Form or Substance

[taken from my commentary on Romans, Chapter 14]

With the crucifixion and resurrection of the Savior came revolutionary changes in the interpretation of Torah law. 613 laws, 365 negative, 248 positive, both ceremonial and moral, have been for religious purposes—at least for Gentiles—happily discontinued in one way or another. The ceremonies connected to the Exodus now would no longer be the supreme example of God’s power and salvation. The Temple sacrifices would become, ceremonially speaking, obsolete under the New Covenant ratified by the Savior’s death. “In that He says, A new covenant,” The writer to the Hebrews exclaims, “He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” [Hebrews 8:13]. The Moral law could be summarized now in a word—love, agape love, “the fulfillment of the law” [Romans 13:10].

It is a marvel we understand as much as we do about whatever passion seemed to drive God to such extremes as to require His only son’s crucifixion to save us. 613 commandments after awhile might become second nature to us following them, but that was not their purpose… ever!. Religious people, though, seem to find reason to replace them, to materialize worship, to give it form, a ritual, a list of do’s and don’t’s, or an orchestrated routine that more than symbolizes devotion to God but becomes the very essence of spirituality.

To miss a Wednesday night Bible study when my wife and I were newly weds seemed next to blasphemous because we were told that this service was for those who truly loved God and not just church. So when we skipped out for a jaunt to the market one Wednesday and got a flat tire, I knew it was God’s punishment. Well, it wasn’t. I know that now. Wednesday night was the form not the substance of our love for God.

In writing to the Romans, Paul dedicated the entire 14th chapter to this one subject: distinguishing between the form and the substance. He would not condemn religious form because every idea, even our worship, must have some expression, and often that is how we know what worship is [3 songs and a chorus]. A table is a table not because it is made of wood (it might be metal), nor because it has legs (ask the Japanese) but because of its function to eat off or whatever else we use a table for. We must discover in our own experience what the difference is between the table and its function, between a church service and our worship while in it.

In Paul’s world, some believers were strict vegetarians; some brought a ham roast to fellowship banquets. There were a number of injunctions about eating in Torah law. I am glad he addressed this conundrum.

Oh, I mentioned 613 injunctions now discarded. But did you know they were replaced with what I call the 614th one. Matthew 6:14, forgiveness. And the 615th? Romans 6:15 “we are under grace, now!”

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Who’s in Charge!

For those who cherish their political freedom, a small government that exists only to protect and not control them, that is not taxing them into a lower tax bracket, or telling them what they can and cannot buy, Paul’s instruction to submit to such authorities, is unappreciated. Some have, in error, considered Paul a proponent of slavery because he didn’t speak up against it. And if he could be that silent on such a miscarriage of human justice and ethics, what other principles might he propose that make God appear more distant and unloving.

Was Paul imagining a form of government more benevolent? God gave him a vision, [2 Corinthians 12:2-4]⁠1 during those silent years in Arabia when he receive the message of a salvation by grace [Galatians 1:16-17].⁠2 This was when God clarified to him and all of us, “My grace is enough for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” [2 Corinthians 12:9]. Somehow, tribulation would never be a big deal to him other than having the undeserved honor of sharing in our Savior’s sufferings [Philippians 3:10].⁠3 A person of this mindset is most likely to discourage us from arming ourselves against a government we think is—somehow—hurtful.

On top of all this Paul saw himself as a citizen of heaven [Philippians 1:27 NLT]⁠4 and just a stranger here [Hebrews 11:13].⁠5 Was he shutting out reality? To him all governments are temporary [2 Corinthians 4:18]⁠6 and, beside, he longed soon to be with His Lord? [2 Corinthians 5:18 NIV].⁠7 He resigned himself to be God’s sacrificial servant [Romans 8:36]⁠8 and, little doubt, this had to season his view of things, including tyrannical leaders. In Paul’s mind, the eternal God he served would bring judgment and he was going to leave the matter to Him [Romans 12:19 RSV].⁠9

So Paul wrote in Romans 13:1-2:

  1. Let every one submit to the authorities [higher powers over them] because there is no authority other than God’s. And all existing authorities have been appointed by God.
  2. The result is this: whoever resists authority, opposes God’s ordinance; those who resist shall receive judgment.

Authorities, higher powers – Any level and every type of government is meant: democracy, constitutional republic, oligarchy, plutocracy, socialistic, communistic, an autocracy, ejusdem generis. Paul uses here the word authority and not power. Authority can be usurped; power cannot be. The word power speaks to one’s ability to do such and such. Authority does not; some authorities have been historically seen as incompetent.

Appointed – Scholars say that government is a divine institution because God made us social beings and every ruler is, in effect, given a divine dispensation.

Judgment – Is this what Jesus meant: “Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.” [Matthew 26:52]? Scholars say that God will avenge His institution. But if this is so, is He not possibly on the side of tyranny instead of the poor who are under the scourge of political bondage? Was the American revolution wrong!? Paul appeared to be admonishing the Christians of Rome to submit to the emperor (some of whom attempted Christian genocide) and whom many thought answered to the antichrist of the Revelation! But, goes the argument, submission is not worship!

Another Perspective

Here is another perspective: Solomon wrote, “A man’s heart devises his way: but the Lord directs his steps.” [Proverbs 16:9}. In the year King Uzziah died [after reigning for 40 years in Judah and the nation was, consequently, in political turmoil] Isaiah had a vision: “I saw also the Lord sitting upon a throne….” [Isaiah 6:1]. God never abdicated the throne, for if He ever did, He would be nullifying His first commandment that no one take His place in the heart and lives of His people—you and me [Exodus 20:3]. Uzziah was never over Israel; he only appeared so in a political sense. God was …and is …and will always be!! [1 Corinthians 15:28]

If any ruler were not under the oversight of God, how would God be—well—God. Our faith in Him rests on His Supremacy over all the circumstances of our lives. Thomas a Kempis wrote:

For the resolutions of the just depend rather on the grace of God than on their own wisdom; and in Him they always put their trust, whatever they take in hand. For man proposes, but God disposes; neither is the way of man in his own hands.⁠10

Who is really in charge?  Here is one of my favorite Scriptures. Can you see the relevance?

“You will keep him in perfect peace, whose mind is stayed on You: because he trusts in You” [Isaiah 26:3].

1 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago… was caught up to the third heaven. He was caught up into paradise and heard things too sacred to be put into words, things that a person is not permitted to speak.
2 to reveal his Son in me so that I could preach him among the Gentiles, I did not go to ask advice from any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before me, but right away I departed to Arabia, and then returned to Damascus
3 That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death;
4 Above all, you must live as citizens of heaven, conducting yourselves in a manner worthy of the Good News about Christ.
5 These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, and were persuaded of them, and embraced them, and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth.
6 While we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen: for the things which are seen are temporal; but the things which are not seen are eternal.
7 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
8 As it is written, For thy sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter.
9 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
10 His celebrated ‘Of the Imitation of Christ’, is the second most widely read Christian text after the Bible itself.
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Redefining Society

Society is being altered at its roots and Christians should be concerned about this for a couple reasons.

Reason One: Moral

Society is defined by its moral code which is culturally reflected in what is acceptable and good [words I borrow from Romans 12:2]. We are watching this code being rewritten.

  1. Relationships have gone casual; sex is an acceptable activity among adults and no longer the cornerstone of a romantic intimacy between 2 becoming 1 [Ephesians 5:31]. As a result…
  2. More and more young adults are considering themselves binary. This is saying that relationships are no longer definable—anything goes in a spirit of experimentation. We are losing our identity as a society and culture because society is built on morally well-defined relationships! As a result…
  3. It is no surprise that we are being told that humans are not monogamous. This is a lie! This is only a rationale for justifying social change. Marriage is no longer understood to be a life commitment between a man and a woman.
  4. As a consequence of the changes 1-3 there are fewer children being born. The news adds, “social issues are at play” pointing to the cost of raising them, but depressions and wars never stopped us before. In fact post WW2 produced a generation of “boomers.” As a result…
  5. This should tell us something about the changing narrative. Connect the dots! The LGBTQ+ community in America amounts to a little over 7% of our society, yet society is being altered not to care about them [that we might understand. Christ died for all] but to elevate them to a place of social prominence. We are redefining society by their lifestyles!
  6. And now there is an effort to reform our children, too.

It all started with telling God to get lost [Romans 1:21] and it ends with a culture that no longer recognizes Truth. [Isaiah 5:20; Romans 1:32]. Christians should be concerned enough to counter this assault on the intelligence of our children and young adults. In parochial and church schools in the appropriate classes, these issues should be raised and the Biblical message supported!

Reason Two: Relational

Why be concerned? Paul in Ephesians 5:30-32 wrote that the monogamous relationship within the nuclear family was a type of our relationship with Christ. Underline this!

For we are members of His body. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.

Society is losing sight of this truth which is tampering with our theological understanding of our relationship with Christ. If we think this untrue, we are more than deceived, we are blinded by the false arguments and probably a bit lax in our Bible reading. We are the bride of Christ which speaks to a very special “oneness” being formed in us with our Lord. A life long love relation between a man and a woman was suppose to typify this eternal relationship.

Give this subject some thought … on your knees before God.

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The Epistle to the Romans

It is worth noting that the New Covenant in Christ which Paul details in his letter to the Church at Rome is far more than a theological treatise on the Cross. Every chapter addresses some aspect of the ongoing conflict with a secular culture and the forces of evil which a believer faces in their Christian experience and which the covenant faithfulness of God effectively deals with.

We must not read The Epistle to the Romans as a Jewish argument against grace because it is every form of religious legalism against grace. There is often a struggle within the young believer whose whole life has been consumed with religious duty. As Paul affirmed, ritual and ceremony cannot save us. We need to be rescued from the evil we have unleashed upon ourselves and our descendants.

Sadly, some have become comfortably familiar with the prison cell they have made of their lives. Even with the chains removed and the doors off the hinges of this prison of an old life—a freedom Paul trumpeted for all by faith in Christ—their religious commitments deny them the joyous freedom that should be theirs as believers. Legalism replaces following Christ because following in His steps seems too mysterious, even though it is the most practical and reasonable lifestyle for a believer.

Some young believers are not yet aware of the transformation the Gospel is making within them. And if they are suspicious of the change, it often seems to conflict with everything they once knew and called morally acceptable and culturally right. Confused and ignorant of the possibilities that are theirs in Christ, the message of the Cross has become merely a religious status symbol or a ticket to heaven and not—as it must become—a transformation of the heart and life.

Some find grace too forgiving or somehow unfair or as a favor that in some sense always must be earned or paid back—like a debt. To some, nothing here seems reasonable. But for these very persons Christ did die! How to start a legitimate conversation with them that the Spirit can guide to bring them to the Savior is Paul’s burden to the Romans. God’s sense of reasonableness is a bit different. “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” [ Romans 8:32].

We also must not shy away from Paul’s description of sin and final judgment. It is terrifyingly unreal to the average person whose life is comfortably simple and ethical.  God’s wrath is a word deserving special attention. For Paul, this is part of the Gospel message and needs to be said. We would rather not, but this would then be a serious omission in the message of Mercy proclaimed from the Cross.

As you study Romans, when you read “The righteousness of God” read instead, “the covenant faithfulness of God.” It isn’t the same covenant God made with Abraham but it is the same covenant God who now covenants with us under the terms Jesus ratified at Calvary. We, as Abraham, go into covenant with God by faith. But when you read “faith” ask yourself if this should also mean our faithfulness, since “faith” and “faithfulness” are one and the same Biblical word.

May the Lord bless you as you spend time with Him in conversation while studying this inspired, and inspiring, Epistle.

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Our Present Suffering and The Glory To Come

Our present suffering and the Glory to come, which we will share in, make up the theme of [Romans 8:18-30]. Godet calls this “a career of suffering”⁠1 for a believer in Christ. Expect it!

“For unto you it is given in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for his sake;” – Philippians 1:29

It is common to interpret this section of Paul’s theology as the voice of comfort [verse 28] instead of—what the context requires—a recognition of, what Godet called, “a state of misery”⁠2 in which all creation shares [verse 22].

There is always a “but” with God in which He shares the blessing following the trial.⁠3 All creation groans along with us, a state of suffering not unnoticed by the Spirit [verse 26], whose intercession is timely and undeniably effective.

Suffering  …but Glory to come.

Here’s the “but” [verse 28] —namely the love relation we have with the omnipotent, omniscient God of all creation. The suffering is temporary [verse 18]. The glory is coming! The problem is that we don’t like any suffering. In Peter’s words, “But even if⁠4 you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “ [1 Peter 3:14 NIV] The fact that God (forgetting He thinks in eternal terms) puts a clock on it [Revelation 2:10] is little comfort at times. Yet His Spirit explains, what we now know, having undergone such trying circumstances, that faith is bolstered [1 Peter 1:7]⁠5 which, in turns, leads to a greater and emboldened resolve to witness [James 1:3].⁠6 Patience (in our language “hangin’ in there”) actually accomplishes in us what God wants to perfect in us [James 1:4].⁠7 As Paul explains it here: “It all works for good….” [Romans 8:28].

Romans 8:18

Thus we begin by announcing that suffering for Christ will always be followed with the most glorious blessings:

Verse 18: To explain, I reckon [reason], that the sufferings we endure now presently [in this life] are not worthy to be compared with [in proportion to] the coming glory that is about to be revealed in [for] us [in which we shall share].

Paul’s choice of words matter:

  1. Reckon:  I judge after calculating.⁠8 Paul never rationalized away suffering but accepting it, gave it its true value in relation to all the blessings of heaven that await us. [Romans 5:3-5].
  2. Worthy: present sufferings put on the scale (balance) with God’s glory. The word comes from an old term meaning to move the needle of the scale.
  3. Glory: God’s glory is far weightier. In fact the Hebrew for “glory” means “heavy.” Moses wrote, [Deuteronomy 28:58] “fear this glorious [weighty] and awesome name, THE LORD YOUR GOD.” [This word comes from the idea of weighing silver, the heavier, the more valuable or its worth.]
  4. Sufferings: Here, sufferings, has to include or encompass all hardships, circumstantial and by evil design as well as all physical pain and misery as well as emotional or mental. The word encompasses the entire gamut of unwelcome feelings and hurt associated with or as a consequence of our witness for Christ.
    • If this were not the case, Paul might be suggesting that some forms of suffering were either not compared with the glories of Heaven to come [he left them out as if God might not care?] or, most objectionable, some hardships might be weightier matters (more important or valuable to God and us than heaven!) or somehow outside the preview or purview of an all seeing and loving God. This is clearly not possible! Godet calls our suffering “the actual condition of our earthly life” and he includes “bodily infirmities and the necessities of life.” In other words, all suffering!
    • In 2 Corinthians 4:17 Paul referenced the trials that are the result of our witness that, in his words, “for the moment” [verse 16] exhaust us, weary us. These are put on one side of the scale and the prospects of a glorious eternity on the other side. God’s blessings outweigh them!
    • Here in Romans, Paul thought—to be fair—we will add to that side of the scale every source of unhappiness, pain, and misery that is a consequence of our faithfulness to God’s Word [Matthew 5:10].

      Romans 8:35, 37-39 NIV 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

      It didn’t even move the needle. Even the lightest or smallest, most incidental blessing of God alone would outweigh all the trials and infirmities of this life.  I trust we agree with Paul.  I’ll shock you: Even if there were no heaven to come, God’s faithfulness, His love and grace, to me in this life, alone, has made serving Him all worth it!

  5. In us: The word used here for “in” includes the idea of “for” It is a weakness of the English not having the equivalent of the Bible word. In us and for us means “The glory will not consist only in our own transformation [in], but also in the coming of the Lord himself, and the transformation of the universe [for us].

I translate verse 19 freely:

Indeed, the expectation of [God’s whole] creation anticipates [excitedly] the revealing of the sons [children] of God.

I know! I can’t wait, either!

You are not alone!

You never were. [Hebrews 13:5].

1 Godet, Commentary on Romans. Page 311.
2 Ibid. Page 312.
3 compare the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12.
4 Peter writes of suffering in a form called “the optative” which speaks of something possible but not thought probable. Burton calls it a “concession” [Burton, Page 115 section 286: “It is probable that he (Peter) intends to affirm that blessedness comes, not in spite of, but through, suffering for righteousness’ sake.”] See also 1 Peter 3:17.
5 “that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,”
6 knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience.
7 But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.
8 Luke 14:28, “For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it …Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?
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Can I Lose My Salvation?

Can a believer lose their salvation? Can they go back into sin to where they are no longer a Christian, disowned by God? I pondered this question recently coming to the conclusion that such an idea is highly improbable because of three scriptural truths. (1) We are born again—not simply good people, now [2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 6:15]. (2) we are being conformed to the image of Christ [Romans 8:29] It’s happening now! [2 Corinthians 3:18] And our minds are being transformed as well [Romans 12:2]. Our salvation is not a static, but a dynamic, aspect of who we are in Christ. And (3) This conformation along with His word written on our hearts is in accordance with the covenant promise of Jeremiah 31:33ff. It seems that the divine effort in all of this along with God’s promised grace [and love, Romans 8:28] make it highly unlikely that we could ever go back to being the person we were before salvation [Romans 8:35].

If this be possible, my warning to all would be: don’t go there!

Circumcision? Ouch! [You have to be Orthodox to get it.]

On the other hand Hebrews 6:4-6 is a warning to the Jewish Christian who still cherishes the Torah and desires to practice its rituals, which can no longer bring them into God’s favor or forgiveness [Hebrews 10:1ff]. In fact, shock of shocks, that was never God’s purpose with Torah Law! [Galatians 3:24-25].

(I wonder how many people see a Sunday morning ritual as a guarantee for salvation even as they live the rest of time unaware of God’s interest in them.) In that regard, I am, also, reminded of the 10 virgins [Matthew 25:1ff], five of which lost out because their oil “ran out.”

Can we say it this way: it is like two travelers waiting at the train station. One has secured their ticket carefully and wisely in their belongings while the other left it on a seat in the terminal. When the train came at midnight after the ticket counter was closed, this foolish, would-be, passenger couldn’t locate their ticket and while the other boarded, they were retracing their steps. The train left without them. They lost their ticket (they lost their salvation? Or did I stretch this parable beyond its intended emphasis—to be always alert in prayer?)

Did They Turn Around, Only, or Go Back To Who They Were-That is the Question!

Peter [2 Peter 2:20] chimed in “if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.” The question might be asked, Is backsliding the same as being backslidden?

There is a bit to unwrap here because I don’t think we can isolate these scriptures from the Biblical message of New Covenant grace in which it is written. There are 2 words for “if” (‘if ever’ & ‘if in the case that’; this second is used here. compare: Hebrews 6:9 NIV) as well as 2 words meaning to “go back” (“backslide” means to some believers “to return completely” into sin. Used here in 2 Peter 2:22 of dogs and pigs; the other is used in 2 Peter 2:21 NIV “to turn back”).

The wonderful thing about this word “to return” is that it is Old Testament lingo for repentance [Acts 26:20]: returning to the Lord! Peter’s use of it here is somewhat exceptional! [Way to go, Pete!]

The verb tense is also important (the perfect in 2 Peter 2:20 ESV suggests a state or condition, “after having escaped … if they are again entangled, they are -in a state of—worse off than before” ).

[A footnote here: Some Greek manuscripts used the first word “to return” (backslidden: back to where they were) in 2 Peter 2:21 KJV. But the Committee that decides these things when the Greek text was compiled preferred the word “to turn back:” 2 Peter 2:21 NIV (backsliding, in a sense, facing the wrong way, “turning their back to God” says the NIV) …I smile at the twists and squirms we endure. 😊 ]

मुझे माफ़ कीजिए – Samahani sana – lo siento mucho – es tut mir so leit –मलाई धेरै माफ गर्नुहोस्

I’m so sorry but there’s a little more here! “After having known [experienced. what?] “the way of righteousness” [God’s covenant faithfulness] they turn away from—let’s go with: “they turn their backs on”—the holy commandments delivered to them verbally [taught them].” As Jewish as this sounds, Christianity has commandeered the word “commandments” [1 Timothy 6:14]. They are now what Christ taught [John 15:10].

Then I read in a commentary, “the Holy Scripture teaches that relapsing from the state of grace is possible.” Another seemed to disagree: “This verse underlines the seriousness of apostasy” and added 2 Peter 2:22 references 2 animals that Jews did not think “clean” and the meaning is “they revert to their true nature” which means, if these animals signify apostasy, they were never saved in the first place.

Have fun interpreting Peter!

Free Will or Predestined-That is the Question!

Are we predestined or do we have free will? The question is pointless because again, we are lining up scripture against itself because we fail to see the context: the New Covenant grace. Both sides are part of relationship [Philippians 2:12-13].

“Predestined” is Greek for planning ahead of time, and God has done a ton of planning [Hebrews 4:3; 9:26; 1 Peter 1:20; Revelation 13:8; 17:18]. Neither predestination nor free will alone determine or define relationship.

A Covenant with God is Relational

We have to consider the entire Bible for context. And that context is the covenant relationship we have with God. For that relationship to be real we need the freedom to participate in it willingly. God’s grace is God’s participation—and grace is a powerful love! “Who we are” in Christ or “what we do” as Christians—alone—does not define that relationship.  Both are indicators of the reality of our salvation: faith and works: a faith that is faithful, a faith in action. (Thank you, Brother James, for saying it! James 2:24).

[For that matter, “Who God is” and “What God does” in our lives are inseparable aspects of His relationship with us – Hebrews 11:6].

You’re near done reading this. Hang in there a few more words!

Zooming Out To See the Bigger Picture!

In teaching through Zoom overseas, I talk relationship exclusively [Christ and His Bride] and they like how I use the examples I have accumulated after 55 years of marriage [Ephesians 5:32]. We have defined righteousness as “covenant faithfulness.” And fellowship, too, speaks of a growing intimacy with God which germinates and sprouts in the soil of persecution [Romans 5:3; Philippians 3:10]. You get the point.


I like what one Asbury U student testified, “It is not who I am but whose I am.”

Probably only American believers struggle with this issue because our world has been so quiet when it comes to persecution—thanks to the First Amendment.

This might be changing.

I’m done.

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The Dynamic View of Scripture

[Taken from my Booklet: A Reasonable Salvation]

An interpretation of Scripture that is merely historical or theological but fails to offer a serious and practical approach to living the Christian life is—what I call—a linear view of God’s Word. But His Word is far more dynamic than this, which is to say, His Word is a source of daily wisdom that can, from a spiritual perspective, address any stressful circumstance or decision which should occasion an answer from God. And life is crammed full of such moments! Faith is far more than creed. Faith must include a life that honors the growing relationship the believer has now with God through Christ. Calvary provides us by faith an eternal life, but a linear perspective sees the word “eternal” and may fail to emphasize the “life in the Son” which has commenced at salvation.

“And this is the record,” John explained Salvation, “that God hath given to us eternal life.”

But there is more:

“and this life is in his Son” [1 John 5:11].

We have been emphasizing the idea that Salvation is being in covenant with God, as much as, Abraham or Moses ever were. God is a Covenant-God and He has more than drafted a “New” covenant for us. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection, it has been officially instituted. As we have been saying, this speaks to a relationship we have with Him. The covenant view honors the commitment between God and us with an emphasis on our devotion and faithfulness to God. Covenant is an agreement, a contractual arrangement, in which both parties are responsible for that relationship. I know: we are excited about God’s part in protecting us, healing us, providing for our needs, etc. But we might become lax as regards our part?

We have also noted that certain biblical terms carry the idea of covenant which must be underscored. To be clear: fellowship is intimacy and “…[righteousness] implies relationship.” Nothing yells “new covenant” more than this! Scholarship learned,

“A man is righteous when he meets certain claims which another has on him in virtue of relationship.”

In a word: covenant.

Emphasizing the relationship with God is a realistic and reasonable approach to a study of the Word. This requires a more dynamic understanding of Scripture, a view of God’s Word more like personal letters written to each believer. And this requires that our knowledge of God is experienced and not just an academic pursuit. Such learning results in a growing intimacy with God [Philippians 3:10].

“.. Though the gospel is capable of doctrinal exposition,” Bishop Lightfoot observed. “though it is eminently fertile in moral results, yet its substance is neither a dogmatic system nor ethical code, but a Person and a Life. [Christ]” As Paul asserted,

“For me, to live is Christ…” [Philippians 1:21].

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The Curse! Whose?

[A thought for all those who love to dig deeper into the Word of God.]

Galatians 3:13 reads the same in 15 English translations: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us,” Only in the New Living Translation do we read, “But Christ has rescued us from the curse pronounced by the law. When he was hung [hanged?] on the cross, he took upon himself the curse for our wrongdoing.”Who is the ‘us’? Whose “curse” did the Savior bear?

Lightfoot says, “The expression [redeemed from the curse] is to be explained partly by the Hebrew idiom … but still more by the religious conception which it involves.” [Galatians, Page 139] This idea is prominent in Leviticus 16:5-10 with the type of the “scapegoat” [a goat sent into the wilderness after the Jewish chief priest had symbolically laid the sins of the people upon it]. Verse 10 reads, “the goat on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it.”

Paul clarified, according to scholarship, that he and “the Jewish race” were “redeemed” or “ransomed” by Christ taking “the curse,” which Lightfoot interprets was, “pronounced” by the Law, Torah. This tells Lightfoot that the ‘us’ is Israel! Paul’s use of the term “curse,” which comes from Deuteronomy 21:23 [“he that is hanged is accursed of God’] specifically and solely concerning Israel’s status before God and makes no reference to the Church or to Gentiles [Deuteronomy 27:15-26 lists a dozen curses for Torah breakers, in particular].

So Lightfoot clarifies [Galatians 3:14] “The Law, the great barrier, that excluded the Gentiles, is done away in Christ.” Israel broke the Law and inherited the curse; the Law was simply blocking the Gentile’s way to Salvation. To continue Galatians 3:14, ” .. the Gentiles [now that Israel’s curse is removed] are put on a level with …Jews and, so united, [We, now, can]… receive the promise in the gift of the Spirit through …faith.” [Page 140].

So says Ephesians 2:14-16. Reading from the Amplified, “For He is … our bond of unity and harmony. He has made us both [Jew and Gentile] one [body], and has … destroyed… the hostile dividing … us, By abolishing in His.. flesh the enmity [caused by] the Law with its decrees and ordinances …that He from the two might create in Himself one …out of the two, … making peace … to reconcile to God both [Jew and Gentile…] in a single body by means of His cross.”

Wright comments, “The curse which has come upon Israel has thus caused the promises made through Israel to get stuck! And it is this curse, with this result, from which, according to Galatians, the Messiah has redeemed ‘us’.” [Page 140].

Wright continues, “The point about the” curse”, and the Messiah bearing it on behalf of others, is not that there is a general, abstract curse hanging over the whole human race.” [Page 139]. It “hung” only over Israel! The curse had to be [the Amplified Bible says] “abolished.” Wright called it “stuck” [like a log-sham?] which had to be removed to free the way for our, Gentile, salvation.

Among the reasons for Jesus’ death, then, is removing Israel’s, not Adam’s, curse. But Paul never meant to even imply here that our salvation was not equally a rescue from sin. Paul, on occasion, liked to use different wording sometimes that mapped out a different path to repentance and reconciliation between Jew and Gentile because of the different starting points between them. Accordingly, Paul told us [Romans 3:30 NIV] “…there is only one God, who will justify the circumcised [the Jew] by faith and the uncircumcised [the Gentile] through that same faith [2 Peter 1:1 NASB95].”

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God’s Seeks Our Worship

David knew that God dwells in the midst of our worship [Psalm 22:3]. The Lord reminded us through Isaiah [Isaiah 57:15]  that He “dwells with him who has a contrite and humble spirit, to revive the spirit of the humble, and to revive the heart of the contrite ones.” In John 4:23 Jesus informed us “ true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth.” But we, as often happens, stopped listening too soon, for Jesus continues, “the Father is seeking such to worship Him.” Recently at the revival underway at Asbury University (and also in over 200 schools and universities) one speaker called the devotion and worship that was now in its third week (as of this writing) with persons from around the country and the world gravitating—almost like a pilgrimage—to the campus chapel to participate—he called it—

“in elevating Jesus Christ as a focal point, a radical humility, humanizing compassion, raw confession, a  self emptying consecration and a life altering commitment.⁠”  

It was the contrite heart the prophet described experienced by a generation (generation z) of young hearts losing interest in everything except to celebrate the Savior’s Death and Resurrection, The Father’s Love, and the Spirit’s Presence. Many were meeting Jesus for the first time even without the evangelist’s convincing rhetoric or inspirational words.  It was the Spirit alone doing the talking and calling. Another speaker called it

“normal Christianity, why Jesus died.”⁠ 

I was informed by a friend that this was happening on Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal College and University campuses. I recall Jesus’ prayer [John 17:23] for unity. It is being answered! The speaker then referenced James 3:17  as a description of what was happening—and is happening.

“But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy”

Jesus explained in Luke 17:21 “The Kingdom of God is within you.”

In the midst of all this, one could envision God, perhaps with cherubim attending [Ezekiel 10:3] walking, strolling, joyously, between the rows of worshippers, touching hearts, saving souls, healing bodies, doing God’s thing God’s way, loving a generation who wanted Him almost as much as He wanted them.  “He seeks such…”

A Woman at The Well

Jesus corrected a woman desperate for love, hungry for a peace that would calm the storm in her soul. The Father seeks such, and this Samaritan woman was thirsty for love. In her desperation and need, Jesus brought her to another well, saying,

“whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” [John 4:14].

She discovered what generation Z was discovering in Asbury Kentucky that Jesus is the source of an unending joy and peace, a stream of living water that eternally quenches the thirst for meaning, for belonging, for love. God is not a religion but a most personal and intimate, loving, God who has been waiting for His opportunity to enter our lives with an eternity of promises [2 Peter 1:4], like a bridegroom with gifts anticipating the wedding [Song of Solomon 1:4]. 

Our worship should not, cannot end, because the God we worship is eternal and He will never tire of our love and fellowship. God created us for this moment, for this purpose, for this eternity. His love sought us to have us back ever since that day in Eden when Adam did what Adam did—and we in him.  

“He seeks such.” Jesus said.  And this is what everything is all about. This was why God created Adam. This is why Jesus went to the Cross.  This is why He saved us.  “He seeks such.”  As the song writer wrote, “Take joy my King in what you hear; let it be a sweet, sweet sound in your ear.” As the chorus is sung, “To worship You, I live to worship You, I live, I live. To worship You.”

Indeed, this all made available through the Savior’s death—from God’s perspective—yes—a most reasonable salvation.

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About Me!

I awoke this morning in a contemplative mood introspectively recalling past decisions and choices that proved me a kind-of maverick. If it should not be done, not because it wasn’t legal [whatever ‘it’ was, it was always legal] but, because it was inadvisable, and dumb, I gave it a second thought and often—Oh Why not! Perhaps, if no one else thought of it or the chances at success were statistically low, I had to try. Perhaps, the little boy in me had not grown up yet and I was still at play in my own adult-size fantasy. I like to imagine someone starting to pray for me when God interrupts and inquires with a sigh, “Okay, what has he done now!”

When I asked my bride—now of near 55 years—to marry me, I was at college earning a buck an hour in a part time position on campus, with no driver’s license and owning only “literally” the shirt on my back [it was a T Shirt that was black from use], and no place to rent anyway as a married couple —any local apartments for rent were already gobbled up by wiser planners of pending matrimony. My, then, “boss” thought I was planning a wedding a year from that June when school was out. “No,” I corrected him, “this June!”

But in my own defense, my real goal was always noteworthy, like negotiating a career change at age 50 with no money and little emotional resources left in my clinical despondency. The drive to try was historically part of me by then [probably genetic]. Perhaps, the crazier the idea the more I thought, “Why not!” But over all this professional commotion and personal drama, there was God and His grace and providence—and peace—which always gave me a sense that He had my six (as they say).

I have probably at least a hundred smaller examples of trying something that I knew going in would challenge either my abilities and/or my intelligence—any or all of which give example of the fact that I like to think for myself—even when those who knew me best and cared thought I was losing my grip on reality. For those spiritually minded folk: sometimes the line between faith and “nuts” is blurry, and I think I was on the side of faith!

As a footnote, this is the primary reason I keep my intellectual distance from our youngest who is working on his “MDiv” [Master of Divinity] and is in full time ministry. My advice to him would be “Don’t do or say what I do or say—except always love your mother.” This because he is a leader with a heart which I can not improve on. God has him. I call him my “Samuel.” I have written over 20 books with which I decorate a shelf in his library with a proviso: Don’t read them—at least not until you get your degree.

I’m at it again! I am currently writing a book on a theory of the atonement which I do not find explained quite this way. It is not spelled out specifically in our worship songs or hymns or even in the preacher’s sermons, although, for anyone who loves the Lord, it is common knowledge. There are a couple well known scholars that at least suggest that I am on to something. No one will be reading it anyway. It’s Okay.

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