Thursday, August 25, 2016

Grace Doesn't Enable Us to Keep the Law

The Law of Moses is a burden. Grace doesn't make the law any less of a burden. Life in Christ doesn't make the law any less of a burden. Peter addressed this in Acts 15 when some Pharisees said it was necessary for Gentile believers to keep the law.

First, note what Peter didn't say. He didn't say, "Well, now that they have Christ, they indeed are able to and should keep the law." To the contrary, he said to those Pharisees, "Why do you test God by putting a putting a yoke around the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?"

For centuries the law had been a burdensome yoke for the Jews, and it doesn't become any less of a burden for those who believe in Christ who try to live by it. The law was always meant to be a burden.  Its purpose was to point people away from self-righteous justification to justification by faith in Christ alone.

In Christ, God has removed the burden.  He hasn't done this by making the law easier to keep, by grace.  Rather, He's "wiped it out" and "taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross." (Col 2:14)  So why are so many believers still living under it?  Let's not add to their burden by teaching and preaching law in the lives of believers!

As we saw in Acts, Peter had referred to the law as a burdensome yoke that no one could bear.  Paul took this a step further in his word to the "foolish Galatians" who knew they'd been saved apart from law but had gone back to the law as a means of attempting to complete the work that was begun by the Spirit and could only be accomplished by grace.  Paul exhorted them, "It is for freedom that Christ set us free. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of bondage." (Gal 5:1)

The law is, was and always will be a yoke of bondage and a burden.  What we need is not more or better adherence to the law, but rather to be free from it entirely!  When we're freed from the law, we're freed into the liberty of Christ.  We're freed from death unto life.  (2 Cor 3:7-9, Rom 5:17, Rom 8:2). We're freed from sin unto righteousness.  (Rom 6:7, 18-22).  This is what Christ has done for us!

The "Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" is our life now!  This is where our hope is.  This is our source of righteousness, and in fact is our very righteousness.  This is where our godly living comes from.  Put the law away and turn to Christ!

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Law Didn't Lead to Better Behavior; The Law Led to Faith in Christ

Not long ago someone asked me if I thought the purpose of God's law was to curtail unrighteous and criminal acts (which was this person's interpretation/understanding of 1 Tim 1:8-10) and to teach the people of Israel not to do wrong. My response is that the role of the law was to condemn sinful acts, but it could do nothing to curtail sinful acts. Even under the law, "there is no one righteous, not even one... There is no one who seeks after God... There is no one who does good, not even one." The law has no power to make a bad person good, nor to change a person's bad behavior to good. In fact, not only could the law not curtail sin, but "the law is the strength of sin." (1 Cor 15:56).

The word "curtail" means to cut back, diminish, reduce. Paul said that the law actually has the opposite effect. "The law entered that sin might increase." (Rom 5:20). "But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind." (Rom 7:8) "When the commandment came, sin revived and I died." (Rom 7:9) "And the commandment, which was to bring life, I found to bring death." (Rom 7:10)

1 Tim 1:8-10 (the lawful use of the law) doesn't say that the law leads to a curtailing of sin. If we put Paul's words here alongside everything else he says about the law, we see that the law is a tutor to lead people to Christ. (Gal 3:24). (Not to lead people to better behavior, but to Christ.) Paul goes on: "Therefore the law was our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." That was the purpose of the law. To lead the lawless and subordinate, the ungodly and sinners, the unholy and profane... etc, etc... to Christ, that they might be justified by faith.

"But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness." (Rom 4:5)

The requirement of the law was perfection, and yet it had absolutely no power to provide it! Perfection could not be obtained through the keeping of the law. The law only showed people their imperfection, and led them away from trying to be perfect through their works.  It pointed them to being made perfect, righteous and holy by the gift of God, by His grace alone, through faith.  What teaches us to do right and to say "no" to sin?  It's not law.  It's grace! (Titus 2:11-14)

Even with all of this being said, I must point out something very important. As Gentiles (which is a word that refers to all people who are not Jewish; that is, most people who have ever lived), we never had any relationship to God's law in the first place. We were strangers and aliens from everything that had to do with Israel and the law (Eph 2:12). We were without hope and without God in the world. We were "far off" from God (Eph 2:13). But in Christ we have been brought near to Him. As Gentiles, we came to God, not through the tutor of the law like Israel did, but simply by God inviting us into the New Covenant by grace, through faith. There actually is no "lawful use" of God's law when it comes to Gentiles. The lawful use of God's law is for Jewish people who are trusting in their own works for righteousness. For Gentile unbelievers, it's not a matter of law but a matter of conscience. (Rom 2:12-16)

Thursday, May 12, 2016

It's All Grace

God's grace doesn't "make up the difference." It's not that we've got a certain amount of ability to do good, and grace is meant to make up for whatever we're lacking or wherever we fall short. You will not find a definition or description of grace that is anywhere close to that in the scriptures!

The Apostle Paul didn't say, "I put forth my best effort and grace covered the rest." No, Paul chucked aside all his best (see Phil 3:4-11), counting it all as loss, and counting it all as bull dung, so that he could know Christ alone. When it came to living out our daily life and living out our various ministries, Paul said it was all grace. He said that his holiness and sincerity were from God, "not according to worldly wisdom but according to God's grace." (2 Cor 1:12).

Paul talked about his great accomplishments and abundant work that he'd done, but he said, "yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me." "By the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor 15:10) Our gifts and callings aren't our own, but solely the result of God's grace. (Rom 12:6). Our ministry/serving is "according to the gift of God's grace" and "the working of His power." (Eph 3:7).

If your ministry is about you and your wonderful work "for God," give it up! Don't be so foolish. "Neither is He served by human hands, as if He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things." (Acts 17:25). It is God who works in you (Phil 2:13). God began a good work in you and God will be faithful to complete it! (Phil 1:6).

Sunday, May 08, 2016

By Teaching the Sermon on the Mount as a Christian Teaching, We Nullify the Word of God

One of the things Jesus was doing in the Sermon on the Mount was countering the teachings of the Pharisees. The Pharisees had created rules and traditions that watered down the Law in order to make it "doable" for them. (Jesus told them, "you nullify/make void the Word of God by your tradition" - Matt 15:6, Mark 7:13). In the sermon, Jesus made clear what the Law really said and meant, as opposed to the spin the Pharisees had put on it. Let me emphasize something: in the sermon, Jesus was teaching the law, bringing back its true meaning and intent (which effectively showed just how impossible it is to keep it).
Ironically, what the church has done today is they have watered down the Sermon on the Mount, putting a spin on the various things Jesus said in it, in an attempt to make His hard words "doable" or to make the sermon into a "Christian" teaching. Most likely unknowingly, what they have done is diminished, and thereby nullified, what Jesus was actually saying. In trying to make this difficult law sermon into a teaching on practical Christian living, they are oblivious to how they have made void the Word of God.
I don't say this to complain about the church, but to make the larger point that in order to truly understand the gospel, we have to recognize the things that are taught in the church today as the gospel that really aren't the gospel.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Persecuted for Preaching the Good News

In today's Christian culture, we tend to think of persecution as "good Christians" being put down or made fun of by "sinners." But that wasn't how it was in the early church. The persecution that they received was from the religious people! Jesus Himself was not put down and mocked - and ultimately killed - because He went around telling "bad" people to start being "good." He was hated by the religious people because He put His arms around sinners. He supped with them. He loved them.

The early church preached the good news - that people are made righteous by the gift of God, not by righteous behavior - and they were persecuted for that. Again, the ones who persecuted them were the religious people who stood firmly on their law-based, performance-based religion.

Somewhere along the line, the church lost the plot. They started becoming like the religious do-gooders and finger-pointers, and they themselves (the church) began persecuting those who were preaching the gospel of God's grace and who put their arms around sinners. We today who preach grace are simply doing what God has called the church to do all along.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Rahab's Faith

A prostitute named Rahab is one of several people who are recognized for their faith and called a "great cloud of witnesses" in the book of Hebrews.

No effort is made to disassociate Rahab from her life as a prostitute. She is actually called "Rahab the harlot" right there and then, as she is being recognized for her faith along with all the others (Abraham, Moses, Joseph, Samson, David, etc).

Does this mean that she's being lauded for being a harlot? Of course not. But surely it means something to be purposely remembered as "Rahab the harlot" in a list of great witnesses to faith in God!

One thing that it means is that faith isn't for the "perfect." By no means does a person have to have it all together in order to have faith in God. Do you know what Rahab's great act of faith was that she was remembered for? Two spies from Israel came to her house and she hid them on the roof, and she lied to the men who came looking for them.

THAT is what Rahab did that showed her faith! And guess what? She revealed that the reason she did it was because, although she had never known God, she had heard of what He did with the parting of the Red Sea, and also how He had "utterly destroyed" two kings (Sihon and Og) and all their people. This caused her heart to melt and she knew then that "He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath." (Joshua 2:11)

And here we are, trying to get people to be "good." Haha! Nothing wrong with doing good things, of course. It's good to do good! But that's not where faith is found. It's found in recognizing that God is God in heaven and on earth, and believing Him!