Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Red Letters - of death and condemnation!

I'm assuming everyone knows what a "Red Letter" edition of a Bible is. It's where the words of Jesus are printed in the color red (representing His blood). Fascinating words, are they not, those words in red? They're the very words of Christ, right? And so it's all about how to live the Christian life then, right? After all, He's the Messiah! And whatever words the Messiah spoke, we just do it and we're on the right path, right?

Let's back up just a bit and look at something else. Actually, let's look "ahead" to Paul's writings, which of course were written years after Jesus' death and resurrection. He says some interesting things that have helped me to see a lot clearer when it comes to some of the words of Jesus. Regarding God's law, Paul called it "the ministry of death" and "the ministry of condemnation" (see 2 Cor 3:7-11). Paul talked much about the purpose of the law. It was a "tutor" to lead TO Christ, but once faith has come, the tutor's (law's) job is done and we are no longer under it (Gal 3:24-25). And the key verse that turned my thinking upside down in such a way in which I can never go back is Romans 3:19, "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 become guilty before God."

The law was meant from the beginning to be the ministry of death and condemnation. It was not meant as a source of life, but of death. It was not meant as a way to live a godly and holy life, but rather through it we died and were then made alive together with Christ (Gal 2:19-20). Its purpose was to speak to those who were under it, stopping their mouths and making them guilty! All of this is important, but I want to focus on that one phrase, "that every mouth may be stopped."

Now that we know what the law's purpose was, we can look back and see how Jesus used the law when speaking to people. They didn't have Paul's epistles, and Jesus was very clever and skillful with His use of the law, so we're very fortunate today to have Paul's epistles to understand all of this! Let me give a few examples of what I'm talking about.

In Jesus' encounter with the rich young ruler (Luke 18:18-23), the man asked Him, "What shall I do to inherit eternal life?" Now, we know through Paul's epistles that we cannot obtain eternal life through keeping the law, right? But yet Jesus answered the man, "You know the commandments, 'Do not commit adultery,' 'Do not murder,' 'Do not steal,' 'Do not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother.'" Huh? And what about this - Another time "a certain lawyer" asked Jesus the same question (Luke 10:25-37). Again, two commandments came up. "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind," and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Jesus replied to the man, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live." Again, I say, "Huh?" Paul said in Gal 3:21 that there is NO LAW that can give life!

But if we put all of this together I think we get the bigger picture. The law was meant to make everyone guilty and it was meant to stop mouths! Jesus used the law perfectly with these two men, and He used it perfectly and skillfully elsewhere as well. Follow the "certain lawyer" story all the way, and the man sought to "justify himself" by probing Jesus a little bit further about the meaning of those laws, and Jesus told him the parable of the Good Samaritan. We've often looked at this parable as a "Christian teaching," but look, it was spoken as an answer to this man who was seeking to justify himself! It was a mouth-stopping parable! "My neighbor" is EVERYONE, including my worst enemies.

Keep all of this in mind when reading the "Red Letters" (the words of Jesus). Very often it's not a "Christian teaching" that He's giving, but rather it's the ministry of death and condemnation! But you say, "Joel, Jesus didn't come to condemn, but to save!!!" And you're very correct! The thing is, often it takes a mouth-stopping, guilt producing word to bring people to the end of themselves and their self-reliance, and their trust in their own works, and that acts as a tutor that leads to faith and salvation!


  1. This post is good timing - coincidence?? I think it's great to revisit this again and again, cause so many Christians do not understand how to rightly divide the Word. I never did. Although as a young christian I read Jesus words and never really thought about how they apply to me - honest, I just had no clue what to do with my bible, I just read it cause that's what Christians did.

  2. Lydia... I agree, this needs to be revisited over and over again! The Bible is not necessarily hard to understand. It's just that the two covenants need to be separated and understood for their true times and purposes, and then we can clear our heads about the one covenant that matters!

  3. You know Wayne Duncan wrote a book on this very thing, 'How to read the Bible in context.' I wonder if he ever got it published.........I did get the chance to read some of it, before I lost it forever somewhere in Hong Kong, and it was great - A book Christians across the globe need to read!!!

  4. I recall a few times I saw him mention writing that book, and also getting ready to preach on it as well. Would be interesting to know if he ever got it published. It's definitely stuff the church needs to know!

  5. I will inquire with Wayno on his book...........and let ya'll know what I find out!!

    Have you read any good books lately? I just gobbled up Andrew Farley's "The Naked Gospel" in 24 hours, it was that delicious!!!!

  6. great stuff Joel, Thank, I need things like this :-)

  7. Thanks for the comments everyone. :) Ron, I'm glad this was a help to you. Lydia, I look forward to hearing about Wayno and his book.

    I first saw Matthew talking about The Naked Gospel a while back. Looks like it's one that needs to be read!

  8. Yup, Matthew made a good find indeed!! Thanks MATT!!!! Oh and I just noticed Steve McVey mentioned the book too!!

  9. I haven't read the Naked Gospel, however, if you go to http://ecclesiaonline.com/ which is Andrew Farley's "ecclesia, church without religion" website. And under media center select "Audio Series" then scroll down and select "The Naked Gospel Series" you get the 7 part original sermons on it. We have been listening to them and they are great. Just thought we would pass it along.

  10. Thanks, I'll do that! I've seen lots of people talking about it lately but I haven't really looked into it in the way that I really want to.

  11. Heather Lynne9/02/2009 9:45 AM

    You can download a free copy of the book "The Naked Gospel" on www.thenakedgospel.com. There is a quiz that you can take - that I'm sure everyone here would get 100%. Unfortunately, my children only got 50% - so I told them I was sorry for teaching them wrong doctrine and we are reading the book together and discussing it - it is a book that could easily be used in a group study. Easy read - grounded in scripture - not quite as "Spirit" as DTR - but written from and to an evangelical mind-set.

  12. Thanks Heather! I downloaded the book the other day from a different link, so I didn't see the quiz. I'll go take a look at it. Could be a good thing for my kids as well, and helpful in me discussing the gospel with them.

    Just saw on Andrew Farley's Facebook that his wife will be on the O'Reilly Factor tonight on FoxNews.

  13. Joel the quiz is kind of in the early part of the book...........

  14. Thanks Lydster Sister. I haven't started reading the book yet, so now I know I'll be able to see the quiz there. Too many good books on my plate! I've gotten a lot of the way through The Rest of the Gospel that you sent me. I'll be getting it back to you soon. :) I start books and hardly ever finish them. It's definitely not because they're bad books! It's me. I have a short attention span when it comes to reading, and I have a hard time reading a lot at one sitting, so I eventually "lose the plot" of a book, as they say... LOL.

    Leonard sent me The God's Honest Truth by Darin Hufford. My dad sent me a book that is waaay out of the norm of anything I'd read. It's a book about the meth problem in a town near here. I started on that book, and it's actually very readable, but again - my attention span... lol...

    Actually I always have about 3 or 4 unfinished books around the house.

    My best way of learning/digesting things is through listening I guess, and I think it's evolved that way through my job, where I'm out on the road for a few hours every day. It's so much easier for me to put teachings on my mp3 player and listen while I'm driving. Anyway... I got way off here... :)

  15. Aaaaaaah I just typed up a long comment and it didn't work!! Dang!!

    So Joelster, I hear you on the book reading thing. I myself have several books on the docket and I get ADD when I read. However, I am finding it much easier to read great grace books than reading all those assigned books under the 'ministry of death'. And I get to pick the books I want to read now! Haha :)
    I thought 'The Rest of the Gospel' was pretty meaty (or at least I did when I read it) it took me a LONG time to read and muscle my way through it!
    Initially on my grace journey I listened to a ton of preaching and that seemed to be the best way for me to retain. But now unfortunately I don't get the chance as often, unless I am at the gym, and for awhile I couldn't get into the preaching, more recently that is, I just haven't found the kind of messages that stir me. What have you been listening to lately? Any recommendations? Free ones?
    I truly love what I learn and all the fresh perspectives I get from reading all these wonderful grace books! One day I am hoping one of them will be YOURS!!
    Peace to you bro!!

  16. Ooh, I hate it when I type something - especially when it's long - and it doesn't go through! Aargh! I've gotten into the habit of copying what I wrote before I hit Post Comment, just because it happens TOO often!

    Lately I've been listening to Paul Anderson-Walsh's "Pathway Course" mp3's. (Available for free by clicking here). I've also just begun to listen to the Transition series from Wayne Jacobsen. I don't agree with "all" that he says, but he gives you permission to not agree, at the beginning of the talks... LOL. :) On occasion I listen to The God Journey as well.

    That's just a sample of some of the stuff I've been listening to lately. Being out on the road for several hours at a time, I listen to a variety of stuff, from various music stations to talk radio to various stuff on my mp3 player... and often I also just listen to the silence. :)

  17. yeah and why does it always take me two tries to get my comments published on here (and on Jamie's) - oy!!! No, but really it's still worth it, hee hee!
    Hey thanks for the referral to Paul's messages I listened to one today as I fell asleep - oops, no but really it was great and I LOVE Paul Walsh's preaching. He makes me think and go 'AHA' a lot!!
    I just got the cds from the 'Radical Sonship' conference that you all went to - those are GREAT!!!