Posted tagged ‘law and grace’

Justification by Faith

July 28, 2018


In a previous blog post, I observed that Scripture reveals a progression from law to relationship to faith. In Habakkuk, the prophet said, “The righteous will live by his faith.” (Hab. 2:4) This statement in Habakkuk is the second half of a verse that contrasts “the proud one” whose soul “is not upright to the righteous one who lives by faith. The implication is that the righteousness is linked to faith and is contrasted to pride.

We see this theme continued in the New Testament:

“The righteous shall live by faith.” (Romans 1:17)


“Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Galatians 3:11)


“[M]y righteous one shall live by faith” (Hebrews 10:37)

And the reason that salvation is by faith (in the grace of God) is so that no one can boast.

“For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God, not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Eph. 2:9)

When Jesus summarized all the law and prophets in just two statements (love God and love your neighbor) he whisked us past the academic details of the law to the simple heart and spirit of the law. (Luke 10:25-27) If we think this simplification of the law makes it any easier on us, however, we should think again. At the same time Jesus simplified the expression of the law, Jesus upped the ante on us when he said that, if we even lust in our hearts, we have committed adultery. If we have even gotten angry in our hearts at our brother, we may have committed the sin of murder. (See Mathew 5:21-48)

Jesus made the law simpler and more difficult to follow at the same time!

Maybe this is because our ability to follow the law (to maintain God’s standard of morality) isn’t the key point. In fact, the point is our inability, in ourselves, to live up to God’s standard! Until we realize that we can’t measure up, we don’t measure up, we are depending on ourselves and our own efforts to “be right with God”. But we never can. Whether it’s 613 laws or just two principles, we fall short.

Our focus shouldn’t be on the laws and other people. On this horizontal level, we compare ourselves to others, and we judge ourselves and others in comparison. This is where pride and self-righteousness dwell, and the focus is, ultimately, on ourselves. Rather our focus should be vertical, on God and our relationship to him.

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A Progression from Law to Relationship

July 28, 2018


A friend recently commented on an article I wrote about hypocrisy in which I referred to “God’s standard” without defining what that standard is. Of course, defining God’s standard of morality isn’t that easy. My friend made this point when he said:

“If you asked 100 self-proclaimed Christians, you will get 100 different answers. There are over 30,000 denominations of Christianity… all bible-based. The notion of a singular Christian ‘standard’ doesn’t really exist. Example… is killing ok?… I can find verses in the bible both for and against.”

He is right on a cursory level, though he overstates the proposition. The World Christian Encyclopedia puts the number of denominations at 33,000, of which there are “6 major ecclesiastico-cultural mega-blocs”.  I would venture to guess, however, that 100% of them hold that murder is wrong.

While we might have virtually universal agreement on some things, and “consensus” on other things (perhaps, killing in self-defense), nuances will generate different answers among those different denominations, and individual Christians as well. We don’t all agree on topics like killing in war, capital punishment, abortion, etc.

Some disagreements are doctrinal (infant baptism or adult baptism). Some of them are conduct related. (Is it ok for Christians to dance? drink alcohol? or smoke?) Should Christians tithe? What is the standard of tithing? Is homosexuality a sin? If I walk past a homeless man on the street begging for money and don’t give him anything, is that a sin?

Most Christians agree on the ten commandments, but disagreement grows from there. We may not agree on the details of “God’s standard”, but virtually all Christians would agree that God has a standard of morality, regardless of whether we agree on what it is.

Still, it’s a fair statement to say that we shouldn’t be so glib as to assume some universal set of rules to which all Christians ought to subscribe – at least a universal statement of rules that we confidently say is “the ” standard.

This got me thinking about morality from a Christian perspective, and it dawns on me that one of our failings is that we put too much emphasis on a set of standards that we can define. Yes, I think it is a failing, and I think Jesus would agree. Such a focus misses the point

According to a recent presentation by Ravi Zacharias, Moses gave us 613 laws. David summarized them in 15 laws. Isaiah reduced the summary to 11 laws. Jesus reduced everything in the Law and the Prophets down to just two principles. I haven’t researched these figures to confirm them, but the point is that there is a progression in the Scripture in respect to the law from an intricate set of very specific rules to summaries of the law that get simpler and simpler – culminating in just two principles.

I believe this progression from many, very specific laws to just two principles correlates to the progression God wants us to make from law to faith.

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How Can God Judge Good People: Approaching the Solution

February 22, 2016

One of the nagging problems that people have with the Bible is the notion that God will judge people that we might consider good (as in better than me). That does not sit well with me, of course. Because we do not fully understand the issue, we fire off the accusatory question: if God is good and loving, how can He condemn good people to hell?

Part of the problem with the question is that we may not accurately understand the problem. The Law (morality) was not given to us so that we might measure up to it; the Law was given to us to show us that we do not measure up! In fact, the very point is that we do not measure up, and we cannot measure up.

Goodness and badness are not really the point; moral standards, the Law, only expose the problem. A moral standard is completely incapable of accomplishing what we need; it only reveals that we need help.

Thus, when the Pharisees boasted of their good actions, Jesus raised the ante: He said that even thinking bad thoughts is sin! When the rich young ruler asked what he needed to do to be saved, Jesus told him to go sell everything – something Jesus knew he could (would not be willing) to do. The point of the Law is to bring us to the realization that we cannot measure up on our own.

If we are trying to measure up and “be good” in order to get to Heaven, we have failed to understand the problem. We cannot even begin to understand the solution if we fail to understand the problem.

The problem is that we are set against God in our sinfulness. Our nature is set against God’s nature. While everything else in the universe was created to be finely-tuned as God intended, by the choice God gave us, we deviated from plan. This choice gave us the possibility of having a relationship with God, our Creator, but it also set us up for corruption as we inevitably would go our own way, being imperfect creatures, and not gods (let alone God).

We wanted to be like God and, so, became opposed to Him. In this way, we introduced corruption (sin) into the world that resulted in death (and all that leads to death – decay, degeneration, disease, etc.)

Transformation is what we require to be able to have fellowship with God and to enter in to His Heaven. But, we cannot achieve that transformation ourselves. In fact, we are completely incapable of it on our own.

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Slavery in the New Testament

July 5, 2014

hieroglyphics of slaves in Abu Simbel


A recent conversation with one of my sons spurred me to consider slavery as it is addressed in the New Testament because the Bible is sometimes criticized by skeptics who point to its treatment of slavery. Indeed, there are instructions given to the nation of Israel that seem to accept slavery as a practice, and the New Testament does not expressly condemn it.

So, what does the Bible really say about slavery?

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