There’s a famous final scene from the first Star Wars movie that, to me, provides a great illustration of Law versus Grace (and for the sake of clarity and all my fellow Stars Wars nerds, I’m talking about Episode IV: A New Hope from 1977). In this climactic finale the main hero, Luke Skywalker, is flying his X-Wing starfighter down “The Trench” as he’s being pursued by the evil Darth Vader in an attempt to make a seemingly impossible shot to destroy the Death Star and save the day (you can click on the picture below to see a very short video of this scene).
To help him accomplish this feat, Luke’s X-Wing has been equipped with a targeting computer with goggles that go over his eyes and gives him a digital readout to keep him on course and on target. As he advances further down his flight path, the spirit of his deceased teacher and mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi whispers to him in words only Luke can hear: “Use the Force, Luke!” At first, Luke is hesitant to remove the goggles and allow himself to be guided by spiritual discernment instead of the more familiar tool he’s used to relying on to help him in the battle between good and evil.
Seeing Luke’s reluctance, Obi-Wan further encourages him further: “Let go, Luke! Luke, trust me”. Luke then removes the goggles and his reliance on the rigid parameters given by his targeting computer, trusting The Force to guide him. Upon seeing this, one of Luke’s compatriots says “Luke, you switched off your targeting computer; what’s wrong?” Luke assures him everything is fine and ends up doing something everyone on his team thought was impossible by hitting a “one in a million” shot that hits the mark and destroys the evil he’s fighting against.
I think our spiritual journey is very similar. Initially, our senses our guided and trained by “the Law”: very specific, rigidly defined parameters as set forth in the 10 Commandments and other external indicators of behavior. These external indicators are helpful for a time in showing us how to “stay on target” and avoid “missing the mark” in our own battle against sin and evil.
But as we grow in our faith and maturity with greater reliance on the Holy Spirit as our “spirit guide” and Teacher, He instructs us to “use the Force” (the inner witness of God’s still, small voice to us personally). He weans us and challenges us to take off the “goggles” of the Law and trust the supernatural discernment He gives us. Seeing our doubt and hesitation, Holy Spirit whispers to us: “let go; trust Me”. He knows–even if we don’t–that we can trust our inner witness to perfectly guide us and keep us on track. And similarly to how Luke’s brother in arms responded, some within the Church and our Christian community who don’t understand this may be alarmed or even angry with us for taking off the old goggles, as it appears we are just “flying by the seat of our pants” and will get off-course as we live under Grace instead of Law.
Hebrews 5:13-14 talks about this spiritual growth process: “For every spiritual infant who lives on milk is not yet pierced by the revelation of righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, whose spiritual senses perceive heavenly matters. And they have been adequately trained by what they’ve experienced to emerge with understanding of the difference between what is truly excellent and what is evil and harmful.” (TPT) Contrary to what some may preach, I believe that living by the Law and even some of the Apostle Paul’s New Testament standards of outward indicators and behavioral guidelines for the Church is the “milk” for people who are immature, or less spiritually developed.
Don’t misunderstand what I’m saying: the Law is perfect, holy, and just. It is the standard of perfection that characterizes God and that teaches us how to live in perfect harmony with Him and each other. The problem is that we as human beings cannot possibly live up to its exacting standards despite all of our very best efforts to do so. God gave us the Law so we would clearly see our need for Jesus:
Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction, making sure the children will really get to the place they set out for. But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise. (Galatians 3:23-27, MSG)
Under the New Covenant of Grace, God has given us an internal GPS to guide us through life and the spiritual battle we are fighting that is much more accurate and effective than the old system of the Law. According to Jesus Himself, this “upgraded system” of the inner witness is even better than having Jesus physically with us. Which brings us to another spiritual parallel in Star Wars that I can’t help but think was inspired by scripture.
Earlier in the movie when he’s still alive, Obi-Wan Kenobi is fighting Darth Vader in a lightsaber duel, during which Obi-Wan cryptically tells Vader “If you strike me down now, I will become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.'' As Luke stands watching in disbelief and horror, Obi-Wan inexplicably lowers his defenses and allows himself to be killed by Darth Vader. Luke is greatly saddened and confused by this. We later see at the end of this movie and the sequels that unlike his physical body Obi-Wan’s spirit was not bound by time and space, giving him the ability to guide and be with Luke wherever Luke is.
A similar scene plays out in the final part of Jesus’ life before He goes to the cross. He’s trying to tell the disciples what’s going to happen. At first the disciples were very distressed when they heard that Jesus was going to leave them as He knowingly accepted His death and was preparing to leave His physical body. But Jesus told them it was actually to their (and our) advantage that He go away because then He will be able to send His Spirit to lead and guide us through life, and that He would never leave us nor forsake us.
Trust the inner witness in your heart and mind; the Holy Spirit Jesus died to give us. It may be uncomfortable and unfamiliar at first as you take off the goggles of religion and the Law with all its external parameters governing your choices and path. Let go, and trust Him to keep you on course and on target through the inner witness of peace, joy, desire, and spiritual discernment. This is how God leads us now in the New Covenant of Grace. “Use the Force, Luke!”
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