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Posts Tagged ‘freedom’

Letters Written by God

July 18th, 2017

You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone, revealing that you are a letter of Christ, delivered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on stone tablets but on tablets of human hearts. (2 Cor. 3:2-3 NET)

The new life, the new sufficiency that Paul and his companions had received did not end with them, rather it was part and parcel of the gospel and the conversion experience itself. Sinful humanity became partakers of the divine nature and reality of God through Christ.

The lasting mark on the Corinthians was not etched by Paul, not by his personality or his talents or his peculiarities or by anything that was uniquely part of Paul and Paul alone.The mark on their souls and spirits was made by God Himself. Through the gospel and by His Spirit God had written on their hearts the transforming love of Christ that left them liberated, free, empowered, and reborn. They were new creatures in Him, and that is an inherent part of the gospel. Anyone who believes in Him becomes a new creature and has a new life.

A missionary I knew once, who had truly done a good work, had perhaps left too much of himself imprinted upon the people. He did it quite innocently, but it was still noticeable. When the pastors he had trained stood to preach they all tended to hold their left hand a certain way, with only the thumb and the smallest finger standing out. The reason was quite simple – that was the way the missionary had preached to them, but he had done it because of an accident he experienced as a young man that caused him to lose his fingers on his left hand except for the smallest one. Nevertheless, the people loved the missionary so much, and his life had impacted their so highly, that the pastors trained by him, almost in a sense of testimony and tribute to his influence, tended to preach with only the thumb and the smallest finger standing out.

We could not say that that was wrong for them to do it, because it was an expression of their love and respect for him. Yet it illustrates how easy it is for us to pick up the traits of other people – who are simply redeemed sinners themselves, just as we are – rather than experience the transforming power of God. The good news is that God writes His love on our hearts, freeing us from worldly conformity and bringing us into the freedom of His Spirit. More than merely copying any human idiosyncrasy, we should make it our goal to experience the transforming life of Christ.

He is still writing His love on hearts today. Let Him write His unique story on yours.

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He Is Lord of the Sabbath

January 19th, 2016

And he said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. So the Son of Man is lord even of the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27-28)

What is a Christian’s obligation toward the Sabbath?

The Sabbath was Saturday, the last day of the week. For the Jew it began at sunset on Friday and continued until sunset on Saturday. The Ten Commandments included the command: “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy” (Exodus 20:8). Here Christ revealed his authority to properly interpret a commandment.

Christ taught that all of the Law was important. He said:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matt. 5:17-18)

Note the words “until everything is accomplished.” As we will see below, what Christ accomplished on the cross changed the way we view the ceremonial and sacrificial laws of the Old Testament. But the moral laws we still should obey.

Christ properly interpreted the Old Testament Law in his Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) by focusing on our inner thought life, and not just the outward action. To commit adultery was wrong, but it began with lust in the heart. To murder was wrong, but it started with hatred. He internalized the Law, and he did so in a religious environment that focused on the outward obedience to a standard and neglected the inward human heart. David wrote, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit” (Psalm 51:17), not rigid obedience to the Law. So this interpretation was not entirely new – just not widely grasped.

It is always easier to enforce outward adherence when there is a clear observable standard of behavior. But the inner obedience is unseen by man. Only God can see the heart, and the Jewish religion of the first century had neglected this truth. In Christ’s day the Jewish rabbis had written a great deal on interpreting the Law – focusing mostly on the outward obedience. It had become extreme, even bordering on ridiculous. Some times, in fact, they had written rules in such a way that they completely contradicted the real intent of the original biblical command.

Christ’s solution was a radical change in the human heart. We must turn and be converted. We must take the narrow way of faith and heart-felt obedience. It is not enough to just do the outward, rather our righteousness must be inward, faith-based. He said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20).

Christ, Lord of the Sabbath: Christ, as Lord of the Sabbath, was not about to let the silly rules laid down by numerous rabbis prevent him from doing good to those in need. He showed his authority as Lord here, and he revealed his compassion.

The Jews had, by Jesus time, made a long list of rules about the Sabbath – what you could do, what you could not, how far you could walk, what you could carry, etc. Christ performed many of his miracles on Sabbaths. For example, in Mark 1:21-31, it records Christ exorcising a demon and healing Peter’s mother-in-law on a Sabbath. These miracles directly challenged these false interpretations of the Sabbath restrictions.

Chapter 3 of Mark records another healing of Jesus on the Sabbath. His enemies – those who emphasized the rigid observance of the Law – were already looking for some way to accuse him, and Christ knew this. A man with a withered hand was in the synagogue and Christ asked him to step forward. He then said to his detractors: “Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?” (Mark 3:4) They could not answer him.

Bob Deffinbaugh on his website – Bible.org – gives a good description of the problem of these legalists, and why they could not answer:

The Law lays it down that the Sabbath Day is to be kept holy, and that on it no work is to be done. That is a great principle. But these Jewish legalists had a passion for definition. So they asked: What is work? All kinds of things were classified as work. For instance, to carry a burden on the Sabbath Day is to work. But next a burden has to be defined. So the Scribal Law lays it down that a burden is “food equal in weight to a dried fig, enough wine for mixing in a goblet, milk enough for one swallow, honey enough to put upon a wound, oil enough to anoint a small member, water enough to moisten an eye-salve, paper enough to write a customs house notice upon, ink enough to write two letters of the alphabet, reed enough to make a pen”—and so on endlessly. So they spent endless hours arguing whether a man could or could not lift a lamp from one place to another on the Sabbath, whether a tailor committed a sin if he went out with a needle in his robe …*

The religion was actually a list of petty rules that sought to establish a man’s own righteousness. Their focus was basically negative, and not positive – concern with what not to do, not what to do. And they had lost touch with the biblical perspective.

Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath: Christ’s words upheld the biblical order of things. God did not create the Sabbath first and then, later, create human life and commanded him to fit his life into the Sabbath. God created human life first, and then later created the Sabbath for human benefit. Albert Barnes wrote,

Since, therefore, the Sabbath was intended for man’s real good, the law respecting it must not be interpreted so as to oppose his real welfare. It must be explained in consistency with a proper attention to the duties of mercy to the poor and the sick, and to those in peril.**

In Matthew’s account of the encounter, he recorded Christ pointing out that they would all feel justified in retrieving a sheep from a pit on Sabbath. He then said, “How much more valuable is a person than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath” (Matt. 12:12). There was a glaring inconsistency in their thought, that one could rescue a farm animal and not heal a human being on the Sabbath.

The Sabbath as a Christian institution: The Sabbath as an institution is Jewish, not Christian. There is, however, a biblical moral principle laid down here that a Christian should join other believers in worship one day a week.

The Old Testament Law could be divided into different categories: moral laws, political laws, ceremonial, and sacrificial laws. The political, ceremonial, and sacrificial laws were made obsolete through Christ’s death on Calvary. “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:13). So the Old Testament Laws about what clothes to wear, animal sacrifices, and Jewish holidays, those are all obsolete.

The moral code, however, is different. Each of the Ten Commandments is reaffirmed in the New Testament, except the Sabbath restrictions. For example, the Law says, “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15), and we read in the New Testament, “Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need” (Eph. 4:28).

However, with regard to the Sabbath we read, “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). There are some Christian groups who still seek to worship on the Sabbath, or on the Seventh Day of the week, but clearly here is a verse that overturns the need to do so.

Sunday became the day of worship for Christians very early in the existence of the Church. Christ’s resurrection happened on Sunday and this came to be known as the “Lord’s Day” (Rev. 1:10). Jesus appeared to the disciples on the first day of the week (John 20:19). The Holy Spirit descended upon the Church also on Sunday – Pentecost was Fifty days after the Passover, and the scripture plainly says, “When the day of Pentecost was fully come” (Acts 2:1), meaning after sunrise. Christians came together to “break bread,” or to observe communion, and hear preaching on the first day of the week (Acts 20:7). Paul also commanded that the “first day of the week” was the day of giving to the work of the Lord (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

So, what are we to do with the Sabbath command? We are commanded to “not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb 10:25). Sunday is the Christian day of worship, so we should worship with other believers on Sunday. And there is the need to balance both our obligation to one another and our individual freedom in Christ. To forget our obligation to one another is irresponsible. To judge another brother, however, is also wrong.

God has already instructed us in his Word:

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. (Romans 14:5-8)

The command is properly interpreted, in my opinion, by taking one day each week for the church to come together to worship, take an offering, and encourage one another – and making this a priority for the Christian family. But there is also freedom expressed here. We should be sensitive not to offend our brother or sister with our freedom. And we should also be sensitive not to judge one another on how another Christian observes the day of worship. Beyond the matter of making worship and church attendance a priority, we leave the other issues as to what an individual Christian will do on Sunday with the individual believer. As the scripture says, “Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind” (Rom. 14:5b).

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*https://bible.org/seriespage/16-sabbath-controversy-gospels

** http://www.ccel.org/ccel/barnes/ntnotes.v.ii.xxvii.html#v.ii.xxvii-p0.2

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