Released from the Law (Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 7)

7:1 “Or do you not know, brothers —for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? 2 For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage.  3 Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.

4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code. “

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles

This is the way of deliverance appointed by Our Redeemer through the salvation He has provided in His Beloved Son, JESUS!

True liberty is found only in Christ. This deliverance from the power and condemnation of sin, is what Christ was sent into the world that first Christmas to accomplish. This is the heart of the New Testament faith and the center of Saint Paul’s preaching and teaching. (see “Imitating the Incarnation” by Benjamin Warfield)

A Christmas gift: the best interpretation I have found on what I believe is the heart of Saint Paul’s life of faith & teaching. “The Apostles’ Doctrine of The Atonement” by George Smeaton (1870). (commenting on Romans chapter 6, pages 161-167)

Older posts on “The Abolition of Death” (2009) and “Understanding Saint Paul” (2008)

20th Century Prophet that captures the theme of Death in his Biblical ethics: William Stringfellow

JOHN BUNYAN’S “Pilgrim’s Progress”.

An early classic in the English language that reflects the Biblical narrative of ruin and redemption is still relevent to today’s “city of destruction”! Watch first 7 minute segment.

Related Post- Discovering the Mystery

Great read 4 Thanksgiving: http://bit.ly/vgwIpq               “Pilgrims giving thanks”!

The proof that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ: the abiding presence of the Holy Spirit on earth in Christ’s Body, the Church.

The Day of Pentecost

Test the Spirits- I John 4

4:1 Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. 2 By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, 3 and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. (ESV Bible)

According to the Biblical narrative, Pentecost literally represents the “crowning act” of the Incarnation on planet earth. The presence of God’s Holy Spirit in the new temple on earth is the only proof that we need that Jesus is who he said he was and did what God testified in Scripture that he did. We do well to forget about all other hopes for ever proving the Gospel story to the world’s satisfaction.

Rather as another celebration of the Day of Pentecost arrives, we should concentrate on what Jesus and his first disciples tell us about the inseparable connection of the Spirit’s coming to the story. The better we know the story-line in Scripture, the better we will understand the connection and the role of the Spirit in certifying Jesus as the exalted and enthroned Christ. Read for example God’s decree in Psalm 2:

“I have set my King on my Holy hill of Zion!

Read the Apostle Peter’s application of Psalm 2 to explain the coming of the Spirit in the very first sermon following the Ascension of Christ. (Acts 2: 32-36)

There are simply too many scriptures to list in one post that all come together in the story at this momentous historical event. Read the Apostle John’s record of the words of Jesus speaking of this event and what it would mean for his disciples in his ‘Upper Room Discourse’ on the night in which he was betrayed. (Gospel of John, 16:1 – 16).

Beginning with those first disciples, the incredible courage that enabled them to confront the very leaders that rejected Jesus and had him crucified was visible proof for all to see that the Spirit was in them and His power was their strength. This is seen throughout the Book of Acts, the epistles of Paul, and the Jewish epistles.

The ball, as they say, is in our court now. The burden of examining carefully the proof is on you and me. We are charged with “testing the spirits” in the visible community of the followers of Christ. This has always been necessary beginning with the first generation of Christians for the spirit of the world, which is the spirit of Anti-Christ, is present along side of the Holy Spirit.

So, how do we test the spirits? By observing the life of the churches! Beginning with the work the Spirit has come to do, reproduce the righteousness of Christ in His people; examine the very thing Christ himself gave us as the first thing to look for: His love for oneanother. (Read I John 3- 4) 

Little children, let no man deceive you.

Using the Lenten season profitably

The Gift of all gifts

Death in Adam, Life in Christ

Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned— for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come…for if by the one man’s offence many died, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ…the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,  so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord…

(abbreviated from Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 5. ESV Bible)

No one understands at once all that is included in God’s Gift to Adam’s sinful race. In fact, I plan to still be unwrapping the gift of Jesus Christ until the day my life on earth ends. The Lenten season for me has become an excellent time of extended meditation on this gift and the far reaching themes it touches- from the beginning in Adam into the eternal age that is even now breaking in-the new heavens and the new earth.

For Lent, I’ll be thinking about the reality of sin and it’s destruction here on earth. I have plenty to mourn about, starting with my own participation in the rebellion & conspiracy against the Creator. This mourning will only end at the crucifixion of the Holy One of God, Jesus Christ the Righteous son of God.

Did you happen to notice in this critical text, that the Apostle Paul calls the free gift from God to sinners, “the gift of righteousness“? Going back and reading the context of these verses, beginning at Chapter 5, and reading through Chapter 8, I think I will have a deeper unwrapping of the gift. Peace w/ God, access to the presence of the Holy God, and a rejoicing in the hope of the glory of God! (and this will also put suffering in perspective-see chapter 8, verses 18-39).

Slowly unwrapping this “unspeakable gift” has its own reward; through Christ it will strengthen me and enable me to “reign in life” in the midst of this wicked generation together with those “who love God and are called according to His purpose”, and to be “more than conquerors through Him who loved us”.

Speaking of righteousness, see my related post on Psalms 1,2

The Old  Zion Red Church- Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania

On our drive to New York city last week for Navy Fleet week, we finally took a short side trip that we’ve wanted to do for a long time. We went by to see where my first generation maternal ancestor lived and began his family after arriving on board the ship at Philadelphia. The record of his wedding as well as the births of his first three children were recorded in the ministerial records of this church in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania, before the Revolutionary War.

The Red Church is in the Blue Mountains and has had four buildings. The first one in the early 1700’s, the present one which was built in 1887. Over the door is a marker identifying it as Evangelical Lutheran and Reformed. Lorentz Jung only lived here seven or eight years after his marriage before heading south into Virginia where he changed his name to Lawrence Young.

I couldn’t help but get a little emotional as I poured out a grateful heart for such a rich spiritual heritage from the first generation in America. But I realize that such a spirtual pedigree does not guarantee us an inheritance apart from a living faith in the Christ of the Scriptures. Like Esau of old, we can squander our inheritance, exchange it for a bowl of fleshly pottage.

Grandparents Henry and Jesse Young (1906)

I was reminded again in New York city in reference to the Marble Collegiate Church of the Dutch Reformed tradition and Trinity Episcopal Church, both which predate the American Revolution, that the witness of the Gospel of Christ has been present in every generation of Americans. It has been the “open secret” that was either ignored or embraced as God’s testimony of redeeming love.

We came home from New York city impressed with the extent that the city embraced the men and women of the armed services during Fleet week. And we came home with a renewed testimony that the churches of the new century continuing to faithfully live out the faith of our Fathers. Our only question is to what degree are multitudes in America squandering their spiritual inheritance?

See my post last year on “A Night to Remember” .

The difference between “ what would Jesus do” and “what IS Jesus doing”! You may be familiar with the popular fad that was revived in recent years that sought guidance for Christians in daily decisions by answering with WWJD. Like so many fads in Christianity, I always felt that though the intent was a sincere attempt to influence life’s decisions by reference to the historical Jesus, this version of what it means to be a disciple of Christ completely missed the heart of the Biblical Gospel.

In the last few days, I have been reading a book which confronts this misunderstanding in the American churches with a fresh exposition of the doctrine of the Ascension of Jesus. The book which was published in 2004 by Gerrit Scott Dawson, is entitled –

Jesus Ascended: the meaning of Christ’s Continuing Incarnation“.

I read a lot and have considered myself a full-time student for over 50 years. It has been a long time since I have been as profoundly moved as I have in reading this book about the present life of Jesus of Nazareth now in His heavenly session as our King-Priest. The fact that I have been celebrating the Festival of the Ascension for over a week now was the preparation needed to be able to profit so much from this author and the mature understanding he has of this neglected part of the Biblical narrative. I would love to recommend this book to everyone but I won’t because of one principle that is a priority here at E4Unity and that is the recognition that each individual is unique and in no way would the many be able to profit in the same way I have from reading any book. In the area of what is called “spiritual formation” that means that real progress is made only when we are able to see these things for ourself, through the “eyes of faith”, and that means we must be patiently brought in life’s experiences to desiring such things as this present world can never give or satisfy our inner spirit with.

I want to leave you with some quotes from Dawson. He is an excellent writer and this book is very “reader friendly” in the sense that he tells you what his topic is, tells you how he is going to approach it, and even gives you upfront a short direction on “how to use this book”. I will tell you that he is a Presbyterian pastor and so he is thoroughly pastoral- that is he concerns himself in the end with the purpose of this doctrine in living here on planet earth, the life of Christ in heaven transmitted to us by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live, not in the flesh, but by faith in God’s abundant provision in His beloved Son Jesus.

He has included some of the rich comments from past teachers in the churches, both from the Patristic fathers as well as men like John Calvin,  Andrew Murray, and Lesslie Newbigin. He has a robust exposition of what the the Ascension of Christ has meant to the Church in the past as well as how it can be instrumental in reviving us in the challenge we are now facing in our own generation.

“We have such difficulty conceiving how, or even believing that, the body of Jesus went to heaven that we may want the doctrine to remain in obscurity” (p.3)

“In no way, then, did the ascension signal simply a return to business as usual between God and humanity. Rather, the ascension of Christ is a vital hinge on which turns the work of the Mediator, the incarnate Son, our Redeemer in all his offices.” (p.8)

“My premise is that the church- our local church and the churches of the west-needs to recover the meta-narrative of the gospel as a counter-story, indeed a better story to the one the world tells. . .one of those episodes, the ascension, has been sorely neglected in the church’s telling of the story. The silence. . .cuts us off from the present work of Christ in heaven and from the conclusion of the story. . .recovering a proper and robust doctrine of the ascension can reconnect us to a sense of our true citizenship in heaven and the implications of that identity for life in the world.”(p.25)

Dawson’s book is divided into three parts, and we haven’t even reached the second one yet. But I don’t want to impose on you so I will close for now with one more, this time, a quote from Andrew Murray. Murray has also been one of my favorite devotional writers for a long time. Dawson may be the first Presbyterian writer that I can think of among contemporary ones that utilizes the treasures in Murray so often and so freely. He says here, that ” the church can reclaim the fullness of its story, with spectacular results.” And then quotes Murray-

” Faith has in its foundation four great cornerstones on which the building rests- the Divinity of Christ, The Incarnation, the Atonement on the Cross, the Ascension to the Throne. The last is the most wonderful, the crown of all the rest, the perfect revelation of what God has made Christ (to be)for us. And so in the Christian life it is the most important, the glorious fruit of all that goes before.” (p.26)

In part two, one of the highlights for me was his discussion of Calvin’s interpretation of the Lord’s Supper as one of the means of grace directly connected with the ascension. We will have a great deal to come back to on another occasion. For now, we must get ready to celebrate once again another Festival: The Day of Pentecost.

The link to the book is the on-line edition where you can read most of it at Google.books.

Celebrating today with Sir Beethoven’s help.

The Ascension of Christ is an integral part of the Biblical story of the Incarnation; it’s public knowledge or what is referred to on this blog as “the open secret”. I am in the process of reading two books that I want to post about before the Day of Pentecost. One was written 100 years ago, the other in 2004, but both have the same objective: to encourage the revival of the Festival of the Ascension in the churches where it has been neglected or is unknown. They both are rich in the meaning the Biblical writers attach to the historical event and what it means in the spiritual life of the Christian Church, tracing it through church history. The festival indeed continues!

The Saints Gallery @E4Unity does not sub-divide by heritage: you have to look elsewhere for that.

However, since I mentioned this week a celebration of 400 years of the Baptist heritage, I thought I might add a few names of Baptists here in America that would be in any Saints gallery: men like George W. Truett, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Martin Luther King. Each one a Baptist minister, each one made tremendous contributions to the Church of Christ as well as to America, but very different in their gifts and perspectives involving their Christian faith and how it was manifested in their individual and professional lives.

baptist

Walter Rauschenbusch – A German-Baptist that worked among the working poor in the early 189o’s and developed what became known as the “social gospel”. But it would be a great mistake to brand his ministry by that phrase without trying to understand the man himself and his environment, which is suddenly not so strange to our own situation.

Rauschenbusch sought to combine his old evangelical passion (which he never abandoned) with his new social awareness. He adopted critical approaches to the Bible and identified himself with liberal theologians like Albrecht Ritschl and Adolf Harnack. The kingdom of God became the theme by which he pulled together his views on religion and science, piety and social action, Christianity and culture. Did he get it right? He certainly tried.

George W. Truett – Known as a great Preacher and educator, Dr.Truett was pastor of First Baptist Church, Dallas,Texas, for 47 years (until his death in 1944). His influence and contribution to the city of Dallas and the Southern Baptist Convention is astounding. But he was also a strong advocate in this country for religious liberty and his spirit in the above link-a 1920 address on the steps of our nation’s Capitol building, is very different than the recent voices of the “religious right”.

What is the explanation of this consistent and notably praiseworthy record of our plain Baptist people in the realm of religious liberty? The answer is at hand. It is not because Baptists are inherently better than their neighbors — we would make no such arrogant claim. Happy are our Baptist people to live side by side with their neighbors of other Christian communions, and to have glorious Christian fellowship with such neighbors, and to honor such servants of God for their inspiring lives and their noble deeds. From our deepest hearts we pray: “Grace be with all them that love our Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity.” The spiritual union of all true believers in Christ is now and ever will be a blessed reality, and such union is deeper and higher and more enduring than any and all forms and rituals and organizations.

Martin Luther King – I can only add here my personal appreciation for this man and what he gave his life for; a vision that went far beyond his own race or time. When you are able to appreciate the Black church heritage and especially their own preaching tradition, then you have no hesitation to tag him as one the outstanding preachers in our generation. God gave him an incredible mind and speech pattern that was all his own. Take a few minutes to listen to his speech against the Viet Nam War at the link above. You may not agree with his politics but surely you will agree  that he has left a large legacy, especially in the principles of non-violence for all religious people.

So these and many other men and women in our history were of the Baptist heritage and some use to speak of that as a “large tent” with room for greatly diverse convictions. Each one testified to Christ from their own perspective. I have not tried to hide the weaknesses or the warts of any of these men-that is not for me to do. The Baptists are making giganic contributions in almost every field; education (there are more Baptist Colleges and Universities in America than any other faith), healthcare (hospitals and clinics and a host of human service centers), and orphanages, and especially in advancing world-wide the gospel of the Kingdom.

These are just a few reasons to celebrate what God has been able to do through the people called the Baptists these last 400 years. To God be the glory great things He has done. If only we had been more obedient we could have greatly multiplied these efforts.

Readings from Saint Paul’s Writings

After one week of  meditating on chapters from Saint Paul’s epistles, I am having a very profitable Lenten observance. I have put a live link on the chapter to be read each day and if you move your mouse over the link you will see it takes you to that chapter over at the ESVersion of Holy Scripture. If you click on it you can read the chapter on-line or click on the listen option and it will be read for you. I find listening to God’s Word read very helpful.

I found at least one local church that has incorporated the observance of the “Year of Saint Paul” into their church calendar, Saint Paul Episcopal Church. I really like their introduction:

“It is impossible to overstate the effect and impact of Saint Paul the Apostle on the early Christian Church. His bold proclamation of the Gospel, his challenge to paul-called established thought, and his unwavering commitment to Jesus Christ changed the early Church and enabled it to spread to every part of the known world.

Our world today needs more Christians to act like Saint Paul. Our world, so filled with hatred, prejudice, violence, injustice, needs the Gospel of Jesus Christ. If we don’t become a Saint Paul for our world – who will?

Our Year of Saint Paul will celebrate Saint Paul the man – his power; his accomplishments; his writings; his mission; and his ministry. We will stand ‘boldy before the Throne of God’ and take pride that our parish family is named in honor of this great Saint of an undivided church.”

Week Two:

Wednesday – I Thess. 4  Taught by God

Thursday – I Thess. 5  Preserved blameless

Friday – Rom 2  The Coming Judgment of God

Saturday – II Thess 2   Mystery of Lawlessness

Sunday – I Tim 4  Why Godliness matters

Monday –  Titus 2  Adorning the Gospel

Tuesday – I Tim 6  Lay hold of eternal life                                         

A Perfect Lead-In to what Lent is all about  (watch the videogreenspan Alan Greenspan, Chairman of the powerful Federal Reserve Board 1987-2006, was interviewed lately about the housing/banking debacle. After patiently explaining all the complex factors that were involved he ended the interview (or at least the part that was shown) by summarizing it all by saying in essence it couldn’t be avoided because of  “a basic flaw in human nature“!

I believe that the Apostle Paul would say that’s exactly what we should be focused on in our Lenten meditations. And I also believe that is the area, this basic flaw in human nature, where the Apostle makes his greatest contribution to the christian foundations. So here is the schedule I’ve devised for reading a chapter a day from his writings as I meditate with him on the meaning behind Lent.

First Week

Wednesday- Romans 1       – The Bad News in the Gospel

Thursday- I Corinthians 1    – The Gospel of the Cross

Friday- Romans 7          – The Human Predicament

Saturday- Galatians 3      – God’s way of Redemption

Sunday- Colossians 2     – Putting away the Body of Death

Monday- Ephesians 2   –  God’s New Man

Tuesday- Galatians 4    – Children of God’s Promise

Just a careful reading of these chapters with an open mind and a  reverent spirit will put us in a position to understand what Saint Paul is trying to tell us about the relationship between the basic flaw in human nature and what happened at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, according to God’s purpose,” which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.”