(David Peterman Sr.) This sharing is from Chapter 4 of Interior Freedom and it's titled "From Law to Grace: Love as a Free Gift".
Our spiritual lives are about making a transition from Law to Grace. Fr. Philippe speaks of two "Traps" that endanger our progress, the trap of flesh and the trap of law. The parable of the Prodigal Son came to mind. It's a story of a loving Father interacting with two sons, one struggling with the trap of flesh and one struggling with that of the law. When I contemplate this parable I realize that my sin is more like the elder brother than the prodigal. The struggle against self-justification more than against the desires of the flesh. Since I've only got ten minutes, I'm going to talk about what I struggle with most.
Jesus taught us, in his many parables and, through his own obedience to the Father, that we’ve been offered Salvation as a Free Gift, without having to earn it or be justified through any merit of our own. In Ephesians 2:8 St. Paul is very clear: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not from you; it is the gift of God.” This is the greatest of all possible gifts, the Kingdom of God, the “pearl of great price” (Matthew 13:46). But, like any gift, it has to be accepted.
In sending Jesus to become man and die for us, God proved his Love and made it possible for us to be reconciled with Him and be “saved” from the eternal punishment that we deserve. The Old Testament and our own experience demonstrate that we, like the Hebrews, are incapable of achieving righteousness or salvation on our own. In reality “We all fall short”, as St. Paul teaches in Romans 3:23. Despite our modern no fault culture that tells us we're OK, the truth is that we're all sinners and God's justice still must be satisfied. There will be a final judgment and all unreconciled sinners will be banished.
Due to our fallen nature, we find it very hard to accept this Free Gift. In this Chapter of Interior Freedom Fr. Phillipe tries to help us understand why this is so hard for us, and why it’s necessary to “journey on” in this acceptance. Basically we suffer from what I call an “I’d rather do it myself” syndrome. As children and youth we were likely all trained by our parents, priests, teachers and bosses to obey the laws or rules in order to be acceptable. This certainly trained me (in the 40’s and 50’s) to expect to go to Heaven if I obeyed the commandments and precepts of the Church and died in the state of grace. It was simple: commit a Mortal Sin and then die without going to Confession and you will go to Hell. So we were taught: “obey the commandments, or go to confession ASAP.”
In this little book Fr. Philippe explains that we need to be free from such a dependence on simply trying to obey the laws, which by ourselves we are not capable of doing anyway. He warns that this dependence on obeying the law is spiritually deadly, as it can cause us to become self-righteous and is actually a rejection of God's love, which is given without merit. Refusing a gift is an insult. On the other hand as we trust God's grace and depend totally on his mercy we learn to trust God's Love – by loving others and allowing others to love us.
Now, I’d like to speak candidly about this reality in my own spiritual life. I know that, like St. Paul says in 1 Cor 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” I know the theory of trusting God’s Love, but experiencing true Love for God and others is really hard for me. My schizoid personality is comfortable just “doing my own thing” and staying away from “trouble”. I can easily deceive myself and believe that “I’m OK”, but then reality shows up and demonstrates that I’m still a sinner. Woe is me!
As St. Paul teaches in 1 Cor 13:11-12, although just “obeying the rules” might be appropriate in childhood, it’s not sufficient as we mature in our adult spiritual life. If we’re to ever fulfill God’s will for our lives, we have to surrender to His Loving Grace in Christ by opening ourselves to the Power of the Holy Spirit.
Even after eight decades of trying to “be good” and follow all the rules, every day is a struggle – as I keep finding myself trying to “do it my way.” Fr. Philippe is right, I can't “earn” salvation by obeying the law. Despite being baptized in the Holy Spirit and living half my life in this wonderful Community of brothers and sisters, striving to live the gospel every day, I still battle my fallen nature and innate weaknesses.
It’s clear to me that I need constant up-building and encouragement to remain in the “race.” That's why I try to remain faithful to the prayers, liturgy and teachings of our Church and this covenant Community. Despite the knowledge that “Salvation is through Faith, Surrender and Suffering;” I still keep trying to merit God's grace on my own. My journey has involved a lifetime of serving and learning more about God, but I still know in my heart that this is not enough. In the end I simply have to put my faith in God's love and hope that he will deliver me into his eternal glory.
As I ponder this challenge, and I suspect many of you have the same challenge, it’s really a battle within – between trying to be good by my own effort versus overcoming the doubt of God's love being there to save me. Fr. Philippe teaches us that this battle can only be won by following Jesus' example of total surrender to the Father's will. We have to “let go and let God” have his way – in everything. We can't keep any area of our lives as our own private domain.
So, to me it's become very clear that God's plan will work only if we follow our Creator’s design. He totally knows each of us and how we can best serve him with the gifts of our time, talent and treasure that he's given us. I praise God that he's allowed me the blessing and time to keep on striving to fully accept his Free Gift. So it's clear to me that I do need God's grace instead of my faulty dependence on my own ability to obey the laws.
At time this grace seems so fleeting; I constantly find that I'm still trying to depend on myself – rather than turning to God for guidance. It's an innate bad habit (or vice) that Fr. Philippe says can only be overcome by replacing it with the good habit (or virtue) of loving trust and obedience to the prompting of the Holy Spirit, but often I'm just not listening.
As St. Paul said in II Cor 12:9 I know the claim that God's grace is sufficient. Even if I still have doubts I still have to “trust and obey.”
We're so blessed to have been involved in the Charismatic Renewal and such an authentic fruitful Covenant Community. In the grace of our covenant life together we've been given the answer to our dilemma: God's recurring message of surrender to his will and his love – coming to us through one another's love and fellowship. Our covenant life together has enabled me to hear the truth and also see the truth – lived out in our lives together. I can trust God because of your loving confirming God's love in my life. Thank you all for encouraging me and affirming the meager contributions I'm able to make to our life together. My prayer is that we'll all persevere together in this journey from Law through Grace to Love – as God's free Gift – by growing daily in accepting ourselves, surrendering to his Will and receiving his Love – experienced through one another. Praise the Lord!