Wednesday, December 29, 2004

yancey, tolstoy, and imperfection

Philip Yancey, “What’s So Amazing About Grace”, Pages 197-198

Leo Tolstoy, who battled legalism all his life, understood the weaknesses of a religion based on externals. The title of one of his books says it well: The Kingdom of God Is Within You. According to Tolstoy, all religious systems tend to promote external rules, or moralism. In contrast, Jesus refused to define a set of rules that his followers could then fulfill with a sense of satisfaction. One can never “arrive” in light of such sweeping commands as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.... Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Tolstoy drew a contrast between Jesus’ approach and that of all other religions:
The test of observance of external religious teachings is whether or not our conduct conforms with their decrees [Observe the Sabbath. Get circumcised. Tithe.] Such conformity is indeed possible.
The test of observance of Christ’s teachings is our consciousness of our failure to attain an ideal perfection. The degree to which we draw near this perfection cannot be seen; all we can see is the extent of our deviation.
A man who professes an external law is like someone standing in the light of a lantern fixed to a post. It is light all round him, but there is nowhere further for him to walk. A man who professes the teaching of Christ is like a man carrying a lantern before him on a long, or not so long, pole the light is in front of him, always lighting up fresh ground and always encouraging him to walk further.

In other words, the proof of spiritual maturity is not how “pure” you are but awareness of your impurity. That very awareness opens the door to grace.


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