Sunday, October 14, 2007

Attempted Righteousness

HT to Fred Butler for pointing out this guy who spent a year trying to live "Biblically." Fred adds his thankfulness about Christ's fulfillment of those laws. (I noticed that Doug Pagitt also posted a link, but without any comment.)

A. J. Jacobs is the man in question. In the article, Newsweek characterizes The Year of Living Biblically (the name of his forthcoming book) as a year spent “carrying around a stapled list of the more than 700 rules and prohibitions identified in the Good Book,” and mentions that he “consulted with religious leaders and spent time with the Amish, Hassidic Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses.”

I'm sure Newsweek picked this up in part because of his startling physical transformation, which you can see if you click through to the link above.

I found the article interesting, and I'll probably take a look at the book, if for no other reason than to see what rules he adopted for himself. Here's some excerpts from the Q&A part of the article.

NEWSWEEK: It’s been a little over a year since your experiment ended and you shaved your beard. How’s the life of sin?
A. J. Jacobs: It’s all right. I miss my sin-free life, but I guess I was never sin free. I was able to cut down on my coveting maybe 40 percent, but I was still a coveter. Flat-screen TVs, the front yard of my friend in the suburbs, a better cell phone, higher Amazon rankings. And that's not to mention coveting my neighbor's wife. . .

What, if any, rules are you still following?
I’m not Gandhi or Angelina Jolie, but I made some strides. The experience changed me in big ways and small ways. There’s a lot about gratefulness in the Bible, and I would say I’m more thankful. I focus on the hundred little things that go right in a day, instead of the three or four things that go wrong. And I love the Sabbath. There’s something I really like about a forced day of rest. Also, during the experiment I wore a lot of white clothes, because Ecclesiastes says let your garments always be white, and I loved it, so I look like Tom Wolfe now. Wearing white just made me happier. I couldn’t be in a bad mood walking down the street looking like I was about to play in the semifinals at Wimbledon. . .

Are you a more religious person as a result of this experiment?
Well, I don’t want to give away the ending, but let’s say I started the year as an agnostic, and now I am a reverent agnostic. Whether or not there is a God, I believe in sacredness. Rituals can be sacred, the Sabbath can be sacred however you choose to observe it. . .

What rule was the hardest to follow?
Two kinds of rules were hard. Avoiding sins we commit every day like lying, gossiping and coveting was hard, and then there were the rules that were hard to do in modern life, like stoning adulterers. But I did manage to fulfill that one. What happened was, I was in the park, dressed in my white garb, and this man in his 70s came over and asked what I was doing. I explained I was trying to follow every rule in the Bible as literally as possible, including growing my beard, not mixing fibers, stoning adulterers, and he said, “I’m an adulterer, are you going to stone me?” I said, “Yeah that would be great.” The Bible doesn’t say what size the stones have to be, so I had been carrying around these pebbles in my pocket for just such an occasion. I took the pebbles out of my pocket, and he instantly picked one up and threw it at me, so I decided, an eye for an eye, and I tossed one at him. . .

It's sad to read, because it seems he was so close to seeing the truth (I guess I never was sin free), but truth eluded him (or perhaps he eluded truth, but that's another topic).

By God's providence, I was just reading a section of The Truth War, and this passage struck me as particularly apropos.

Paul says in Romans 9:31-32 that "Israel, pursuing the law of righteousness, has not attained to the law of righteousness. Why? Because they did not seek it by faith, but as it were, by the works of the law." In other words, regardless of how meticulous they may have been in their external observance of of God's law, their unbelief was sufficient to exclude them from the kingdom. "They being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Romans 10:3-4). They doubted the truth of Christ, and that proved spiritually fatal in spite of how well they had perfected an external display of piety. (Page 33)

Being ignorant of God's righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, [they] have not submitted to the righteousness of God. That pretty well sums up every political system, worldview, philosophy, and religion on the earth.

But it gets worse. The flip side of Christ being the end of the law for those who put their faith in him, is that those who don't have faith are bound to the law, and its consequences. Paul says elsewhere in Romans that “by works of the law no human being [literally flesh] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

And in Galatians, Paul states it even greater detail:

For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. (Galatians 3:10-14, ESV).

So those who attempt to attain righteousness through the law only succeeded in bringing a curse upon themselves, and that curse is not just physical death, but spiritual death.

So I praise God not only because He sent His son to fulfill the law, and that His son's fulfillment of the law removed the requirements of the law, but even more so that it has removed the curse of the law. I don't have to keep the law, nor do I need to, because God considers my righteous by faith.

What Jacobs got out of his Year of Living Biblically was a new wardrobe, a “sabbath celebration,” and the knowledge that he couldn't really keep the law. If only he'd read finished the book, he might have seen how things will turn out, and perhaps he would have gotten much more.

Scripture quoted from the book The Truth War, by John MacArthur, was taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


Anonymous said...

I like what you’ve already mentioned. In fact, theologically you’ve summed it up nicely.

There is another factor to consider here though. What ever happened to publishing editors? I assume they still exist, but they seem to have no idea what their function is today. The guy ran off and consulted ‘experts’ of the Amish, Hassidic Jews and Jehovah’s Witnesses in order to live ‘biblically.’ My initial reaction was “PICK JUST ONE SECT!” I guess continuity of thought is a dying trait.

Of the three, the only one that remotely represents ‘main-stream’ Christianity (whatever that is anymore. Perhaps I should say small ‘c’ ‘catholic’ Christianity) would be the Amish. I’m not extremely well versed in Amish theology, but I’m fairly certain that they don’t follow the book of Leviticus all that closely. There may perhaps be elements of Amish theology that could be construed by some as ‘legalism’ but they surely draw the line way short of living OT (Old Testament)-style. Of course they also believe Christ is the Messiah as well, which would further separate them from the other two.

The Hassidic Jews most likely gave him some great tips on living OT-style. And while their worldview would be consistent in that it doesn’t receive Christ as Messiah but believes the Old Testament is God’s word, their advice had to be quite a bit different from the Amish (who believe in the New Testament as well) advice he received.

And the Jehovah’s witnesses believe (because of their massive revision of Scripture to create their own JW translation of both Old and New Testaments) among other aberrant things, that Jesus Christ and the Archangel Michael are both the same…this despite the fact that they have different names and are clearly described as two completely distinct beings in the Bible.

The aforementioned alone is enough that would make me pass on publication. The experiment only works if the guy follows one and only one consistent belief in Scripture and what Scripture is…whatever it may be.

With the premise being so flawed, I just don’t see the point in making the book at all. Publishers will publish all kinds of junk with little to no regard for what is contained therein so long as they can use an inaccurate ‘buzz-line’ to sell it. This book’s ‘buzz-line’ is ‘Read how this one weird guy lived according to the Bible for a year.” Only when you look at the fine print do you see that the gig is up because of major inconsistencies before it even got started.

*Sarcasm ahead, watch your step…

*I’m just glad that publishers can still publish honest, Scripturally sound books with soul-enriching, Christ-honoring texts such as the latest books from Jubal Obcene called respectively:
“Becoming A Better Ewe” as well as the best-selling “Putting Lipstick on a Pig & Calling It A Cow.” And of course I cannot forget the self-affirming classic that started it all: “Embracing Where You Are…Even If It Happens to Be Spiritual Death.”


Daniel said...

I wonder how he ever got past, "Love the Lord your God"?


Kelley said...

I also noticed that this book is just the latest of several other books he's written. Like...

The Know-It-All: One Man's Humble Quest to Become the Smartest Person in the World

Fractured Fairy Tales

The Two Kings: Jesus & Elvis