Cal Jernigan – Senior Pastor
All we intended to do was to take a walk. Just a little walk to get some exercise.
Please understand: We had no intention of doing anything wrong, committing a crime, or breaking the law. All we intended to do was enjoy a nice stroll to end the day. Honestly!
I’m referring to something that happened while on vacation a few weeks back. Lisa and I were staying the night in a city we weren’t familiar with, so we left our hotel and just headed out. Just for a walk. We eyed a park close by so we headed for it.
It was just after we entered the park when I first saw it. I couldn’t believe my eyes. It literally stopped me in my tracks. Are you kidding me??? I stared at it. I stared some more. I looked around to see if this was some kind of joke. (Remember Candid Camera? There has to be a camera somewhere watching for my response—right?) When I realized this was for real I voiced my unbelief to Lisa. Then I stared some more. I decided I had to take a picture of it because I simply couldn’t believe it. Take a moment and look at the attached picture. What kind of a park is this?
I have never seen a more thorough list of things prohibited to do in a park. It was as if someone was very intent on making sure you didn’t enjoy yourself while visiting this park. Right next to it was a sign prohibiting feeding birds. Apparently they ran out room on the one sign. Notice, though, twice you are prohibited from playing ball!
And now I need to make a confession. Please don’t lose all respect for me but I have to tell you something honestly:
I have never wanted to do more wrong in a park than I wanted to do at that moment.
Where can I find a shopping cart to push around? Where can I get my hands on some horseshoes? What kind of park can’t you play ball in? “Play Ball!” I have never in my life felt more desire to feed birds.
Why am I telling you all this?
Because tragically, this sign and religion have a whole lot in common.
Someone surely got a kick out of making up all these rules. Someone seriously wanted to make sure that no one enjoyed their time in this park. You can’t help but sense that these same people are looking for violators.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed but religious people also tend to like rules. They always have. Not all religious people, mind you, but enough. “Let’s make a list of all the things that are prohibited and ‘off limits’ and then we can revel in our righteousness as we avoid them. We are certainly better than those people who do those things!”
But the Scripture tells us what is wrong with this. The more we are told NOT to do something, the more we want to DO WHAT’S PROHIBITED!
Paul said it this way in Romans…
“What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead.” Romans 7:7-9
“For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death.” Romans 7:5-6
When we are made aware of the law we realize just what’s actually going on inside of us. We are people who don’t want to play by the rules. Don’t tell me what I can’t do! We rebel because we are rebellious; we sin because we are sinners. The law arouses our sinful passions.
This is the power of the law–It makes us aware of our sinful nature. While it can make us aware, it cannot make us good.
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” Romans 3:20
Tragically, people think that salvation comes in keeping the law. In doing all the “right” things, and doing all things “right.” This thinking destroys all joy and leaves us defeated—we cannot keep all the rules!!! And this was never what God intended us to do.
“We… know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified.” Galatians 2:15-16
I want to close by sharing a thought that has long captivated me. I first heard it shared by Dallas Willard.
What would it take for me to become the kind of person who does the right thing just because it’s the right thing to do? How can I become a person who doesn’t need rules to live a righteous life because I’d rather live a righteous life because it is what most honors God?
I thank God that he doesn’t require us to live by a list of rules. He saved us, not because we were good enough, but because He was. He simply wants to set us free to live our very best life…the one He’s offering.
And when you do… it really is like a joyous walk in the park.Click here for the photo credit on this post