I’m a rule follower! I’ve always been a very structured and planned individual. As a child I would dream that I forgot to do my homework and then couldn’t answer questions in school. I’d wake up in a panic. Once, as a reward for good grades, I was given an alarm clock. That may have been the worst present ever (sorry mom!) because I would wake up multiple times each night and look at the clock and count down how many hours I had left to sleep. One time I even got up in the middle of the night and thought I had overslept. I frantically started getting ready for school and ran into the living room crying because I WAS LATE! As it turns out, it was midnight and my parents were still up watching TV so they sent me back to bed (as if I could sleep at that point with my body full of adrenaline!). I tell you this background as a way to say that I like to be “right”…to do things perfectly…to never allow a notch in my armor. I like to be in control because it feels more secure. I like to move all the pieces of my life around like pieces on a chess board and know that each movement will lead to a better position for the next movement. I don’t like to be surprised or caught off guard. I don’t like to be inconvenienced (because of course that means that there was a problem in my plan). I don’t want to ever miss something or fail. I want perfection and that desire (which isn’t Godly I might add…there’s a difference in perfection and excellence) wants to infiltrate every aspect of my life which would ultimately lead to frustration and failure (or at least perception of failure).
What does any of this have to do with “Hellfire and Brimstone” you may be wondering. Well, I’ll tell you. 😉 My desire to be in control and always do the right things would make it easy for me to lean toward a spiritual path that has structure and a clearly defined plan. It would be so much easier if all I had to do was follow the rules and know the outcome…so it seems. However, none of us are capable of following the rules that were given in the Old Testament. In fact, did you know that the rules were actually given to expose sin, not get rid of it?
Romans 7:4-8 (AMP) Emphasis added.
Likewise (previous comparison to a woman being freed from marriage if her husband dies), my brethren, you have undergone death as to the Law through the [crucified] body of Christ, so that now you may belong to Another, to Him Who was raised from the dead in order that we may bear fruit for God. When we were living in the flesh (mere physical lives), the sinful passions that were awakened and aroused up by [what] the Law [makes sin] were constantly operating in our natural powers (in our bodily organs, in the sensitive appetites and wills of the flesh), so that we bore fruit for death. But now we are discharged from the Law and have terminated all intercourse with it, having died to what once restrained and held us captive. So now we serve not under [obedience to] the old code of written regulations, but [under obedience to the promptings] of the Spirit in newness [of life]. What then do we conclude? Is the Law identical with sin? Certainly not! Nevertheless, if it had not been for the Law, I should not have recognized sin or have known its meaning. [For instance] I would not have known about covetousness [would have had no consciousness of sin or sense of guilt] if the Law had not [repeatedly] said, You shall not covet and have an evil desire [for one thing and another]. But sin, finding opportunity in the commandment [to express itself], got a hold on me and aroused and stimulated all kinds of forbidden desires (lust, covetousness). For without the Law sin is dead [the sense of it is inactive and a lifeless thing].
So, in layman’s terms, if there wasn’t a law/rule against something I was doing, I wouldn’t have known it was wrong. But, since there are laws/rules, if I go against any of them I am very aware of my transgression and my thoughts can become consumed with it. Have you ever gone on a diet and told yourself you weren’t going to eat dessert? Did you find that the more you thought about skipping dessert, the more you wanted it? That is the concept that these verses are referring to. Make sense?
WE WERE NEVER MADE TO LIVE OUR LIVES BOUND TO THE RULES. WE WERE MADE FOR RELATIONSHIP!!!
In the Old Testament, Jesus had not come to Earth yet and the Holy Spirit had not been given to us. Rules were given as a guidance of how to live and they made sin stick out like a sore thumb. All of a sudden, people were very aware of just how much they made mistakes…and there were consequences. God dealt with people very differently in the Old Testament than He did in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, fire actually did come down from the sky several times to consume people or offerings. People made annual sacrifices for forgiveness of their sins which forced them to relive those sins (guilt, shame, etc.). People were killed for murmuring and complaining (how many people do you know that would be taken out for that alone…myself included!). As a whole, the Old Testament times were tough, and not just because of the lack of running water, electricity, and smart phones. People were constantly striving yet falling short. Despite their best efforts, they were still punished for their shortcomings. For someone who wants a well lined out plan, like me, it doesn’t seem like just following the rules will be a good plan in this situation. How are we supposed to get to heaven under the “Hellfire and Brimstone” teaching if we aren’t able to follow the rules perfectly? In my picture, how will I navigate that large space to get to the other corner once the walls that formed the path have been lifted? It seemed like a no-win situation.
But, help was coming. God had a rescue plan!! Yea God!!
In Matthew 5, Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to do away with or undo the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to do away with or undo but to complete and fulfill them.” Then He proceeded to up the ante from behavior control (do not kill) to heart control (do not be angry or harbor malice).
Are you confused? We already established that the rules in the Old Testament just lead us to be aware of our failures and continue in them. Now we see that Jesus upped the ante by requiring more than outward compliance. What gives?! How are we supposed to follow the rules perfectly and like it? (Have you ever heard a parent say that? You’re going to do such and such and you’re going to like it. Haha, yeah right! Not on our own accord.) Well, the key lies in the statement above that Jesus came to fulfill the law.
***I’m getting ready to quote much scripture but quoting a whole book would likely lose you in this post so I’m going to tell you to read Galatians. Even if you just read it today, read it again and read it with a mindset of ‘freedom from law.’ Trust me…you need to do this. 🙂
Yet we know that a man is justified or reckoned righteous and in right standing with God not by works of the Law, but [only] through faith and [absolute] reliance on and adherence to and trust in Jesus Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One). [Therefore] even we [ourselves] have believed on Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the Law [for we cannot be justified by any observance of the ritual of the Law given by Moses], because by keeping legal rituals and by works no human being can ever be justified (declared righteous and put in right standing with God).
I do not set aside and invalidate and frustrate and nullify the grace (unmerited favor) of God. For if justification (righteousness, acquittal from guilt) comes through [observing the ritual of] the Law, then Christ (the Messiah) died groundlessly and to no purpose and in vain. [His death was then wholly superfluous.]
Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the [Holy] Spirit as the result of obeying the Law and doing its works, or was it by hearing [the message of the Gospel] and believing [it]? [Was it from observing a law of rituals or from a message of faith?] Are you so foolish and so senseless and so silly? Having begun [your new life spiritually] with the [Holy] Spirit, are you now reaching perfection [by dependence] on the flesh? … Then does He Who supplies you with His marvelous [Holy] Spirit and works powerfully and miraculously among you do so on [the grounds of your doing] what the Law demands, or because of your believing in and adhering to and trusting in and relying on the message that you heard?
So then, those who are people of faith are blessed and made happy and favored by God [as partners in fellowship] with the believing and trusting Abraham. And all who depend on the Law [who are seeking to be justified by obedience to the Law of rituals] are under a curse and doomed to disappointment and destruction, for it is written in the Scriptures, Cursed (accursed, devoted to destruction, doomed to eternal punishment) be everyone who does not continue to abide (live and remain) by all the precepts and commands written in the Book of the Law and to practice them. Now it is evident that no person is justified (declared righteous and brought into right standing with God) through the Law, for the Scripture says, The man in right standing with God [the just, the righteous] shall live by and out of faith and he who through and by faith is declared righteous and in right standing with God shall live. But the Law does not rest on faith [does not require faith, has nothing to do with faith], for it itself says, He who does them [the things prescribed by the Law] shall live by them [not by faith]. Christ purchased our freedom [redeeming us] from the curse (doom) of the Law [and its condemnation] by [Himself] becoming a curse for us, for it is written [in the Scriptures], Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree (is crucified);
Now the promises (covenants, agreements) were decreed and made to Abraham and his Seed…The Law, which began 430 years after the covenant [concerning the coming Messiah] does not and cannot annul the covenant previously established (ratified) by God, so as to abolish the promise and make it void. For if the inheritance [of the promise depends on observing] the Law [as these false teachers would like you to believe], it no longer [depends] on the promise; however God gave it to Abraham [as a free gift solely] by virtue of His promise. What then was the purpose of the Law? It was added [later on, after the promise, to disclose and expose to men their guilt] because of transgression and [to make men more conscious of the sinfulness] of sin; and it was intended to be in effect until the Seed (the Descendent, the Heir) should come, to and concerning Whom the promise had been made…Is the Law contrary and opposed to the promises of God? Of course not! For if a Law had been given which could confer [spiritual] life, then righteousness and right standing with God would certainly have come by Law. But the Scriptures [picture all mankind as sinners] shut up and imprisoned by sin, so that [the inheritance, blessing] which was promised through faith in Jesus Christ (the Messiah) might be given (released, delivered, and committed) to [all] those who believe [who adhere to and trust in and rely on Him]. Now before faith came, we were perpetually guarded under the Law, kept in custody in preparation for the faith that was destined to be revealed (unveiled, disclosed), so that the Law served [to us Jews] as our trainer [our guardian, our guide to Christ, to lead us] until Christ [came], that we might be justified (declared righteous, put in right standing with God) by and through faith. But now that faith has come we are no longer under a trainer (the guardian of our childhood). For in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God through faith. For as many [of you] as were baptized into Christ [into a spiritual union and communion with Christ, the Anointed One, the Messiah] have put on (clothed yourselves with) Christ.
But if you are guided (led) by the [Holy] Spirit, you are not subject to the Law.
That was a lot, I know. Let’s summarize:
- The Law was given to the Jews, not the Gentiles (which most of us are);
- The Law was added because of transgression and was meant to be a keeper until Jesus came;
- All who depend on the Law are doomed to disappointment;
- Christ purchased us from the curse of the Law by becoming a curse for us;
- Now that faith has come, we are no longer under a trainer (the Law);
- We are in right standing with God through faith; and
- We are led by the Holy Spirit therefore we do not need the Law to guide us.
So, for all of us looking for the perfectly laid out game plan with dates and occurrences we can check off our list to assure we never miss a step, we will have to step our of our comfort zone.
God wants a relationship with you. When Jesus walked the Earth, He gave guidance and comfort to those He was around but He couldn’t be everywhere at one time. When He left, He sent the Holy Spirit to live in each and every one of us so that we can all have that Comfort, Guidance, and Direction. The reason we don’t need to know and follow all the rules is that we have the Word living in us and He can’t operate against Himself. So, if we’re listening and following, we will be fulfilling the rules without even trying!
Why does “Hellfire and Brimstone” preaching miss the mark? Because it misses the heart of the Father. It misses the Love…God is Love. It tries to control people through fear so that their outward actions conform to a standard without consideration of their hearts.
But wait, I can hear some genuine souls wondering, “What about II Timothy 4:3? What about those in the end times who will forsake sound doctrine for that which fulfills their own desires? What if I let go of some of the structure in my life and I “fall away”?” Well, first I’d like to say that following the leading of the Holy Spirit isn’t always easy. It requires you to trust and lean and sometimes be the only one stepping out onto a thin limb (have you heard of Noah’s ark?). Preferring to rest in God instead of strictly follow the Law is not opposed to God and it isn’t forsaking sound doctrine. In fact, it’s the exact thing that Jesus said the Pharisees needed to work on. So, I’m not concerned that I’m “falling away” or being led astray and I truly believe that my loving Father would not allow me to be deceived to damnation while my heart is truly seeking Him. Call me crazy, but I trust Him!
For those of you who haven’t seen it, here’s the song. Let’s all take a deep breath in an out and just Let it Go!
Happy Tuesday everybody!!