One of the greatest joys and challenges of my high school years was being the Drum Major of the marching band. For two years I marched in the clarinet section, and then suddenly in my junior year I was selected to lead the band. I was blessed to receive excellent training and a lot of encouragement from the adults around me.
The most difficult part of being a Drum Major is setting the pace. Every song was memorized and practiced so much that I immediately knew how fast or slow to direct the musicians. If you ask any Drum Major to beat a pattern for a John Philip Sousa march, they can do it, even years later. We became like human metronomes.
I was reminded of this when I read today’s passage about the conflict between following the law verses justification by grace through faith. In marching band terms, Paul would say that like the band, people don’t set the pace. Instead it is our Drum Major God who establishes the beat which we all follow. Paul understood that following the law was akin to the band boastfully leading themselves. God doesn’t respond to our lead; we respond to God’s lead.
Romans 3:27-31 (The Message)
27-28 So where does that leave our proud Jewish insider claims and counterclaims? Canceled? Yes, canceled. What we’ve learned is this: God does not respond to what we do; we respond to what God does. We’ve finally figured it out. Our lives get in step with God and all others by letting him set the pace, not by proudly or anxiously trying to run the parade.
29-30 And where does that leave our proud Jewish claim of having a corner on God? Also canceled. God is the God of outsider non-Jews as well as insider Jews. How could it be otherwise since there is only one God? God sets right all who welcome his action and enter into it, both those who follow our religious system and those who have never heard of our religion.
31 But by shifting our focus from what we do to what God does, don’t we cancel out all our careful keeping of the rules and ways God commanded? Not at all. What happens, in fact, is that by putting that entire way of life in its proper place, we confirm it.
Paul had to address this again and again in his letters to his churches, and some of our best theology of salvation by grace comes from his writings. He had a clear understanding that you could not boast of your salvation because you had nothing to do with it. We are not saved by our own merit or good works, but by the one God who saves both the circumcised and uncircumcised alike. It is by faith we receive forgiveness, not by the law.
When we get in step with God’s will and purpose for our lives, we find it much easier to follow the pace God has set for us. The law always pointed to a Messiah who would come to fulfill it, and Jesus is that fulfillment. Even the law quickens or slows to Jesus’ direction and works in harmony to keep us on a parade route of righteousness.
Remember the conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees about keeping the law that prohibited working on the sabbath? He reminded them that the sabbath was meant for people, not the other way around. Thus the ox could be saved from the ditch in an act of mercy on the sabbath, because the law itself was under Jesus’ direction.
Where are you in the parade? Are you anxiously trying to lead it in an effort to have control, or are you letting God direct your feet into places outside of your comfort zone? Are you marching to the beat of the world or the Lord’s cadence?
Maybe it’s time to stop marking time and follow Jesus. He will guide your steps onto the path of righteousness.
Shifting Focus by Michelle Robertson