the standard of our faith

I got into a little conversation over at Shoutlife with a very sharp man named Aaron. I think we’re talking past each other in some cases, but the core issue is the place of the Law in Christianity. He has been very influenced by a Jewish Rabbi, who enlightened him to see the reality of Jewish foundations of Christianity. Yet, I sense he’s pushing too far.

He asked if there is no adherence to the Law, then what is the standard by which we know we are serving God?

I answered. And it took enough writing time for me to want to post it here as well:

What is the standard? How are we to know the fruit? What is the measurement of the Law? The Mosaic law spelled this out in detail. And gives a very good marker of wrong and right, a very orderly way of determining where we stand. Hence Paul could say, “If anyone else has reason to be confident in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, a member of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.”

Yet, he doesn’t stop there. He’s not just suggesting a renewed emphasis on the Law. He goes a step further, which involves him letting go what he once saw as his identity.

“Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.”

All he had before he considers loss, rubbish even, letting go the identity of righteousness that comes from the law, and instead embracing Christ. How do we know the markers of this embrace? He tells us that it is the same way we know that Abraham was a follower of God. He had faith. He followed God. Same way as Noah. He had faith. He followed God. The fruit is that of the Spirit which is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” Paul continues in Galatians 5 “There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit.”

If we live by the Spirit, the very mark of a true follower of Jesus, then we must be guided by the Spirit. It is the Spirit who is to be our counselor now, our guide, our standard, our marker, our leader, our discernment. And through the Spirit we can know the mind of God.

This is not contra to the Hebrew Scriptures at all. The Spirit shows up all throughout, coming upon men and women, prophets and kings and the occasional artist. I think of Oholiab and Bezalel in Exodus 31. The Law told the specifications of the Tabernacle. These two guys were filled with the Holy Spirit to bring it all together, to know in their very being what was commanded and go beyond it. They, themselves, were the bearers of God’s creative plan, so they taught and they made.

And that is what the Spirit does still. The Spirit comes upon all those who call upon Yeshua. The Spirit opens hearts and minds and souls, filling each man and woman with wondrous gifts to enter into a living relationship with God, a relationship that the Law hints at but doesn’t fully fulfill.

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in sinful man, in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.

Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the sinful nature cannot please God.

You, however, are controlled not by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ. But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit, who lives in you.

Therefore, brothers, we have an obligation?but it is not to the sinful nature, to live according to it. For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs?heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

Our obligation is to the Spirit. That is the standard.

Now, don’t interpret me like you are probably rightly interpreting many folks who are unfamiliar with the Jewish backgrounds. I think those who know the Law know God in an extraordinary way. The Law speaks of God in an elegant fashion. Inasmuch as the Church pushed out the Jewish understanding of Messiah and God it lost its way, something we see in obvious and hidden ways throughout history, and still in our churches. However, that being said the specific instructions now lie in terms of following the Spirit, which allows for a flexibility and relationship beyond what was possible before. It’s not a matter of parsing the details of what was given to Moses. It’s a matter of living like Abraham in our contexts, or Noah, or Joseph. The New Adam has given us a new relationship with God in freedom.

And the Holy Spirit came upon the early Church, telling Peter, for instance, in a dream to kill and eat for all that God made was clean. To accept Cornelius as a Gentile, for God himself had made him clean not through the law, but by pouring upon him the Holy Spirit.

I know this is an elusive answer. But I guess I see defining a relationship as an elusive reality that is both stricter and more flexible than, say, a master and servant relationship.

So there is a standard. But it’s not codified, as the Spirit is not codified. Certainly there is overlap, and for those who want to have a very established standard there is nothing wrong with following the whole Torah. However, those who fully follow the Spirit can reach beyond that, deeper and farther.

And again, this is not a rejection of the Jewish history or work. By no means! As Paul would say. It is the progression, just as Moses was a progression from the revelation given to Abraham, and the prophets were continuation of the revelation given to Moses. The Temple, the very marker of God’s favor and the central feature of Torah, was allowed to be destroyed, never to be rebuilt. With an incomplete Law we are not left incomplete, but are made complete instead through the Spirit.

The Church has wrongly said it is wrong to follow Torah. The early Judaizers, as Paul called them, were wrong to say all who followed Yeshua had to follow the whole Torah. We are called as we are called, and we worship God as we are called, led by the Spirit whether by the ancient practices handed down or by new forms of creative inspiration that conform to the full work of the Spirit in our contexts so that whether Jew or Greek, male or female, young or old the name of Yeshua is raised above all.

Aaron said, “Lets just start with the 10 Commandments. They are “laws” are they not? Are they still in play?”

This is a great place to start. And I’m going to be elusive again. Yes and no.

Is is still wrong to murder? Yes. But Yeshua added to this saying:

“You shall not murder ‘; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift. 25 Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are on the way to court with him, or your accuser may hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you will be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny.

Don’t murder, yes. But don’t even be angry. In fact make it your priority over everything else to resolve anger and be in good relationship. Don’t attack a person physically or with words. Don’t kill, don’t even denigrate.

That’s the law and more so, going beyond what seems humanly possible. The Spirit pushes us deeper, farther, more holistic, more flexibly, more situationally. We have to always be on our toes. We can never just sit back. We strive more and more and more. The Ten Commandments are the bedrock. But the law of the Spirit compels us to go beyond, to embrace what is right through a new freedom of relationship. Much as a person who lives in a free country is more compliant than a person who lives under a dictatorship. Not only more compliant but more participatory, going above and beyond in the service of freedom. We take the delight that the psalmist expresses in Psalm 119 and push even farther, expresses a delight in relating to the lawgiver and pleasing him because we love him and are being constantly led by the very Spirit of the Living God who knows even more than the Law ever hinted at.

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