LIVING IN GRACE: VI
Paul, the apostle to the Gentiles, was a Jew. And Paul died as a Jew. He proclaimed a Gospel based on “faith alone.” Yet Paul, himself, did the work of a Jew. Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem before the day of Pentecost or the Feast of Weeks when the first fruits of rededication to God were presented (Acts 20:16). Before Paul and his Jewish companions could participate in the offering in the temple, they had to undergo purify themselves. The Jewish Christians were still practicing the Jewish traditions and Paul did the same.
When we had come to Jerusalem, the brethren received us gladly. On the following day Paul went in with us to James; and all the elders were present. After greeting them, he related one by one the things that God had done among the Gentiles through his ministry. And when they heard it, they glorified God. And they said to him, “You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed; they are all zealous for the law, and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or observe the customs. What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. Do therefore what we tell you. We have four men who are under a vow; take these men and purify yourself along with them and pay their expenses, so that they may shave their heads. Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you but that you yourself live in observance of the law. But as for the Gentiles who have believed, we have sent a letter with our judgment that they should abstain from what has sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from unchastity.” Then Paul took the men, and the next day he purified himself with them and went into the temple, to give notice when the days of purification would be fulfilled and the offering presented for every one of them (Acts 21:17-26).
TRADITIONS HAVE THEIR PLACE, BUT THEY CANNOT INTERFERE WITH GRACE. JESUS TAUGHT IT AND PAUL KNEW IT
And He said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or other, let him surely die’; but you say, ‘If a man tells 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 our tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9-13).
But when Peter came to Antioch I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he ate with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And with him the rest of the Jews acted insincerely, so that even Barnabas was carried away by their insincerity. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” We ourselves, who are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners, yet who know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall not one be justified. But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we ourselves were found to be sinners, is Christ then an agent of sin? Certainly not! But if I build up again those things which I tore down, then I prove myself a transgressor. For I through the law died to the law, that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. I do not nullify the grace of God; for it justification were through the law, then Christ died to no purpose (Galatians 2:11-21).
GRACE IS ETERNAL AND UNCHANGEABLE, BUT IT IS NOT A FREE GIFT
Regardless of the behavior of Abraham’s seed, grace was part of God’s unchangeable promise. Grace was given to Abraham before he did anything to deserve it. That was not entirely so; for Abraham responded when he received the call to leave Haram and move to Canaan. From the start, Abraham was an obedient servant to Yahweh. Actually, Abraham explored grace and ventured out to see where it would lead him. It was on his journey that God became more and more real to him. And God became Abraham’s friend. And it was while he was on his “pilgrimage of grace” that Abraham became valuable to his seed; and also to all who believe in God. It was Abraham’s obedience to what God wanted from him and not just Abraham’s faith that God’s grace continued in his life. His circumcision was his act of obedience to God and a public confirmation of his faith:
And God said to Abraham, “As for you, you shall keep my covenant, and your descendants after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant, which you shall keep, between me and you and your descendants after you: Every male among you shall be circumcised. You shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskins, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and you. He that is eight days old among you shall be circumcised; every male throughout your generations, whether born in your house, or bought with your money from any foreigner who is not of your offspring, both he that is born in your house and he that is bought with your money, shall be circumcised. So shall my covenant be in your flesh an everlasting covenant. Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant” (Genesis 17:9-14).
Before Abraham entered the Covenant with God, he had a relationship with Melchizedek, the king of Salem (Jerusalem) and the priest of the God Most High. A band of renegades had carried off Lot, Abraham’s nephew along with other Canaanites. After their rescue, Abraham, paid tribute to the God Most High.
After his return from the defeat of Chedorlaomer and the kings who were with him, the kings of Sodom went out to meet him at the Valley of Shaveh (that is, the King’s Valley). And Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said,
“Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth; and blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand (Genesis 14:17-20)!”
Paul’s idea that faith carried Abraham was not exactly true. He earned his place among the natives. Abraham also listened more to Sarah than to God when he fathered Ishmael. It was after God had made a Covenant with Abraham and God promised him an heir, that he went to bed with Hagar.
And Sarai, Abram’s wife, bore him no children. She had an Egyptian maid whose name was Hagar; and Sarai said to Abram, “Behold now, the LORD has prevented me from bearing children; go in to my maid; it may be that I shall obtain children by her.” And Abram hearkened to the voice of Sarai. So, after Abram had dwelt ten years in the land of Canaan, Sarai, Abram’s’ wife, took Hagar the Egyptian her maid, and gave her to Abram her husband as a wife. And he went in to Hagar, and she conceived; and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked with contempt on her mistress. And Sarai said to Abram, “May the wrong done to me be on you! I gave my maid to your embrace, and when she saw that she had conceived, she looked on me with contempt. May the LORD judge between you and me!” But Abram said to Sarai, “Behold, your maid is in your power; do to her as you please.” Then Sarai dealt harshly with her, and she fled from her (Genesis 16:1-6).
And Hagar bore Abram a son; and Abram called the name of his son, whom Hagar bore, Ishmael. Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore Ishmael to Abram (Genesis 16:15-16).
The birth of Isaac did not solidify Abraham’s faith, as Paul wants us to believe. God had one more test to give Abraham a change to trust God fully. God told Abraham to sacrifice his son and Abraham obeyed. And after that request, Abraham no longer doubted God:
After these things God tested Abraham, and said to him, “Abraham!” And he said, “Here am I.” He said, “take your son, our only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering upon one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, saddled his as, and took two of his young men with him, and he son Isaac; and he cut the wood for the burnt offering, and arose and went to the place of which God had told him. On the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes and saw the place afar off. Then Abraham said to his young men, “Stay here with the ass; I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.” And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it on Isaac his son; and he took in his hand the fire and the knife. So they went both of them together. And Isaac said to his father Abraham, “My father!” And he said, “Here am I, my son.” He said, “Behold, the fire and the wood; but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” Abraham said, “God will provide himself the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.” So they went both of them together (Genesis 22:1-8).
GRACE IS GOD’S REWARD FOR OBEYING HIM AND ABRAHAM WAS THE LIVING PROOF
It is true that man does not deserve anything from God! But, God, Himself, cannot be but gracious. His grace falls on the good and the bad. And therefore God’s grace sustains both. God cannot and God will not withhold His Grace and His Love from this world. In this life, God does not withdraw His goodness from the sinners, nor does God expect the saints to withdraw their goodness from the world. Jesus, the Son of God, made this point very clear:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you salute only your brethren, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:43-48).
Abraham conducted himself very graciously among the natives and he respected their customs. He purchased a burial plot and he felt hurt when Sarah compelled him to send Hagar and her son away. Abraham had pity for Sodom.
Now Ephron was sitting among the Hittites; and Ephron the Hittite answered Abraham in the hearing of the Hittites, of all who went in at the gate of his city, “No, my lord, hear me; I give you the field, and I give o the cave that is in it; in the presence of the sons of my people I give to you; bury your dead.” Then Abraham bowed down before the people of the land. And he said to Ephron in the hearing of the people of the land, “But if you will, hear me; I will give the price of the field; accept it from me, that I may bury my dead there.” Ephron answered Abraham, “My lord, listen to me; a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver, what is that between you and me? Bury your dead.” Abraham agreed with Ephron; and Abraham weighed out for Ephron the silver which he had named in the hearing of the Hittites, four hundred shekels of silver, according to the weights current among the merchants (Genesis 23:10-16).
But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had born to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the lad and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your descendants be named. And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba (Genesis 21:9-14).
So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom (to destroy it); but Abraham still stood before the Lord. The Abraham drew near and said, “Wilt thou indeed destroy the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from thee to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from thee! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.” Abraham answered, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the LORD, I who am but dust and ashes. Suppose five of the fifty righteous are lacking? Wilt thou destroy the whole city for lack of five?” And he said “I will not destroy it if I find forty-five there.” Again he spoke to him, and said, “Suppose fort are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of forty I will not do it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the lord be angry, and I will speak. Suppose thirty are found there.” He answered, “I will not do it, if I find thirty there.” He said, “Behold, I have taken upon myself to speak to the Lord. Suppose twenty are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of twenty I will not destroy it.” Then he said, “Oh let not the Lord be angry, and will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” And the LORD went his way, when he had finished speaking to Abraham; and Abraham returned to his place (Genesis 18:22-33).
LIVING IN GRACE IS DOING GOOD REGARDLESS OF THE INCONVENIENCING OURSELVES
Jesus insisted that his followers give man a taste and that they ought to demonstrate to the world what glorifies God. James declared that Abraham demonstrated that faith. And without deeds there was no faith at all. Jesus says:
You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trodden under foot by men.
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hid. Nor do men light a lamp and put it under a bushel, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven (Matthew 5:13-16).
What does it profit, my brethren, if a man says he has faith but has no works? Can his faith save him? If a brother or sister is ill-clad and in lack of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the boy, what does it profit? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.
But some one will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. Do you want to be shown, you foolish fellow, that faith apart from works is barren? Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he offered his son Isaac upon the altar? You see that faith was active along with his works, and faith was complete by works, and the scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned to him as righteousness”’ and he was called the friend of God. You see that man is justified by works and not by faith alone. And in the same way was not also Rahab the harlot justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so faith apart from works is dead (James 2:14-26).
Owe no man anything, except to love one another; for he who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not kill, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this sentence, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law (Romans 13:8-10).