Watching my brother get into trouble with our mother was always great spectator sport for me. Two years his junior, I would smugly look on as Eric squirmed a bit under the microscope of scrutiny in Mom’s court of correction. If I could “help” her make her point, I was more than willing to step up and serve the family in this crucial way. (After all, doesn’t the world need more moralizers?) Occasionally, however, I’d say too much and expose my own culpability, at which point Mom would look at me with her little “you-just-stepped-in-it-buddy” grin and say in a slightly lilting tone, “Paul, your halo slipped.”
It was deserved. What is it about us that loves to load the law onto the backs of others? We did it as children; we do it as adults. We did it as non-believers, and, sadly, we do it as believers, even though we’ve been set free from the power of the law and its shackles of shame. This is nothing new: the apostle Peter addressed the issue before the church council in Jerusalem two thousand years ago, “Why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?”1 Why, indeed? So, we receive pardon from our penalties, then referee others from the rule book? There’s something wrong with this; it’s not what forgiveness and freedom are all about.
Is it still important that people under grace live in the ways that are good and right? Absolutely, and the power to do so lies in liberty, not law. “Freedom is not the permission to do what we like but the power to do what we should,”2 observed British historian, Lord Acton (paraphrased here by Os Guinness). We who deserved judgment have received mercy; we who were guilty have received pardon. We who had no right standing before God have been credited with the righteousness of Christ, and we who had no hope live fully and forever in Him. When we renew our minds and think on these eternal realities, what can possibly flow from us but endless gratitude to God and boundless grace toward others?
What happens then inside of us? Judgement fades, and encouragement flows. Blame and accusation of others give way to prayer and petition for them. And the confession of our own sins supplants our condemnation of the sins of others. We tend to our own little “halo” of grace, and celebrate the beauty of theirs.
Thanks, Mom, for the gentle correction. Nice halo, Eric.
God, help me always to remember how the reach of your grace extended to the depth of my sin. May my freedom in you yield understanding, mercy, and care toward others. In the name of Christ, I pray. Amen.
Christ in me is freedom.
[Click here to read today’s Scripture in Acts 15:6-11.]
1 Acts 15:10
2 Guinness, Os. A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. InterVarsity Press. Downers Grove, Illinois. 2012.