LIVING IN GRACE: I
Grace is the oil of life! And without grace we cannot function. Grace is also like a crop that has to be seeded and harvested before it is ready to be used. The great wonderful truth is that the Creator has filled his creation with overabundance of grace. It is unfortunate that so many of us do not make sufficient use of grace.
Living in grace, and practicing grace, is the fulfillment of the restoration of God’s image and likeness in man. The Bible writers tell us that grace is a gift of God. Unfortunately, to administer grace God depends on man. Man himself, like Christ, must become grace in order to share it. This applies to all the great ideas of love, forgiveness, justice, righteousness, and others. Without man embodying these concepts, they remain dormant and even useless. They are words without action. Thus, to represent grace, man must live it and practice it.
Paul’s major concern, in his letters, was how to keep the believers from straying and to keep the believers living in grace. He was troubled with the preachers who disagreed with him and who misled the believers with false promises. Even good preachers were drawing people away from Christ. The believers in Corinth split into four distinctly different groups. Paul’s gospel was different from Apollos who preached John the Baptist’s baptism; from Cephas’ (Peter) Judaizing, and the group that identified themselves with Christ regarded itself as different from all three apostles and preachers.
Appeal to you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree and that there be no dissention among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that quarreling among you, my brethren. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I belong to Paul,” or “I belong to Apollos,” or “I belong to Cephas,” or “belong to Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest anyone should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.) For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power (I Corinthians 1:10-17).
Apparently, many of the Corinthian believers did not regard Paul as a qualified or as equal in rank to Peter, who was the chosen leader of the twelve disciples, nor was he equal to the eloquent Apollos. Paul had chosen to work for a living and not burden the Church for support; that too was held against him. On top of it, Paul was no longer present to defend his apostleship and his gospel. He had to use the pen to correct the people who were converted to Christ during his ministry, which lasted eighteen months.
Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.
This is my defense to those who would examine me. Do we not have the right to our food and drink? Do we not have the right to be accompanied by a wife, as the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain for working for a living? Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Who tends a flock without getting some of the milk (I Corinthians 9:1-18)?
Before he was taken into protective custody, Paul had prepared Timothy and others to be on guard against perversions and false teachers leading the converts to Christ astray:
As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain in Ephesus that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to occupy themselves with myths and endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the divine training that is in faith; whereas the aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and sincere faith. Certain persons by swerving from these have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make assertions (I Timothy 1:3-7).
I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these instructions to you so that, if I am delayed, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth. Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of our religion:
He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated in the Spirit, seen by angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, taken up in glory (I Timothy 3:14-16).
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, through the pretensions of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
If you put these instructions before the brethren, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, nourished on the words of the faith and of the good doctrine which you have followed. Have nothing to do with godless and silly myths. Train yourself in godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it hold promise for the present life and also for the life to come. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance. For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe.
Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love in faith, in purity. Till I come, attend to the public reading of scripture, to preaching to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the elders laid their hands upon you. Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers (I Timothy 4:1-16).
Paul tried to set an example to the Philippians, who had a reverse impact on his converts. They had the wrong idea of their freedom and the liberties they believed had become available. Even the things he wrote, regarding himself, were being misapplied. The more Paul tried to explain what he meant, the more misconceived ideas about liberty emerged.
Not that I complain of want; for I have learned, in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound; in any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and want. I can do all things in him who strengthens me (Philippians 4:11-13).
Imagine what this can mean to a worldly Christian who enjoys physical pleasure? A Christian cannot do all things, neither can he or she endure it. Paul had another slip of the pen to the Corinthians that is equally troubling about God’s assistance in temptations and in keeping the law. He had to do a lot of explaining and that did not quite answer the issues, which he himself created. Paul, rather the writers, who tried to project his views after his death may not have had the mind of Paul at their disposal. The truth is that a person who gets himself or herself in trouble — they also have been endowed with the ability to dig themselves out. Man is not a robot whom God moves about on a checkerboard.
Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it (I Corinthians 10:12-13).
James, the half-brother of Jesus, had a problem with such thinking, because God does not tempt anyone; for it is man who is carried away by his own desire that leads to self-destruction.
Blessed is the man who endures trials, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life which God has promised to those who love him. Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death (James 1:12-15).
Perhaps the most problematic misunderstanding of Paul is the rendering, “For Christ is the end of the law, that everyone who has faith may be justified” (Romans 10:4). The writer of “The Gospel of Matthew” corrected that problem with Jesus’ personal statement:
Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly, I say to you till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:17-20).
The Greek text, in Romans 10:4, uses the word “telos,” which means to fulfill or to complete rather than “the end” of the Law. According to The Gospel of Mark, Christ resurrected or restored The Ten Commandments that the fathers had obliterated. And Jesus said to them:
Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.”
Again he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep you tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or his mother, let him surely die’; but you say, ‘If a man tell his father or his mother, What you would have gained from me is Corban’ (that is, given to God) — then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do (Mark 7:6-13).
Paul, himself, was keenly aware, even if it was good, that flesh could not inherit the kingdom of heaven because it is subject to pleasure and to sin from which he, himself, had to separate (I Corinthians 15:50). Paul, in his own body, had to carry the fight between what is right that justifies and what is wrong that condemns. It is the Law that makes man aware of the struggle between good and evil in the heart of man.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, working death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. We know that the law is spiritual; but I am carnal, sold under sin. I do not understand my own actions. For i do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. So then it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is, in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin which dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I of myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin (Romans 7:13-25).
Now we know that the law is good, if anyone uses it lawfully, understanding this, if any one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, immoral persons, sodomites, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else if contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted (I Timothy 1:8-11).
What then? Are we to sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to any one as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to god, that ou who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once yielded your members to impurity and to greater and greater iniquity, so now yield your members to righteousness for sanctification.
When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But then what return did you get from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set from sin and have become slaves of God, the return you get is sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 6:15-23).
There is therefore no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, indeed it cannot; and those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of god really dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit which dwells in you.
So then, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—for if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship. When we cry, “Abba! Father!” it is the Spirit himself bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him (Romans 8:1-17).
What conclusion did Paul reach at the end of muddling through grace, freedom, the Law, and the endless presence of sin in the flesh?
Do you not know that that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither the immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who joins himself to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two shall become one.” But he who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the boy; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God. You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (I Corinthians 6:9-20).