“Because consideration of the Scriptures, prayer, and intercession involve a service that is our duty, and because the grace of God can be found in this service, we should train ourselves to set a regular time during the day for them, just as we do for every other service we perform. That is not “legalism,” but discipline and faithfulness.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, Fortress Press, 2015 (Reader’s Edition), page 65.
Paul writes in Romans Chapter 12 that we should offer ourselves as living sacrifices because it is our “reasonable” or “logical” service, response to God, or…we might say…in light of His marvelous love and redemption…that it is our duty. Romans 12 begins thusly and then proceeds to show how the offering of ourselves to God results in the offering of ourselves to one another in Christ. Elsewhere Paul writes to the effect that he has a duty to preach the Gospel. We are called by God and we have a duty to respond to Him and to respond in service to one another.
We are to be disciples – ones who are taught, ones who are disciplined and molded into the image of our Teacher, our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. A potter does not place a lump of clay on a wheel and say, “Be what you want to be. Take whatever form suits you.” Yet we seem to think that being a Christian is less about “following Christ” than it is achieving whatever “potential” and “fulfillment” we have chosen for ourselves. Has “following Christ” become a code word for “living the good life in religious guise”?
Christians have duties, we have duties to God and duties to fellow Christians and duties to our neighbors. The wise believer in Jesus Christ knows that these duties are interwoven – in Christ, as we love God we love others and as we love others we love God.
It is my duty to ponder the Scriptures, to read them, to know them, to submit to them, and in my submission to meet God in them. It is my duty to commune with God in prayer. It is my duty to intercede for those with whom I share life together, as well as to intercede for others, within and without the Kingdom. This is no more legalism than it is legalism for Queen Elizabeth II to fulfill her duties as the Queen – she lives as who she is, we are to live as who we are in Christ.
Was it legalism when Jesus prayed, “Nevertheless, not my will by your will be done?” Was it legalism when Paul wrote, “For if I preach the gospel, I have nothing to boast of, for necessity is laid upon me; yes, woe is me if I do not preach the gospel! For if I do this willingly, I have a reward; but if against my will, I have been entrusted with a stewardship (1 Cor. 9:16 – 17). We can say much the same thing about meditating on the Bible, prayer, and intercession.
When we gather around the Word and prayer and intercession our individual lives are strengthened; when our individual (and familial) lives are engaged in the Word and prayer and intercession then our gatherings are strengthened. This is the fabric of our calling, the fabric of our duty in Christ and toward one another, this is the fabric of life together.