the only way to fulfill God’s law

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:18

At this odd date in history, the thought could easily be mistranslated into if you are led by the same spirit that animates others in a common cause, then you can flout the law. Of course that is not even remotely related to what Paul is saying here. In Christ the law is fulfilled. It was never fulfilled by human understanding and effort, anyhow. There was a large prescribed way that became cumbersome because of all the add-ons by the religious leaders. But still, God intended the Law to be an important backdrop both for the life of Israel, and most importantly as a preparation for the fulfillment to come in Jesus. Of course the way that took place, Jesus’s actual fulfillment of the law and the prophets was unexpected, counterintuitive and contrary to those expectations. They began to see how this idea of embracing the cross, even dying on it was actually a fulfillment of the law. That is rather hidden in the First/Old Testament narrative, but you can see it after the fulfillment.

Being led by the Spirit as itself a fulfillment of the law (Romans 8:4 and context) is another way of saying that one is not under or subject to (NRSV) the law.  This is really about the law of Moses as it’s called, what was given by God through Moses at Mount Sinai. It was directives, really orders for their lives individually and as community. But it ended up being an important means of showing them their sin, and need for a Savior, indeed for the shedding of the blood of animals for forgiveness to be later fulfilled in Christ’s death on the cross.

Paul’s emphasis on being led by the Spirit, walking in the Spirit is contrary to our normal impulses. We want to do it ourselves, and in so doing, we automatically think of our efforts as fulfilling God’s law, what we understand God to be telling us as to what’s right and wrong. When we do that, we’re not living in the new life and the new freedom that new life brings us in Christ. We are either led by the Spirit, or we fall back into a practice that contradicts who we are as children of God. We are no longer in the flesh, according to Romans 8, so we need to live accordingly. Our desire and effort should be to walk in the Spirit, to be led by the Spirit. Out of that, the Spirit will bear the Spirit’s fruit in our lives:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

To be led by the Spirit doesn’t mean we’re above the law so that we can flout it. It is more related to Augustine’s words: “Love and do what you please.” What he meant is the love that comes from the Spirit through Christ.

But back to the main point: Being led by God’s Spirit means, as a friend said this morning to “have the grace of God allow us to walk in the Spirit’s guidance.” Paul’s letter to the Galatians here is all about living in God’s grace rather than under God’s law. And that’s done by the Holy Spirit. May God help us, help me to more fully enter into this reality and experience in and through Jesus.

“Jesus says/said” or “The Bible says”?

“You’re familiar with the command to the ancients, ‘Do not murder.’ I’m telling you that anyone who is so much as angry with a brother or sister is guilty of murder. Carelessly call a brother ‘idiot!’ and you just might find yourself hauled into court. Thoughtlessly yell ‘stupid!’ at a sister and you are on the brink of hellfire. The simple moral fact is that words kill.

Matthew 5:21-22; MSG

Jesus’s words here are so powerful, especially in the present days when words are so cheap, and word hits on others seem like a dime a dozen. But that’s not what this post is about. We know the well known exclamation from Billy Graham, I can hear the words ringing from him: “The Bible says!” Someone recently quoted someone else suggesting that this is a weakness within evangelicalism, a downplaying of Jesus’s words through an emphasis over and over and over again on what the Bible says.

I do like the idea of getting back to the gospel accounts: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And really studying our Lord’s teaching, yes, what Jesus said. As well as his life. After all we’re supposed to be his followers. Are we steeped in his words, his example, his call to us? Of course preceded by Jesus as God’s gift to us. We can’t follow his example apart from the gift Jesus is to us.

I know some of the criticism. We don’t need red letter Bibles because every part of God’s (written) word is important. I’m not crazy about red letter Bibles, maybe for other reasons, and believe all of Scripture is important for us even to understand Jesus, to see his life and teachings in proper context. So every book has its place, even if its directions are not for today, a good case in point being most of the book of Leviticus.

It seems to me that it would be healthy for us to start examining our positions on issues in the context of Jesus’s teachings, and what follows in the New/Second Testament with the backdrop of the First/Old Testament in consideration. Yes, Jesus sheds more light, after all he said he was present to fulfill Scripture, to bring it to its intended conclusion, however precisely that’s done. Sometimes in direct analogy, but other times showing something better to the point that the other is really not analogous.

So yes, maybe we do need to adopt more of a stance concerned with Jesus’s words. But not over the Bible, but within the context of the Bible. Eugene Peterson’s rendering above I think brings that out. Jesus was not at all telling his hearers to set aside Scripture, or even a saying in Scripture, but rather pouring his light onto it. It had its provisional place in time, and the letter of the law may still apply. But Jesus was getting at the heart of it. The truth of everything revealed in Jesus himself, what he said and did. Who God is and what God is about found in and through Jesus.

losing one’s focus (and one’s mind)

Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Mark 8:34-38

The call to follow Jesus is singularly one of focus and then acting accordingly. Certainly within the entire picture is all of Scripture, sorting out what is Jesus-like and in accord with the fulfillment Jesus brought from that which is not. Just because some person of God did something in Scripture does not make it right, or at least not right for us today. Remember Elijah calling down fire from heaven, and Jesus rebuking his disciples for wanting to do the same?

How Jesus’s words to his disciples during that time translate into our day is no small order, though I think there’s surely some direct corollary. We don’t have crosses now, but we must embrace the path of suffering for following Christ, and not just in some kind of western religious, salvation kind of way where nowadays so much about that at least expressed is about religious freedom. No, the way of Jesus can often strike right in the face of religious leaders, and certainly runs against the grain of the world’s way of thinking and action. Might doesn’t make right in God’s kingdom in King Jesus, nor lording it over others. Sacrificial, even suffering servant love wins the day in God’s eyes.

I have to ask when I see the mess today: “Are we losing our collective minds?” It’s so easy for us to lose our focus. And then go off on all sorts of directions other than where the Lord is going.

If we’re going to be true followers of Jesus, we need to learn to put first things first, get back to basics in what we’re focusing on, thinking about, and then practicing. It’s a matter of unswerving devotion to Christ, nothing else having that same place. It is also about being changed by the renewing of our minds so that we do not live in the ways of the world. We are called to follow Christ with the difference God’s kingdom brings- into our world, into all the world. In and through Jesus.

not seeing the forest for the trees

“Meaningless! Meaningless!” says the Teacher.
“Everything is meaningless!”

Ecclesiastes 12:8

It’s easy, as they say to miss the forest for the trees. We can get so hung up on this or that detail, seemingly important to us, maybe even important in their place, but in doing so we often fail to see the big picture. And the matter of us seeing is about perspective.

If you’re like me, you can become easily lost in this or that detail of life. Some good, bad, or maybe in some gray hard to see area. And we struggle to make heads or tails of things, to even do well or be well because we’re so honed in on the one matter, be it a problem, or maybe even more subtly dangerous for us, what seems good. 

We might do better, might start moving in a more healthy direction if we would step back and try to see the larger picture, even the big picture. Only God can help us do this. We need discernment when considering details, to hopefully begin to see them in light of the larger picture.

Qoheleth, translated “the Teacher” spent a lot of time looking at not just one detail, but many, “everything…under the sun” (8:9, 9:3). And what probably he could make out from it all was that it added up to no sense at all, “utterly meaningless” (1:2).

The one who shared Qoheleth’s thoughts then moves the readers/listeners to something more of the bigger picture. What can get lost in the details needs to be brought front and center. When we do that, then maybe we’ll see more clearly so that the details themselves begin to have a new meaning to us in light of the whole, maybe even more clearly understand the details themselves. Their place in God’s painting.

here is the conclusion of the matter:
Fear God and keep his commandments,
for this is the duty of all mankind.
For God will bring every deed into judgment,
including every hidden thing,
whether it is good or evil.

Ecclesiastes 12:13-14

That is truth, but as Christians we can’t, we dare not stop at the end of Ecclesiastes. We have to see even that in light of the fulfillment, the light that has come in Jesus. Only God can make that reality, but in faith we have to step into that possibility. When we do, we’ll find a God of all grace as well as truth who helps us begin to see, then live in what is given to us as the fulfillment toward the final end- in and through Jesus.

pay close attention

My son, keep my words
and store up my commands within you.
Keep my commands and you will live;
guard my teachings as the apple of your eye.
Bind them on your fingers;
write them on the tablet of your heart.
Say to wisdom, “You are my sister,”
and to insight, “You are my relative.”
They will keep you from the adulterous woman,
from the wayward woman with her seductive words.

Proverbs 7:1-5

If there’s anything we need to hear and hear clearly, I was going to say especially during formative times, but really during any time, we need to pay close attention to what God might be saying to us, to our lives, to what Scripture says in all of this. And we need to see that in terms of its fulfillment in Jesus.

Experience plays into all of this. We don’t draw directly from experience for our answers, but experience confirms whether or not we’re on the right path, and that, over time. And yet is never the basis.

God is telling us in this passage in the Proverbs that if you go a certain route, you’ll indeed be burned. We do have to see the passage in terms of its meaning today since it is no longer Israel of old in a completely different culture. In what we now call the old covenant since we are part of the new.

Even so, we need to let these words into our hearts, our beings, and our lives. Pay close attention to the details, and quit thinking that somehow we might be above that, that they don’t really apply to us. Indeed, they do. God will give us discernment as we seek to hear and heed that we might be obedient children in and through Jesus.

At the window of my house
I looked down through the lattice.
I saw among the simple,
I noticed among the young men,
a youth who had no sense.
He was going down the street near her corner,
walking along in the direction of her house
at twilight, as the day was fading,
as the dark of night set in.

Then out came a woman to meet him,
dressed like a prostitute and with crafty intent.
(She is unruly and defiant,
her feet never stay at home;
now in the street, now in the squares,
at every corner she lurks.)
She took hold of him and kissed him
and with a brazen face she said:

“Today I fulfilled my vows,
and I have food from my fellowship offering at home.
So I came out to meet you;
I looked for you and have found you!
I have covered my bed
with colored linens from Egypt.
I have perfumed my bed
with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon.
Come, let’s drink deeply of love till morning;
let’s enjoy ourselves with love!
My husband is not at home;
he has gone on a long journey.
He took his purse filled with money
and will not be home till full moon.”

With persuasive words she led him astray;
she seduced him with her smooth talk.
All at once he followed her
like an ox going to the slaughter,
like a deer stepping into a noose
till an arrow pierces his liver,
like a bird darting into a snare,
little knowing it will cost him his life.

Now then, my sons, listen to me;
pay attention to what I say.
Do not let your heart turn to her ways
or stray into her paths.
Many are the victims she has brought down;
her slain are a mighty throng.
Her house is a highway to the grave,
leading down to the chambers of death.

what does Jesus say? (not, what does the Bible say?)

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[h] But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Matthew 5:38-42

Ever since I prayed to know the Lord better, to know him at all it seemed to me, shortly thereafter I’ve been undergoing a slow revolution. It’s liberating, but difficult on a number of levels. One of them is to reject all the more what’s called a flat Bible. 

By a flat Bible, I mean the tendency to want to see a straight correlation between any passage and us today. At the same time there is some application we can receive from any given passage, even if it’s remote and indirect. But to get there, we Christians have to see everything in the context of what Jesus taught, and the revelation that Jesus brings in his fulfillment of all things. The difference that makes, and it does make a marked and even contrasting difference at certain points.

For example consider the woman caught in the act of adultery. Wasn’t the man there, too? But that’s another issue, yet relevant when you consider Jesus’s life and teaching. But to the point: Jesus rejected the Law’s prescription: stoning. Instead he tells the men present that whoever has no sin should cast the first stone. And we know what happened. Beginning with the oldest, they all departed. Then Jesus told the woman to go and sin no more (John 8:1-11). We know that Jesus ends up taking on himself all condemnation, guilt and sin heaped on him at the cross. And because of who he is through that takes on himself what we deserve, so that we’ll never have to receive that ourselves.

Don’t get me wrong, it is important what the Bible says. But as Christians we read every bit of Scripture in light of the revelation of Christ, God’s final word. We have to see everything in light of Christ’s teachings, and his life. It’s the way of the cross for us always, the way of love and forgiveness, the way of mercy and grace in the reality that justice is no longer something Christ followers have to satisfy. That is taken care of in Christ himself. 

All of that to say, this certainly doesn’t make it easy. Easier in a way in that we’re now hopefully walking more squarely in the way of Christ. But harder- given the world, the flesh and the devil. Even for Jesus that way was heaped with ridicule, scorn and eventually the abuse and thorns before the cross. That is the way for us as well.

Difficult to understand. Yes. We need the Spirit’s help. Even more difficult to live, though again through the Spirit we can begin to walk in these steps. As we seek to read and understand all of Scripture in the light of Jesus. In and through him.

Jesus-centered, not Bible-centered

You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

John 5:39-40

The Pharisees Jesus was dealing with were meticulous in their application of Scripture, along with their reading and memorizing of it. Not enough. Simply not enough. They missed the trees for the forest, the forest for the trees, put simply, they missed the point.

I have lived in a Christian evangelical culture for decades. Scripture is central in that culture. Memorizing Bible verses emphasized for the young and old. Just be in Bible is the mantra. The rest will take care of itself.

Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. We’ve missed so much. Maybe not the entire point, but enough of it, that I fear sometimes we actually have. No, I’m no longer interested just in what the Bible has to say about anything. I want to see how Jesus fits into any and all of that.

Scripture is important. I believe it’s primary in how we reach the main goal. But it’s not the goal itself. The fulfillment in Jesus is the goal. Reading all of Scripture in that light. All of it is edifying in that light. Without that light, no it’s not. And hold to what Jesus taught us, how he lived. Nothing more, nothing less. In and through Jesus.

the light that is beginning to shine even now

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations.
He will not shout or cry out,
or raise his voice in the streets.
A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out.
In faithfulness he will bring forth justice;
he will not falter or be discouraged
till he establishes justice on earth.
In his teaching the islands will put their hope.”

This is what God the Lord says—
the Creator of the heavens, who stretches them out,
who spreads out the earth with all that springs from it,
who gives breath to its people,
and life to those who walk on it:
“I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

“I am the Lord; that is my name!
I will not yield my glory to another
or my praise to idols.
See, the former things have taken place,
and new things I declare;
before they spring into being
I announce them to you.”

Isaiah 42:1-9

The one true hope for the world is fulfilled in Jesus, and is Jesus himself. That is present today through the gospel and the church, through the pages of Scripture. And even supposed to be through us in Jesus. The light to the world. And nations I believe are held accountable in that light. It’s not like they can do what only Christ can do. But they are to work to the same end, taking care of those in need, and not showing favoritism to the rich, or living “high on the hog” themselves. God will hold not only all individual people accountable, but governments and nations. In and through Jesus.

participation in God’s victory in Christ

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

May the Lord answer you when you are in distress;
may the name of the God of Jacob protect you.
May he send you help from the sanctuary
and grant you support from Zion.
May he remember all your sacrifices
and accept your burnt offerings.
May he give you the desire of your heart
and make all your plans succeed.
May we shout for joy over your victory
and lift up our banners in the name of our God.

May the Lord grant all your requests.

Now this I know:
The Lord gives victory to his anointed.
He answers him from his heavenly sanctuary
with the victorious power of his right hand.
Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.
They are brought to their knees and fall,
but we rise up and stand firm.
Lord, give victory to the king!
Answer us when we call!

Psalm 20

On a surface reading, Psalm 20 appears to be about anyone and for anyone. And to some extent that’s true. But we have to see it in terms of its fulfillment in Christ. A number of things are noteworthy for us when we do.

I would like to focus, though, on one thing. The hope expressed that God would give them the desire of their heart. I see this both collectively and individually. What is our heart’s desire?

When I consider this in terms of God’s fulfillment in Christ, I can see how Christ’s heart’s desire is given to us more and more as we grow in him. His heart’s desire was to do the will of his Father, and to give his life completely for us, yes, as a sacrifice, in sacrificial death, that through that death we might live in his new resurrection life.

And Christ prays for us. God does grant all of his requests. We need to hold on to truth like that. And realize that on the basis of what God has done and is doing for us in Christ, we can indeed participate even for the life of the world (John 6). In and through Jesus.

a need for today: wisdom

The beginning of wisdom is this: Geta]”>[a] wisdom.
Though it cost all you have,b]”>[b] get understanding.

Proverbs 4:7

When I look at my own life, hopefully prayerfully in the light of God’s word with God’s help, I see growth only by God’s grace of course, over the years, but I also see deficiency and the need for more wisdom. And when I consider society today, specifically in the context of American politics, I see a lack of wisdom all too often, and too often I’ve been part of that.

Wisdom is basically knowing what is best to do and not do. It is for all aspects of life, for life itself. It begins with the fear of God, and involves accepting God’s embrace of love in Christ at the cross. We can live in God’s wisdom only in and through Christ, who himself is wisdom to us from God. We have to read all of Scripture in light of that. But still we have to see each part as well as we can within its own context.

In this passage in Proverbs (click above link for entire chapter, the subtitle in the NIV being “Get Wisdom at Any Cost”) the importance of wisdom and along with basics are shared. We have to go back and back again to passages like this, and let its truth soak in and change our priorities.

The decision to receive and essential ongoing follow through in walking in the way of wisdom God gives us will be life changing. It’s a decision which means a new direction for us in life. The clearer that is to us, and the more intentional, the better off we’ll be, and the more true success from God we’ll find.

Of course we won’t be perfect in this pursuit, and will stumble along the way. But that should make us all the more determined by God’s grace to continue to move in this direction. Wisdom is what we need, and what God wants to give to us. In and through Jesus.