Putting the Law in Its Spiritual Context: What Did Paul and Jesus Teach about the Law of God?

During His ministry on earth, Jesus said He was not here to destroy the law. Yet we also have record of the Jews saying He “broke the Sabbath” (Matt. 5:17; John 5:18). Do those two statements contradict?

Similarly, Paul said his own writings “establish the law,” but he also asked his readers why they would be “subject to ordinances” now that they live by faith (Rom. 3:31; Col. 2:20). Aren’t those statements contradictory as well?

These statements actually don’t contradict each other, but to understand why you have to know something about the Jewish world at the time. On one hand, you have God’s law that He delivered to His people through Moses (the Torah). On the other hand, you have additional rules, regulations, and traditions that were put in place by human beings.

So if we look more closely, we see Christ was not here to destroy God’s law, but He did loose the Sabbath from restrictions added by human teachers. Similarly, in Romans Paul is talking about establishing the law of God, but in Colossians he is talking about walking away from “the commandments and doctrines of men” (Col. 2:20-23).

So what does all this have to do with modern Christians? We’ll take a close look at this question in today’s post, and I think we’ll find that these statement that at first appear contradictory actually teach us about how we are supposed to relate to God’s law. They also teach us how to respond when other people (including teachers and leaders) start to change or add to God’s word. Read more

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Am I Living A Flesh Life Or A Spirit Life?

Do you desire the same things God desires? That’s one of the questions asked in a new book I’m reading called What Does Your Soul Love? It’s written by Alan and Gem Fadling, and it’ll be available for purchase September 17th. I’m about halfway through right now and it’s given me quite a bit to think about. One thing I really like is the way they explain how our resistance to living a godly way of life is connected to Paul’s discussion of flesh versus spirit.

Our desires lie at the root of why we act the way we do. But even when we line-up the things we say we want with the things God wants, we might still find ourselves in the same position Paul was in his letter to Rome. He said he delights “in God’s law after the inward person,” but still finds “the good which I desire, I don’t do; but the evil which I don’t desire, that I practice” (Rom. 7:14-25). When we try to follow God, we encounter resistance from within ourselves as well as from without.

The resistance from outside is usually easier to identify and counter, at least to a certain extent. But what about the resistance inside? What can we do about that?

What Is “The Flesh”?

Just a couple weeks ago, I shared a 2-part post about Galatians. It’s on my mind again now since that letter seems particularly relevant to today’s discussion. If we’re going to talk about how our flesh resists living in the spirit, the last two chapters of Galatians are crucial. But first, let’s clear up a potential misunderstanding.

“The flesh here is not the physical body, but a way of life we’ve grown used to living in a world that does not recognize the reality of God and his kingdom. It is a dynamic within whereby we grab for what we need, not trusting (or knowing of) God’s generosity to provide. It is an ‘I can do it myself’ approach to living that presumes the absence of the loving God” — Alan and Gem Fadling

I’d also add that “flesh” includes an attitude of “I can decide right and wrong for myself” that presumes to know better than God or to think that He doesn’t really care. When we look at Paul’s description of the flesh, it includes following desires and taking actions that God has said are wrong. To keep doing those things when we should be walking in the spirit is to disregard our Creator and Savior’s wishes (Gal. 5:16-21). Read more

What Can Following The Lord Do For You?

We don’t follow God primarily because we want to get something from Him, or at least we shouldn’t. We follow Him because we love Him, He is our savior, and nothing on earth can compare to having a relationship with Him. But we also shouldn’t ignore the fact that following God does mean we’ll receive good gifts from Him.

Following God gives us hope for eternal life. He promises that all who believe in Him shall never see death. Even if that were the only gift, it would be more than enough. However, the good things we receive from God don’t all wait until after you die. He also does wonderful things in our lives right now.

We can’t expect all (or even most) of God’s blessings will be physical ones, though. While He does promise to provide for our needs and even blesses some with physical prosperity, none of us escape trials and hardships in this life. In fact, Christians are promised they will suffer in following Christ’s footsteps. If we only expect God to do things for us in the physical realm then we’ll miss a lot of the blessings He pours out on us. So today, let’s take look at one Psalm that describes some of the incredible things that following the Lord can do for us.

Psalm 19 begins by saying, “the heavens declare the glory of God.” After waxing eloquent about how the universe reveals the Creator, David begins to speak of other ways the Lord, Yahweh, reveals Himself to us. Then David explains how those revelations affect those who believe. Read more

Crash Course In Galatians (Part Two)

A couple days ago, I shared Part One of a two-part post about Paul’s epistle to the Galatians. In this letter, he combats a destructive heresy spread by Jewish legalists in the early church. If you haven’t read that post yet, you’ll want to start there before you continue reading.

I like writing these “Crash Course In …” posts because it’s so important to look at context when figuring out what passages of scripture really mean. With Galatians, it’s easy to misinterpret if you don’t look at the whole of Paul’s purpose for the argument he makes in this letter. It also helps to look at some of Paul’s other letters, like we did last week by comparing Romans to Galatians.

Truly Fulfilling The Law

Now that he’s laid the ground work for his argument, Paul starts to clarify what it means to walk by faith as people who are no longer under the law. It’s kind of a weird balance to wrap our minds around. Much of Galatians 5 parallels Romans 12-13 in showing how walking in the Spirit means we’re fulfilling the true meaning of the law. However, Paul also makes it quite clear that we should not seek “to be justified by the Law” (Gal. 5:1-6). To say that we could earn  salvation by our own works introduces a harmful doctrine that spreads like leaven and corrupts the truth (5:7-12).

For you, brothers, were called for freedom. Only don’t use your freedom for gain to the flesh, but through love be servants to one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” … But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you won’t fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, that you may not do the things that you desire. (Gal. 5:13-14, 16-17)

Being free from the law doesn’t mean we’re free to break it (i.e. does not grant us license to sin). Rather, we’re released from the curse of being under the law. Now the law is written inside our hearts. Being filled with God’s Spirit and transformed to be like Him will turn us into a person who naturally does the things we’re told to in God’s law. The law’s not our schoolmaster anymore, though. We’re taught directly by God through His spirit inside us. Read more

Crash Course In Galatians (Part One)

When Paul wrote his epistle to the Galatians, he did so to combat a destructive heresy. From his comments in this letter, it appears that a group of people came through Galatia teaching the Christians there that they had to be circumcised and follow Jewish law in order to receive salvation. Paul refutes this, along with the false teachers’ claim that he wasn’t really an apostle.

I like writing “Crash Course In …” posts because it’s important to look at context when interpreting passages of scripture. Ecclesiastes, for example, doesn’t make much sense unless you follow Solomon’s whole trail of thought from beginning to end. Similarly, Galatians is easy to misinterpret if you don’t look at the whole of Paul’s purpose for the argument he makes in this letter (and put it alongside some of his other writings as well).

Another Gospel? Really?

Paul opens this letter by introducing himself as an apostle who was made so by “Jesus Christ, and God the Father, who raised him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1, all scripture references from WEB). He also reminds his readers of the message he preached to them before — that our Lord Jesus Christ “gave himself for our sins, that he might deliver us out of this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (1:4). With those facts established, Paul immediately jumps into his purpose for writing this letter. Read more

Do You Value The Gifts From Your Bridegroom?

God has invited us to become part of the greatest love story ever told. As Jesus said, “The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a man — a king — who gave a wedding feast for his son” (Matt. 22:2), LEB). That’s what God the Father is doing. He’s inviting us to be part of the marriage He’s planing for His son in the key role of the bride.

The people listening as Jesus spoke this parable would have known about all the wedding customs implied by this comparison. If you want to learn more about what was involved in a father planning his son’s marriage, I recommend “The Ancient Jewish Wedding” by Jamie Lash (click to read). There’s a lot of incredible things in these traditions that point to Jesus, but we’ll just focus on one for today.

A Jewish bridegroom would give his bride gifts as part of the betrothal process. He’d seal the betrothal agreement and then go away for a while to prepare their new home, leaving a gift along with his pledge to return. The gift(s) were meant to remind the bride of her groom. Think of it like an engagement ring. It’s no surprise, then, that our bridegroom Jesus Christ also “gave gifts to people” (Eph. 4:7-8, WEB).

Gift Of the Spirit

As we talked about in my Pentecost post earlier this year, the holy spirit is the chief of our bridal gifts.

in whom you also, having heard the word of the truth, the Good News of your salvation—in whom, having also believed, you were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, [which] is a pledge of our inheritance, to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of his glory. (Eph. 1:13-14, WEB with “who” corrected to “which.” See article, “What Is The Holy Spirit?”)

The holy spirit wasn’t given until after Jesus was glorified and had fulfilled the other parts of establishing the marriage covenant (John 7:39). Only then did He and His father give “the gift of the holy spirit” (Acts 2:38). Each time God gives the holy spirit to a new believer, He’s marking us as belonging to the Bridegroom and pledging that He will come back and fulfill all His promises. Read more