Tag Archives: Law & Commandments

Making the Holy Lowly

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Deuteronomy 5:11 ESV).

We should never utter the name of the Lord worthlessly or deceitfully.  God prohibits using His name in oaths or vows when intentionally left unfulfilled; some take deceptive oaths and tack on God’s name as if to convince others that they are serious.  We should never make the Holy lowly and common by disconnecting His name from His majesty, power and person.  The name of the Lord is sacred & majestic and should conjure up worship and appreciation in us.  It should never be part of our commonplace vernacular like slang.

The mention of God carry’s glory (weight) with it; it should evoke reverence.  We should be aware of using it in a flippant or manipulative way; the Hebrew word for vain is also translated as false, empty, worthless, or lie.  God, and His name, are holy (different, separated & morally pure) – are you approaching Him that way or has He (and His name) become common and mundane?


Singular Devotion, First Affection

You shall have no other gods before me.” (Deuteronomy 5:7 ESV).

The New Living Translation says “no other god but me.”  God demands exclusive worship because He is incomparable and because there are no other true gods; our God is not part of the created order (i.e. sun, moon, etc), He reigns over creation with all power.  God created all things and sustains all things (John 1:3, Colossians 1:17, Hebrews 1:3).  He is not some distant deity, He is all powerful, just and holy and yet He still draws near to His creation.

Our primary problem is a worship problem – we worship all sorts of things to which we ascribe godlike grandeur, but there is only one true God.  When we place the weight of our worship on created things, they buckle because they are not designed to hold the weight that our worship places upon themSingular devotion to Him is how the created order was designed to operate.  This is not because He is insecure or needs anything from us (Acts 17:25), but because it glorifies Him and gives us maximum joy (Psalm 16:11).  What are you worshiping, what is your first affection?

The Ten Commandments: A Response to God’s Grace

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Deuteronomy 5:6 ESV)

The Ten Commandments start by reminding the people of what God had done on their behalf.  This is the LORD God (that is Yahweh Elohim – the personal, covenant keeping and yet all powerful God).  The Ten Commandments are built upon what God had done for the people; their obedience was a response in gratitude for what God had graciously done for them – not as a means to earn approval and salvation.

The Israelites are constantly being called to remember the events of the past, particularly how faithful God had been to them.  That is not because they normally had cognitively forgotten what God had done, that is because it was not longer impacting their hearts.  When we are no longer touched by the magnificent grandeur of God and all that He has done on our behalf our faith begins to wither into drudgery and duty.  Because we are prone to forget, we must be disciplined to remember the majesty of God by praying for Him to reveal Himself to us and by searching the scriptures for God’s sovereignty, grace and holiness.

We’re forgiven, the alter is closed, your sacrifices are not accepted

“For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1–4 ESV)

“And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. 

And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, ‘This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,’
then he adds, ‘I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.’  Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:10–18 ESV)

The Law (or our adherence to a moral ethic) is powerless to make perfect those who follow it.  It reveals and restrains sin, but is powerless to restore or renew.  The Law and its sacrifices are but a shadow of that which was to come, namely the perfect fulfillment of it – JESUS.  If the law could have offered true, lasting forgiveness then worshipers would not have had to continue to offer sacrifices annually, but it cannot cleanse the conscience from sin.  The sacrifices served the worshiper by reminding them of their sin, its grip on their lives and their debt to God, but the blood of bulls and goats can’t take away sin.  The entire Hebrew sacrificial system was built upon sacrifices being offered for the remission of sin, but the author is saying that the blood of animals is powerless to take away our sins – last years sacrifice won’t cover this year’s sins.  Additionally, the blood of goats and bulls can’t cleanse the conscience – a permanent solution to sin is required.  The entire sacrificial system is looking forward to the only acceptable sacrifice that would ever be offered.  Something far greater and more powerful was required to not just pay for sin, but to kill it – once for all.  Jesus’ single sacrifice was sufficient – so much so that He reigns in heaven with authority over all things.  His single sacrifice for sin “has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:14 ESV)  Old Testament believers were saved the same way that we are – by placing their absolute trust in the provision of God for their salvation.  God does not delight in sacrifices and offerings, He is after hearts that are fully His.  The sacrifices had no intrinsic value in and of themselves – the value was in communicating the costliness of sin and the extreme price that would have to be paid to deal with our treasonous hearts.  We are sanctified (made holy and grow in holiness) by the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

As a result of the singular sacrifice of sin, God has now fulfilled the promise to write His laws on our hearts and minds.  This means that we now desire to know God, follow Him, and obey Him – though not perfectly, but with a new affection for Him that the law was powerless to produce.  Anytime we become dependent upon the law to prove ourselves righteous, try to change, or earn God’s approval, we fail because law based living is powerless to take away sins.  Only the grace of God and the new heart that desires to know and obey God produces lasting transformation.  Which of these most accurately reflects your faith:  1) I obey because it is my responsibility, God says to, it will make God happy with me, to earn His approval, to pacify His wrath, to increase His love for me, to work Him into my debt so that He owes me or the more faithfully I obey, the more God will bless my life.  2) I obey because God loves me unconditionally, did not spare His own son to redeem me, set His redeeming affections upon me before He placed a star in the sky, I am perfectly loved and accepted by God because of the sacrifice of Jesus or I want to know Him more and see His glory.  We’re forgiven, the alter is closed, your sacrifices are not accepted.  “Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:15–18 ESV)  We look to Christ for our growth and perfection.  He has earned it for us.  Instead of personal, hard fought, self disciplined effort, the believer looks to Christ for a cleansed conscience, complete forgiveness, power to change and complete perfection in the future.  For we will be made perfect – our rebel hearts will be overthrown (Hebrew 11:40, 12:23)

Rule laden Christianity can’t produce worshippers

“Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. Behind the second curtain was a second section called the Most Holy Place, having the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant covered on all sides with gold, in which was a golden urn holding the manna, and Aaron’s staff that budded, and the tablets of the covenant. Above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat. Of these things we cannot now speak in detail.
These preparations having thus been made, the priests go regularly into the first section, performing their ritual duties, but into the second only the high priest goes, and he but once a year, and not without taking blood, which he offers for himself and for the unintentional sins of the people. By this the Holy Spirit indicates that the way into the holy places is not yet opened as long as the first section is still standing (which is symbolic for the present age). According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation.” (Hebrews 9:1–10 ESV)

The Most Holy place was only entered 1x per year on the Day of Atonement by the high priest and he always brought blood to atone for his sin and the sin of the people.  Under the old covenant, access to God in the holy place and the most holy place was restricted to Levitical priests.  People are too sinful to have direct access to God; this is still true today, we are too sinful to have direct access to God without Someone mediating on our behalf.  “According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper,” (Hebrews 9:9 ESV) under the old covenant the soul of the worshiper was not changed because he could not draw near to God’s mercy & peace.  However, the veil has now been removed and we have direct access to God and new hearts that worship (8:10–12; 9:14; 10:22; also 10:14; 11:40; 12:23).
This “outward,” law driven method of worship was powerless to transform the conscience, heart or life.  Just like then, a rule laden Christianity that is marked by what the worshiper needs to do, how the worshiper needs to act and what the worshiper needs to accomplish is equally powerless to transform the heart or conscience.  We are all built to worship, the only question remaining is what will be the object of our worship.  If you are trying to worship God by performing, then you will always come up short.  The call of scripture is to draw near to God and allow Him to change your heart – allow Him to right your worship.

Grace scares us to death

“The truth, whether we admit it or not, is that grace scares us to death. It scares us primarily because it wrestles control and manageability out of our hands–introducing chaos and freedom. And so we find creative ways to qualify it. We speak and live with a “yes grace, but” tone. We’re afraid to simply let it be as drastically unsafe, unconditional, uncontrollable, unpredictable, and undomesticated as it truly is.”
-Tullian Tchividjian, Grace Without Buts and Brakes

“For the grace that comes to us in Jesus Christ is not measured. This grace refuses to allow itself to be tethered to our innate sense of fairness, reciprocity, and balancing of the scales. It is defiant…However much we may laud grace with our lips, our hearts are so thoroughly law-marinated that the Christian life must be, at core, one of continually bathing our hearts and minds in gospel grace. We are addicted to law. Conforming our lives to a moral framework, playing by the rules, meeting a minimum standard—this feels normal. And it is how we naturally medicate that deep sense of inadequacy within. The real question is not how to avoid becoming a Pharisee; the question is how to recover from being the Pharisee we already, from the womb, are.

Law feels safe. Grace feels risky. Rule-keeping breeds a sense of manageability; grace feels like moral vertigo. After all, if all that we are is by grace, there is no limit to what God can ask of us. But if some corner of our virtue is due to personal contribution, there is a ceiling on what God can ask of us. He can bring us only so far. He can only ask so much.

Such is not the call of Christ. The Jesus of the Gospels defies our domesticated, play-by-the-rules morality. It was the most extravagant sinners of Jesus’ day who received his most compassionate welcome; it was the most scrupulous law-abiders who received his most searing denunciation. The point is not that we should therefore take up sin. The point is that we should lay down the silly insistence on leveraging our sense of self-worth with an ongoing moral record. Better a life of sin with penitence than a life of obedience without it.

It is time to enjoy grace anew. Not the decaffeinated grace that pats us on the hand, ignores our deepest rebellions, and doesn’t change us, but the high-octane grace that takes our conscience by the scruff of the neck and breathes new life into us with a pardon so scandalous that we cannot help but be changed. It’s time to blow aside the hazy cloud of condemnation that hangs over us throughout the day with the strong wind of gospel grace. “You are not under law but under grace” (Rom 6:14). Jesus is real, grace is defiant, life is short, risk is good. For many of us the time has come to abandon once and for all our play-it-safe, toe-dabbling Christianity and dive in. It is time, as Robert Farrar Capon put it, to get drunk on grace. Two hundred-proof, defiant grace.”
Defiant Grace: The Suprising Message and Mission of Jesus by Dane Ortlund

Grace Driven Effort (part 2)

Yesterday, we began talking about killing sin (mortification) in our lives.  If we are honest, this is topic rarely discussed in Christian circles and most never really experience any significant level of victory over recurrent, ongoing sins in their lives.  There is no doubt that the scriptures call us to kill (mortify) sin in our lives – and to take radical steps in this pursuit.  Matthew 5:29 reminds us of the seriousness with which Jesus views sin and the radical steps we should be willing to eradicate it from our lives.  Yesterday, we summarized points 1-4 from Ralph Erskine’s article entitled The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification.  Today, we will look at points 5-8 in an attempt to replace “us driven effort” with “grace driven effort.”

5.  The motives are different.  Ultimately, the Christian empowered by “grace driven effort” will not serve sin, because sin has been put to death and he now lives to God (Romans 6:6).  Conversely, “us driven effort” runs from sin not because he is alive to God, but so he can live.  “Grace driven effort” kills sin because the love of God overwhelms him, “us driven effort” attempts to kill sin so that God will love him and find him acceptable.  One knows that God accepts him, the other is trying with all of his effort to earn God’s acceptance.  “Us driven effort” relies on us, our discipline and hard work as the foundation for killing sin, thus placing our hope in trust in us rather than in God.

6.  The nature is different.  “Grace driven effort” seeks to not just subdue and weaken sin, but to completely destroy and eradicate it from our being because sin is contrary to our nature.  When we employ “us driven effort,” we are OK to live with sin as long as it is beaten into submission and rarely rears its ugly head on the surface of our lives.  One violently attacks sin while the other makes pacts to let it have dominion in unseen areas of our lives.  “Us driven effort” manages surface level sins and is shocked when the lion that has been keeping on a leash devours them.

7.  The extent to which war is waged against sin is different.  “Grace driven effort” sees and beholds God as supreme, holy and sovereign and every fiber of our being hates sin and never approves of it.  “Grace driven effort” sustains us in the lifelong fight against sin and the goal to be holy as God is holy.  In “us driven effort,” we may hate sin and its affects with part of our being, but there are levels of our heart that are OK to live with sin, as long as they are not “bad” sins like adultery, murder, alcoholism, abuse, etc.  In “us driven effort,” we make a pact with our sin, allowing the “lesser” ones to remain so long as the “surface” level sins are not seen; there is no energy for the long lasting war with sin, victory is short and not sustained.  “Grace driven effort” is never at peace with sin, it violently attacks sin.

8.  Their success is different.  Make no mistake, our battle with sin is one that we will fight until we die, or Jesus returns.  Then we will be set from from sin and its affects.  “Grace driven effort” recognizes that some battles will be lost, but there are gains being made in the over all war“Grace driven effort” sees progress in the putting to death of the corrupt nature that dwells within, not just the surface manifestations of that corrupt nature.  “Us driven effort,” on the other hand, never really progresses much in the war against sin because the goal is to manage sin and its consequences instead of ripping it out by its root.  In “us driven effort,” one sin is often times replaced by another.  The Pharisees employed “us driven effort” in their attempt to mortify sin.  They looked good on the surface, successfully managing “external sin,” but their pride and self-righteousness had supplanted their “external sins.”  The later sins were more dangerous than the former because it blinded them to their need for a savior because they had found “success” on their own.  They really weren’t that bad.

In the end, “us driven effort,” reduces our reliance on God and dulls our sensitivity to sin.  When this is our primary mode of operation in our Christian life, we think that we don’t really have that much sin in our lives.  We aren’t really that bad or that depraved, just read the paper or watch the news if you want to see the really depraved people in the world!  We have made such great strides in cleaning ourselves up on the outside and putting to death the sins that everybody sees along with their uncomfortable consequences.  But, the reality is that we have most likely merely replaced these with more blinding and subtle sins like pride, self-discipline and self-righteousness.  In “us driven effort,” we are the focus, we have to make it happen, we are the ones that have the power to overcome.  That sounds a lot like what transpired many years ago in the Garden with Adam and Eve – they forsook the sovereign Creator’s command and provision for their own; they knew better.  “Grace driven effort” places us in a position before God that recognizes our complete inability and begs God to work.  The litmus test for which means you deploy is in answering the question, “who gets the glory?”  In “us driven effort,” the glory is ours because we were disciplined and hardworking enough; in “grace driven effort,” the glory is God’s because He is the deliverer.

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Grace Driven Effort (part 1)

Grace Driven Effort (part 1)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you:sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. On account of these the wrath of God is coming. In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.” (Colossians 3:1–3:10 ESV)

There is no doubt that the scriptures call us to kill (mortify) sin in our lives – and to take radical steps in this pursuit.  Matthew 5:29 reminds us of the seriousness with which Jesus views sin and the radical steps we should be willing to take in order to eradicate it from our lives.  The problem often times is how we go about this.  We normally view the spiritual disciplines as the primary means by which we kill sin in our lives.  Common advice is to pray more, read one’s bible more and get some accountability.  But, if we are honest, we know that these are powerless, in and of themselves, to victoriously kill sin in our lives.  They may help us manage sinful behaviors, but they won’t kill sin at its source.  What we need is not more us driven effort, but rather grace driven effort.  Grace driven effort requires a significant shift in our thinking and theology.

A 17th century Scottish Presbyterian minister named Ralph Erskine wrote a great article entitled The Difference Between Legal and Gospel Mortification which is very helpful in helping us to abandoning us driven effort and replacing it with grace driven effort.  In this article, Mr. Erskine compares us driven effort versus grace driven effort.  I have summarized his thoughts on his first four points below (we will look at the last four tomorrow).

1.  Grace driven effort is fueled by gospel principles, such as the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:13), Faith in Christ (Acts 15:9), and the constraining love of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:14).  Us driven effort is often times fueled by the approval of others, self-righteousness, fear of judgement (temporal or eternal), our own conscience, the example of others, and frequently the power of sin itself.  The last one is all too common in our modern evangelical experience; we use “lesser” sins to battle “greater” sins.  For example the man who struggles greatly with pornography or alcoholism, exerts his own self-righteous discipline to suppress the “greater” sin.  So self-righteousness now wars against lust; sin is wrestling against sin and sin is never killed, just managed and replaced by a more “acceptable” one.

2.  The weapons which are engaged are different.  Grace driven effort fights with the gospel truths such as the blood of Christ, the word of God, the promises as children, and the source of our righteousness in the death & resurrection of Jesus (Galatians 3:1-3, 6:14).  Us driven effort focuses, instead, on the law to beat sin.  This is manifest in our lives when we make vows and resolutions to overcome our sin, these become the strength that we depend upon to deliver us.  But Paul reminds us that “sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14 ESV).  Our best efforts will never kill sin in our lives because our best efforts are rooted in law which is powerless to redeem and restore – the law only reveals our sin, but it will never deliver.  That is the point in Jesus, grace redeems and restores.  The law is useful in diagnosing the disease (like an X-Ray or MRI), but it will never cure the disease – only grace can cure.

3.  The sins they attempt to kill are different.  Us driven effort focuses especially on “external” sins like pornography, alcohol, profanity, and gossip to a lesser degree.  This is because us driven effort relies upon us to kill these so we deploy the only weapon we have on our own to defeat these sins:  sin.  We become disciplined, and dependent on our best efforts to win the war so we use sin to fight sin in an effort to manage our behavior.  Grace driven effort fights these sins, but also asks much deeper heart level questions in an attempt to determine the root causes of idolatry that exist from which these sins spring.  Grace driven effort is driven to bruise the head of the serpent and longs with Paul for deliverance (“Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24 ESV)).  Grace driven effort persistently reminds us of God’s great ability and our utter inability.

4. The motive for killing sin is different.  Us driven effort is motivated by the consequences of sin in our lives.  Things like being found out, damage to our reputation, natural consequences like marriages being damaged, divorce and a host of other uncomfortable consequences.  Comfort, reputation and self will are in focus when we employ us driven effort.  Grace driven effort is different; it realizes that sin dishonors God, opposes Jesus, grieves the Spirit that dwells within and separates us from God.  Us driven effort avoids sin and attempts to kill it because it hurts us and causes discomfort, not because it offends the Creator and tarnishes the image of God that Jesus came to restore.

Colossians 3:1-10 is dripping with grace driven effort.  Follow the rhythm of this passage.  It starts with a conditional statement that the balance of the passage is built upon.  The conditional statement is if you are a Christian then you have been raised with Christ (see Romans 6:1-11) and are to set your mind on eternal things, not temporary things.  The text then reminds us that we have died (to sin and its dominion over our lives) and are alive to God and to the things of God and that we will appear with him in glory.  The text then tells us that in light of the truths that preceded it we are to put to death the sin in our lives.  Don’t miss that – the fuel for killing sin is found in what God has done for us and our right standing relationship with Him.  You will never successfully beat sin in your life if you are not wowed by the fact that the Creator of the universe loved you, pursued you and brought you into a relationship with Him of His own doing and choice.  Being wowed by this increasingly drives our affections toward God and eternal things as lesser (albeit often time good) things hold less appeal in our lives.

Grace Driven Effort (part 2)