Monday, July 16, 2007

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... (Part 5)

This will be the culmination of this little series. Up till now I haven't generally posted in series' like this, but I knew this would make one looooong post if I did it all at once!

I hope by now I've made the point that to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself, is no small task. In fact, it's an impossible task! In this fifth and final post, I hope to address two things: "Why" would Jesus teach impossible laws and "how" are the commandments ultimately fulfilled in us?

Years after the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, many things would be revealed to Paul that weren't necessarily understood during Jesus' life of ministry and teaching. Something that I think we often fail to grasp from Paul's writings is his teachings on the true purpose of the law.

Rom 3:19-20 Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. NKJV

Gal 3:24-25 Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor . NKJV

I've made a habit of often pointing out that the law's purpose is to stop every mouth and to make the world guilty before God. By the law is the knowledge of sin, but not the power to overcome sin, so no one can be justified by the deeds of the law!

Remember the lawyer, who "wanted to justify himself" by asking, "who is my neighbor?" And remember the rich young ruler, trying to justify himself by his law keeping with his words, "all these I've kept since my youth." When he found out the true depths of the meaning of the law, he went away sad. The law's purpose was indeed to produce sorrow, and much more. I like how Matthew (Daelon) commented on the previous post: "Jesus is laying such heavy loads of the law on these people so they will scream "I give up!", not so that they will try harder." That's well put.

But yet Jesus said He came not to condemn, but to save! (John 3:17) Why then would He teach the law, which only produces guilt and condemnation? We return to Paul's revelation of the purpose of the law from his letter to the Galatians. The law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. In order to come to Christ, the tutor of the law must first do its work! Jesus wanted people to come to Him in order to be justified by faith - didn't He? The law then had to first do its perfect work!

But somehow we have looked at the law and not seen it for the true condemning factor that it is. We've looked at it as a "moral guide." We've tried to keep it, and we've changed it and amended it and made our own interpretations out of it so we could try to justify ourselves with our own keeping of it. Jesus, I believe, came and laid down the true depths and meaning of the law, so that it would do its perfect work and fulfill its perfect purpose: to condemn and bring guilt, so that people would then turn to Him and be justified by faith. Once the law has finally done that in the life of an individual, he comes to this place: "After faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor."

There are many, many examples of Jesus using the law, which the church today has turned into "teachings" or "principles" for Christian living. One example would be His words, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart." (Matt 5:27-28)

We've "Christianized" Jesus' words that He spoke to those under the law, and since we see that adultery comes from the heart, and not just the physical deed, we've invented our own Christian principle by saying that we need to be very careful to obey Jesus' words to not lust. After all, what holy person would argue that lusting after someone else's wife is a good thing? But yet we miss the whole point! There are many, many people, even such as the rich young ruler, who have never committed the physical act of adultery. According to a simple knowledge of the law, they've "kept" that law. But Jesus says, "not so." This teaching of His, I would say, is a mouth-stopping, guilt-producing teaching to every person in the world who would justify themselves by their keeping of the law.

Jesus' words to the rich younger ruler, "sell all you have and distribute to the poor," were mouth-stopping, guilt-producing words to this man who considered himself justified by his law keeping. Jesus' words to the lawyer were mouth-stopping, guilt-producing words.

No one can be justified by keeping the law. That is the whole point of the law!

That 'Love Thy Neighbor' Thing... I meant that.

Yup. He meant it alright! He meant it a whole lot more than most people will ever realize!

So, how do we then walk in love? How do we fulfill 1 Corinthians 13? How do we agape God and agape others as we agape ourselves?

The answer isn't really a "how." It's a "Who." As Christians who have died to the law in order to be married to Christ, by faith, that we may bear fruit to God (see Rom 7:4), we seem to quickly fall back on law and principles as the means by which we live our lives and fulfill the call to love God and one another. But a person can know - and know well - all Christian principles in the world - and still have no power and still have no life and still have no love!

The "how" is really a Person - Jesus Christ. He is in us, and we are in Him. His life is our life. We are one spirit with Him. In Him we live and move and have our being. When it came down to the truth of living a godly life and bearing godly fruit, Jesus didn't say, "follow all these laws and principles and you'll bear fruit." He said, "He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit." Under the law and principles, we could bear no fruit. In fact, Paul says, "the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death!" (See Rom 7:5). But now that we've died to what once bound us (the law), we serve in the newness of the Spirit! The good fruit that comes forth is the Spirit's own fruit that He produces in and through us as we simply abide in Christ, not struggling to fulfill commands and principles. Maybe I'll put it this way: The commands of God and the principles for Christian living are fulfilled in us, not as we set out to try to do them, but as we rest in Christ and let His life in us take over and produce all of it. All of it!

I hope this has been an encouraging "series." I purposely tried to not give it all away at once. Imagine the perfect patience of Jesus, who was asked how to obtain eternal life, and He simply replied, "You know the law" - without going on to further explain the "full gospel!" Rather, He waited patiently for the law to fulfill its purpose in the lives of those He spoke with! I could barely wait two days to "top off" what I was trying to share here. :)

Part 1 - Part 2 - Part 3 - Part 4 - Part 5


  1. Joel,

    This has been a great series! Thank you! I've noticed a couple of responses when people find that their lives do demonstrate the love that Jesus commanded. They either try harder, or they admit the possibility and trust God's grace and the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. Thank you for pointing us to grace.


  2. Great great stuff! I wholeheartedly agree (though I'm reading backwards and I probably shouldn't hehe). As soon as I get around to it I'll be putting up a link to you if you don't mind.

    You have done an excellent job explaining law and the commands of Jesus and how it all relates--or doesn't--to us as believers.

  3. Alan,

    I used to be the one who would "try harder," and I had a few seeming victories here and there - but it was mostly a life of defeat in trying to fulfill all the "stuff" of the Christian life. I still find myself going back to "trying" sometimes, but as I give myself over to allowing the Holy Spirit to work in and through me, I find "victory" like I would never have known otherwise. And then it becomes more and more true, that the "glory" is God's, and not my own, since it's His work all along. :)

  4. Jul,

    You're cheating by reading it backwards! You're getting to my point before you give me a chance to actually build it. :)

  5. Joel--

    This was a great series. I spent so long in the 'try harder' mode and it is EXHAUSTING. I see that when I grasp that all that I am, my standing before God, everything I do that is worth doing-- is a gift from God, in fact, a work of God, and cannot be earned, it finally frees me to truly love.
    Kathy J

  6. Joel,

    I hope many are able to read your series of posts. Remembering my younger days I can identify with the hopelessness, and defeat you say you experienced.

    God bless,

  7. Amen Kathy! God prepared the works beforehand, that we should walk in them, by His grace. :) Trying harder is like walking backwards on an escalator. Hehe. You sure get a workout but you don't get anywhere!

  8. Aussie John,

    Hopelessness and defeat sure aren't what life in Christ is meant to be, is it? :) I truly hope and pray for Christians who are struggling (or even who think they're doing OK!), to come to understand and experience the fullness and power of grace, as "faith works in them through love."