A Second Helping of Grace

I’ve given up on trying to paraphrase a letter I wrote today regarding some of what I’ve been learning, so I’m just going to put it down like I said it the first time and revise from there. This is what I have been learning today.

Romans 3:31 was brought to my attention today:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”

We know that Paul declares that the law is good; it is just and right. But what about righteousness by faith? Where does law fit with a new covenant that does away with the ten commandments?

God showed the Israelites his character through teaching them the ten commandments. The law is good, and perfect – it is God’s character, after all, and James shows us the importance of the law, but reminds us that keeping God’s law (works) is a result of faith, (James 2:14-26) and that you can’t see faith in action without the action. John, too, declared the importance of the law, but explained that all the law and character of God culminates into one commandment for us – belief in the name of Jesus Christ, and love to others (1 John 3:23).

Under the old covenant we were in bondage to the law; the ten commandments were the very terms of the old covenant. Paul, however, declares that under the new covenant our salvation is not based on obeying the law we’ll get to that now, as well as Romans 3:31.

Take a look at Romans 3:27 and read on down to verse 31 to get a little more context here:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 31 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

– Romans 3:27-31

Notice as an aside that in the New King James (the above is from the NLT) Paul notes two laws, the law of works which we cannot boast in for our salvation, and the law of faith, which we can boast in (boasting in the saving power of Jesus). And how is the law established by faith? Faith working through love (Galatians 5:6b – … What is important is faith expressing itself in love”). Then could we not say that the law of faith is, as John put God’s command, “That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23)

God’s character hasn’t changed, and that is why Paul declares that the law is good. But let’s go back to Galatians 5:16-26 briefly.

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

– Galatians 5:16-26

We’re called to allow the Spirit of God to work in us, and it is the Spirit of God which aligns our lives with the character of God (of course, because the Spirit of God is God, after all). In verse 16 Paul calls us to walk in the Spirit, explaining in verse 17 that the sinful nature and the Spirit of God are complete opposites, and unless we walk in the Spirit of God, we won’t ever be able to live the good ways that we wish to. But then Paul makes this statement in verse 18 – that if we walk in the Spirit, we are no longer under the law. So as important as the law is, it is ONLY important because it is the character of God. When the Spirit of God lives in us, the written law is no longer necessary, because all the lusts of the flesh that kept us from entering God’s kingdom before (verse 19-21) are the fruits of our sinful spirit, but the Spirit of God living in us produces fruits (verse 22-23) in alignment with the nature and character of God. And we know that the fruits of the Spirit do not go against the character of God, because Paul tells us there is no law against them.

Going back the 1 John 3, we find that John confirms this in verses 4-6:

Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.

This is from the NLT, but I prefer the language in the New King James:

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

Sin is lawlessness, and the law is God’s character. But the way out of sin isn’t by keeping the law of works (e.g.: keeping the ten commandments perfectly), as Paul said; the way out of sin is an indwelling of the Spirit of God, as John stated in verse 6, “Whoever abides in Him [Jesus] does not sin.” It isn’t that we stop sinning in order to abide in Jesus, in order to live by the Spirit and have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but we abide in Jesus (believe in His name and love others 1 John 3:23) and live by and walk in the Spirit so that we can be sinless. It’s Jesus, after all, that cuts away our sinful nature. And recalling that sin is lawlessness, abiding in Jesus and living/walking in the Spirit fulfills the law without our having to keep it. Lawlessness is the natural result of sin (separation from God); lawfulness is the natural result of abiding in Jesus.

Spirit of God does not live in us to merely enable us to keep the law and produce the fruit; the fruit we produce is no good! But Paul is talking about something much greater, he’s talking about the Spirit of God doing it all; it is the Holy Spirit alone who brings the change in our life from sinful, lawless nature to Godly nature, and that is how the law – God’s character, really – fits into grace.

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Gifts and Fruits

(context: Galatians 5)

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

           – Galatians 5:16-26

I am a rock-star.

I’ve known it for quite some time, though I rarely, if ever, thought it.

I’m also a dancer. I’m moved by rhythms and vibrations. It’s just “Me”.

I wanted to say “And primarily I’m…” But whatever would follow that statement I probably would later revoke as a lie, because my immediate response to realizing my giftings and passions is to shut them right down again, usually with something along the lines of “There are much more important things to do than dance around like a fool.”

I’m not putting my paper heart out on my sleeve. But neither am I bragging. I recently heard someone declare openly what their giftings were, and my first response was something along the lines of “Please. How arrogant can you get?” But my mind didn’t stop there, because my second thought was, “Well, why not?”

The reality of my life is, those closest to me don’t really know my deep passions. They don’t know what makes my heart beat, what fills my lungs in every breath. They don’t know because I have never found the courage to trust them with things so deeply ingrained in me. My heart says “Just let it out, express yourself!” My mind says, “They won’t understand what it means to me, they won’t respect the significance of my passions,” or flat out, “They won’t care.”

I take myself too seriously. It is the most crippling of my disabilities, because I do not allow the Spirit the freedom to express Himself throughin or to me.

It’s all well and good when Christ has set me free by spiritually cutting off my sinful nature of Galatians 5:19-21, but I make the work of Christ no benefit to me by denying and disallowing the working of the Spirit of Galatians 5:22-23 that keeps me free. Ignoring Paul’s exhortations of Galatians 5:1 to not fall back under bondage to the law, I condemn the fruits of the Spirit before they even begin to ripen in me.

I’ve been largely silent here for some weeks; I spent some time pouring over the epistle of James and my faith has been tested, challenged, and developed. I’d like to say I’ve been taking time off to ponder James, but that wouldn’t be consciously true; my life virtually shut down for a while and I’ve been reduced to a state of basic function. I’ve had to realize again and still again that all my knowledge, wisdom, abilities and strengths are nothing, and if I rely on them I cannot be any greater or more functional in the Kingdom of God than they are. If I do not allow the power of the Spirit to abide in and work throughout my life, I will continue to live under the law and my own sinful nature.

You might be wondering where the passions I was talking about fit into this. You’re not alone; I’m wondering too.

I think I got it backwards, or turned around. Actually, I’m not sure how I got it, because I stepped away and lost the train of thought I had when I wrote that opening sentence. So here it is straight: my deep inner passions are not the moving of the Spirit in me, but my response to the moving of the Spirit in me. The passions of my heart are a personal strain of worship of the Lord of Lords. When I deny my passions, I deny the outcry of my heart in revere of God. These  passions I’ve had ingrained in me from the very beginning, then, are not the fruit, they are my response. I’ve recently been pondering worship, and it fits now, just what worship is really about, and how it takes shape in my own life. I’ll leave a fuller explanation of this realization for a later post, but I now have a fuller picture of what it means to be a worship leader.

Fruit of the Spirit

In light of my last post, while I was searching through my old blog looking for something entirely different, I stumbled across the post in which I recounted the story originally of what God taught me about his purity, back in April of 2011. You can read the whole post here, but here’s the original story:

A week or so ago God spoke to me about purity. As some of you know I have struggled a very long time in the area of purity. This particular day I was feeling quite discouraged, having just fallen down under my own burden of sin, and I was talking to myself, beating myself up over this incident. But then God told me something quite clearly and it was this: “I don’t want you to be pure for Me; I want to be Pure for you.”

I’m reminded once again that no longer do I have to struggle on my own; quite the opposite! Christ has now stepped in; it isn’t about me, it’s all about him and what he did for me! My works won’t and can’t earn my righteousness, but the good things I now do are because the Spirit of God lives in me, because God has written his laws in my heart and on my mind. So then the good things I do are not really my works but the works of the Spirit of God in me. I love Paul’s admonition to the Galatians to allow the Holy Spirit to guide their lives:

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another. 

                                                                          – Galatians 5:16-25

So when we allow the Holy Spirit to guide our lives, we no longer have need of the old system, the law, and we are no longer under the law when the Holy Spirit is in us. And we no longer have to worry, because when we allow the Holy Spirit to live in us, he produces goodness within us. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. And it isn’t really like I learned it under the Adventist system of thinking, that these “fruits of the spirit” were something I had to achieve, no! Paul is very clear in verse 22: “But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives” AMEN! It isn’t even my responsibility to live right anymore if the Holy Spirit lives in me! And that brings me back to what God said to me: “I don’t want you to be pure for Me; I want to be Pure for you.” 

None of my effort or strength comes anywhere near to God’s matchless all-powerfulness. None of my attempts toward purity or righteousness compare at all to Christ’s robe of righteousness which he has wrapped around me. Nothing could ever be more complete or perfect than what Jesus did that day some two thousand years ago on the cross – what the Holy Spirit now does right within me. And I can only wonder: how could anyone not accept such an unmatched, priceless gift?

P.S.: I’ve been studying lately about the Sabbath of the new covenant; I’ll be writing more on that very soon.