‘The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you--they are full of the Spirit and life’ John 6.63 NIV.
When I was a youth the story of Desmond Doss was cited as inspiration for our doing national service as a conscientious objector. This stand was taken as being ‘Biblical.’ But I am not convinced that it is.
In an Australian movie entitled, Tomorrow When the War Began, a young woman, a fundamentalist who believes similarly to the late Desmond Doss, is traumatised from the choice she has to make. For this young woman violence is not a solution to the world’s problems or a way of life. She is not a war-monger. This predicament is something thrust on her. Her small group of young men and women is being attacked by an invading force. They are advancing on her group. She has a machine gun which she is loathe to use on the grounds of the commandment, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’ But if she does not use the weapon she will herself be killed and additionally responsible for the death of her friends and colleagues. The question here is not, ‘What would Jesus do?’ But what will you do as a Believer who is in Christ? You have a choice. Will you accept annihilation as what God wants for you and your friends or will you do what you had never wanted to do but are forced into contemplating: Annihilating those who are intent on killing you?
Asking God to forgive her she opens fire and saves the lives of herself and her friends. Some may think she did the wrong thing. There is a kind or religion that places this kind of ‘religious law’ above life … often the kind that places a blanket ban on abortions but is quite happy to see the death penalty carried out on criminals. In any case the word used in the commandment refers to murder and not to the general notion of killing as has been observed in scholarly circles.
“There are two different Hebrew words (ratsakh, mut) and two Greek words (phoneuo, apokteino) for “murder” and “killing.” One means “to put to death,” and the other means “to murder.” The latter one is the one prohibited by the Ten Commandments, not the former. In fact, ratsakh has a broader definition than the English word “murder.” Ratsakh also covers deaths due to carelessness or neglect but is never used when describing killing during wartime. That is why most modern translations render the sixth commandment “You shall not murder” rather than “You shall not kill.”
Nevertheless Doss is covered and secure in God’s grace as is the young woman in Tomorrow When the War Began. Some may not like this kind of ambiguity but this is more the nature of God than is fundamentalism. In the new covenant the law is not found in the letter. Righteousness and life is first in Christ and secondly in you. This is not situation ethics. It is Christ your life.
Much can be made out of forms of godliness never instituted by God. Paul advocated grace and patience towards those who stumbled over food sacrificed to idols not because they were right but because they were the weaker brother. The issue becomes acute when people make doctrine and religion out of misunderstanding and false doctrine. You get whole denominations of the weaker brother living in a personally crippled state as an impediment to themselves and the advance of the Kingdom.
It’s sad to see people of any religion attempting to please God by doing things that are neither endorsed by Him or a reflection of Jesus and what he represents. Sabbath-keeping is not endorsed by Jesus or the writers of the new testament. Jesus never lived from the law. The Bible portrays Jesus living entirely out of His Father.
Christians on the whole never kept the Sabbath. Sunday has never been a Sabbath and is simply the day Christians choose to worship on account of the fact that this is the day the new creation began with the resurrection of Jesus. There is nothing as momentous as the new creation. This is the effect of Christ in you and in all who believe. It is the genesis of the Kingdom of God. Yet Jesus never instituted it as a Sabbath because there is no life in such things. Jesus is both Sabbath and new creation.
Much can be made of the ‘godliness’ and advantages ascribed to Sabbath-keeping. These ‘advantages’ are largely mythical and not missed by non-sabbath-keepers because they have no substance. Such an observance lays a burden on people’s shoulders that has no legitimacy or righteousness. Let’s be clear. Sabbath, law, temple and old covenant have been entirely wiped out by the cross. These shadows are gone. The reality is Christ our life.
How many thousands have made a ’thing’ out of Sabbath observance denying themselves work opportunities and recreational freedom because they believe God wants them to ‘keep His Sabbath.’ But it’s not His Sabbath. It is the Sabbath of the law. Jesus reprimanded the pharisees speaking of ‘their law.’ The law of the Spirit of Life is the person of Jesus Christ.
Sure, Believers living in captivity can live in a measure of grace. The crippled and disabled can have their own para-olympics but this does not make them whole. Grace presents the opportunity to live in spirit and truth. Never is it an excuse for ignorance and distorting the gospel of the Kingdom. Let’s be clear. The law never gives anyone the spirit of sonship or allows Christ to come in one’s flesh. How can it when the law is in residence smothering spirit and life.
Doss rationalised that he could engage in his part of the war on The Sabbath because he was saving lives. A similar ethic pervades Adventist medical institutions. They are at work on the Sabbath because they are ‘saving lives.’ But God in Jesus has made every day a day of rest and peace because in Him people are ‘living life to the full.’ None bound in law can live life to the full.
Healing bodies is not the only means of doing good. It is more important to heal the heart, the spirit and the soul. The body will follow. There are a thousand and one forms of human need with concomitant matching ‘goodness’ to nurture them. People can do more good by embracing our Peace and Rest in Jesus rather than the artifice of attempting to find it in The Sabbath.
In Christ the life we live is never held against us. The things other people have done to shame us, our unholy responses to humiliations, the sins we own that are only known to ourselves, the sins that we attempt to overcome and haven’t, our service in the army and our participation in wars. We don’t have to carry the burden of our dilapidated life and the evil we have done. Everyday is a new day in Jesus. We have been freed to be ourselves even if being ourselves is far from perfect.
But coming back to the girl in the movie, Tomorrow When the War Began. God does forgive her, just as He graces us to live in the world where our choices are not just between good and evil - but often between a greater evil and a lesser one. Jesus died so that we have space to live in a world of ambiguity, dilemma and outright evil. Here we can do what we have to do and still remain received and belonging to Him. Our dilemmas are not solved in ‘the letter’ or in Biblical formulations. But they are resolved in Christ.
“I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" Gal 2.21 NIV.
In any case the law is not what Believers live in, from or towards in this day and age. In the new covenant Christ is our life. It is a grave ignorance to promote the law when Jesus offers Himself as the new and living way. Paul bluntly says, ‘The law is made for sinners’ and that the person of Jesus is our life. Jesus graces us to live in the predicaments in which are cast, through His indwelling presence.
It was Christ in Doss that enabled him to save lives and be courageous. Not his adherence to the law or the teachings of his religious tradition. Desmond Doss is the story of a man who made good, served God and His country despite the distortions of his beliefs and the ‘other gospel’ he had absorbed. His story is a tribute. Not to an ideology but to Jesus and His grace. The influence of Jesus is readily seen in Doss’s life. But one cannot help but wonder what other heights of living, of excellencies in spirit and life, would have been his - would have been his inheritance had he lived in not in the law but in the Spirit of Sonship. Paul wrote of this inheritance,
These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written:“Be glad, barren woman, you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud, you who were never in labor; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”
Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman’ Gal 4.24-31 NIV.