ministry of death

Posted: November 4th, 2010 | Filed under: God, life | Tags: | 10 Comments »

…sounds like a rock band. ( of which I may or may not consider starting. ;))

The Bible calls the Law, ‘the ministry of death‘, ‘the Government of Death‘, and ‘the Government of Condemnation‘.

The Government of Death, its constitution chiseled on stone tablets, had a dazzling inaugural.2 Corinthians 3:7

I don’t know why this stuff surprises me, but it does. I was taught the same thing, in a church pew, that most everyone else was taught. However, actually studying scripture and paying attention to what it says, instead of trying to make it fit what I was taught, still blows my mind. I can’t make this stuff up. It’s why I write.

So, back to the ministry of death.

The name is appropriate because the rules only point out where you’re wrong. Not only that, they make things you didn’t even know were wrong, wrong.

Anytime you talk about the Law, or rules, you run the risk of making them look like the bad guy, especially when you compare them to Jesus. However, when compared to Jesus, they are.

If the Government of Condemnation was impressive, how about this Government of Affirmation? Bright as that old government was, it would look downright dull alongside this new one. -2 Corinthians 3:9-10

Rules had (past tense) a purpose, but the rules are spirit and we, who try to follow the rules, are flesh. We’re doomed. The rules doom us. (Unless you think you can follow them, then you’re on your own. You don’t need Jesus.) People wouldn’t be called hypocrites if they would take a cue from the Master and stop spouting off rules to keep you forgiven. If you follow a set of rules, why do you need to be forgiven? Rules don’t keep you forgiven, ‘forgiven’ is a free gift. Rules give you an alternative to the gift.

God gave us His law to babysit us until Jesus came. Now that His work is ‘finished’, the rules are obsolete. ‘There is no condemnation…’ because, without the rules, there is no wrong.

For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.Romans 4:15 ESV

You can’t break the rules if there are no rules.

If those who get what God gives them only get it by doing everything they are told to do and filling out all the right forms properly signed, that eliminates personal trust completely and turns the promise into an ironclad contract! That’s not a holy promise; that’s a business deal. A contract drawn up by a hard-nosed lawyer and with plenty of fine print only makes sure that you will never be able to collect. But if there is no contract in the first place, simply a promise—and God’s promise at that—you can’t break it.Romans 4:14-15

God gave us a promise. His promise was sealed by Jesus. The promise is, there is nothing you can do that can make Him turn His back on you. You can’t mess this up. As mean as you can be, as wrong as you can be, as many mistakes as you can make, you still can’t mess this up. It’s a promise, sealed by Jesus, experienced through belief, and that’s it.

That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith… -Romans 4:16 ESV (emphasis mine)

There are those who are terrified of what this means. They think that if you don’t give people guidelines, they’ll go nuts. God has done away with the babysitter and put His Spirit inside us. We have right and wrong written on our hearts and no longer need the stone tablets.

In Matthew 15:1-3, the religious people were asking Jesus why he played ‘fast and loose with the rules’. It appeared that He gave no regard for religion or anything that any God fearing person regarded. Jesus’ response was perfect. He asked them why they ‘used their rules to play fast and loose with God’s command.’

The most important command in scripture, besides loving God, is to love others. According to scripture (see, we can’t make up our own minds what these things mean), loving others means never giving up on them and not keeping a record of their sins, among other things. What do you see the religious people currently doing? Disassociating themselves from people who mess up. In order to do this, they have to keep a record of their sins. They do give up on people. Using ‘their rules to play fast and loose with God’s command’.

Jesus is the failure’s best ally. Scripture is the best news for the complete screw up. If you’re having a hard time feeling accepted by the Christian community, bypass them and get right into scripture. You know those, who really know God, by their Love. Those are who your brothers and sisters are. All the others are just disoriented for a bit, but they’ll get there.

rdsgn


10 Comments »


10 Comments on “ministry of death”

  1. 1 Sharon said at 4:23 am on November 4th, 2010:

    Having been on the receiving end of the "disassociation" I am thankful for your testimony of grace and not writing them off completely.

    "All the others are just disoriented for a bit, but they’ll get there."

    I found myself smile reading that bit of grace you extend to even those who have turned their backs.

    It was a joy to meet you at Relevant.

  2. 2 Serena Woods said at 5:47 am on November 4th, 2010:

    Thank you, Sharon. 🙂

    We all turn our backs at some point, don't we? When you see someone taking their turn, patience pays off because trusting grace brings them back. When they come back, they're a much better friend than before they left. It's an amazing refining process that hurts like fire, but is so good at what it does.

  3. 3 steve said at 10:24 am on November 4th, 2010:

    Galatians 3:24

    Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith. 25 And now that the way of faith has come, we no longer need the law as our guardian. (NLT)

  4. 4 Frank Rue said at 5:02 pm on November 5th, 2010:

    Serena –

    I've been trying to understand your take on matters outside of the obvious love and proclamation of the Gospel (by grace alone)… How would you respond to the "third use of the law", as stated by Luther and Calvin and so many other Reformers… the idea that we should continue to study and be convicted by the law—even as believers—in order to consistently point us *back* to the Gospel (Christ's atoning work on the cross)?

    Also, you share about the idea of "loving your neighbor" being an incredibly important command from Christ (which is the law in its epitome). How do you look at the context of the verse in Luke 10? It seems to me that Jesus was establishing that this epitome of the law was *also* impossible, and that, without faith through grace, no one can.

    I'm enjoying a lot of what I read, so I wanted to get your take. 🙂

    Thanks,

    Frank

  5. 5 Serena Woods said at 6:02 pm on November 5th, 2010:

    Frank,

    I have not studied Luther, Calvin or other Reformers. However primitive, I only study scripture, then write what I see. So, my answer will be to what I understand to be the question you're asking, and based on what I understand scripture to be saying.

    You can read and study the Law and get an A+ in morality, but not be moral and not follow the Law. When we read the Commandments, we know they are right and good. Yet, we can disobey them in our next step. It's like Moses, who in the presence of God, was given the Law engraved tablets. His face had the glory of God shining from it, but had to cover his face with a veil because the glory faded. The Law can make His face shine, but his next act was to smash them in anger.

    The Law makes us aware of our need for Jesus. It demands what we cannot deliver and therefore 'consistently points us back to the Gospel.'

    It is impossible to 'love your neighbor' (the kind of love listed in 1Cor13) without grace. Love is all about grace, therefore, it's impossible to give grace without being aware of your need for it. Knowing that we all take our turn being on the wrong side of right fuels our compassion for those who are taking their turn.

    In my own experience, I know what it's like to have your spirit wracked by an army of accusers, like a lamb trapped in the bushes of a demonic feasting ground. When I see a fallen brother or sister, I don't see their sin, I see myself. I know what is happening to them, the things that are happening in their spirit, and I'm overwhelmed with compassion. I listen to them so I can determine where they are in the process, then I meet them, where they lay, and let the grace, that Jesus pours into me, spill out onto them. (like the 'good samaritan' in Luke 10, only it's spiritual wounds rather than physical wounds.)

    Sin hurts because the sinner knows how wrong they are. That's evidence of the Law being engraved on their hearts. However, knowing they're wrong doesn't make them right. They still need to be rescued. They need to be reminded of the Gospel.

    I hope I didn't get too far off track and that I answered your questions.

    Please let me know. I love conversations like this. 🙂

    Thanks for reading, by the way.

  6. 6 Name (required) said at 7:10 pm on November 5th, 2010:

    Sarah, do you read and study in the original languages? If not, how do you know how accurate the english translations are?

    Do you go to church and hear people preach? How is that different than reading commentaries on the Scripture to sharpen your thinking? Perhaps they might think of something you hadn't. How is talking with others online different than reading commentaries of strong Christian leaders down through history? Obviously Scripture is always first and foremost, and these other people's writings are not as authoritative. But as iron sharpens iron…

  7. 7 Paula said at 7:11 pm on November 5th, 2010:

    sarah=serena. Doh. I must be tired. 🙂

  8. 8 Frank Rue said at 8:01 pm on November 5th, 2010:

    Serena –

    I don't mean to sound snarky (okay, I lied—I do like being snarky sometimes), but I want to try and understand where you're coming from on some of the things you've said. Forgive me if I come off a bit bluntly—I am just compelled by Scripture to bring this stuff to the table to see where you stand.

    For instance, you said: "The Law can make His face shine" but Moses' face actually shined first because he was indirectly exposed to God's back on Mt. Sinai, and because he was talking to God (Exodus 34:29). Also, the claim that the glory left his face, or that it left because he became angry and broke the tablets is not in Scripture that I can find (can you point to this, if I've missed it?). You're initial point about the effects of Law on Moses doesn't seem to be consistent with Scripture.

    The command preceding that of loving our neighbor is: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." (Matthew 22:37 ESV)

    It is impossible to do this. Period. This cannot be done with grace, with faith, or at all! It is simply impossible. The point of this enumeration of the greatest commandment is to prove that we are utterly incapable of being righteous of our own volition (a point on which we both agree).

    This is why Christ said, "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished." (Matthew 5:17-18 ESV)

    It is clear that He has come to be the substitutionary atonement for our crimes against God's Law (Romans 6:23). *This* is the beauty of the Gospel: that even when we *deserve* death and Hell, Christ died for us—completely paying the price for our sins. But the Law still exists, and still points sinners to Christ and helps believers to know a Godly standard.

    The parable of the good Samaritan in Luke 10 is in answer to the question, "Who is my neighbor?" (or better yet, "How Can I Be a Good Neighbor?") It is an excellent testimony how we should respond when a person is in need (believer or unbeliever).

    My fear is that your interpretation borders on a dangerous edge. On one side, it is noble and Christ-like to extend grace to one another in whatever situation we may be! On the other side, however, we do not want to show approval of sinful behavior, compromise truth to make sin seem okay, or give license to sin because of God's grace (e.g., "You can break all the Law you want—it doesn't matter anymore since Christ died for us!").

    I know that you are not explicit in this area in your comment—and that's what worries me.

    How do you handle the idea of church discipline, when carried out as in Matthew 18:15-17? First off, it would require that there be a set of rules by which believers need to abide. Secondly, it would require that church members bring attention to another believer when he/she is in sin, initially with one, then with two or more, and then in front of the whole church. Finally, it culminates, if the person is unrepentant, in casting them out of the church as they would "a Gentile or a tax collector". In what I've read in this post, I'm not sure if you are clear as to whether or not you would advocate that sort of discipline (if done properly; biblically).

    I say all of this because I have noticed, of late, a tendency in people to abuse the concept of "grace" and disregard any obedience to the commands of God apart from "love God, love people". Though these commands are *certainly* true, they are *far* from the balance of teaching Christ required his disciples to know and to teach. Would you agree?

    As an aside, you seem to use The Message in many of your Scripture passage quoting—which is not a translation of the bible for studying, but a paraphrase for easy reading. It is very much the theology subscribed to by its writer, Eugene Peterson. Initially, you said in your comment, "I have not studied Luther, Calvin or other Reformers. However primitive, I only study scripture, then write what I see." Though this seems pious, and, to the less savvy reader, makes a statement between the lines that you prevent the influence of other theologies by "going straight to Scripture", it does not. I'm sure your intention is not malicious—I just submit that your interpretation, without studying the volumes of interpretations of theologians on the same subjects, is very much subjective (i.e., "what it means to you").

    Challenges? Thoughts?

    Frank

  9. 9 Serena Woods said at 8:10 pm on November 5th, 2010:

    Paula:

    "Do you read and study in the original languages?"

    When there is something that I'm confused about, yes, I do. It's usually when I need a better understanding of the use of a particular word within the context. Mostly, I study out of five English translations so I can get the best understanding possible. [ESV [because it points to other scriptures saying the same thing], AMP [because the author(s) did his/her/their homework], MSG [because of it's conversational style], KJV [because of how abrasive it can be] and NIV [because it's what people are used to hearing])

    'Do you go to church and hear people preach?

    This must be your first time reading my writing. 🙂

    Yes, I go to church. I also listen to podcasts, from several other churches around the country, in my headphones while I clean. I am also involved in communities of other writers and speakers. I speak at conferences and Christian Universities every now and again.

    'How is that different than reading commentaries on the Scripture to sharpen your thinking?'

    It's no different. It's another layer of information.

    'Perhaps they might think of something you hadn’t.'

    Absolutely.

    'How is talking with others online different than reading commentaries of strong Christian leaders down through history?'

    My online conversations don't go into as much depth. 'Commentaries of strong Christian leaders down through history' are fantastic resources.

  10. 10 Serena Woods said at 12:53 pm on November 6th, 2010:

    Response to Frank,


    “you said: “The Law can make His face shine” but Moses’ face actually shined first because he was indirectly exposed to God’s back on Mt. Sinai, and because he was talking to God (Exodus 34:29).”

    My thoughts regarding Moses were inspired by the following verses in 2 Corinthians 3:

    Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.-2 Corinthians 3:7-11


    “Also, the claim that the glory left his face, or that it left because he became angry and broke the tablets is not in Scripture that I can find (can you point to this, if I’ve missed it?). “

    Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. -2 Corinthians 3:12-13

    Moses face did not fade because he broke the tablets, but because the glory of the Law was temporary.


    “My fear is that your interpretation borders on a dangerous edge. On one side, it is noble and Christ-like to extend grace to one another in whatever situation we may be! On the other side, however, we do not want to show approval of sinful behavior, compromise truth to make sin seem okay, or give license to sin because of God’s grace (e.g., “You can break all the Law you want—it doesn’t matter anymore since Christ died for us!”).

    I know that you are not explicit in this area in your comment—and that’s what worries me.”

    One of the biggest fears that Christians have is, if they offer grace to someone who messed up, they will appear as they are condoning the sin. The outcome is for Christians to stay away from their fallen brothers and sisters until some form of religious authority tells them that the sinner is officially clean. In the meantime, the fallen are lost, scared and terrified that God has abandoned them to their sin, too.

    Grace is not the approval of sin, grace covers sin. Compassion is not saying that what you did was okay, it’s showing empathy for a child of God who is still alive and is still in the game. Sin doesn’t stand a chance against grace (Rom5:19-20). We have been set free to Love, not to sin (Gal5:13).

    I write about this subject fairly often, here is an excerpt of one such article:

    “I have one last thought, if a person is excited about these scriptures simply because now they can do whatever they want, you can’t really do anything about it. If someone is sinning with the hope of grace in mind, you can’t suck the truth out of the message of grace. However, let me say, as someone who has sinned immeasurably, God is real and He is involved. When God deals with a person who thinks they can take advantage of the His system, there is a place He lets them go that sears all of that selfish immaturity out of them. I have been there and you don’t have to worry about it. Do you want to know what I would say to someone in that position? ‘Try it.’ Because, I know they’ll never try it again.”


    “How do you handle the idea of church discipline, when carried out as in Matthew 18:15-17?”

    I’ve recommended this to others often. The issue most people, with whom I have spoken, are not given this process, but are simply ejected from their community.

    This process needs to be taken with the goal of getting ‘their brother’ back. 1 Corinthians 5 also talks about this process. The goal is for the one who sinned to be purified (even by a run in with Satan) so that he can come back. It’s like sticking a kid in a corner. You separate him and discipline him, but you don’t leave him there.

    The problem is not with the discipline. The problem is in skipping steps and ignoring the goal.


    “As an aside, you seem to use The Message in many of your Scripture passage quoting—which is not a translation of the bible for studying, but a paraphrase for easy reading.”

    Yes, I love to use The Message in my writing because it flows with a conversational style. Please read the above comment to if you are interested in my study habits.


    “Initially, you said in your comment, “I have not studied Luther, Calvin or other Reformers. However primitive, I only study scripture, then write what I see.” Though this seems pious, and, to the less savvy reader, makes a statement between the lines that you prevent the influence of other theologies by “going straight to Scripture”, it does not. I’m sure your intention is not malicious—I just submit that your interpretation, without studying the volumes of interpretations of theologians on the same subjects, is very much subjective (i.e., “what it means to you”).”

    I was trying to tell you that I couldn’t have an intelligent conversation about men and women I have not studied well. I also was offering a warning that my understanding of your question may not be accurate and I did my best to use scripture to (which is what I study extensively, but not exclusively) to answer you.

    Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify my meaning.