True Spirituality 02 – Christ and the Law
Some people think Jesus did away with the law, when in the plainest possible language, he says he did just the opposite. He established the law all the more. Learn more about it in Christ and the Law, part of the True Sprituality series.
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Today we’re working on the second presentation in a series on True Spirituality . The first presentation, in case you haven’t heard it, began with the idea that God knows best. The point is, if we’re willing to listen to God, then we’ll be on the right track, because listening to God is the underlying thing that has to happen before we can know anything about spirituality. We’re not spiritual beings. We don’t have any insight into spiritual things, except that God tells us about them. So, if we’re ever going to learn about spirituality and about God, we have to be ready to listen when He speaks to us.
When we first began thinking about this series, we realized there was no way to cover this material in a linear fashion – to cover it without any redundancy – because it’s all interwoven and interconnected. It’s kind of like a circle of ideas with connections running from each one of them to every other one. So to talk about one, you have to talk about the others as well. So as we progress through this series, you’ll find that what we talk about in one presentation will be talked about again and again later. That’s the only way that we can really cover it. The learning, then, is about making connections between many elements of scriptural knowledge that are, in fact, interconnected. Our learning comes in connecting them properly.
To give you an example, we could say that we’re going to talk about, today, the relationship between Christ’s sacrifice and the Law. Well, those elements are also connected to loving God and to loving fellow man and the other things, aren’t they? So, when you hear me, in the following weeks, talking about something we’ve already discussed, it will be because we’re making a new connection, rather than simply repeating ourselves to fill the air with words or CDs with data.
So let’s begin. The working title we put to this presentation was Christ Is for Salvation and the Law Is for Blessings . The purpose of it is to navigate us around what we could call a Christian landmine – something from our background that really isn’t true. This issue of the relationship between Christ and the Law has been a thorny problem, not just for us, but for all those who have professed Christ from the day He ascended into heaven until this present day.
If we are saved by grace, then do we have to obey the Law? There are people that think that’s how grace works – you don’t have to obey since all the sins are covered. If we obey the Law, then are we earning salvation? It says, “We do things that are pleasing in His sight.” Are we trying to please Him, so He’ll let us in? How does it work? How does one have a relationship with God the way God wants us to have it with Him? This has been a problem. It was problem in Jesus’ day, and like I said, it remains a problem today, too.
Our emphasis, our point of service, our contribution to the church in LifeResource Ministries has to do with helping young people to develop a relationship with God. And it has to do with passing on the faith from one generation to another. Because we think about youth issues a lot, we come to this problem from that perspective. When we talk to our young people there is a theme that runs through their thinking almost without exception. They learn this theme from us. Many of them, who believe as we do, are very discouraged. Most of them are concerned about their ability to measure up. “I need to pray more before I can be baptized. I’ve got to stop drinking so much. I have to quit partying. I’m really angry with my parents, my pastor, my church. Will I ever get rid of those things? I have to start keeping the Sabbath better. I’m not sure I can live up to the standard. I’m worried because I don’t want to live up to the standard. I’m worried because I don’t know if I will ever want to live up to the standard.” All these kinds of thoughts we’ve heard so many times from so many young people. And people, who are older as well, end up feeling separated from, and isolated, and cut off, and different, and deeply inferior spiritually.
In talking to many young adults in the past year, I’ve found a lot of them to be depressed. I’ve found them to be anxious, to be angry, to be frustrated, and sometimes, to be afraid. As I talk to them longer, and we dig deeper into why they feel these things, in every case it goes back to their relationship with God, family and church. And the theme is always a variation of the same: “I’m not good enough and I don’t know how to be.” So that’s one way to portray the problem. And I portrayed it that way because I see it as I talk to young people. I don’t mean to imply, by the way, that every young person feels this way. We’ll be talking about one that doesn’t as we go along today. Some few don’t care enough about God to be really worried about it. They just want to do what they want regardless of Christ and the Law. And others are insensitive to the problem and are just muddling through their life as best they can without understanding the issue – you know, a very low level of spiritual sensitivity. But the ones who want to be a part, and who want to love God, they are the ones who seem to be the most troubled to me.
Now, those of us who have been around awhile, we listen to them talk, and we say, “You know, there’s really no need for you to be worried. God is all powerful. He wills that almost everybody is going to be saved. God is going to help you be good. And He will help you live up to the standard – to walk that straight and narrow path that we all have to walk in order to get into His kingdom. And He’s going to make you want to. And if you fall off the works wagon, you can repent, and God will forgive you. There, there. Calm yourself. Don’t be upset.” You see, we don’t understand any better than they do! We’re just at a different place in our experience. And we forget that they got the way they are because they listened to us.
Then they’ve also heard us say that God doesn’t make anybody want to do anything. So that worries them. And yes, we’ve told them that salvation is a gift, but when they watch us, they see that there are all these things we are doing to try to earn it. And that’s what they’re worried about. They are worried that they’re not going to be able to do it. “Can I live up to the standard? Can I be worthy? Can I earn it? Can I draw close to God? Can God love me , even though I’m such a weak, angry or fearful person?” A lot of them carry significant amounts of guilt because they feel that way. A good boy or a good girl is not supposed to be angry at their parent. They’re supposed to honor them. And we’re not supposed to be fearful about our future. We’re supposed to be faithful .
What I think our young people that I’ve talked to about some of these issues don’t know is that this is the same issue that has confronted every person from the very beginning, starting with Adam and Eve. Ever since they were rejected – or ejected, pardon me – from the Garden and prevented from getting back into a healthy relationship with God, we’ve always wanted that, and we’ve never known how to do it. We’re all designed to want God. We’re all weak, angry or fearful. Some of us may be out of touch with it. Some of us don’t like to think of ourselves as angry, or anxious, or weak, so we submerge those feelings. It hurts less to do that, but then those feelings leak out and ruin our relationships, don’t they? And then at some level, we all feel guilty and all inferior spiritually. And we all wonder if God will have us.
So what we need to do is to start thinking differently – not just because different would make us feel better, but because we’re not thinking correctly about it. We’re not thinking spiritually about it. If we were thinking spiritually about this problem, we would not be discouraged. We would be feeling good. And our children would be feeling good, too.
So let’s use our desire to listen to God, because we don’t know anything about Him unless He teaches us. Let’s understand our relationship to God better. That is what salvation is all about, isn’t it? It’s about relating to God, isn’t it? We’re going to be in His family. Right? For all eternity? That implies relationship, doesn’t it? We’re His children. So there’s going to be a relationship. So salvation is about our relationship with God.
Now, I mentioned earlier that this was a problem in Jesus’ day. Let’s look at it. Let’s go to Matthew 23:23, and verse 25.
Mt. 23:23 – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithes of mint and anise and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law, justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done without leaving the other undone. Paying tithes is a part of the Law. And the Pharisees prided themselves in knowing and following the Law. They did all the things of the Law – the external thing. You could see them keeping the Sabbath, see them keeping the holy days. It was a little harder to see them tithing, but they made sure you saw that, too! So they did a lot of things that we do, didn’t they? There was a standard that they kept. And that was the same standard that many of our young people worry about today. So why is Jesus upset that these people are so good at keeping the standard? Well, because they’re missing the point. He said they had “neglected the weightier matters of the Law – justice, mercy and faith.” Now, these are matters of the heart, aren’t they? Being fair to other people, being kind to them, being merciful, forgiving others and letting go of wrongs done, trusting God to take care of us, being gracious to people. See, these are all relational issues. You can’t see these things. They are of the heart. The people He’s talking to here were all about keeping a standard, but they didn’t understand that the standard was all about the heart. The heart is where we conduct all our relationships. Justice and mercy have to do with how we relate to people. Are we going to be kind and fair to them? And faith has to do with how we relate to God. Are we going to trust that God loves us? And that He’ll take care of us?
V-24 – Then He says, in verse 24, Blind guides, who strain at a gnat and swallow a camel! You know, just working with a little strainer to get out all the little impurities, and yet swallow a camel, which is an unclean creature, right? You wouldn’t want to swallow a gnat, but they would swallow a camel.
V-25 – Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. So they were worried about how things looked on the outside. This is an issue of the Law, we’re told. It has to do with how we look at the Law and how we understand it. The discouragement is coming from that – at least, in part, it’s coming from that.
Dt. 28:1 – Let’s look at something that we’re told about the Law of God. Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently listen to the voice of the LORD your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the LORD your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth, and all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, because you obey the voice of the LORD your God. The Law is for blessings. That’s the point of the Law – the purpose of it. Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the country. Blessed shall be the fruit of your body, the produce of your ground, the increase of your herds, and the increase of your cattle, and the offspring of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in and blessed shall you be when you go out. You will be blessed six ways from Sunday – every which way but loose – all the time! That’s what God is telling us. “If you obey My law….” The Law is for blessings, isn’t it? It’s the roadmap to being blessed.
Now, when God gave the Law to Israel , He did not give it to them so they could attain salvation. Salvation wasn’t offered to them. They were offered all these physical blessings. He gave it to them so they could be blessed.
Prov. 10:6 – Blessings are on the head of the righteous. Righteous is another word for people that obey the Law. …but violence covers the mouth of the wicked. The wicked are people that don’t.
Have you ever gotten up in the night to go to the bathroom, or get a drink, or see if the heater was turned down, and you didn’t want to wake up your husband or your wife, so you walked in the dark? That is, until your little toe hit the five-hundred pound oak dresser? Did you ever have that happen? Stub your toe real good in the dark? Doesn’t that hurt? You hear it crunch? Uhhhho, that hurts!
Prov. 6:20 – Listen to what it says here. My son, keep your father’s command and do not forsake the law of your mother. Now, as we read down here, you’ll see it’s not really father’s and mother’s ideas about what is right and wrong. It’s God’s. Bind them continually upon your heart. Tie them around your neck. When you roam, they will lead you. When you sleep, they will keep you. When you awake, they will speak for you. For the commandment is a lamp, and the law is a light. Reproofs of instruction are the way of life. The Law is what keeps us from stubbing that toe into that five-hundred-pound dresser. It shows us the way.
What is the biggest need that human beings have? And consequently, when we get it, the biggest blessing that anybody could receive? Well, I was talking this week to a young girl on the phone – a teenager – and she was telling me about her life, and her struggles, and her failings, and her weaknesses. There were tears and there were regrets. I asked her if she had ever considered baptism. She said, “Yes, but before I do I need to pray more.” And I thought, “Oh no, here we go again. She can’t live up to the standard. She feels bad.” But instead of preaching her my little sermon, I bit my tongue, and I said, “Why is that?” And she said – and this just really blew me away – this is the best thing I heard all week long – “Because I think I need to get to know God better.” See, she understands why it’s good to pray. It’s not someting you have to do for an hour a day so you can get in the Kingdom. It’s so that you can get to know God better! It’s not because she’s supposed to – because she has to – but because she wants to relate to God and be closer to Him. It’s a matter of the heart. It’s a matter of faith for her. So that’s one of the weightier matters of the Law, isn’t it? So we have a teenager who was more spiritually atuned to the purpose of the Law than the head of the Sanhedrin in Jesus’ time. She is using the Law the way God intended – as a blessing.
We were looking at Matthew, where Jesus said that the Pharisees had omitted the weightier matters of the Law – justice, mercy and faith. There’s another time when Jesus said, essentially, the same thing, but He phrased it differently. It’s in Luke 11, verse 42.
Lk. 11:42 – But woe to you, Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, then pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone. So, instead of mercy and faith, he says, “Justice and the love of God.”
So, yes, in God’s word, we’re told to pray. Why? So we can pray enough to earn our way into the Kingdom? No. So that we can receive the greatest blessing of all, which is a loving relationship with God.
So it’s not a matter of not keeping the Law. It’s a matter of understanding its function. What is the purpose of the Law? Is that the ladder you climb to get to heaven? Did you know that you can keep the Sabbath until the cows come home and it will never gain you salvation? All of those people in the Sanhedrin kept the Sabbath. And unless they repent, they’re not going to be there! The Law is not for salvation. It’s for blessings. It’s to show us how to live and how to have a relationship with God. It’s to help us draw closer to God. It will show you what God is doing with you here on earth.
Let’s say, if you keep the Sabbath, what’s it going to do for you? Well, it draws you closer to God. It will show you what God is doing with you here on earth. And it will help you to face the next week, rested and armed with more of God’s mind. It will give time to spend more time with God. What a blessing!
Let’s go to Mark 12, and verse 28. I love this scripture!
Mk. 12:28 – Then one of the scribes came, and having heard them reasoning together, perceived that He had answered them well, and asked Him, “Which is the first commandment of all?” And Jesus answered him, saying, “The first commandment is, Hear, O Israel , the LORD our God, the LORD is one. And you shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and all your strength. This is the first commandment.” In reality, in the Law, there are four commandments that show us how to love God – that are part of this first commandment. And they are that we should put God first in our life, that we don’t make images of Him, that we don’t take His name in vain, and that we spend one day in seven resting with Him and learning what He is like. And the second, like it, is this, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There are no other commandments greater than these. This second one is also a way to show love to God, isn’t it, if you think about it? Have you ever noticed how protective we are of our children? Well, God’s the same way. He doesn’t like it when we mistreat His other kids. So this is another way to have a relationship with God – the greatest blessing anybody could ever have. If we take care of, and respect others, we will do better in the world than if we close ourselves off from them and mistreat them. So the scribe said to Him, “Well said, Teacher! You have spoken the truth. For there is one God and there is none other but He. And to love Him with all the hart, and with all the understanding, and with all the soul, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as oneself, is more than all the whole burnt offerings and sacrifices – all those things that you do .
When we were doing the series on Spiritual Growth and Human Development , I referenced a book that speaks of the five love languages. You may remember that. Different people feel loved in different ways. Some people feel loved when they get a present. Other people feel loved when they are complimented or verbally affirmed. Others feel loved when they are shown affection. Well, these four are how God feels loved. This is teaching us how to speak God’s love language – what He likes. So He’s really giving us a roadmap into His heart, isn’t He? This relationship with God and a relationship with others is more important than the exterior things that we do to keep the Law. It is what those exterior things are supposed to be all about in our mind.
Notice what Jesus said next when this scribe made this comment to Him.
V-34 – He said, …you are not far from the Kingdom of God . “You’re right on it!”
My young friend was telling me that she needed to pray more so she could get to know God better. She is not far from the Kingdom of God either. While I was listening to her, I was marveling at how she was able to synthesize this information and come up with this very spiritually advanced notion, and wondered how she had arrived at it. While I was just thinking that, she immediately kind of switched gears, and began talking about her relationship with her parents. She told me that her parents weren’t perfect, and she told me that sometimes she didn’t get along with them, but all her life, she said, her mother has been available to talk to her. Every day – even now, as she’s an older student in high school – she and her mother get together after school and they talk – every day. She tells her mother all about her day. And her mother tells her about hers. And they share their hearts with each other. Her mother doesn’t judge her or put her down for her opinions and ideas. Her mother is gracious to her. And as her mother looks into her eyes and smiles at her, nods and supports her, she understands what it feels like to be loved. And she’s learning how to be loved. She’s learning to share herself with her mother. It just makes sense, then, doesn’t it? It would just be natural for her to want to draw close to God by talking? Because that’s her experience with her parent.
I asked her about her father. And I thought this was really interesting. She said that when she was little he was just the guy who came home late for dinner, but as she became a teenager – and she’s explaining this to me in pretty much these words – when she became a teenager and really needed him in her life, he began to spend more time with her, and do fun things with her, and tease her, and wrestle with her, and take her places. And I’m sure that in that, she’s gotten permission from her to be fully female, because she’s been approved of by the most important male in her life. I think this is remarkable because this girl is not like most of us. She understands something about God and about prayer that a lot of us never have understood.
Now she also knows – and this is really interesting, too – that if she’s going to pray and get to know God better, she is going to have to exercise self-discipline. She’s going to have to set aside some time to do this and pray more. But it’s something that she has set herself to do. She wants to do it because she craves to know God better. So, for her, it’s not about following some standard of earning her way. It’s heartfelt.
When most of our kids look at us, do they see the Law as a blessing? Or as something that they have to measure up to if they want to be in the church or attain salvation? We try to tell them that salvation is a gift, but somehow something we do sends them another message. They think, from watching us somehow, that the Law is to be used the way the Pharisees used it – as a way to gain salvation. So how has this happened to us? How is it that we misunderstand the purpose of the Law? How do we, like the Pharisees, come to think of it as an exterior standard that we have to measure up to in order attain salvation, instead of a roadmap into a relationship with God? I think this happened to us from misunderstanding some things that God has said to us.
Let’s go to Ephesians 5, verse 5. The Bible is filled with statements like this, so I just picked a few of them.
Eph. 5:5 – For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man who is an idolator has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore, do not become partakers with them. Whoa! That certainly does seem to say that you can’t be a fornicator, a covetous person or idolator and enter into the Kingdom of Heaven . So can you earn your way there by not being a fornicator, or by being a clean person, or by not being covetous? Well, it doesn’t actually say that, but I think a lot of us have taken that from scriptures like this.
Rev. 22:13 – I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end, the first and the last. Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates of the city. But outside are dogs, and sorcerers, and sexually immoral, and murderers, and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie. Oh! So you can’t be a dog, or a sorcerer, or sexually immoral, or a murderer, or an idolater, or a liar and get into the Kingdom of God .
Now let’s go to Romans 3, and verse 4. Notice another statement made here in the Scriptures.
Rom. 3:4 – I’m breaking right here into the middle of it, because I just want to take one point out of it. Certainly not, he says. Indeed, let God be true, but every man a liar. As it is written, “That you may be justified in your words, and may overcome when you are judged.” If you read these two scriptures together, it could seem that since we all are liars that none of us will enter the Kingdom of God , because no liar is going to be there. None of us can qualify. None of us can live up to the standard. I think that is just what so many of our young people have learned from us to worry about
That word for sorcerer come from the root pharmakon . It means a sorcerer. We see lots of different kinds of people talked about in the Bible. There was a priesthood, and there were the Pharisees, and there were the Sadducces, and there were the publicans, and there were the sinners. And of the sinners, there were murderers, fornicators, idolaters, sorcerers, liars. It was a caste system. That was how society – every society – up until that time had been structured. There were the people on top, and there were the people at the bottom. The sinners were the ones at the bottom. But the lowest sinner of all was a pharmakon – a sorcerer. That was the lowest, lowest low you could get. So what’s the point? Whoever practices a lie is not going to be in the Kingdom, but every man is a liar. The point is, we are all pharmakons . That’s the point. We’re all at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to our ability to please God by keeping the Law. Even Abraham, who is called the friend of God, told a lie to Pharaoh about his wife. He couldn’t do it. So God’s point to us is, that in His sight, by our actions, we are all pharmakons . None of us will ever measure up. We can never pray enough. We can never keep the Sabbath well enough. We can never avoid lying. We can never overcome our humanity. We can never attain, by our effort, salvation.
You can keep the Sabbath all you want, and at the end of your life, you die. If God isn’t there to resurrect you, you’ll just stay dead! Sabbath keeping does not give us eternal life. I think some of our young people worry about these things, and we can never even want to enter the Kingdom of God and have a relationship with God by ourselves in a way that’s pleasing to Him. I think all of our young people who worry that they will never find a way to want to follow God…I think there’s a solution for you. God has a way of making us want to. But it isn’t like He opens our head up and pours desire in. I just received my quarterly newsletter from the Church of God in Grand Junction . Del Ledger is the pastor there. Del wrote this amazing article. (By the way, if you want to subscribe to that, the address is Christian Church of God, PO Box 2111 , Grand Junction , Colorado , 81502 .) He told this story about this man name Fiorello LaGuardia, who was the mayor of New York City during the Great Depression. One bitterly cold, winter night during the Depression, he went to a night court, he sent the judge home to his family, and he sat in the judge’s place on the bench. One of the cases presented that evening was an elderly woman who had stolen a loaf of bread from a corner grocery store. Now, I can remember my father telling me that during the Depression, people would come to their back door because they were starving to death, and they would give them food. Times were very hard then. People were going hungry, and some people even did starve to death during the Depression. So this tattered old woman was in tears as she pled guilty to the charge of stealing. And the mayor asked her why she stole this bread. (This is a true story.) And she said that her daughter’s husband had abandoned her and her children, and her daughter was sick and couldn’t work, and the kids were crying from hunger. So she stole some bread to feed them. The mayor asked the shopkeeper if he would drop the charge, and he refused. He said that it was a really bad neighborhood, and if she got away with it, everybody would target his store and steal from him. So the mayor told the woman that the shopkeeper was right. His oath of office required him to uphold the law. And he fined her ten dollars or ten days in jail. While he was saying that he took his hat and he put ten dollars in it. Then he said, “Here is your fine that you can pay. Furthermore, I fine everybody in this courtroom fifty cents for living in a town where a person has to steal bread to eat.” Then he passed his hat. And when the money was collected he gave it to this old woman. She had forty-seven dollars and fifty cents – enough to buy groceries for several months back during the Depression.
Now, Del asked some questions about this real-life situation that really did happen. Was the accusation true? Yeah. She stole the bread. Did she confess? Yes, she did. She admitted what she did. Did her reason for stealing it matter in the face of the law? No, it didn’t. There’s no allowance. It’s not legal to steal bread when you’re starving. Was she convicted? Yes, she was. Was the fine paid? Yes, it was. Did the mayor treat her graciously? Yes, he did. Did the woman do anything to deserve being treated that way? No, she didn’t. Was the law done away when she walked out? No, it wasn’t. It was still fully in tact. And the penalty had been paid for her crime. Would it be okay for her to steal again? Well, Paul said, “God forbid,” didn’t he? So you see the analogy, don’t you, between Christ’s sacrifice and the Law, and how they work together.
Now, I want to ask you this question. Since Jesus said that the Law was really about the heart, how do you suppose the woman felt about the mayor after this happened? How do you think she felt? She was probably filled with gratitude. Love might not even be too strong a word. We don’t know what her political affiliation was, but we’d like to think she even voted for him at the next election, don’t we? Wouldn’t you, if that happened to you? Wouldn’t he win you over? Wouldn’t you become a believer? Wouldn’t you trust him? Wouldn’t you know that he had your best interest at heart? So the mayor caused a way to cause this woman to trust him, didn’t he? He extended grace to her.
Let’s go to John 12, and verse 32.
Jn. 12:32 – Jesus said, And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself. This he said, signifying what death he would die. He was saying that His plan to cause people to change their attitude about Him, and to come into relationship with Him, was to draw them in by treating them so graciously that they had to get it. They had to understand what was being done for them. Jesus Christ has paid for all of our law breaking – pharmakons that we are – and if we have any sense of appropriateness, we will love Him for it. We will trust Him. We will have faith in Him. We will believe.
Now, let’s think about our kids some more. As they get older, they start thinking about baptism, and they ask us, “What must I do to be saved?” And we tell them, “Well, you need to start coming to church regularly. You need to start keeping the Sabbath. You need to wear a suit when you come to church. You need to keep the holy days. You have to pray an hour a day. You’ve got to tithe. And you have to serve at church – help set those chairs up. You’ve got to start studying your Bible. You’ve got to use colored pencils to mark them all up so it looks pretty.” That’s what we’ve told our kids. “You have to follow the standard.” A jailer asked Paul that question once. “What must I do to be saved?” Do you know what his answer was? Let’s go to Acts 16, verse 22.
Acts 16:22 – The magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten. (They’re in Philippi – a Gentile city, by the way.) When they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailor to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them in the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. So, here they’d been beaten – their backs are raw – their feet are in the stocks. And at midnight, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns together, and the prisoners were listening to them – entertaining everybody. And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awakening from sleep, seeing the prison doors opened, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called in a loud voice, saying, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, and ran in and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And that’s when Paul started telling him, “Well, you’ve got to learn all these laws that the Jews keep. You’ve got to start keeping the Sabbath and the holy days. You’ve got to start going to synagogue and study your Bible. You’ve got to be a part of the church.” No, that’s not what he said, is it? He said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
When I was in Ambassador College years ago, I’d read these things in the Bible, where people would say, “I believe,” and they’d baptize them. I always wondered why that was, and the ministers would always tell me, “Well, that’s because these people were Jews, and they already knew about the Sabbath and the holy days, but they didn’t know about Jesus. So once they learned that, they were ready.” This guy didn’t know anything about Jesus or the Sabbath or the holy days. He was a Philippian. He was a jailor.
When I was eighteen and seeking baptism, I was told I needed to study the Correspondence Course , and mark my Bible, and learn all about baptism and all the requirements – just like we’ve told our kids for years. Why did Paul say this? Well, because, as we have read out of our Bibles today, it is not about cleaning up the outside of the cup. It’s not about qualifying for salvation. You can’t do that. It’s not about being good enough, or keeping any standard. It’s about believing in, and trusting in, and having faith in, and loving God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our soul. And then what will happen? When Paul told that Philippian, who knew nothing except his life had just been saved by God, that all he had to do was believe, what did he expect would happen from there? Well, he expected that this man would go to church, meet the people that believed like him, and he would learn about the Sabbath and the holy days, and about tithing. And he would do those things because he loved God! We have all the pieces, but we have the cart in front of the horse! We don’t understand the purpose for the Law and the purpose for Christ’s sacrifice.
God, by this gracious gift, is going to pay for our sins, and grant us favor, and draw us in close to Him. And we will love God so much that everything else that God wants us to do, over time, is just naturally going to flow out and take care of itself. We will pray. We will study our Bibles. We’ll get better at keeping the Sabbath. And we’ll want to because we love God. We will want to please Him. We’ll want to obey Him.
I keep going back and thinking about my young friend who has such gracious and loving parents. She wanted to learn how to pray so she could get to know God better. And she knows that she has to discipline herself to start doing that, but she doesn’t look at it as something that’s burdensome or something that she has to do in order to get anywhere. She just wants to know God, just like she wanted to know her mother – to be loved by her mother.
Let’s go to Romans 5. I think about all of my friends who are so upset, and so worried, and so discouraged, because they don’t think they’re ever going to be able to keep up the standard. Let’s read this.
Rom. 5:1 – Therefore, having been justified by faith – by trusting God, by loving God – we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. We don’t have to worry. We have peace. Through whom, also, we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God. Instead of worrying about not being able to measure up, “we’re full of confidence,” he said. I just wish this for all the young people I know who don’t feel like they measure up, who are filled with anxiety, and anger, and discouragement.
V-3 – And he says, Not only that , in verse 3, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perserverance, and perserverance character, and character hope. There is a process. But it’s not salvation. Salvation is a gift. It’s given to us. But the process comes after that – after we are so appreciative and so thankful to God that we want to. And then we start learning these things. And now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit that is given to us. So God will even provide the want to . And how does He do that again? Well, think about the lady and how it was that the mayor caused her to love him. That’s how! If we will meditate on how weak we are, and how much Christ has done for us, we, like that tattered old woman, will begin to appreciate and love the One who has been gracious to us. And we will want to please Him.
V-6 – He says, in verse 6, For when we were still without strength, in due time, Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die, yet perhaps, for a good man someone would even dare to die, but God demonstrates His own love toward us in that, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath – all those pharmakons , and whoremongers, and idolaters that are not going to be in the Kingdom because they’re going to suffer the wrath of God – that’s not going to be us, because Christ died for us. For while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life – not by what we do, but by what He does. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation. We have now received the reconciliation. You see, salvation has already been given to us. Now I didn’t say that we can’t lose it, but it has already been given to us. It is a gift. It is a gift we don’t deserve. It’s a gift we can’t earn. And it’s a gift we can never pay back. All we can do is appreciate it and love God for it, and the rest will take care of itself.
Jesus said the Pharisees cleaned up the cup on the outside. They were all worried about the exterior stuff. If the inside is getting cleaned up, then the outside will take care of itself. If we focus on loving God, then all the outside things – the tithing, the Sabbath observance, the praying, the Bible study – all those things that we get discouraged about and worried about – forgiving people, and being kind to others, and all those things – those things will take care of themselves. And you see, instead of a burden, they become want-to’s – something that we want to do. Don’t fret about it. Just watch and see. It’ll happen to you.
For many of us, we think the Law is for salvation. Actually, Jesus is for salvation. And the Law is for the blessing of drawing close to God. If you still have questions, don’t worry. This is a series. And, as I explained in the beginning, all these things tie together many different ways. So we’re not finished yet. And in our effort to get the horse in front of the cart, we’re going to talk a lot more, in this series, about grace, about salvation, about loving God, about loving our neighbor, about self-discipline, and about what it means to walk worthy.