Sunday, July 11, 2010

"Law don't go around here. Savvy?"

Tombstone has to be one of the greatest movies ever.  Relative historical accuracy, 19th Century Western shootouts (which doesn't count as violence), brotherhood, heroism, the list goes on.  What more could you ask for?!  One of my favorite quotes comes from a man who says to Wyatt Earp, "Listen, Mr. Kansas Law Dog. Law don't go around here. Savvy?"

Now and then I have a desire to quote this line completely out of context.  Recently at Frequency we've been discussing Paul's Epistle to the Romans.  In it, he deals with the purpose of the Old Testament Law.  The discussion has led to topics of legalism and freedom.

Bible study is a great time for such issues to come up.  Usually, discussions about legalism look a lot more like a shootout at the O.K. Coral.  They start with a debated issue such as alcohol, tattoos, or musical preference.  Usually, Old Testament Law is cited.  For example, I had a conversation about tattoos one time, and someone cited Leviticus 19:28.  I asked him if he also thought we should obey verse 27 and grow our hair out at the temples into long curly cues or obey verse 19 that commands us not to wear clothes with mixed fabrics.  The reality is that none of us obey the Law.  In fact, no one has ever obeyed the Law in full.  The law existed to show that we can't be good enough on our own.  According to Paul, no one could ever be saved by the Law.  Instead, the Law existed so that we would all shut up and recognize our need for God (Romans3:19-20).

When Paul refers to the law in Romans 6:14, he says that we are not under it but under grace.  When the topic came up at the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15), the apostles decided that we don't need to obey the Law.  Instead, we are to surrender to Jesus Christ as Lord (Romans 6:15-23).  That's good news! Our salvation is not dependent on works of the Law but on the grace of God (Ephesians 2:7-9)!

So, why do we still try to obey the Law?  Sometimes I wonder if we still have something in us that wants to do it on our own, that wants to "earn it."  We all find different ways to do it.  Sometimes it's obedience to the Old Testament Law.  Sometimes, it is adherence to our self-engineered structures of legalism.

The sad thing is that we are living in bondage.  The offensive thing is that we are trying to tell God we can do it on our own.

So, are things like tattoos a sin?  

"I'm your huckleberry.  That's just my game."

Disclaimer: This does not mean Christianity is without morality or order.  It does mean that becoming like Christ is our focus, not legalism.


  1. Good post Dan. I feel that when it comes down to deciding whether a specific act is a sin or not, it is a matter of the heart. Your God given conscience will tell you if something you are doing is right or wrong.
    I have a friend who has a tattoo of a dove on his arm which he uses to spark conversation and also share the gospel with unbelievers. I think that God takes pleasure in that and is glad that His name is being shared with others.
    To God be all the honor, glory, and praise.


  2. I have a tattoo of WA on my arm, which sparks many conversations about God calling me here. A lot of interesting conversations have come out of it.

    I think one of the most frustrating points that comes to my mind when I read this is about condemnation and obedience to the law: even if you were to obey the law, you'd STILL be condemned, under Romans 5:16 and original sin. This brings to my mind a lot of complicated and confusing questions regarding original sin and Xrist's death, but I'm not going to go into that.

  3. Understanding that sin is a matter of the heart, how do we go about holding each other accountable? As a pastor, I sometimes have people tell me they don't think certain things are sins (sexual immorality, gossip, etc.) and are unwilling to repent. How do I approach my homosexual friends who tell me they don't think its a sin? What do I tell heterosexual friends who are engaged in sex outside the bonds of marriage? How do I confront a gossiper who says, "I'm just telling you how it is."