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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.

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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?