Tag Archives: Salvation

1 Corinthians 5

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 (NRSV) – It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Should you not rather have mourned, so that he who has done this would have been removed from among you? For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing. When you are assembled, and my spirit is present with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

There is a man in the Corinthian church living in an incestuous relationship. Paul takes this extremely seriously and urges the church to do so as well. But what really are the circumstances with this man?

Suppose that this man believes that Christ died and rose from the dead to set him free from sin and make him a new creation. Suppose that this man believes in God’s calling to him, and believes that God is working with him toward a future in which he will accomplish great things through righteousness. But at the moment, he is in a sinful relationship. Suppose God has finally had enough of it and tells Paul and the church to “hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh.” What would this accomplish? In my view, it would accomplish nothing except to end his life prematurely. Under that scenario, this man would have a vision for his life that would last until he’s dead, and would never come to true fulfillment.

To the contrary, I believe that what we are dealing with here is a man who is building his whole identity and vision for life around this immoral relationship. For him, this relationship is what life is about. This contradicts the Gospel message, which should remind us that there is more to life than our passion at the present moment. God has made us new creations and set us on a new path in life as part of his working of all things according to His will (Eph. 1:11). The Christian life is about living in appreciation of this. I believe that the point of this man in Corinth being handed over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh is to get him to think about God rather than the sexual relationship. If he gets sick and fears that his life is coming to an end, he may seek knowledge of something that transcends this life and recognize that God’s sovereign purpose and the power of grace that comes through Christ are what really give meaning to life. Through this recognition, his spirit would be saved. If anything else were required, salvation would be of his own works or effort at holiness rather than by God’s grace through faith.

Paul strongly urges the Corinthians to recognize the serious of this man being in their gatherings. He calls for the man to be excommunicated. He criticizes the church for being arrogant, yet in all their supposed wisdom, failing to recognize that a person in fellowship with them held an attitude about his life that contradicted the vision of the Gospel message. By maintaining fellowship with this person, the church was legitimizing his attitude and compromising the entire church’s sense of vision for a righteous future. In order to preserve the integrity of the church’s vision, that man had to be removed.

1 Corinthians 5:9-11 – I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral persons— not at all meaning the immoral of this world, or the greedy and robbers, or idolaters, since you would then need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother or sister who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Do not even eat with such a one.

Again, we are dealing with people who claim to be believers but whose vision for life revolves around these immoral behaviors. Paul wants true believers to have no association with such people. Notice that Paul explicitly says that he does not apply the same standards for association with nonbelievers. There are cases in which you might know a nonbeliever who, despite having built his life on some wrong things, still has some common interests with you on other matters. In this case, Paul is not exhorting us to cut off communication.

It is really important that we view this chapter in light of the previous four chapters, which were all about unity in the church on the basis of respecting God’s calling to each other. If we utilize principles of this current chapter to cut off interaction with other believers simply because they have some issues in their lives, we are discarding the message of unity in the prior chapters, and exhibiting a lack of faith in God’s ability to work things out in others’ lives according to His will. What we are dealing with in this chapter are people with an attitude that is toxic to the vision for life that God instills in believers.

1 Corinthians 1:18-31

1 Corinthians 1:18-31 (NRSV) – “For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.’ Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe.”

 

Understanding the Cross involves understanding that God’s plan for humanity is not something that humans designed or engineered. For one thing, the fall of humanity into sin and mortality was not something that any of us had personal involvement in. Nevertheless, despite humanity’s problems after Adam’s transgression, humans still had a conscience that knew what was right according to God (Romans 2:14-15). It was there, ultimately, because of God, not human ability to determine what was right. Because of mortality, nobody can follow the conscience perfectly, which is why, through the Cross and Resurrection, God created a new humanity. Again, that work was done without our involvement. That’s our story; it was just something that happened to us.

Why does Paul call it “foolishness to those who are perishing?” He continues, “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:22-24)

When relating Paul’s writing about “Jews” and “Greeks” to the contemporary world, I think it is helpful to think of “Jews” as people associated with the Judeo-Christian culture, and “Greeks” as people outside of that culture.

Some people in the Judeo-Christian culture stumble over the Gospel because, while they may accept the concept of being a sinner and needing a Savior, they are simultaneous fixated on their choice to believe and their works to prove salvation. But these people’s spiritual zeal can burn out and then their faith is derailed. On the other hand, if our faith in salvation is rooted in Christ’s transformative work and His calling to us, then we have a foundation that stands whether or not we are feeling the zeal.

For those outside the Judeo-Christian culture, the Gospel message does not jive with the prominent philosophical schools of thought, political ideologies, or popular worldviews. All of these systems, despite sometimes having legitimate merits, are focused on what humanity can do to engineer a better future. The idea of mankind going from an old creation to a new creation, apart from individuals’ involvement, does not necessarily fit into these systems, and is thus often disregarded by those who build their lives around these systems.

Paul says the Gospel is “foolishness to those who are perishing.” On one hand, both believers and unbelievers are perishing because of mortality. But believers, who will be vivified at Christ’s return and fully experience the new humanity in the coming eons, have this vision for their future as a guiding faith that brings inspiration and energy to their present lives. Not having this inspiration in the midst of mortality, or this future with regards to the eons, is what Paul refers to as perishing.

Paul continues, “Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, so that no one might boast in the presence of God. He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord” (1 Cor. 1:26-31).

I do not want for people to get the idea that intelligence is a hindrance to faith. Believers can be intellectually brilliant and successful in many ways, including philosophy on life, science, finance, and creative pursuits. And these talents can get attention and respect from people in the world, including nonbelievers who have a healthy appreciation of life and the individuality of others. But you may be opposed by the established systems out there, potentially both secular and religious ones. You might be told that you do not have the right priorities and attitudes, or that you are not proficient or knowledgeable enough, simply because you do not fit in with the worldviews and values systems that are popular at your time of history.

We know, however, that we have some deficiencies. If we really think about how we accomplish everything that we do despite these deficiencies, it reminds us of the wisdom of God, and this is His design so that we admire His working rather than boasting in ourselves.

Anxiety over Judgment is a Type of Judgment

Among Christians, there is a lot of discussion about judgment. There are warnings that individuals are going to be judged for sin, and warnings that countries are about to be judged for sin. In modern times, there has been a shift away from the view of judgment in which God Himself inflicts harm as punishment. Many Christians warning of judgment today have a different view, in which judgment is the loss of God’s help and protection as a result of persistent disobedience.

Some Christians seem to be comfortable with the concept of judgment because they feel assured that they are right with God and are safe. But other Christians feel less secure and worry about judgment. What I will propose in this article is that, many Christians who are worried about future judgment, might already be living in a type of judgment (and have been for a long time), but they don’t recognize it because their minds are thinking about what the future holds.

Let’s look at Romans 8:12-13 – We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.

I believe this passage applies in two different ways. Passages like this are often used to say that if you persist in living according to your own desires rather than living for God, then you will experience judgment manifested in either literal death or a figurative type of death such as illness or various crises. And while I think that is a valid interpretation, there is another application of this passage that is not talked about very much.

First off, what does “the flesh” consist of? Since flesh is contrasted with spirit in the passage above, I take it to mean that flesh constitutes all non-spiritual (i.e. biological) aspects of a person. So, a person’s organs, chemistry, and psychology are all part of the flesh. Many commentaries equate living in the flesh with living in sin. That may be a valid interpretation, but I believe it is only half of the story.

So, what is the other half of the story? To understand it, we need to consider the way we feel about ourselves when we do various acts. I believe it is normal to feel good when we do good things, and to feel bad when we do bad things. God made us to be that way; otherwise, there would be no incentive to do what’s right.

But I believe the problem is when we let the presence of that good feeling resulting from good works dictate whether we can feel good about ourselves as a person, or how we feel about our relationship with God. I believe this is a type of living according to the flesh, because our lives revolve around maintaining that positive sensation in our minds.

When we have that positive feeling, we feel good about the future. We think that we’re on the right path and that we’re making progress, so God isn’t going to let misfortune happen to us. In the midst of this bright feeling about ourselves and the future, temptations can be suppressed for a season. That positive feeling can even be a motivation to do good works, because we want that feeling to last.

But even though temptation might be confined to a small corner of one’s brain, it is still alive. Over time, temptation slowly starts reclaiming territory in the back of our minds, but we don’t realize it because the front of our minds are still shining and optimistic. And since we still are not sinning necessarily, there is nothing we have to worry about according to conventional religious logic.

But then there comes a point where, we start to feel the growing presence of temptation. For a while, resisting was a matter of just saying NO to temptation and moving on. But now, it takes more effort to say no, even though we’re still saying it. Our conscience seems to be putting heavier demands on us, and we seem to lack the willpower to meet those demands.

At this point, although we’re still confident that we are living right, and thus feel good about the future, the bright, positive feeling in our minds starts to subside. Then, without that tailwind in our minds, fighting temptation gets really hard. At this point, we may start returning to habits that we thought we had kicked a while back. Or, we might continue to resist those temptations, but lose the motivation to do certain good deeds. Maybe prayer starts to feel burdensome as we lose confidence about our spiritual state.

You see, that good feeling we once had was generated by the flesh in response to the good that we saw ourselves doing. It’s like watching an instrument that gauges your performance and trying to keep the meter rising. This is just as exciting to one’s mind, and just as addicting, as any kind of sensual pleasure.  But we then started living for that positive feeling, and when the feeling slipped out of reach, the drive to continue our progress weakened.

Then we’re worried about judgment again. Now, when people talk about impending judgment upon the nation or individuals, it hits close to home because we’re not so sure what God thinks about us at this point. The bright, positive feeling we once had gets replaced with a sense of dread and anxiety. This dread or anxiety is a type of death, and a form of judgment resulting from living in the flesh during the season when it appeared that everything was going right, morally and spiritually. Furthermore, the anxiety can cause us to fall into habits such as lack of sleep or unhealthy eating habits that can cause health issues or other problems in life. Thus, ironically, by worrying about judgment, Christians can end up facing the same problems in life that they worry are about to come upon others because of sin.

I believe that Christians who are struggling with guilt need to realize that, ultimately, they are right with God regardless of what their performance meter is doing, and they need to let go of the vision of mastering their lives and keeping their meter rising in order to finally become a good Christian who is safe from judgment.

The Apostle Paul wrote that where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Rom. 5:20).

But here’s a critical observation. Romans 5:20 is not an experiential reality. Even though it is a true statement, it is never going to “feel” true in our own lives. In other words, committing sin does not cause us to feel an even greater presence of grace.

Some Christians try to test out Romans 5:20 to see if it’s really true. I’m not saying that I recommend doing that. But to satisfy the curiosity, I’ll go ahead and say that it doesn’t bring a feeling of grace or peace. Even though God’s acceptance of someone doesn’t waver as they go through the experiment, what they feel is even more inward angst. Furthermore, testing out this principle actually takes a lot of effort. It makes you feel tired.

On one hand, we need to realize that Romans 5:20 does not fail upon application. If we think it will fail when tested, we go back into performance meter fixation. But when we realize that Romans 5:20 is a robust principle, we find a new motivation for doing what’s right. That motivation comes from the fact that putting grace to the test just causes more tension than it’s worth. This realization comes from the Spirit’s work in us. Likewise, doing good works isn’t about trying to become a good Christian. Rather, it is about wanting to see something uplifting and beneficial coming from our lives.

So, to summarize everything, the key point that I have become convicted of is that, anxiety over judgment is actually a type of judgment. It is the Biblical message of grace that sets people free from this judgment and enables them to become what God has made them to be.

Romans 9

Romans Chapter 9 is a much discussed part of the Bible because it is often referenced in debates over predestination versus free will. As a result, some commentators think of Romans 9 as “the predestination chapter,” while others build a counterposition from the chapter to teach free will. But what I came to realize earlier this year is that, there are a lot of insights that can be gained from analyzing how Romans 9 relates to the rest of the epistle. Instead of viewing Romans 9 as a stand-alone exposition, I have come to look at it as part of a message that begins all the way back in Chapter 1.

Here is how I understand the theme of Romans spanning Chapters 1 through 8:

The epistle begins by describing the default fate for everybody. That is, each individual’s life would be judged based on works, and the outcome of that judgment results in either reward or punishment in the coming ages. But, what about the undisciplined folks out there who just can’t get their life in order and would be hopeless if judged on works? Well, in Chapters 3-5, Paul reveals a solution to this problem, namely, justification by faith. But then the question becomes, faith in what? The answer to that comes in Chapters 6-8 where Paul describes how we are justified by Christ’s death and resurrection, and that by believing this to be true of our own lives, we are led by the Spirit into a new way of life.

Well, that sounds nice, but it raises yet another set of questions, such as “Where does this faith come from?” “What does it mean to be led by the Spirit, and what role do we play in that? “What if we’re not believing the right things?” “What if we have doubts? Is the Spirit still working in us?”

So, to answer the question, “What is Romans 9 really talking about?” we should consider how a proposed interpretation answers the questions raised by the preceding chapters.

Paul opens Romans 9 by talking about Israelites who do not believe the Gospel. Paul, coming from a Jewish background himself, was very concerned about this, which sets the framework for the chapter. In particular, Paul sets out to address the question of what Israel’s unbelief means for the promises that God made to the nation.

Paul reasons that “not all Israelites truly belong to Israel, and not all of Abraham’s children are his true descendants; but ‘It is through Isaac that descendants shall be named for you.’ This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as descendants” (Romans 9:6-8).

I think that this concept of “children of the flesh” versus “children of the promise” is a subtle analogy for the theme of “living by the flesh” versus “living by the Spirit” in the preceding chapters. Although Isaac was not Abraham’s only child, Isaac was the only child for whom faith and a special work of God were required for the reproductive process to work. Hold that thought for now, we’ll come back to it a bit later.

Paul proceeds to give another analogy. This time it involves the children of Isaac and Rebecca.

Romans 9:11-13 – “Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.’

God does not hate anybody in the absolute sense. In this passage, love versus hate are relative terms to indicate contrasting relationships. That aside, the idea which “pops out” at me from the passage above is that, the fulfillment of God’s ultimate plans for individuals is attributed to God Himself. Now, granted, sometimes the meaning which immediately pops out at you is not the right meaning. There are times when the broader context conditions what something is supposed to say. Thus, can we trust the “pop out” meaning of the passage above? Or do we need to seek a different interpretation?

Well, the obvious objection to the face value meaning is that it seems unfair. Now, if the face value meaning really was unfair, it seems that Paul would clarify the issue by saying something to the tune of, “Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t saying . . .” However, Paul seems to do the opposite; he responds to the statement by essentially restating his previous point:

Romans 9:14-15: “What then are we to say? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’

And in case his point wasn’t clear enough yet from the analogies, Paul continued, “So it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God who shows mercy” (verse 16).

Paul seemed to think readers would be unconvinced by that conclusion, so he gives yet another analogy that, once again, pretty much restates his previous point.

Romans 9:17-18 –“For the scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘I have raised you up for the very purpose of showing my power in you, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he chooses, and he hardens the heart of whomever he chooses.

Now, once again, Paul sees what the objection is going to be. He knows that people will think this is unfair. However, he once again declines the opportunity to say, “Well, don’t get me wrong, I didn’t mean . . . “ Instead, he simply restates his previous point again.

Romans 9:19-20, “You will say to me then, ‘Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’

I have heard many commentaries which try to explain Romans 9 such that nobody would ask these questions that the Objector is asking. However, I feel like that approach is contrary to Paul’s own handling of the subject matter, and perhaps indicates that the proposed interpretation does not jive with Paul’s message.

Paul wraps up Romans 9, and opens Romans 10, by describing the problem of Israelites trying to become righteous through Law instead of through faith in Christ.

So, looking back over Romans 9, why did Paul get into the theme of God choosing people, when the overarching message of Romans is salvation through faith? Well, I believe that the theme of Romans 9 was meant to correct a possible misunderstanding of salvation through faith. The misunderstanding is that we “manufacture” faith in order to engineer our salvation. In and of ourselves, we do not have the wisdom, or the prudence, or the discipline, to make ourselves believers. The whole process of believing, and exercising our faith, is a process attributed to God. Earlier I mentioned that Paul subtly alluded to the theme of “living according to the flesh” vs “living according to the Spirit” with his analogy of Abraham’s children. Seeing the subsequent writing in Romans 9, it appears that a Spirit-filled life is a work of God as opposed to something we engineer by some means. Now, the mechanism by which God works this process is mysterious, and there are no concrete answers in Scripture. There are reasonable (albeit speculative) answers that I will discuss in the next post, but in this life we’ll never know all the details for sure.

Furthermore, Romans 9 should not be used to make sweeping conclusions about “predestination” of various events. Although there are speculative extrapolations of chapter’s theme which may be drawn at one’s discretion, such extrapolations should not be confused with the core message which is that we are not the engineers of our salvation.

So, the last question I want to address is, “if we do not engineer our salvation, how do we know whether the process of salvation is true of our own lives?” Well, I believe the answer to that comes in Chapter 10, verse 9-13:

If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

If you are someone who calls upon the Lord confessing and believing these things, then your life is on a path of salvation, and you have the Spirit of God working in you. That’s the proof.

The principles I describe in this article are the only doctrines that I conclusively draw from Romans 9. There are other speculations that are worth talking about, and I will address those in the next post. However, I think it is important to separate those speculations from what I perceive to be the core message which I just described.

Being Righteous is Being Made Right

The word “righteous” is a religious term that is sometimes hard to understand in a practical sense. When the Bible talks about being made “righteous” through faith, people often get the idea that God accepts them even though they are sinners. Although that view is true, I have come to think that it doesn’t fully describe what being “righteous” means.

The root word of “righteous” is “right.” If you are made “right,” then you are not “wrong,” or “bad.” This gives righteousness a new, fresh meaning. I believe that, knowing you are made right is an integral part of adhering to the following Scripture.

Romans 8:13: “We are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh— for if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

If this verse is read in isolation, the natural response is to say, “Better shape up!” However, that interpretation does not take into account the previous chapter of Romans which shows how the “Better Shape Up!” mentality breaks down.

The key point in Romans 8:13 is that we do not owe anything to the flesh. I’m going to start personifying Flesh by typing it with a capital “F.” Flesh includes your physical attributes as well as your feelings, including how you feel about yourself. Flesh might say to someone, “Look what I just made you do! God is mad at you now. Are you sure that you’re still saved? How can you claim to be a real believer?”

Now, Flesh knows that some Christians will not be fooled by these arguments. However, for such folks, Flesh has a Plan B, which says, “Okay, you’re still a child of God (that is, you are righteous), but you’re a disobedient child. God loves you but you’re hands are dirty. You ought to feel bad about your lifestyle and think about how much you’re offending your Father.”

This “Plan B” argument of Flesh is especially sly because it purports itself to be the proper balance between grace and responsibility, a condition sought by many believers. Furthermore, the religious concept of “righteousness” sometimes leaves a door open to that argument. But here’s the point, if you entertain that argument, you are acting as if you “owe something” to Flesh and are paying your debt by listening to its arguments.
However, if you know that you have been made RIGHT, then you don’t have to listen to the claim that you ought to be ashamed.

Now, because we have a conscience, it is impossible to live without ever feeling guilty of anything. It is in response to our conscience that Flesh makes its argument. We cannot “choose” to avoid feeling any guilt whatsoever. Feelings of guilt may influence us to do what is right as the Spirit leads us (that is one reason why we have a conscience), but we do not owe anything to guilt. When feelings of guilt arise, we are not obligated to let Flesh take control of the situation by entertaining its arguments. Thus, we can avoid being “paralyzed” by guilt to the point where it keeps us from living our lives as a psychologically healthy person would. We do not have to live and act like someone who is struggling with guilt and dreaming of being free someday.

Lastly, I want to consider what it means for Paul to write “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.”

As believers in Christ, we have the Spirit of God in us (Rom. 8:17). I have come to believe that, the reason many of us do not “feel” the Spirit of God is that some part of our mind is still listening to the argument of Flesh described above. That argument cuts very deep into one’s mind. Even if, in the more conscious parts of our mind, the argument has been refuted, it may still carry an undercurrent effect behind the scenes for a long time. You see, if we let Flesh tell us that our hands are dirty and that we’re disobedient children, we cannot also see ourselves as being filled with the Spirit.

However, whether we see it or not, the Spirit is always doing something inside of us that influences the direction of our lives. After all, God “accomplishes all things according to his council and will” (Eph. 1:11), and it is through believers that He works in the world. However, if our attention to Flesh diminishes, the prominence of the Spirit should increase.

Contrasts between Romans and Galatians on the Subject of Law

Many Biblical commentators equate the themes of Romans and Galatians and speak of them as if they contain the same message. On the surface, there are similarities, such as justification by faith and salvation through Christ’s finished work rather than works of the Law. However, I think that a close look at both epistles reveals contextual differences which affect the meaning of concepts such as law and grace.

Romans is a comprehensive outline of Paul’s theology. It tackles deep questions involving human nature and shows how Christ’s death and resurrection transforms human nature. Galatians, on the other hand, has a much more specific focus involving a controversy in the early church. The controversy was whether Christians were still required to follow the ceremonial rituals of the Old Testament laws, such as circumcision, dietary rules, cleansing protocols, and observance of special days. Paul’s answer is a resounding no.

Galatians 2:16-17 – And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

2:19-20: For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.

2:21: I do not nullify the grace of God; for if justification comes through the law, then Christ died for nothing.

At first glance, these passages look like the passages I have been quoting from Romans. However, we need to consider the occasion for which Paul wrote these things. Earlier in Galatians Chapter 2, Paul criticized Cephas (the Apostle Peter) for sometimes eating with Gentiles, but other times refraining if he thought Jews would object. For Paul, this was a serious inconsistency. The point of verses 16-21 quoted above was to explain how, because of Christ’s atonement, the barriers between Jews and Gentiles (and thus the ceremonial regulations upholding those barriers) have been eliminated, and reenacting them in a way that excludes Gentiles denies the fundamental principles of the Gospel. In contrast, when Paul writes about dying to the Law in Romans, his example uses the law against coveting, which is a universal moral principle rather than a Jewish custom. I’ll discuss this more later.

While we are on this subject, Galatians 2 makes it evident that, when the Bible speaks of Christians being “condemned” for various acts, that does not have to mean they lose their salvation. Paul said that Peter was condemned because he would not eat with Gentiles (2:11). Do we really think that Peter had lost his salvation?

Moving on, let’s look at Galatians 3:23-25 – “Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed. Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian.”

The religious laws of the Old Testament were designed to protect the Jews from immoral influences in their surrounding cultures; hence, the Law was a “guard” as Paul writes. However, in the current age, Christians can be led by the Holy Spirit in a way such that they avoid immorality without needing all of the religious regulations of the Old Covenant.

More evidence that Paul is referring to ceremonial customs is in Galatians 4:10, “You are observing special days, and months, and seasons, and years. I am afraid that my work for you may have been wasted.”

Having said all of these things, Paul spends the last two chapters of Galatians addressing the misunderstanding that freedom from the Law means there are no rules for believers. What he emphasizes is that you are free from the Law so that the Spirit can show you what to do.

Galatians 5:18 – “If you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.”

To help with discerning whether certain convictions come from the Spirit, Paul lists qualities associated with obedience to the Spirit:

5:22 – “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.”

Paul also lists signs that a person is living according to the flesh rather than the Spirit:

5:19-21 – “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

It seems like a principle that is simple enough – you are justified by faith apart the Law, but after being justified you may either follow the Spirit’s leading and experience life in the Kingdom of God, or follow your selfish desires and experience corruption outside the Kingdom. But there is a complication to this principle. Are we really able to make ourselves do everything we feel convicted in our heart to do? Can we just wake up in the morning, resolve to do whatever our conscience tells us is right, and push ourselves to follow through with it?

I probably don’t need to tell you that the answer is no for many people. But that is beyond the scope of Galatians. This dilemma involves matters of human nature, psychology, and certain aspects of Christ’s finished work which Galatians does not set out to address. I believe Romans is where those themes are taken up. Earlier I mentioned that Romans uses prohibition of coveting as an example of Law. There is something twisted in human nature that makes people have greed for things they don’t own. We can know in our heart what is right and wrong, but nevertheless lack the power to carry it out (Romans 7:18). Romans describes how, through faith in Christ’s finished work, we can experience deliverance from these problems of human nature so that we can actually have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.

I believe the distinction between Romans and Galatians is critical. Imposing the Romans message upon Galatians could lead to a complete disregard of moral principles. On the other hand, imposing the Galatians message upon Romans results in many contradiction and non-sequiturs.

So, this is my overview on the epistle to the Galatians. I’m interested to know what you think about all of this.

Demystifying Spirituality – Part 2

In this post, I want to continue the discussion of what it means that we have “died to sin” as the Book of Romans says.

Romans 6:7 (NRSV) – “Whoever has died is freed from sin.”

In this passage, the Greek word translated “freed” (dikaioō) is translated “justified” in Romans Ch. 3-5. In Chapters 3-5 Paul explains that people are “justified” by faith, apart from works. So, “justified” is obviously an appropriate translation there because it conveys the idea of being accepted by God. However, in Romans 6, most Bible translations began using the word “freed” instead of “justified.” I first became aware that the underlying Greek word was the same when I saw the word “justified” in the Concordant Literal New Testament. Then, I looked up Rom. 6:7 in Strong’s Concordance online and saw that the Greek word translated “freed” was translated “justified” in passages from Chapters 3-5. I believe that the word “freed” is fine given that it conveys a true idea; however, “justified” reveals a different dimension to one’s death to sin that sheds new light on Romans 6 and the epistle as a whole.

Sin has a two-fold effect. One effect is causing problems in one’s life. The other effect is creating a burden of guilt, and causing some form of tension between humans and God. However, if we have died to sin, deactivating our burdensome relationship with it, then we are no longer tied to sin, and it cannot ruin our lives anymore. This explains how we are “justified” from sin by having died to it.

The concepts discussed in this article can also be applied to problems in your life that may not necessarily break Biblical commandments, such as procrastination or overeating. The reason is that the problems inside of you that result in procrastination or overeating probably also result in “real” sins. Thus, rather than debating over whether something was a “sin” or not, we should look inside of us and see whether the cause of the issue is connected to the “body of sin” that Paul wrote about.

Let’s put this in practical terms. Suppose you have a bad habit that you worry is going to hurt you in your future. If you get through the day without engaging in that habit, you feel good about yourself. Things just feel “right,” inside of you. You feel good about the future. However, if you slipped and engaged in the habit, then you feel bad about yourself and your future.

I am going to start typing Sin with a capital S in order to personify it. The goal of Sin is to ruin your life. This is why it is so hard to break bad habits. Even though you know that the habit is bad for you, something inside of you wants to ruin your life. However, if you proclaim to Sin that you have died to it and been released from its power to ruin your life, then you disarming sin and dissipating its energy inside of you. Thus, you are justified from Sin in the sense that, whether or not you engage in the bad habit today, Sin cannot ruin your future. If you declare this to Sin, you can soon begin to experience freedom from its power.

I will give an example of how I exercise this principle in my own life. I probably have a mild case of obsessive-compulsive disorder, and for years I struggled with intrusive, blasphemous thoughts, which is a famous symptom of that disorder. I worried that God would only forgive me if I was making my most sincere effort to eliminate those thoughts. However, trying to fight off those thoughts didn’t really solve the problem. What finally got me free from this problem is when I started telling those thoughts that they couldn’t harm my spiritual status; even if they were to bring out all their ammo, it would be to no effect because I’ve died to them and they hold no power over a dead person. When I say these things to intrusive thoughts, they rapidly dissipate.

Another reason we are justified from sin by having died to it is that, our lives do not have to be dominated by guilt or shame. Sometimes people joke about dying of embarrassment. However, where Romans is concerned, we have died to embarrassment. Sin wants to make you feel bad about yourself; however, since you have died to it, it cannot inflict guilt or shame. Can you embarrass a dead person? Can a dead person be guilty of anything?

I am not denying that there is an afterlife where a person’s experience reflects the kind of life they lived in this world. This goes to illustrate that physical death is really only a shadow of death. To understand the kind of death that occurred to us with Christ, you have to think about going out of existence completely. If you are completely removed from existence, then you cannot be guilty of anything. Imagine a relationship between two entities: A human and Sin. The relationship is such that Sin inflicts the human with guilt or embarrassment. However, if the human goes out of existence, the bond between the human and Sin is broken. Thus, Sin cannot inflict the person with guilt or embarrassment anymore.

Now, in your own life, it is impossible to avoid feeling guilt and embarrassment at times. The reason is that you have a conscience and a sense of dignity that are bothered when you do something wrong. These feelings are not going to go away simply because you believe something. However, you can tell these feelings that they are not going to ruin your day. These feelings will either get you to do something you are convicted of, or they will eventually subside, but they do not have to bog you down to the point that you are paralyzed by them. You do not owe anything to guilt and shame. These feelings may cause you to do good (that’s one reason why God gives people a conscience), but deliberately entertaining these feelings does not do yourself or God any favors because you have died to these feelings. So, freedom from guilt and shame are another reason why, because you have died to Sin, you are justified from Sin.

Thus, I think that the Greek word dikaioō in Romans 6 could be rightfully translated “justified.” Translating it “justified” would clear up some confusion surrounding Paul’s gospel. As mentioned earlier, almost all Bible translations have phrases like “justified by faith, apart from works” in Romans 3-5. However, Romans 6-8 are important because they show us the basis upon which we are justified apart from works. When we realize that we have died to sin and risen to a new life, and believe this truth as the ultimate reality for our own lives, it starts to become an experiential reality. And God, knowing our destiny to which this process leads, goes ahead and declares us to be justified apart from our present works because He knows the direction our life is headed.