[Many times I open these posts with crediting Chafer with the initial idea, and it is true this time also. He has included many scripture references for this idea, and I am quoting many of them.1 In a delightful read, I am working my way through Chafer’s Systematic Theology, and am nearly finished with volume 4.]
First, I would like to dispel the common notion that since we live under grace and not under the law that we have an easier time—that is, that less is requested in terms of work. It is true that none could succeed in following the law. It is true that many Christians attempt to put themselves back under the law, thinking that somehow the covenant given to Moses and the Jews has somehow translated to them, but it is not so given in the scriptures. Galatians is largely written to dispel this notion, and I shall quote a few passages from that book. First, Paul tells us, “Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Galatians 2:16). It is our faith alone that justifies us, and faith alone brings that justification of what Christ has already done for us. Note that Paul tells us specifically that by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified.
Second, we are told specifically that this covenant, or agreement, came 430 years after the first covenant, namely the covenant with Abraham, and it in no way was meant to supersede that covenant. We are called the spiritual children of Abraham, not related at all to him (unless we be Jewish) by physical descent, but rather we have been adopted into the family, but under the Abrahamic covenant. Paul tells us of the temporariness of this covenant of Moses, “And this I say, that the covenant, that was confirmed before of God in Christ, the law, which was four hundred and thirty years after, cannot disannul, that it should make the promise of none effect” (Galatians 2:21).
That covenant of Moses was meant to be only temporary, and for a specific purpose. Lastly, Paul tells us, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster” (Galatians 3:24, 25). Thus it is clear that the law was a temporary schoolmaster, meant to point the way to Christ, and does not apply to Christians. As Paul tells us in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”
“Well, whew!”, you might sigh. “I am glad we are under grace.”
But not so fast. Actually the challenge to live the life Christians are called to live goes way beyond the demands of the law. Let me illustrate with a few verses. We are called to “bring every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). Notice every thought—each and every thought we have we are responsible for. John tells us to walk in the light. Paul, in Ephesians tells us to walk in the Spirit. Elsewhere he tells us not to quench the Spirit. The greatest of all commandments Is to love the Lord your God, and to love your neighbor as yourself. Who can possibly hope to do that?
The calling is nearly to perfection, something that I am as far as the east is from the west in accomplishing. What then? Thanks be to God, we are not called to do it in our own power, but instead we are to take on the very Spirit of God to accomplish a task that we could never accomplish on our own. Notice, finally, the difference between the law and grace. The law is never said to be accomplished through the aid of the Spirit, while the Bible is replete with the passages telling us to take on the Spirit of God that we might stand. The law was not given that men might evangelize, but grace is given that we might know and understand the inner man, and that we might know our own lostness, and appreciate the desperate need to proclaim the gospel. Men cannot possibly succeed under their own power, but divine enablement makes the impossible possible.
There are a number of verses to be shared that teach this concept of what I term being powered toward perfection. These verses, being handy, are taken from Chafer as noted above, but should be readily familiar to any student of scripture.
“In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me, and drink. He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water. (But this spake he of the Spirit, which they that believe on him should receive: for the Holy Ghost was not yet given; because that Jesus was not yet glorified.)”
Just a quick comment: the Spirit is to “flow” out of each believer, helping the believer do that which he cannot in himself find the strength to do.
“But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth.”
Notice that the promise is to “receive power” after the Holy Spirit comes. It is in that power only that we can hope to live the life to which we have been called.
“Finally, my brethren, be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might. Put on the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.”
Ephesians 6:10 and 11
This famous verse directly commands us to be strong in the Lord, putting on the full armor of God, that we may indeed be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.
I am reading for a second time, No Compromise, by Melody Green. It is such a precious book, and all the more for reminding me of the times we once walked in. When Keith and Melody Green first became Christians, they noticed an awful lot of people who made professions of faith falling away, not following the Christian life. Even as the Vineyard movement caught them, giving them the gospel of life, and winning them to Christ, they noticed what I would call “fluff” going on around them—men and women who had made decisions for Christ who subsequently went back to their old lifestyles of debauchery.
I lived through those times, and because of Melody’s reminder, I remembered the great many who did seem to fall away. Thankfully she gave an illustration of a concert where thousands genuinely rededicated themselves to following Christ, and I also was reminded of the many besides myself who were very serious about what had happened. It was a time of a great awakening—a time when many fell in error, but many also came to a saving knowledge of the truth.
In my study of the revivals and awakenings of America, one characteristic seems to accompany many of the revivals. The people, sometimes by the urging of a preacher, sometimes by the evident troublesome times, and sometimes just by the evident power of God, a group of people, sometimes quite large, are attracted to the gospel within a very short space of time. The call to perfection involves a call to pray for the lost, and to proclaim the gospel, and if we do it in our own power, we will fail, perhaps spectacularly. But if we go out with both the bidding of the Spirit and the power of the Spirit, who knows but what great things will result? Who knows but what God has another Great Awakening lying in wait for us, if we will but ask.
A central key to living properly is that we are showing the person of Jesus Christ to our world. The hymn sings, “Once we were blind, but now we see,” and if we remember that blindness, we will be busy about, telling others about what they cannot hope to see. James tells us that the proper way to show our faith is just by our works, but the problem is that so long as we remain infants in the body of Christ, we can do no works. The works are not of us, but of the Spirit, and the enigma is that the Spirit may use us only as we voluntarily give ourselves to him.
I like to think that I am a pretty good person, as well as the next chap, and perhaps a bit better, if of course you do not count the fact that I misbehave here and there, and of course, I cannot get along with that part of my family, but, really, who can? I find reasoning like that going through my brain constantly, and it is in the caveats that I have learned to focus. Using the excuse that I am really a good person except when I lose my temper doesn’t really work, for the temper lost reveals a nature only partly given to God, and he does indeed ask for everything, and he even asks that we love those deemed “unlovable” by so many. It is precisely for those whom he died—that is, you and me, unlovable and blind in our sin. How then shall we live properly?
There is a constant call on the body to submit to that which we do not want to do. I think I am getting so spiritual and close to my God until something reminds me of a mundane duty that interrupts. It may be as silly as something like having to go to the grocery store, or taking a friend to the doctor, but no matter what it is, it always seems to interrupt. More often, it is something more righteously my duty, to my family or to my grandkids, but I find it still tearing at my soul, interrupting me from that which God would really have me to do.
And that is precisely the problem, not with me only, but I think with Christians in general. We love the closeness with God, and we seek the precious quiet times when we might hear the counsel of God, but God is in those very interruptions that we despise. It is in going to the grocery store, and speaking to my ex-student helping me with my groceries that God wishes to use us. For my eyes seem to be ever on me, and when the interruption happens, my eyes are forced to someone else.
I am aware that many times people misuse what they call the example of Christ, and do not find salvation for they never come to see that Christ is indeed God come in the flesh, but all the same, I think it is safe for Christians to draw on his example of living here. He sought times of prayer and solitude with the Father, but regularly was pulled back by the pressing needs of others. Reading the gospels will show a Jesus who becomes often weary in well-doing, but always persisting. That example we can follow as we learn that our God is indeed, a God of the interruptions.
Some of erred in thinking these interruptions are to be despised, and have sought solicitude, even to the point of isolation (sometimes putting themselves in a monastery, or at least a similar setting), but God has chosen to use us as vessels of hope, offering ourselves in the hope that others might at last see Jesus in us. Paul reminds us, asking, how shall they hear without a preacher, and it is to that duty that we must faithfully come, day after day, interruption after interruption.
As a retired teacher, I met a few men and women like that in my career, and I remember a somewhat older teacher than myself. I dragged myself to meetings with all my fortitude mustered, thinking that they can make me come, but they cannot make me like it. Meeting this older man, a mature Christian, at those same meetings was like a breath of fresh air. He was able to listen, evaluate, and praise the meeting, but also, at the same time, he was able to make the whole table of teachers around him appreciative, and involved them in asking questions or making insightful comments that would ignite our thinking. It is that kind of maturity that we all should be after. In the words of Paul, pressing onward to the high calling of Jesus Christ. Not alone with God, but in the interruptions, learning to seek and share him in our most mundane times.
A final thought. Revelation (19:8) tells us that Christ will receive his bride, the church, dressed in the fine linen, the righteous acts of the saints. So you and I are to be busy doing the things that Christ has appointed for us to do, one day at a time. God is saving those works up to be acknowledged before all, to be shone out to the world. We are made righteous by the blood of our glorious Savior, but we are made righteous that we might show that righteousness to the world around us, if only in his power, and in the midst of all. And that is the task of proper living.
1. Chafer, L. (1993). Systematic theology (Vol. 4, p. 192, 193). Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications.