Monthly Archives: May 2019

Questions and Answers (12:9)

Lou: That was a beautiful statement at the end, and it touches me deeply. But it seems to me that the very title of this chapter implies that there are many sincere individuals who have seen God’s law as a threat to our freedom. Many Christians feel that God’s law is something from which they want to be free. For example, I’ve heard people quote Romans 10:4: “Christ is the end of the law.” Doesn’t that verse imply freedom from the law? What does that text mean?

Graham: I don’t think God wants us to stop loving, or to be disorderly and live in chaos, do you? The text needs to be analyzed, first for the words and then for the context. First of all, the word “end.” One rare but possible meaning is “purpose,” Christ is the goal or purpose of the law, but I doubt that’s the meaning in the context. I do think it means termination, all right. Law here does not have an article in front of it, so it is not referring to any particular law. Paul, all the way through the book of Romans, is contrasting the obedience that springs from love and trust with the obedience that springs from law. And the obedience that springs from law is often the obedience that comes from fear, and that can turn us into rebels even as we obey. So when Paul comes to 10:4 the meaning is, “Christ is the termination of law as a way of being saved.” Christ is the end of legalism. Phillips has a marvelous rendering of that. “Christ means the end of the struggle for righteousness by works of law, that everyone who has faith in God may be saved.” That’s beautifully done.

Lou: But along with a text like Romans 10:4, I think of the one in Romans 6 which I could hear someone asking about. It says, “We are not under the law, but under grace” (based on Romans 6:14). Isn’t that more evidence freedom is not under the law but under grace?

Graham: Again, that depends on the meaning of being “under the law.” People often explain that as meaning we’re not under the “condemnation” of the law. For Paul, I think, it has to do with our relationship with God. We’re not under law, we’re under grace. We are not dealing with a legalistic God. We are dealing with a God who is graciousness personified. So Paul is saying, “If you realize that you are dealing with a gracious God, it helps you get rid of sin.” Because when you’re dealing with God in a legalistic manner, it actually provokes the very sin you are trying to avoid.
You may remember that in Romans 7 Paul describes this very thing. He says, “There was a day when I looked at the law and it provoked me to sin. Especially commandment number ten irritated me (based on Romans 7:7-11), until I realized God’s gracious purpose in giving it to us. Now I delight in the law” (based on Romans 7:22 and 8:2). So one really cannot understand law until one understands God’s gracious purpose, which means one has to know what He’s like. And that’s Paul’s message. We do not deal with a God of legalism, but a God of graciousness. It makes all the difference in the world. It places the law in its proper context.

Lou: This reminds me of Paul’s statement in Romans 14:5. Speaking in the context of the Sabbath he says, “Let everyone be persuaded in his own mind.” Isn’t that just leaving it up to personal choice? What should we really make of this?

Graham: I wouldn’t want to leave the impression that you’re not free to make up your own mind on any of the other commandments. It seems to me that if we have not made up our own minds freely about God, then our worship is worthless. “Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind” is the way God approaches us about everything He asks us to do. It isn’t just with respect to the Sabbath. When it comes to love, trust, obedience, you name it, we are free to make up our own minds. That’s why He says, “Don’t go around condemning other people.” God does not condemn them. Everyone is free to make up their own mind.

Lou: But God isn’t saying that all roads lead to the same place or that it doesn’t matter what choice you make, is He?

Graham: No, He isn’t, the choice you make is very important, but it must still be yours. God is not going to force you to do what is right or what is best for you. Now before Paul knew God was gracious, before the Damascus road, he would say, “I know some of you are wrong, and I’m on my way to put you into prison and have you stoned.” But when he wrote Romans, there was no more of that! He had learned that we are not under the law but under grace (Rom 6:14).

The “Why” of Obedience (12:8)

If you were ever asked to explain why you obey God (assuming that you do), what answer would you give? I can think of three main reasons. First, would you say, “I do what I do as a believer because God has told me to, and He has the power to reward and destroy?” Is that why you don’t lie and murder? It is good you don’t do those things, and such obedience might be all right for a beginner or for a little child, but it makes God’s laws seem so arbitrary. It implies that they make no sense in themselves. That kind of obedience does not speak well of God’s character and government.

Second, would it be better to say, “I do what I do as a believer, because God has told me to, and I love Him and want to please Him?” Is that why you don’t steal or commit adultery? You don’t see anything wrong or harmful in these things, it’s just that God doesn’t like it when you do that. He has been so good to you, surely you owe it to Him to do the things He has asked you to do, whether or not they make sense. It might be an improvement on obeying out of fear or the desire for a reward, but it still smacks of arbitrariness. It still does not speak well of God, though the second motivation is often thought to be the antidote to the first one.

Third, what would you think of saying this instead? “I do what I do because more and more I am finding it to be right and sensible to do so. I would want to do it even if He didn’t tell me to. I admire and revere the One who advised and even commanded me in the days of my ignorance and immaturity. Being still somewhat ignorant and immature, I am willing to trust and obey the one whose counsel has always proved to be very sensible, even when He tells me to do something beyond my present understanding.” That attitude accepts that God is not arbitrary. Everything He has asked us to do makes such good sense, we would want to do it anyway. If you can say that, then truly God’s law is not a threat to your freedom, and you will thank Him for it.

In this context, we should look at the book of James. James is thought by some to be the legalist among the New Testament writers. But look at what he says in James 2:

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,“ you are doing right. . . . Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom (Jam 2:8, 12, NIV).

Even Luther didn’t understand James in that way. But James knew that true obedience is no threat to our freedom.

I am adding a quote from Ellen G. White, whom some of us regard as a real friend of God. This is one of her many descriptions of real obedience:

The man who attempts to keep the commandments of God from a sense of obligation, merely because he is required to do so, will never enter into the joy of obedience. In fact, he does not obey. . . . True obedience is the outworking of a principle within. It springs from the love of righteousness, the love of the law of God. The essence of all righteousness is loyalty to our Redeemer. This will lead us to do right because it is right—because right doing is pleasing to God (Christ’s Object Lessons, 97-98).

I believe that someday we will be able to stand in the presence of God and say: “God, we would do all these things from here on, whether You asked us to or not—because we agree with You that they are sensible and they are right.” And God could say, “That is good. At last
you’re free. You have learned the truth, and the truth will set and keep you free.”

Law, Freedom and the Sabbath (12:7)

There’s just one commandment that doesn‘t seem to fit in to this picture. Can the seventh-day Sabbath be regarded as a guarantee of freedom? Isn‘t the Sabbath a restriction of our freedom? That was a key point in Chapter Ten of this book, entitled “The Reminder of the Evidence.“ If the Sabbath is an arbitrary test of our obedience, it doesn’t fit in to this good news we have been talking about. But, in fact, the purpose of the Sabbath is to remind us of the freedom given to us in the Garden of Eden, to remind us how God set His people free from Egyptian bondage, and how Jesus died on crucifixion Friday. The Sabbath sets us free more than any other commandment, by telling us there is no need to be afraid of God. Understood in this way, keeping the seventh-day Sabbath does fit in to the larger picture, for we need to be reminded of these truths that are the basis of our freedom.

God gave the Sabbath to help us, not to test our obedience. Look at Isaiah’s understanding of the Sabbath:

If you cease to tread the Sabbath underfoot, and keep my holy day free from your own affairs, if you call the Sabbath a day of joy and the Lord’s holy day a day to be honoured, if you honour it by not plying your trade, not seeking your own interest or attending to your own affairs, then you shall find your joy in the Lord (Isa 58:13-14, NEB).

Joy is one of the gifts of the Spirit of Truth. And what is the truth that makes the Sabbath a day of joy? It is the truth about our God. God invites and urges us to take time to listen, to remember, and to consider all the truths about God that the Sabbath represents. Then we will find the joy that comes from knowing this truth about our God. That’s the kind of joy we will have for the rest of eternity. That is how the Sabbath fits in to the larger picture.

Love Is the Fulfilling of the Law (12:6)

This idea that “love is the fulfilling of the law” (based on Galatians 5:14 and Romans 13:10) was certainly not new with Paul. Jesus had said the same thing to the inquiring lawyer (Matt 22:35-40). But the first person to say it was actually Moses. Jesus and Paul were both quoting Moses, the man who was instrumental in giving the commandments in the first place: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength” (Deut 6:5, NIV). That is one half of it. Notice the other half in Leviticus: “Do not hate your brother in your heart. . . . But love your neighbor as yourself” (Lev 19:17-18, NIV). Jesus quoted that directly from Moses (Matt 22:37). But you cannot really command things like love, can you? You cannot command “not hating your brother in your heart” either (based on Matt 5:21-22; 1 John 2:11; 3:15; 4:20). But when people are misbehaving, you may say it that way as an emergency measure. But that is all it is. It doesn’t provide the lasting motivation that God desires.

Even love is not always clearly understood. The love that fulfills the law “is patient and kind. . . is not jealous or boastful. . . is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right” (1 Cor 13:4-6, RSV). Imagine living in a community where everyone lives as described in the Ten Commandments, where everybody loves God and loves everybody else! It would mean that no one is ever rude, arrogant, or impatient. No one insists on having his own way. Can you imagine living in such a community? Would you be free in that environment?

Look at the details of the Decalogue (Exod 20:13-16). No one ever steals. No one ever kills. No one ever hates. No one ever lies. Everyone can be trusted. And even more than that, look at number ten (Exod 20:17). People not only never do anything wrong—no one even wants to. That’s the meaning of the coveting commandment, number ten, the one that bothered Paul so much at first (Rom 7:7-11). He thought God was interfering too much when He got in that deep. But that is the mindset that really guarantees our freedom, as Paul eventually learned (Gal 5:22-23). In eternity we will live in a place where people not only never do wrong, they will never even want to. That means they have really been healed.

Even more than that, imagine living in a community where everyone loves and reveres the same God (Exod 20:3). Every member of God’s family will admire the God who values nothing higher than the freedom of His children and who has paid such a high price to prove it. They will worship a God who asks for nothing more than mutual love and trust. The unity of love and trust will be based on the fact that we all love and worship the same God. When you have a group of people who live like that, you have real freedom, real peace, and real security. Seen in that light, the Decalogue is a guarantee of freedom. For God says, “I will always run my universe this way. I’d rather die than change it.”

Some of us say, “God, please, do not change it. Please, always run your universe in harmony with the principles of the Ten Commandments, or we won’t be really safe and free.” But there will be one major difference in eternity. When the emergency is over, there will be no need for God to tell us to love each other and to be decent neighbors. The Spirit of Truth will have convinced us that it is only right and sensible to behave like that. That’s the meaning of the law being written in our hearts, where we do our thinking (Jer 31:31-34; Heb 8:8-12). That means we have thought this through. We agree with God. That’s the best way to live. That’s the best way to run the universe. It is right, and that means that our self-control has been restored.

Why Then the Law? (12:5)

Why does a God who desires His children to enjoy dignity and freedom make so much use of law? Paul explains this in Galatians 3, as we noted in the previous chapter. Law was added as an emergency measure because we needed it (based on Galatians 3:19). The law was added to be our guardian, to guide us back to a right relationship with God (Gal 3:25). A right relationship with God means we will do what is right because it is right and not because we are being ordered to. The Greek word for “guardian” is paidagogos, which means “leader of children.” The law was designed for people who behave like children. As rebellious, disorderly and immature sinners, we have needed the guidance and protection of God’s laws. Behind all those regulations, we can see a very gracious God who has used all these emergency measures for our best good. There is nothing arbitrary about them. They make very good sense and they deserve to be intelligently obeyed.

This is even more apparent when we look precisely at what our God has asked us to do, particularly in the Ten Commandments. But more than that, we must understand why we needed to be instructed by these emergency measures:

We know, of course, that the Law is good in itself and has a legitimate function. Yet we also know that the Law is not really meant for the good man, but for the man who has neither principles nor self-control (1 Tim 1:8-9, Phillips).

If you have self-control, you don’t need to be ordered to behave. But the law does not give us self-control. Rather, it is an emergency measure because we lack self-control. We need it until we can recover self-control and love and trust. Then we are able to use our freedom in the right way.

This is what Paul explained to the Galatian believers, who were prone to misunderstanding God’s use of law. Galatians 5:13-23 as a whole is a magnificent passage, but we will focus on Paul’s understanding of God’s use of law:

You, my brothers, were called to be free. . . . The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself. . . .” But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. . . . But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal 5:13-14, 18, 22-23, NIV).

“Faithfulness” means that we can be trusted, and “self-control” is the real meaning of the word “temperance” in the King James Version. Some people would prefer that God command and control them for the rest of eternity. That seems humble and safe, but it is also telling God that we don’t want the freedom that He has paid such a high price to protect. In light of the cross, how can we hand our freedom back and say, “no, I don’t want self-control. I want You to control me?” But God offers something marvelously better, “When you are fully under the influence of my Holy Spirit, I won’t control you. You will have recovered the dignity and joy of self-control.” Then we really will have freedom once again.

The Experience and Teaching of Saul/Paul (12:4)

Saul of Tarsus took up the cause of those who had denounced Jesus as a heretic (previous blog) and who had denounced His picture of God as false and satanic. Saul did this because he too obeyed God for the wrong reason. He worshiped a tyrannical God who would be pleased to see people persecuted, imprisoned, and even stoned to death—to force them to obey. That was the kind of God he worshiped. And he conducted his evangelism in the name of that God. It was Saul’s picture of God that moved him to use so much force. And he had many texts (or so he thought) to support it.

It was on the Damascus road that he finally saw the light, and the truth set him free. What a difference! He didn’t change his Bible or even the name of his God. He didn’t change the day he worshiped, or his diet, or his dress. What did he change that day? All Saul changed was his picture of God. And who has spoken more eloquently about freedom and faith and grace than the Saul who became Paul? Even further, he presented Christ as the end of legalism (based on Romans 10:4). We’re not under law, we’re under grace, because we worship a gracious God (Rom 6:14)!

Paul went on to say, “Don’t misunderstand me in my new emphasis, do you think my emphasis on love, trust, and freedom abolishes the law?” Faith does not abolish the law. Faith establishes the law by putting it in its proper perspective (based on Romans 3:31). In other words, when you really trust God, you love and admire Him for His wise and gracious ways. You are perfectly willing to listen to everything God has to say, and to give careful heed to all of His instructions. It’s only wise and sensible to do so, once you’re convinced God is that kind of a person.