Thursday, December 18, 2014

Do We Need to Preach the Law to Lead People to Christ?

"But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, that we may be justified by faith." Gal 3:23-24

The above verse has often been used to promote the idea that we need to preach the law to unbelievers in order to lead them to Christ.  But is that really true?  Do the people of the world, especially Gentiles (everyone who isn't a Jew), need the Jewish law to be preached to them to show them their need for the Savior?  It's important to know some basic things about the Law (the Old Covenant) and to whom it was given (and why), and since the church has been mixing the old and new covenants for so long, it really can be confusing to try to work through things like this.

So I like to back up and take a look at things from the perspective that the Jews and Gentiles in Bible times would have seen things in (as best as I can) to clear things up and get a better understanding of this. The Jews would have (obviously) known that they are the ones who had the law, and they knew the Gentiles of the world were excluded from it and that they probably had no clue what was written in it.

So when it came to understanding the gospel of Christ, and the need for faith rather than the works of the law, Paul and the other Jewish apostles could tell the Jews, in essence, "Hey, look at our own law! Don't you get it? We've tried for hundreds and hundreds of years to keep it, but we've only ended up falling way short of it! This is why we need Christ, our Messiah." (See Acts 15:5-11, Rom 3:19, Heb 8:8).

But to the Gentiles they couldn't say that. "Law? What law? How could I know that I've fallen short of God's law when I didn't even know it existed?"  Or, "How could the law point me to Christ when I was excluded from it and didn't even know what it said?"

The law was never meant to be the measuring stick through which Gentiles understood their sin or their need for the Savior, because the law wasn't given to them and was in fact kept from them.  The "measuring stick" for the Gentiles is their own conscience. In Romans 2, Paul is telling the Jews that just because they have the law, it doesn't mean that they are righteous, because only those who keep the law are righteous (from a law-based perspective). They (the Jews) are the ones who have the law... but they don't keep it! Gentiles, on the other hand, could be said to be righteous if they "by nature" do the things that are in the law, even though they don't even have the law. Paul says that it's "not the hearers of the law who are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified." (See Rom 2:12-13)

He says all this to show the Jews just how serious the law was, and that they shouldn't be judgmental and self-righteous just because they have the law. They are only fooling themselves, because they fall short. In fact, he goes on to say that "ALL" (both Jew and Gentile) have sinned fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). So in the end, whether it's the Jew who has the law or the Gentile who doesn't have the law, they all fall short and can only be saved by grace, through faith.

So how does the Gentile then understand their need for the Savior, if not by law? Again, it's through their own conscience. Romans 1:19 and beyond says that what may be known of God has been revealed to everyone. It's all clearly seen through creation. Everyone has a general idea of "right and wrong," but... they "suppress the truth in unrighteousness." (Rom 1:18). "Although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God..." (Rom 1:21).


If we read the list of "ungodly" and "unrighteous" behavior that Paul goes on to write about in the rest of Romans 1, these are all things that most Gentiles would agree are "wrong." Internally, people have a sense of right and wrong, even if not everybody agrees on the specifics, and even if not everybody cares what's right or wrong.

So, while the Jews had a specific set of laws that turned out to be a tutor that would lead them to Christ, I don't think the law was ever meant to show Gentiles their need for the Savior. Most people would agree that they have "good" and "bad" in them. What we really need to show them is that the gospel reveals that their good isn't good enough to make them right with God and their bad isn't bad enough to keep them out of God's grace shown to us in Christ Jesus.

Now even with all of that said, in today's world there is enough of a familiarity, even among Gentile unbelievers, with this thing called God's law or "the Ten Commandments," that I can see how it would be possible, on rare occasions, to use it as a "tool" (or a "tutor") - particularly among self-righteous people or people who somehow think that their good deeds are enough for God - to show them that even with all their goodness, they still fall short and need the Savior. But for the most part, it's my feeling that most people 'get' that they've fallen short somehow, and our job really is to simply tell them the good news of Jesus Christ!

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

That Christ May Dwell in Your Hearts Through Faith

For this reason, I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name, that He would grant you, according to the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with power through His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith; and that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fulness of God.
Eph 3:14-19 NASB

I find it interesting that after Paul had written quite a bit to the believing Ephesians about their solid identity in Christ, their acceptance in Christ, the life that they have in Christ, how they are partakers in Christ and the unfathomable riches that they have in Christ, in his prayer for them he prayed "that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith."

I mean, from the very beginning, when they first believed, didn't Christ already come to dwell in their hearts?  Wasn't it true that as Ezekiel foretold, in the New Covenant they would be given a new heart and a new spirit (Ez 36:26), and didn't Paul write elsewhere in various different ways that Christ already dwelled in them?  So why would he then pray that Christ would dwell in their hearts by faith?

Well, it is true that as believers, we have become new creations in Christ and we have a new heart and a new spirit that is unlike the old heart and spirit that was replaced.  Christ does dwell in us, and He will never leave us nor forsake us! (Heb 13:5)  It's by grace, through faith that we died with Christ and are hidden in Him (Col 3:3) and we rose again with Him (Eph 2:6, Col 3:1) and we are one spirit with Him (1 Cor 6:17).  These are done deals.  They are always true of us at the core of who we are, in our spirit.

But there is a soulish realm that differs from the spirit realm.  While our spirit doesn't change and remains fully alive and regenerated and filled with the life of Christ, and is born again once and for all, our soul is constantly being renewed and transformed.  In the context of the passage that I started with, that is what the heart is.  It's our mind, will and emotions.  It's the part of us that thinks, believes, feels, understands, etc.  (Example: Rom 10:9 says "Believe in your heart..."). Whereas our spirit was forever changed in a one-time event, our heart/soul is constantly going through changes.

Our spirit has been forever sanctified and established in Christ, and "born again of incorruptible seed" (1 Pet 1:23), and at the same time in the heart and soul realm we are constantly going through a renewal process.  "It is good that the heart be established (or 'strengthened') in grace" (Heb 13:9).  This verse shows that the believer's heart goes through a process of being established and strengthened.  A little earlier in Hebrews, the writer encouraged the believers to "draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith" (Heb 10:22).  Do you see how it's possible for the heart to fluctuate, while all along the spirit remains as it was from the time we first believed!  This is why Paul prays for the hearts of the Ephesians - that Christ may dwell there.  There's no fear here of Christ ever actually leaving them, or not dwelling in their spirit, but Paul wants them to be assured and rooted and grounded in the truth and reality of it all.  And how are they to be rooted, grounded and assured?  By faith.  That is, by having faith in Christ.

This isn't the faith of Christ.  This is our faith in Christ.  Faith is "conviction of the truth." (See here).  To have faith is to be persuaded of the truth.  We are exhorted to walk by (our) faith, not by (our) sight.  To be convicted of the truth, and to be rooted and grounded in God's love, we walk by faith, which is "the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen" (Heb 11:1).  Our circumstances in life (what we "see") - good or bad - do not generally give us a good picture of the reality of Christ, because He is not seen and known through what we see and experience!  We know Him through what we do not see.  He "dwells in our hearts," not through what we can see and experience in our daily circumstances, but through faith. That is, through believing the truth about Him whether our circumstances seem to be a good demonstration of the truth or not.

We already have all the love of God, all the grace of God, all the fullness of God and "every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ" (Eph 1:3).  These things are our reality.  Even though we can't "see" them, they are far more real than everything that we can see!  And yet we are exhorted to grow in grace (2 Pet 3:18), and in the beginning passage Paul prayed that they may be "rooted and grounded in love" and "filled up to all the fullness of God."  So is all of this contradictory?  We have all the love, grace and fullness of God and yet we're to continue to be filled with it?  No, it's not contradictory.  These things simply refer to two different parts of who we are.  The first is the spiritual realm; the second is the realm of the heart and soul.

We are filled, and yet we're to continue to be filled.  We have all of God's grace and yet we're to grow in it.  We have all of God's love and yet we're to continue to be rooted and grounded in it.  So again, how does all of this work?  How does all of this happen?  By faith.  By believing.  By being continually, over and over again, convicted and convinced in our hearts of the truth of what is already true and real about us.  It's about grasping and comprehending the truth.  It's about repenting - that is, changing our minds - and believing the truth of the gospel.  It's about renewing our minds day after day to the truth of the good news, so our hearts may be filled with the fullness of Christ.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Log Eye

Here's the tale of Log Eye (Law Guy)... always pointing out the specks in other's eyes... until one day someone gave him a mirror and he saw the log in his own eye.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

"What You Say" by Allan Scott


Just over a year ago, I interviewed Allan Scott on my Growing in Grace Together podcast.  Check that interview out here.  Well, today I'm very eager to share his brand new song with everyone!  Allan Scott's music is very grace-based, and this song beautifully reminds us of how God sees us.  In Christ, God has made us holy and righteous.  His grace is bigger than our sin, and it's bigger than anything we've ever done or anywhere we've ever been!  It's wonderful when music and lyrics can mix in such a way so as to reinforce these wonderful truths of God and who we are in Him.  This song does just that.

The song is available online as of today:
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iTunes


Connect with Allan:
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Saturday, August 23, 2014

We All Stumble in Many Ways

Do you sometimes feel as if you're the only one who messes up over and over again, who just can't seem to get this thing right? Well, according to James you're in good company, because he says "we ALL stumble in many ways" (James 3:2), and he's right!

That's not to say that any of us wants to ever remain in a less-than-mediocre life, but it IS to say that we're all in the same boat, even if we put on a fake shiny exterior to hide what's going on inside.

There truly is victory in Jesus, and He Himself is our hope and sufficiency in ALL things! Just remember, though, that you're not alone when it comes to wishing that you had your stuff more together than you do. This isn't defeat-ism. It's just reality.  Again, Christ Himself is our only hope!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Have I gone too far to be forgiven?

In my inbox the other day was an email from a woman who shared a very emotional story regarding her very difficult past and her current struggles regarding her fears and worries about her salvation.  I won't go into any of the details that she shared.  I'll only say that in general she has dealt with a lot of hurt and pain that she's received from others, as well as a deep sense of guilt and shame due to her own failures and sins.  She also shared with me that she'd recently heard some teachings on "falling away," and it's led to much more fear.

I responded to her, and I'd like to share my response here in the hopes that it will be of comfort and encouragement to others as well.

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I do want to share the good news with you in regards to your standing with God.  As you probably know, the word "gospel" means "good news," and that's what God has declared to mankind through Jesus Christ.  When Jesus was born, the angels were declaring "good tidings of great joy" and saying "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, goodwill toward men!" (Luke 2:14).  The "goodwill toward men" is from God to humans.  It's God's goodwill towards people.  That's why Jesus came.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him."  Rom 5:8-9

"God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting their sins against them."  2 Cor 5:19

"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved." John 3:17

So, no matter what you've ever done, no matter what you've ever been through, no matter what sins you've ever committed, no matter how big or bad your failures have been, Christ has not come to condemn you or to put you to shame, but He has come to save you.  God has not come into your life to point out your sins, but to show you how He has saved you from your sins.  He's come into your life to give you LIFE - and not to put guilt, shame or condemnation upon you.  Christ's sacrifice has delivered you from guilt, shame and condemnation.

The great Enemy likes to skew God's good news message, by portraying God and Christ as being angry and vengeful with us for our sins.  But that's not what happened in Christ.  It's actually exactly the opposite!

God has shown great love and kindness towards us.  He has offered all of His goodwill to us freely, without cost to us.  Our good works cannot earn it, and our bad works cannot take it away.  We receive all of it, not through our efforts but by God's grace, through faith.  We simply believe Him, and trust Him in what He has done on our behalf.

There is a mention in Hebrews 6 of those who "fall away."  It's a hypothetical situation, but the main point about it that I'd like to make is, what is it that they would "fall away" from and what is it that they would fall away to?  Many in the church would teach you that to "fall away" is to fall away from God by sinning, or by living in constant sin.  But that's not what the passage in Hebrews 6 is talking about - at all.  This epistle to the Hebrews was written to people who had been under the law all their lives.  (It was written to Jews - Hebrews - who had been under the law).  After having been under the law for so long, in which they would sacrifice bulls, goats and other animals for their sins, day after day and year after year, they found out that Christ's ONE sacrifice actually took away all sin, once and for all!  The blood of bulls and goats could never take away sin, but Christ's sacrifice did!  So through faith, that's what they had originally turned TO.  They had turned away from their own efforts and sacrifices, and they had turned TO trusting in Christ's sacrifice.  However... many of them were questioning if Christ's sacrifice was really enough, and they were turning back to sacrificing animals.  They had turned FROM faith in Christ, back TO trusting in the sacrifices of animals.  This is the "falling away" in Hebrews 6.

Falling away from God isn't about sinning.  It's about turning away from Christ's sacrifice, and turning back to animal sacrifices (or keeping God's law in general).  Salvation is found only in ONE name, Jesus Christ, and it can't be found in any other name or in any other way.

So that's the good news!  You are saved, sanctified, justified and made righteous all through the ONE sacrifice of Jesus.  It's through nothing you've ever done, and it's not taken away through anything you've ever done.  God simply asks us to trust what He has done over what we have done.

I hope this helps you to understand and realize that your salvation isn't dependent upon YOU. :)  It's solely dependent upon HIM... and He has not fallen short in any way in saving you or keeping you saved. :)  It's all by His grace, and we can't add to or take away from what He's done.

Our relationships with other people are different, of course.  There's nobody who has ever loved like God loves or who has given us mercy and grace like God has given us.  And we've not done the same for others, either.  We all still fall very short in our actions towards each other, and towards God.  And because of that, we will indeed have varying degrees of strife and situations that we will have to deal with in life.  That's just the reality.  But with GOD, we never, ever, ever have to deal with Him being contentious towards us.  He will never condemn us or make us feel guilty.  When we are in Christ, by grace through faith, feelings of guilt and condemnation do not come from God!

I wish you all of God's grace and peace.  May you truly know and experience the love, mercy, grace and peace of God.

Monday, June 09, 2014

No 'Cloning' Around

It should go without saying that you were created to be who you are and not who somebody else is, or who somebody else expects you to be or thinks you should be.

The human body is one unit, and it's made up of many different and diverse parts.  It's the same with the body of Christ:  One body, one unit, many different and diverse parts.  We're not all meant to be the same, or to do the same things.  Christ Himself is the head of this body.  As the head, He has specially gifted you to carry out certain "functions" in His body (just as an arm or a tongue carries out certain functions in a human body).

Other people may be able to see things in you and point things out to you that help you to see the part you play in the body of Christ, and that's a good thing.  We're called to encourage one another and build one another up in who we are and how we fit into the body of Christ as a whole.  But in the end, it's not anybody else's determination as to what part you play in the body of Christ.  It's Christ's determination as He leads and guides you.  Follow His leading.

At the same time, don't expect others to do the same things you do or to walk in the same functions that you walk in.  They're not meant to!  They're meant to walk in the functions that Christ has ordained for them to walk in.  If you're "equipping" or helping others find out what special gifts and abilities they walk in for the sake of the body, it shouldn't be your goal to create copies or clones of yourself and your particular acts of faith and service, or even to create copies or clones of various Bible characters and their particular acts of faith and service.  What God does in people may look absolutely nothing like the "religious" or "spiritual" ideas we get when we think of Christ's work in people.  (For example, Rahab the Harlot was known for hiding spies.  How spiritual-sounding is that?!)

Your job isn't to point others to a robot-like series of preprogrammed instructions to follow, but rather to point others to Christ Himself and His unique ways of working in them.  He knows what He's doing in them individually and in the body as a whole!