When we start talking about the relationship between God’s law and New Testament Christians, everyone wants to jump right into Paul’s writings. It’s easy to pluck verses from his epistles out of context and use them to argue the law has been abolished and you don’t have to keep the commandments. But is that really the best explanation for passages like Romans 7 and Colossians 2 in light of the rest of the Bible?
I’ve written quite a bit about Romans but never Colossians, even though some commenters have asked. But a short time ago I was re-reading Paul’s letter to Colossae and felt a nudge in my spirit, “study this,” as I read 2:8:
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (KJV)
This verse provides context for what’s to follow. Paul’s going to be talking about the difference between following traditions invented by men and following Christ. He’s not just talking about whether or not the Old Testament law matters since Jesus came in the flesh. There’s another factor in play.
Jesus’ Take On God’s Law
Before going any farther in Paul’s writings, let’s look at what Jesus says. During His ministry, Jesus and His disciples were accused of things like Sabbath breaking, defiling Himself with sinners’ company, and unclean hygienic practices. We know that Jesus lived a sinless life and never broke His Father’s commands. But He did reject the additions humans made. Continue reading
I’ll bet none of us would just come out and say, “I know better than God” or “God’s wrong and I’m right.” We recognize that as arrogant, inaccurate, and fool-hardy. But far too often, we act like that’s what we think even if we’re not saying or even consciously thinking those words. We come up with reasons why we don’t have to keep His commands, or decide we have a better idea for how to obey than what’s instructed in scripture. We try to come figure out what being Christian means to us rather than seeking what it means to God.
The stories of Israel’s first two kings perfectly illustrate the different ways we humans can approach following God. Saul did what was right in his own eyes while pretending to follow God, and God wasn’t impressed. He took the kingdom away from Saul and his family to set up David, someone who would truly follow after God’s heart and listen to His commands.
Saul’s Prideful Disobedience
God chose Saul out of all the people, just as He later would David. It wasn’t His intention that Saul fail. But just two years into his reign, Saul found himself facing an army so terrifying his own troops ran and hid in caves. He waited seven days for Samuel the priest to come and offer sacrifice to God, but Samuel didn’t show.
That’s when Saul committed a sin that cost him the kingdom (1 Sam. 13). He made the decision to offer the sacrifice himself, showing a presumptuous disregard for God’s instructions. When Samuel showed up, Saul had all sorts of arguments to justify his actions but they didn’t change the fact that he’d ignored God’s will. Continue reading
It’s easier to follow the second great commandment “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” when you like your neighbor. But Jesus didn’t say “love the people you like” or that this great command only applies to people who are easy to be around.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not the tax collectors also do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing that is remarkable? Do not the Gentiles also do the same? Therefore you be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matt 5:46-48, LEB)
God is perfect in every way. In this case, however, Jesus is specifically talking about His perfect impartiality. Leading up to these verses, He said,
But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you, that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust. (Matt. 5:44-45, WEB)
If we want to be like God, we have to love the way He loves. God is love. It “is the sum and harmony of all His attributes, His essence” (Expositor’s Dictionary of Texts on 1 John 4:8-9). Love isn’t just something God does. It’s His nature; the motivation driving every choice He makes. The chief example of this is that while “we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8, LEB).
Clearing Up What Love Is
But things get complicated when dealing with humans. We run into questions, not because we’re trying to wiggle out of the command to love others but because we’re not sure what it means. Consider these scenarios:
- Does love that “bears all things” mean I let my abusive parents/spouse/etc. keep hurting me?
- Does love that “covers a multitude of sins” mean I always have to trust people again after forgiving them?
- Does love that “does not behave rudely” stay friends with people who creep you out?
There’s a statement in James that we’re all familiar with: “faith without works is dead.” While we can all agree James makes this statement, we don’t always agree on what it means. Citing other scriptures that say we’re justified by faith without works, some argue that a faithful Christian isn’t obligated to do things like obey God’s law or perform good deeds.
But “faith without works is dead” isn’t a statement James makes casually. It’s part of a larger teaching he’s sharing and it’s also part of an analogy that goes like this: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead“ (James 2:26, LEB).
In this analogy, faith is like our bodies and works are like our spirits. James is telling us that works give life to our faith in the same way the spirit in man gives life to our bodies. This is in response to a rhetorical question he asked earlier in the epistle: “Can we be saved by faith without works?” The answer he gives is “no.”
Believing Isn’t Enough
Faith is essential. It’s impossible to please God without faith, “for he that cometh to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6, KJV). But it’s not the only thing God is looking for in His people. Continue reading
Prayers are how we talk to God and, if we’re listening, one way He talks with us. The Bible contains several example prayers that can give us a guide, including many we don’t often think of. I’ve noticed that Paul tells people he’s writing epistles to that he’s praying for them, but before last week’s post I hadn’t thought much about using those as model prayers. In that post, we talked about the first prayer Paul records for the Ephesians. In this post, we’ll talk about the second.
To give some context, Paul has been talking about his role in preaching “the unsearchable riches of Christ” and ministering to the Gentiles. These riches include the fact that the Father now offers salvation to all men. Because of His work through our Lord Jesus Christ, we can boldly access God’s wisdom and revealed mysteries. With that discussion in place, Paul writes,
For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, of whom the whole family in heaven and earth is named (Eph. 3:14-15, KJV)
Last week, in examining Paul’s earlier prayer in Ephesians, we looked at the work God is doing in us through Christ and the monumental importance of Jesus’ role. But in focusing on Jesus, we must never forget where it all starts. The Father directs Christ’s work, leads the family of which He made Jesus the Head (Eph. 1:22), and is directly involved with the work being done. Asking the Father to work in believers is the focus of this prayer. Continue reading
If you’re like me, you’ve wondered, “What should I pray about?” and “How should I pray for others?” We know we’re supposed to pray as Christians and we’re given model prayers, but our prayer’s exact contents are left up to us. That makes sense — prayer is a conversation with God, not a recitation. But that also means we have to keep studying our Bibles to keep a good dialogue going between us and our Creator, as well as to gain deeper insights into how we ought to pray.
Paul’s epistles include several beautiful examples of his prayers for fellow believers. The book of Ephesians has two, both related to further deepening of their faith. A comment in last week’s sermon drew my attention to the second of these prayers, and I noticed the other when re-reading the whole letter. I was going to cover both in one article, but there’s far too much depth to cut the Bible study short. We’ll only talk about one of these prayers today.
Paul opens this letter blessing “the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). He talks about redemption, grace, and God’s will for us, along with our trust in Christ and the assurances we’ve been given of a glorious future. Then he says,
Therefore I also, after I heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, do not cease to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers (Eph. 1:15-16)
Paul’s not just praying for them. He’s also giving thanks that they’re already walking by faith in the Lord and loving the brethren. They’re practicing important commandments and grounded in fundamental truths. Because of that, he can pray they would experience a deeper conversion. Continue reading