Paul's Passing Thoughts

Second Epistle of Andy to “Trevor”

Some time ago I relayed the account of a Facebook interaction I had with an individual I called “Trevor”.  Trevor is a young man in his early twenties.  I’ve had the privilege of having long conversations with him regarding theology and Biblical matters in general.  Trevor goes to a local church and has made a profession of faith, so giving him the benefit of the doubt (since it is not my place to make a judgment otherwise) I regard him as a brother in Christ.

Last Friday, Trevor and I got into another discussion, this time about the Law and how it pertains to believers.  Since he was pressed for time and our conversation was growing increasingly in depth, Trevor asked if he could pose some specific questions via a Facebook message to which I could then compose a more in-depth reply.  What follows is my response to Trevor.  His questions are included in the body of the response in bold italics.  I hope that you find it edifying!


“Trevor”,

I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to get back with you on this. I don’t want you to think I’m blowing it off. I have not had any internet at work lately, and I am in the middle of a big project at home, so my time has been limited. So, here goes. I’ll address each part of your question here:

“So question. I understand the part of the law being what makes us holy/clean/pure. If that is not so we can be presented to Jesus then what is the reason?…”

First I want to make sure we are talking about the same thing. Maybe I should have you first clarify what you mean by being “presented to Jesus”, but I’ll take a shot in the dark and assume that you are referring to when we get to heaven. Well, we first have to remember that when we get to heaven, the only judgment for believers is for rewards and not to determine salvation. Salvation comes via the New Birth. The New Birth is crucial because it is the basis for our justification (our righteous standing).

Why are believers righteous? Not just “declared” righteous, but truly and actually righteous as a part of their actual being?  The traditional church teaching is that we have Jesus’ righteousness “imputed” to us because Jesus keeps the law for us since we can’t obey it perfectly.  Well there are two HUGE problems with that.  First, it denies the new birth.  It implies that nothing changes in the believer.  Instead of being an actual reality, the new birth becomes merely an experiential ability to “see”.  But the second problem is that it keeps the believer under the law.  “Under law” is the biblical definition of an unsaved person.  Once you make perfect law-keeping the standard, you have put a person under law.  So even IF (hypothetically) Jesus keeps the law for us, that still makes law the standard rather than belief which results in the New Birth.

This is why a literal new birth is critical.  The “old man” (unbeliever) is under law.  That means he is subject to the law’s condemnation, which is death, and ultimately judgment in the lake of fire.  But what happens when a person believes?  He is born again, literally “born anew” or “born from above”.  The old man dies!  Why is that important?  Because you cannot condemn a dead man.  The new creature that is born again is the literal offspring of God!

“But now the righteousness of God without (apart from) the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…” ~ Romans 3:21-22

”Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin; for his seed remaineth in him: and he cannot sin, because he is born of God.” ~ 1 John 3:9

We have the literal righteousness of God because we are God’s offspring.  Our righteousness is the same as Jesus’ because we have been born into the same family and are God’s child; the brother of Jesus!  This is why the law cannot condemn us (Romans 8:1) because we are no longer under its jurisdiction.  This is also what John meant in 1 John 3:9 when he said that which is born of God CANNOT sin.  Sin has to do with condemnation.  Sin can only condemn where the law has power, and for the believer, the law has no power to condemn.

“O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?  The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.” ~ 1 Corinthians 15:55-56

“Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.” ~ Romans 3:20

“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

“Wait, so are you saying you never sin?”  Well, that depends on how you define “sin”.  That might sound like a cop out, but let me elaborate.  Because traditional church teaching keeps believers “under law”, it necessarily makes ALL sin against one’s justification.  Obviously this DEMANDS someone to constantly “cover” those sins, in this case, Jesus.  But the Bible makes a distinction.  Clearly, 1 John 3:9 teaches that “sin” for the believer is not a condemning sin against his justification. Furthermore, one might ask, “well, if I can’t be condemned, then I can just go out and do whatever I want!”  Paul presented this same hypothetical question in Romans 6.

“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” ~ Romans 6:1-2

Paul is stating two things here.  First, you are a new creature, so you should be living a life that is congruent with what you have become.  But second, the law takes on a whole new relevance.  Paul called it the law of the spirit of life.  The purpose of the law is to show love to God and to others.

“Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.  This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.  On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” ~ Matthew 22:36-40

“For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” ~ Galatians 5:14

 “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” ~ John 14:15

Once the law’s condemnation is removed, the believer is freed to aggressively pursue obedience.  He doesn’t have to worry about keeping it perfectly.  That’s not the point.  He is motivated now by love; love for his Father and love for others!  And how does he show that love?  By obeying the law.  He does not have to fear condemnation if he messes up.

“There is no fear in love; but perfect (mature, complete) love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect (mature, complete) in love.” ~ 1 John 4:18

Think about this.  Why did Joseph resist Potiphar’s wife?  What did he say?

“… Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” ~ Genesis 39:8-9

It wasn’t because he was afraid of getting caught.  He was not motivated by fear.  He was motivated out of love for God and love for Potiphar.  He realized that to do such a thing was not showing love to God and others. It was unthinkable to him.

So “sin” for the believer then is failure to show love.  Do you realize that if we continually thought about showing love for others, we would not have to ever worry about breaking any laws, either God’s or man’s?

So what does this have to do with sanctification?  Well sanctification is the process of making something clean for the purpose of making it distinct from that which is common, ordinary, or just like everything else.  As believers strive to obey the law (remember, not out of an attempt to merit salvation, but out of a motivation of love) the believer reflects that which is congruent with his nature.  He shows to others that he is just like his Father.  It shows that a believer is different from everyone else around him.

“Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine:” ~ Exodus 19:5

“For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth.” ~ Deuteronomy 14:2

“And the LORD hath avouched thee this day to be his peculiar people, as he hath promised thee, and that thou shouldest keep all his commandments;” ~ Deuteronomy 26:18

“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” ~ Titus 2:14

“But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light:” ~ 1 Peter 2:9

“Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification…” ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:1-3

So we see that the purpose of the law then is not for justification but for sanctification, to make us distinct or set apart for God.  It does not make us righteous or acceptable.  The believer by definition already IS righteous because he is born again a righteous offspring.  We are sanctified as we strive to obey the law by showing love to God and others.  This makes us distinct from the rest of the world as our Father is distinct.  Here is a question for you to ponder: What is the benefit of being distinct from the rest of the world?

“Sanctify them by thy truth; thy word is truth.” ~ John 17:17

On to the next part of your question:

“Also how was the old testament Jew saved?…”

Let’s not limit this question to just Jews.  Prior to Abraham there was no nation of Israel, but there were still people who were saved (Adam, Enoch, Noah, Job to name a few).  Also keep in mind that there was no Law before Moses.  God gave the Law to Moses 450 years AFTER He made the promise to Abraham.  So then a more accurate question to ask might be, how were people saved prior to Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection?  The answer is, the same way as people after the resurrection:

“For what saith the scripture?  Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness.” ~ Romans 4:3

“Even as Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” ~ Galatians 3:6

 “And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.” ~ James 2:23

People are saved by believing God.

“For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.  How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed?  And how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?  And how shall they hear without a preacher?  And how shall they preach, except they be sent? …So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” ~ Romans 10:13-17

“This only would I learn of you; received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” ~ Galatians 3:2

Hearing implies a cognitive process of allowing oneself to be persuaded by a reasonable argument.  So we understand then that “faith” is more than just an assenting to the facts, but it has to do with being thoroughly convinced in your mind that something is true.  Why was Abraham righteous (justified, i.e. “saved”)?  Because he believed God.  He was thoroughly convinced that God is who He said He is and that what He says is true.  And this was not only true of Abraham but of every other Old Testament saint who believed God.

“Who [Abraham] against hope believed in hope, that he might become the father of many nations, according to that which was spoken, ‘So shall thy seed be.’  And being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that, what he had promised, he was able also to perform.  And therefore it was imputed to him for righteousness.” ~ Romans 4:18-22

If you carefully read through the Gospel of John, you should discover a theme repeated throughout; of Jesus being the Son of God and equating belief in Jesus with belief in God, or belief in the Son with belief in the Father.  This was one thing over which Jesus constantly rebuked the Pharisees and other religious leaders; they claimed that they believed God and that He was their Father, but Jesus railed hard against them, showing them that this could not be so since they rejected the Son.  So for those of us living in this “New Testament” age, belief in Jesus demonstrates a belief in God; understanding that Jesus is the Son of God; understanding that Jesus is who He says He is; accepting the eye witness testimony of those who walked with Jesus and were taught of Him.  So the standard for righteousness is still the same: belief in God is accounted for righteousness.

But is that righteous accounting no more than that, an “accounting”?  No, believers are not just “declared” righteous; they ARE righteous.  Why is that?

Early on in Jesus’ ministry on earth, a religious leader by the name of Nicodemus came to see Jesus in secret.  His purpose was to find out if Jesus was the promised Messiah.  Jesus made a peculiar statement to Nicodemus during this meeting; you MUST be born again.

“Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’  Nicodemus saith unto him, ‘How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter the second time into his mother’s womb, and be born?’  Jesus answered, ‘Verily, verily, I say unto thee, except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God.  That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.  Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again.’…Nicodemus answered and said unto him, ‘How can these things be?’  Jesus answered and said unto him, ‘Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things?’ ” ~ John 3:3-10

Some things should be apparent as we read this passage.  First of all, the New Birth is a necessity in order to enter the Kingdom of God.  Secondly, the New Birth is not a change in perception, it is a literal change of being.  Something actually changes in the person.  He is “born of the spirit.”  He is the offspring of God the Father!  But what is particularly interesting from this passage is that Nicodemus was completely ignorant of the concept of the New Birth.  Jesus Himself was incredulous that here was someone who was supposed to be a teacher, a religious expert, but who had no idea what the New Birth was.

Now it should be noted that in our Bibles, this is actually the first mention of an actual new birth.  But even though we can’t find it recorded, it apparently was a concept that had been revealed to Israel at some point in Old Testament times.  This is evident by the fact that Jesus implies that Nicodemus, as a teacher and leader, SHOULD have known about it.  The New Birth is the change that takes place in a person when he believes God.  It is the reason a believer is righteous, because as God’s offspring, that righteousness is an indicative characteristic of the new creature.

So salvation is the result of believing in God Who makes the believer a truly righteous being through the New Birth.

And now the last part of your question.

“And who/what is the bride of Christ?…Is Jerusalem the Bride of Christ? And if that’s the case what happens to us? How do we fit in? Also from all my readings I don’t think the bible conclusively says what the Bride of Christ is. But of course am open to hear what you have to say.”

I have written at length on this subject so this is a rather easy question for me to answer since I have been studying it for some time. Let me begin with a couple of familiar passages that have to do with weddings.

The kingdom of heaven is like unto a certain king, which made a marriage for his son, and sent forth his servants to call them that were bidden to the wedding: and they would not come.  Again, he sent forth other servants, saying, ‘Tell them which are bidden, Behold, I have prepared my dinner: my oxen and my fatlings are killed, and all things are ready: come unto the marriage.’  But they made light of it, and went their ways, one to his farm, another to his merchandise: and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them.  But when the king heard thereof, he was wroth: and he sent forth his armies, and destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.  Then saith he to his servants, ‘The wedding is ready, but they which were bidden were not worthy.  Go ye therefore into the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage.’  So those servants went out into the highways, and gathered together all as many as they found, both bad and good: and the wedding was furnished with guests.  And when the king came in to see the guests, he saw there a man which had not on a wedding garment: and he saith unto him, ‘Friend, how camest thou in hither not having a wedding garment?’  And he was speechless.  Then said the king to the servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’  For many are called, but few are chosen.” ~ Matthew 22:2-14

“Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom.  And five of them were wise, and five were foolish.  They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps.  While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept.  And at midnight there was a cry made, ‘Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.’  Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps.  And the foolish said unto the wise, ‘Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.’  But the wise answered, saying, ‘Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.’  And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut.  Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’  But he answered and said, ‘Verily I say unto you, I know you not.’  Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.” ~ Matthew 25:1-13

Jesus used the analogy of a wedding because it was something with which His audience (in this case, common Jews) was familiar.  If you want to see a good example of a typical Jewish wedding, I recommend you watch Fiddler on the Roof, (or you can search on YouTube for the wedding scene from it).

Traditionally, Jewish weddings were arranged between the fathers of the proposed couple.  Keep in mind, there are many details here that I am leaving out because I am trying to be brief.  After the parents have come to an agreement to the marriage, the couple is considered “espoused”.  This is a formal legal contract into which the couple has entered, and for all intents and purposes, the couple is considered “married” even though the marriage has not yet been consummated.  This espousal period can last for up to a year.  During this time, the man returns home to make preparations for his bride, and the bride-to-be prepares herself for becoming a wife.  Her fidelity to her bridegroom is on display during this period as well.

On the actual wedding day, the bridegroom leads a procession of his friends through the streets of the village to go and meet the bride.  This usually occurs at sunset.  There is much pomp and celebration that occurs along the way, and as the procession continues, people exit their homes, bringing a candle or lamp along with them to help light the way, and so the “wedding party” grows larger and larger as more and more “guests” join in celebration with the bridegroom.  The bridegroom then receives his bride, and the two, along with the entire party of friends and guests return to the bridegroom’s house where the wedding ceremony occurs with a grand feast and celebration following.

What you should notice from the passages cited above is that those who are mentioned who go out to meet the bridegroom (and ultimately participate in the wedding feast) are the guests, NOT the bride.  In this case, the initial invitations were given to Israel, but most of them rejected the invitation, so the King (God) extended the invitation to the Gentiles as well, who gladly received the invitation.  That would include believers such as you and me.  So if one is to hold a proper understanding of this parable, believers (both Jew and Gentile) are “guests” at the wedding, NOT the Bride.

But there are other examples as well.

“Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom’s voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled.” ~ John 3:28-29

“Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not? And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.” ~ Matthew 9:14-15

In these passages, believers are called “friends of the bridegroom” or “children of the bridechamber”.  John the Baptist even made a distinction between the “bride” and the “friends of the bridegroom”.  No one would dispute that John was a believer, but even he referred to himself as a “friend” of the bridegroom and not part of the “bride”.

There are a few other passages to which I could refer, but I will not take the time to exegete those now.  I can later if you want.  And I might also add that the expression “Bride of Christ” is found nowhere in the Bible!

So does the Bible tell us specifically who is the Bride?  Yes it does!

“And a voice came out of the throne, saying, ‘Praise our God, all ye his servants, and ye that fear him, both small and great.’  And I heard as it were the voice of a great multitude, and as the voice of many waters, and as the voice of mighty thunderings, saying, ‘Alleluia: for the Lord God omnipotent reigneth.  Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honour to him: for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.’  And to her was granted that she should be arrayed in fine linen, clean and white: for the fine linen is the righteousness of saints.  And he saith unto me, ‘Write, Blessed are they which are called unto the marriage supper of the Lamb’…” ~ Revelation 19:5-9

“And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.  And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God’…And there came unto me one of the seven angels which had the seven vials full of the seven last plagues, and talked with me, saying, ‘Come hither, I will shew thee the bride, the Lamb’s wife.’  And he carried me away in the spirit to a great and high mountain, and shewed me that great city, the holy Jerusalem, descending out of heaven from God” ~ Revelation 21:2-10

When the angel told John he would show him the bride, what did he show him?  The New Jerusalem.  The New Jerusalem is the Bride.  This is really so simple and so easy, there really is no other way to understand it unless you undertake a lot of theological gymnastics.  But God’s word is plain and simple.

So let us try to understand this in the context of what Jesus told us in Matthew 22.  Jesus told us exactly what the Kingdom is like.  If we understand that the Kingdom is God’s Kingdom where we will dwell forever and ever, then that Kingdom is the New Jerusalem.  The Father (God) is preparing a wedding for his Son (Jesus).  And He’s been preparing this wedding for a long time, since before the foundation of the earth.  And He sent out invitations to some choice participants, in this case, the children of Israel.  Those invitations were sent out by His servants (angels, the prophets, the apostles).  But Israel rejected that invitation when they rejected Jesus.  In fact they even treated those servants poorly. (In another parable Jesus talks about the King sending His own Son and how they killed Him).  But the Father still wanted the wedding to be populated with guests.  So he turned to those whom the Jews deemed as the trash of the earth; the Gentiles.

We need to understand that this was not “Plan B”.  This was God’s intention all along.  When He made His promise to Abraham it was with the intention that ALL nations would be blessed through his Seed (Jesus).  God also told Israel that He would provoke them to jealousy through the Gentiles’ accepting the invitation to the Kingdom.  That provocation to jealousy will ultimately bring Israel back to belief in God.

“They have moved me to jealousy with that which is not God; they have provoked me to anger with their vanities: and I will move them to jealousy with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.” ~ Deuteronomy 32:21

Revelation 19 describes this scene at the wedding feast with all the guests present.  They are simply waiting for the Bride so that she can be wed to the Bridegroom.  Even now, we are waiting for the Bride.  She won’t be ready until She is adorned in Her white linen.  The righteousness of the saints is the white linen.   Therefore, the Bride is not ready until all believers have been gathered to the wedding.

Here again, we see there is a distinction made between the Bride and believers.  Believers play a role at the wedding, but it is not that of the Bride.  One other verse I might point to contains the last words recorded at the close of all scripture.

“And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come’…” ~ Revelation 22:17

If the Bride is the New Jerusalem, then this call to “come” is an invitation to the Kingdom of God.  It amazes me how much all of this fits together!

I hope I’ve been able to answer your questions.  They are excellent questions.  I strongly urge you not to just take me at my word but search these things out for yourself from scripture and see if what I have said is consistent.  I’m sure you might have more questions or might need me to clarify some points, and I am more than happy to do so!

God Bless!!!

Andy

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