Category Archives: Scripture/ Bible

hebrews

THE BOOK OF HEBREWS – CORRECTLY USED

The book of Hebrews is a wonderful letter written to the Jewish believers, probably living in Jerusalem. It declares the glorious divinity of Jesus, His eternal heavenly priesthood on our behalf, the finished work of the Cross, the sufficiency and uniqueness of His blood and the Grace of a new and better Covenant. It is an important letter for us all, in that establishes the replacing of the Old Mosaic Law Covenant by a New Covenant of Jesus’ Grace along with the foundational truth that no other sacrifice except that of Jesus, is effective in dealing with sin.

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Heb 1:3 “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven”.

 

THE MISUNDERSTANDING OF KEY SCRIPTURES IN HEBREWS

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Sadly, some parts of the book of Hebrews have been badly misunderstood and are being widely misused and quoted out of context by those who oppose The Gospel of Grace (Acts.20:24). Therefore, we need to be clear on how to rebuff these arguments that undermine the sufficiency and the finished work of the cross and rob Jesus of His glory. Certain scriptures from Hebrews, quoted in isolation can lead to condemnation, a lack of confidence and a waning assurance in the enduring sufficiency of the Cross. These scriptures need clarification in light of our foundational New Covenant beliefs that we are saved only by grace through faith and not by works (i), that we  proclaim the Gospel of Grace (ii), the Spirit of Grace (Heb.10:29) and Jesus’ New Covenant (Heb:10:16-17).

THE BATTLE BETWEEN GRACE AND LAW

Firstly, we must again reiterate that one of the major issues addressed by all the letters of the New Testament was the division in the Early Church between those who believed Jesus’ work on the cross to be sufficient for all sin and those that wanted to add Mosaic Law and religious rules to the Cross. Basically the fight was between two opposing camps….
1) Salvation and living by Jesus’ Grace alone.
2) A mixing of Grace and Laws.

This battle arose because the Early Church was made up of two distinct groups, Jews and Gentiles, both of whom had strong but opposing cultures. For more detail on these divisions see the teaching The context of Pauls letters. By the way the battle between Law and Grace still continues today.

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THE CONTEXT OF HEBREWS

The first thing that maybe a revelation to many modern Christians is that the letter of Hebrews was written to Jews and not to Gentile  – I’m stating the obvious, that’s why it’s called Hebrews. Unlike most of the letters (except James) it was not addressed to a specific church, to an individual believer or to the saints (meaning born again believers) but to Jews of various beliefs with regard to Jesus who were influencing the church in Jerusalem. This is a crucial point to understand as it was written to a specific people, the Jews interested in,  or  to committed to Jesus, for a specific purpose of bringing them free from the Law, their traditions and the Temple sacrifices. However as I said before it is also an important book for everyone, especially in the African context where many false teachers are mixing Christianity with ancestor veneration and animal sacrifices, just like the Jews of Paul time.

TO JEWS WITH CHRISTIAN LEANINGS

The tone of the book of Hebrews indicates that it is addressed to a mixed bunch who were either Christian or dappling in Christianity. Today there are many Jews who identify themselves as Christians, or with Jesus teachings, and still maintain their Jewish cultural identity. These Jewish background believers as well as Messianic congregations can be found throughout the world. Praise God! The common thread is that they all recognize Jesus as the Jewish Messiah. However as in Paul’s day, within the modern Jewish Christian / Messianic camp there are many different beliefs with regard to what it means to follow Jesus, who Jesus is, what He did on the cross and how this affects a Jews obligation to both Jewish cultural traditions and the Law of Moses.

In Paul’s day, we have shown in the link above, that there was a huge debate going on over these very issues. Even Peter, James and Barnabas, who like Paul all grew up as Jews, fell into error and sometimes even came out against Paul’s “grace only” teaching.

MIXED BELIEFS ABOUT JESUS

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Like today, the Jewish “Christians” of Paul’s time had a mixed bag of beliefs about Jesus. Many knew about Jesus, but did not know Jesus as Lord and Savior – they were not “Born Again” (Jn.3:3) and not all were saved despite their interest in Jesus. Even some of his closest disciples did not fully understand who Jesus was and eventually fell away. Here are some of the beliefs the Jews had about Jesus, some of which The Book of Hebrews was correcting.

  1. Like Moses, Jesus was a powerful and good Jewish Rabbi (teacher) – but nothing more (iii).
  2. He was the Messiah /Savior that would save Israel from Rome’s occupation and establish the final Messianic Jewish Kingdom (iv).
  3. He was the prophet Moses had spoken of – but not the Son of God (v).
  4. He was the Son of God to be worshipped (vi).
  5. He was the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world (vii).
  6. He was a God given sacrifice to unite Israel (viii)
  7. A blasphemer and false prophet (ix).

The Jews in Jerusalem were struggling and many had their feet in both camps, Christianity and Legalistic Judaism. Hebrews tries to draw them fully into Christ.

(To give you a taste of what some Messianic Jews believe here is a link to a Messianic fellowship in Israel Shema- what is Messianic Judaism?)

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THE JEWISH ISSUES ADDRESSED IN HEBREWS

The general themes of the book of Hebrews are:-

Chapter 1: Jesus was divine and provided a finished atonement for sin (1:3)

Chapter 2:  A call for the Jews to pay attention and receive Jesus’ salvation (2:3).

Chapter 3: Jesus is greater than Moses, but the Jews had hardened their heart to the gospel and were still in the sin of unbelief (3:12).

Chapter 4: Like their forefathers were still trying to obtain their righteousness by works (4:10) instead of accepting and resting in the finished work of the cross (Ro.9:31-10:4).

Chapter 5: They were spiritual infants, they did not understand that true righteousness is a gift received by faith (5:13).

Chapter 6:  Many of these Jews had heard the gospel and knew the doctrines of Christ and they had seen the Holy Spirit’s miracles. Sadly they still chose Moses Law and the Temple’s animal sacrifices over Jesus’ sacrifice. Having known what Jesus had done on the Cross and then rejecting it for another sacrifice, they could not have their minds changed (6:4). To repentant actually means to change one’s mind and actions and this they refused to do, they would not give up their animal sacrifices. They may have followed Jesus as a Rabbi but they would not accept his sacrifice for their sins and therefore were lost – and in fact were never saved in the first place.

Chapter 7: They were still following the Levitical Priests in the Temple and seeking perfection through the Law instead of righteousness though Jesus, our Eternal High Priest in heaven.

Chapter 8: These Jews were being called to let go of the Old Mosaic Covenant and fully embrace Jesus’ New Covenant in which their sins are totally forgiven (8:12).

Chapter 9: These Jews were rejecting Jesus’ blood sacrifice and still attending the Temple sacrifices (9:12). They were basically claiming that the blood of Jesus was not good enough and they could not enter into Jesus’ salvation because they could not let go of the Laws animal sin sacrifices that were so much part of their traditional culture.

Chapter 10: Here the Law is declared as set aside by the New Covenant (10:9). Those Jews who kept sinning through unbelief, despite knowing the good news of Jesus’ gospel – cannot be saved (10:26). Anyone rejecting grace and Jesus’ blood as sufficient is eternally condemned (10:26-29).

Chapter 11: These Jews are reminded that the father of the Jewish people was Abraham who received righteousness by faith (11:6). Their father was not Moses who taught righteousness by Law – which always failed to produce righteousness.

Chapter 12: The Jews are reminded that the sin of unbelief had always hindered Israel and the Lord had often disciplined and punished them for it (12:5) and yet they still rejected Him (12:14). They were now called to leave the Law given on Mount Sinai and come into the New Covenant through Jesus blood (12:24).

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WE CANNOT LOOSE OUR SALVATION IF TRULY SAVED

Hebrews 6:6 and 10:26 are often misquoted to teach that if a Christian backslides or deliberately sins, they lose their salvation. It can be seen that when they are taken in their correct context these scriptures mean neither of these things. Using these scriptures in this incorrect way shows a complete misunderstanding of God’s Grace, righteousness, the work of the cross and how we are saved in the first place. Our salvation is not and never was, conditional on our performance (i) or our self righteousness. Salvation has and will always be God unearned and undeserved gift of God’s love to all who would take hold of it in faith. If salvation is based on our performance then we are all lost (x) because at some point in our lives, if we are honest, we may either backslide or may intentionally sin – without grace, no one is righteous, so if we say we haven’t or won’t then we are deceived and are self righteous.

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The parable of the Prodigal son (Luke 15:22) clearly teaches that the Father never lets His sons go, once a son always a son, even if you reject being a son. We may be unfaithful to God but he will never be unfaithful to us. He will never let’s those who are truly saved walk away, it’s no longer our choice. We no longer live but Christ lives in us (xi), we are now an inseparable part of Him. We are sealed eternally by the Holy Spirit (xii).

RESCUED BUT THEN THROWN TO THE SHARKS

Teaching that we can lose our salvation is like a Coast Guard who rescues his own son from drowning only later to throw him back in the sea because he behaves badly or is not grateful enough. Come on, God’s not like that.

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So brothers and sisters, be of good cheer and get rid of any doubt that you can lose your salvation, it’s a lie that denies the effectiveness of the Cross and God’s unconditional love. If you are a “back slider” or have deliberately sinned and allowed that to separate you from God, call out to the Father and receive His forgiveness and love once again. He will empower you in grace to hold the course and say no to sin.

Be loved and blessed, Jesus is Lord!

www.gracelovetruth.com

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THE SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES

(i)                  Eph 2:8  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—Eph 2:9  not by works, so that no one can boast.

(ii)                Act 20:24  However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace. Act 20:25  “Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again.

(iii)               Joh.3:2  He came to Jesus at night and said, “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”

(iv)              Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

(v)                Joh 6:66  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.

(vi)              Mat 14:33  Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

(vii)             Joh 1:29  The next day John the Baptist saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!

(viii)           Joh 11:49  Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! Joh 11:50  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” Joh 11:51  He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, Joh 11:52  and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.

(ix)              Mat 26:63  Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” Mat 26:64  “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”Mat 26:65  Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy.

(x)                Rom 3:9  What shall we conclude then? Are we any better? Not at all! We have already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. Rom 3:10  As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one.

(xi)              Gal 2:20  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(xii)             Eph 1:13  And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit,

 

 

 

 

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context

UNDERSTANDING THE KEY ISSUES OF PAUL’S LETTERS

To properly understand some of the most important parts of the New Testament and to be properly founded in the New Covenant and Jesus’ Gospel of Grace (Acts 20:24) we need understand one of  the major issue which most of Paul’s letters were addressing.

READ SCRIPTURE IN IT’S CONTEXT

Scriptures are often quoted out of context, when this a happens they can take on a totally different meaning. As the saying goes ” A scripture taken out of context is a con”. A very important principle is that the context of scripture is essential to correctly understanding scripture. For instance  Jesus said : Mat 5:29-30 “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away….. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away.”
We all know that there is no was way Jesus expected us to go around doing this, otherwise we’d be a church of one eyed, one handed people. However taken out of context some may justify doing exactly what it says – as they do in Saudi Arabia. Taken in context of the whole teaching which starts at Mat.5:1 and ends in Mat.7:28 we see that the actual issue was the self righteousness of the Pharisee and the Jews not the chopping off or hands and digging out of eyes (see The Sermon on the Mount).

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THE CONTEXT OF DIVISION IN THE EARLY CHURCH

The major issue of Paul’s day was the division(i) and conflict within each church between Christians from a Jewish background and Christians from a Gentile (Pagan) background. Even Peter and James (i) fell into the trap of legalistic division and Paul rebuked them for it.

“So what!” you may say? “I don’t have any religious Jews in my church”. That may be true, but this basic issue is still evident today among all Christians and it affects the way we read the scriptures, the personal way we understand the gospel and live out grace.

THE DIVISION BETWEEN LAW KEEPERS AND GRACE FOLLOWERS

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The conflict between these two groups, Jews and Gentiles, arose because …
1. The Christians from a Jewish background believed that they were more Godly and holy because they and their families had kept Gods Law for generations (ii). They believed that their “Jewish culture” had refined them and made them a holy people. They believed that they came into the church with a holy advantage, a holy credit, earned by their families generational good works in keeping the Law of Moses.
2. Sadly these Jewish Christians looked down on, and judged the Christians (iii) with a Greek/Roman culture because their culture was idolatrous and prone to be sexually immoral. Admittedly many of the Greek believers had not fully come free from the “free love” that their culture permitted and in Jewish eyes this made them second class Christians. However the Jewish believers secretly did the dame things! (iv).
3. The Jewish Christians believed the Gentile (Greek/Roman) Christians needed a good dose of Mosaic Law to get their lives right. After all they claimed “It worked for us Jews”.
4. Intrinsically these judgmental Christian Jewish believers did not believe that Gods grace and the Spirit of Christ in the new Gentile Christians was enough for their sanctification.
5. They proclaimed to the Gentiles “The Law is needed as we are all saved by grace but only the Law can control the immoral lives of our The Christian Gentiles”.
This self righteous attitude of the Jewish believers and their call to implement the Law to curb the Gentile sin was found throughout the church, in Rome (v), Galatia (vi), Corinth, Ephesus and it caused great hurt and division in the churches.

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It is this error that Paul’s letters address:
1) Holiness and righteousness is by the grace of Jesus Christ only (vii).
2) The keeping of laws imposed on us by others no longer has a place in the Christian life (viii).
3) We are now lead by God’s Spirit and God’s Word living in us (xi) and not by rules, cannons, regulations and laws.

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The interesting thing that has been missed is that Paul points out to the Jewish Christians is that their Godly inheritance and history was actually far from holy. As even though their Jewish ancestors knew and heard God (unlike the Pagan nations) they still chose to worship idols and engage in sexual immorality right under Gods nose …. Even when the Mosaic Law was being given at Mount Sinai.
Paul rebukes the Jewish believers in Romans 1:21-25 because of their sins (x) listed in (xi) (Jer.32:34)(Ezek.8:10) (Jdg.19:22) (Exo.32:1-6): Basically Paul says “How dare you judge the Gentiles who didn’t know God when you and your forefathers, who did know God, chose to do the very same things. So much for Israel’s Law keeping you holy, you self-righteous hypocrites!!”

People, the same applies today. We are called to live in the grace of Jesus Christ, He alone can enable us to live holy (xii) not outside laws and rules imposed on us by others. We are righteous by the blood, lead by the Spirit and empowered by the Word.

When we read the Bible let us read and seek revelation with the glasses of Grace on, not with the glasses of law.

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Praise God.
www.gracelovetruth.com

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THE SCRIPTURAL REFERENCES

(i) Gal 2:11 When Peter came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he was clearly in the wrong. Gal 2:12 Before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. Gal 2:13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. Gal 2:14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs? Gal 2:15 “We who are Jews by birth and not ‘Gentile sinners’ Gal 2:16 know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified.

(ii) Rom 2:17 Now you, if you call yourself a Jew; if you rely on the law and brag about your relationship to God; Rom 2:18 if you know his will and approve of what is superior because you are instructed by the law.

(iii) Rom 2:1 You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.

(iv) Rom 2:23 You who brag about the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? Rom 2:24 As it is written: “God’s name is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

(v) Rom 4:13 It was not through law that Abraham and his offspring received the promise that he would be heir of the world, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. Rom 4:14 For if those who live by law are heirs, faith has no value and the promise is worthless, Rom 4:15 because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.

(vi) Gal 3:1 You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. Gal 3:2 I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Gal 3:3 Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Gal 3:4 Have you suffered so much for nothing—if it really was for nothing? Gal 3:5 Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard?

(vii) 1Co. 1:30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

(viii) Rom 2:27 The one who is not circumcised physically and yet obeys the law will condemn you who, even though you have the written code and circumcision, are a lawbreaker. Rom 2:28 A man is not a Jew if he is only one outwardly, nor is circumcision merely outward and physical. Rom 2:29 No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code.

(ix) Gal 2:20 I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

(x) Rom 1:21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Rom 1:22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools Rom 1:23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Rom 1:24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. Rom 1:25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.

(xi) Jer 32:34  They set up their abominable idols in the house that bears my Name and defiled it.  Eze 8:10 So I went into the Temple and looked, and I saw portrayed all over the walls all kinds of crawling things and detestable animals and all the idols of the house of Israel.  Jdg 19:22 While they were enjoying themselves, some of the wicked men of the city surrounded the house. Pounding on the door, they shouted to the old man who owned the house, “Bring out the man who came to your house so we can have sex with him.” Exo 32:5 When Aaron saw this, he built an altar in front of the calf and announced, “Tomorrow there will be a festival to the LORD.” So the next day the people rose early and sacrificed burnt offerings and presented fellowship offerings. Afterward they sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.

(xii) Tit 2:11 For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men. Tit 2:12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age.

 

 

 

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legalsim

WHAT IS LEGALISM

 Legalism, in Christian theology, is a usually pejorative term referring to an over-emphasis on discipline of conduct, or legal ideas, usually implying an allegation of misguided rigour, pride, superficiality, the neglect of mercy, and ignorance of the grace of God or emphasizing the letter of law at the expense of the spirit. Legalism is alleged against any view that obedience to law, not faith in God’s grace, is the pre-eminent principle of redemption.

 In the New Testament

The words ‘legalism’ or ‘legalist’ do not occur in the Old or New Testaments. Legalism’s root word, “law” (Greek nomos), occurs frequently in the New Testament, and sometimes connotes legalism. The Greek of Paul’s day lacked any term corresponding to the distinct position of “legalism”, “legalist”, or “legalistic”,

One concept of legalism, the belief that salvation can be earned by obedience to laws, is referred to in various New Testament books, including Galatians. In this case, some Jews who had become Christians believed that in order to obtain salvation, both faith in Christ (as Messiah), and obedience to the Mosiac laws were required, such as the cases of the circumcision controversy and the Incident at Antioch. Generally, however, these cases are referred to as the Judaizer controversy, rather than a legalism controversy, but the two are related.

Legalism refers to any doctrine which states salvation comes strictly from adherence to the law. It can be thought of as a works-based religion. Groups in the New Testament said to be falling into this category include the Pharisees, Sadducees, Scribes, Judaizers, and Nicolaitans. They are legalists because they emphasized obeying the Law of Moses, in the case of the Pharisees and Scribes, to the letter without understanding the concept of grace. Jesus condemned their legalism in Matthew 23. The Pharisees love of the praises of men for their strict adherence is said to be a prime example of legalism.

Legalism is sometimes confused with obedience. New Testament books such as Romans, speak of grace and obedience together. An example is found in Romans 1:5 (New American Standard Version) speaking of Christ ‘through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith among all the Gentiles, for His name’s sake…’ The goal of receiving the grace was to bring about obedience of faith. Here grace, faith and obedience are tied together. Other references are in Acts 5:29, 32; Romans 16:19; 2 Corinthians 7:15; Hebrews 5:9.

Legalism is also confused with discipline, which is often spoken of in a positive light. See 1 Corinthians 9:17; 1 Timothy 4:7; 2 Timothy 1:7 and Hebrews 12:5–11.

A third common misunderstanding of legalism is the word law. Law in many places in the Bible refers to the Law of Moses, see also Biblical law in Christianity. In Galatians the Judaizers were trying to insist that salvation required that a person be circumcised prior to obeying the Law of Christ. Galatians 2:16 says, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (King James Version). The faith here is the Law of Christ and the law here is the Law of Moses. The legalism of the Judaizers was that obedience to the law of Moses was necessary to be saved

From http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Legalism_(theology)

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righteousness

RIGTHOUSNESS IS THE KEY TO THE GOSPEL

RIGHTEOUSNESS:  THE KEY TO THE GOSPEL

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KEY THEME SCRIPTURES: How do we get right with God?

(Mt.6:33) Seek first the Kingdom of God and His Righteousness and everything else will be added unto you.
Here a direct link can be seen between His Righteousness and the Kingdom.

 (Rom.1:17) For in the gospel a Righteousness from God is revealed, a Righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The Righteous will live by faith.”
True Righteousness is a key theme of the gospels; a righteousness based on faith not works.

 (Phil.3:9) Not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.
Here the link between Christ centered Righteousness by faith and Kingdom power is seen – resurrection power!

THE GOOD NEWS

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The good news and revelation of the New Testament is that we are saved by God’s grace through faith (Eph2:8). Salvation is a free gift from a loving God to an undeserving, sinful people.This salvation is activated purely by faith. All are saved if they will receive the gift. God has reconciled us to himself through Jesus (Rom.5:10). We are now in right standing with our heavenly father, we are righteous. Our Righteousness is from Jesus only.
It is not a self-righteousness that comes through our own good works or sinlessness.

A CLASH IN THE GOSPEL?

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Luke 16:16  The law and the prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it.

Some of the gospel teachings seem to oppose this good news of grace and seem to still be preaching The Law. Parts of the gospels seems to  imply that salvation and true righteousness is actually conditional  on us continuing to do good works. There appears to be a dichotomy between some of parts the gospels and the teachings of grace revealed to the Apostle Paul by the Risen Lord Jesus.

STARTING OFF IN GRACE

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Gal 3:2  I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?  Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?
Many are saved by grace, only to find that they end up living a driven, legalistic Christian life. Legalism denies the effectiveness of the work of the cross. It leads to spiritual dryness, death, sin and control. The truth is that not only are we saved by grace but we are called to live in Jesus’grace daily.

A CORRECTION IN READING THE SCRIPTURES

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The Lord wants to address this issue and bring about a correction. Legalism often comes about due to the wrong interpretation and application of certain scriptures. It is vitally important therefore, that we re-examine the gospels and other New Testament scriptures that appear to promote legalism and conditional acceptance by God. To deal with this problem we have to understand:
1)      the primary purpose of these gospel teachings?
2)      in what context were they preached?
3)      what do they actually mean for us today?

1)      BEING CHRIST CENTERED

2Ti 3:16  All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.
We must recognize the value of all scripture and understand how to use it correctly. Being Christ centered is crucial and the very core of our faith (Lk.24:27). They and we are all about Jesus! (Col.1:16) The bible is a progressive unfolding revelation of God’s goodness and love for mankind. This love is centered on Jesus Christ (Jn.5:39) and His Kingdom. Firstly we use scripture to interpret scripture. The principle and significance of first mention is helpful. Progression; the gospels interpret and clarify the Old Testament and the Epistles interpret and clarify the gospels.

2)      A NEW COVENANT

Rom 6:14. You are not under law, but under grace
We affirm that as Christians we are not under the Old Testament Covenants as they are all fulfilled in Christ (Mt.5:17). We live under a New Covenant with God. This new agreement is based on the grace and faith released through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This new covenant can only be understood and lived out by the Holy Spirit within us (Jn 14:26 Ro.18:13 Jn3:3).We value, honor and seek to understand Old Testament scriptures.They are the very Word of God revealing mankind’s sinful, independent and self-righteousness nature.They are pointing us toward a Christ centered salvation (Jn.5:39).However it is the New Testament that is our primary scriptural authority.

3)      THE CONTEXT

We must consider scriptures in the context in which they were written. What was the spiritual and life issues that the Holy Spirit was addressing at the specific time? How are these revealed truths are to be applied in our own lives, times and context. To take any scripture out of context leads to abuse and deception and definitely can create confusion. Many today misuse scripture in this way to reinforce wrong doctrines or to over emphasize certain pet doctrines. A scripture taken out of context is a con!

THE LETTERS OF THE NEW TESTAMENT

epistles

Many erroneously believe that the Christian life must be first and foremost be founded on the four gospels. The reasoning being that these were the actual teachings of Jesus himself – thus red letter Bibles. This reasoning denies the validity of the Word revealed by the same Spirit of Jesus to the Prophets and Apostles. This over emphasis on the gospels at the expense of the epistles can lead to confusion and an under valuing of the later letters of the Apostles. In fact these New Testament letters are a continuation of the gospels.They add to the progressive revelation of the full Gospel of Jesus Christ, His Kingdom and His grace. They are the very means by which the gospel teachings are to be interpreted and clarified. The Apostle Paul makes it clear that he received his teachings by direct revelation (Gal.1:12). These came direct from the risen, glorified, Jesus and not from himself or any other person. The teachings found in letters such as Romans, clarify and reveal foundational Christian truths. Some of these are only hinted at in the gospels e.g. the Righteousness of Christ, justification by faith, grace, “sonship”, Christ in us, etc. It would be extremely difficult to derive these key foundational Christian doctrines by just studying the gospels. In fact if one was only to study the gospels one could well end up concluding that salvation may primarily come about and be maintained by good works and law keeping! An over emphasis on the gospels at the expense of the epistles can lead to legalism. It is the epistles that bring us into the full revelation of grace and freedom that is ours in Christ. So what then is the purpose of the gospels?

THE KEY ISSUE IN THE GOSPELS

key

There are obviously many truths and themes in the gospels. E.g. Jesus as the way, truth and life, the revelation of God as a Father, the need to be born again, the coming of the Holy Spirit etc. However, the two primary significant themes have often been understated.
1)      True Righteousness
2)      The Spiritual Kingdom of God
3)      The relationship between  the two.
These need to be emphasized if we are to correctly interpret and apply the gospel’s teachings today.This will also help us avoid the trap of self-righteousness that denies God’s grace. Throughout the gospels Jesus sought to rectify Israel’s misconceptions concerning key spiritual truths. Mat 15:24  Jesus answered“I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel.” These misconceptions were also held by his own disciples. They were Jewish, these wrong beliefs were part of every Jews religious belief and culture. But it is importance of these very same truths also need to be recognized in our own lives:

1)      TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS

This is a key issue for mankind! This is the work and purpose of the cross. Without true righteousness there is no salvation. True Righteousness is :
i)                    Our right standing with God that comes by grace.
ii)                   Being in a right and loving relationship with God.
iii)                 The condition of man that is acceptable to God.
iv)                 A state approved by God.
v)                  An inner spiritual state of holiness.
vi)                 We are justified through the cross.
vii)               We are without sin in God’s eyes.
viii)              A state where our sins are no longer recorded or remembered.
ix)                 Freedom from condemnation and judgement.
The righteousness practiced by the Jews of Israel and all religions is an external religious self- righteousness based on good works and law keeping. This form of righteousness actually never made Israel or anyone right with God (Ro.3:10). It fell far short of true Godly Righteousness (Mt.5:20). Religious self-righteousness is in fact totally foreign and opposed to true Godly Righteousness which can only come through faith in Jesus Christ. Israel had become proud, boastful and self-righteous; dependent on self-effort and a legalistic religious system, instead of on God.

2)      GOD’S KINGDOM

(Act 1:6)  “Lord are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”
Jesus teaching  and preaching was (Mt.4:23) the good news about the kingdom. The Jews and even Jesus’ own disciples, thought that the Messiah/ Christ had come to establish a physical kingdom. They wanted to see Israel glorified among the nations of the earth. (Jn.12:13) The Jews thought the new “King of Israel” had come. They turned on Jesus very quickly when they discovered that this was not his plan! Even after Jesus’ resurrection, the disciple still did not understand Jesus’ teachings on His kingdom. (Acts 1:8) It’s significant that Jesus’ reply was to point them to the coming Holy Spirit, for the Kingdom is Spirit! They did not understand that the Kingdom of God is a spiritual (Lk.17:21) inner kingdom based on true Righteousness. The Jews and even Jesus’ own disciples mistakenly sought a kingdom and a righteousness that was physical and external. These two themes are critically important for us to understand. Jesus proclaimed a direct link between the Kingdom of God (Mt.6:33), true Righteousness and blessings.

THE CONTEXT OF THE GOSPELS: JEWISH SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS

pharisee

Rom 10:3 Since they did not know the righteousness that comes from God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness.
To correctly understand the gospels we have to understand the context in which Jesus’ gospel teachings took place. Jesus preached to Jews. All His disciples and the large majority of His listeners were Jews. They were living under the religious laws of Moses. They were waiting for the Messiah to re-establish Israel’s kingdom. (Mt.15:24)  Jesus boldly proclaimed “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel!” His first concern was dealing with God’s chosen people who had been chosen to take the good news of God to the world. However the Jews had totally missed God’s message and Spirit. (Gen 15:6) Through Abraham Israel had been given the message of a good and loving God. Abraham was the father of the Jewish nation and all those who live by faith. Abraham also had a revelation of true Righteousness that came through faith. But Israel rejected Righteousness by faith and instead sought a religious self-righteousness based on their goodness and self-effort. Thus the law was given to expose their sinful self-righteousness. (Jer 23;11) (Rom 11;26) They in fact had become Godless. Israel became proud and boastful. They did not want an intimate relationship with a loving God. They chose by their actions and hardness of heart to seek righteousness through law keeping. They rejected the faith of Abraham. God gave Israel the law and His conditional blessing based on them keeping every single one of the 613 laws. Read Deut 28 and you will see the impossibility and horror of this. They honestly thought they were good enough to do it! It was into this context that Jesus came. This very issue He addressed through the gospels. He came to reveal to Israel that the righteousness they thought they had attained through the law. They actually fell completely short of God’s holy standard…..what a shock this was to them! The Jews knew that the gentiles were Godless and unrighteous but never suspected they were!

(Rom.3:9) Jews and Gentiles alike are all under sin. As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God.  All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

JESUS EXPOSES THE SIN OF SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS

eye

Jesus taught and acted with the specific purpose of challenging the legalistic unbelieving hearts of the Jews. Including his own Jewish disciples. Many disciples followed Jesus as a Rabbi and some as Israel’s Messiah. They claimed to believe His message but in fact many disciples totally misunderstood. Many eventually turn away from Him.  (Joh 6:66)  From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. Including Peter in Matt. 26:34. Jesus confronted head on the issue of the Jewish Kingdom and the legalistic, self righteousness taught by the Jewish religious leaders. He condemned this system and it’s leaders outright. We find Jesus condemning the religious Pharisees in the strongest possible terms (Mat.23:1-33). But he showed mercy and grace to those struggling with moral sin (Jn.8:11). He did not go about exposing the hypocrisy of legalism as we would expect. He in fact used law to destroy the law for those in Christ. To those practicing and preaching law and self righteousness He preached a form of Hyper-law. E.g. (Mat 5:28) I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart….If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. Yes, this may seem like simple hyperbole but to the Pharisees who regularly stoned people it was something else! This was to expose the shortcomings of their law keeping and the righteousness they thought it gave them. On earth, Jesus preached law and conditional salvation.  Examples of condition that expose the short coming or the self-righteous religious life and which can themselves lead to legalism are: Matt.5:20, 6:14, 7:21, 10:33, 18:35, 19:21, 25:46. etc. Jesus attempted to drive the law keepers to a place where they would eventually understand that they just could not do it by themselves. He was endevoring to reveal that it was the Jew’s pride and self-righteousness that was the problem and this sin was the key issue for God. (Mat 5:48)  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. See what I mean, Who can do such a thing? (Mark 10:19-27)  In this story the self-righteous rich man missed this point while the disciples understood to a degree (not fully). When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”.

THE CALL TO REPENT

think

“Repent for the Kingdom of heaven is near (Mt4:17)”
Repentance and Righteousness are two keys to the Kingdom! Jesus’ gospel teaching were primarily a call to the Jews and His own Jewish disciples, an ultimately to all mankind to repent. The Greek work “to repent” actually means a change of mind that leads to a change of living, especially in regard to sin and sinful beliefs. Jesus was calling Israel to change their way of thinking and living – a call to acknowledge their erroneous world and religious view. The teachings of the gospels are not just a call to sinners. It’s a call to good religious people to repent from a self-centered, self-righteousness, legalistic, kingdom view. A call to turn back to a complete dependence on, and belief in, a good and loving God. The repentance Jesus was looking for was not repentance from moral sin as he knew that the greater and foundational sin of unbelief was the root of all moral sin. God hates all sin but there is  primary foundational sin in which all moral sin is rooted. This root sin of pride, is the sin of mankind’s independent, self- righteousness and unbelief in a good and loving God. At its core all moral sin is a manifestation of unbelief and pride! Unbelief and self-righteousness is the sin that the Holy Spirit has come to expose. (Joh 16:8)  When the Holy Spirit comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin, because men do not believe in me…. The Pharisees and the average Jew of Jesus’ time generally lead morally up right lives. Because of the strict imposition in society of the laws of Moses.But this was exactly the problem, they had become self righteous, moralistic and judgmental of others. They trusted in their own goodness and in their own efforts of law keeping instead of in God. This is a position that is most offensive to God. This is the great sin of mankind, superbly manifest in the Phariseeical Jewish religious society of Jesus’ day. Islam probably most typifies this attitude today. Thus the importance of us understanding these issues if we are to penetrate Islam and reap the harvest among Muslims and other religious peoples. Jesus understood and proclaimed that it was the inner heart condition that God was concerned with. His focus was not the apparent external keeping of the law or morality.

THE NEW TESTAMENT CHURCHES WERE BOTH JEWISH AND GENTILE

jew

This issue of Jewish legalism was not just something that Jesus addressed in Israel through His gospel teachings. It was in fact one of the main dividing issues every early church, whether in Jerusalem or Rome. Most of the early churches consisted of an almost equal mix of gentile converts from paganism and Jewish converts from Judaism. Judaism was widely spread and highly popular throughout the Roman empire. Most towns had a Jewish synagogue. This is evident when reading Acts. Paul always went first to the synagogue when entering a Roman Empire town. Paul had to repeatedly address the attempts of Jewish Christian believers to impose law in the new churches – thus his letters. Even the Apostles James and Peter promoted this heresy . The Judaizers that Paul so fervently condemned were not Jews sent by the Jewish Pharisees, they were Christians sent by James! They were Jewish converts to Christianity that had misunderstood the gospel of grace and were trying to add law to grace. Despite calling and thinking of themselves as Christians they in fact did not truly believe the true gospel (Gal.1:6-7) that the work of the cross was enough to make them right with God. In his letters Paul uses similar tactic to Jesus by pointing out their hypocrisy and their moral sin that is stirred up by law keeping.

NEW LEGALISM OPPOSES GRACE

gracelaw

We all have a natural fallen tendency to become legalistic. The modern church is still full of legalism. Legalism leads to an obsession with external moral sin instead of dealing with the issues of the heart. Don’t get me wrong when I say this. Let me be clear that moral sin is terrible and destructive and has no merit in any way. But Jesus has dealt with it on the cross and we are no longer slaves to sin. Focusing on it gives it strength and power that it is not due. In the New Testament believers are never addressed as sinners but always as saints; holy ones. When we sin we simply take it to the cross. Legalists become sin focused instead of Christ focused. Living by sets of rules, regulations, methods and techniques produce a dry, unloving and controlling environment. There is very little dependence on a real relationship with God. Even though grace may be taught, often the under laying message is that it is believers moral actions, adherence to rules, regulations and systems and attendance at meetings that make them righteous and acceptable to God and the church. Under such teachings we all fall short and tend to live in condemnation and passivity because law emphasis our short comings. The focus for many has become a form of self-righteous living rather than living in the Righteousness of Christ imparted to us by faith and lived out by the Holy Spirit. It’s all an issue of what comes first, where is our focus? Us and our effort, or Jesus, the cross? His Righteousness and grace at work in us leading us to true good works and holiness?

TRUE RIGHTEOUSNESS AND RESURRECTION POWER

ressur

There is a link between our revelation, understanding and acceptance of the Righteousness of Christ and moving in His resurrection power. Phil.3:9-10   2Cor.6:7. We are called to move in the power of the gospel 1Cor 2;4 that comes by grace and the Spirit. Legalism leads to intellectualism and a quenching of the Spirit. Accepting the complete, full work of the cross and the Righteousness that comes there from is the grace leads to freedom and power of the Spirit. (Heb.10:29) How much more severely do you think a man deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God under foot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? 

 WE CAN REST IN THE WORK OF THE CROSS

rest

Godly living and actions come out of the inner condition of the heart Mt.15:18. This right heart condition is founded on a revelation of grace Jn.1;17 Rom.4:16 and that we are the Righteousness of Christ 2Co.2;21. It’s not because of what we do but because of who we are; a part of Christ.  (Rom 4:5) However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness. Jesus is in us, we are dead, He is alive Gal 2:20. Our sins are no longer taken into account Rom 4:8. Our righteousness is HIS righteousness. Our life is His life. We have glorious freedom from condemnation Rom 8:1-16. The cross has done all we need to make us right with God. It is from this position that agape love, Godly good works and right living is manifest through our lives.

CONCLUSION

We live under grace not law – this has to have a daily reality for us. Any New Testament scripture that seems to imply that our salvation and acceptance by God is based on our good works or law keeping we must remember to whom these scriptures were actually addressed; to Jews living by law not to believers living by grace.

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JESUS’ CURSED SELF RIGHTEOUSNESS

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fig

Jesus’ every act had meaning, revealed truth and was full of prophetic symbolism (i) that pointed to truth for those who wanted to seek truth. Nothing in the scriptures is superfluous. Everything is linked in Christ whose whole life was the fulfillment of the scriptures (ii), The Law (iii) and prophetic expectations.
It’s important that we believe this as it helps us to make sense of some of the many difficult scriptures and also see the links between the Old and New Covenants. Over and over the gospels declare “Jesus did this to fulfill the scriptures” (iv). This is because Jesus came in the context of all that had happened before.  The whole history of mankind and especially Israel, has always been inextricably moving and pointing to the coming of the Messiah/ Christ of God. Likewise today as we await Jesus’ second coming.

thorns

When we look at the scriptures, by the Holy Spirit, we seek to understand the symbolism that is contain in the stories. Grace and truth came in the person of Jesus (v)  and all scripture has to be interpreted in the context of God’s call  for mankind to be saved from their independent, self righteous, sin infected lives to a life that is dependent on God and His grace found in Jesus Christ.

Here are a few examples linking the Old  and New testaments and explanations of  some of the symbolism.

Ask the Holy Spirit to show you more as you read the scriptures. Not only is this fun and exciting but it’s revelation that will feed your spirit as you see the progressively revealed truth of the Gospel of Jesus’ Grace.

THE FIG TREE: (vi) Shame! Why did Jesus cursed the poor fig tree? –  Because it was fruitless and symbolizes the fruitlessness of Israel’s and mankind’s self righteousness works, Law keeping and independence from God’s provision. The link to the Old Testament is that Adam made his own covering of fig leaves to hide his shame, instead of trusting in God’s forgiveness, grace  and provision.
THE CROWN OF THORNS: (vii) Wow, painful! Why did Jesus wear a crown of thorns on the cross. What is the symbolism? – The Law and Ten Commandments were given on Mount Sin-ai in the dessert of Sin.  The word Sin in Hebrew means thorns (we all know what it literally means in English, again no coincidence in the scriptures!). We know that any ground covered with thorns is just useless. Jesus wore a crown of thorns to show that the curse of Law and Sin that has caused us so much pain, bloodshed and suffering (albeit due to our failure) was on His head.
THE CROSS WAS A TREE: Why was Jesus crucified on a tree? –
Check out Deut.21:23, Gal.3:13, Rev 21:2

tree cross

Jesus said that He came to fulfill the scriptures .i.e. not only to fulfill their demands but also to bring revelation of their true meaning –  mankind can only find right standing with God, true righteousness, through Jesus’ grace, there is no other way
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Scripture references:
(i) Heb 10:1  The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves.
(ii) John 5:39 You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me
(iii) Mat 5:17 “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.
(iv) Matthew 1;22, 4:14, 8:17, 12:17, 21:4………
(v) John 1:17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.
(vi) Mar 11:13 Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to find out if it had any fruit. When he reached it, he found nothing but leaves, because it was not the season for figs. Then Jesus said to the tree, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” 
(vii) Mat 27:29  They twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head.

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