Just Change the Rules

By Bob Hiller

Have you ever watched poetry? If you’ve seen Stephan Curry of the Golden State Warriors, you have. Curry is making a mockery of the NBA this year. It is really hard for him to miss baskets. No one can cover him. You want to hate someone that good. But then you watch him, and it’s like seeing Bizet’s Habanera from Carmen. It is flawless and beautiful. Play the song and watch his twelve (!) three-pointers from last Saturday’s game in Oklahoma City (including a remarkable OT game winner that looked like child’s play to Curry). Pure basketball righteousness. Curry is killing the rest of the NBA.  Literally no one can stop him.

So, it was fascinating this past week to listen to the fearful reactions around the league. If Curry is so deadly, what do you do with him? Since they can’t stop him, some are talking about changing the rules and adjusting the game to make it harder for Curry (and other shooters like him…of which there are none) to be so dominant. Some are going so far as to suggest the three-point line needs to be pushed further back. Since no defense can stop the long-range shot, make the shot go further away. Purists don’t believe there should be a three-point line in the first place. Curry is their proof the Association should just get rid of it. If you can’t stop Curry from killing you, just tame him, adjust the rules, and make him more manageable.

But, changing the rules won’t stop Curry. Did you see where he hit that game winner from against OKC? Nothing is out of range for ol’ Steph. He’s just deadly. Change the rules and he’s still better, and he’s still going to win. Changing the rules won’t stop his deadly attack.

Now, it has been far too long since I’ve drawn a “good” analogy from sports into a conversation about Law and Gospel. But, listening to the sports talk guys discuss changing the rules to keep Curry in check got me thinking about how we treat these two words from God. Far too often, we who are called to preach the Word of God find ourselves tempering the Word, or changing the rules, to make God far more manageable.

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This is easy to see when it comes to how we treat the Law. For all the hissy-fits Gerhard Forde seems to create in Lutheran Facebook groups, I must say that I have gained a great deal from his writing. He is absolutely right on how the church has mistreated the Law of God by taking all the fangs out of it. In our preaching, we do anything we can to make the Law less threatening, less terrifying, and less deadly. We reduce it to advice or mere guidance. Or, we just change the rules altogether and make new laws that make us feel like we have God’s approval apart from His Word or command (with, say, monasticism or gay marriage). We use the Law to explain what is wrong with the world (you know, those people out there), but never allow God to accuse anyone in our pews of any real sin. As Forde says (somewhere), we’ve taken the teeth out of the Law and just use it to gum our people to death.

But, this is just changing the rules to keep God in check. Only, you can’t do that. Gum them to death and the people still die. The sermons just make the process more obnoxious and, well, boring. People die in such a way that they never knew there was a problem.  Preachers just try to guide or exhort people out of cancer; they don’t actually diagnose it!

Here’s the thing, my Jagged friends: never let anyone tell you that you are not a sinner. It’s all a sly, demonic ploy to take Jesus away from you. You must be dead so Jesus can raise you. That is why God comes to attack and kill. Says Luther, “[This] is the glorious blessing of the Word, or of the ministry, that it points out or reveals sin…” (AE vol. 2, pg. 250). In revealing sin, God uses His Law to show you your only hope is outside of you, in Christ.

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For some reason these days, we want to keep the gratuity of God in check, too. We don’t want forgiveness to be entirely free. We are afraid of what will happen if we just let Curry play. So, we downplay the Gospel. We qualify the radical promise, “By the blood, you are forgiven and you are free. Period! Go, sin no more! That slave owner is dead!” with, “But you still have to…” or “If you do this, then you will…” and just when Christ is setting captives free, we tie a rope around their legs and try to draw them back to slavery. It is worth noting that Paul doesn’t ever say something like, “You are free, but you better not screw this up, or God will hate you!” He says, “You are free, but don’t use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature.”  (Galatians 5:13). That is, don’t live like you are still in jail! The bonds are off, now get out of here and live it up!

I am becoming more and more convinced that the Christian life is lived fighting to believe that Galatians 5:1 is actually true. (“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”). But, we preacher types are too fearful of freedom, so we temper it with qualifications, if…then statements, and threats. We subject the Gospel to the Law and teach our people to live in fear. We make new rules to keep Christ in check.

Here’s the thing, dear Jagged friends: don’t ever let anyone ever tell you that you must add to Christ’s work for you. It was all completed for you with the broken body and shed the blood on the cross. So go eat and drink them! You are free to do it. Period. You are alive. Period. So, therefore, as a result of this (Pauline language), live! It’s all on Christ! And the rules can’t stop Him from doing something beautiful and flawless: forgiving you and loving you unto life everlasting!

Rule changes won’t stop Stephan Curry from killing opponents and breathing life into the NBA. Don’t let preachers who are afraid of either offending you or of setting you free get in the way of God killing you and raising you to a new life! For if Christ has set you free (and, He absolutely has), then you are free indeed!

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4 thoughts on “Just Change the Rules

  1. Well said. I cannot say that I’ve been subjected to such preaching from the pulpit. Rather, I come across a “confessional” indolence where a life not lived under the law makes the law unimportant or relegates it to behaviors we refrain from. But, because we have been raised to new life in Christ and do not live under the law, we now live according to the law, free from the penalty but not free from obedience. If anything, a life in Christ is a life in Christ’s obedience. Say this to too many Lutherans and you’ll get the finger wagging about works righteousness. Nothing could be farther from the truth! The result is lots of sin of omission, failing to do something good because no salvation is attached.

    Along with degrees of decision theology, I find this to be one of the most persistent ways that even good preaching is misunderstood and ignored by many Lutherans. Honestly, there are a lot of good pastors and preachers out there teaching the right things and a lot of Wormwoods muddling the messages when they reach the pews. The Law & Gospel balance is tough enough for a preacher to maintain without the interference of sinful ears.

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  2. Great article. Your points about law/gospel are well written.

    I also like your take on Curry. He is like nothing we’ve seen before. The talking heads on the radio and the mother-ship should just enjoy this while it lasts. Hitting the current NBA 3 is no small task. To do it with Curry’s accuracy is phenomenal.

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