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THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART TWENTY-FIVE

SERMON DELIVERED ON 02-02-19

       Today I will continue from were we left off last time.  As stated previously, I am expanding considerably on the ramifications of the decision that was made at the Jerusalem conference as covered in Acts 15.  The decision made at that conference to not require of the Gentiles they be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses had tremendous repercussions as to the theological development of the Church. Much of what Paul writes about in his various letters relates to the decision made at the Jerusalem conference.  

       Last time we discussed how the worship and ceremonial regulations of the Mosaic Law were largely designed to separate Israel and Gentiles. We saw Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians and Colossians; identify some of these separatist regulations as the keeping of holydays, new moons, and the Sabbath.  We saw how Paul clearly taught how these observances were a shadow of things to come and that these shadows had been fulfilled in Christ and therefore there was no need to any longer keep the shadows.

        These separatist regulations were abolished with the establishment of the New Covenant. The New Covenant opened up a faith based relationship with God and abolished the separatist, ritualistic and ceremonial protocols that had previously identified such relationship.  In speaking of the Old Covenant law, Paul says this to the Galatians:

        Galatians 3:25-29:  Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law. You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise.

        When Paul speaks of no longer being under the supervision of the law, what law is he talking about?  Surely he is not implying moral law is no longer in operation. Note what Paul says in verse 19 of this same chapter.

        Galatians 3:19: What, then, was the purpose of the law? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come.

        What law that was added is Paul talking about?  He says this law was added because of transgressions.  Transgressions of what?  It is evident Paul is talking about the transgression of moral law.  Israelites, as was true of all mankind, were sinning by failing to practice the law of love.  God separated them from the rest of mankind and added to the moral law a system of regulations that if kept would constantly focus them on righteous moral behavior.  Paul makes it clear that such additions were only until the promised seed had come. What were these additions?  These additions were the religious and ceremonial regulations designed to keep Israel in a relationship with God and separate from other nations who were transgressing moral law.

       Once Christ came, the need for these additions ended. Did the need to obey moral law end as well?  Obviously not.  The moral law, which is seen in both the Old and the New Testament as the Law of love, is foundational to a right relationship with God. However, a major change had taken place as a result of the Christ event.  Under the Old Covenant, law keeping was the pathway to having a righteous relationship with God.  With the advent of the New Covenant, Paul shows that law keeping, whether it is ritual, ceremonial or moral, is not what produces a righteous relationship with God.  It is not what we do but what Christ did that produces such a relationship with God. Paul made this very clear in his letter to the Roman church:

       Romans 3:20-24: Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

        In this passage, the word “the” does not precede the word law in the Greek except where Paul speaks of "the Law and the Prophets" where he apparently is referencing the Mosaic Law.  Paul appears to be simply saying that by deeds of law no man is justified. This includes all law including moral lawThat moral law is included is demonstrated by what Paul wrote in Romans 7. Here Paul shows how moral law identifies sin by referencing some of the moral law contained in the Ten Commandments.

       Romans 7:7: What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet."

      Paul told these Roman Christians that while the law identifies what sin is, the keeping of law does not justify us before God.  He shows, through the use of a metaphor, that through Christ we have died to the law and are released from its authority over us.  

       Romans 7:1-2-4: Do you not know, brothers--for I am speaking to men who know the law--that the law has authority over a man only as long as he lives?   For example, by law a married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage. So then, if she marries another man while her husband is still alive, she is called an adulteress. But if her husband dies, she is released from that law and is not an adulteress, even though she marries another man. So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God.

       What Paul appears to be saying is that just like the marriage bond is broken when one of the spouses dies, so also was being bound to the Mosaic Law broken by the death of Christ. This enabled Israel to now become involved in a relationship with God based not on being justified by law keeping but by the sacrifice of Christ.  

        Why then does Paul say to these same Roman Christians “For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified” (Romans 2:13).  Is Paul talking out of two sides of his month? 

       He certainly can't be saying that man is justified by keeping law as he has already said that is not the case in Romans 3:20 and alludes to the same in Romans 7.  What Paul appears to be saying is not that moral behavior is what justifies man before God but that those who behave in a moral way will be justified.  They will have their sins forgiven and be reconciled to God.  God expects us to live by the law of love which is defined by the moral code.  There is an expectation of repentance which is the turning away from behaviors contrary to the law of love to behaviors in harmony with the law of love.

       God requires us to love each other and fulfill the moral law.  By loving each other we also love God because we are responsive to His will.  We love God by respecting His sovereignty.  Man has always had difficulty keeping moral law and respecting God’s sovereignty.  Man was so remiss in moral behavior that God decided to destroy everyone except Noah and his family. The history of the world is a history of broken moral law.  God choose Israel to be a light to the rest of the human race.  He made a covenant with them that included moral law which had been extant since creation.  He included a complete package of civil and religious regulations that if kept would have made Israel the darlings of the world.  Israel failed miserably and God terminated the covenant. 

        Through Christ, God established a New Covenant that rescues man from the consequences of sin.  This covenant was facilitated through the death and resurrection of Jesus.  Acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice reconciles one to God and begins the process of having God’s law established in ones heart enabling love to be the overriding dynamic in all relationships. 

        The laws being written in our hearts are those same moral laws governing relationships that have been extant since creation.  All of life is about relationship.  Our relationship with God is governed by a total respect for God’s sovereignty.  Our relationship with each other is governed by loving our neighbor as ourselves, which Paul clearly says fulfills the law.  James said the same thing:

        James 2:8: If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, "Love your neighbor as yourself," you are doing right. 

        James 1:22-25: Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man, who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it--he will be blessed in what he does.

        James refers to loving our neighbor as ourselves as the “royal law found in the Scripture.”  In the last sermon in this series we saw how in Romans 13 Paul identifies several of the moral tenants of the Ten Commandments as being fulfilled in the one rule that says, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  The royal law is thus identified as the law that governs human conduct. This law is and always has been applicable to all of humanity.  This law was included in the Old Covenant.  This law is the foundation of the New Covenant.  This law of love is our mirror.  It provides guidelines for our behavior.  It provides parameters and boundaries within which we are to live.  James calls it the “perfect law that gives freedom.” 

        Apostle Paul also writes about freedom.  Paul says that in Christ, we are free from a yoke of slavery which he defines as being circumcised and therefore under obligation to keep the whole law.

        Galatians 5:1-3:  It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all.  Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.

        The context clearly shows it is the Law of Moses that is at issue here.  Paul was dealing with the problem of Jews trying to convince Gentile converts to Christ that they must be circumcised and keep the Law of Moses in order to appear righteous before God.  Paul explains it is through faith in Christ that righteousness is obtained and not by observing the Mosaic Law. 

        Galatians 5:4-6:  You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. But by faith we eagerly await through the Spirit the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.      

       Paul’s letter to the Galatians clearly shows how exasperated he was with these Gentile coverts for yielding to the pressure of the Judaizers in their attempts to have the Gentile Christians embrace the Mosaic regulations. 

       In Galatians 4:3-5, Paul writes, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.”  Here we see Paul associating what he calls basic principles of the world with being redeemed from being under law. Paul then goes on to identify what these basic principles are. What is it Paul is talking about when he writes about being in slavery under the basic principles of the world?

       Galatians 4:3-5: So also, when we were children, we were in slavery under the basic principles of the world. But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under law, to redeem those under law, that we might receive the full rights of sons.

       Galatians 4:9-11: But now that you know God--or rather are known by God--how is it that you are turning back to those weak and miserable principles? Do you wish to be enslaved by them all over again? You are observing special days and months and seasons and years! I fear for you, that somehow I have wasted my efforts on you.

What law is Paul addressing here? 

       In Galatians 4:9-11, Paul asks them why they are turning back to observing days, months and seasons which he associates with weak and miserable principles. He asks them why they wish to be enslaved by them all over again. As we saw in Galatians 5:1-3, Paul exhorts them not to turn back to a of yoke slavery which he associates with circumcision and keeping the whole law.  Again it is apparent the Law of Moses is in view here.

       Paul is strongly admonishing these Galatians not to turn back to what had been eliminated by the Christ event. The entire context of Paul’s letter to the Galatian Christians pertains to his concerns about these Gentile converts being pressured into keeping Mosaic regulations that no longer were necessary.  

       Some have argued that Paul could not have been talking about Mosaic regulations when he speaks of returning to basic principles of the world because these Gentile Galatians would not have been keeping Mosaic regulations in the first place. It is asked how they could return to something they never did.  Those who make this argument believe Paul is talking about returning to various pagan practices when speaking of basic principles of the world.

       However, it must be understood that these Gentiles Christians were being pressured by the Jews to adhere to the Mosaic regulations. Paul is simply asking them why they would want to return to doing something that has been done away.  He is using "return" in a rhetorical sense.  That Paul is speaking about the Law of Moses and not pagan practices is confirmed by verses 21-31.

       Galatians 4:21-31: Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says?  For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. His son by the slave woman was born in the ordinary way; but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a promise.  These things may be taken figuratively, for the women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. For it is written: "Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labor pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband." Now you, brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. At that time the son born in the ordinary way persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. But what does the Scripture say? "Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman's son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman's son." Therefore, brothers, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.

       Paul shows how being under the Old Covenant meant being under slavery and how the New Covenant brings release from that slavery.  The entire context of Galatians 4 and 5 is the Old Covenant versus the New Covenant and being in slavery under the requirements of the Mosaic Law and being freed from such slavery because of the Christ event. 

       Paul tells the Galatians it is only through faith in Christ and not by works of the Mosaic Law that righteousness is attained.  Paul is telling the Galatians that keeping the Mosaic Law will not justify them.  Only faith in Christ can justify us before God.  Paul makes it clear, however, that faith in Christ equates with having love for one another.  This love is expressed by how we behave toward one another.  Faith in Christ is defined as the expression of love.  As already seen, love is defined as behaving according to the moral law. 

        In Galatians 5:11, Paul writes; “Brothers, if I am still preaching circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been abolished.”  Paul was being persecuted because he was preaching that circumcision was no longer necessary. In preaching that circumcision was no longer necessary, Paul was saying that adherence to the Mosaic Law was no longer necessary.  

        The Jews, including many Jewish converts to Christianity and probably Gentile proselytes to Judaism, continued to believe adherence to the Mosaic regulations was necessary to facilitate a righteous standing before God.  Paul was being persecuted because by preaching against circumcision he was preaching against the need to observe the Mosaic regulations. 

       And yet as strong as Paul is in his teaching that keeping the Old Covenant law is not the pathway to a righteous standing before God, he is equally as strong in teaching that we must keep the moral law.

        Galatians 5:13-14: You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.  The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself.

        What is Paul saying we are free from?  The context of Galatians 5 is about freedom from attempting to establish our own righteousness by observing the Old Covenant regulations.  The moral law was part of those regulations.  Yet the moral law is clearly seen as continuing to be in force, not as a vehicle for being justified but as an expression of our faith in Christ.  The Old Covenant of works as the pathway to a righteous standing before God was being abolished and replaced by the New Covenant where righteousness is established by placing faith in Christ and having the law written in our hearts. What law is written in our hearts?  In Romans 8 Paul defines the law written in our hearts as the law of the Spirit. 

       Romans 8:1-4: 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.

       In verse 16 of Galatians 5, Paul says; “live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature.”  Paul then lists some of the desires of the sinful nature:

        Galatians 5:19-21:  The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.

       You should notice that Paul makes no mention of failing to keep the Sabbath, holy days, new moons, dietary regulations tithing or any other such religious practices as acts of the sinful nature.  As is true throughout the NT, it is a failure to live by the Law of Love that is identified as acts of the sinful nature.

        Paul taught that if we live by the Spirit which is the same as living by the law of love, we will not commit the acts of the sinful nature.  In Galatians 5:18 Paul writes; "if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law."  How can that be?  If we are expected to live by the law of love, are we not under that law?  What is Paul talking about?

        If we carefully study the writings of Paul we find that throughout his ministry he is dealing with one central issue.  By what mechanism do we become righteous before God?  Under the Old Covenant Israel sought to establish righteousness before God by behaving according to the requirements of the law that made up the Old Covenant. That law included the moral code established since creation and a great deal of additional added law, both civil and religious. This entire body of law was called the Law of Moses.  It was by keeping this law that the Israelites sought to maintain a righteous standing before God.  

       This approach failed miserably because of mans sinful nature. God facilitated a change to the system through the Christ event.  The sacrifice of Christ pays the penalty of our sin and his righteousness is applied to us enabling reconciliation with God.   Paul can rightly say that if we are led by the Spirit we are not under law because law has no claim over us.  Law only has a claim if we violate it.  By being in Christ, however, violation of law is covered by His sacrifice as long as we remain committed to Christ.  However, we must remember that being committed to Christ means being committed to the Law of Love.

PART TWENTY-SIX