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Combating Legalism I

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Question #1:   I was sent this letter which to me seems as if it is borderline legalism. Almost as if he is telling us that we have to keep the commandments to be saved. I believe that we keep the commandments because we are saved and we love God (John 14:21)...he seems to have it backwards. He is what he wrote:

Covenant is based upon the promise of God:

"But this shall be the Covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; after those days, saith the Lord, I will put My laws in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people." jer 31:31-34;Ezek 36:26,27; Matt 26:28; Heb 8:10

WHO is He speaking of? Paul answers, "Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made, He saith not, And to thy seeds, as of many: but as of one, And to thy seed which is Christ." "And if ye be Christ's, then are YE Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." Ga 3:16,29

"Know ye therefore that they which are of faith, the same are the children of Abraham." Ga 3:7

"For he is not a Jew; who is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God." Rom 2:28,29

The promises were made through Abraham to the children of promise (Rom 9:6-8), who are justified by faith - whether Jew or Gentile.

The Old Covenant = The New Covenant, engraved upon the hearts and minds of God's people,

As far as the Sabbath is concerned, in Matt 24:20, Jesus prophesied, that, the Sabbath would be kept during The Great Tribulation, and we are not there, yet.

Isaiah prophesied, that, God's people will keep the Sabbath in His kingdom:

"For as the new heavens and the new earth, which I will make, shall remain before Me, saith the Lord, so shall your seed and your name remain. And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another, shall all flesh come to worship before Me, saith the Lord." Isa 66:22,23

A sign of The Antichrist is "...he thinks to change times and laws." Dan 7:25. He, only, "thinks to change," because no man/institution can overrule our Creator and change His law. The, only, time in His Covenant is the Sabbath.

Rome says, "Of course the Catholic Church claims the change was her act...and the act is a mark of her ecclesiastical power and authority in religious matters." Thomas, H.F., Chancellor of Cardinal Gibbons, in answer to a letter regarding the change of the Sabbath.

Again, Rome says, "It's (Sunday's change for Saturday) is the mark of our authority to overrule God's law." Father Enright, C.S.S.R., President of Redemptorist College, History of the Sabbath, p. 802

"Sunday is our mark of authority...The Church is above the Bible, and this transference of Sabbath observance is proof of that fact." The Catholic Record, Sept 1, 1923

"The Bible says, 'Remember that thou keep holy the Sabbath day.' The Catholic Church says, 'No! by my divine power, I abolish the Sabbath day, and command you to keep holy the first day of the week. And, lo! The entire civilized world bows down in reverent obedience to the command of the holy Catholic Church." Father Enright.

The Ten Commandments are just that - Commandments.

Isn't this a form of legalism? Thanks in advance!

Response #1:   Yes I would agree with you. "Keeping the law to be saved" is the very biblical definition of legalism. But of course as Peter said with regard to keeping the law for salvation:

Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear?
Acts 15:10 NIV

And as Paul said with regard to keeping the law for salvation:

You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.
Galatians 5:4 NIV

This person's theory about the New Covenant being the same as the Old is patently absurd. For as our Lord says:

"This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."
Luke 22:20 NIV

I think that part of this person's problem stems from the fact that he/she like many Christians, and, indeed, many theologians, doesn't really understand what a "covenant" is. A biblical covenant is a promise made by God to us whereby God guarantees the outcome. The Old covenant pre-dates the law of Moses, because it is in its essence a promise made to Abraham. Circumcision was the seal or tangible pledge of the acceptance of that promise. The essential difference between the Old promise and the New promise is that the Old looked forward to a future fulfillment through shadows, but in the New we have the promise face to face in Jesus Christ: His person in resurrection and His work in dying for our sins. Today as well the promise requires our acceptance: through faith and faithful following of Jesus Christ. But as far as the shadows which looked forward to Christ are concerned, scripture is very clear about the fact that we have to be careful how we understand them and how we keep them, for keeping them as they did in Israel may in some cases be meaningless (i.e., the only idolatry we are likely to be faced with in the near term is that of greed and covetousness: Eph.5:5; Col.3:5), and in many others fall well short of the mark (e.g., as explained in the link below, "honoring" parents is to be understood in a broader way as respect for established authority generally).

As to an even more chilling example, were we to do what the Hebrews of Paul's day were doing and continue to offer animal sacrifice, that would be wrong because it would proclaim that, in effect, Jesus' sacrifice, now a reality, was somehow ineffective. In a similar manner the ten commandments need to be approached not in ignorance of Christ and the New Testament/Covenant, but completely informed by all the wonderful truth we are blessed now to have received, things that all true believers in the past longed to know and to see (Jn.8:56; 1Pet.1:11). The ten commandments were essentially a "faithfulness pledge"; that is to say, they comprise a basic code of behavior which if adhered to will keep a person who wants to be walking with God faithfully away from some of the most dangerous pitfalls to faith by keeping holy 1) towards God (#1-3); 2) towards life generally (#4); 3) towards authority (#5); and 4) towards others (#6-10) [please see the link: in SR#5 "The Ten Commandments"]. Notice two important things: 1) these are all negatives; that is, they all address sanctification, spiritual defense, but none of them directly address spiritual growth, the offense of the Christian way of life without which faith would be dead and rewards impossible.

The one exception to all this is in part the 4th commandment, because it was generally only on the Sabbath day that a person had much opportunity to receive any formal instruction in the Word of God. That one day a week Sabbath has now been replaced by a moment by moment Sabbath wherein we are charged as believers to walk with Jesus at all times; and through the wide distribution of spiritual gifts in the Church, the wide availability of the Bible, and the universal indwelling of the Spirit, we have both the opportunity and the responsibility to be at the business of spiritual growth virtually at all times: if we are not availing ourselves of teaching or reading the Bible, then we should be aggressively applying the truth we have learned and believed by thinking, saying, and applying the truth in all we do. To reduce the grace of God in all its wonder to the observance of a single day and call that Christianity is worse than legalism, and its outcome may be apostasy.

We are to love and follow and honor the Lord who bought us all day every day, not just one day, whether Saturday or Sunday. That is how we show that the truth of God is truly written on our hearts.

As to "not one jot or tittle", see this link, specifically the part on "Lloyd Jones and the SDA" (Sabbath is observance no longer appropriate), and also please see the following links for more:

The Sabbath

Sabbath Questions

Sunday as the new Sabbath

The 10 Commandments (in "Hamaritiology", part 3B of "Bible Basics") 

In Jesus who is our Passover,

Bob L.

Question #2:  

 I have a question on Col. 2:17. Could you please explain the verb to me that is used here, the "...things which are a mere shadow of what is to come, but Christ is the substance." Some Messianic Jews where I hang out use the verb here--"what is to come; what is coming" to mean that the New Covenant hasn't appeared yet, since it has "is to come." I say we are in the new covenant, and that this simply means that these things are still the shadow of what is to come, namely, Jesus, but He is the substance/body. I'm not sure, but they may be referring to the second coming. Could you please explain the verb form used here and what is the best way of translating it? Thanks. God bless you.

Response #2:  

Here is how I translate the passage in context:

So don't let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink, or in the category of festival observances, be it of new moons or Sabbaths. All these things are shadows of what was to come, but the reality has to do with Christ. Let no one gain control over your life, desiring to [enslave you to himself] through a show of false humility and the adoration of angels, basing his approach on what he has [allegedly] seen while puffed up by his own fleshly thoughts, yet not embracing the Head [Christ]. For it is from this Source that the entire body [the Church] is [truly] supplied and instructed through [all] its joints and sinews, and [thus] produces the growth that God has given. If you have died with Christ to these false [pagan] principles [belonging to] this world, why are you letting yourselves be [wrongly] indoctrinated as if your life were of this world? In accordance with the commandments and teaching of [mere] men [these false teachers tell you] "Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!", even though [we know] that all these [are only] things [which] decay with use.
Colossians 2:16-22

The verb here in Greek is mello, meaning "about to be". It is a participle here and in semantic terms varies little in meaning from the future participle of the verb "to be" (it's just a bit more colloquial). Other translators too (NIV in particular), have recognized that, the tense of the participle being relative only, Paul means the action of mellonton to be relative to the time when these rituals were being accomplished in the past, not to the time of writing. That is to say, Paul is speaking of the shadows of the Law historically, not presently. That is a long way of saying that the best way to translate this passage is "these things are shadows of what was to come" (or NIV: "These are a shadow of the things that were to come"). Since this passage doesn't have anything to do with covenants per se, explaining features of the Law as "shadows" (something paralleled elsewhere in scripture: Heb.8:5; 10:1), certainly ought to be understood from that past historical perspective no matter how one wishes to translate the phrase; Paul is most certainly looking backward here, not forward. The point of the Colossians passage is that the elements of the Law pointed to Christ, they adumbrated Him (as shadows do), but He is the reality, the true "Body". Christ fulfills the Law regarding righteousness, at least for all who believe in Him (Rom.10:4).

Biblical covenants are widely misunderstood in Christian circles and entire fields of theology have grown up to explain them (translate, "misinterpret them"). Simply put, a covenant is a promise, and all the promises of the Bible however parsed are summed up in Jesus Christ: without Him no promise could be fulfilled, and no one who does not have Christ has any claim on any of the promises of God; but with Him and in Him on the basis of what He has done all the promises of God are fulfilled in full (2Cor.1:20). Our hope, the fundamental promise that all believers of every age have always looked to, is for resurrection and eternal life, and it is that essential "covenant" that God has made with us on the basis of our faith in the Person and work of Jesus Christ (which explains "the New Covenant in my blood" of Lk.22:20, a promise of salvation from our Lord by believing in Him). Please see the following link:

The Old and New Covenants


Hope this helps - as always, feel free to write back about any of this.

Yours in Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #3:    

There are several place in the NT where we are taught to help out each other, such as if someone is in error, we are supposed to rebuke them with love or point out the error and encourage this person to get it right with God or fix it. Paul rebuked Peter and they were supposed to exhort one another and basically keep an eye out for each other and make sure we are also unified while doing so and doing it right. The problem is that it doesn't seem to work anymore. For instance if we see someone skipping church and you tell them "Hey, I think that it would be good for you could get back into church" then you will be met with an attitude like "Its really none of your business." Or if a parent allowing their teen kiss on other teenagers, etc, heaven forbid you correct them.

I'm not sure if it's really a question...its just that sometimes I read verse in the Bible encouraging us to help each other stay right with God, and sometimes I can't help but think "Ok, sure, that would work...."

Response #3:

As you probably know by now, I'm not big on correcting others unless it's a question of definitely sinful and gross activity. The example you cite speaks volumes. Paul was an apostle, the greatest position of authority in the Church. We might add to this that Paul, possibly the greatest believer who ever lived and almost certainly the one with the best understanding of the scriptures who ever lived, was capable of forming a much more accurate impression of what needed intervention and what did not than you or I ever could. Furthermore, the bad behavior in Antioch was terribly destructive to many people, because it was driving a wedge between Jews and gentiles and subsuming the whole church into legalism of the worst sort; left to continue, it might have been destructive to the whole of incipient Christianity. And yet, Paul still waited an awfully long time to say anything to Peter (no doubt hoping and praying he would see the light on his own first). So I take from this example the principle that intervention in any area of someone else's business that is not absolutely straightforwardly gross or potentially harmful to others is questionable, and should certainly only be undertaken after much prayer and soul-searching.

There is a big difference between encouraging someone and judging them. For example, if I say to my friend, "hey, want to come to Bible class with me tomorrow? I'm driving." Delicately done that could be encouragement. However, if I say "Why weren't you in Bible class last night?!" That is not encouragement. That is judging someone else's application. There are all sorts of reasons why their application could be acceptable, not the least of which could theoretically be that the "Bible class" in question has gone down the wrong road or is not really teaching the Word substantively, and the person has been convicted by the Spirit to find something that does work instead.

I am even more reluctant to get involved in how others are parenting their children. It is almost a certainty that we don't know the whole "back story" of how they have been parenting them, what has happened in the past, what their plan is, what the kids are really like in terms of character, etc. Even if we are right and the kids are getting too much latitude, as I said in my other e-mail this is, unfortunately, a mistake they and their kids are probably going to have to make for themselves. They often know the scriptures – it's not generally a question of ignorance. By intervening all we are doing is putting pressure on them to stop some particular form of behavior; we are not really going to be able by this intervention to effect true change, change on the inside which results in genuine good results on the outside. If they won't obey God (if indeed that is what is going on), then getting them to obey us is really only forcing the problem underground (and building up unnecessary resentment in the process).

In my own personal observation and experience, there are enough motes in my own eyes that could use casting out before I start to devoting my time to casting out specks in the eyes of others.

In Jesus,

Bob L.

Question #4:  

Coming from a slightly different Judeo-Christian perspective, I note that you seem to class God's moed, His appointed times each year, with "Jewish ritual." The term, "ritual" has, in many Christian and Judaic minds, meant the special prayers and ceremonies that we held in the Temple, as well as the animal sacrificial system which is separate from the days and times. The rituals were the things done. The times were the times during which those rituals were done. But those rituals were not the only things done during God's moed. The people worshiped, and a growing number of people today, worship during the seventh-day Shabbat (Sabbath), and the annual holy convocations or meetings of convocation.

The worship during those times is what sets those times apart from the animal sacrifices that took place, but don't take place anymore, and the washings, and oblations (offerings of many kinds and for different purposes).

You mentioned that Paul said of the Passover, "Christ our Passover lamb has been slain." But, you neglected to finish Paul's statement with his next sentence: "Therefore let us KEEP the Feast." That was the Seder celebration along with the following 8 days of unleavened bread. What had been a shadow, had become a remembrance. It is also a "shadow" because, as Isaiah said, Chapter 66, and Jesus followed up with His commitment to keep the Passover with His disciples/apostles in the earth made new. Isaiah simply says that "From one new moon to another and one Sabbath to another shall all flesh come before Me to worship Me, saith the Lord." The annual holy times are part of the Covenant. The Gospel includes them, according to Ezekiel 36 vs. 26 and 27. He will put His "Laws into their inward parts and take out of them their hears of stone, and put into them hearts of flesh, and lead them to keep His Laws, Statutes and Judgements, which includes the Feasts, and DO THEM." That is the Gospel. Doing all of His Commandments and doing them.

Jesus kept the annual Festivals for almost one year---AWAY from Jerusalem. He was teaching His application of the Covenant for His disciples to teach people all over the earth after His Ascension.

The Passover and the Feast of Trumpets, obviously without the animal sacrifices as is the way it is supposed to be now, will be kept in the New Jerusalem. What He gave to Moses was intended by God to be kept by all believers in all generations.

Response #4: 

Dear Friend

My respect for Israel and her unique place in God's plan is profound (see the link: "The Uniqueness of Israel"). Moreover, that human history is centered around God's seven day plan ("The Seven Days of Human History"), and that the details of this plan are also to be found in the Jewish ceremonial calendar ("The Jewish Ceremonial Calendar"), are teachings that are central to this ministry. Finally, I know of no other ministry that had pointed out so vociferously that the Church is based upon a Jewish root-stock, and that in the final days before the Lord's return, Jewish leadership will be reasserted in the Church (as it was during apostolic days) through the ministry of Moses and Elijah and the 144,000 (see the link). What we are called to do in the meantime in this age of the Spirit in terms of faith and practice, however, is another matter entirely. In any manner of issues, be it water-baptism, or spiritual gifts, or church polity, or what have you, my studies of the Word of God have always led me to the same place: present spiritual reality is to be preferred over the shadows of the past meant to adumbrate them.

Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
Galatians 3:3 NIV

For the Law, being a [mere] shadow of the good things to come, not an exact representation of the [actual] events [of Christ's work represented therein], in company with the sacrifices themselves which they offer continually year by year cannot bring perfection to those who approach [God] thereby. For [if they could], would they not have stopped offering [them], since the worshipers would no longer have a conscience [plagued by] sins, having once been purified [by such shadow sacrifices]?
Hebrews 10:1-2

Please understand that I am certainly on no crusade to amend the faith and practice of others. But it is my responsibility to teach the truth and to defend it when challenged.

Paul, whose credentials in Judaism were second to none, says the following in his epistle to Galatians:

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, "You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?"
Galatians 2:14 NIV

and earlier in the same chapter:

Yet not even Titus, who was with me, was compelled to be circumcised, even though he was a Greek. This matter arose because some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might remain with you.
Galatians 2:3-5 NIV

The decision of the Jewish council in Jerusalem in regard to what responsibility gentile believers had to follow the faith and practice of the Law was as follows:

"It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things."
Acts 15:28-29 NIV

That is, only the practice of pagan religion represented by unholy "communion" with its sacrifices (eidolothuta; along with the two things most prominent in it, blood and strangulation), and sacred prostitution (the second demonic "communion" element; cf. Rev.2:14; 2:20) were forbidden; nothing was mandated for them to do which belonged to the practice of the Law. For as Peter testified in noting that the gift of the Spirit had been given likewise to the gentiles, things had now changed (because of the fulfillment of the shadows of the Law in the death, sacrifice and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ).

"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? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
Acts 15:10-11 NIV

This state of affairs was reiterated by the council when Paul made his last, fateful visit to Jerusalem:

"As for the Gentile believers, we have written to them our decision that they should abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality."
Acts 21:25

That we are no longer required to continue with the shadow worship of the Law is also made clear elsewhere in scripture (cf. Heb.8:5):

So don't let anyone judge you in regard to food or drink, or in the category of festival observances, be it of new moons or Sabbaths. All these things are shadows of what was to come, but the reality has to do with Christ. Let no one gain control over your life, desiring to [enslave you to himself] through a show of false humility and the adoration of angels, basing his approach on what he has [allegedly] seen while puffed up by his own fleshly thoughts, yet not embracing the Head [Christ]. For it is from this Source that the entire body [the Church] is [truly] supplied and instructed through [all] its joints and sinews, and [thus] produces the growth that God has given. If you have died with Christ to these false [pagan] principles [belonging to] this world, why are you letting yourselves be [wrongly] indoctrinated as if your life were of this world? In accordance with the commandments and teaching of [mere] men [these false teachers tell you] "Don't handle! Don't taste! Don't touch!", even though [we know] that all these [are only] things [which] decay with use.
Colossians 2:16-22

The passage you mention, 1st Corinthians 5:6-8, is no exception to this rule. Indeed, it would be quite odd to find the same apostle who had written the verses above and in Galatians to mean in this passage you bring up that we ought to be celebrating the Passover. In fact, this whole section is an illustration designed to reinforce his upbraiding of the Corinthian congregation for failing to expel the immoral brother who is the subject of the first half of the chapter. Paul compares the fellowship of the Church to the Passover, and everything in this comparison is an analogy, not to be taken literally. The Church is compared to Israel gathered for the festival (it is not actually Israel); Christ is compared to the Passover lamb (He is the Lamb of God, but He is not actually a literal lamb); and, key to the illustration, the offending believer is compared to leaven, the offending element which was prohibited during that feast and the contiguous feast which followed (the immoral brother is not actual leaven). It is in this vein that Paul says "let us celebrate the festival", and he goes on to say, "not in the leaven of wickedness and evil, but with unleavened sincerity and truth". Since the whole passage is clearly an analogy, and since the final part "let us celebrate" is directly connected to elements of that analogy which have just been completely unfolded for us (i.e., we have to do not with literal leaven or unleavened bread but what they represent: wickedness and truth respectively), we are clearly to take "let us celebrate" in the same way, not as a command to hold a literal festival, but rather to conduct our affairs as a Church purged of wickedness (which in this instance means removing arrogant and unrepentant gross sinners from our midst, the point of the analogy).

As to the Millennium, Ezekiel's description of the millennial temple with all the paraphernalia of animal sacrifice and the passages in Isaiah 60-66 which teach the re-institution of the festivals without giving any indication that there are no animal sacrifices suggest just the opposite. Namely, that there will be animal sacrifice in the Millennium, only its purpose will be different: a memorial of Christ's work rather than a shadow anticipating it. But these will be a series of remembrances ordained, directed, and overseen by the One being remembered, our Lord Jesus, for He will be here with us in person on that great day of days. In the meantime, while He is away, He has given us the way to remember Him: "Do this in remembrance of Me" (Lk.22:19; 1Cor.11:24-25). Thus, communion is authorized; re-instituting the feasts is not. Moreover, by giving ourselves over to unauthorized practices, we run the risk of missing the import of this one sacrament Jesus did give us – in order that we might be continuously remembering Him and what He did for us. If we do insist on taking back up these portions of the Law (in whole or in part), are we really any better off by falsely applying what was once authorized than if we were embracing what never was legitimate in the first place? Paul suggests that it's one and the same thing:

But at that time [when you were unbelievers], not knowing God, you were slaves to those things which are by nature not [truly] gods. But now, having recognized God, or, as it really is, having been recognized by God, how is it that you are turning back to these weak and impoverished false [pagan] principles which you wish to serve as slaves all over again (i.e., by adopting the festivals of the Law)? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that I may perhaps have spent my labor on you in vain.
Galatians 4:8-11

I find no evidence in the Bible that Jesus, as you say, "kept the annual Festivals for almost one year---AWAY from Jerusalem". Nor did our Lord ever say or so much as suggest anything about any future need, after the gift of the Spirit, for His Church to do so. And I find no scriptural justification for separating feasts/festivals from the commands very clearly given in the Torah for how they are to be celebrated (a very clear indication in my view that since the possibility of correct observation has been removed we are to understand that they are not presently authorized). For on what basis do we presume to pick and choose what we will and won't observe? There is more than just a lack of animal sacrifice in which present day practice must necessarily fall short of the written requirements.

All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: "Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law."
Galatians 3:10  NIV

In contrast to the great volume of scriptural evidence that exempts the Church from the Law (we could exegete the entirety of the books of Romans, Galatians and Hebrews in this regard), I know of no single legitimate shred of evidence for any biblical mandate to keep the annual festivals in any fashion whatsoever (let alone any partial observance). What we do have, however, for all those who are willing to hear it (few though they may be), is very clear guidance from our Lord Himself as to what should characterize our faith and practice until He returns, a mandate not for ritual or shadow, but for embracing the power of spiritual reality and of the truth:

Jesus declared, "Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth."
John 4:21-24 NIV

Written in that same Spirit of truth, and in the love of Him who is the Truth, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob Luginbill

Question #5:  

I have noticed many of the people at my church treat other Christians poorly. I often wonder at what point do they think it is ok to attack a person's belief (misguided, false, whatever) when it doesn't line up with the Bible if the person is genuinely seeking knowledge? I've heard a descent amount of name calling and it disturbs me. (I'm not talking about someone coming on with perfect knowledge on a subject and stirring the pot for fun). But I believe that how people view is how some people will view all the people at the church.

I don't understand how does calling someone a "snot nosed uppity individual" set anyone straight doctrinally? This hurts me and I hear this a lot at churches. I try not to shoot them down if they are willing to discuss things without an argument. Otherwise it is almost as if we are saying, hey, if you're a Christian and know your stuff - your welcome here. If you don't - your not. And what if someone comes on who isn't saved, but wants to know about salvation and is really messed up in their thinking! I'm am not referring about those individuals who come on and know both sides of the issue well, have made their choice and just want to stir the pot and start a fight. But, I honestly can say, there are sooooo many churches out there (and pastors) propagating lies that we should expect that there will be people who are really confused (they may be saved - maybe not- and think they are) who need the help of those who have the answers solidly grounded in the Word of God. If we can't give them solid answers Biblically who will?

Sorry if I seem upset. Do you agree?

Response #5:  

I think what you are implying here is exactly correct. Attacking other people is not Christian love, especially in cases where as you make clear it is not a question of some provocateur invading your church just to stir up trouble but rather of people asking questions. Ideally, a Bible teaching church will be offering up so much truth so often and in so many ways that 1) people who are genuinely interested in pursuing the truth will be fed and will learn to be patient, realizing early on that sooner or later most if not all of their questions will be answered while 2) people who are not really interested in pursuing the truth will soon leave since no one is rising to the bait when they try to pick a fight. To me, this is the area where "church discipline" is important, namely, providing a protected environment where both new and mature believers can grow together on the bread of the Word without being hindered or destroyed by other people who condemn them for their beliefs or private behavior. When this message, example, and source of truth from substantive Bible teaching is actually coming from the pulpit in a systematic way, the Spirit and the Word are more than capable of "straightening out" anyone and everyone who needs to be straightened out and who is willing to be responsive to the Lord. And it is very important from the standpoint of genuine spiritual growth for this sort of change to come from inside the person in response to Jesus and His truth rather than only superficially from the outside in response to human pressure. Such whitewashing is bound to be imperfect at best, and in many cases of legalism and faulty understanding of scripture it will be entirely and fundamentally wrong.

If I speak in [a variety of] human and angelic languages but I do not have love, I have become [in my words as nothing more than unintelligible] sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And if I possess the gift of prophecy and know all the mysteries [of God] and all [His] knowledge, and if I possess a complete faith [sufficient] to move mountains but I do not have love, then I am nothing. And if I sell off everything I own and hand myself over into slavery so that I may boast [of my good works] but do not have love, then I profit nothing by it. Love exercises patience. Love does what is honorable. Love is not envious. It does not go about boasting vainly. It does not swell with pride. It does not behave in a shameful way. It does not seek after its own advantage. It is not easily provoked. It does not bear grudges. It does not rejoice over wickedness, but it rejoices together with the truth. It protects everything [which ought to be protected]. It believes everything [which ought to be believed]. It hopes everything [which ought to be hoped for]. It endures everything [which ought to be endured].
1st Corinthians 13:1-7

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters.
Romans 14:1 NIV

In Jesus our Lord.

Bob L.

Question #6:    

I have questions concerning these verses and the flesh.

Rom 8:13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

1Cor 9:27 But I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.

Romans 6: 11 Likewise reckon ye also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord. 12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts thereof. 13 Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. 14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. 15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. 16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?

Galatians 5: 16 This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. 18 But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, 20 Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, 21 Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God.

The passages above speak of bringing our body into subjection for the reasons listed. How are we to do this? Are there any particular disciplines that we should privately follow like fasting? Do we impose boundaries (restricted activities, no tv)? I'm not referring to the obvious such (killing) but maybe things that are done that you feel help you in going about mortifying the deeds of the flesh. I appreciate any biblical advice, and thanks in advance!

Response #6:

This is a great question. Aspects of it are touched by very many of the e-mail responses I have posted. Also, if you have not already done so, reading Bible Basics 3B: Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin is an important starting point for all such concerns, especially the final part, "The Principle and Process of Sanctification" (see the link), which talks specifically about methods for achieving personal sanctification, including the will to turn away from sin, the ministry of the Spirit, prayer, the importance of biblical knowledge in this fight, the development of good habits and spiritual momentum, and answering God's call and embracing the newness of life we have as believers in Jesus Christ (see the links "Walking with Jesus" and "Newness of Life [in BB 3B]"). You can also find more on the "renewing of our minds" in Peter lessons #16 and #17.

As is clear from your question, you have realized that all of these passages you ask about (and indeed all such passages in scripture) are very definite appeals to us to act in a sanctified way. Therefore this is not something that happens automatically, but it is something possible to do (otherwise we wouldn't be commanded to do it). All of us have sin natures, and all of us are tempted in different ways. What may be a temptation to me may be easy for you to handle and vice versa. The devil is well-versed in our particular areas of weakness since he is good at observing us and catering to our weaknesses as a way of entrapping us. Therefore the particulars of how we handle different areas of temptation will not be the same with any two people. Mind you, we are all commanded not to sin, but there are great areas of lee-way apart from sin which may or may not be spiritually profitable and which may or may not be spiritually dangerous depending upon the person and the particular circumstances. Thus as in any area of scriptural application, since there is absolutely no "one size fits all" (except in the prohibition against sin and the process of recovery from it), it is somewhat dangerous to be too specific. For in being too specific, one runs the risk on the one hand of placing a legalistic and un-scriptural burden upon those who pay attention yet without doing them any real good since they won't need the extreme measures in most instances. On the other hand, such an approach of detailed, legalistic proscription runs the risk of actually increasing the dangers in other cases. For although there is absolutely no way that I or anyone else could ever anticipate all areas and circumstances of temptation, yet with a rigorous system of prohibitions a person who follows such a system is apt to think (wrongly) that they are 100% safe at all times if only they follow this onerous, humanly-devised system.

A better approach is the development and honing of the spiritual common sense every Christian naturally has – the Spirit working with our conscience and the truth that resides therein. The more we learn about the Bible and its truth and believe what we learn, the better prepared we will be for absolutely everything in life, and the more leverage the Spirit will have to guide us ever more closely to the true standard in Jesus Christ. This is something that many Christians don't seem to understand, or even if they understand it in theory, fail to carry it out practically. I have found both in the interpretation of scripture and in applying it to life that many times some truth or principle or verse or interpretation that seemed insignificant or even unimportant at the time turned out to be extremely useful in opening up my understanding of things later on in ways that I never could have anticipated. There is simply no substitute for learning the truth and digesting it through faith. Only what we know through study and believe through faith is useful to us, but the use of this truth in our hearts is invaluable.

Secondly on this point, when it comes to turning away from sin, that is something we most assuredly can do. That doesn't mean it is easy, and if we have gotten ourselves into bad habits it will probably be harder to dig out than if we have never fallen into a particular area of sin in the first place. To use a couple of analogies, if we are used to exercising every day, then exercising today will not be as hard as it would if we have never exercised before; or if we are used to eating reasonably, then avoiding consuming an entire extra-large pizza, a side of ribs, and a couple of pints of ice cream will be easier than if we are used to "pigging out" like this all the time.

Thirdly, as a practical matter since there are all sorts of areas where we have freedom to act but action may or may not be profitable considering our particular weaknesses and/or circumstances, the issue of conscience comes into play in a big way here (see in BB 3B: "The Conscience"). One should not try to separate this prompting of the Spirit using the truth in our heart from whatever particular forms of "discipline" one adopts to govern one's own conduct. There are a number of groups out there who prohibit, for example, dancing, drinking, smoking, card-playing, movie-going, etc. One would be hard put to make a biblical case that any of these activities are necessarily sinful in and of themselves. However, these are all areas wherein certain people might be dangerously tempted to sin (not to suggest for a moment that the list above or similar lists exhausts the potential areas of danger – as I said above, we are all different, and differently tempted). For example, those who are particularly vulnerable to falling into gambling and the complex of sins to which gambling addiction inevitably leads probably have no business getting close to a card game, while those who have a tendency to alcoholism probably have no business even darkening the door of a bar. For others, it is certainly possible for neither activity ever to present a significant risk.

However, there are certainly good reasons why a Christian who has no particular weakness to either of these areas of potential sin might not want to have anything to do with either as well. But that has to be a personal decision. Indeed, once a person starts refraining entirely from, e.g., bridge, because the "Christian" environment they are operating in frowns on it, then such externally imposed restraint on gray areas of application can actually weaken the conscience, precisely because the decision-making function is being turned over to someone else, and the desire is not "to please the Lord" but really "to avoid displeasing others who hold to a legalistic standard they wish to impose on everyone else". One of the biggest problems with this approach is that even a very detailed list of "don'ts" can't possibly cover everything, and inevitably focuses on "sins of action", leaving sins of the tongue and sins of the heart out of the process. People who embrace legalism inevitably become judgmental about others in areas where no sin is involved, and that is certainly more sinful than the action of the person they are judging who, while not actually sinning in going to see "Flipper", is being judged by someone who (wrongly) considers all movie-going a sin.

All this is not to say that for a person to decide to stay away from certain activities (like, for example, all five mentioned on the list above) is not a good idea. It may well be. It also may well be critical if a person has a particular weakness in regard any of the above. But it is important 1) not to think that any list of prohibitions or areas of danger is all-inclusive for all time (there wasn't even an internet to speak of 20 years ago for example, and the internet is even more potentially dangerous than movies and TV put together), and 2) not to judge others who have a different application. As always, we must be very careful "not to pass judgment on matters open to dispute" (Rom.14:1), especially in the case of the behavior of others, and even if we have decided on sound grounds to stay away from such things ourselves. God works with all Christians, and all Christians who are seeking Him will be led as close to Him as they are willing to come. It might be at a different rate than we are progressing, or in a different way. The important thing is not to be a stumbling block by setting a bad example or by being overly judgmental in areas where we have no right to be (that is of course different from intervening in a case where a brother or sister is clearly involved in grossly sinful behavior or headed down a dangerous spiritual path – but that's another subject for another day).

Finally, in pursuing sanctification it is important to do so in a reasonable way. Some things call for drastic measures, but, in general, extremism is usually going to be a mistake. Turning away from gross sin (or any sin) in an extreme way is good and necessary. Turning away from dubious areas or activities in life which are not in and of themselves sinful in an extreme way is something that should be done only with caution if this represents a change from past behavior. For example, you ask about television and fasting. Fasting is definitely biblical (see the link: "The value of cumulative prayer"), and television is often a horrendous waste of time and often contains images and subject matter which are spiritually debilitating in the extreme. However, both in the case of positive actions (fasting) and negative ones (refraining from television) extremism can be the wrong way to go. If we elevate fasting into a behavioral idol in which we pridefully glory then 1) it won't mean anything positive to God, and 2) it will actually become a trap of sinful self-righteousness. True fasting is hard, and its value lies not so much in any self-deprivation but in the focus it brings to prayer and our concentration on the Lord. If we do it too often, it ceases to be special and develops the connotations just discussed. Television, of course, can be a useful medium (e.g., for ministry, like the internet a two-edged sword). Certainly most of what is on the tube is pointless at best and a waste of our time. However, if, instead of just making a commitment to stay away from spiritually compromising content and over-indulgence, we make it a point of personal pride to smash our TV sets to bits and never watch them again, then we run the risk of all such extreme behaviors of doing something for the wrong reasons and for the wrong motivations. As I write in BB 3B:

The principle of distinguishing between correct biblical standards in the heart and the complications that sometimes arise when applying them to real life is illuminated by Solomon in Ecclesiastes 7:16-17. In addition to telling us not to be overly wicked and foolish, this passage also tells us not to be either over-righteous or over-wise. For while the former behavior causes an early death (as we would well expect wickedness and foolishness to do), the latter causes a person to "ruin himself".

Do not be overly righteous, and do not be overly wise - why should you ruin yourself? Do not be overly wicked and do not be a fool - why should you die before your time? The best thing for you [to do] is to lay firm hold on the former (i.e., wisdom and righteousness), while not completely releasing your hand from the latter, for the man who fears God will escape both [extremes].
Ecclesiastes 7:16-18

Far from encouraging, allowing, or rationalizing sin, these verses underscore the fact that the conscience is the repository of absolute standards of right and wrong. In life, however, there are many subtleties which make absolute behavior problematic, since many of life's choices may be less than 100% right or 100% wrong. Indeed, even if we do possess a "good conscience", it is sometimes difficult to know for certain that we are being absolutely honest in the evaluation of our own motivations, the one area where things should be clearer to us than anywhere else (cf. 1Cor.4:4-5). The same is equally true when it comes to our interpretation of events outside of ourselves, as in the case of the "weak" and "strong" believers cited by Paul (Rom.14:1-23; 1Cor.8:1-13; 10:23-33). Both the weak who judge and the strong who indulge are "right" in an abstract, absolute sense, yet "wrong" in the way they are applying their standards to life. This is also the main point of the verses from Ecclesiastes quoted above. Extremism either in the implementation of an overly legalistic interpretation of what constitutes right and wrong on the one hand, or an overly permissive attitude when it comes to heeding the conscience on the other are equally destructive courses of action (so that one should be careful not to "grab hold" of one or the other to such an extreme degree).

As Christians who want to please our Lord, the first step is to find out what pleases our Lord, what He wants us to do and not to do. Fine tuning this in all matters of application of truth to our daily walk requires discernment which grows as we grow spiritually, developing thereby spiritual discernment which distinguishes between pleasing Him and pleasing ourselves, whether that self-pleasure comes from over-indulgence or aesthetic over-restraint.

In the One we wish to please in all we think and say and do, our dear Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

Question #7:  

Hi Bob,

How I appreciate your excellent recent e-mails on Divorce and Remarriage, More Divorce and Re-marriage, and A conversation about divorce and remarriage! Right now I'm in hot water and high stress and I could really use your help!

My wife has continued to attend ______ where they tend to be somewhat letter of the law legalistic "doing exactly what the Bible says", neither adding to it nor taking away from it. I attend with her because I have not wanted separation in worship to weaken our already stressed marriage further. Right now they are teaching on divorce and re-marriage, and seem to be following a train of thought leading to the following is position: Anyone who has divorced and remarried on grounds other than adultery is still married to the original spouse and the second marriage is not recognized by God. Therefore they must either separate or live as only as brother and sister.

I interjected that a spouse can be dead even while she lives 1 Tm: 5:6 (as far as Gods life and purposes are concerned) . This was not well received by the leadership as they were teaching Rm 7:2-3. They also teach 1 Co:7:39 to support their position that one is still married to the original spouse if remarried on non-Biblical grounds for divorce.

What I really need from you, Bob, is your help is getting better Scriptural and lexical support for my premise that a marriage contract that neither party honors, over a time, becomes just as dead as if the original spouse had physically died. I seem to remember that some Greek words for death, Thanatos, for example...can be used to indicated either spiritual death or physical death. Another thing that comes to mind is that every matter must be established by two or three witnesses ( a principle of law today) . If a man and woman declare that a marriage does not exist we have two witnesses (a de facto break in a one-flesh covenant). Is God going to declare a marriage covenant alive which neither party is honoring, and most likely will never honor? When a soldier dies in Iraq do we declare him alive because we didn't want him to die, even though he is in fact dead? No, we bury him! It would seem that if the original divorced spouse wanted a reconciliation, then indeed the party initiating the divorce would not be free to remarry. The original marriage contract would still have a spark of life in it. That would seem like a realistic application of Romans 7:2-3 and 1 Co 7:39.

In my own situation, the options left to us by ____________ are a status quo of no physical intimacy, a mandated divorce, that my wife would wake up and see this legalistic teaching and its potential damage to our marriage, and leave __________ with me and find another church.

Thanks in advance for any help you can give me on this difficult matter.

Response #7: 

Who can argue with the proposition that we ought to believe and teach and do exactly what the Bible says, no more no less? Of course this presupposes that we know exactly what the Bible says. I have dedicated my life to finding out, and I learn new things every day. There are certain subjects that are very simple and straightforward in scripture, and certain other ones that are not. Making the simple convoluted is certainly the wrong approach, but trying to make a complex subject simple (out of laziness or legalism or some personal agenda) is just as bad. I would be happy to accept exactly what the Bible has to say on marriage, divorce, and remarriage, however, even though I have spent quite a lot of time and ink on the issue, I would not assume to say that I know everything there is to know about it, certainly not as much as I would like to know. One always has to realize that there are good reasons for everything in scripture and for the way they are put in scripture, and when issues are complex, there is always a purpose behind it. I think that is certainly the case on this topic, and it may be that what we are dealing with here is God's first best will for us all (i.e., never marrying), second best ideal will for most (i.e., we are weak and need a spouse and marry once and for all), and third best realistic will for many (i.e, life and people being what they are, there will be divorces and remarriages under a myriad of complicated circumstances).

On the last point, it is not uncommon to find in scripture the perfect, sanctified ideal held up as the norm, along with a secondary set of circumstances covering the very common failure to meet that ideal. For instance, in 1st John we are told repeatedly that those who love God do not sin, yet 1st John also contains the most explicit debunking of the proposition that anyone could be truly sinless (apart from Christ), along with the most explicit description of how to be restored to fellowship with the Lord through confession when we do sin (1Jn.1:5-10). Similarly with marriage, for every passage that seems to state the matter very simply and clearly, there are other passages which take a more complex view of the issue. That does not mean that the Bible contradicts itself. What it does mean is that ideally we should not marry; secondarily when we do we should not divorce; finally when we do find ourselves in an other than ideal situation, there are ground rules, we should tread carefully, and we should also stand-by for divine discipline when we violate these ground rules. But this is the case in all human behavior, for in all areas of life we find the same pattern repeating: 1) ideally we stay away from all situations wherein we might sin or be tempted to sin or be compromised to the point of being led into sin; 2) secondarily we avoid sin even if the first ideal stance has proved impossible; 3) finally, in the course of life we do sin – but that does not mean that God casts us off! Jesus died for all our sins, and God has provided the means of recovery: repentance and confession, even though we may receive divine discipline in the process (please see part 3B of the Bible Basics series, Hamartiology: the Biblical Study of Sin). Note that we cannot recover from error by works or our own efforts, by beating ourselves up mentally or physically, by doing some kind of self-originated penance or atonement. Such activities are a stench in God's nostrils because they suggest that what Jesus did for us was not good enough and put our works in place of the cross of Christ.

It seems to me that calling upon someone who may (or may not!) have violated the ground rules in divorce or remarriage to do something as bizarre as go back to the old spouse or divorce the current one or eschew normal marital relationships is just that sort of evil, human good, salvation and spirituality by works. How could it not be? For the Bible surely does not say to do any of these things – and I thought these people claimed they only wanted to do what the Bible said. In my view one would have to have an absolutely unassailable and clear commandment from scripture before counseling a person to get a divorce or resume a terminated marriage or eschew normal marital relations, whereas in fact scripture seems to me to directly oppose all three things (see 1Cor.7:10; Jer.3:1; 1Cor.7:4-5 respectively). Indeed, the people who are teaching what you relate in your e-mail ought to recognize that this "principle" they give out is a theological development, not a scripture quotation, and so, like all doctrinal statements, has the potential of being wrong since it is by definition a human construction and not the Word of God itself.

As to your specific question, I do understand that there are arguments that can be made, and I have indeed heard (and alluded to) the "death of the marriage = the death in 1Cor.7:39 et al.". This may be true. Many good, conservative scholars hold to this view. I cannot go so far as to unequivocally endorse it for the same reasons I find fault with the simplistic formulation you relate: it is not definitively taught in scripture. And, as I say, there is most likely a reason for this. One thing that does occur to me is the obvious result if God had put this argument in scripture very explicitly, namely, to potentially embolden people to get divorced and remarried more than they otherwise would. Beyond all question, marriage, divorce, and remarriage are all steps we are supposed to take with extreme caution – if at all (and, indeed, it is only because of the weakness of our flesh that we aren't all commanded to remain single as believers in order better to serve the Lord; cf. Matt.19:8). Having said this, however, it is, I reiterate, equally dangerous to suggest that believers should attempt to pretend that their flesh is not weak, or, worse to tell, to try to reverse the clock and go back to a previous status quo in the hopes of atoning for sin by their own efforts. This is clearly not biblical, and it is also just as clearly extremely dangerous from a spiritual point of view. This is the sort of thing that cults command people to do all the time, because once a person has made this kind of huge personal investment in the cult teachings, they have ipso facto bought into said cult hook, line, and sinker – not to mention the fact that they have now cut themselves off from their closest confidants and by their bizarre behavior made it virtually impossible to have a meaningful conversation on the subject with anyone outside of the cult.

I think that your reasoning does serve to show that things are not as simple as some would have us think on this issue. For example, Romans 7:2-3 gives the situation of the woman under the Mosaic Law, but consider that this is an illustration, and the whole point of the passage in which this illustration occurs is that we have been released from the Law (Rom.7:4). 1st Corinthians 7:39 similarly states that a woman is bound as long as her husband lives. But are you not your wife's husband? Of course you are – what else would you be? And the only way that someone could ever hope to suggest otherwise is to posit that the first marriage was not valid somehow. But where does such a suggestion occur in scripture? It does not and for good reason. God invented marriage for all human beings, not just for believers, and I know of no scripture where any marriage, of believers or unbelievers, is pronounced invalid or non-binding by the Bible, whatever the circumstances under which it was conceived (and it always takes a divorce or a death to end a marriage). So if you marry somebody, you are married to them, and I would challenge anyone to show that scripture does not share that fundamental view of the matter. When Jesus conversed with the Samaritan woman at the well, He told her "you have had five husbands and the one you have now is not your husband" (Jn.4:18). Now I do not believe that the number "five" is accidental here; we are being given a very clear set of circumstances with which to reckon. It is highly improbable that this woman had buried all five prior husbands, so that we are to assume a number of divorces at least, and in each case thereafter the person to whom she was married was, notwithstanding divorce, still "her husband". If a marriage after a divorce were not a marriage, it is safe to assume that our Lord would not have called all five prior men "husbands". And this point is reinforced by the fact that we are told that she is not married only to her current lover, which can in this context only mean that there was not a marriage ceremony – so by definition the marriage ceremony creates a marriage in all cases and lack of it means no marriage. This, of course, is not a brief for serial marriage as the context makes clear, but it does show that what I find to be pivotal to this debate is true, namely, that a marriage is a marriage – at least as long as it is a marriage (i.e., no divorce yet)! Once a person has taken on the obligation, rightly or wrongly or indeterminately, that bridge has been unalterably crossed. It may well be that there was no right of remarriage in a particular case or that the marriage was ill-advised if not a direct violation of the ground rules. It may well be that the marriage causes problems, heartache, stress and strain. It may well be that along with whatever blessing the marriage entails it also entails divine discipline. God can and does bless us and spank us at the same time (David's marriage to Bathsheba certainly comes to mind here). But to suggest that a person with a guilty conscience or otherwise inclined to dump the current spouse is entitled to or even obligated to do so because of past circumstances flies in the face of everything the Bible has to say about honorable, faithful, responsible behavior. It also flies in the face of common sense. And since scripture doesn't anywhere command such bizarre actions (but instead as shown above states the reverse), it certainly begs the question of what groups who teach this sort of thing really have in mind.

I hope this is of some help. Please feel free to write me back.

In the One who supports and comforts us in all our trials, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Bob L.

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