A Code to live by?

The long running hit US drama NCIS revolves around the central character, Leroy Jethro Gibbs. Gibbs is both a hero and a troubled soul. Before joining the federal agency, he had been in the marines and whilst on active service left his wife Shannon and daughter Kelly at home. One day, he returned from duty to find that his family have been murdered by a Mexican Drugs cartel. Much of the plotline of NCIS revolves around Gibbs’ search for vengeance, atonement and healing.

Central to that, is a code, a set of rules that Gibbs seeks to live by. In fact we discover later that the idea needing a code to live by was introduced to him by Shannon when they first met.

“Everyone needs a code to live by”

It’s such a powerful statement isn’t it? Maybe something you particularly relate to.  The truth is that we are all searching for meaning in life and for many of us that means finding some certainty in what appears to be a chaotic, messy universe. 

In the early days of NCIS we are tempted to see Gibbs’ rules as a positive thing. However, as the storyline develops and we get to see more of the darker side of his past, we learn to question this. At times, Gibbs’ rules appear arbitrary and questionable. His own code sets him up at times against the law of the land and makes him judge, jury and executioner. What would happen if we all chose to live by our own rules? Indeed, the reality is that those who claim to want to live by their own rules want everyone else to follow those rules, not their own personal set of values.  In later years, Gibbs even starts to break some of his rules when he realises how damaging they are to his relationship with the team that has become the nearest thing to family.

You see, codes, or sets of rules often fail to satisfy. Many people look to religion to find such a code and often think that this is what Christianity is as they seek to obey the Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount.  But that is the route that leads to legalism as the rules feel arbitrary, become a heavy burden and the cause of heavy guilt and shame when we discover we cannot keep them. Furthermore, we find that setting our own rules does not set us free from this legalism. Rather, we become our own harshest critics and set a higher standard for ourselves than has ever been imposed from the outside.

If you put the code at the centre of your life, you will never find true happiness.  When people came to Jesus and asked him what they needed to do in order to receive eternal life, often they had a code in mind. Jesus would them point them to the commands to love one another and love God whole heartedly.  It is not that there isn’t a code within Christian faith, rather it’s not at the centre. At the centre is relationship with God and from that, relationship with each other.

When we realise that what matters is this whole hearted love for God leading to sacrificial love for our neighbour, then we realise that this is impossible for us to do. The good news is that this will lead to the wonderful discovery that God in Christ does for us what we cannot for ourselves. He chooses to love us, to forgive our sin, to draw us close to himself and never let go of us. This is the heart of the Gospel.

Our relationships no longer serve the code, the code serves our relationships.

We then discover that we want to live for Christ, to obey him and to please him.

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