Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Laying Down the Law - A New Creation
For in Christ Yahshua neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation.
In these words of the apostle Paul we come to the heart of what is truly important. Paul says that neither keeping the Law (circumcision), or not keeping the Law (uncircumcision), avails anything. That is to say, neither Law-keeping, or freedom from the Law, can bring any man to that perfect and mature state that the Father desires for His sons. Being under the Law will not bring you to conformity to Christ. Freedom from the Law will not either. Becoming a new creation will. Man must be born again.
One night a ruler of the Jews came to visit Yahshua. This man’s name was Nicodemus. He was well versed in the Law, being an instructor of all that Moses had written. For 1,500 years the Israelites had been under the tutelage of the Law. It served as their guardian and school-master. Yet, the Jews, like all men, had hard hearts. The main message of the Law had not been perceived, or received. The message of the Law is that man, apart from Christ, is spiritually dead. The natural man cannot please God. Man must receive a new heart and spirit. He must be born again.
When Christ met with Nicodemus that night, He went straight to the heart of what mattered most.
There was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Yahshua by night and said to Him, "Rabbi, we know that You are a teacher come from God; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him." Yahshua answered and said to him, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."
For many years, the abruptness of Christ’s answer has grabbed my attention. There is no chit chat. There is no response to the comments of Nicodemus. It is as if Christ begins an entirely new conversation, for He understands that Nicodemus is a blind leader of blind men. He will never find the answers he needs on his own. Christ must take Nicodemus by the hand and lead him to the truth.
Nicodemus said to Him, "How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born?" Yahshua answered, "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, 'You must be born again.' The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear the sound of it, but cannot tell where it comes from and where it goes. So is everyone who is born of the Spirit."
Nicodemus struggled to comprehend what the Messiah was declaring to him. 1,500 years of the Law’s instruction had not led God’s people to a knowledge of the truth. It was very difficult for this man, in one brief moment, to hear spiritual truth spoken and grasp it.
Nicodemus answered and said to Him, "How can these things be?" Yahshua answered and said to him, "Are you the teacher of Israel, and do not know these things? Most assuredly, I say to you, We speak what We know and testify what We have seen, and you do not receive Our witness. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
Nicodemus was no less intelligent than other men. His failure to comprehend the truth Christ presented to him was caused by his spiritual condition. Spiritually, Nicodemus was dead. Therefore, the words of Christ, which were spirit and life, sounded like foolishness to his ears.
I Corinthians 2:12-14
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God, which things we also speak, not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words. But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.
In these words, the apostle describes an important difference between men who have been born of the Spirit and those who have not. A spiritual man is able to receive the thoughts of God. What the Spirit speaks to a spiritual man is comprehensible. The same message is nonsense to one who has not been born again. Nicodemus’ problem was that he was a natural man.
Although the Law had served as Yahweh’s appointed school-master and instructor to the Jews for 1,500 years, its lessons were not learned. The reason is disclosed in the following Scripture.
For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin.
Over the course of fifteen centuries the Law had acted as tutor to the people of God. As mentioned previously, Torah means “instruction.” The Law was continually presenting its lessons. Some of the lessons, such as those contained in the feast days, were repeated every year. Other lessons, such as that contained in the shadow of the Sabbath, were repeated every week. Some lessons were given on a daily basis.
Despite the continual, repetitive presence of all this instruction, the people of God were not perceiving the lessons contained in the Law. They did not understood that the Passover celebrated annually was pointing them toward the Lamb of God who would be slain for the sins of the world. They did not perceive that Pentecost, which was celebrated fifty days later, was forecasting that day when the Spirit would be given to indwell man, setting the Instruction of God on man’s hearts. They did not comprehend the profound lesson contained in the weekly Sabbath; that Yahweh longed for men to cease from their own works in the same way that He rested from His. This rest was not to be one day a week, but an every day cessation from works of personal initiative that man might live instead to always do the will of the Father.
Tragically, many Christians continue to look at the Law as a body of ordinances that are to be understood in a strictly literal sense. They do not perceive the “spirit” present in these instructions. Like the Jews before them under the tutelage of the Law, they are “ever learning and never coming to a knowledge of the truth” (II Timothy 3:7). Until the spiritual substance of the Law is understood and applied in a person’s life, the saint will not make any progress toward maturity in Christ.
For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never... make perfect those who draw near.
Nicodemus had been focused upon the Law to a greater degree than most, for he was a teacher of the Law. Yet, he did not perceive its lessons. Nicodemus thought it would profit a man to be circumcised. He did not see that what was truly needed was for man to become a new creation. The natural man must become a spiritual man. Those who are of the earth, earthy, must become heavenly creatures. Man needed a new heart, a new spirit. He had been born once, but he needed to be born a second time.
Many Christians have the mistaken concept that their identity as a member of the body of Christ is determined in a similar way as those who became Jews under the Old Covenant. They believe that if they accept a certain body of teaching, and if they bring their conduct in alignment with the rules of this belief system, then they are a Christian. Depending upon what denomination, or body of teaching a person embraces, some will find themselves keeping the Law (circumcision), while others do not (uncircumcision). Neither position makes one a child of God. Something else is required.
But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him.
This is what is truly important. Have you been born of the Spirit? Are you a partaker of the Spirit of Christ? Do you hear the voice of the Father and understand what He is speaking to you? Have you received a new heart that longs to do that which is pleasing to Yahweh? Has God placed His Spirit, His own divine nature, within you? These are the things that avail much!
Nicodemus, like many men before and since, believed that devotion to the Law would satisfy the Father. He did not understand that the sons Yahweh sought were those who had His nature. Many men believe they are born with the nature of God. They believe if they simply apply themselves to good works that they can produce something God will find acceptable. This was the error of the Jews. It is an error as old as Cain.
Cain brought to Yahweh an offering from the fruit of the ground. This is symbolic of man bringing forth an offering to God from his flesh nature. Man’s flesh was formed of the dust of the earth. I am convinced that the offering Cain brought to Yahweh was magnificent to behold. It would put the best produce of a farmer’s market to shame. Yahweh had no regard for Cain’s offering, not because it was inferior as some suppose, being a half-hearted offering to the Father, but because of what it represented.
The very best that the natural man can produce is of no value in God’s sight. This is what provoked Cain. He had labored to bring to God an offering that was the very best he could produce. Cain was persuaded that the offering was worthy of God, that it should elicit Yahweh’s praise and approval. When God showed no regard for it, Cain was angry.
Many men and women today look at the Law as a means to offer to God an offering acceptable unto Him. They believe if they manifest a devotion to it, making their lives align with it as far as they are able, even going to great lengths and sacrifice, then surely God will look upon what they are offering with satisfaction and praise. The truth is, Yahweh has no regard for what they offer to Him, for it is an offering that arises from the flesh of man. It is man giving something he has produced through the sweat of his own labor to God.
Men react violently, and with great anger, when they are told that their very best efforts are despised by God. Nevertheless, the testimony of God is that only what His Spirit accomplishes is satisfying.
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing.
From the body of Christ’s beginning, there have been men who begin in the Spirit, but then turn back again to the Law as a means to offer to Yahweh an acceptable sacrifice. Having begun in faith, they turn again to vain works of the flesh.
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Yahshua Christ was clearly portrayed among you as crucified? This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain - if indeed it was in vain?
Perhaps you are sensing that something very profound is being spoken in these words, but you are having a difficult time grasping what it is and how to apply it to your life. This would be an excellent time to practice the counsel of James.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him.
What Paul is declaring is not natural wisdom, but spiritual. It can only be comprehended through the exercise of spiritual senses. Even as Christ opened the eyes of blind men, and unstopped the hearing of the deaf, so too is He able to give spiritual sight and hearing to the people of God. I understand that my teaching is a vain thing if not attended by the quickening presence of the Spirit. May Yahweh grant sight and hearing to His people!
Consider the questions poised by the apostle Paul. “Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” How does a man become a partaker of Yahweh’s divine nature through the indwelling Spirit? We cannot work ourselves into divinity. We must hear the message that Christ has reconciled God and man through His atoning sacrifice, and that He has sent forth His Spirit to indwell man. If we believe these things, then we will by faith petition the Father that He might give us His Spirit to indwell us.
"So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened. If a son asks for bread from any father among you, will he give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will he give him a serpent instead of a fish? Or if he asks for an egg, will he offer him a scorpion? If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!"
This is how we receive the Spirit. We ask for it, believing our Father will give us His Spirit. Our Father knows we cannot live one day pleasing to Him apart from being born spiritually. If natural men will give their sons what they need for life, how much more with our heavenly Father do so?
Paul then asks, “Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” Becoming perfect men, spiritual men, is the Father’s desire for us. This process toward spiritual perfection is begun when we receive that incorruptible seed of the Father. We cannot work for it. We cannot produce incorruptible seed on our own. We must simply believe that the Father desires to impart this seed to us, ask Him for it, and receive it.
Having done so, what folly it is to think that our progress toward spiritual maturity will be accomplished by any other method than the one by which we began. Even as we believed that God would give us His Spirit, we must now believe that He will daily give us all things we need to walk in godliness.
II Peter 1:3
His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness...
We must see ourselves as partakers of the divine nature, and believe that we can live a victorious life as a spiritual creation in the midst of a dark and sinful world. This overcoming life is lived out in the Spirit. We have our communion daily with the Father by the Spirit. We hear His voice, and believe that He has given us the power to obey all He asks of us.
To turn back to the Law as our instructor and guide is to turn away from the Spirit. The Law was the instructor of men who were spiritually dead. The Law too was dead. It was written on stone, not flesh. It had no ability to impart life. The Spirit is life.
II Corinthians 3:6
[It is He] Who has qualified us [making us to be fit and worthy and sufficient] as ministers and dispensers of a new covenant [of salvation through Christ], not [ministers] of the letter (of legally written code) but of the Spirit; for the code [of the Law] kills, but the [Holy] Spirit makes alive.
If we will set our focus upon the Spirit, listening to His voice, we will find ourselves led into the perfect will of God. Satan knows this to be true, and has waged unceasing warfare upon the saints. He has convinced multitudes that God no longer speaks to man. Such a conclusion is incomprehensible to those who know the Father. What Father would cease speaking to His sons the moment they receive His Spirit? If Yahweh spoke to natural men in abundance in the days prior to the Spirit being given, it is unthinkable to believe that He will not speak to those who have received His Spirit.
I Corinthians 2:12-14
Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.
People often argue that the Law was Spirit breathed, so it must apply to them. People of God, the Law truly was Spirit breathed, but it was made for the unrighteous. The Law was not made for the righteous.
It is like a man who argues that he should take his wife’s medical prescriptions because they go to the same doctor and he has found the doctor’s counsel to be sound. Will the man take the medicine prescribed for his wife’s menopause and be benefitted? Do you not perceive that the Spirit can speak something that is true, and apply it to a certain group, but it was never intended for another? The Law was made for the unrighteous, not the righteous. The Law is Spirit breathed, but if you are a spiritual man it was never prescribed for you!
What has Yahweh prescribed for the spiritual man? He has prescribed a life led of the Spirit!
If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.
For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
This is the prescribed course of living for the spiritual man. The natural man was led of the Law, but the spiritual man is led by the Spirit.
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