Not only people but groups and communities tend to move from one extreme to another—sometimes called the pendulum effect. One nasty sort of pendulum for followers of “the way” relates to gospel and law—with the pendulum swinging between the extremes of legalism and license. Most recognize the error of the extremes. The challenge is to freeze the pendulum in the middle, to reach and maintain balance—NOT legalistic, dominated by rules, and NOT license, driven by . . . , well, nothing in particular.
Of course, this represents an impossible challenge because a pendulum never freezes in this way!
Inevitably, as soon as you think of the way of Jesus on a pendulum model, you depart from that way and start heading for a dead end, for one of the extremes. That’s because both legalism and license exist on a legal continuum, which implies that the way of Jesus has to do with just enough, but not too much, law.
Precisely that, however, is a good statement of the human problem—either too much or too little of the law, and valiant attempts to define “too little” and “too much.” As long as we accept a legal continuum and the pendulum model, we will get nowhere.
The Apostle Paul commends another, more helpful model, an “atmospheric” model. An example of an atmospheric model is the common glass bubble which when shaken becomes a country snow scene. Paul says, “We are in Christ.” And, through Christ, “we have access to this grace in which we stand or exist’” (Rom. 5:2).
Grace is the atmosphere in which we now live—that’s the model. Thus, we don’t live this way because we have to or else—legalism, nor do we live however and whenever, for whatever—license. No, we have access to new creation by and in grace. Life is gift, privilege, opportunity, possibility and responsibility; life is filled with wonder and mystery.
Our manner of life is not a “have-to,” it’s a “want-to.” We live the way we do because we now see how life is and we have the awesome privilege of actually tasting it, drinking it in, consuming it, LIVING it. It makes us say, “Wow!” What a privilege.
We actually develop a new desire, a new appetite for what we now know to call LIFE. Before GRACE we wouldn’t have known to call this life, perhaps we would even have called it death. But now we see, and what we see we want, desperately—the grace of life and the grace to live.
Therefore, the question of having our way, expressing ourselves, doing whatever, whenever, just because, no longer has appeal. We’re in the sphere—the zone—of grace. Of course, there is structure and order. “The zone” is not “the world” that used to provide basic life-support for us. There are boundaries, if one were to think in such terms. It is possible to identify certain borders beyond which one dare not go—if, again, one were to think about such things.
But one rarely does because living in the zone in true living, and when one is truly alive, one does not often think about being barely alive. It is so good to be alive that one enjoys it and, if anything, wishes to draw closer to the center and deepen the joy.
Ironically, life in the zone will appear wrong to both legalists and libertines, and to all who valiantly attempt to hold the pendulum in the middle of the legal continuum. To the legalist people in the zone will appear to be libertine; to the libertine people in the zone will seem like legalists. To the gymnast who tries to keep a balance people in the zone could strike them either way depending on which extreme they’ve most recently reacted against.
But people of the zone don’t mind. They prefer not to define themselves by comparison with others, except perhaps Jesus, and they reject the legal continuum altogether as a fatal way of frustration and failure. Instead, they delight in the grace of our Lord Jesus that saves and trains them for righteousness, gives them hope, and sustains them in vital God-connected living.
It’s really good to be in the zone!