Religion: “A New Law” by Derek Webb

There are three ways to respond to God: irreligion, religion, or the gospel.* Irreligion and religion are variations on a theme: avoidance of God. The gospel is an altogether different kind of music, a love song. Three songs by Derek Webb illustrate the variations and the difference. The first song we heard was a song of irreligion, called “Heavy,” and now we will listen to a song of religion called “A New Law.”

(For best results, listen and watch Derek Webb sing “A New Law” and see the lyrics.)derekwebb_official_2_web-300x200

The “prodigal son” in all of us tries to avoid God by running away from him. That is our irreligious side. There is also a part of us that tries to avoid God by another route, which is sometimes called legalism, good works, or religion. Unlike the irreligion that explicitly seeks life outside of God, religion appears to seek life in God. The religious one claims to have godly motives, whereas the irreligious one rejects God’s ways without apology. They look different, but these two personas are both about avoiding God. The religious one doesn’t really want God or holiness, but he wants everyone (even himself) to think he does. To really follow God or obey Him would be too hard, and he doesn’t want to learn that way, so he says things like this:

don’t teach me about politics and government
just tell me who to vote for
don’t teach me about truth and beauty
just label my music

don’t teach me how to live like a free man
just give me a new law

God’s requirements go beyond simple do’s and don’ts. God calls us to freedom. He calls us to stop being slaves to fear–people who only want to know the “right answer” because they are afraid to look bad. This legalist is really very afraid of God, afraid that what God requires is something too great for him to do. So the legalist says:

i don’t wanna know if the answers aren’t easy
so just bring it down from the mountain to me

The “mountain” referenced here is the one that Moses ascended to meet with God and receive God’s law. Instead of wanting to be like Moses, who met with God, the religious one just wants it all brought down to him, simply and without requiring anything too uncomfortable for him. He doesn’t want to experience something that he cannot understand, something truly holy, mysterious, and divine. Why? Because that might force him to surrender himself fully. He’d rather just pay his dues and be left alone.

Even Christians can live like this. For what Christian has not said or at least felt something like this:

don’t teach me about moderation and liberty
i prefer a shot of grape juice

don’t teach me about loving my enemies

don’t teach me how to listen to the Spirit
just give me a new law

It is comforting to be told what to do. And it can be necessary at times as one grows in the Christian life. But making up new laws in an attempt to seem more godly to others and oneself is vain and useless:

what’s the use in trading a law you can never keep
for one you can that cannot get you anything

The laws we make up or adopt from others cannot get us anything, and they will never suffice as substitutes for the law of God–the Law that demands our absolute love, both to God and others. Religion will never save us. But God will. He promises it, and He says to us, over and over, like a love song:

do not be afraid
do not be afraid
do not be afraid

What laws are you using to avoid God out of fear?

*I am using Timothy Keller’s wording from Center Church.

Brett Brett (39 Posts)

PhD Student in Pastoral Theology at Southern Seminary. Married to Rachael. Father of two girls and a boy. Louisville, KY.


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