Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The “Big Salad” Problem

Fair Warning: This may be kind of a Theology 301 level article. I thank you for your effort to understand what I’m saying.

If any one episode of Seinfeld can be funnier than another, I think “The Big Salad” episode deserves that honor. Spend 41 seconds of your life to refresh your memory:

We have previously talked about the problem with “law keeping” here and here. I recommend you read those posts if you have not already. In short, law keeping or legalism is the effort to try to be righteous in the eyes of God by not breaking laws. The problem is obvious, if you break even one law, you’re a “law breaker” and in need of serious legal help! (See Romans 3:23 and 6:23.) That’s the theological stuff, now, let’s get practical.

Seinfeld’s “The Big Salad” scene reveals a very real and quite serious social problem – not law keeping, but score keeping. Costanza pays for a friend’s salad but winds up not getting credit for the purchase. He’s ticked off that someone else got the thanks and he did not. His gesture of good will has gone un-noticed and un-thanked.

It dawned on me that people who adhere to a religion (or even a Christian denomination) that stresses law keeping often become social score keepers, saying or thinking things like “he never returned my favor”, or “it’s the least that she should do [given all that I have done]”. And how could they help themselves? If we are to be like God and if you perceive God as a score keeper, then should not all of us be score keepers?

Sponsor, speak to us from your Perfect Word:

“… I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” (Jeremiah 31:34)

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)

[Love] does not take into account a wrong suffered (1 Corinthians 13:5)

God is LOVE, yes? If Love does not keep score, why do we?

Judaism, Islam, Hinduism… three of the world’s greatest religion all stress law keeping or adherence to measures of obedience. Even Christianity has shadows of this. One great Christian group believes that they are saved by God’s grace, but that they must “prove themselves worthy of His grace” and after death purge themselves of misdeeds before entering heaven. Another group with which I am very knowledgeable looks at James 2:26 (faith without works is dead) and say that they are “always trying, never sure” if they have enough works to demonstrate their faith.

In each of these world religions and Christian denominations, I have observed a very high degree of score keeping among followers. They all have “The Big Salad” problem – they believe their score is being kept, so they should keep score on others. I tell you, it is so wrong one could weep for the folly and foolishness of it all.

So what is my solution? Am I a no-holds-barred, “we’re all forgiven so sin all you want” kind of guy? The Apostle Paul deals with this brilliantly in Romans 6. But actually, I like what Paul says in Romans 1:5 and 16:26 where he speaks about the obedience of faith. We obey because it is the consequence, the logical outcome, of our faith.

Put it this way… I just did a sermon on The Wedding Plot – the single theme that ties all the stories, events, and characters of the Bible together, from beginning to end. In short, God loves us and wants intimacy with us. He compares the relationship He wants with us to the loving relationship of a married couple. And that informs me, greatly, about how I should relate to God.

Followers of Jesus don’t “keep the law” because we’re afraid of disappointing Him or getting on His bad side. I look at the law the way I do the things that please my wife. From making the bed to putting flowers on her night stand, I know what I can do to demonstrate that I care about her. I don’t do those things out of an attempt to rack up enough points, I do them simply as a gift of love. I also know the things that hurt or offend her. I don’t avoid them so she won’t be mad, I avoid them because I love and respect her I don’t want to be the cause of her wounding. You understand that, don’t you?

“The obedience of faith.” Chew on that one. Why do you do what you do? And how do you judge what other do and don’t do? Are you a score keeper? Maybe you need a fresh perspective on life. I hope this helps.

Clark H Smith

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