By Grace Alone Through Faith Alone – Romans 3:22-25

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. – Romans 3:22-25a NIV

In the early part of this chapter Paul has made clear that there is no one who is good, no one who is righteous, no one who seeks God. The condition of humanity is hopeless. But praise God, he does not leave us in that helpless condition. The righteousness of God has now been made known to us, a righteousness that comes through the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross. This righteous is given freely by God’s grace through faith, to all who will believe.

On my own, I never would have sought after God, and was actually incapable of doing so. But God’s grace, his unmerited favor, enabled me to believe and to accept his offer of salvation. It is by grace that I have been saved through faith in Christ Jesus. A gift freely given and totally undeserved. Thank you Lord!

Arminianism: It’s All About Grace

So what have we covered so far in this discussion of Arminian soteriology? God loves everyone in the whole world and has given his Son as an atonement for all of us, although the benefits of the atonement only accrue to those who believe. But humanity is a fallen and spiritually dead race; totally depraved and unable to understand, acknowledge, or make any move towards accepting the benefits of the atonement. So, since we are unable to make the first move toward God, he takes the initiative, enabling us to respond to his offer of salvation. And the key to this is grace.

Grace

What is grace, specifically God’s grace? Thomas Oden, in the book The Transforming Power of Grace, defines grace as “the favor shown by God to sinners. It is the divine goodwill offered to those who neither inherently deserve nor can ever hope to earn it. It is the divine disposition to work in our hearts, wills, and actions, so as actively to communicate God’s self-giving love for humanity.”1  Grace is not an entity or other object. It is a defining characteristic of God’s relationship with us. It is only because of God’s grace, his favorable disposition towards us, that we are able to submit to God as well as to live for him.

God’s grace, or favor, impacts our lives in a number of different ways. God’s grace enables us to believe. It enables us to be saved. It enables us to live holy and godly lives. It enables us to serve within his church. While some talk about different types of grace, as I will here, in reality they are all simply different ways that God’s grace is working in our lives, not different kinds of grace. God’s grace enables us to be what we could never be on our own.

Prevenient Grace

Prevenient grace is the term Arminians use to describe the grace of God that enables us to believe. Prevenient means ‘comes before’, or the grace of God that comes to us before we have believed. This grace of God makes it possible for us to submit to God’s call in our lives. It is by the prevenient grace of God that faith is possible. Apart from this gracious action on God’s part I would be unable to turn to him.

In Romans 10:20 Paul quotes from Isaiah where God says “I was found by those who did not seek me; I revealed myself to those who did not ask for me.” Clearly it is not due to man’s efforts that we are able to find God. We might seek, but on our own we will not find God. He is found by those who do not seek him and revealed to those who did not ask. God initiates the contact. Apart from his initiation, we are helpless. This is prevenient grace.

In John 6:44 Jesus says that “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them.” And he expresses the same thought shortly after in John 6:64 when he says “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled them.”  God’s drawing of people to Christ is a result of his grace toward us and is what the Arminian means by the term prevenient grace. Apart from God’s drawing or enabling, we are incapable of coming to Christ. This is in contrast to semi-pelagianism that teaches that I make the initial step towards God, and then God takes over and does all the rest. But I cannot make the initial step. Only after God has enabled me am I able to respond positively to his invitation.

But who is drawn? Does God only draw those who are foreordained, or does he draw everyone? In John 12:32 Jesus says “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” One of the consequences of Jesus crucifixion is that he would draw all people, to himself. Jesus is not drawing just those who have been foreordained, or from all types of people; he is drawing everyone in the world. But is the drawing of the Father different that the drawing of the Son? Since they are the same God it would seem reasonable that those that the Father draws are the same as those that the Son draws.

How does this drawing occur? In John 16:8-11 Jesus says of the Holy Spirit that “When he comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” The Holy Spirit brings conviction of sin, of our lack of righteous, and awareness of the judgement to come because of our sin. That is something that in our natural depraved state we would be unable to experience. Conviction of sin and the coming judgement is not done just to torment us. But the Holy Spirit, at the same time he brings conviction, also enables us to respond.

John’s gospel makes clear that all three persons of the Trinity are involved in drawing or enabling us. God loves the whole world (John 3:16) and is not willing that any should perish (1 Tim 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9). God knows we are incapable by ourselves, so he does what is needed to enable us to be saved.

Is Grace Resistible?

Calvinist and Arminian alike agree that humanity is depraved and salvation is only possible through God’s gracious work on our behalf. Where they differ though is in the resistibility of God’s grace. The Calvinist will argue that if God’s grace draws you to God, that you cannot resist it; what they call irresistible grace. The Arminian, on the other hand, believes that God’s gracious work on our behalf is resistible, we can choose not to submit to God and to continue in our sinful and fallen state. We can resist God, not because we are stronger than him, but because he allows us to.

The difference here really follows from the differing views of predestination. If God foreordained who would be saved, then it logically follows that we could not resist his invitation to salvation. And in reality it is not an invitation; it is a summons that we are unable to ignore. But if, on the other hand, God wants all to be saved, and foreknows those who will believe, then it makes sense that his grace would be given to all to enable the possibility of belief.

So what does the Scripture say about this; is God’s grace resistible? One of the most telling passages comes from Acts 7:51 when Stephen is confronting the Jewish religious leaders. He tells them ““You stiff-necked people! Your hearts and ears are still uncircumcised. You are just like your ancestors: You always resist the Holy Spirit!” Clearly the Jewish people had been able to resist the Holy Spirit’s intentions for the nation. Throughout the history of Israel we see God calling the people, and the people nearly as often resisting him. If God’s will, his gracious invitation to us, was not resistible, the Old Testament would read quite differently.

In Matthew 24:1-14 Jesus tells the parable of the wedding banquet. In this parable there are a number of people invited to the banquet; in fact, everyone was ultimately invited. But not everyone was able to enjoy the banquet; many resisted the summons and refused to come, or came in an inappropriate fashion. At the conclusion of the parable Jesus says that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” This parable would clearly seem to teach that more are invited into the kingdom than actually make it. God’s invitation to salvation is resistible.

Some will argue that if God’s grace is resistible, it is somehow diminished, that it is not as powerful. And that would be true if God was attempting to force his will on us. But if God is wanting to allow us to make a choice, then his grace must be resistible; not because it is weak, but because he chooses to make it so. Indeed, in the Arminian view, God’s grace is magnified because it reaches out to all people rather than being limited in scope to only a few.

Is Prevenient Grace Always Available?

Another way of wording this question is “am I able to accept Christ at any time, or are there times when God’s grace is not enabling me to respond.” Arminians are generally divided on this. Classical Arminians, those holding specifically to the teaching of Jacob Arminius would argue that grace is given to the hearers when the gospel is proclaimed (Rom 10:14). Others, who hold more to the Wesleyan Arminian tradition, believe that prevenient grace is always available and not just when the gospel is proclaimed.

The danger with the Wesleyan approach is that one might be tempted to believe that people could be saved apart from the gospel. And while that is also true of Calvinists view on predestination where salvation is determined independent of the proclamation or acceptance of the gospel, it seems contrary to the necessity of evangelism. Romans 10:17 says that “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” Without hearing the message there can be no faith. This is one of the few differences I have found between Arminius and Wesley, and I believe that Arminius’ view that prevenient grace is only present when the gospel is proclaimed in some fashion, or the word of God is read, is preferable.

But What About Faith?

If salvation is entirely a work of God, then what role does faith play? The Scripture is clear that faith is an essential element as Romans 3:21-31 repeatedly expresses. 

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

27 Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. Because of what law? The law that requires works? No, because of the law that requires faith. 28 For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. 29 Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles too? Yes, of Gentiles too, 30 since there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through that same faith. 31 Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.

It is hard to read this passage and not see the emphasis Paul places on faith. But if we are totally depraved, incapable of doing any spiritual good, where does faith come from. For the Calvinist, if faith is something that I choose to exercise then it is a work, and I am responsible for my own salvation. Instead, they would say that faith is a gift of God, he gives it to me and essentially requires me to exercise it; I have no choice. But is that really faith? If God has arbitrarily decided to save me apart from anything I am or do, then I do not understand why he would choose to require faith and give it to me. Faith would not seem to have any real role in my salvation; it’s just window dressing. 

But the Scripture distinguishes between faith and works. Romans 4:3 and Galatians 3:6 both quote from Genesis 15:6, expressing that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” Abraham simply believed that what God told him was true, and he was justified. Romans 4:5 then says that “to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” Faith is credited to us as righteousness, and it is specifically contrasted with works; faith and works are not the same thing. Galatians 3:10-14 contrasts faith with works of the law. Justification does not come by obeying the law, but by faith. Faith is not a ‘work’ on my part; rather it is a surrender. 

The Arminian would say that God enables faith in me. His prevenient grace frees my will to be able to accept God’s salvation, or to resist it. I am able to exercise true faith because of God’s grace working within me. But doesn’t that make faith a ‘work’ on my part; something that I have to do in order to be saved? Jacob Arminius responds to this question with the following from The Apology or Defense of James Arminius:

“To explain the matter I will employ a simile, which yet, I confess is very dissimilar; but its dissimilitude is greatly in favour of my sentiments. A rich man bestows, on a poor and famishing beggar, alms by which he may be able to maintain himself and his family. Does it cease to be a pure gift, because the beggar extends his hand to receive it? Can it be said with propriety, that ‘the alms depended partly on THE LIBERALITY of the Donor, and partly on THE LIBERTY of the Receiver,’ though the latter would not have possessed the alms unless he had received it by stretching out his hand? Can it be correctly said, BECAUSE THE BEGGAR IS ALWAYS PREPARED TO RECEIVE, that ‘he can have the alms, or not have it, just as he pleases?’ If these assertions cannot be truly made about a beggar who receives alms, how much less can they be made about the gift of faith, for the receiving of which far more acts of Divine Grace are required!”

The rich man gives alms to a beggar and the beggar accepted them. Is the gift here solely a work of the rich man? Or does the willingness of the beggar to receive the gift give him a portion of the credit? Arminians would agree that the gift is solely the work of the rich man. In the same way the gift of salvation, including the freed will that enables faith, is totally the work of God, and all glory belongs to him alone. And, just as the beggar could have rejected the rich man’s gift, so our grace freed will enables us to reject the gift of God. Faith is a gift from God, but it is a free faith that is not constrained to believe.

It Is by Grace Alone

The five solas of the Protestant Reformation define the foundational principles of the movement and of all true Protestants. These five sola’s are:

  • Sola scriptura (by Scripture alone)
  • Sola fide (by faith alone)
  • Sola gratia (by grace alone)
  • Solus Christus (Christ alone)
  • Soli Deo gloria (glory to God alone)

Arminians hold as strongly to these biblical principles as any Calvinist or Lutheran and boldly proclaim that salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

Marvelous grace of our loving Lord,
Grace that exceeds our sin and our guilt!
Yonder on Calvary’s mount outpoured,
There where the blood of the Lamb was spilled. 2

Scriptural References

  • John 5:24 – Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.
  • John 6:44 – No one come to the Father unless he is drawn.
  • John 12:32 – Jesus draws all people to himself.
  • Romans 1:16 – The gospel is the power of God that brings light to everyone in the world.
  • Ephesians 2:8-9 – Salvation is a gift of God by his grace.
  • John 16:8 – The Holy Spirit came to convict the world of sin, righteousness and judgement.
  • Acts 16:14 – The Lord opened Lydia’s heart to respond to the gospel.
  • Romans 2:4-5 – God’s kindness leads us to repentance, our stubbornness leads us to wrath.
  • Acts 17:27 – God is not far from each of us.
  • Acts 18:27 – Apollos helped those who by grace had believed.
  • Titus 2:11 – God’s grace brings salvation to all men.
  • 2 Chronicles 36:15-16 – God repeatedly reaches out to Israel, but they rejected and then faced God’s wrath.
  • Luke 7:30 – The Pharisees rejected God’s purpose for themselves.
  • Luke 13:34 – Jerusalem unwilling to be gathered to Jesus as a chick to a hen.
  • Isaiah 66:4 – God calls, but they did not answer. His call is resistible.
  • Acts 7:51 – Stephen accuses the religious leaders of resisting God.
  • Romans 4:3 – Abraham believed and his faith was credited to him as righteousness.
  • Romans 4:5 – Faith is not a saving work.

Quotes

Article 3
That man has not saving grace of himself, nor of the energy of his free will, inasmuch as he, in the state of apostasy and sin, can of and by himself neither think, will, nor do any thing that is truly good (such as saving faith eminently is); but that it is needful that he be born again of God in Christ, through his Holy Spirit, and renewed in understanding, inclination, or will, and all his powers, in order that he may rightly understand, think, will, and effect what is truly good, according to the Word of Christ, John 15:5, “Without me ye can do nothing.” – Five articles of Remonstrance

Article 4
That this grace of God is the beginning, continuance, and accomplishment of all good, even to this extent, that the regenerate man himself, without prevenient or assisting, awakening, following and cooperative grace, can nei­ther think, will, nor do good, nor withstand any temptations to evil; so that all good deeds or movements, that can be conceived, must be ascribed to the grace of God in Christ. but respects the mode of the operation of this grace, it is not irresistible; inas­much as it is written con­cerning many, that they have resisted the Holy Ghost. Acts 7, and else­where in many places. – Five articles of Remonstrance

“In this manner, I ascribe to grace the commencement, the continuance and the consummation of all good, and to such an extent do I carry its influence, that a man, though already regenerate, can neither conceive, will, nor do any good at all, nor resist any evil temptation, without this preventing and exciting, this following and co-operating grace. From this statement it will clearly appear, that I by no means do injustice to grace, by attributing, as it is reported of me, too much to man’s free-will. For the whole controversy reduces itself to the solution of this question, “is the grace of God a certain irresistible force?” That is, the controversy does not relate to those actions or operations which may be ascribed to grace, (for I acknowledge and inculcate as many of these actions or operations as any man ever did,) but it relates solely to the mode of operation, whether it be irresistible or not. With respect to which, I believe, according to the scriptures, that many persons resist the Holy Spirit and reject the grace that is offered.” – Jacob Arminius, A Declaration of the Sentiments of Arminius

“Arminius was concerned not only that God not be made the author of sin but also that the God-human relationship not be merely mechanical but genuinely personal. For him the high Calvinist doctrine reduced the person being saved to an automaton and the God-person relationship to the level of the relationship between a person and an instrument. Therefore, he had to leave room for resistance, but never did he so much as hint that the person being saved became a cause of salvation. He adamantly denied it.” – William Gene Witt, Creation, Redemption and Grace in the Theology of Jacob Arminius (Ph.D. diss., University of Notre Dame, 1993, pp. 629-30

“Whatsoever good is in man or is done by man, God is the author and doer of it.” – John Wesley, On Working Out Our Own Salvation

“Grace works ahead of us to draw us toward faith, to begin its work in us. Even the first fragile intuition of conviction of sin, the first intimation of our need of God, is the work of preparing, prevening grace, which draws us gradually toward wishing to please God. Grace is working quietly at the point of our desiring, bringing us in time to despair over our own unrighteousness, challenging our perverse dispositions, so that our distorted wills cease gradually to resist the grace of God.” – Thomas C. Oden, John Wesley’s Scriptural Christianity (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 1994), p. 246

 

1 Oden, Thomas C., The Transforming Power of Grace, Abingdon Press, 1993; pg. 33

2 Grace Greater than Our Sin by Julia H. Johnston

  <– Sovereignty and Free Will    Introduction    Foreknowledge, Predestination, and Election –>  

Saved by Grace – Acts 15:11

No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are. – Acts 15:11 NIV

What must I do to be saved? This question comes up several times in the book of Acts, and in this chapter the first church council meets to resolve an early conflict over the issue. On one side are those who believed circumcision was required in order to be saved. On the other side were those who believed that we are saved by the grace of God and not by anything we do. Ultimately the conclusion is that it is through the grace of Jesus that we are saved; nothing a person can do needs to be added to what Christ does for us. We cannot earn our salvation; it is solely a work of God.

I am so thankful for the many dimensions of grace that God gives to me; the gift of salvation, equipping me for his service, and the eternity he is preparing me for.

The Righteousness of God – Romans 3:20-25

After his introduction, Paul spends the bulk of the first three chapters of his letter to the Roman church in a discussion of sin.  While Paul leaves open the theoretical possibility of a person being good enough to pass judgement before God, his conclusion is that no one actually is good, that no one will be declared righteous before God based on their own efforts in adhering to the law, whether that be the Old Testament Law, or the law of conscience.

Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. – Romans 3:20 NIV

The condition of humanity that Paul paints in Romans 1:18-3:20 is a pretty bleak one.  We are sinful with no chance of escaping the wrath of God at the judgement.  Lost and without hope!

But once Paul has made clear the hopelessness of our situation he begins his discussion of the gospel, the good news.  And it is quite a contrast.  The passage below was identified by Luther as being the main point of Romans, and of the whole Bible, the most significant passage of all.

21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith.

Romans 3:21-25a NIV

The good news is that God has now revealed, and made available to us, his own righteousness.  My own righteousness, at its best, was insufficient.  But God has chosen to make me a gift of his righteousness.  By his grace I am justified, declared to be righteous.

So what do I have to do to obtain this gift of God’s righteousness?  Nothing!  Paul has gone to great lengths to argue that I am actually incapable of doing anything that will make God happy with me.  Instead, God has made his righteousness available to me, as well as the rest of the world, as a freely given gift.

That gift is available to all who believe, who have faith in Jesus.  This faith and belief is more than just an intellectual or one time response to God.  Rather it is an on-going surrender of one’s life to the Lordship of Jesus.  It is a ceasing of the attempt to make myself good enough by my own efforts, and a surrender to the one who can make me into what he created me to be.

What I cannot do for myself, God has offered to do.  How wonderful it is to be delivered from my hopeless condition and into eternal life in relationship with my creator.

Fulfilling the Law – Matthew 5:17-20

From the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel comes this passage that, I believe, is often misunderstood and applied.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5:17-20 NIV

This passage begins with Jesus refuting what was apparently a misconception that either was in existence, or that he expected to develop.  And that was that he was advocating a new religion that abandoned the foundations of the Law and the Prophets, our Old Testament.  And that is a misconception that would be easy to arrive at when, in the chapters to come, one listens to Jesus repeated say “You have heard that it was said … But I tell you …”.

But Jesus affirms that he has not come to abolish the Old Testament teachings, but rather to fulfill them.  The Old Testament is not obsolete.  But what does he mean by it being fulfilled?  What role does the Old Testament play today in the life of a follower of Jesus?

The word fulfilled is not one I use regularly, but it does have a couple of meanings to me.  The first carries the idea of completeness; my wife fulfills me, or makes me more complete than I would be without her.  The second way I use the word carries the idea of a promise, or obligation, carried out, or fulfilled.  When I buy something on-line, which happens more and more all the time, I expect that within a few days my purchase will show up in the mail.  There is an explicit promise made to me that my purchase will show up in 2,3,5 or 10 days, depending on how much I am willing to pay for postage.  The seller fulfills their obligation by shipping my purchase to me within the specified time frame.  And many companies even have what they call a fulfillment department, where the purchased items are packaged and shipped to the buyer.

I think both of these meanings have application in what Jesus is saying here.  We often say that the Old Testament looks forward to Jesus, or it points to him.  Like I am incomplete without my wife, so the Old Testament is incomplete without Jesus.  He fulfills the Old Testament and helps us to understand it more completely than we could without him.  Jesus is also the fulfillment of many Old Testament prophecies, as Matthew in particular frequently points out.

But I believe the most applicable fulfillment Jesus makes to the Old Testament has to do with the sin offering found in Leviticus chapters 4 & 5.  This offering, or sacrifice, is made in response to sin and was used to make atonement for the party who had sinned against God in some fashion.  In this offering, an animal takes the place of the offending party, and gives up its life, its blood being shed in place of the sinner, and making God favorably inclined toward the offending party.

The author of Hebrews, in chapter 10, explicitly makes the connection between Jesus sacrifice on the cross and the Old Testament sin offering.  Jesus actually does what the sin offerings only illustrated.  While the sin offerings could never actually deal with our sin, Jesus offering of himself did.  Jesus was that perfect lamb specified in Leviticus that was able to bring about atonement on our behalf.  Jesus fulfilled in his death, the requirements of the Law.

In Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he spends quite a bit of effort discussing the Law and its purpose.  In chapter 3 he expresses that the Law does not replace the covenant established with Abraham (v.17), it was added because of sin until Christ came (v.19), the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ (v.24), now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the Law (v.25).  So how does this relate to Christ fulfilling the Law?  If the purpose of the Law was simply to lead us to Christ, then when we have come to him, it has accomplished its purpose, it has been fulfilled.

So now, as a believer, I am no longer under the authority of the Law.  Does that mean I can do what I want?  Not really.  It means that my righteousness is not a matter of adherence to a moral code, which is what the Law is, but rather is based on what Christ has done.  I still need to live a life of love toward God, and towards those around me, which is the heart of the Old Testament Law.  But those should be done because of my relationship with God, not in order to obtain, or secure, it.

Jesus issues a warning against setting aside even a single command of the Law and commends those who practice them all; as well as warning and commending those who teach others to set aside or practice the Law.  I struggle with this passage because:

  • I do not offer any of the specified sacrifices or celebrate any of the festival days.
  • I eat a lot of unclean foods.
  • I wear garments of mixed materials
  • As tempting as it sometimes is, I do not advocate killing a child who strikes or curses their parent
  • I do not believe a rape victim should have to marry their rapist
  • I don’t do a very good job of resting on the Sabbath, a violation of which is punishable by death
  • I do not advocate putting adulterers, or others who have sexual activity outside of a husband/wife relationship, to death.
  • I have never called a priest to my home to check out mold growing on the walls.
Nor am I aware of anyone, including those who claim the Old Testament Law should be practiced by believers, who are themselves willing to follow all of these commands.  So what do I do with Jesus direction here.  Am I destined to be least in the kingdom?
 
I am not Jewish, nor am I under the authority of the Law.  I believe it is sufficient for me as a believer to love the Lord my God with all my heart, all my soul, all my strength and all my mind.  And to love my neighbor as myself.  If I will do those two things, and teach others to do the same, I will have met God’s expectation.  I don’t need a list of rules, whether they be the Old Testament Law, the morals of 17th century Puritans, or 21st century fundamentalists.  All those can do is show me my inability to live a holy life in my own strength.  Christ has set me free from the tyranny of the law, and by an act of grace, declared me to be righteous.  He has set me free from the law of sin and death, and made me free to love.

The Ten Commandments & Christianity

As a Christian, am I supposed to obey the Ten Commandments and all the other laws in the Old Testament?  Just some of them?  Or can I pretty much ignore them?  Many Christians that I know would say yes to the first question, until you looked at the materials tag on their clothing, then they would change their answer to a yes to number 2.  Few would likely admit to a yes to the third question, yet in reality I think most of us really do in practice.  It appears like we follow some subset of the Old Testament law, but I suspect that is more coincidence than by design.  Most likely what we are really doing is following the moral standards of the culture we grew up in, which for me was somewhat similar to the moral teachings of the Old Testament.

But regardless how we actually respond to the initial questions; how should we respond?  I’m going to go out on a limb here and say #3, I can pretty much ignore them.  After all Paul told me that I am no longer under the law, but am under grace; and he belabored the point quite extensively in Galatians.

Fulfilling the Law

But, you might ask, what about Jesus statement, in Matthew 5:17-19, that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it?  This is often times used to argue that we should still be living in accordance with the Old Testament Law, of which the Ten Commandments are a subset.  But is that really what he meant by this statement?

Look at the rest of Matthew 5 and see what Jesus says.  Six times you see him saying something to the effect of “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …”.  Some of these were concerned with traditions, but many of them were dealing with OT laws, including two of the Ten Commandments.  While Jesus is not countermanding any of these laws, he does give fresh meaning to them and does it as one who has a higher authority than the Law, as one who is not bound by it.

Let’s look at another of Jesus teachings concerning the OT Law.  In Mark 7:14-19 Jesus shares what it is that makes a man unclean, and notice that it does not include the food he might eat.  The conclusion made by the author of Mark is that Jesus has declared all foods as being clean.  And one does not have to read much of the OT Law do know that this statement is in serious conflict with the dietary portions of that law.  If Jesus was demanding adherence to the OT Law, surely he would have not told us we could eat what we wanted.

How could Jesus be both fulfilling the Law, and negating part of it?  Unless fulfilling the Law meant something other than advocating that we should still be living under that Law.  Maybe, just maybe, Jesus meant that what the Law was intended to do, he himself actually accomplished; he fulfilled the intent of the Law.

So just what is the intent, or purpose, of the Law?  Paul has a very interesting discourse concerning the purpose of the Law in Galatians 3:19-25.  In this passage he says that the purpose of the Law was because of our sinfulness and was to be in effect until Christ had come (3:19).  In verses 21-22 he says that the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith.  And now that faith has come we are no longer under the Law.

So if the purpose of the Law is to bring sinful man to faith in Christ, and its purpose has been fulfilled when one comes to faith, then has Christ not fulfilled the Law for me?  Indeed, the Law is still about, it is not abolished.  But it is no longer applicable to me; it has accomplished its purpose and is no longer in charge.

Sacrifice

A significant requirement of the OT Law was concerned with animal sacrifice, with a significant amount of that dealing with sin and its forgiveness.  When I would break the requirements of the law, sacrifice was required to bring me back into a right standing with God.

The first 18 verses of Hebrew 10 discuss these OT sacrifices and compares them to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.  Of most significance is that the blood of bulls and goats was unable to really deal with the sin in our lives, resulting in the requirement that they be offered repeatedly.  And this is unlike the sacrifice of Jesus, made one time, and able to permanently deal with sin.  And now, with my sin dealt with by the blood of Christ, there is no longer any need for sacrifice.

Here again we see a fulfillment of the Law.  The OT sacrificial system was simply pointing ahead to the more perfect sacrifice of Jesus.  And once that had been made, the OT sin sacrifices, an integral part of the Law, no longer had any value.

The Jerusalem Council

One of the early conflicts in the new church dealt with the question of applying the Law to Gentile believers.  Just exactly what was required for a Gentile to be in relationship with God?  Was faith alone sufficient, or was adherence to at least some part of the OT regulations required, in particular circumcision.  While circumcision actually predates the Law and is not actually a part of it, the issues is still a valid one for this discussion.  Need I be concerned with the requirements of the OT?  Or not?

Acts chapter 15 finds the early church wrestling with this problem.  And the result of this council is the recognition that circumcision, and the OT Law, are not applicable to Gentile believers, which includes me.  Other than a handful of suggestions to keep them from being offensive to Jewish believers, there are no additional requirements imposed on the Gentiles, either to come to faith, or to live as believers.

So What About It?

All this is not to say that I am free to do whatever I want as a believer.  I don’t believe that at all.  But as a disciple of Jesus, it should be sufficient for me to follow his teachings.  And they are, interestingly enough, summed up in a pair of passages from the OT:

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.

Love your neighbor as yourself.

Rather than get hung up with a bunch of rules to live by, simply seek to love God with all I am, and look out for the best interests of those around me.

For what it’s worth, I have no argument with any of the Ten Commandments, although I do with some of the rest of the Law.  In my life I generally do fairly well with keeping this set of commandments, even though it is not done intentionally as a way to be acceptable to God.  But I find it disturbing that so many people get bent out of shape over them being removed from court houses and schools.  And most of those folks probably couldn’t even tell you what all 10 even are.  Let’s focus on loving God, and our neighbors, and not try to enforce, or advocate, a code of conduct that we ourselves don’t follow for the most part.

Discussion

To discuss this topic, or express an opinion, please tune into the Hitler post on Rational Christianity.

Tearing Down Walls – Ephesians 2:11-22

For 28 years a wall separated the city of West Berlin from East Germany.  This wall divided the people of Berlin into two camps, separated by walls, soldiers, weapons and hostility.  But in 1989 the wall was removed, along with the restrictions on travel from one side of the city to the other.  The two Berlins became one city with the removal of this dividing wall of hostility.

Ephesians 2:11-22 describes a similar kind of situation.  But instead of two physical cities separated by a physical wall, we have two groups of people separated by the Old Testament Law.  One group of people were the Jews, the chosen people who had God’s Law, the revelation of the prophets and ancestry from Abraham and the promise given to him.  Because God had chosen them, the Jews looked down on everyone else, calling them Gentiles; people outside of the promise, without the Law and uncircumcised. On the other side of the wall were the Gentiles. The Gentiles might be Roman, Greek, Egyptian, or any of a myriad of other nationalities.  They had a wide variety of social, economic or educational levels.  They included probably 99% of the world’s population. But what they had in common was being outside of the covenant relationship with God, not living under the Law, and without knowledge of God. And separating the two groups is the Law, the commands given through Moses to the Hebrew people at Mt Sinai, at the beginning of their life together as a nation.  This law effectively separated them from all other peoples, making them unique and establishing a covenant relationship with the God of creation.  And built into the law is the expectation that they would separate themselves from all of the peoples around them, holding themselves apart and holy to God.

Now while it was marginally possible for a Gentile to cross over that wall and enter into the covenant relationship with God, it was not easy.  And as a consequence not many did it.  Many more would climb to the top of the wall and get close, but would not be willing to go all the way.  And the Jews, for their part, seemed not very interested in helping Gentiles to cross their barrier.

But then, about 2000 years ago, Jesus was born, lived for about 33 years and then was crucified on a Roman cross, an apparent victim to his own people’s dislike for his attempting to change the status quo.  But Paul tells us here that this event was really much more than it appeared.  According to Paul, the blood of Jesus, shed on the cross, brought reconciliation between the two camps, and destroyed the wall of hostility that separated the two, producing a single humanity where once there had been two.

What was this wall of hostility that is destroyed at Jesus death?  Paul indicates here that it is the law, along with its commandments and regulations.  But how does this jive with Matthew 5:17 where Jesus says he has not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it?  I think this question is best answered by Paul in Galatians 3:23-25 where he claims that the purpose of the law is to bring us to Christ, and once that has been accomplished, or fulfilled, then we are through with the law.  Once I have come to Christ I am no longer under the law, but am under grace (Romans 6:14).

In Christ it makes no difference whether we are Jew or Gentile.  We are all one body in him because of grace.  It is by faith in what Jesus did that we come into relationship with God now; not by adherence to the commands and regulations of the law.  Because observance of the law as a means to righteousness has been replaced by God’s grace, we are all equally able to stand before God, not because of what I have done, but because of what he did.

And now we all can be built up into one house, or body, that God is able to inhabit and be glorified in.  Let there be nothing in our lives or attitudes that would divide us as believers or cause us to think more highly of ourselves than of any other believer; or any other person.  And rather than erecting more walls to make it difficult for people to come to God, let’s reach out to the world around us and introduce them to the Savior.

From Death Into Life: An Act of Grace – Ephesians 2:1-7

Dead or Alive?
What is life?  What does it mean to be alive?  Surprisingly enough scientists are somewhat divided in trying to provide a definition for this term.  Some things clearly are alive and others clearly are not.  But there are some things, like viruses, that could fall on either side of the line, depending on how you define life.  For us as humans though it is pretty clear whether we have life or are dead.  Or is it?

The New Testament writers, Paul especially, use the terms dead and live in two different ways.  One way is our common usage referring to physical life,  functioning, or not functioning, in the physical world around us.  But he also uses the term to refer to our relationship with God, or spiritual life.  In this sense, if we are attached to the life of God, we have life.  If we are separated from the life of God, we are dead.  It is in some ways like an electrical appliance.  If it is plugged into an energized power source then it is alive, being useful and having purpose.  If it is not plugged in then it has the appearance of usefulness, but it is actually dead and of no value.

The example of the disconnected household appliance falls short though in describing humans who are not connected to God.  The first 18 years of my life I was not connected to God, and yet my body grew and developed, I was able to think and make decisions, and by the time I was 18 I was in a position to take control of my own life and make of it what I wanted.  There did not appear to be anything obviously missing.  Many, if not most, people live their whole lives in this fashion, never knowing that they are dead, disconnected from God.

Spiritually Dead
In the first few verses of the second chapter of Ephesians Paul uses dead and alive in both ways, referring to physical life as well as connection with God.

As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. – Ephesians 2:1-3 NIV

I used to live in this world, functioning just like everyone else.  I conformed to all of the social standards and fit in as best I could.  During that time I was in charge of my life, following the pull of my own desires and thoughts.  Most of the time those thoughts and desires led me in a good path, sometimes even into generous and laudable actions.  And yes, sometimes my thoughts and desires led me into actions that I regret and am ashamed of.  But all of that, whether good or bad, is described here as sin.  Sin, or missing the mark, describes anything I do, or even think, that is not directed by God.  And so, as one who was not connected to God, everything I did was sin, whether good or bad.

Paul has several things to say about people in this condition.  First, they are dead, separated from the life of God.  Even while I was alive physically, I was dead spiritually.  Secondly, at the same time I was disconnected from God, I was actually under the rule of another, of Satan.  I did not recognize that at the time, did not pledge allegiance to him, or often times even acknowledge his existence.  But I am either in God’s kingdom or I am in the kingdom of Satan.  There is no other choice.  And finally, I was by nature an object of wrath.  I was facing destruction.  There was no future for me apart from being connected to the life of God.

Made Alive In Christ
Paul has painted a pretty bleak picture here of man in his natural state, disconnected from the life of God.  Fortunately he does not leave it there.

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. – Ephesians 2:4-5 NIV

In this passage Paul is not referring to everyone in the world.  This letter is written to those who have already experienced what he is writing about.  The us in this passage are those who currently are believers as well as those who become believers.  Even when I was dead, separated from the life of God, he reached out to me and plugged me into his life, transforming me from one who was dead into one who had life.

So what does it take to get plugged into the life of God?  Paul says that it is an act of grace.  God does so because he wants to.  His offer of grace to me is not based on some action(s) that I must first take.  Rather God chooses that all who would respond to him in faith would experience this act of grace.  Those who do, will experience the riches of life with Christ, not only now but in the ages to come.  And those who do not, will continue to live this life completely unaware of what they are missing out on, but in the end will face destruction.

And In the Ages to Come!

And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. – Ephesians 2:6-7 NIV

Spiritual life, being connected with God, is not just for the brief years of my life on this earth.  Paul says here that when God made me alive in him, he also took me and put me where Christ is, in the heavenly realm.  I am actually in two different realms now; the physical one that this body functions in, as well has the heavenly realm where I am able to function because of the new life God has given to me.  Heaven is not something I have to wait for; it is something I already have.  In this passage Paul states that I am already seated with Christ in heaven.

It was an act of grace on God’s part that lifted me from death into life.  But God’s grace does not end there. In the coming ages, through eternity, I will be experiencing the riches of God’s grace that he will continue to express to me.  How will you respond to God’s offer of grace and life?

Amazing Grace – Ephesians 2:8-10

Grace.  More specifically God’s grace.  As believers we talk about it a lot, frequently defining it as God’s unmerited favor towards us.  And indeed it is.  It is by God’s grace that we are saved, and not by anything we can do (Ephesians 2:8).  God’s grace has dealt with our sin and we now have a future with him.  It is unfortunate however that we often leave it there.

If you break out your concordance and look up the word grace you will find it used in some interesting ways.

  • In Acts 4:33 God’s grace was working powerfully among the Apostles.  His favor went beyond salvation and was involved in the service they rendered to God.  His grace enabled them to grow the church in spite of any opposition they faced.
  • In Romans 12:6, Ephesians 4:7-13 and 1 Peter 4:10 God’s grace is given to each of us in the form of gifts, or the abilities to act in ways that would build up the body of Christ.  Here grace also extends beyond salvation and into our life of service to him.  Grace includes being equipped for service and being an active part of the body of Christ.
  • In 2 Corinthians 12:9 God’s grace is sufficient for Paul’s weaknesses.  Grace channels God’s power into the life of the one who is open to it.  God’s grace saved me, equips me and also empowers me for service.
  • In 2 Timothy 1:9 we see that God’s grace not only was the instrument of our salvation, it is also a call to a holy life.  A holy life is one that is set apart from the world and devoted to God.  I cannot be holy and continue as a part of the world.  God’s grace calls me to leave the world behind.

Notice that these, and other passages as well, all refer to grace as something other than just God choosing to save us.  Grace impacts everything that God is doing toward us; it is like a secret weapon that God has aimed at us, although for our good rather than harm.  God chose to save us for a life of holiness and service.  Grace calls for me to be a disciple, serving and giving myself to the master.  Look back at the passage in Ephesians that we started with.

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” – Ephesians 2:8-10 NIV

We are saved by grace – that’s the part we like.  But we are also created in Christ Jesus (saved) to accomplish the work that God has prepared for us to do – and that part is kind of scary.  We are saved by grace to be disciples.  And not disciples in name only, but disciples who rely on God’s grace to follow their Lord wherever he leads and are faithful to the task that he has given us.  Disciples don’t give the master advice on the best use of themselves, nor do they only follow when it is convenient.

When Jesus called the twelve to be his first disciples they were not called to follow one day a week or in their spare time.  They were called to leave their nets and tax booth behind and follow him.  Could it be that his grace calls us to do the same?  Our call may not involve physically leaving our jobs and homes behind, but it does call for us to be full time disciples, serving him on the job, at home and in the world around us.  Oh, at the end of this life, to hear the master say, “Well done, good and faithful servant“.

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