What if I disagree with someone who professes to be a Christian?

Disagreement is a fact of life. There is no family, and certainly no church family, free of disagreements. The question should be, "How can I strongly disagree in Christian charity?"

Why would a Christian object to posting the Ten Commandments in public places?

Written By Lowell E. Grisham

If he were alive today, the loudest voice protesting the idea of placing the Ten Commandments on public buildings would probably be St. Paul. Paul was the most prominent early apostle for the spread of Christianity. Some of his saved letters comprise a major portion of the Christian New Testament. For Paul, his experience of freedom through Christ was freedom from the law, including the Ten Commandments.

Here's how Paul sees it. He was a follower of the Commandments—not just the Ten, but also all of the commandments of scripture and tradition. And he did that as well as it could be done. He was "zealous" for the law. What did he get from that effort? Nothing but anxiety. You might call it a form of performance anxiety. Am I doing okay? Am I not coveting my neighbor? Am I completely truthful, not bearing false witness? He never experienced a sense of relief and acceptance from God for all his efforts, but rather doubt and anxiety. Am I being good enough?

He felt isolated from others as well. After all, other people might become the cause of his failure in some way. He needed to be separated from them or even opposed to them to follow the law. Other people are likely to compromise your need to maintain purity and obedience to the law. What if they are impure? What if they tempt you to covetousness or another of the many ways to break the law?

All of that legalistic work was death to him. It is his definition of sin. For Paul, the life of sin is precisely the life-project of trying to make yourself good. It only brings anxiety and judgment.

What brought Paul freedom from that death? He realized that he needed to do nothing to be completely loved, accepted and free before God. Christ freed him from all of that. Through Christ he realized that he need do nothing to be completely loved, accepted and free before God. God already loved him and accepted him. That status is God's free gift to all. "By grace we are saved." All Paul needed to do was to accept the gift. That's faith. "By grace we are saved through faith." Simply accept the fact that you are accepted. That's what he learned from Christ. It was his freedom from the law.

So the Ten Commandments was to Paul the ministry of death. Christ is our freedom from its prison. Paul would be horrified at Christians demanding the placement of the Ten Commandments in courtrooms. To him it would be like erecting a monument to death, "for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life."

For Paul, the good life and ethical behavior spring from the confidence and freedom one experiences from knowing that you are loved and accepted. Out of that firm foundation comes freedom, peace and joy. Freed from trying to live up to external laws and rules, you can spontaneously respond to the need of your neighbor. You can love for the sake of the other, not just so you'll seem to be good.

Living like that produces something new. He called it the fruit of the Spirit—"love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, discipline." Against that, says Paul, there is no law. Those are the qualities that emerge naturally when we let ourselves be loved and accepted by God.

In that light, the Ten Commandments and other traditions of wisdom become guidelines for action, not a criterion for salvation or damnation. For Paul, laws can be descriptive of right action but never prescriptive. Motivation comes from a relationship of grace, not an objective law. When you've been given everything you need, you are free from needing to covet your neighbor.

Paul's life truly began when he realized that we are all accepted by God before we have done anything to earn it. Therefore we can be bold and confident rather than anxious and self-absorbed. God loves us, so we are free. And that freedom allows us to respond spontaneously with love toward our neighbor. That's Good News according to Paul.

©The Rev. Lowell Grisham
(much of this response was first published in the Northwest Arkansas Times, Fayetteville, AR)