Posts Tagged 'Law'

Law and Grace

the-Law-and-Grace1

A huge chunk of the Old Testament is taken up with teachings on the Law. When we read books like Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy, we are reading about the Law. As Christians, we dismiss the Law. Yet we shouldn’t. The Law was given to Israel by God; it came from the very heart of God. It may not apply to Christians, but we certainly should know about the Law. Jesus Himself was known to have said things like this:

Don’t misunderstand why I have come—it isn’t to cancel the laws of Moses and the warnings of the prophets. No, I came to fulfill them and to make them all come true. (Matthew 5:17 TLB)

As Christians, we would rather talk about grace. Most of us have been taught that the Old Testament is all about Law while the New Testament is all about grace. That’s partly true, but partly wrong. In the Old Testament, the Law is prominent but grace is there, lurking in the background. In the New Testament, grace is obvious but the Law is still there, in the shadows.

Is there a conflict between the Law and grace? Does grace nullify the Law completely? Since the Law is present in the New Testament, Christians should try to understand why it’s there and resolve the tension that may exist between the Law and grace.

Galatians 5:1 – 11

Paul was probably the greatest theologian who ever lived. He was probably the greatest thinker in history. He possessed a towering intellect, and yet he never divorced doctrine from life. He always sought to integrate the two, doctrine and life, so that doctrine could actually change a life. Typical of Paul, his letters followed a pattern. First, he would put forth some heavy duty doctrinal ideas. Reading these parts of his letters requires patience and sometimes a dictionary. He uses big words to teach his big ideas. Thankfully, though, he always followed his purely intellectual teachings with a “how-to” section. In other words, first he would tell you how you should live, then he would show you how to live. Galatians 5 begins Paul’s showing you how to live.

So Christ has made us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get all tied up again in the chains of slavery to Jewish laws and ceremonies. (Galatians 5:1 TLB)

This verse represents Paul’s summation of what preceded it, namely, that the Law brings slavery but faith brings freedom. Another translation of this verse goes like this:

Plant your feet firmly therefore within the freedom that Christ has won for us, and do not let yourselves be caught again in the shackles of slavery. (JBP)

Or, maybe you prefer this translation:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. (NIV)

Well, no matter which version you prefer, the idea Paul is advancing is best summed up like this:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? (Galatians 3:1 NIV)

That’s pretty strong language! The “bewitching” took the form of some false teaching that had infiltrated the church. These Galatians had once been heathens, in bondage to heathenism. Upon hearing the Gospel, they exchanged their bondage to heathenism for Christ’s free grace. But this new-fangled false teaching said that while faith in Christ was important, it wasn’t enough. If you wanted to be saved, you needed Jesus and the Law of Moses. That’s how false teaching works, by the way. There’s usually an element of truth in it. The false teachers, Judaizers by name, made a career out of following Paul and the apostles around, slipping into churches they founded, and teaching their perversion of the Gospel. For them, salvation was Jesus + the Law.

Paul’s point of contention with the Galatians was that it was totally crazy of them to give up the wonderful freedom they had found in Christ, to go back into having to obey a bunch of burdensome regulations. It was Christ who had set them free from their slavery to sin. They couldn’t set themselves free.

This is an important point to make note of. We cannot set ourselves free, either from the Law (in the case of Israelites) or from sin (in the case of the Galatians and us). Only Christ can do that. However, there is a definite sense of co-operation. That is, we must co-operate with the Holy Spirit in living the Christian life in freedom. Even though Christ lives in us, we must determine to keep standing firm in the freedom Christ has won for us.

The thing the Judaizers were trying to get the Galatians to practice in order to secure salvation was circumcision. This incensed Paul.

Listen to me, for this is serious: if you are counting on circumcision and keeping the Jewish laws to make you right with God, then Christ cannot save you. I’ll say it again. Anyone trying to find favor with God by being circumcised must always obey every other Jewish law or perish. (Galatians 5:2, 3 TLB)

Keeping part of the Jewish Law meant keeping all of it. It’s as if Paul were saying, “You think it was rough being in bondage to sin. Wait till you try obeying the Jewish Laws!” No wonder he called them “foolish.” And Paul would know! He was a strict observer of the Jewish Law until Christ set him free.

It was so serious to add anything to Christ’s gift of free grace, Paul adds this:

Christ is useless to you if you are counting on clearing your debt to God by keeping those laws; you are lost from God’s grace. (Galatians 5:4 TLB)

In the strongest language possible, Paul says the consequences of seeking salvation beyond the simple Gospel are dire indeed. They would literally lose God’s grace because Christ would have nothing to do with them. It’s not that God would abandon them, it’s that they would abandon God. Turning to the Law, or anything else, for salvation after having experienced Christ’s free grace is fatal.

If anyone sins deliberately by rejecting the Savior after knowing the truth of forgiveness, this sin is not covered by Christ’s death; there is no way to get rid of it. There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible punishment of God’s awful anger, which will consume all his enemies. (Hebrews 10:26, 27 TLB)

Why so dire? E.M. Bounds offers a bit of wisdom that goes a long way toward ansering that question:

All God’s plans have the mark of the cross on them, and all His plans of death to self in them. But men’s plans ignore the offense of the cross or despise it. Men’s plans have no profound, stern or self-immolating denial in them. Their gain is of the world.

He’s absolutely correct. Seeking salvation through any means other than the supernatural means provided for by Christ through the Cross is not profound at all and it elevates man to an unnatural height far beyond the place assigned him by his God. Not only that, it devalues Christ and God’s grace.

John 1:14 – 17

This group of verses is remarkable in it’s implications as far as God’s grace toward sinful man is concerned.

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John testified concerning him. He cried out, saying, “This is the one I spoke about when I said, ‘He who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’”) Out of his fullness we have all received grace in place of grace already given. For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

What kind of person could ever minimize what happened in the above paragraph? What kind of hard heart could disregard that kind of grace? Leon Morris comments:

God’s grace to His people is continuous and is never exhausted. Grace knows no interruption and no limit. In contrast to the Law, it stresses the dynamic character of the Christian life. “Grace” means an ever-deepening experience of the presence and the blessing of God.

To give that up and simply walk away from it takes a special kind of cold, hard heart. No wonder Paul’s warning to the Galatians was so stark!

God the Father literally gave sinful man all He had when He gave His only Son to make a way of salvation. To accept God’s grace through a relationship with Jesus Christ is to become part of His family – that’s how close we become to God through Jesus. Lee Strobel makes this clear when he wrote –

Believing the right things about Jesus isn’t enough. You’re not adopted as God’s child until you confess and turn away from your wrong doing and receive the freely offered gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Jesus purchased with His death on the cross. Until that, you’ll always be on the outside looking in.

Ephesians 1:3 – 10

This passage is perhaps the most profound in all of Scripture concerning salvation. In it, Paul shows us how God laid the plan for our salvation long before He actually created the material universe.

The source of all blessings

How we praise God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every blessing in heaven because we belong to Christ. (Ephesians 1:3 TLB)

In the Greek, it’s simply “blessing,” in the singular. Paul doesn’t distinguish between material or spiritual blessings. All those things that benefit us in some way come from God simply because we belong to Christ. That’s important to note. It’s not out of love for us, although God does love us. It’s not out of obligation or even compassion. God blesses us because we belong to Christ.

To be “in Christ” denotes a kind of “union of persons.” It’s Paul’s way of describing a relationship so close there really are no words to adequately describe it.

Salvation enacted before time

Long ago, even before he made the world, God chose us to be his very own through what Christ would do for us; he decided then to make us holy in his eyes, without a single fault—we who stand before him covered with his love. His unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by sending Jesus Christ to die for us. And he did this because he wanted to! Now all praise to God for his wonderful kindness to us and his favor that he has poured out upon us because we belong to his dearly loved Son. (Ephesians 1:4 – 6 TLB)

Election is a Biblical doctrine no matter how hard it may be to understand. God chose us. Salvation is always HIS initiative. Our salvation is so important to God, He began His initiative before the creation of the universe! When a sinner responds to that initiative, that sinner becomes part of “the elect,” a group of believers God knew would become part of His great family. One scholar put it this way –

This new people, the church, is not the result of a hasty, temporal expedient, but is a part of God’s eternal purpose…

And part of that eternal purpose is to take a man, corrupt and covered in the filth of sin, and clean him up, re-creating and re-making him into someone holy. This happens when God’s grace is operating in his heart. At that moment, that redeemed sinner is made part of God’s family. Paul uses the term “adoption,” and without delving into the deep theological significance behind it, let’s just say that only God the Father is able to take a person estranged from Him and in an instant make him part of His family. The person can’t do that. He can’t make himself part of God’s family. This is wholly a work of God.

So overflowing is his kindness toward us that he took away all our sins through the blood of his Son, by whom we are saved; and he has showered down upon us the richness of his grace—for how well he understands us and knows what is best for us at all times. (Ephesians 1:7, 8 TLB)

Our adoption was purchased through the death of Christ. It was that sacrifice that resulted in the forgiveness of our sins. The idea of the “blood” of Christ is significant. It shows how valuable we really are to God! We are equal in value to Him as His Son is.

Again, the words of Hebrews 10:26, 27 ring in our ears –

If anyone sins deliberately by rejecting the Savior after knowing the truth of forgiveness, this sin is not covered by Christ’s death; there is no way to get rid of it. There will be nothing to look forward to but the terrible punishment of God’s awful anger, which will consume all his enemies. (Hebrews 10:26, 27 TLB)

Considering what God did for us, in us, and to us, we can understand how serious a thing it is to willfully turn your back on Christ’s salvation. This isn’t merely backsliding referred to here; it’s a selling out of your soul to the world. It’s apostasy. No wonder Paul called the Galatians “foolish” when they were just contemplating messing up God’s perfect plan of salvation.

THE GOSPEL FULFILLS THE LAW, Part 2

The 10 Commandments

HOLINESS:  NOT AN OPTION

When it comes to morality and ethics, American culture is really schizophrenic.  At one time, a generation or so ago, America called itself and was considered to be a “Christian nation.”  Nowadays, many observers of such things have labeled America a “post-Christian nation” because of the rise of secular humanism.  However, this is a pretty simplistic view.  When America was a “Christian nation,” we had slavery, the Civil War, racism and sexism.  We could hardly think the “good old days” were really any better than the days in which we are living today.

What most people notice, though, is that it seems as though the “bedrock” beliefs and practices of many Americans are crumbling.   Doesn’t it seem as though our culture is far more harsh than it used to be?  Are people less polite than they used to be?  Hasn’t the use of language deteriorated over the past two decades?  Surely the things that once shocked us are now considered commonplace.  This is, I think, what causes onlookers to consider America a “post-Christian nation.”  In the past, we may have been blinded to our moral and ethical codes, but at least there was a collective agreement of what was right and wrong.

The problem is the problem of holiness. In the middle of all the moral and ethical relativity we see today, the Bible has an objective answer and it is personal holiness.  Holiness as defined in the Bible is simply living according to God’s will.  Really, “holiness” is “wholeness,” because when a believer lives a life that is in step with God’s will, they will be a whole person and God’s perfect character will be seen in our lives.

1.  Commanded to live holy, Leviticus 20:7—8; 1 Peter 1:15—16

A lot of people avoid reading the book of Leviticus like they avoid paying taxes.  With all its meticulous rules and regulations of minute and obscure laws—most of which have no seeming application for Christians—many of us think we can just steer clear of this book all together.  However, God the Holy Spirit thought Leviticus important enough to include it in our inspired collection of books we call the Holy Bible.  With that in mind, it is our obligation to not only read the book, but to find meaningful application of it’s principles to our lives.

[a]  A command with a promise, Leviticus 20:7—8

Consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am the LORD your God. Keep my decrees and follow them. I am the LORD, who makes you holy.

Three times in the book of Leviticus we read this particular phrase in a “formulaic” fashion.  In chapters 11 and 12, the command to be holy (Leviticus 11:45) comes as the laws governing childbirth and unclean food are given.  To modern man, many of the laws in this section of Leviticus seem almost juvenile and therefore unnecessary.   However, the Mosaic Laws need to be viewed as both spiritual in nature and practical.

In chapters 18 and 19, the Law deals with interpersonal relationships and the proper way to observe the Law.  In chapter 19:2, the “holiness formula” is inserted as a motivating factor in worshiping God and honoring other people.

This flows into chapter 20, which deals with how to punish those who ignore the Laws just given.  Many times, this lawbreaking took the form of the worst behavior possible in the sight of both God and man—the sacrificing of children to Molech, for example.  In view of the temptation engage in such a heinous sin, God reminds His people that He is holy and that He will not tolerate such sin.

Because God is holy, He naturally expects a certain level of holiness from those that claim to be following Him.  So, verse 7, then is the clear call to holiness.  Following the call to holiness, verse 8 gives us the eternal partnership of man’s free will and God’s beneficent help.  Man’s responsibility is to “keep God’s decrees and follow them” and God’s promise of divine grace is the promise that “He makes us holy.”

[b]  The mark of the early church, 1 Peter 1:15—16

But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

With this one single verse—which is really a quote from Leviticus—Peter illustrates that at least some of Leviticus is relevant to the church of Jesus Christ even though it was written to the Israelites.

Peter tells his readers (and us) that it was God who “called” them.  The Greek verb kaleo suggests that this divine calling or, as theologians like to say, “efficacious grace,”  was entirely an action of God; He was the One who has called us out of the world.  Because we are “the called,” we are expected to obey that call and leave the world around us to form a “called out” group. In the context of the OT, that “called out” group was the nation of Israel, in the NT, that “called out” group is the Church.  Just as Israel in the OT was expected to mirror God, so the church of Jesus Christ is expected to mirror God.  Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the church is to “model” God before the world.  God is holy, therefore the church must also be holy.

The basic idea of holiness is simple:  it is a clear separation from all that is profane or unholy, hence the idea of forming a “called out” group.  God calls His people out of a world of sin into a life of holiness; and He rightfully expects that whatever we do, say or think will be holy.

2.  Instructions for holy living, Leviticus 20:1—6, 9—10; Colossians 3:5—11; Titus 2:11—12

Being holy is not some abstract pie-in-the-sky ethereal notion.  It is intensely practical; being holy is meant to lived out in the world around us, regardless of the world around us.

[a]  Punishment for immorality, Lev. 20:1—6, 9—10

God owes humanity exactly nothing, yet He treats us with respect, dignity, patience, and He acts towards us in holiness.  We might say that His holiness is His gift to us!  This gift of holiness should never be treated flippantly.   He treats us in holiness, He shows us what holiness looks like, He calls us to be holy and He then enables us to actually BE holy.  Leviticus 20 illustrates the consequences of not accepting God’s gift of holiness.

The giving of children to Molech was human sacrifice and was strictly forbidden.  It is hard to imagine any parent actually doing this, but we must remember that this despicable practice was going on all around Israel and this, coupled with Jewish superstitions, caused many poor and struggling Jews to (and apparently were, in fact) be tempted to sacrifice their child in hopes of a good crop or whatever.  To act in such a manner is about as far from being holy as a person can get!

God promised to punish worldly and sinful behavior severely.  He was to be virtually ignored by God and cut off from the rest of the community.  So great was this offense that if somebody in the community had mercy on the one who engaged in child-sacrifice, their punishment was transferred upon the whole community!  This punishment also applied to those who engaged in any kind of occult practice.

In verses 9 and 10, we see how important the family unity was and remains to God.  Cursing one’s parents was a capital offense, so also was striking one’s parents.  A child who did such things was summarily stoned.   God’s dream of a holy people begins, not in church, but in the home, hence the very strict laws governing familial relationships.

[b]  New holiness, Col. 3:5—11

In the OT, people were inspired to be holy primarily out of fear of punishment.  But in the NT, that motivation is very different.

Colossians, which contains some of the most practical passages on holiness, says that there are a number of things (sins) that believers are able to “put to death.”

Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.  (verse 5)

But now you must also rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips.  Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices.  (verse 9, 10)

Some of the very same sins mentioned in Leviticus are mentioned here, but here the believer is told to simply STOP indulging his old nature by committing those sins.  Once we lived a lifestyle dominated by sinful habits, but not only has our lifestyle changed, but our hearts as well!  Therefore, we do not have to sin like we used to.  We are now free to live holy lives.

This was something the ancient Israelites could never relate to.  The Law could never change anybody’s heart.  Only Jesus Christ through the ministry of the Holy Spirit can do that.

[c]  The life of salvation, Titus 2:11—12

Once again, here is a marvelous promise to all believers unavailable to previous generations—

For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

God’s whole plan of salvation is rooted in His grace, which is His free favor and spontaneous action on behalf of those lost in sin to lead them to glorious freedom.  God’s actions in this regard involve both deliverance and transformation.  In the Greek, the phrase “has appeared” is positioned at the beginning of the sentence, thereby emphatically stressing the revelation of grace as a historical reality.  What is Paul referring to?; simply to Christ’s entire life, up to and including His death and resurrection.  Jesus Christ IS God’s grace revealed to sinful man.  From our vantage point over 2000 years since the dawn of the era of grace, we cannot imagine how bleak the world must have been, but Paul gives us a clue.  The word he used was epephane, (our word “epiphany”) which literally translated means “to become visible, to make an appearance.”  It carries with it the image of grace suddenly, and without warning, tearing the black fabric of man’s moral darkness resulting in a bright light shining in for the first time.  What a relief that must have been back then!  There was no way men in those days could fathom the depths of God’s grace without it’s manifestation in Christ; their minds, full of the Law with all it’s rules and regulations, could not have grasped the concept of free grace.

The immediate effect of this revelation brought salvation to man; that is, God’s gift of salvation from that moment onward was available to all people.  Truly God’s plan of redemption is universal in scope; it is not open to all.

Furthermore, this manifestation of God’s grace not only offers us salvation, but it continues to operate in the life of the saved person.  It “teaches us,” a verb that means “to train a child.”  It is an all-encompassing word meaning God’s grace personified teaches, encourages, corrects, and disciplines the child of God.

How does it do this?  It teaches us to say NO to sinful things.  Grace takes the believer by the hand to the place where he, by a voluntary act of the will, is able to sternly face his temptation and refuse it.  This is something, indicated by the tense of the aorist participle, that will happen every day of his life.  In a negative sense, the Christian life is a life of continually saying NO to sin.

Thankfully, Paul does not leave us hanging there.  Simply being able to “say no” to sin is not the goal; rather it is an action that clears the way for what ought to be the goal of every single believer—

to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives.

Our lives should be characterized by  three qualities.  These three qualities actually look in three different directions:

  • Inward.  We are to live “self-controlled” lives.  The word really means that we to remain ever “sober.”
  • Outward.  We are also to live “upright,” that is, “righteously,” faithfully adhering to the admonitions of Scripture.
  • Upward.  Finally, we are to live “godly” lives, that is, lives that are lived in reverence to God and the things of God.

Paul indicated, astonishingly, that this kind of idyllic life is possible “in this present age.”  Regardless of the circumstances around us, every believer is able to live a life of complete holiness to God.  We can do this, not because if we don’t we will be punished, but  because what God demands of us, He enables us to do, thanks to His amazing grace revealed in Christ and administered by the Holy Spirit.

(c)  2009 WitzEnd

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