The Law’s Limits

There’s something limiting about a Christian seeking to perfect himself/herself by observing the Law. Paul pointed out the absurdity when he remarked:

“Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God’s Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren’t smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it? Did you go through this whole painful learning process for nothing? It is not yet a total loss, but it certainly will be if you keep this up!” Galatians 3:2-4 MSG

The other day, I was reading about the man, Peter -an Apostle of Jesus, staunch Jew and traditionalist. Despite having walked with the Lord and observed his ways and doctrines, it took an open vision from God to convince him of the worth of Gentiles and their right to salvation. In the story of the Roman, Cornelius, Peter says, “…You yourselves are aware how it is not lawful or permissible for a Jew to keep company with or to visit or [even] to come near or to speak first to anyone of another nationality, but God has shown and taught me by words that I should not call any human being common or unhallowed or [ceremonially] unclean.” Acts 10: 28 AMP

Contrast this with Jesus’ preemptive dialogue with a religiously unclean Samaritan woman. The 5 times divorced woman would go on to become Jesus’ chief evangelist in her community. Here’s the reference:

“A woman, a Samaritan, came to draw water. Jesus said, “Would you give me a drink of water?” (His disciples had gone to the village to buy food for lunch.) The Samaritan woman, taken aback, asked, “How come you, a Jew, are asking me, a Samaritan woman, for a drink?” (Jews in those days wouldn’t be caught dead talking to Samaritans.) Jesus answered, “If you knew the generosity of God and who I am, you would be asking me for a drink, and I would give you fresh, living water.” John 4:7-10 MSG

Jesus ate with a known leper. This is the same Jesus who proclaimed that the Law was a foundation but would be FULFILLED in him. He points out the futility of trying to keep the edicts of the Law and presents stringent rules if his disciples were to do better than their religious leaders, under the Law. His recommended standards included a pristine thought life and eye plucking in the event of a stray look which caused one to sin. He would later make it clear that it was only through a relationship with him that his disciples would please God and not through the Law. (Matthew 5; John 14:7)

The Law has been superseded by a fresh covenant with new terms – the covenant of GRACE. So how is it that people still desire to continue a covenant that has already been fulfilled – the LAW? Paul wrote about the Jewish response to the new paradigm of grace in Romans and their difficulty with letting the Law go:

“Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved. For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:1-4 NKJV

Now back to Apostle Peter.

Despite Peter’s open vision, he would later try to ingeniously distance himself from non-Jews to preserve his religious image. Paul calls him out:

“For before certain men came from James, he would eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing those who were of the circumcision. And the rest of the Jews also played the hypocrite with him, so that even Barnabas was carried away with their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Peter before them all, “If you, being a Jew, live in the manner of Gentiles and not as the Jews, why do you compel Gentiles to live as Jews? We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified.” Galatians 2:12-16 NKJV

Peter eventually limited his ministry to focusing on the Jews – those he could readily understand and relate to. Paul was subsequently raised by God to focus on the Gentiles.

I believe the Spirit of God is greatly opposed to religion. Religion seeks to create exclusive clubs of the sanctified and resists God’s expansionist & inclusive vision of salvation for all men. I pray that God will raise people to reach the unchurched with open hearts. I pray that God will bless their ministries and give them courage. May their work be graced with signs and wonders. Amen.

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