The apostle John, in his account of the life of Jesus, made an interesting statement:
“And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.” (John 21:25)
So here we are, making another attempt to write about a person who is beyond description, and about His accomplishments all of which no individual can fathom! The best we can do is to bear witness and attempt to tell others what He means to us and what He has done for us personally. There was once a blind man who at first was not sure of the identity of Jesus. He could be certain however of one thing: before he met Jesus he was blind — afterward he could see! (John 9:25). So whether we can tell it perfectly or not, we are compelled to describe Him and His work in our lives as best as we can!
Likewise there have been many attempts to explain the change that takes place in the life of an individual who trusts in Jesus as their Savior and Lord. There are also many efforts to understand what happens when believers struggle against their past lives for longer than is to be expected. In fact, we have many lines in the New Testament that deal with problems in the life of the believing community. So for myself, I see this as a worthwhile endeavor.
A better understanding of the Bible, the historical background and the way people thought in those days can help us to more fully understand the teachings of Christ and His apostles. It is the Holy Spirit most of all Who illuminates our understanding of the Scriptures, but even He prompts us to probe deeper for a mature understanding of these events. The fact that the Bible incorporates so much history in its message to us should also indicate that these facts are there for a good reason.
In Acts chapter 17, we find a group of lazy Jews who rejected the Gospel of Jesus Christ as explained by Paul without even considering the Scriptures on the matter. They immediately opposed him and his associates, forcing them to go to another city. In the synagogue at Berea the people were not so lazy and quick to form an opinion against the Lord.
Luke tells us in Acts 17:11-12 that:
“These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed; also of honorable women which were Greeks, and of men, not a few.”
So while I believe in the simplicity of the Gospel to transform the lives of people of all ages, walks of life and levels of education, it is a noble thing indeed to search out the depths of His wisdom, to grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus our Lord. This wisdom with not only equip us to better serve Him, but to help us encourage those who still struggle in their walk with Him.
Our day is a day of quick fixes and clichés. Paul foresaw a time when many would flock to those who tell them what they want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Our political leaders know that is the way to gain power, and too often our church leaders do as well. Paul pleaded with the church in Ephesis to examine his life and teachings, not on the basis of how good they made them feel, but on the basis of how honest and truthful they were. (Acts 20:18-27).
He also urged the young Timothy towards diligence and accurate handing of the Word of Truth. (2 Timothy 2:15). In 2 Timothy 3:12-17 his charge to the young minister could encourage us equally today.
“But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work.” (NASU)
Today we must keep in mind that our New Testament was just at that time being written. The inspired scriptures that Timothy knew from childhood, which can give wisdom that leads to salvation and equipment for every good work were the Hebrew Scriptures. Christians refer to them as the Old Testament, in reference to the Old Covenant. The New Testament is so titled to emphasize the reality of the New Covenant established by Christ.
Why do you suppose that Paul placed such a high value to knowing the contents of the Old Testament and the teachings of the Old Covenant? Here is a question that is answered in many and often disparate ways. First let me say that I do not believe anyone is more excited and committed to the New Covenant than I am. My very existence is wholly dependent upon the grace of Christ as revealed therein. I do believe that our zeal for the New Covenant has led to some confusion on this question. Only recently I have found the need to take a closer look at these issues.
To fully understand the reason for Paul’s words both here and elsewhere will take some time and effort. I would prefer a quick and easy answer myself. To do that I would have to either erase or ignore large portions of Paul’s letters to his fellow Christians. No, all of his statements must be considered if we are to grasp the weight of his instructions and the depth of the convictions standing behind them. Above all we should heed his direct instructions to Timothy as applicable to all would-be leaders in the church. We all need to know what God has said to the people of ancient times and how His words to them could help us please Him today.
The New Testament itself cannot be fully understood without the background of the events and prophecies of the Old Testament that came before. Consider another statement that Paul made concerning the Hebrew scriptures. After quoting from the Old Testament, he says:
“For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, so that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” (Romans 15:4)NASU
For hundreds of years, believers have known the truth of this statement. Not in theory, but in practice. Some of the words were difficult to understand, yet they were revered and trusted just the same. Many could not explain the finer points relating to the old and new covenants, the law and grace, Israel and the Church. But somehow they lived and died unto the glory of God and left us a marvelous legacy of faith through their love for Christ and His Written Word.
From time to time the Old Testament has been misunderstood and misapplied by Christians with disastrous results. Jesus proved that even the Israelites of His day had done so. Paul, a former Pharisee who met the risen Christ developed a keen sense in this area. After having been steeped in legalism for many years, he was liberated by the life of Christ in a very dramatic way. This might explain why he was more sensitive to the problem than his fellow apostles in Jerusalem.
When Christians were tempted to revert to trusting their own good works, Paul responded with strong and intense words. In the past, his status as a law-abiding Pharisee was no comfort to his soul. In fact his hate-filled heart brought him in direct conflict with the very God he sought to please. That heart was softened by the love, mercy and grace of God in Christ, making him a champion of the Good News of Jesus Christ and one of His greatest missionaries. It would be difficult to find a person whose life was more impacted by a revelation of the glory and grace of Jesus Christ!
Paul could communicate to gentiles the same message that Jesus brought to the Jews, in an extremely efficient way. No one could be justified before God by their own good works. Only by trusting in the righteous, holy sacrifice of Christ can our sins be forgiven and removed. By His grace we are saved and have peace with God!
The Battlefield of the mind
Satan can afflict the Christian in two basic ways. One is to appeal to the desires of our flesh. The other is to deceive us into thinking that the Cross of Christ is insufficient to fully redeem us. Then we might foolishly try to earn favor with God by performing some form of ritual or service, when that favor has already been offered in Christ.
Some of these ideas come from our church traditions, and so we rail against their customs and teachings. Lately I have come to realize that the problem goes much deeper than that. Even the least religiously minded operate on false assumptions about God and our situation with Him. The concept of right and wrong is built into our very nature. When we do the right thing we instinctively feel good about ourselves. When we participate in evil we sense the reality of our guilt. In the first instance we are tempted to a level of self-righteousness and become judgmental of others. In the second we might try to ignore our guilt or cover it ourselves like our ancient ancestors Adam and Eve, who thought fig leaves would cover their shame.
The world is full of attempts to balance our sins and errors with positive actions. Both spiritual and natural death is always the result.
Even in the Old Covenant there were those who understood the problem. Hebrews chapter eleven lists a huge number of individuals, both men and women whose trust and confidence in their Lord and Savior brought them salvation and peace with God. Jesus, Paul, Peter, James and others called us back to that kind of faith, and showed us that the Old Covenant system of animal sacrifices only pointed to the full and final sacrifice of Jesus, the perfect, spotless Lamb of God offered for us.
“O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!
For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counselor? Or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again?
For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.”
There are groups of Christians who are fascinated with Jewish traditions and their significance. Some even observe the Sabbath Day and avoid non- kosher foods. I have no quarrel with them, unless they begin teaching that these practices are their means for right standing with God. At the same time a number of Christian groups have developed another standard that is nowhere found in the teachings of Christ or His apostles. They might even have a life style that is more profitable than my own. However, if they teach that all Christians are bound by their standard, and that theirs is the only way to heaven, I will declare this to be heresy, and an affront to the Finished Work of Christ on the Cross!
But who am I to judge? Well, only one who also has the Spirit and Word of God, and charged by Him to preach the word, be instant in season and out of season, reproving, rebuking and exhorting with all long suffering and teaching. (2 Timothy 4:2).
The Curse of the Law
Paul’s negative comments on God’s covenant with Israel under Moses is not at all in conflict with his exhortations to study the Old Testament. He carefully presented the fact that the New Covenant had come and that the Old was fulfilled in Christ. His harsh and bold statements were necessary to move people from the Old to the New.
“So then, the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good. 13 Therefore did that which is good become a cause of death for me? May it never be! Rather it was sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin by effecting my death through that which is good, that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful. For we know that the Law is spiritual; but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.” (Romans 7:12-14 NASB)
His argument was to convince us that the problem is not with the law, or even religion. The problem is in us. It is in the weakness of our fallen nature. It is in our determination to justify ourselves and our actions. When ever we attempt to establish our own righteousness, we show our ignorance of the righteousness of God. Those who surrender to Christ have submitted to the righteousness of God so His righteousness can be fulfilled in them! (Romans 10:3-4, 8:4).
It is truly a wonderful day for those who receive Christ as their righteousness. They can have peace with God, be filled with His Spirit, which illuminates their minds to understand and obey His Word. They can love His law because He gave it out of love. Those who seek by their own ability to justify themselves by the law will find it has become a curse to them.
Our pure, holy, and loving Savior deserves only our love, devotion, praise, honor and obedience. Instead He received hatred, spite, abuse, beatings and a humiliating death on the Cross. The very thought of this injustice sickens my heart. And yet, my greatest hope, joy and freedom is the result of His willingness to die for me, receiving my curse upon Himself.
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world should be saved through Him.” (John 3:16-18) NASB