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When we talk about obeying Jesus, religious people often accuse us of being "under the law". This argument comes from Paul's teaching about a new relationship with God that supersedes the laws of the Old Testament. (Galatians 3, and Romans 3:19-31)

These passages have been twisted to say that anything Jesus tells us to do is a "law" and that anyone who tries to obey Jesus has not been freed from the law. Yet the people who preach this are strong on obedience to system laws, church rules, the writings of Paul, the Ten Commandments, etc. It's only literal obedience to the teachings of Jesus that they fear.

Suppose there is a legalistic interpretation of the teachings of Christ and it is inferior to the true spirit of what he was saying. Paul said that the legalistic approach was not bad in itself. In fact, he said it was the first step in getting to something better. (Galatians 3:24) He said the law was holy and ordained by God.

So it is with Jesus: If we are not prepared to do what he says just because he said so, we are never going to be able to grow into the spirit of what he was saying. In John 13:17 & John 7:17, Jesus seems to say that we must first do what he has commanded us to do before we will be truly convinced that it has come from God.

Each command of Jesus is like that. Each one tests our willingness to do something just because he said so. I found it hard, for example, to understand why he told us not to pray in public "as the hypocrites do". I and many of my friends prayed in public, and we weren't hypocrites.

But when I whispered to a deacon at the church I was attending that I was considering taking this command literally, he raced to the pastor, who was over in a flash to demand that I dispense with such a notion. I did not, and I soon came to see in myself and others some very unchristian attitudes masquerading under the religious guise of prayer. It was my decision to take Jesus literally (legalistically?) that stripped the façade away from the hypocrites around me and away from the hypocrisy within myself.

The same thing has happened with each of the teachings of Jesus. By following him legally we have come to appreciate the spirit of what he was saying. While those who stubbornly refuse to obey him on any terms have no idea what they are missing.

"The law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17) If the truth of Christ appears to be a law, then let that law break you, until the sweet essence of what it is really trying to teach blossoms forth in you.

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