Law vs Love
It's been said that the difference between Christianity and religion is that religion is all about man trying to connect with divinity in some form while Christianity is the story of God trying to connect with man. It has also been said that the difference between Christianity and every other religion is that Christianity isn't a religion - it's a relationship. I believe that a third distinction that makes Christianity unique is that it is, in its essence, freedom. (Originally, the word essence was a term meaning "substance of the Trinity". It literally means "I am".) Jesus said, "I am the way, and the truth, and the life"..."If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free"..."if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed"...
Paul said in Romans, "For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death". In Galatians, "For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery"..."For you were called to freedom, brothers."
Freedom implies two things. It implies freedom from something (ie, slavery) and it implies the freedom to do something (such as speak freely). Paul is saying that he is free from the old ways, the old nature; but he is also saying that he is now free to do that which he could not do before. He is saying that he is now free to love. "For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'."
Jesus said, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets." The purpose of the universe is relationship. Relationship with God, relationship with each other. Relationship cannot exist in a vacuum. We would have nothing to talk about! So God created a universe so that relationships could happen. Before creation there was only God, the Perfect Relationship. Father, Son, Spirit in perfect, essential communion. We were created to share in that communion at some level. The world was created so that we could.
When evil entered the world, separation replaced relationship and Self reigned supreme. Religion exists as man's attempt to re-relate, to re-connect. It was invented to show how separated we really are. Jesus came to heal Relationship. God recognised the futility of religion. Man cannot connect on his own. This is why Jesus' harshest words were always directed at the religious leaders of the day. Laws only separate, they only enslave. Jesus came out of love that we might "have life and have it abundantly". He came to free us that we might enter back into love, into relationship.
The sad thing is that love and grace are the essence and purpose of who we are as Christians, as followers of the Way that Jesus has set before us, but they are so devoid from so much of Christianity in its present form. Pagan writers of the first and second centuries said that those Christians sure are weird but they sure do love. Today, Christians are seen as weird and bigoted and narrow-minded. Where is the love and the grace? Why have we not only taken the yoke of the Law back upon us but also tried to foist it onto those around us as well? We should love with a passion. We should love with a vengeance.
People need connection and relationship and love. The law cannot give that, it can only take away and separate. Unfortunately, people will embrace the law if it is wrapped in love's clothing. This is why so many alternatives to Christianity are so enticing. Mormonism, Jehovah's Witness... The people within those groups are viewed popularly as a little bit odd but they sure are nice. They take care of their own. There is a sense of community. On the surface, they have become what Christianity is supposed to be. Their popularity is testament to the fact that people recognise that Christianity is supposed to look like community. But at the core, those traditions are a false form of Christianity at best because they bind you to laws. The law can only devour, like a wolf. Love, however, is the fulfillment of the law. Jesus said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them"..."A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another."
In Hebrews: On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God.
In Romans: Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law...Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Jesus said, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath".
The purpose of man is relationship. This is summed up in Love. Love is greater than Law. When the law doesn't allow relationship to happen, another way must be found. Jesus is that way. It is the way of freedom. This is why Peter, a Jew who was supposed to have nothing to do with Gentiles, was told by God to not call any person common or unclean. When the rules disrupt Relationship, the deeper rule of Love must be followed. Christ came to free us so that we could.
The Jehovah's Witness system of rules says that birthdays should not be celebrated because they are a pagan tradition. I think that is extremely sad. Now I believe that we can easily go overboard in the whole gift-giving, obligation, materialism thing... But the true point of celebrating a person's birthday is that we are celebrating that person. We should embrace every opportunity to celebrate those around us! Love must reign supreme over the law. (Besides, we are called to be redeemers within creation so we should look for any chance to bring redemption to that which was once pagan. Restore, redeem the good in the world.)
In Hosea: For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.
In Mark: to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.
In I Corinthians: If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
It says in 1 John, "Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love". He is, however, also a just God, a God of righteousness. He is no more loving than just. He is no more righteous than loving. Unlike us, He is 100% loving and 100% righteous at the same time. The wonderful, amazing, incredible thing is that while being 100% righteous, He somehow manages to have love reign supreme. He finds a way (usually through the sacrifice of Himself) that Love can conquer all while allowing His justice to be satisfied. "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." This is why I love Him. How can I not? That He would give up everything for the sake of Love for me... and so I am free to love. I am no longer bound by rules of religion, I am a slave to the Law of Love. I am free to "become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some". I am free to bring redemption and healing to those around me. I am free to love.