Freedom Like You’ve Never Heard Before

liberty

21 Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. 25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

                                                                                                           – James 1:21-25

I found this in James earlier this week, and something caught my eye. At first it was the word perfect, but then I looked at liberty and all but forgot perfect. But first, why  don’t you go ahead and read the first two chapters of James so you have some context to what we’ll be talking about today.

The word in the original Greek text (Strongs G1657 – click on the word for a lexicon entry) is ἐλευθερία–or for those of you who don’t actually read Greek it transliterates to eleutheria – it translates to “liberty” all of the 11 times it is used in the New Testament. The image above is the entry in Thayer’s Greek Lexicon for this word, and I’ll tell you why liberty excites me so much.

The first and lengthier entry follows so:

a. liberty to do or to omit things having no relation to salvation (1 Cor 10:29); from the yoke of the Mosaic law, (Gal 2:4; 5:1,13; 1 Pet 2:16) from Jewish errors so blinding the mental vision that it does not discern the majesty of Christ, (2 Cor 3:17) freedom from the dominion of corrupt desires, so that we do by the free impulse of the soul what the will of God requires … i.e. the Christian religion, which furnishes that rule of right living by which the liberty just mentioned is attained, (Jas 1:25; 2:12) freedom from the restraints and miseries of earthly frailty … manifested in the glorious condition of the future life, (Rom 8:21)

The second, and much shorter entry is simply:

b. fancied liberty, i.e. license, the liberty to do as one pleases, (2 Pet 2:19)

Now let’s take this new concept of liberty back to the context and see what James was talking about. Take a look back at James 1:25 again:

25 But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does.

Perfect law of liberty. The reason this phrase piqued my interest at all in the first place is because until now I’d believed James to be quite traditional, and here we have a law, right in the middle of James’ letter clung to by traditional thinkers for his pro-works message, but it doesn’t sound very traditional! He appears to be saying that people who do whatever they want–even if they put aside every scripture unrelated to salvation–and simply follow their desires, are blessed.

Wait a minute. You might say. Who’s gonna keep them in line?

Well, let me introduce you to something–rather Someone–John the Beloved calls The Word:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through Him, and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend[a] it. – John 1:1-5

Verses 14-18 go on to declare:

14 And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth.

15 John [the Baptist] bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, “This was He of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.’”

16 And[e] of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.18 No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son,[f] who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him.

From this–not to mention the rest of the book of John–we know that Jesus is the Word become flesh and Jesus the logos–the very spoken word of God–declares the Father. So what does James say about this Word? Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. (1:21) but it’s not enough to just hear. It’s not enough to sit through church every week–it’s not even the same! 

22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; 24 for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. (1:22-24)

I can just hear the urgency–but be DOERs of Jesus, not just HEARERs; you’re just fooling yourself otherwise; you have no sense of your identity outside of Christ. And the method? Looking into the perfect law of liberty and continuing in it. The real question now is what is the perfect law of liberty and how do we do it? If I were to put what I’ve learned so far into a basic statement I would say that the law of liberty can be summed up as simply being true to our desire; does that sound like the life of a Jesus-doer? I believe it is, so much so that I would say it is the crux of living in the New Covenant.

Does it still seem like there’s a missing piece to the puzzle–like how we are going to keep people on the straight and narrow with a law that lets them do whatever they want? You’re right, but it’s not like that. If you still think there’s something missing, or that this law sounds like chaos, you may not have understood the gospel or what Christ did on the cross. Colossians 2 says this:

Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ. For in Him [Christ] dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily; 10 and you are complete in Him, who is the head of all principality and power. 11 In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins[c] of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, 12 buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.13 And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, 14 having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 15 Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.16 So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, 17 which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. (2:8-17)

The New Covenant’s life in Christ involves total transformation; you can’t enter into the law of liberty without being cut off from your old self and implanted, as James says, with Jesus’ spirit. Salvation is of utmost importance to liberty because salvation produces liberty. There would be no good desire in us unless Christ cut our sinful nature away. And with the Spirit of God in us, there is no longer need for that old covenant system of doing things, because as Galatians 5 declares, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness and self-control. It should never be a bad thing for people full of the Spirit to do whatever they desire, because what they desire is what God desires. I believe we continue in the law of liberty, the new covenant law of love, by remaining true to His desire in us, and following His voice.

The perfect law of liberty, salvation and the new covenant–it’s all about freedom: freedom not to be used as a pretext to get away with doing wrong, but freedom to be who we were created to be. Scandalous freedom to do whatever we desire. Freedom to do what all true believers desire: the will of our Father.

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Martha, Martha

38 Now it happened as they went that He entered a certain village; and a certain woman named Martha welcomed Him into her house. 39 And she had a sister called Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. 40 But Martha was distracted with much serving, and she approached Him and said, “Lord, do You not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Therefore tell her to help me.”

41 And Jesus answered and said to her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. 42 But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

– Luke 10:38-42

 

Martha, Martha…

Just a quick question. When did working in the kitchen become more important than sitting at the feet of Jesus?

Let me ask something else: when did so many Christians forget Jesus’ words to Martha, the dear sister saint stressing out over dinner plans for thirteen while the feeder of 10,000+ was relaxing in her living room? When did we start praising the worker and reproaching our younger sister whose first priority is to rest at the feet of Jesus?

I’m speaking to the religious, to those who would tell us that in the economy of mercy and redemption our efforts matter. Because even after you understand that God has given salvation purely out of grace, serving Jesus dinner is still a temptation. It’s still an easy temptation to think that me doing things for Jesus is more important than him doing things for me. 

As if it were me that provided Jesus with salvation.

I mean, I can totally understand where Martha was coming from; 13+ people show up at my house for dinner and I’d be off the wall. She got stressed out–and who can blame her? She had all the societal perception and mentality of a Jewish woman of the time; society’s values placed her in the kitchen getting food for a bunch of hungry young men. And don’t you think Mary had the same pressure? Imagine the boldness it took to go against that grain just to sit and listen to Jesus.

So Martha comes in all in a huff like so many dear Christians who’ve been slaving away in their own kitchens, looks at Mary, looks at Jesus,

“Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone?”

Jesus just smiles tenderly, of course he knows how flustered Martha is right now–anyone could, much less Jesus,

“Martha, Martha…”

The NLT says, “My dear Martha…”

you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

Just one thing. “I don’t need a big dinner,” he says, “let Me feed you.”

We can get so caught up worrying about what we need to do–what we need to fix, self-improvement, what we’re going to do for Jesus…

One thing is needed.

It isn’t service. It isn’t saving souls. It isn’t working to become a better person. It’s sitting at the feet of Jesus.

“…Mary, who also sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word.”

That’s all we’ve got to go on in regards to what Mary did that was so relevant to Jesus. She sat at his feet and heard His word. And we’re so caught up in this generation on being relevant in what we do. The only thing relevant to Jesus is to sit at his feet and hear his word. Abide. But servitude? When did we start thinking that Jesus needed us? Jesus could’ve made his own food…out of rocks if he’d so needed–the devil was quick enough to point that one out from the start. I’m willing to bet that Jesus thoroughly enjoyed both Martha and the dinner she made, but Jesus didn’t need it. If Martha had sat down with Mary and just listened to Jesus…

What do you think would happen if you sat down and just listened to Jesus? What if you just let yourself rest in him? What if you stopped whining to Jesus about your younger sister enamouring in the finished work of the risen saviour, and joined her? What if you trusted Jesus enough that you could just come out of the kitchen, and be less concerned about what you could do for Jesus and more concerned about what He could do for and through you if you just stopped and let him?

Just sit down and listen to his word.

Stop trying to feed–supplement, assist, provide for, etc.–Jesus. Challenge the norms your culture and Christian/Church culture have laid out for you and know that the only thing relevant to Jesus, is you, at his feet, soaking up every single word. Man doesn’t live just on eating bread, but on eating every word that comes from the mouth God. Because we’ve all got the Bible, but the only way you’re going to have opportunity to hear God speak, is if you stop long enough to come out of the kitchen and just listen.

From Works to Warfare

A police woman came to my door this morning.

It was around 4:15 AM. She was looking for a young woman whom, according to her friend, was attempting suicide. I confirmed the name and gave her a key to the room. Minutes later the phone rang; it was the young woman who had reported the attempt to 9-1-1 – she asked if her friend was there and what room and I explained that yes, she was here and that police had already arrived. She waited on the phone till 9-1-1 called back to let her know that the police had found her friend in the room and called for the ambulance. There was more than worry in her voice, there was fear.

I’ve been trying to put this into words all week: the “works” system is so shallow. And I’ll tell you something. “Works” just aren’t going to cut it.

I, the LORD, have called You in righteousness,
And will hold Your hand;
I will keep You and give You as a covenant to the people,
As a light to the Gentiles,

To open blind eyes,
To bring out prisoners from the prison,
Those who sit in darkness from the prison house.

                            – Isaiah 42:7

The truth is…

The Father (because let’s not forget that God was Jesus’ Daddy, first) didn’t call Jesus to a life of works–and let’s not forget that Jesus spent his first 30-some years learning the works thing. And how much do you want to bet he understood a lot better than we have how every aspect of the ceremony pointed right to him at that very point in history?

But when Jesus walked into that synagogue on the exact day that Isaiah 61 was next in line for the reading, he didn’t declare a mission of works, mundane prayers and devotion. He said,

The Spirit of the Lord GOD is upon Me, 
Because the LORD has anointed Me
To preach good tidings to the poor;
He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted,
To proclaim liberty to the captives,
And the opening of the prison to those who are bound;

To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD,

                                 – Isaiah 61:1-2a

And then he closed the book.

Preach good things to the poor, heal the broken-hearted, proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those who are bound. I don’t know about you but that doesn’t sound like “read your Bible, pray every day” to me. And don’t get me wrong, Jesus had to know his scripture! It was the written word of God that Jesus used when he was tempted by the devil, and it was fine-print details in the written word of God that he pointed the Pharisees to in order to leave them completely speechless. Jesus didn’t skip out on his Torah lessons. But when the time came, he left home. They didn’t exactly have any Gideons’ pocket edition scrolls for him back then, but Jesus didn’t need it, because what living came down to wasn’t a written understanding of his father, it was a living, breathing relationship; it was real-time and it was actual.

Preach good things to the poor. Heal the broken-hearted. Proclaim liberty to the captives and the opening of the prison to those bound inside.

I’m coming to the realization that everything I learned from my “Church Culture,” was nothing but selfish pursuits. First, to work my own way to God – for myself, by myself. And then, once I’ve arrived (I could have never arrived, and the only one who ever has was Jesus) to “save” others and give them their commission of works so that they can get to God, too (because I get the referral bonus for each and every one of the poor souls). I’m trying to make it obvious but think about it: religion is purely selfish.

Because the kind of compassion it would take to intervene for someone as broken as to try to take their own life–the works system didn’t teach me that… Even though the outward premises of a system of works might sound like it’s about having compassion for the broken, it’s only about mechanical compassion–doing “good things” not out of a revelation of the Father’s love but out of a sense of duty and false promises of entitlement.

We’ve got to get out of this works system, because the only thing it’s teaching us is how to be justifiably passive. Because if you can feel completely accomplished because you think you do everything right, and the only reason you have to do anything is to feel that accomplishment, then why does compassion for the broken-hearted and the captive even need to come into play? Do you see how dangerous this system of thinking is yet? The kingdom is here and it doesn’t need more workers, the kingdom needs warriors to bring back the POWs because no matter how defeated the enemy is he’ll still hold captives till someone breaks them free. Are you hearing me yet?

The church has been so shallowly involved in the gospel. The reason that resting in Jesus is so important, is because he gave us back dominion of the earth, and that’s a big job to fill, and there’s still an enemy out there. And the church has been duped into passivity through works; Church, stop trying to get to God! Stop trying to “arrive”. Jesus died so that God could get to you! 

He has arrived.

Church, the only work left for you to do, is to let your roots grow down into Jesus Christ, and let your lives be built on him; 

And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ. For in Christ lives all the fullness of God in a human body. So you also are complete through your union with Christ, who is the head over every ruler and authority. 

                       – Colossians 2:6-10

For Those I’ve Left Behind

Close to two years ago I spoke in front of my now previous church. I shared a dream I’d had some time prior, and a vision. I spoke from my heart about the generational divide that church had been experiencing for some time and the response I received was phenomenal. But my question today is, what happened? What happened to my vision of a united body of Christ? And what happened to the seed that I scattered? Did any of it make it to good soil, or did it fall where it only withered away? Something I’ve learned is that humans cannot be entrusted to your dreams; they will fail. I’m not cynical (I don’t think) just a realist. Thank-you Father that You are faithful!

I just want to lay out a bit of my heart tonight in reflection, so if you’d rather read something educational or logical this might not be the post for you.

I know I slacked off. I phrase it in that way because 1) that’s how the voice in my head says it and 2) because saying it that way shows me the realities of the works-based strongholds still remaining in this old man. I never thought about it in this way before, but satan is continually condemning me with a works spirit, and that has been the case in these years since I gave that message. When I look back and question why it didn’t “work”, satan says, “You didn’t carry your end through..no wonder it never lasted.”

I rebuke you devil in the name of Jesus whose blood has done the work for me. Go back to your pit; Christ has granted me DOMINION over you.

But really now, why didn’t it work? Or perhaps I should ask, why did nothing appear to change? Because being led by the Spirit, anything I step out in faith to do works, because He works. We’re getting really deep into the works here but just bear with me (and no puns intended!). So I can assume that because I followed the promptings of the Spirit, the purpose was complete, and the outcome is in His hands because that is where I left it.

But what those who heard that message that day don’t know, especially considering my recent departure from them, is that my heart still has a place with an ache for them. And it only became stronger the more truth I learned, the more I allowed the love of Christ to love them through me.

This, I suppose, is why I wonder at all in the first place what became of those seeds that I scattered there.

The nature of that system was that it never really took much to scrape through the superficial surface and start dealing with root issues, because people are always real people – you just have to go deep enough. But deeper was rarely an initiative, because deeper means change, eventual discomfort, vulnerability… oh that they could have the heart for themselves as I do now. Oh that they could have the courage to step outside of the mold and feel the vulnerability and the discomfort–and the life more abundant–that cannot reach them in their doctrinal coffins.

Because they have many fundamentals to wrap around themselves to keep the unpredictable, uncontainable wind of the Spirit out, but Christ only required two: “Believe in Me, and love everyone the way I love you.”

Oh if they could see that freedom lies beyond the fog, that following Christ is always a hardship, but never a burden.

But the flames that I saw for a moment flickering to life, they died down again. And I’ve wondered, why doesn’t such change last there? If I could only make a difference, tear a hole through the veil covering the sonlight… And that old devil comes back and whispers suggestions to me, “Well do something–oh, but you can’t do anything.” And the truth is, I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything, but I don’t need to. Because maybe there are still seeds waiting in good soil for the rain, for the Spirit to pour Himself on them. Maybe the more that I ask, intercede and agree, the more good soil those seeds will be given, and the sooner will come the rain. Maybe I’m still planting though I might not realize it. Because the truth is I can’t do anything, but the Holy Spirit can do everything.

And so I will take up that armor, it’s all I can do to put on the helmet which is salvation and the defense against my enemy’s attempts to discourage, the breastplate which is righteousness and the defense against my enemy’s attempts to dishearten, the belt of truth which upholds, the sandals which are peace, that I would go in peace wherever I go. The shield of faith, which covers all again, and finally the sword which is the Spirit, because every warrior needs a weapon to fight with. And this is when I relate with Romans 8:26, because I don’t know what to pray. Not for myself, not for my wife, not for that people on my heart, not for anything.

So Spirit, make intercession for me. I don’t know what to pray, my mind only gets in the way. But I’ll speak it and agree, if You will put it in my mouth.

Joan of Arc, Peanuts and Other Brief Musings

I just finished reading Bernard Shaw’s play “Saint Joan” based, of course, on the military movement of Joan of Arc (or Jeanne d’Arc), her trial and eventual execution as a heretic. While I don’t necessarily know what to make of Catholic theology or Joan’s saintly visitations this isn’t going to be a debate over the authenticity of her spiritual life. I do however, strongly suggest that you read Shaw’s play and perhaps do some research on her life. You can find the play over at Project Gutenberg Australia available freely as an e-book; it’s a short read and took me only a couple days to finish. (To those who know me well enough this is significant because I do not enjoy reading all that much and am not a fast reader). Personally, this book is good enough to have your own physical copy of.

I’ll put it to you straight, because that’s the way I like to hear it best: I have little doubt that God directed me to re-read this book for such a time as this. I don’t have the words now, so take a few days and read it for yourself and perhaps I will comment more fully on it later on; for now I won’t spoil the story by sharing my own experience just yet. So there’s your reading assignment for the week; look forward to another post about it and get to it!

Shifting gears now, someone recently shared a tid-bit of information regarding a man by the name of George Washington Carver. I went searching and pulled up this quote:

“When I was young, I said to God, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the universe.’ But God answered, ‘That knowledge is for me alone.’ So I said, ‘God, tell me the mystery of the peanut.’ Then God said, ‘Well George, that’s more nearly your size.’ And he told me.” -George Washington Carver

That prayer resulted in a reputed 300 new uses for peanuts discovered by Carver, revealed to him by God. Cool, right? Well the other day I asked God for my own bit of wisdom; I asked God to reveal some mysteries to me about people. Alright, so maybe I was a little more ambitious that Carver, minus the universe of course, but I’m still shy of King Solomon’s request. (I’m also shy of his calling). Anyway, however the case may be, God didn’t say it was too big. But He did say it would take a while.

Anyway, I forgot all about it till a while later when I nearly banged my hand into my bedroom wall. Instinctively I said outloud, “Ow!

And then the ensuing mental conversation went something like this:

“Why did I say that? That didn’t hurt, I barely even hit the wall!”

It was purely monologue.

And then a thought came to me. In many (probably mundane) instances such as this, I respond before I even have time to think. That isn’t the first time I’ve instinctively said “Ow,” before something hurt, even when it didn’t end up hurting all that much. Huh. Interesting. And then the thought followed through – people respond before they even have time to think. Just think about that.

Alright, so maybe you’re not catching the revelation like I did because God didn’t whisper in your ear, “See? You’re learning mysteries already,” directly afterwards. That’s okay, because it was for me.

But think about this. People respond to things before they even have time to think. We’re so practiced up that it just comes naturally. Sometimes before anything even happens. I was about to say that’s not always bad, but I changed my mind; I think it is always bad. No, it isn’t dangerous to be conditioned to something good, but think about it. I’m still fighting my way out of a performance conditioning–the idea that how well I perform before God matters. It’s Law-based and it’s some dangerous conditioning. Conditioning is at its heart, numbing. We label every situation and circumstance and file it, neatly referenced to what we believe is the appropriate response. But if your filing cabinet is anything like mine, it doesn’t stay organized without constant reevaluation.

The problem with conditioning is that we’re open-minded people–that is, so open-minded that the categorizations we make for our replay-responses become generalized. “Oh, I’ve experienced something like this before, this must be the appropriate response,” followed by a new file in the cabinet under the heading “Bad Reactions, [A-H]”. Our most hardened defenses begin to leap out regularly at any innocent passer-by simply because they looked at us a certain way. We begin simply accepting wrong ideas from others simply because we are trained to accept ideas from sources A B and C but not D. But the reality is that every moment is new, requiring a new response. But with so much reevaluation required to make our conditioning realistic to a world continually spinning, is it worth being conditioned any more?

I came from a system where people were conditioned to accept just about anything as truth if it came from an authoritative figure. No questions asked–and how dare you challenge your elders, they obviously know more than you because they’ve lived longer.

Unless they’ve lived longer under a system of false conditioning.

Because now the system gives authority to people above Biblical truth–or at the very least it gives people the authority to make what they will of the Bible so that it agrees with them instead of the other way around. That’s some dangerous conditioning, because that conditioning is costing them the gospel of grace. So I hit my hand against the wall. But contrary to my conditioning, it didn’t really hurt.

Because do you know what is at the core of conditioning? Wrong believing.

If we let our conditioning lead us, it will feed us a false reality, and we will–even to our own shame and demise–believe it.

Covenants: Revisiting Jesus

There is one point that those teaching old-covenant Law with new-covenant faith (or pseudo-covenant as I like to call it) always come back to, and one which has been the near-forced subject of several discussions I’ve been watching. Sabbath-keeping. Does New Covenant belief continue to observe nine commandments and toss out the sabbath law? Or are all New-Covenant believers liars, cheats, murderers, adulterers, idolaters, rebellious, etc. etc… The sabbath is under attack as they say; not from us, but from their poor understanding of the Word of God.

I’ve heard some argue for the sabbath day by saying that God instituted it at creation, so even if the other nine are done away with as Paul continually preached, the sabbath must still be in effect. Alternatively I’ve heard it argued (and often from the same lips that said the Sabbath was separate from the law) that God gave Adam and Eve the Law–the ten commandments–at the Fall. I haven’t read that anywhere in my Bible and till I do I won’t uphold that belief. At the Fall Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong because they had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In essence, the tree had the same purpose as the Law, but God didn’t hand the ten commandments over to them when He evicted them from the garden. So here’s the question to jump-start our conversation today:

When did Sabbath begin?

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts and to individuals on occasion, the Hebrew word translated as “Sabbath” doesn’t show up in the Old Testament till the Israelites are picking manna in the wilderness. But that’s not a good enough starting point. We have to go back to the beginning, 6 days after God said “Let there be light.” Everyone knows that God rested on the seventh day, and He made it holy. That’s in Genesis 2:2-3:

[2] And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. [3] Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.  – Genesis 2:3 [NKJV]

But notice something: God didn’t call the seventh day “Sabbath,” the only thing He did was blessed the day and sanctified it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discrediting or undermining what God did here. But this wasn’t an institution of the sabbath day–Adam and Eve didn’t need a sabbath day anyway; God was readily available to them at any moment of any day before the Fall; He created them to live in communion with Him and that is what they had available to them.

So where did this sabbath thing get started? If you’ll remember my previous post, Jesus Christ, Our Sabbath Rest, the Bible first mentions Sabbath in Exodus 16:23-29. You may want to return to that post to refresh on the earliest mentions of the sabbath in the Bible. The second place the sabbath is mentioned is in Exodus 20 when God dishes out the Old Covenant to the Children of Israel (that’s the guy that used to be Jacob).

The thing is, God didn’t make the seventh day at creation to point forward to the sabbath law, He gave the Israelites the sabbath to point back to His rest after creation. I’ll say that again: God’s day of rest after creation didn’t point forward to a sabbath law, the sabbath law pointed back to God’s day of rest–initially, as God declared to Moses in Exodus 31:17:

” ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ” [NKJV]

Further, the sabbath was a testament to God’s ability to sanctify not only a day, but an entire people, as declared in verse 13 of Exodus 31:

” ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.’ ” [NKJV]

Also notice that keeping the sabbath day was a sign between God and the Israelites – a sign of what? A sign that they continued to observe this covenant. God tied observance of the sabbath day right into the core of the Old Covenant, as He also did the ten commandments, which were not just Law, but these were the terms of the covenant.

All this should be merely overview by now if you’ve been studying and believing New Covenant.

I’ll answer the question now: I don’t keep any of the ten commandments, including the fourth one regarding the sabbath day. The Law was not meant for me–or for you.

Before you sharpen your moral pitchforks, no, that doesn’t mean I approve of killing, stealing, lying, covetousness, idolatry, adultery, disrespecting my parents, being rebellious, or any other thing you want to throw in there. Living without the Law does not mean we live lawlessly. Living under the New Covenant rather than the old simply means this: I leave the knowledge of what is good and what is evil up to God, just as Adam and Eve should have done in the garden. I don’t live under the Old Covenant Law because I have the spirit of Jesus Christ in occupation of my life, and He satisfied the requirements of that Law so that all I have to do is believe in Him. It’s as simple as the gospel which Paul and Silas shared with the jailer in Acts 16:29-31; “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved–you and your whole household!” I no longer live up to a Law system, but Christ lives in me, and His spirit produces good works in my life – this is what James was talking about when he preached faith+works, because real faith in Jesus leads to an indwelling of the Spirit of God and it is the Spirit of God which causes good works.

But what about the commands of God we see all throughout the new testament, and in the New Covenant? Again this should be review. The Old Covenant “Law” is not the same as the “commands” or “commandments” of God that we see in the New Covenant. Adam and Eve had a command from God: “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, though they did not have the ten commandments (and they were not even in a fallen state at that time). Similarly, we have commandments from God still, and we find the core of God’s commandments in the entirety of 1 John (I recommend reading this book in its entirety), and John brings it down to this:

” [22] And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. [23] And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. [24] Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. ” – 1 John 3:22-24

Golly, that’s all we need! Believe and love. And when we believe, Christ lives in and loves through us. And by the way, Jesus showed in his own life that love was the essence of everything in the Law – not that by loving we live under or keep the Law, but there is no contradiction in the New Covenant with the Old, nor is there contradiction in love with the justice of the Law; I may appear to keep the Law because the Spirit of God produces good things through my life, but I do not keep it nor do I live under it anymore.

So where does that leave the Law? Completely unnecessary. And look at it this way, if you will: the Old Covenant was given specifically to the Israelites–to Jacob’s descendants. It was given exclusively to Jacob’s descendants. God didn’t give the Old Covenant to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, or even Jacob himself, for that matter. God gave it to the Israelites camped around mount Sinai. God gave this covenant to the people who had just come out of a pagan land (Egypt) to show them how sinful they were and to show them that He alone could sanctify them; He had chosen them as a special people, and this covenant He made with them was to show them what perfect righteousness looked like – not to give them a way to enter into perfect righteousness. The whole system pointed towards Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice–Jesus’ sacrifice to sanctify them and be their perfect righteousness. But what about everyone else? Jesus made it clear that everyone could have a piece of the promise when He ministered to a gentile woman–a non-Jew. (You can find that story in Matthew 15:21-28). But the Old Covenant system was exclusive to the Jews; God only signed this contract with the leaders of Israel on mount Sinai back in Exodus 24:9-11. A new covenant had had to be made; not a change in the old system, but a brand new covenant, the agreement between God and Man that every piece of previous history pointed toward. This New Covenant included not only the Israelite people, but everyone! 

So now we get back to the New Covenant. The good news is that Jesus is and has provided everything in and of himself. He was our perfect sacrifice to fulfill the terms of the Old Covenant so that a new covenant could be made. He shed his blood and provided eternal remission of sin. He became our high priest – not under the Levitical priesthood which the Old Covenant operated by, but under the priesthood of Melchizedek – and He guarantees this New Covenant with God (Hebrews 7:15-22).

And getting back to the issue of the sabbath, remember that we learned that to the Israelites, keeping the sabbath represented sanctification by God. But in the New Covenant, Jesus represents our sanctification, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 1:3,

“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” [NKJV]

Wisdom from God. Remember what the tree in the garden of Eden was? Knowledge of good and evil. Now Jesus is not only knowledge for us but wisdom as well! That means if we have Christ in us, we can trust him to be our understanding of right and wrong, and to direct each of us accordingly. Really, it comes down to trust; do you trust Jesus enough to lead you into paths of righteousness?

And further, we find our rest in Jesus as well, as He himself declares in Matthew 11:28-29:

” [28] Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [NKJV]

Life in Christ is abiding–resting–in Christ. That’s what New Covenant is all about, because HE does it all for us.

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.

Still Striving?

I had a bit of a revelation last night.

I have invested an incredible amount of my lifetime into trying to perfect myself. Now, I’m not even talking about all I did when I was younger to impress everyone with my knowledge and ‘spirituality’, that was just a drop in the bucket. No, I’m talking about every moment since then. Even today I’m still investing an incredible amount of time into becoming perfect under my own strength.

And all I can ask myself is, why?

If I really believe everything I’ve been thinking, studying, writing and talking about, and if I really expect anyone to look at me and see evidence of the truth in my life, why am I still working to earn God’s favor? My automatic response is, of course, “Well I guess I better try harder to get this grace-lifestyle-thing down…”

I think Paul knew how I feel…

21 I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. 22 I love God’s law with all my heart. 23 But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. 24 Oh, what a miserable person I am! Who will free me from this life that is dominated by sin and death? 25 Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord. So you see how it is: In my mind I really want to obey God’s law, but because of my sinful nature I am a slave to sin.

– Romans 7:21-25

I don’t know how to stop striving. But like Paul, I can say, “Thank God! The answer is in Jesus Christ our Lord!” by grace I am made right with God, and He cuts away my sinful nature (Colossians 2:11-13). It is him that works to perfect me for his own glory. And I don’t have to work and worry to sustain anything.

 

And so, the only standard I need to hold myself to is grace. Belief and love. I don’t need to worry about all the other stuff. And so my prayer is this: “Father God, teach me your ways; I accept the work of the Holy Spirit in my life to do Your will.”

 

Living Under Grace – Realtime

This week I have been continually reminded how legalistic and pseudo-covenant my thought process and way of going about things is and has been. That’s right; I haven’t even arrived.

I began talking with an old friend again recently. It has been a number of years since we last talked, and because of a regrettable end with her, for the last several years I’d been rather afraid to speak to her. However, circumstances brought us back into contact recently, and it all came to the surface in me again. And I realized something. For the last six years I’ve been holding on to a guilty conscience. What’s more, for no reason other than my own shame. And it held me back considerably, so that when I began talking with her again, I held a fear complex, feeling as though I needed to make something of myself to be acceptable.

Of course, upon bringing all this up, she was quick to put me at ease, and I was able to put that six-year-old ghost to rest. But it really made me think; if I am under grace, why do I hold on to all these feelings of guilt over things in the past? Even things that shouldn’t be that major, that have likely long-since been forgotten by everyone else involved? The nature of grace says I don’t have to carry feelings of guilt any further than the cross and that “I forgive you, Son.”

But I do. I was brought up in such a way that I do. I learned it, though I never would have known it for what it was. Praise Jesus I am coming out of pseudo-covenant.

I was reminded this morning about something that happened a couple of years ago now. I had just failed big time and I was crying out to God. I don’t remember exactly how the conversation went down, but it was something like this:

Me: “God, I need your purity, mine’s no good…”

God: “Of course you do. It isn’t about your purity, it’s about mine.”

Whatever the discourse, God made it clear to me then and there that all I could ever do to be pure wasn’t going to be nearly enough, I needed to put on His purity.

“Wait a minute!” I wanted to say, “That can’t be right!” And although I embraced His words that day, I never really understood what He was directing me to. That’s why it was such a huge revelation to me this morning when this came to mind; because now I get it.

All I can ever do to be pure, to be righteous, to live rightly, isn’t nearly enough. I can’t do it. But that’s okay. Because when Jesus Christ died on the cross to settle my debt with God’s perfect justice, He offered me His robe of righteousness. Now He calls me righteous, and pure, because of His holy righteousness and purity.

Now, does that mean I’m licensed to do whatever I like because I’m covered with the blood of Jesus and all my sins are forgiven and forgotten? Of course not! Because under the new covenant, God has written His laws in my heart and mind. Grace is no permit to live in sin and still be called righteous; but it is the omnipotent enabler that says “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more!”

An Everlasting Covenant

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: – Jeremiah 31:31

My Grace Journey began with a revelation of grace–and what better way? I remember when I was 10 or 11, reading Paul–Galatians in particular–and getting so hung up on his doing away with the law. The law had been so central to what I had been taught to that point It just didn’t make any sense to me that Christians could live apart from the law.

Let’s go back to the beginning briefly. Not quite to the very beginning where my safe, warm world was intruded upon by a doctor performing a caesarean section, but to my days growing up in the Seventh Day Adventist belief system.

I have to hand it to my parents – by the time I came along they were getting a lot more liberal with their Adventist faith, so I was saved some confusion and Ellen G. White quotes. But that’s another story.

I was brought up into the Adventist church, and although I was baptized outside of the church, allowing me to make even further liberal choices aside from Adventism, I was not spared being taught primarily an old-covenant based belief system. That’s not to say Adventists don’t teach salvation through Jesus at the cross, but I was taught that I had to work to be good enough before I could go to Jesus. The old way of being blameless before God through the blood of sacrifices mixed with the grace of Jesus to become a faith which uses the grace of Jesus as an enabler to make one perfect through keeping the law. I call it pseudo-covenant.

I was so well-fed on this belief system that I began to do all I could to be better. It was during this period that I read the New Testament all the way through once. I competed religiously with my peers almost vehemently. At Sabbath school we often played a game in which we put all the books of the Bible in order; one day the teacher decided to stack me against the rest of the class to see who could do it fastest–one boy versus seven girls. I can’t remember now whether I was given the New or the Old Testament to do, but you better believe that I beat those girls, and I was proud.

But sin finds us all no matter how perfectly we try to perform. What would become a 9+ year addiction to pornography began. No matter how I tried to believe what I’d read in the Gospels, Romans, Hebrews and other books, that it didn’t matter anymore what I’d done, I couldn’t get it out of my mind that if I didn’t stop this, I would follow it straight into hell. I continually cried out repentance after repentance, asking for God’s mercy. I chose to be baptized out of fear in order to secure my salvation.

I had never heard the quotes from Ellen White saying that no one could be sure of salvation, and that no one should ever say they were saved. I fell in between the cracks of grace and the Adventist pseudo-covenant and embraced that I was now saved, and that perhaps now I could finally leave the chains of pornography behind me. But I was only weighted down with more–chains of fear.

All that in mind, when I finally started to “get” grace, I was overjoyed. Like David in Psalm 32:1-2 I was saying, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!”

Take a look at the first 18 verses of Hebrews 10. It is a wonderfully clear picture of the new covenant God made with us. Actually, first go back and read Hebrews 8 and 9 as well.

Hebrews 8:8-12 outlines God’s plan for a new covenant:

[8] But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. [9] This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the LORD. [10] But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. [11] And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. [12] And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

 And because God has made a new covenant, the old is done away with:

[13] When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

But the justice of God is perfect. The law demands death; therefore Jesus came to fulfill the law in his death in order that he could cancel the first covenant, and put the second covenant into effect (Hebrews 10:5-9).

And that was all that was needed. Hebrews 10:10 goes on to say that “God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” Christ offered himself as “a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time.” (verse 12) When Christ died on the cross, sin was paid for. He knew that his work was done and he cried out “It is finished!” (John 19:28,30) and he died. And when he died that perfect death of sacrifice, once for all, he put the second covenant into effect, and this is that new covenant declared by the very mouth of God: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people! And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.

The writer of Hebrews sums it up in chapter 10, verses 16 and 17 saying “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds … I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”

And suddenly everything Paul had to say makes sense! The Sinai law as part of the old covenant is fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the cross. Grace has made us righteous by faith alone, not so that we can go on sinning (see Hebrews 10:19-39), because now God’s perfect laws are written on our hearts and minds and his command to us now is to love as he loved us. Jesus calls us to go above and beyond what Moses’ law demanded, but He has empowered us to live above and beyond Moses’ law.

And so no longer do we have to make ourselves right before we may approach God, no! Since Christ’s death on the cross, we have been made right by the blood of His perfect, eternal sacrifice, to approach the throne of God and cry out “Abba, Father!” Because Christ did not only cover our sins forever, but He covered us with His son-ship, that we might be called sons and daughters of God. Amen.