According to Reformed standards, I’ve officially gone mad.
You may be totally bewildered and at a complete loss for words, or you may be totally opposed to everything you’ve read and are unwilling to engage in a conversation because you’re convinced I’m beyond hope. Or maybe you’re just curious about exactly what I believe now.
What You May Be Thinking
I have a guess as to what you may be thinking because I used to think the same things when I heard others talk like I’m now talking.
You might think I’m placing myself under a yoke of slavery. You might be worried that I’m trying to be justified by works of the law. You might fear that in my foolishness, after starting with the Spirit, I am trying to be perfected by the flesh. You may believe that I have placed myself under a curse by relying on works of the law.
I’m hoping that by sharing the understanding I have now, it’ll assure you that none of those things are true.
What This Shift in Understanding Has Done for Me
In the following list of eleven beliefs I now hold, you’ll notice that some things fit exactly in line with what any good-reformed-minded-person thinks, while others don’t quite. The things that don’t quite fit that reformed mindset are the pieces to the puzzle that were missing for me for so long. Having them in place has blown open the word to me in these last several months.
And I mean blown open. I have been reading like crazy, and what’s greater, I’ve been understanding what I’m reading in a way I never have before.
I’m guessing at least some of you know what I mean. You read through Isaiah or Deuteronomy or Zephaniah because it’s part of your Bible reading plan. You find some cool verses here and there. But ultimately, it doesn’t mean a whole lot to your life. There’s not much connecting those books to the vital “meat” of the New Testament.
That’s how it was for me, anyway. There was a disconnect between the Old Testament and the New that always left me uneasy. But I praise my God and Savior that it is not that way anymore!
So, without further ado, here’s how I see things now.
Eleven Things I Now Believe
This is not an exhaustive list of beliefs, but it covers the biggies and will hopefully answer a lot of questions.
1) The Savior was the word made flesh.
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
This is perhaps one of the most critical clarifications that I have come to see in the scriptures: The written law and our Savior were not two separate things. Our Savior is the written word in the flesh.
He lived a sinless life, walking out the law of God perfectly, both in letter and in spirit. He taught and displayed the law in its fullness, as it was always intended to be. He stripped away the fences that man had erected to “protect” the law, which actually hindered people from properly understanding it. He dismantled the traditions that had overturned the law. He even went so far as to commend those who would teach the law without relaxing even the least of its commandments (Matthew 5:17-19).
Because the law reveals God’s very nature so that by knowing the law we know Him (Jer 9:3, 5-6, 13-14), our Savior, who embodied the law in perfection, was the visible manifestation of the invisible God (Col 1:15).
2) We are saved freely by grace through faith.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8)
After He restored the law to its proper state and demonstrated perfect obedience to it, He then bore the penalty we deserved for abandoning and spurning it. The sinless Messiah took the punishment we deserve for our disobedience to God’s instructions. Because of His atoning death, we can be fully reconciled with our Father (Is 53, John 1:29). We cannot do any works that will compel God to save us (Rom 3:20). Our faith in the Savior’s atoning death and resurrection three days later is what reconciles us to the Father. But the story doesn’t end here…
3) Being reconciled to the Father means being grafted into the olive tree of Israel, God’s chosen people.
“Remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Eph 2:12-13)
This is one of the other main clarifications I’ve come to see: If we remain separate from Israel, we remain strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God. But praise Him that we are no longer stranger and aliens, but fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God! Citizenship is granted to us through the blood of Christ (Eph 2:12-13, 19). We, who were once not a people (Hosea 1:8-10, 2 Peter 2:10), are grafted into His people Israel (Romans 11).
4) Citizens of Israel show their fear and love for God by following His everlasting teaching and instructions.
“And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the LORD, which I am commanding you today for your good?” (Deut 10:12-13)
The instruction was given to all 12 tribes of Israel and the mixed multitude who joined themselves with Israel (Ex 12:37-38). It was not given just to the tribe of Judah, otherwise known as the Jews. The law was always (“forever throughout your generations”) meant for both the native and the foreigners (Num 15:15).
Once I understood that my Savior was the written word made flesh and that I was part of Israel – the body of people to whom the written words were given and to whom the Savior was sent – those written words took on a much more critical importance for me.
5) The instructions, originally written down by Moses, were not an impossible standard set by God simply to show His people how wickedly deficient they were.
“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” (Deut 30:11-14)
This was one of the other major game-changers for me. I remember coming across this verse in my reading one day and being completely shocked. I had always believed, and been taught, that the law’s purpose was to show us that striving after it would avail us nothing – that God’s standards were impossibly high. But this verse tells a completely different story. From God’s own mouth we hear that the law is not too hard or far-off. It is close and it can be done.
6) The instructions were a manifestation of God’s merciful kindness for creating a set-apart people who benefited from the Creator’s magnificent wisdom and who would serve as a light to all nations.
“See ,I have taught you statues and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statues, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statues and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today.” (Deut 4:5-8)
7) These instructions were never intended for salvation, but were given to an already-redeemed people to show them how already-redeemed people should live.
“You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the Lord your God redeemed you; therefore I command you this today.” (Deut 15:15)
Passover (the day Israel was redeemed by the blood of the lamb – Ex 12) preceded Pentecost (the day God spoke His instructions to Israel – Ex 19-20). God had already rescued His people from death before He spoke the Torah to them.
We should obey those instructions not because we are constrained or fearful, but because we delight in the law-giver and treasure His grace and wisdom (Psalm 119). We should position ourselves as already loved children who obey our Father, not because we want to win His affections but because we are overwhelmed with His affection. Our obedience doesn’t secure our salvation, it demonstrates it (James 2:14-26).
Those who use the law as a means to be saved (or justified) before God show that they do not understand its true purpose. They are severed from the Word and thereby severed from the Word made flesh (Gal 5:4).
(Many of you might find this similar reformed perspective very interesting.)
8) With the New Covenant gift of the Holy Spirit, the law of God gets written on our hearts.
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (Jer 31:31-33)
This was yet another clarification that made a big difference in my understanding: The spirit and the law work together, not separately.
The giving of the Holy Spirit, which writes God’s instructions on our heart, doesn’t mean that we can now disregard the words of the law. To the contrary, we uphold the law (Rom 3:31). The Spirit causes us to walk in the Father’s statutes and to carefully observe His ordinances (Ezek 36:27). The Spirit enables us to follow the Savior and to walk as He walked (John 8:12, Col 2:6). Again, this walking is not what saves us. It simply evidences our faith, trust, and love (James 2:14-26).
Interestingly, the New Covenant was promised to only the House of Israel (northern 10 tribes) and the House of Judah (southern 2 tribes). This again shows us how important citizenship in Israel is.
9) Salvation sets us free from sin.
“But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Rom 6:22)
We are free from sin in two ways:
As we talked about earlier, when Christ died our death we were freed from the law of sin and death. We no longer owe the penalty of sin, which is death (Rom 8:1-2).
We are also now free from lawlessness. Sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). We are no longer slaves to breaking the law. Now we are slaves to righteousness. We are obedient from the heart to the law of God (Rom 6:16-18).
10) No one person or group has arrived in perfection.
“Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 3:12-14)
All true children are still growing, learning, and being corrected in various ways. The Father doesn’t write the instructions in our hearts all at once, just as the Savior didn’t reveal all things to His disciples all at once. He said, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). We serve a merciful, patient God who leads us gently into a deeper, more intimate knowledge of Him and His ways. He works with us over our lifetimes to conform us to the image of His son (Rom 8:29) and promises to bring us to completion (Phil 1:6). Praise Him!
The Father has children in many different places and in many different stages of understanding (Phil 3:15-16). This is why we must walk in a manner worthy of our calling and bear with one another with humility, patience, love, and unity (Eph 4:1-3).
11) The Bible is the tool that provides our ongoing teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Tim 3:16)
It’s interesting to note that the only scriptures that existed when Paul penned these words to Timothy were the Old Testament ones. We need to hear and appreciate what Paul is saying: The Old Testament scriptures – the law, prophets, and the writings – were breathed out by God. They are profitable for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness.
Please don’t misunderstand. I believe that the New Testament is also part of the total revelation God intended for His children. The Bible, including both Old and New Testaments, is the ultimate authority in a believer’s life. In its original form, they are the inspired word of God (1 Thes 2:13, 2 Peter1:21). Because thousands of years, at least one language, and an entire cultural chasm separate us from the original text, we have to work diligently to be sure that we properly understand the original words and meaning.
I think that the writings of Paul have been particularly susceptible to misinterpretation because of this distance of time, language, and culture. Peter warned people in his own day, who spoke the same language and lived in the same culture to handle Paul’s writings carefully lest they fall into lawlessness (2 Peter 3:15-17). If they ran the risk of misunderstanding Paul, how much more do we?
Did that answer questions or just bring up new ones?
Aaand that sums up some of the biggies of this new way of thinking.
I realize that while this may have answered some questions it probably brought up many more. As always, I invite your questions, challenges, and perspective. I have not arrived in perfection or to a fullness of knowledge. I’m just trying to be faithful to test everything to the word and to stand firm in truth.
Like I said in another post, as the Spirit saturates my mind and heart with more truth, my understanding of the Word is constantly being tweaked and clarified. The Father uses others to help do this tweaking and clarifying work. So please, offer insights, ask questions, or share concerns if you have them. I am blessed by all who walk alongside me to sharpen, challenge, and encourage me.