What Did Paul Mean?
"Consider that the long-suffering of our Lord is salvation, even as our beloved brother Paul wrote according to spiritual insight given him. Some things in his letters are difficult to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist and construe to their own utter destruction, just as they do other Scriptures. Let me warn you therefore, beloved, that knowing these things beforehand, you should be on your guard lest you be carried away by the error of lawless persons and fall from your own firm condition. Grow in grace and understanding of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ ..." Don't concentrate on Paul's convoluted and hard to understand writings, but on the actual Word of God in its wholeness. (2Pet. 3:15-18)
Paul himself agreed that in his letters "we look in a mirror that gives a blurred reflection (not easily understood), but when the perfect comes, we shall see in reality and face to face. Now I know imperfectly, but then I shall understand fully..." (1Cor. 13:12) "The perfect" cannot be the New Testament, as is often taught. Paul wrote most of it! As a spiritual youth in adolescence, he lived it. By context, "the perfect" speaks of Christian maturity, when we become like Christ in righteousness.
Such is the heritage of misunderstanding from which our Christendom has developed and from which it has hardly escaped. The Mother Church has hardly ever been eager to bring clear understanding to her communicants about a most loving Father. She has preferred to keep them in a Church-supportive role by teaching about God's willingness to assign them to purgatory and hell, and the Church's ability to get them out of such placements. The Protestant churches, her daughters, have not done too differently in net result. Actually, it is the heritage from Lucifer, whose perversions of Truth began quickly in the early Church. Paul wrote of that lawlessness under cover already then working in the church-world. (2Thess. 2:7) Careful investigation would reveal the remarkable expansion of perversion into our time.
"Christian" definitions of many religious words were being shaped in early Church years to support teachings placed before the people. Law, grace, righteousness, salvation, sin, love, faith, and the Body of Christ are among many words given self-serving meanings by the multiplied church bodies of today, in order that they might conform to teachings each denomination has elected - to make it different and "better" than others. Those meanings do not necessarily match what must have been in Paul's mind when he wrote; neither do they match what our Lord presented as the true plan for man's well-being. Our Lord said everything He spoke was obtained and relayed from His Father who was and is greater then He. Paul described his writings as the best response he could make from the Old Testament and from what Jesus Christ told him. Paul did exceedingly well, for a man, but nevertheless incorporated some errors in his analysis.
Throughout history, mankind has looked upon the god of its choice, even the true God, as a brutal and vindictive keeper, waiting to inflict punishment upon the helpless man who would not respond precisely to His demands. It did not matter if the lapse was inadvertent. From religious literature, we understand this reasoning was behind all the gifts and sacrifices to gods of this and that. Basically, offerings to strange gods were to buy special favors. The concept of the true God having immeasurable love for spirit children He fathered was perverted into a concept of a harsh and unfeeling super-Being. At best, He is a mix of Punisher and Forgiver, still very much at arm's length. Therefore, people felt He needed to be appeased frequently. This "feeling" has wormed its way into the thinking of many young believers in Christ. Rev. 2 and 3 repeatedly mention "works" for that purpose. Paul also faced that frame of thinking.
In most cases, not all, when Paul wrote about being freed from the Law, he had in mind the regulations on use of material things. (Col. 2:20-23) One almost has to have Paul's intimate familiarity with the Old Testament to understand what he tried to convey. Unfortunately, modern churches look at the O. T. as an improbable collection of impressions made on primitive minds. The O. T. Word of God is labelled "the Law" in statements found in the Bible. Paul said Christians are released from the Law; yet his writings are filled with O. T. references to illustrate and prove his validity. What did he have in mind regarding "release from the Law"?
When Paul wrote of "release from the Law", he surely did not have in mind the Ten Commandments, including murder, adultery, theft and the others of even more importance. Paul surely must have known about the New Commandment which superceded all others, being essential to the New Covenant which superceded the Old Testament Covenant. Consider this from his writings: If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law! (Gal. 3:18) If that is true in our age, it must also have been true in Old Testament times, for God does not change. Conversely, if the Spirit is not guiding, is there not vital need for that of the Law? If it is true for us, how does the Spirit guide, producing conditional freedom from the Law? By what standard does one measure whether it is Spirit guiding or soul beckoning? Indeed, can the Spirit guide anyone who has not seriously engaged in exploration well below the surface meanings of our Lord's presentations in both words and drama?
Paul said that, without the Law, sin is dead (ineffective). (Ro. 7:8) Elsewhere, Paul points out that evil spirits capitalize on influencing thoughts and emotions. (2Cor. 11:3, Col. 3:2, 5) But Ro. 6, 7 and 8, stress sin as action opposed to God's plan for man. Presumably, he was well aware that there no sin to deal with until harmful thoughts and desires are put into action. Nevertheless, thoughts and emotions are the foundation upon which either attainment in good or retrogression in sin is built.
Paul also wrote that he upheld, delighted in and endorsed the Law of God, not because of it being law but because he understood something about loving Jesus Christ and the benefit of cooperatively working out His plan. Indeed, he wrote that he served that Law. (Ro. 3:31, 7:22, 25) He must have seen that principles dramatized in washings, sacrifices, etc. continued beyond ritual Law. He must have understood there were preplanned steps in God's plan for man's growing up and the Lord had to show them by stages and according to progress attained.
The Law detailed works to be done. Here we approach what seems to be premeditated imbalance in traditional Christian instruction about "not being under the Law" and its corollary "saved by grace, not by works". In somewhat different words, both Old and New Testaments speak of rewards or wages paid, but only for work satisfactorily accomplished. Ro. 2:6, 13-15 indicate that. Yet both Testaments also relate the uselessness of works alone. In Rev. 2 and 3, to five of the seven Churches, the Lord wrote their good works alone were not sufficient. The many works were good, but the Lord said they were doing them while losing their most important Love.—having replaced their love of the Lord Jesus and the whole of His Word of God with a ritual. Human nature had again come to the front, taking no further responsibility than trying to buy God's favor with "doing things for Him" so He would have to bless them. That always amounts to bribery and God hates a bribe. (Isa. 33:14-16)
The text of Isa. 1:2-3, 11-15 notes the practice of the Law outside the frame of the Faith. They addressed themselves to doing the things of the Law and simultaneously rejected God's messengers. Yet David was rewarded for his practice of the Law. The nation was rejected while trying to bribe God for blessings by going through the motions called for in the Law; David, among others, also went through the same motions and was beloved. Why? His was a pure motive, he desired to cooperate and build what the Lord had planned, even without pay.
Practice of the Law without the Faith is useless. Works to impress God without personal involvement within the frame of the Faith are an abomination. Faith without follow through is not the Faith. From this we see, as did Paul, that the Faith is the important element. Paul also saw, as should we, that the Faith is the progressive acceptance of God's plan in the whole of His Word.
The just or justified are those living by His Faith. (Hab. 2:4 - His Faith in Hebrew texts; My Faith in the Greek Septuagint.) His Faith is present with anyone who continues to explore the content of the whole Word God Himself gave for man's well being, and then practices what he has proven by that Standard to be true and good. Paul said precisely that too. If you are guided by the Spirit, you are not subject to the Law. Living the Faith Christ presented for Christians is progressive; the Christian does not ever possess a once-for-all-time, finite wholeness of that Faith. Even the beginner in the Faith Christ presented is justified. But if he stops learning and living faithfully, he is no longer justified. (Ezek. 33:18-19)
Faith calls for faithfulness in continuity. Faithfulness is the partner of action in cooperation - as is so clearly written in Jam. 2:20. The purpose of these acts is to prove the plan works out as advertised. That is to lead into further trust, confidence and reliance on the Faith in the plan of the Father, the Old and New Testament Word of God. Works undertaken for any other objective, no matter how "good", are not acceptable to our Father, because they then short circuit and interrupt the operation of His training into His own wisdom and building skill.
The Law was established for guiding spiritual infants, not only in accomplishment but, more importantly, in thinking constructively. (Gal. 3:23-25) Who made up the "we" of :25? Paul said those who had put on and clothed themselves with Christ were no longer under the Law's training! (:27) How many with the Christian label today are more concerned with putting on Christ than putting Him off where He will not offend people? How many really have enough understanding of the Faith to be ready to graduate from "do this" and "don't do that" training? All should have moved far enough in understanding and godly wisdom to be freed from infant training, which the ancients needed. The "do's" and "don't's" needed in the contemporary church indicate most have not, not yet. Therefore, they are soon to be given another chance to catch up, during The Great Tribulation.
Christ said as He completed His work, "I give you a New Commandment (not another one), that you be loving one another, just as I have loved you." The New Commandment, being part of the New Covenant which superceded the Old, then became the only Commandment. He claimed that this brand of loving would be so in contrast to the typical love between men that those loving as He loved would stand out, becoming radically different and tagged as Christ's followers. The New Commandment is founded upon the First of the Old Testament Ten. Being linked to the Tenth, it includes all in between. The New Commandment becomes the only Commandment which can be broken in this age and occasion sin against Him! Paul's re-statement was, "He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law." (Ro. 13:8-10) Loving as Christ loved can be only by one who overcomes that which hinders. Promises of blessing in Rev. 2 and 3 are only to overcomers. Such loving can only be with an attained measure of selflessness, when there has been some overcoming of native selfishness in protection and accumulation for "me and mine".
Since we have such a great and wonderful Priest over the house of God (all called out of the "Egypt" world because of their sincere response), draw near with true desire in unqualified assurance engendered by the Faith, having our hearts sprinkled and purified from a guilty conscience and with our bodies cleansed with pure water. (Remember the preparation and excruciating agony Christ went through, shedding His blood for our purification. Recall what He gave up to perfect His body, taking on the intensified forces of hell in your place so you could receive His glorified seedand so you could live His plan). So energetically seize, then hold fast and make certain to retain without wavering the hope we confess. He who promised is faithful. Give continuous care to watching over one another, studying how we may stir up such love in others for others. Do not neglect coming together with people (if and where available) interested in discovering Truth, but become engaged in warning, urging and encouraging one another, all the more faithfully as we see the Day of the Lord approaching. (Heb. 10:21-25)
Never before has this exhortation been so appropriate! If indeed the flow of blood in Lebanon and within a 182 mile radius of Jerusalem is that which will not cease until the Lord returns to the Mount of Olives - - . Then thoughtful Christians have little remaining time to finalize dedication in faithfulness to the Lord and His plan exclusively - yes, exclusively. "You shall be holy as I am holy", says the Lord to those ambitious to become His Body. Even to the casual observer, it should be obvious that the body of Christians today is not the Body Christ can call His own, a Body responding instantly to every wish and instruction from the Head.
It is a time for exuberant rejoicing in a time of world troubles mounting in intensity and volume as never before. It is a time for thanksgiving because of having been selected for unprecedented opportunities now being presented. What would the ancient Prophets not have given to obtain a chance at what you can have if you will work for it with all that is within you! Are you, a "born again" Christian, overflowing with joy constantly? If not, change your mode of thought. Our Lord indicated the greatest love would go toward him who forgave the most. Dwell on the truth that our Savior Jesus Christ did what He did, before and on the Cross, for you. As far as you are concerned, it was not for the world He bled and suffered the agonies of the damned and died; it was for you.!! Meditate long and intensely on that, praying with thanks for so great a blessing as came out of His tremendous sacrifice. Think out what He went through - you hardly deserving it! Explore what kind of love He had and has for you! Give your love for Him a chance to grow and expand and envelop your being. That is only right.
Make Him the total object of your affection, worship and adoration. He alone is worth it all. He went through what He did to give you undying life, immortality on earth in this time. Or if previously found worthy, it was so He could walk with you in white in higher realms.
How do you suppose it would be possible for you to worship the Lord in spirit and in truth unless you have come to the stark realization of just what He went through for you? Words are easily pronounced, especially if they have been spoken again and again. But where is your heart? Do beautiful words alone constitute true worship in spirit and in truth? Modern Christendom has used them for 16 centuries much as they are usually spoken today. You are called to be different, much different, even completely set apart from the traditional. Awake, O sleeper, before it is too late!
It is not the number of good works that will tell the story, even though wages are paid for satisfactory accomplishment within the Faith. It is faithfulness for which the Lord searches, faithfulness in exclusive dedication. When nothing else can or does compete for time, when the attitude of prayer is constant, when the Lord's interest has consistent and constant priority, when others are always being loved as He loved, you are on the way toward the abiding in Him. Then He will abide in you. When you constantly recognize that He who died for you is still in control and your every event and circumstance is an exquisite expression of His constant love for you, and in joy you sincerely thank Him for its benefits, then you are beautiful, oh how beautiful!
May that be your goal in place of a minimum that might satisfy the Creator of the Universe! May our gracious Lord and Savior strengthen you and rebuild your determination and desire to seek His face exclusively in all that you think and feel and desire and do! He is worth it; He thinks you can be worth it to Him as well.
C. Gordon Wolcott
Paul wrote much about Christians being released from the Law and being done with sin, having been freed from slavery to it. Here is a problem. Most men teach that all are sinners today. Yet Paul wrote that it is the Law which uncovers sin. Explain how sin is uncovered today, there being no Law! Right reading of the God's Word reveals there is no excuse for "born-again" Christians to sin - ever. But that is not the whole picture; there is also uncleanness. It is not sin, but it should be managed.
In 2 Cor. 6:17-18 we read, "So come out from among (those holding on to perverted truth) and separate yourselves from them, says the Lord, and touch not the unclean; then I will receive you. And I will be a Father to you and you shall be My sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty." (quoted from Isa. 52:11 and elsewhere)
Only the overcomer is worthy of white garments, which he must have to walk with the Lord. (Rev. 3:4-5) Unmanaged thoughts and emotions can dirty garments. In order to keep clean, Jesus said His followers should wash their "feet" at the end of each day, because they are soiled with what they have "walked" in. (Jhn. 13 :8, 10, 14) That dirt needs washing away, and the purity of the Word of God reinstated - or there will be no entering His upper Kingdom realm to walk with the Lord.