Leviticus 23; Matthew 19:17; Acts 15:1-29; Galatians 1:1-12; Hebrews 8:6; Revelation 12:17
It is challenging to find a proper balance between legalism and a life of chaos. Grace covers both extremes by offering love, acceptance, and forgiveness for our wrongness and rightness.
Paper, red and green crayons for each person, pens, a recent news article about an ethical dilemma
Connecting with the Scripture Topic
A. Have you ever been torn between showing unconditional love or tough love to a child? How did you resolve this internal conflict? Without revealing any uncomfortable personal details, tell the group about the situation and its end result.
B. Have you ever received unconditional love when you deserved tough love (or the other way around)? Describe how you felt in that situation.
Sharing and Receiving Scripture
A. On the paper provided, use the green and red crayons to sketch a self-portrait. With the red representing law and the green representing grace, use the amount of each color to identify your law/grace orientation. In other words, if you are more grace-oriented, your portrait will be more green than red. Ask all participants to show their portraits to the group and briefly explain the reason for their focus.
B. Thought Questions
Leviticus 23 explains in great detail the process of salvation for the Israelites. Why?
- The Israelites were ignorant of God’s ways and needed to learn these things from the beginning.
- This review of history helps us understand the deeper issues of God’s salvation plan.
- It’s easier to be told exactly what to do than to reason things out for ourselves.
- This showed the Israelites—and us—that God is very particular.
- Even in the details, God’s grace and mercy are revealed if we will recognize them.
How do you resolve the apparent legalistic tone of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 19:17?
- The man (v. 16) had confused goodness with deeds of the law.
- Jesus expects us to obey all the commandments.
- We obey not to merit eternal life but to confirm our faith in God (see 1 John 2:3).
- Since only God is good, we must derive our “goodness” from above.
- Jesus understood that commandment-keeping is not about what you do; it’s about who you are.
The Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 defined what was proper for Gentiles to do. This can be dangerous because:
- It can result in situation ethics—making up the rules as we go.
- It could be seen as a salvation creed for all time—not considering the context of the rule.
- We may be tempted to convene a “Jerusalem Council” today to tell others what to do and where to go!
- Whenever you define morality, you need to continually add more regulations for every situation that arises.
- These decrees can be more about what is unsaid (for example, that circumcision is no longer required) than what is said.
Why is the description of God’s people in Revelation 12:17 (“those who obey God’s commandments and hold to the testimony of Jesus”) so important to us today?
- It shows that we really can obey the commandments today.
- It shows that we really will obey the commandments someday.
- It reminds us of the need to be balanced in our focus regarding law and grace.
- Those who have this balance will be special targets of the dragon—they are dangerous to the devil.
- This is how Scripture identifies the remnant in the last days.
Applying the Message of Scripture
Gather in groups of two or three. Choose one of the following options and work on a solution. After several minutes, report back to the larger group with your findings.
Option 1: Imagine that this is your first visit to your church. As you look at your church with new eyes, what do you see? Is the congregation grace-oriented, law-oriented, or balanced? Be kind but objective in your assessment.
Option 2: Quickly read the news article about an ethical dilemma. Try to resolve the ethical issue, and write one or two rules or laws that would address this issue in the future.
Option 3: Suppose someone accused you of being a legalist because you keep the Sabbath or abstain from unclean foods. How would you answer that charge? What texts would you use to show the proper balance illustrated in Revelation 12:17?
Valuing Scripture in Your Life
A. For the next three minutes, privately reflect on your own grace/law orientation. Is God calling you to make any changes?
B. After three minutes, those who choose to may share their thoughts. Conclude with prayer.
Next Week’s Scripture Focus:
Romans 1:16, 17, 22-32; 2:1-10, 17-23; 3:1, 2, 10-18, 23