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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.