Why Turn Back Again?
Turning back. Returning to our old way of life. Turning aside from the way laid out for us. Each of these clauses has the word “turn” in them. Now “turning” in Scripture is generally a good thing. “Turning” is at the heart of the biblical command “Repent,” which is a turning away from self, the world, and the devil, towards the true God seeking grace and mercy. It was the message of Jesus: “Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). But there is also another kind of turning mentioned in the Bible, and it is what we are encountering here. It is the turning away from God towards self, the world, and the devil. Proverbs 26:11 tells us, “Like a dog that returns to his vomit is a fool who repents of his folly” and 2 Peter 2:22, speaking of those who turn back tells us, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first. For it would have been better for them never to have known the way of righteousness than after knowing it to turn back from the holy commandment delivered to them. What the true proverb says has happened to them: ‘The dog returns to its own vomit, and the sow, after washing herself, returns to wallow in the mire.’”
“But why would you,” Paul asks. Why return to “the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world,” when you have not only come to know God, but better yet, come to be known by God? Isn’t knowing that God knows our name, knows us, and loves us, better than legal prescriptions? Isn’t having the Holy Spirit within better than the written code without?
Clinging to grace is harder than it seems. One can slip away from it living as a libertine, as if sin no longer mattered, or slip away by falling back into rules and regulations because the written code is so much easier to live by. Both ways cheapen grace. God has rescued us from the written code and the demonic powers through His Son’s work on the cross and our rebirth through the Spirit. We now live by the law of love empowered by the Spirit. Now love is not some nebulous thing; Jesus told us that if we loved him we would keep his commandments (John 14:15). And he gave us the greatest example of love by laying down his life for us (John 15:13-15). And so let us remain true to the gospel of grace, living joyful lives, spending ourselves for others for Jesus’ sake, for there is no law against such service and no law against such love.
I suppose there could be some here who question why I schedule these devotions around the Church Year when Paul bemoans that the Galatians “observe days and months and seasons and years,” and thus wonders if he has “labored over [them] in vain.” It’s a good question. As I have written in the several introductions to these devotions, I see the Church Year as a tool for helping those who desire a more regular religious and devotional life, and nothing more. The trouble is that any tool can be corrupted, including prayer, Bible reading, and worship when they become matters of ritual and rote. This is the trouble with having sinful natures living in a sinful world—any good thing can be twisted for wrong ends. To the extent someone proclaims that the Church calendar is necessary for worship or devotion, or uses it as a legalistic tool which must be followed regardless of benefit or detriment, that would be a perversion of its use. To the extent that someone uses the Church calendar as a tool to help them grow in their devotional life and draw closer to the Lord, then it has served its stated purpose.
Is the celebration of Christmas a good thing or bad thing? Is it a celebration of the birth of Christ or a commercial event that makes kids greedy? It depends on how the day is used. And that is my apologia for using the Church calendar.