“Being Perplexed”

Chameleon

Peter was perplexed. So says Luke in Acts 10:17

Not just “perplexed” but “way perplexed.”  Check out these definitions by Greek experts:

A.T. Robertson: “To be completely at a loss to know what road to take.”

Schaff’s Commentary: “to doubt within himself.”

Barclay: “At a loss in his own mind.”

What caused this bold, strong-minded “Rock” to be so fickle? Here’s what happened.

Peter is up on a roof praying and gets hungry. It happens in church services every Sunday. Peter goes into a trance – which also happens in church services every Sunday. In this trance, Peter sees a sheet, a very large sheet coming down from heaven like a sail. This sheet is overflowing with mammals, reptiles and birds – all of them “unclean” according to Leviticus 11. Everything in Peter’s religious education tells him that these things are off limits – “Can’t touch this!”

They are abominations.

Tasty? You bet.

But Peter wouldn’t know. “I have never eaten anything that our Jewish laws have declared impure and unclean” (Acts 10:14).

Poor guy.

But there on the roof, with this delicious but unholy spread before him, Peter hears a voice say to him,
Not once,

Not twice,

But three times. “3” is big in literature – Three wishes, Three Bears, Three Little Pigs,. “3” is big in the Bible – Three temptations of Jesus; Moses was hidden for three months; Peter denied Jesus three times; Jonah was in the belly of the fish for three days. Middle-School aged Jesus went missing for three days. Saul was blinded for three days… Well, you get the picture.

According to Jewish law, once something is done three times, it is considered a permanent thing. “Three” is big.

The voice said, “Pull up a chair and eat. Eat and enjoy.”

Peter’s response? “I don’t think so.”  Check out the different translations of Acts 10:14, “Surely not Lord,” “Absolutely not, Lord,” “Never Lord,” “Lord, I can’t do that,”

When we hear this story in Sunday School, we think, “Peter, you’re an idiot! What’s so hard about this? Can’t you hear what God is telling you to do?”

Yes, Peter heard.

There’s the conflict.

There’s the rub.

There’s the chaos.

That’s why he was perplexed. He heard loud and clear. But, what he was hearing now from God went totally against what God is recorded as saying before.

Here’s God in Scripture. “Don’t eat” (Leviticus 11:47).

Here’s God in a dream. “Eat”

Same God.

Different message.

“I’m so confused.”

Like a chameleon in a bag of Skittles.

Eat the very things you’ve been told not to eat. The things that were called “unclean” I now call “clean.” Whoa!

Peter obeyed the vision. He disobeyed Leviticus 11:47.

We know the event wasn’t about food. It was about people. An “unclean” man, a Gentile, was knocking at Peter’s door. God wasn’t just opening Peter’s eyes and taste buds to the flavors of pork. He was opening Peter’s heart and arms to a Gentile named Cornelious and all the Gentiles to follow.

What would have happened had Peter made a different call?

What does this event mean for us as we interpret and apply the Bible?

I really don’t have a clear answer to that last question.

I was raised with the belief that the Holy Spirit will never contradict the Bible – but it seems that wasn’t the case with Peter.

I’m a bit perplexed myself.

Maybe this event tells me that the Bible + the Holy Spirit + Reason + the Community past and present work together to reveal what God wants.

What do you think?

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I’m frequently asked how a Christ-follower can grow toward maturity without the law (rules)?  It happened again this week.  I love the question – most of the time.  Some of the time I don’t love it – times when the question is a set-up or even an attack instead of a genuine effort to understand how to be more like Jesus.

I do appreciate people who really want to grow in likeness to Christ.   I also understand people who get pretty passionate over their position.  I can be one of those passionate persons:)

I read again this week, Acts 15, which  records a debate between some pretty passionate people over the same topic.  In the early days of Christianity almost all Christians had been Jews. In Antioch, though, a lot of Gentiles (non Jews) had come to faith in Christ.  These new converts knew nothing about the laws of Judaism which really bothered the leadership. “Don’t non-Jews have to become Jews to follow the Jewish Messiah?” “Sure. Let’s give ‘em a list.”

One thing on the list was especially troublesome – especially to the men – surgery. Yep, circumcision.  “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved” (Acts 15:1).  The list didn’t stop there.  The new converts were required to submit to the entire law!! This ticked off Paul and Barnabas, whom the Bible says were in “sharp dispute and debate” (Acts 15:2).  They couldn’t come to an agreement so they took it up with the big boys in Jerusalem – James and Peter.

The “passionate” debate continued.  Paul and Barnabas presented their view (grace) and their opponents countered with “No! The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to keep the law of Moses” (Acts 15:5).  I love Peter’s reply: “Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear?”   In other words, “Come on guys!  Get real.  How many of you keep all the law?  No hands? I didn’t think so.  So why are we making Gentiles keep it?” Peter concludes with a clear statement of his position: “We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11).

Game over, right?  Not yet.  It’s James’ turn.   “Peter’s right, guys. It is my judgment that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God” (Acts 15:14-19).   I wish James would have stopped there, but he doesn’t. “Let’s just make them do 4 things – 1. Eat no food sacrificed to idols, 2. stay away from sexual sin, 3. no eating animals that were strangled, 4. no eating bloody meat.  Really, James?  What are you saying?

Some commentators say that James was offering a compromise between the two groups.  His decision wasn’t so much theological as it was relational.  I like that view.  Others say that James was a legalist and really messed this one up.  Maybe so.   Or, there is the view that the stipulations still apply today!  I hope not.   I like my steak rare.

So, how does all this apply to maturing in our spiritual life.  How can we grow in Christ and help others grow?  Paul, one of the passionate debaters in the Acts 15 event makes the following contrasts in 2 Corinthians 3:1-18:
Old covenant – New covenant
Of the letter – of the Spirit
Etched in stone – written in our hearts
Kills – gives life
Brings condemnation – brings righteousness

Can we agree that the goal of spiritual growth is likeness to Christ?  Then what method is going to get us there?  Following rules or depending on the Spirit?

Paul concludes his thoughts in 2 Corinthians 3 with this  affirmation: “And the Lord, who is the Spirit, makes us more like him as we are changed into his glorious image (2 Corinthians 3:18).  I think I’ve got the answer for me.

Free From the Law, O Happy Condition

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I’ve heard some questions, and some protests, about my position that Christians are not under the law:

“If we don’t have to obey the law of Moses, what’s to keep us from sinning?”
“Isn’t anything sin anymore?”

Behind these questions lies a fear that the grace message is an invitation to sin.  We’ve seen that fear before:

“What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase?” (Romans 6:1),  the Roman Christians ask in response to Paul’s grace message in Romans 5.

Paul’s answer?  “By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:2).

Then, Paul speaks to the Law issue, “For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:14-15)

Two things seem real clear:
We are not “under the law.”  I really don’t know how we miss that.  How can Paul be more plain?
Being out from under the law does not give us a license to sin.

I’ve got a couple of questions of my own:

Why does a Christ-follower choose to live by the Law instead of the Spirit? I don’t get people who don’t like chocolate and I don’t get Christians who live by the Law.

“Law following” Christians claim to want to live like Jesus.   I believe they really do. But following the Law won‘t get us there.
“through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.” (Romans 8:2) – The law brings death, not life.

“So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.” (Romans 7:4)  There’s no fruit on the Law-tree.

“You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.  For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope.” Galatians 5:4-5)  If we choose to live a “righteous” life by following the Law then we cut ourselves off from the resources provided by God – His grace. Paul gives us a choice: Grace or Law?  We can’t have it both ways.

Paul asks my next question. It’s a tough one:  “O,  foolish Galatians! Who has cast an evil spell on you?  For the meaning of Jesus Christ’s death was made as clear to you as if you had seen a picture of his death on the cross.  Let me ask you this one question: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by obeying the law of Moses? Of course not! You received the Spirit because you believed the message you heard about Christ.  How foolish can you be? After starting your Christian lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?  Have you experienced so much for nothing? Surely it was not in vain was it?” (Galatians 5:1-4

Paul doesn’t hold back.  He doesn’t sound happy.  He uses some harsh language: “Foolish” literally – a “non-thinker.”  “Cast an evil spell” -under the spell of false teachers.   He sounds frustrated and angry that people are buying what the Judaizers are selling – the teaching that Christ-followers have to follow the Law.  Maybe he’s mad at the sellers as well.  He calls them “dogs” in Philippians 3:2.

“Let’s think this through, “ Paul seems to say.  “If we aren’t saved by obeying the Law then we don’t live the Christian life by obeying the Law.”  There’s a new sheriff in town.  His name is the Holy Spirit and His law is love.

“If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself,’ you are doing right.” James 2:8

“…for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.” Romans 13:8

“Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” Romans 13:10

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

“I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel…” Galatians 1:6

“…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”  Romans 8:2

Back in my childhood in every Baptist church to which I belonged, we sang songs by Philip P. Bliss: “Wonderful Words of Life”  “Jesus Loves Even Me” and this one:

Free from the law, O happy condition
Jesus has bled and there is remission,
Cursed by the law and bruised by the fall,
Grace hath redeemed us once for all.

Now we are free, there’s no condemnation,
Jesus provides a perfect salvation.
“Come unto Me,” O hear His sweet call,
Come, and He saves us once for all.

Paul got it.  Philip Bliss got it.  I want to live the rest of my life getting it.

Jesus Fought the Law and the Law Lost

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Headlines like the one above really irritate some people.  “How dare they pick and choose?!”  But be honest.  We all pick and choose.  Who among us obey all 613 commands of the Mosaic law?  That’s right.  Some people believe that the Law is just the Ten Commandments.  Actually, the Law of Moses contains 613 commandments covering everything from blood sacrifices to men’s haircuts to sewage disposal to charging interest on loans.

The New Testament seems to take a few steps further than the Supreme Court:

Romans 6:14: For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.

Romans 7:4: So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.  

Galatians 2:19: For through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God.

Romans 7:6: But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Galatians 3:24-45: So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith.  Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian

Colossians 2:14: ...having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.

Hebrews 8:13: By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

Hebrews 10:9:  He sets aside the first to establish the second.

Romans 10:4:  For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.

Ephesians 2:14-15:  For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances…

Not under law; died to the law; dying to what once bound us;  released from the law; no longer under a guardian; nailed to the cross; obsolete; set aside; Christ is the end of the law; abolishing the law.  Strong words.  Clear communication.

I can hear the objections: “But wait!  What about Matthew 5:17-19? Take that!  See, the law is still in effect.  We’re still supposed to follow it.”  Jesus said,  Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished…”

Well, this is confusing.  Paul says Jesus abolished the law (Ephesians 2:15) and Jesus says he has not come to abolish the law!  What’s up?

Back it up.  Jesus did say the law would disappear when two things happened: 1. heaven and earth will disappear,  and, 2. everything is accomplished.   When those two things happen, the law is out of here! It’s gone. So long.  See ya later.  Gone like Roger Daltrey’s shirt.

#2 – Everything is accomplished –  At a key moment Jesus announced that everything was finished – at that moment. “It is finished.” John 19:30

#1 – Heaven and earth will disappear – Well, that obviously means a literal heaven and earth disappearing. Doesn’t it?  Maybe not.
If “heaven and earth” refers to a literal, physical heaven and earth, then, yep, the Law of Moses has not passed – it’s still alive and kicking.  But I believe that “heaven and earth” is a metaphor for political or national systems.  Take a look at these references:
Isaiah 1:1-2; Isaiah 24:3-6; Isaiah 34:3-5; Hebrews 12:26-28; Matthew 24:29; Luke 21:32-33

In the last two references Jesus wasn’t speaking of a physical heaven and earth but of a system – a way of doing things – the Mosaic Covenant with its laws, sacrifices, priesthood, tabernacle (Hebrews  9:8-11).  Jesus was speaking of the fall of Jerusalem that would happen about 40 years later in A.D. 70 when God removed the things that could be shaken and in their place gave His people a Kingdom which can never be moved (Hebrews 12:18-28).

Luke 21:32-33 contains the same elements as Matthew 5:17-19 – the disappearance of heaven and earth and everything accomplished.

Jesus and Paul are not in conflict with one another.  Heaven and earth – the system under the Mosaic covenant disappeared bringing on the abolishment of the law!!!!

So, I guess we can just let ourselves go wild?!  God, as always, has this covered;
So Christ has truly set us free.  Now make sure you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law…For you have been called to live in freedom … but don’t use your freedom to satisfy your flesh.  Instead, use your freedom to serve one another in love…So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide our lives.  Then you won’t be doing what your flesh craves (Galatians 5:1-16).

The law or the Holy Spirit?  What is our choice?

What About the Law?

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Over the last few weeks I have followed the discussion in the blogosphere concerning the role of the Old Testament law.  The question centers on a variation of Moses’ statement made in the above “Speed Bump” cartoon: “What part of the law is meant for us?”

People answer that question in one of three ways:
1. All of it.  2. Some of it.  3. None of it.

Let’s look a bit more closely at the three options:

1. Think hard about this before you say, “Of course all of it is meant for us! God said it so I’ll do it!”  Placing yourself in that group means that you’ve cleaned all of the cotton-polyester     clothes out of your closet – Leviticus 19:19; Deuteronomy 22:11; that you order your     steak “well-done,”  Leviticus 19:26; that you never cut your hair, Leviticus 19:27 (If only I would have used that verse during the great hair-debates of the 60s); and other behaviors that just don’t make much sense to us today.

2. The “some of it” group is huge.  This view breaks the law into three categories:
a. The moral law – declares how man should live.
b. The civil law – describes the legal structures for the ancient nation of Israel.
c. The ceremonial law – declares how Israel was to worship.

The “some of it” group says that only the moral law is “meant for us.”  The ceremonial     and civil laws were meant only for ancient Israel.   So, “Don’t murder” still applies but not the “no haircut” rule. This view is the one held by most Christians today.

3.   The “none of it” answer is the one that I believe is the right one.  To explain why will take a lot longer than one post! Let’s jump in.

*The Bible gives no hint of different “kinds” of law.  It’s all one.  Joshua speaks of the Law as one unit when he writes in Joshua 1:8, “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; mediate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.  Then you will be prosperous and successful.”

It sounds like Paul does the same thing in Galatians 5:3, “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.”

No division by either Joshua or Paul.

*How do you pick and choose?  It gets confusing.  “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18) is followed in the very next verse by the law “do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.”  Should verse 18 be seen as “meant for us” while verse 19 is dismissed as nonapplicable?   The text gives no indication that any kind of hermeneutical shift has taken place between the two verses.

One of the clearest examples of the confusion in picking which law to keep and which to dismiss is the 4th commandment out of the Big 10 – Exodus 31:14-15 – the one about keeping the Sabbath.  The “some of it” group says that the 10 Commandments are part of the Moral Law, and thus, meant for us today. Wouldn’t most people believe that we are to keep the 10 Commandments?  Yes, but do we really keep the Sabbath?

“Sure. I go to church on Sunday.”

That’s great.  But that’s not keeping the Sabbath.  If we’re going to keep the law, we can’t alter it or adjust it.  The Sabbath is the seventh day which is Saturday.  Keeping the Sabbath didn’t have anything to do with going to church.  It was having a day of total rest.  No work, no chores, no cooking, no traveling.

“But aren’t there passages that say we don’t need to observe the Sabbath anymore?” Yep.  Take a look at Romans 14:5, “In the same way, some think one day is more holy than another day, while others think every day is alike.  You should be fully convinced that whichever day you choose is acceptable.”  Want another?  “So, don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths.  For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come.  And Christ himself is that reality.” Colossians 2:16-17

So are we required to keep the Sabbath?  It doesn’t sound like it.  So I guess that means we are to obey the Nine Commandments…right?  Confusing.

Paul may clear it up a bit.
“Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.  The law was given through angels and entrusted to a mediator.”  Galatians 3:19

So, Phillip, what do we do with the 10 Commandments?  We follow many of these same commands like “no adultery”, “no murder”, etc.  But we don’t follow them because they are the 10 Commandments.  We follow them because we follow the way of love – the way of Christ who is the Seed who has come.

“For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’… But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.”  Galatians 5:14,18

Love, as experienced and expressed in Jesus is what is meant for us.