MEN OF GRACE OR MEN OF LAW: What about Jesus?
In the last couple audios, we’ve been discussing whether or not there might be a legitimate way to view the NT authors and writings (especially those other than Paul’s) so as to get past all that so often seems legalistic. I mean, other than in a few of our favorite verses and stories, did they really preach the message of grace? Last week, we considered two very different viewpoints regarding the Gospel accounts of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John: Chili vs. Tossed Salad.
Jim, although you made a contrast, you really didn’t say a whole bunch about the Chili viewpoint.
You’re right, I didn’t talk much about the Chili viewpoint, did I? Now, the quote I read described it in terms of how each bite of chili is pretty much the same as any other because the flavors are all blended together. This presents a picture of how people might read the words of Jesus as if any one statement can be considered without consulting any other. In other words, if truth is truth, then I can just grab a verse and understand the truth of it all by itself. This form of Bible study might work for us on those verses that fit within the scope of our belief system, but it can really present some contradictions and confusion. Of course, it applies to how we might read any document (including the Bible) without taking the context into account. This is the framework that allows religious folks to create whole systems of doctrines based on random collections of Bible verses that seem to support one’s beliefs. If you want to go down that road and drink that Kool-Aid, have at it.
Actually, we have discussed this viewpoint in many of our audios … like every time we bring up the need to consider context, we’re challenging the fallacies created by those who have so misused the Bible in this fashion. We just never called it the Chili viewpoint. Now, the other viewpoint, Tossed Salad, that one sounds a little more promising, doesn’t it?
It does, and it is a perspective I learned back in the early 80s. This view of the NT Gospels is based upon the consideration that, like a tossed salad, any given piece could be different than another. Now, I’m fine with that basic distinction because it considers far more than just selected sentences. And keep in mind that this basic premise applies to any document or conversation you and I might come in contact with. By the way, if you’re one of those who scoffs at the mention of context, you may want to consider that it might be related to how often you’ve heard someone tell you, “You’re not listening to me!” Yeah, keeping things in context applies just as much to your relationships as it does to understanding the Bible.
Now, context is really important … but it’s not the end-all, is it? I know I’ve heard you say that you prefer an out-of-context view of a Bible passage by a person who truly sees grace than an in-context Bible study by a legalist. The spirit of freedom, even presented through out-of-context Bible verses, is far superior to any in-context study by the mind of religion, isn’t it?
LOL! That’s for sure. Although I can appreciate the basic premise of the tossed salad approach, I heard it used to suggest that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were impossible to understand unless you took the time to figure out which dispensation any given passage or verse belonged to. For those unfamiliar with dispensational theology, it goes through the Bible and shows how God dealt differently with people during different periods of time. And please know that I’m not tossing out everything associated with dispensational theology because there are grace teachers, like me, who found freedom from within that structure, for it proclaims this period of time as taking place during God’s dispensation of grace. I just discovered that there were too many discrepancies, contradictions, and restrictions created by a system, even one meant to make the Bible easier to understand in relation to grace. You see, we’re not just talking about the basic distinction between Law and Grace that needs to be recognized when reading the Gospel accounts, but something more complex. For it is claimed that the Gospels were a mix of the dispensations of Law, Grace, and the Kingdom — and only by understanding which of the three was being referenced can you understand what’s being said.
So, you obviously don’t subscribe to either viewpoint … at least not totally. As last week’s audio was entitled Chili, Tossed Salad, or Something Else? I’m guessing you opt for the Something Else. It might be assumed that you have come up with your own system … and I’m hearing the questions that ask: If you have come up with your own view, is it any better than what you’re challenging?
And that would be a valid question. You’re right, I don’t subscribe to either viewpoint. I can appreciate the simplistic demand that truth is truth, as found in the one; and more so, the need to consider context, as found in the other. So, while I can agree with certain points that come from a certain view, I don’t have to agree with the overall system of either. As far as my own, I would have a hard time creating a system out of what I see. It’s actually something more basic. Something more along the lines of how it’s all connected to the common human experience. In other words, when we’re seeing it clearly, we’re going to realize that the Biblical characters were just like us, and that we’re just like them. If we have to imagine a group of people that we can only relate to from a distance, then our understanding will be skewed by our belief that we’re somehow fundamentally different. If I can’t see myself in any one of those characters, it might just come from my own self-righteousness, my own sense of superiority. Of course, let’s not overlook that it can also come from a mask of false humility, which is merely the flip side of self-righteousness.
Jim I too had to come to the realization many years ago that the characters in the pages of the Bible were just like me. They had the same flesh and same Spirit. But as far as not seeing it, I wonder if maybe a lot of it also has to do with the fact that we have been so darn intimated by the suggestion of Law being somehow mixed together with grace?
Jim you mentioned the “mask of false humility” and how it was just another side of self righteousness. Do you think that this is WAY more prevalent than we tend to give credit for? Especially since we see it in both believer and non believer? I think for one thing that it carries an allure of “escape” from our perception of “New Testament law”-in that we finally get some relief from the accusation of being “prideful”. You?
I watched the most recent show in the TV series called Bones a few days ago, and it started off by hinting at the possibility that the FBI guy, Booth, might have some serious health condition because he was secretly having weekly visits to the hospital. Especially in view of his previous brain surgery, you’re left assuming the worst. A couple of his close friends are trying to find out what’s up with him, and one of them even stopped by the hospital in an attempt to get the information out of the doctor, who BTW performs neuro-surgery on children with a genetic condition that leads to brain tumors. So, now they leave you wondering if maybe his daughter has this affliction. Sorry … no one’s talking. You know, something about the guy’s usual guilt-related religious behavior prompted me to take a stab at another probability: he was doing some kind of humanitarian service to somehow atone for his sins. And he had commented at one point about not having gone to confession for a while because he was living in sin. Sure enough, the final scene shows Bones and the inquiring friend anonymously observing how Booth had taken it upon himself to organize a carnival for the kids with this genetic condition. Bones explains that for him and his religious beliefs, it’s all because of 1 Corinthians 13 and she quotes the part about how charity doesn’t brag about itself. It was important for him to do this anonymously. I mean, this is the kind of stuff that really touches people, isn’t it? And yet behind so much of this kind of humility is plain old religious guilt. And yes, I find it quite prevalent, all across the wide spectrum of humanity.
Let’s face it, if we were to express our confidence as it is, most would get very offended by it in this world. This false humility seems mighty tempting.
No doubt about it. Anyhow as promised for this week, we’re considering the source. Yeah, I’m talking about Jesus. After all, if he’s a man of Law, then it would follow that his disciples would be the same, for they preached the message of HIS freedom. But if his freedom was not truly freedom, then that would surely explain why his students put out the same back and forth teaching. I’m standing on the premise that he was the embodiment of freedom, even in the midst of those legal confrontations. And by the way, I want you to be aware that I’m going to be making some distinctions between preaching Law and fulfilling the Law, between preaching Law and upholding the Law. And if you can handle it, there’s a difference between preaching the Law and preaching law. But I’ll let that simmer for a bit. LOL!
Well, well! This has got to be one of the most popular hiding spots of the self righteous mind no?! I bet our audience can hardly wait to explore some of these terms of freedom with us. I know I am.
First, let’s set the stage by considering how this man Jesus came across to his community. Here’s what had been said about him:
“For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon!’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ ” Matthew 11:18-19 (NASB)
This tells me right up front that whatever Jesus said, it had all been recognized as coming from a man who not only didn’t fit within their religious expectations but also from a man who spent his time associating with those considered outcasts by the religious system. Should this affect how we hear his words? For sure! What I’m suggesting is that if you’re not reading his words in view of how disturbing and infuriating they were to the religious leaders — who so well represent the same religious mind that permeates our world today — you may not be hearing his true message. Considering the fact that his message caused outcasts to love him and religious folks to hate him, it should tell us that the religious mind has somehow adapted those words so that they now appeal to the self-righteous and repel the outcasts.
It’s like the idea that the church puts out there that those who weren’t so bad in the flesh before coming to Christ are more trustworthy, more worthy of friendship, attention etc..Shoot most of us assumed our leaders were right in only allowing those who had “good” clean lives before they came to Christ. I mean WHY would we allow any of those dirty people have any say right?
That’s exactly how I remember viewing it. It’s how I saw it working its way out in the churches I was involved with. And this is what we have to take into account when we’re reading any of the words in the Bible, especially those words of Jesus and his buddies. If we’re not questioning the common assumptions embedded within the words as they’ve come to us — and I mean all of it — then we’re going to run into all kinds of conflicts and confusion because we’re trying to blend two opposing viewpoints together. If we really want some insight into what Jesus meant by what he said, we need to consider how people reacted to what he taught.
In other words, if the people Jesus spoke to had a reaction totally unlike our own, maybe we didn’t catch his drift?
Exactly! I might take one of Jesus’ statements and come up with a totally positive message, for example: “and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” John 8:32. Can I assume that I really understand what Jesus said … or am I actually reading it according to the world’s principle that says knowledge brings freedom? Why else do you think so many Christians struggle under the assumption that their freedom is hindered by their lack of understanding some elusive Biblical truth? What if I realized that Jesus’ statement of freedom led to an unexpected conclusion by those who heard and responded to him? And by unexpected, I mean unexpected by me. Here’s what his statement of truth ultimately led to, for the men of knowledge in that day concluded this about Jesus:
“Do we not say rightly that You are a Samaritan and have a demon?” John 8:48 (NASB)
This reaction is telling us something that most people ignore when reading the words of Jesus, for it exposes the mind of religion for what it truly is. You see, the religious mind loves the proposition that claims knowledge is power, and it assumes that Jesus taught this premise. Western-based Christianity has adopted this assumption big time, and those of you who are listening to me right now have been more influenced by this fleshly religious logic more than you might imagine. Why else do you think so many of us have struggled with the question as to whether knowledge is good or evil?
We can find Biblical justification for either viewpoint, can’t we?
We can, but then again, as the whole concept of Biblical justification is built upon the wisdom of man, the argument itself is bogus in Christ … and that’s why men who live according to the world’s knowledge will use the words of Jesus as they see fit, which eventually leads to their own benefit.
Now, even though this might be a very important distinction you’re making here, and something that you could probably say a lot more about, I don’t think you brought this example up to run down a rabbit trail, did you?
Definitely not. Actually, I brought it up because it reveals how the religious mind views the truth of Christ. You see, we might know the Bible verses that refer to the total opposition between the mind of man and the mind of God, but that doesn’t mean we have a clue as to how it really plays out in the world around us.
So, like when Jesus told his disciples… “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, because of this the world hates you. John 15:18-19 … we’re not too sure if this same conflict also applies to ourselves. It sounds far-fetched … maybe even a little self-righteous or egocentric in a religious sense. However, despite the abuses of the religious mind of man in things like this, it’s still true that the spirit of the world hates the spirit of Christ within us.
That’s for sure, and once we fully accept this harsh reality, we’re going to find ourselves questioning and revisiting those previous assumptions we’ve used to build our supposed Christian viewpoints. Don’t underestimate the importance of what can be revealed when you take the reactions toward Jesus into account. In this case, when Jesus exposed the lies and deception of the religious men of Israel they showed their contempt by stooping to use a racial slur against him. For Jews, Samaritans were despised half-breeds, outcasts in their society.
So for them to suggest that Jesus was a Samaritan and that he had a demon, that was severe. Okay, so how does that affect how we’re going to view Jesus’ statement about the truth setting us free?
For one, we need to realize that these very same kind of men are with us today. And they have learned how to adapt Jesus’ words into their Christian theology. The fact is that we might even have based much of our own belief system upon their teachings. Is it starting to sound a little more important?
Jim, you know this could cause quite a stir among some of our listeners … although by this point, they might be our former listeners! But that’s a very intense reality to consider. For if we have been taught by the same kind of people who hated the real Jesus for what he said, what kind of a spin would they have put upon the meaning of his words so as to not be offended by them?
When we think in terms of preaching law, we need to associate it with those who squirmed and retaliated against Jesus for holding them to the thing they supposedly taught. The truth is that those men did not actually preach the Law, they preached their interpretations and their traditions. In order for them to have preached the Law, they would have first had to discover and admit how unworthy they were. They would have had to cast off their self-righteous robes and would have been spending their time down at the synagogue along with the ones they used to despise, and they would have been looking for the one God sent to be their deliverer. If the religious leaders of the day truly preached the Law, do you think they would have gotten so stinking mad when Jesus reminded them of what the Law actually said?
I think there is a mixed opinion on this issue. In my experience there are some who hold to this, while others seem to be ambivalent about this reality. Once in a while I will hear of someone really touched by the grace of God in this but, then just as quickly as it is expressed..someone else will move the story along to something more “interesting”. (I’m not real sure where you are coming from or going with this. Maybe you can expound or explain a little?)
There were mixed opinions on this even at the time Jesus spoke his words. Always will be.
Now, on top of looking into the reactions to Jesus’ words by those who heard him, which might cause a fundamental shift in how his words come across, let’s also consider what John the Baptist (or Baptiser), that is, the man who was sent to announce Jesus’ coming had to say about him:
“As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” Matthew 3:11-12 (NASB)
John the Baptist recognized the vast difference between what he was doing and what Jesus had come to do. His own ministry was built around an outward cleansing with water in hopes of leading to an inward change of heart and mind; however, the weakness of the flesh has always kept that from happening. The Messiah came to do what the Law could not do, which was to bring about an inward reality through a cleansing by God’s Spirit and fire. Now, while there are differences in how that’s viewed, let’s consider the picture as described by Jesus. The winnowing process was how they separated the husks and the straw from the grain — the outer from the inner — and it was accomplished by using a pitchfork-like tool. When pitched in the air, the wind blows the light-weight husks and straw away, and the heavy grain falls back down. Through death (the fire), the old would be done away; through resurrection (the Holy Spirit), a new life is brought forth. Jesus’ confrontations with the religious mind were all in view of the clearing of the threshing floor, the burning of the chaff. His message to them revolved around the truth that all of what they thought of life and righteousness must go.
Taking all of that in view, consider how Jesus began preaching to Israel:
From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew 4:17 (NASB)
While those of the Chili viewpoint would tell you that you need to live according to the new principles Jesus taught, and those of the Tossed Salad viewpoint might tell you either something similar or that this is part of a yet-to-occur Kingdom dispensation, I think we need to consider that all of Jesus’ preaching was in view of the long-promised new reality he was going to bring about through his death and resurrection. It is not a new morality code, it is not the essence of the good news. It was the message that God was in the process of revealing the new creation in the one who came to destroy the old.
Okay, so rather than coming up with a new system by which to help explain some of Jesus’ legalistic sounding words (and the other guys as well), this is more about giving his words the same consideration we might give anyone we really want to communicate with.
That’s right. We might think it seems too nit-picky, too intellectual to dig into context rather than simply taking each statement on its own, but the truth is that if I truly respect the person who is speaking or writing, I’m going to listen to more than just the little bits and pieces I find valuable. We might think we’re respecting Jesus by hanging onto some fragments we extracted from the Sermon on the Mount, but that’s exactly what the religious leaders did when they jumped on the Jesus-bandwagon in the years following the resurrection.
So, to sum up your points so far, you first mentioned something as simple as taking a person’s reaction into account.
Do any of you remember the movie My Cousin Vinny? Yeah, the kid got into a lot of trouble because he had no idea that his reaction was coming across as a murder confession. Because he was in shock at not being arrested for shop-lifting but rather for murder, he could only repeat the cop’s accusation in monotone: I shot the clerk. But what he was meaning was, Are you kidding me?! If the Alabama cop had only understood the subtle inflections of a New-Yorker, there would have been no misunderstanding. So yeah, let’s give Jesus equal consideration.
Then you went on to add that considering what John the baptist said about Jesus’ ministry gives some insight as well.
Here, too, is a very simple premise. If we’re watching a variety show and the announcer introduces a comedian then we’re going to be listening to anything the guy says with the expectation that he’s meaning it to be funny. When John announced Jesus as the promised one who would sift Israel like a farmer sifting through the wheat with a pitchfork in order to remove the unwanted waste, the people knew that a lot of religious garbage was going to be revealed. If we’re not prepared to view his words in that light, we’re going to misunderstand most of what he meant when he confronted the religious people and their leaders.
And then, we’re also considering what Jesus was preaching, which was summed up in the statement: From that time Jesus began to preach and say, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
Exactly. I know many are thrown off by the word repent, but in its simplest form it refers to a change, a change of heart or a change of mind. Basically, it agrees with John’s statement about how Jesus was going to clear the threshing floor. Jesus came at them with the full intention of bringing in something so totally unlike anything they heard up to that point that it necessitated a totally new perspective … that is, a repentance, a change of perspective (which includes both heart and mind).
So, where to from here?
How about considering Jesus’ own statement as to his relationship to the Law (that is, how he would affect it):
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. “Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:17-20 (NASB)
Right from the beginning, Jesus made it clear that he did not come to abolish the Law or the Prophets … but to fulfill. Now, I realize this flies in the face of what some grace teachers might say, and at one time I imagined that the only way to be free of the Law would be to get rid of it. However, don’t miss the truth that our not being under the Law has not been accomplished by the Law having been abolished but rather by our dying to it through Christ. You see, the Law is not a bad thing, it is as Paul said, Holy and righteous and good … but it is totally ineffective in bringing about its stated purpose of love toward God and love toward one another. In fact, this inability of natural man regarding that which is holy, righteous, and good was embedded in the same Scriptures men used to promote their whole self-righteous systems of belief.
“Behold, days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD. “But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the LORD, “I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the LORD, “for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more.” Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)
The religious leaders knew that a new covenant was supposed to be coming, but its essence was totally foreign to them. Everything they understood and taught was built upon sin and transgressions, and especially upon their own authority as God’s representatives within such a system. Just as it is today, people speculate as to how good life could be if our all problems could be eradicated. But we’re faced with the exact same proposition the religious leaders in Israel also faced, which is the ultimatum that everything we hold dear would also have to be eradicated … including our own selves. Yeah, we can all sound high and mighty when we’re on our soapboxes about our views of what’s wrong with the world, but the reality is that unbeknownst to ourselves, we ultimately judged ourselves along with everyone else.
By the way, Jesus didn’t speak of the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees as if it represented some high or difficult level of achievement according to the Law, for they were not even living according to the Law. Oh no. Their righteousness was built upon their system of loopholes and appearances. They saw themselves as having reaching some high pinnacle, but Jesus made it clear that while they may have appeared clean on the outside, they were rotten on the inside. In everything Jesus presented to the people, he was tearing down the facade … the illusion of righteousness and goodness.
If you’re familiar with the Biblical passages that are referred to as the Sermon on the Mount, you know how often Jesus quoted an OT Law and then added “but I say to you…” How many of us have assumed that Jesus was teaching his new message with those words … that he was presenting his set of Christian principles by which we should live, by which we might attain salvation?