“Jew and Gentile”
While most of us as 21st century Christians are not troubled by issues relating to the difference between genetic Jews and genetic Gentiles, we all still have a nagging sense that the issues that Paul and the other apostles were dealing with in the first century, has special application to us. Especially as modern Christians who look at the world around us and see the growing laxness of moral standards, there is an increasing sense that we do need to be distinctive, different, and “special” in comparison to the world around us.
This was the concern of the first century Jewish Christians who felt that Gentile converts looked too much like the world that they had supposedly just exited. Hence, the council at Jerusalem, that Paul appealed to, did in fact pick some external standards as applicable to Gentile converts to Christianity. Interestingly they chose dietary laws and moral purity as essential to Christian experience and harmony with each other.
A deeper question underlies all questions relating to rules, regulations, behavior, laws, conduct, performance, etc. The question is this: What are God’s goals in the giving of rules or laws? Two quotes from Ellen White and two scriptures can help us process the role of law and/or rules in religious experience. The first takes us back before the creation of man to the function and necessity of law in heaven:
“When Satan rebelled against the law of Jehovah, the thought that there was a law came to the angels almost as an awakening to something unthought of. In their ministry the angels are not as servants, but as sons. There is perfect unity between them and their Creator. Obedience is to them no drudgery. Love for God makes their service a joy. So in every soul wherein Christ, the hope of glory, dwells, His words are re-echoed, "I delight to do Thy will, O My God: yea, Thy law is within My heart" (Ellen White, Thoughts from the Mount of Blessing, page 109).
Amazing! While God’s law had always been in existence, and the angels in some vague, “back of the mind” sense, were aware of it, the law didn’t have a significant place in their consciousness or daily thinking. The law existed, not in a codified, written form, so much as a principle dwelling in their angelic psyches. It was there in their hearts and minds, but they were virtually unaware of it. There weren’t any Ten Commandments hanging on their angelic walls or in their angelic foyers. Yet, their obedience was flawless – perfect. Equally important, their obedience was pleasurable!
“If man had kept the law of God, as given to Adam after his fall, preserved by Noah, and observed by Abraham, there would have been no necessity for the ordinance of circumcision. And if the descendants of Abraham had kept the covenant, of which circumcision was a sign, they would never have been seduced into idolatry, nor would it have been necessary for them to suffer a life of bondage in Egypt; they would have kept God’s law in mind, and there would have been no necessity for it to be proclaimed from Sinai or engraved upon the tables of stone. And had the people practiced the principles of the Ten Commandments, there would have been no need of the additional directions given to Moses” (Ellen White, Patriarchs and Prophets page 364).
Again, the existence of codified, written out, explicit, rules or laws, became a necessity in order to deal with emergency situations – first in heaven, and then here on earth. Think of it! The Biblical record could have told an entirely different story! No circumcision. No four hundred years in Egypt. No Exodus. No Ten Commandments written on stone. No sanctuary service with all its sacrifices, festivals, and detailed rules.
Law is necessary - in an explicit, codified form - to deal with rebellion and upheaval in God’s universe, and here on planet earth. But law was meant to exist not in this external, superficial, outward form, but in an internal, principled, and motivating form, written in the mind and heart.
“What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions” (Galatians3:19). As people become less and less sensitive to the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit, and thus “transgressions” increase, God is forced to speak through the more direct and forceful voice of codified, explicit commands. But there’s a danger in this form of communication. The danger is that we can begin to perform the behaviors required of us, but still lack the motivations of love to God and our fellow man that are meant to be the source and foundation of right behavior. Instead of doing what is right, “because it is right”, we do what’s right because our own salvation depends on it. In this religious paradigm, love for God and love for others is squelched by the raw motivation of self-preservation and fear, albeit frequently on a sub-conscious level.
We can be serving God on the outside in our behavior, and serving self on the inside in our motivations. Satan is perfectly happy with this situation because our witness still validates his claim that selfishness is the most powerful motivation, and most influential principle in the entire universe. Satan claims that God Himself is motivated by self-preservation (Genesis 3, Job 1 & 2), and thus that Satan’s claim to eternal life is validated.
“Unselfishness, the principle of God's kingdom, is the principle that Satan hates; its very existence he denies. From the beginning of the great controversy he has endeavored to prove God's principles of action to be selfish, and he deals in the same way with all who serve God. To disprove Satan's claim is the work of Christ and of all who bear His name” (Ellen White, Education, page 154).
So while God has made use of external codified law to meet the emergency and necessity of our deep and ongoing transgression, He desperately desires to bring us back to a condition where for us, as well as the angels, the thought that there is a law is almost as an awakening to something unthought of. How can this occur? How can we be brought back to the place where the law is the unconscious spring of all our thoughts, feelings, and actions? Is that even possible?
“Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian and teacher to lead us (to) Christ...” “So now, through faith in Christ, we are made right with God” (Galatians 3:24 NLT, NKJV). By beholding Christ, we are enabled and empowered to experience not mere behavioral conformity – if we even were ever to achieve that – but actual engraving of the principles and motivations of God’s law of self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-effacing love on our hearts. Our psychological makeup, in the perception of the love of God in Jesus Christ, is transformed and restored, to a condition where “obedience” is an inevitable pleasure.
“All true obedience comes from the heart. It was heart work with Christ. And if we consent, He will so identify Himself with our thoughts and aims, so blend our hearts and minds into conformity to His will, that when obeying Him we shall be but carrying out our own impulses. The will, refined and sanctified, will find its highest delight in doing His service. When we know God as it is our privilege to know Him, our life will be a life of continual obedience. Through an appreciation of the character of Christ, through communion with God, sin will become hateful to us” (Ellen White, Desire of Ages page 668).
Whether it’s tithing, circumcision, Sabbath-keeping, dietary reform, or “the weightier matters of justice and mercy” (Matthew 23:23), what a wonderful promise that we can move to a new experience of “obeying from the heart” (Romans6:17). It need not be a mere obligatory obedience, but a deeper and deeper internal, intellectual, and spiritual harmony with the very principles, motivations, and thoughts that actuate the heart of God Himself. This is what it means to be a partaker of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:4). My prayer for myself and for you is that very soon – as we approach the time of the rapid “last movements” – we will experience this transformation.
E.J. Waggoner wrote a verse by verse commentary on the book of Romans. His treatise, Waggoner on Romans is now available in book form and will prove a valuable study aid for teachers and students alike.
You may access the complete book at: http://www.1888mpm.org/book/waggoner-romans-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Waggoner on Romans
For Jack Sequeira sermons on Romans click here: MP3; Windows Media; Real Audio