Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
In his defense of the non-adherence to the Law, Paul cites,
Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them (Romans 2:14-15).
I think it is easy not to fully understand this as we read through our Bibles (at least I didn’t get it). At first, I assumed that through Christ we’d learn right from wrong, and I suppose that “The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:31) covers that. But let’s be honest; many of the Ten Commandments are practiced by non-Christians too. Honor your parents (Exodus 20:12)? Some religions are actually based around that idea. “You shall not murder” (Exodus 20:13)? Duh, I think even the atheist ten commandments included that one. “You shall not commit adultery” (Exodus 20:14)? Nobody likes a cheater (unless of course that’s your fetish). “You shall not steal” (Exodus 20:15)? Sure, most folk agree that stealing is wrong. Don’t give false testimony (Exodus 20:16)? If you do that in court, you could go to jail. Heck, even most people take a weekend rest, which is what we’re commanded to do on the Sabbath:
Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates (Exodus 20:9-10).
Even this law is respected by most people and fulfilled in their lives because that’s the way society has set things up. If all of these are already covered before we come to Christ, then Paul must have meant something more.
During a time of conflict, I had been advised to give a fake smile to someone I was having trouble with. The thing is though; my smile was never fake the whole time. Honestly, a fake smile is more work; because quite honestly, I have trouble staying angry very long. Because of this I don’t usually worry about Paul’s command, “’In your anger do not sin’: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold” (Ephesians 4:26-27). For me it’s more work to be angry than to just forgive and move on. When I considered this, it clicked. John says, “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9). This is a really strong thing to say, as it calls into question one’s salvation. 1 John has many with verses like this as it is largely filled with ways to differentiate believers from non-believers. He even notes, “I am writing these things to you about those who are trying to lead you astray” (1 John 2:25). So the book of 1 John is less a list of commands for Christians, but a series of qualifications to help you test the legitimacy of other’s claiming to be Christians in order to protect you from false brothers and sisters. Therefore, whether or not somebody hates others is one of many qualities that show the difference between the saved and unsaved. This means that as you continue in your walk of faith, it should become harder to hate and easier to forgive and love- not because your required to love, but because something is changing inside you. At the same time, as you study your Bible, you might read something like,
Do not steal.
Do not lie.
Do not deceive one another (Leviticus 19:11).
Therefore, wanting to do good, you set yourself not to lie- only to find that God manipulates your circumstances to the point where lying would be unnecessary. Or when you see someone in need, your immediate reaction is to help that person.
So what is going on? All of these sorts of changes are the Holy Spirit and God working together through your life to clean things up. Paul acknowledges, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Galatians 5:22-23). This isn’t the fruit of a believer; it is the fruit of the Holy Spirit within the person, acting entirely independently of said person. That is to say: you’re not doing good, God is doing good and you just happen to be there. So we find that when Jesus said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” Jesus is speaking not just from a prophetic standpoint, but also from a practical one; as through Christ the Law is fulfilled in your life. This matches up with Jesus telling us in Matthew 11:28, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” because the Holy Spirit and Jesus work in the life of those who believe so that they no longer need to struggle so hard against sin because sin becomes increasingly inconvenient for the believer. In this new life in Christ sin actually requires effort; you have to try to sin in order to do so.
But you may argue, “I’m not even close to perfect and I still sin a lot.” Of course you still sin, even Paul wasn’t perfect. It was through the struggles in his own life that Paul was able to write, “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want” (Galatians 5:17). Even how, the Law is being imprinted onto you as you grow in your faith and relationship to God because, “Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). When we come to Christ to cleanse our souls, he (along with the Holy Spirit and the Father) changes our lives inside and out so that through him the Law is fulfilled (with grace filling in the gaps). So then, the Law is no longer our enemy but is a preview of what is to come in your life (both here and in heaven). You may think, “Oh man, I covet everything I see.” No worries, because the Lord will hammer that out by changing your interests, your heart, and what you see because the Law says, “You shall not covet your neighbors’ house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his manservant or maidservant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor” (Exodus 20:17). Thus, when Jesus Christ is involved you do not work for the Law, the Law works in you.
And so through Christ, a great conflict is resolved. Paul writes of this conflict between the flesh and the Word,
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.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead (Romans 7:7-8).
If the Law is an aid for sin to be evoked in me, how can it be holy? Paul continues, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin” (Romans 7:14). The Law (being the Word of God) is holy, but in my flesh I am full of awful sins. However, the Law then stands against me constantly, doesn’t it? For Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything I accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). How can I live? In my body I am sinful yet the Word commands righteousness. Through Christ this conflict is put to rest “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14). It is this grace that not only brings us eternal forgiveness, but also starts God and the Holy Spirit working to write the Law into our lives.
This is kind of difficult topic (at least it was for me to wrap my head around) and I’m probably rambling. So consider it like this: The grace of God is like a good antivirus program on your computer. Although you can run a virus scan (actively seeking God through his Word, praying, asking for forgiveness, avoiding sin), when you’re not doing those things the passive protection is constantly at work protecting you (cutting off sinful ways both in our minds and in our surroundings). This is a concept not even broached by other religions as far as I know; as they often depend on you bettering yourself (and often earning your own salvation). That’s what sets Jesus and his followers off from the rest of the world; the focus isn’t on you, it’s on God and what he can do with you, through you, and around you. So open up your heart (if you haven’t already) and accept the gift of God’s love through his son, Jesus Christ, to forgive you and to change your life inside and out!
Rock on God!