Tag Archives: Graham Maxwell

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.

The Teaching and Example of Jesus (12:3)

How did Jesus seek to counter religious misunderstandings of God’s law? He set out to tell the truth about His Father and the kind of obedience that is really pleasing to Him. He often did so at great risk on the Sabbath. You would think it was all innocent and good. He simply healed people and helped them on the Sabbath. But those gloomy legalists were shocked and they denounced Him for disobeying the law. Think of it! The Lawgiver was being denounced as a lawbreaker! “No,” Jesus responded, “I am not come to destroy the law and the prophets” (which meant not just the Ten Commandments, but the whole Old Testament), “I have not come to destroy them, I have come to fulfill them” (based on Matthew 5:17). In other words, He had come to explain their deeper meaning in both word and action.

By teaching and example, especially on the Sabbath, Jesus set out to correct these misunderstandings of God’s law and to explain what it was all about. He said the law was given for you. Especially was the Sabbath given for you, to be an advantage, not a restriction. He said this as He defended the right of the disciples to pluck some ears of grain, rub them in their hands, and eat them (Mark 2:23): “The Sabbath was made for you—you weren’t made for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). Jesus was telling them, in essence, “The Sabbath that you work so hard to keep and which has become such a burden to you, was given to help you, not to be a restriction and certainly not to be a mere test of obedience. If only you knew the truth about God and His laws, you would find that His yoke is easy, and His burden is light.” Look at those famous words in Matthew:

Come to me, all of you who toil and are burdened, and I will let you rest. Let my yoke be put upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble-minded, and your hearts will find rest, for the yoke I offer you is a kindly one, and the load I ask you to bear is light (Matt 11:28-30, Goodspeed).

Jesus came gently and humbly to them, even though He was God Himself. You would think the people would be relieved to hear all this right from headquarters. But instead, they accused the Son of God of blasphemously misrepresenting His Father. They even said that it was the Devil who made Him talk about God and His laws like this (John 8:48)! And so they condemned Him as lawless and crucified Him as a heretic.

Misunderstandings of Law (12:2)

Some have explained John 8:32-36 to mean that we are free so long as we do exactly what we are told. Have you parents ever tried that with your children? “Now children, we want freedom in our home. We can have freedom so long as you do exactly what you are told. Do I make myself clear?” If your children are afraid of you enough, they will say, “You have made yourself clear.” But inside they may have serious reservations. It seems such a contradiction. Of course, everything depends upon how we understand what it is that God has actually asked us to do, and how we understand the reason why He had to ask us in the first place. I believe that all of God’s laws, particularly the Ten Commandments, were given for our best good. They were actually given to preserve freedom rather than to infringe upon it.

Law, and the use of law, however, have been seriously misunderstood throughout the Great Controversy. The most notable example of such misunderstanding occurred about 1500 years after Sinai, when the Son of God lived among a people to whom He had entrusted the Ten Commandments. Of all people, they should have understood that the Ten Commandments were an emergency measure. After all, when the Ten Commandments were originally given, Moses was there to explain that there was no need to be afraid of God or of His commandments (Exod 20:20). But when Jesus came, He found a group of people who were totally preoccupied with God’s laws and with obedience to their every detail.

Jesus never had to forbid the making of graven images when He came. The Jews had learned their lesson in the discipline of Babylonian captivity, and they never sank into ordinary idolatry again. He never had to tell them which day was the Sabbath. They regarded it as their highest duty to obey every one of the Ten Commandments. He never had to urge them to pay tithe. Matthew records that they used to tithe even the tiniest things: the seeds of mint, anise, and cumin (Matt 23:23). Nor did Jesus have to tell them they should obey the laws of hygiene. He commented on the fact that they would even strain gnats out of their goat’s milk lest they should eat a forbidden insect (Matt 23:24). Nor did He ever have to tell them to search the Scriptures. They did it all the time—though they did it for the wrong reason (John 5:39). Nor did He ever have to tell them to be careful in their association with unbelievers. In fact, when they came in from the marketplace, they used to wash themselves in certain special, ceremonial ways, lest they be contaminated by association with the Gentiles. You see, they all could say, like the rich young ruler, “All these things we have obeyed from our youth up” (Matt 19:20; Luke 18:21).

You would think that Jesus would be pleased in the face of such rigorous obedience and willingness to do precisely what they were told. You would also think they would recognize and welcome Him when He came. But all heaven watched the incredible scene of those who claimed to love God’s law denouncing the Lawgiver as a lawbreaker. It must have puzzled the angels a great deal. Jesus told them that while they were working hard to obey, they were obeying for the wrong reason (Matt 5:20 and 23:28 in context). Because they were obeying for the wrong reason, they were really not obeying at all. You can imagine how offensive this idea was to them. In fact, He went even further. He suggested that if they had truly known the God who had given the law, they would have kept the law for an entirely different reason. That would have made it possible for them to be both obedient and free at the same time (John 5:39-40; 8:32, 36).

The Old Testament prophets had dealt with this centuries before. Just to mention two, Amos and Isaiah had chided the people for their very reluctant Sabbath keeping. Amos recorded their words, “Oh, when will the Sabbath be past that we may buy and sell and get gain?” (Amos 8:5). Isaiah deplores their mechanical, unthinking obedience, particularly on the Sabbath:

The Lord said, “These people claim to worship Me, but their words are meaningless and their hearts are somewhere else. Their religion is nothing but human rules and traditions, which they have simply memorized” (Isa 29:13, GNB).

Or, as one translation has it: “Their worship of Me is but the commandments of men learned by rote” (Isa 29:13, RSV). And rote, unthinking worship is an insult to our intelligent God.

Chapter Twelve: “God’s Law No Threat to Freedom” (12:1)

Conversations About God
By A. Graham Maxwell (edited by Jon Paulien)

Chapter Twelve: “God’s Law No Threat to Freedom” (12:1)

Is there anything more precious to intelligent human beings than freedom? Freedom from tyranny, freedom from fear, freedom to do the things we want to do? The good news is that God values nothing higher than our freedom. But not all His children have believed this. In fact, Satan persuaded one-third of the brilliant angels that this is not true about our God; that He is instead arbitrary, exacting, vengeful, unforgiving, and severe. And how God has had to work in Scripture and history to make it clear that He is not the kind of Person His enemies have made Him out to be!

We have seen that war broke out in heaven, the war that we call the Great Controversy. This war has continued and extended to this planet. This is not primarily a war in the military sense, it is a “war of words,” between Satan’s lies and the truth about God. For thousands of years now, God has sought to reveal the truth about this matter; not in claims, but with the evidence of demonstration. Yet many people in this world still believe Satan’s lies. Even among very devout religious people–even among Christians, who of all people should know better–many still believe Satan’s lies. And so the war continues.

Jesus, Paul and Moses all agree that love is the fulfillment of God’s law. But love and trust, the things that God desires the most, cannot be commanded or produced by force. Nor can they be made an obligation, something that we owe to God because He’s been so good to us. God wants more than this, and so should we! Our heavenly Father values nothing higher than the freedom of His family, and Jesus suffered and died to prove it. But if real freedom requires mutual love and trust based on evidence, why does God seem to command our love in the Decalogue?

In the previous chapter we considered some of the emergency measures God has used to hold the family together while He continues demonstrating the truth. Perhaps the most notable of these emergency measures has been His use of law. And most notable among God’s laws have been the Ten Commandments. But to many, God’s extensive use of law seems opposed to freedom. It has indeed been seriously misunderstood. Confusion arises even from Jesus’ words to His disciples on this subject. For example, in the Gospel of John Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15, RSV). And He also said, “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (John 15:14, RSV). What kind of friendship is it that demands obedience? How do you combine “keep my commandments,” with “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free?” (John 8:32, 36).

Questions and Answers (11:10)

Lou: Questions arise in regard to the second part of this chapter, your presentation on intercession. You’ve talked about intercession and a mediator as an emergency measure. Does that mean that we don’t need an advocate? First John says, “If any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous” (1 John 2:1, KJV). Are you saying that we don’t need an advocate?

Graham: As I mentioned, if one is still afraid of God, the Bible says we have an advocate with the Father. However, once we know we don’t need someone to intercede with the Father, do we still need an advocate? What counts is who is really against us. We need an advocate standing beside the Father because Satan is against us. He is the accuser of the brethren day and night before God (Rev 12:10). In Zechariah 3 who is accusing Joshua the High Priest? Who is defending? In Job 1 and 2, who is accusing? Who is defending? Since we have an enemy, we need an advocate. We need someone to represent us. To God? No. He’s our Friend as much as the Son and the Holy Spirit.
A further reason we need an advocate is that our future neighbors and friends, the inhabitants of the universe, might not be too sure about us. And God doesn’t ask them to accept His list of candidates blindly. He doesn’t run His universe that way. So He allows Satan to accuse, and He has Jesus explain. If Jesus can defend them, He does. If He can’t, He won’t. In this role of advocate and intercessor Jesus is defending His loyal children, some of whom are just babes in the truth. If they trust Him like the thief on the cross, Jesus can say, “Yes, he has a terrible record as the Devil has pointed out, but he has a new heart and a right spirit. I commend him as safe to save, even to live next door to.” And his guardian angel heaves a big sigh of relief.

Lou: So this advocate is not protecting us from God’s wrath.

Graham: No. So often, we’ve got the wrong enemy. The Father’s not our foe. “If God can be for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8:31).

Lou: Speaking of Romans 8, in verse 26 it says that the Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered and sighs too deep for words. What about this text? How are both Jesus and the Spirit intercessors?

Graham: Well, we know the Spirit isn’t interceding with the Father. Jesus said there is no need. And the Spirit certainly isn’t interceding with the Son. So in the context of Romans 8 it says, “We do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit helps us to pray” (Rom 8:26-27). I also believe His intercession is exercised in teaching us the truth about ourselves (see texts like John 3:20-21 and Rom 2:15), and about our God (John 16:13)—that God is our friend. He helps us approach the Father in prayer. The intercession of the Spirit is helping us to see the truth and to tell the truth about ourselves. In a later chapter (Chapter Fifteen– “Talking to God As a Friend”) we will discuss the work of the Spirit in helping us talk to God.

Lou: You have talked about John 16:26 as a misunderstood or ignored text: “I say not unto you that I will pray the Father for you.” But there are so many texts about intercession and there’s this one that seems clear the other way, we don’t need an intercessor. You talked about the principle of understanding texts in the light of the whole Bible. But what if I said, “Look, let’s take all of these texts that talk about intercession and understand this one in the light of all the other texts?”

Graham: Yes. We so often say that if it’s a difficult verse, it should be understood in the light of all the clear ones. What makes this different is that Jesus labeled John 16:26 “plain and clear.” He didn’t say it was difficult. So we shouldn’t need the others to explain it.
I will accept the Son of God’s evaluation of His own statement. It is one of the only ones in the whole Bible designated as “plain and clear.” And I will understand all the other verses in the Bible in the light of this one. However, one should never leave the others out. We must build a model of understanding based on everything in the Bible. We must be able to put that precious verse in, and all the others, too.

Lou: Why does it tell us to pray in Jesus’ name? Does that mean God is too holy to approach and we need Jesus to kind of run interference, perhaps not against His anger, but in relationship to His holiness?

Graham: You said two things there of consequence. Sometimes we hear, “the Father is too holy to look on sin, so the Son came.” Are we implying the Son is not as holy as the Father? Forbid the thought! The Son is just as holy as the Father. I believe that to pray in Jesus’ name is a grateful recognition that if the Son had not come to reveal the truth, we wouldn’t know the Father. We wouldn’t know He is just as approachable as the Son. We wouldn’t be “bold to approach the throne of grace with confidence,” as Hebrews 4:16 says. We would be afraid to do it. So we pray in Jesus’ name, saying, “Thank You for the whole costly revelation and demonstration.” By the way, “Amen” is not simply a signal that the prayer is over. It implies: “I mean everything I’ve said, dear God. I really mean it!”

Lou: In Hebrews there are statements about how Jesus “was made like unto His brethren” (Heb 2:17), and He Himself has suffered being tempted (4:15), and that we can “come boldly” (4:16) because He has been tempted. Are you saying that these really aren’t important statements?

Graham: I think they are very important, but they certainly don’t mean that God had to come to this earth to learn how to be sympathetic. He came to show how sympathetic He already is. I do believe that Jesus learned as He was growing up (Heb 5:6). He learned from Scripture as we do, and He became convinced of the truth about His Father. And in this way He did grow up and became the marvelous person that He was. But He was no more friendly and understanding than His Father. He came to say, “This is what My Father is like” (John 14:9). But He also came to reveal that you can get all this from the Old Testament. That was the Bible He grew up with. How could He go out and say, “This is what My Father is like?” He got it from reading Jeremiah, and Isaiah, and Hosea, and Amos, and all those other places. The Old Testament is that clear.
The next chapter is an extension of this one, “God’s Law Is No Threat To Our Freedom.” The law has often been seen, by Christians of all denominations, as barring freedom in some way. So we will need to take some time on that topic.