Tag Archives: Law

I Am Free

Words of Grace  

It is particularly sad when the church becomes a merchant of bondage for the people of God.  The message of the gospel, from beginning to end, is a message of freedom.  By going to the cross, Jesus destroyed the power of death and sin, overcame the law, and set us free.  He is the Conqueror, and He has redeemed us from the hands of the enemy.

One day we will wake in glory to discover that there have been no shackles on our hands or feet.  They were a lie.  They were there once, but were destroyed by Christ when He saved us.  The bonds have been gone as long as we have known Him.  The chains you have been feeling are in your mind.  You are free.

Free from the condemnation.  Free from the power of sin.  Free from the Law.  Free from the expectations and standards and opinions of others.  Free from guilt and shame.  You are free.

So live in that freedom.  Defend it.  Believe in it.  The only One who holds power over you is the One who set you free and He loves you.  Don’t let anyone take it away from you, whether it is a teacher or a pastor or a parent or a spouse or a ruler.  Paul wrote to the Galatians that they should stand fast:

Stand fast therefore in the liberty by which Christ has made us free, and do not be entangled again with a yoke of bondage. Galatians 5:1 (NKJV)

Whenever someone teaches freedom, someone else will jump up and say that we shouldn’t just let people do whatever they want.  They get all worried that people will do terrible things under the excuse of being free.  The only problem with this is that people do terrible things even when they claim to be under the law.  Just because you are free to do something does not mean that it is good for you or that there will be no consequences.  Dumb things are still dumb things.  There are many good reasons not to do the things God calls sin.  But there is still no bondage of law over us.

Listen.  It is possible and even good to limit your freedom for the sake of others and for the cause of Christ.  That doesn’t make you less free.  Sometimes people cannot believe their freedom because they live under expectations and challenges.  You are expected to go to work every day if you want food to eat.  Well, you are still free.  You don’t have to eat.  You choose to work so that you can eat.  Choice comes out of freedom.

It’s hard to feel freedom in a difficult marriage or in a dysfunctional family.  It’s hard in a restrictive church or country.  But these are outside things.  You can live within chosen confines and still be free.  Remember what Paul said:

For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more       1 Corinthians 9:19 (NKJV)

“Even though I am free, I have made myself a servant.”  Paul chose to do this for the sake of the gospel and the sake of the lost.  He kept the law that was no longer binding to him.  He served people who were no longer his masters.  He obeyed rulers who no longer had authority over him.  He lived his freedom within their expectations to accomplish the call of God on his life.

Are you in a difficult marriage?  Live in freedom even while choosing to live under the expectations.  Are you in a demanding job?  Live in freedom even while doing your best to meet the requirements of your boss.  Are you in a compromised or legalistic church?  Live in your freedom even among those who have yet to discover theirs.  No one else has to change in order for you to be free.  You are free.

I am free!

Jesus has set me free.

No power has authority over me, other than Him.

No bondage holds me back.

I am free.

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Anti-Law

Grace 101

Over the past several Grace 101 posts I have focused on the parable of the sower from Matthew 13 to give us a structure for looking at enemies of grace.  I started with the trampled or trodden path, the hard ground that would not let the seed take root.  But other enemies take advantage of the hard ground to pick off the seed as it lies on top.  Jesus calls them the “birds of the air.”

The birds of the air are opportunists.  They watch for something to happen and then try to take advantage of it.  If you drop your french fries out of your car window in the parking lot, it won’t be long before the gulls or crows are there to eat them.  I once saw eight bald eagles eating the carcass of a dead deer alongside the road.  So, if the seed of the gospel of grace is scattered among the people, the birds will be there to pick it up.

One of those birds is what I will call the “anti-law crowd.”  You know these folks.  Since they are under grace, they say, anything goes.  I won’t go into details on their behavior, but their attitude is usually flippant, rebellious, and self-serving.  They excuse any behavior they choose by arguing that there is no more law over them.

The message of grace has always attracted the anti-law crowd.  Paul talked about them in Romans 6.  They push the limits of acceptance, even among unbelievers.  We are not supposed to scold them or criticize their choices, no matter how hurtful or foolish.  Why?  Because they are “under grace.”

And when the legalists criticize the message of grace, guess who they point at to make their case?  Of course, the anti-law crowd.  When grace is confused with “license to sin,” someone will point to a person who has little understanding of grace but wants to have the freedom to exhibit behavior God warns against.  We are called “antinomian,” anti-law, because we teach grace—even though we don’t do the things they do.

Now, I understand where the opening is for this error and I would never want to close that door.  The law no longer condemns us for our behavior.  Grace has freed us from that measurement system.  Those who belong to Christ and commit sinful behavior still belong to Christ.  That’s because He is the only measure of our acceptance to God.  We couldn’t change that if we wanted to.

But listen: no one is more free to sin under grace than he was under law.  I chuckle when I hear someone say that people sin more under grace.  I have lived under law and I have known very many people who live under law.  Sin is still very active under law.  It may be more hidden, less admitted, but it is certainly still there.  In fact, I could make a strong argument that the only real way to overcome sin is to live under grace.  Paul suggests that law only shines a light on sin, never stops it.

There is one important difference.  Under the law, sin is seen as evidence that the person needs a Savior.  Under grace, sin is evidence that the flesh is leading.  Making a Christian feel that he or she is under the law can only result in a life without assurance and more sin.  Allowing a Christian to understand grace is the beginning of life in the Spirit, rather than the flesh.  We are free under grace.

So what do we do about those who flaunt their behavior and excuse it by saying that they are under grace, when they are really just happy to be out from under the constrictions of the law?  Probably nothing.  We can warn them that sin still has consequences, I suppose.  We can explain that they do not represent our thinking when others point them out.  But it is hard to keep the birds away.

The anti-law crowd does not invalidate the message of grace.  They are simply confused and they confuse others.

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The Old Testament Believer

Grace 101

 

As believers today, we are blessed with communion with God through the Holy Spirit and oneness with Jesus Christ who is our life.  We are no longer in bondage to sin and the sin of our past has been washed away.  Because of our heart connection with God, we are free to walk in grace.

None of that was true for the Old Testament believer.

Before the cross, life for those who trusted in the Lord was centered on the Law.  The Law was given by God for the benefit of humanity and there was much good in it.  It may be popular for us today to look on the Law as a negative, but it wasn’t that in the life of the OT saints.  David loved the Law.  The writer of Proverbs called the people to the Law.  It was never bad . . . it was the gift of God.

Sin had entered the world and the people were separated from God.  The cross would come far into the future.  What were they supposed to do?  God gave them the Law.

We usually think of the Law as the ritualistic code given to Moses and, of course, that is the formal version to which most of the Old Testament refers.  But when Adam and Eve left the Garden they wore the skins of animals that had been sacrificed to cover their nakedness.  And the next thing that happens, after their expulsion in Genesis 3, is the sacrifice of Genesis 4.  Immediately a system of sacrifices was set up.  It doesn’t seem to be as structured as what we find in the Law as given to Moses, but the system is there.  So was the concept of sin.  There were things that people should not do and consequences for doing those things.  Moses’ Law simply put it all in written and legal form.

So why did God give the Law to the people?  Because it was good for them!  The Law did three things for the people before the cross.  It convicted, covered, and called.

First, the Law protected them from the consequences of sin by pointing out the danger and setting up a system of discipline.  The people of God would suffer greatly under a culture that allowed adultery, theft, or murder.  Sin hurts people and God didn’t want His people to hurt each other or to suffer pain themselves because of their actions.  He taught them the dangers of sin.  By warning them, God again convicted them of sin.  The people could see the need to live rightly and their inability to do so.

Second, the Law covered the sins the people did commit.  No matter how much God warned them, they continued to sin.  So He gave the sacrifices to cover their sins.  It isn’t clear just how this worked, but it is clear in the Scriptures that the offerings of the people and the priests were designed to cover their sins.

My transgression is sealed up in a bag, and You cover my iniquity. Job 14:17
Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Psalm 32:1
You have forgiven the iniquity of Your people; You have covered all their sin. Psalm 85:2

 Of course, the sacrifices also point to what we understand as the doctrine of substitution at the cross.  One died for another.  The lamb was killed to cover the sins of the family.  The lamb was innocent and spotless.  Yet the blood of the lamb was given for the people.  This is such an obvious illustration of what Jesus would do for the people that we could see it even if we didn’t have many Scriptures referring to Him as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Finally, the Law continually called the people to the Lord.  No sacrifice was done without a word of testimony to the authority and love of God.  No ritual, no rule, no requirement was given apart from the promise of God.  It was all designed to bring the people to Him.  He would be their Savior, their only Hope.  They were to trust in Him.

The Law was good.  It was just never meant to bring life.  It was meant simply to bring the people to the Lord.  It convicted, covered, and called.  Those who came to the Lord, His way, found great peace and joy.  They discovered His protection and provision, just as He promised.

But the Law was not the hope of the people.  The Lord Himself was their Hope.  The Law didn’t wash away sin; it only covered it before the Lord.  The Law could never give life.  Jesus came to give life to those who trusted in Him, whether they lived before or after the cross.

The error came when the people connected their plan to God’s plan.

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The Christian and the Conscience

When the conscience became a tool of the Law everything turned toward the things of the Law.  Rules, standards, things to avoid—these became the focus of religious (Law-centered) life.  Good was obeying.  Evil was disobeying.  People still made choices, but they made choices with a new perspective.

But here’s the problem: the conscience was still broken.  The conscience, even under the Law, could not discern right from wrong.  So David wrote:

Who can understand his errors? Cleanse me from secret faults. Psalm 19:12

And the author of Proverbs called his readers to wisdom, to go past the voice of the conscience to the voice of God:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths. Proverbs 3:5-6

So, even before the cross, the people of God were to be aware of the brokenness of their conscience.  They were to seek the word of the Lord.  Their own understanding, that which the flesh system had built in them, was insufficient and deceptive.  They would not be able to depend on it for truth.  They needed the voice of the Lord.

When Christ came to us and we were saved and His life became ours, two things happened in relation to the conscience.  First, the reality of our situation changed.  We no longer were under condemnation of any kind and the Holy Spirit was resident within us.  All our sins—past, present, and future—were washed away in the blood of Jesus.  We were set free from the domination of sin forever.

But our conscience doesn’t understand that.  I ask people all the time to tell me how much sin is on their accounts with God.  I get all kinds of answers.  Some say lots; others say only what has not been confessed; some understand that there is no sin on their accounts because it has all been dealt with on the cross.  But the reality of that truth does not come from our flesh.  Our flesh is still the same old system it always was.  It still sees life the way it used to.

Our flesh is a system with which we are very familiar.  We grew up with it.  We put it together over years and through many experiences.  It is very difficult for us to leave it behind.  Much of the perspective offered by our flesh still makes sense to us.  Our conscience is still active and still messed up.  It still misleads us and it still condemns us.

John wrote:

For if our heart condemns us, God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence toward God. 1 John 3:20-21

In other words, if your conscience condemns you, find the truth in the Lord.  He knows and He tells you that there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1).  If your conscience does not condemn you, give thanks that you are beginning to walk in the Spirit.  Either way, your focus should be on the Lord.

and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

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The Conscience and the Law

It would be difficult to determine what the conscience was like before the Law.  The Scriptures tell of a law written on the heart (Rom 2:15), which may be a reference to the general knowledge of good and evil all people carry whether they know of the Law or not.  Even if this “law in the heart” can be ignored or deceived, it is still present in some way.

But when the Law was given to Israel and, through Israel, disseminated to the world, a framework or definition was given to the conscience.  Now God was in the equation and things like holiness and righteousness were presented to the conscience.  Suddenly, those confronted with the Law found an expression for the general shame they felt.  They had sinned.

I realize that some will think that it is strange to refer to the conscience as an almost independent force in our lives, while denying that the conscience is the same as the Holy Spirit.  But the conscience is an arm of the flesh and the flesh feels and acts almost foreign to the believer.  The unbeliever doesn’t feel this in the same way, but still hears the “voice” in a way that seems separate from himself.  So the conscience became an accuser against those who discovered the Law.

All things work together for good, right?  God used the conscience in the lives of many unbelievers to draw them to Him.  The Holy Spirit spoke truth into their lives and the conscience spoke condemnation.  Why did the conscience speak condemnation, especially when it was supposed to serve the flesh?  Isn’t the flesh set against the Spirit?  Wouldn’t the flesh draw a person to evil?  Why would God use the conscience?

Under the Law the conscience found the reason for its struggle.  It was never the purpose of the conscience to draw us to evil.  The conscience was broken by sin and could not truly discern good and evil.  Decisions were made on the basis of faulty knowledge and perspectives.  We lived under a tension that would not go away.  When the conscience was exposed to the Law, things began to make sense.

Now, remember that the Holy Spirit is very active on behalf of unbelievers.  He convicts them, the Scripture says.  That suggests that He moves them in the direction their conscience is pushing them and makes them ready for the way of salvation.  One example is when David disobeyed God.  Notice what the text says:

And David’s heart condemned him after he had numbered the people. So David said to the LORD, “I have sinned greatly in what I have done; but now, I pray, O LORD, take away the iniquity of Your servant, for I have done very foolishly.” 2 Samuel 24:10

Notice that David’s conscience (heart) condemned him.  But David knew the Lord and the Holy Spirit was active in his life, so David went directly to the One who could and would forgive.  With the condemnation was the salvation, praise the Lord.

But the conscience became a tool of the Law for those who had the Law.

 

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Why I Celebrate Christmas – 7

… and not Hanukah.

I mentioned that some believers are abandoning Christmas in favor of Hanukah.  I chuckle when I hear that because they think they are giving up a non-Biblical holiday in favor of one with firm Biblical roots.  Not true!

In the 400 years of Biblical silence after the Jews returned to Israel from captivity, the people faced many troubles.  The stories are found in the extra-canonical books of First and Second Maccabees.  There we read of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, whose name means “God manifest.”  His forces, representatives of a Greek army, massacred many people in Jerusalem, ransacked the city, and profaned the temple.  It was a terrible time for the Jewish people.  Making a long and powerful story short, the people revolted and regained their city.

When the Temple was rededicated, it was time for celebration.  The intention was to have a Festival of Lights, an eight-day celebration with the lighting of community lights each day.  However, the olive oil had all been used or polluted by the Greeks—all except for a single container, enough for one day.  But the leaders did not despair.  They used the oil and it stayed lit throughout the eight days.  It was proclaimed to be a miracle and the event continues to be remembered.

Hanukah (or Hanukkah, Hannukkah, Chanukah, Chanukkah, Chanuka) is a celebration that belongs to Jewish heritage.  It marks a time of God’s deliverance and provision for the Jewish people.  We have no reason to doubt the truth of the event or to disparage the right of the Jews to remember and celebrate it.  But it isn’t a Christian or a Biblical celebration.

To substitute Hanukah for Christmas seems to be a reversion from Christianity to Judaism, a desire to return to the Law and the bondage that Jesus came to break.  I celebrate Christmas because Jesus came to forgive my sin and set me free.  I celebrate Christmas because salvation came for Jew and Greek, slave and free, for anyone who will accept the amazing gift of God’s love.

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