Personal Gifts

In his grace, God has given us different gifts for doing certain things well. So if God has given you the ability to prophecy, speak out with as much faith as God has given you.”
Romans 12:6 NLT

Paul develops his theme of the body of Christ, the church, being made up of individual people, and he wrote to the Christians in Rome, pointing out that God had given each of them a “different gift”, “for doing certain things well”. We don’t know much about the Roman church, or churches, and what giftings were present, but we can be sure that the spiritual gifts were present there. It was as though Paul was reminding them of this fact. Paul also told them that it was through God’s grace that they were given the gifts, and he highlighted the gift of prophecy. Was this the most important or just the first that came to his mind? We also see that the gifts Paul mentioned in the following verses in addition to prophecy – serving, teaching, encouraging, leading, giving, and showing mercy or kindness – were all there for the benefit of the local church. These were gifts that formed the “glue” that held them all together. There was something about the Holy Spirit empowering the gifts so that they become far more effective than any natural equivalent. Peter also said that God has a “great variety of spiritual gifts” (1 Peter 4:10), so perhaps the seven listed here in Romans 12 were just a few out of many. 

Is it the case that the church today has the same spiritual gifts that were bestowed upon the First Century Christians? Is it being presumptuous to reply in the affirmative? There is nothing that I can find in Scripture that says the gifts were only for the First Century AD, or the Apostolic age, so I think it is safe to assume that the spiritual gifts are still alive and well today. We should note that the Romans 12 gifts are gifts for service. Paul lists some more in 1 Corinthians 12, gifts such as healing and faith, miracles and knowledge, all gifts manifesting the power of the Holy Spirit. 

But before we get into the list of “certain things”, are we personally sure that we do, in fact, have a spiritual gift? How do we know? Well, first of all, Paul said that God has given us “different gifts“. 1 Peter 4:10, “God has given each of you a gift from his great variety of spiritual gifts. Use them well to serve one another“. 1 Corinthians 12:7,“A spiritual gift is given to each of us so we can help each other“. If God has said it, then we must have it. Is it wrong to say that to deny that we have a spiritual gift is to deny God? 

So, how do we find our spiritual gift or gifts (some people have more than one)? They can only be found by seeking God, though there are some helps that He has provided. Things like, do we feel a rise in our spirits at the mention of a particular gift? Or is there a friend who has pointed out to us something we are particularly good at? We should of course beware of looking for gifts that we think are a good idea rather than what God really has planned for us. 

Our loving Heavenly Father so kindly knows our shortcomings, and how we need much encouragement. He provides these practical gifts to help us and our churches, helping us shine as beacons in the world around us.

Dear Heavenly Father. We thank You for Your graciousness, so sensitive and practical, providing all that we need for our Christian lives today. Amen.


“If some of the branches have been broken off, and you, though a wild olive shoot, have been grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing sap from the olive root, do not consider yourself to be superior to those other branches. If you do, consider this: you do not support the root, but the root supports you. You will say then, ‘Branches were broken off so that I could be grafted in.’ Granted. But they were broken off because of unbelief, and you stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but tremble. For if God did not spare the natural branches, he will not spare you either.”
Romans 11:17-21 NIVUK

Gardeners are good at grafting. To someone who knows little about gardening, such a technique is well beyond my experience, but there are many skilled people who are good at it. What is grafting? Here is a quote from the UK’s Royal Horticultural Society, “The purpose of grafting is to combine one plant’s qualities of flowering or fruiting with the roots of another that offers vigour and resilience”. I have a rose bush in my front garden, purchased some years ago, that consists of just such a hybrid combination of good flowers and a wild rose root and stem. Paul informed his readers that they have been grafted into the olive tree, replacing other branches that had been broken off. Of course, as we considered recently, Jesus is the Source of the “nourishing sap” that supports us and sustains us in our Christian lives. And we are “wild olive shoots” that have been grafted in. The implication is that we Christians are not natural parts of the olive tree, but have been given the opportunity to be joined to the tree through our faith in God.

Paul goes on to make a good point. It would perhaps be easy to feel in some way superior to God’s own people, the Jews, because we have found His grace and love and they haven’t. So we observe how their removal from the Source now makes room for a people saved through His grace. And Paul reminds his readers that those removed, the natural branches, “were broken off because of unbelief”. There is, however, a warning coming from Paul’s pen – be soberly aware that we too can be broken off from the vine, the olive tree, if we lapse into apostasy and unbelief. 

Back to John 15. Jesus Himself taught about the importance of remaining connected to the Vine, we read in John 15:5-6 what Jesus said, “I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.” Indeed a sober warning for us pilgrims. So how do we remain in the vine? How do we avoid being burned in the fire? It’s all about our relationship with God. As Jesus said to the Jewish expert in the Law, the greatest commandment to be followed is, “ … you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength” (Mark 12:30). Our connection to the Source depends on our choices. If we choose to love God in all we do, aligning our lives and behaving how an olive branch should, then we will enjoy the life-giving and nourishing sap that flows unhindered from the throne of God. But if we choose to behave in a way that connects us to a different root system, then we cut ourselves off from God, and our spirits will wither and die. 

We pilgrims know what we must do. And it is not an impossible request that God makes of us. He is our loving Heavenly Father. He has the words of eternal life. Only He can welcome us into our future home in Heaven. And so we worship and praise Him, secure in the knowledge that He loves us and cares for us. He accepts all repentant sinners who come to Him, and He willingly grafts us into His Tree. Through His grace and mercy, there is unlimited room for new branches, and the grafting process is accompanied by much joy. How grateful we are!

Dear Lord Jesus. You are the Vine and we are the branches. Thank You for the life-giving Spirit that flows so freely towards us. Amen.

Did Israel Hear?

“But I ask, have the people of Israel actually heard the message? Yes, they have: “The message has gone throughout the earth, and the words to all the world.” But I ask, did the people of Israel really understand? Yes, they did, for even in the time of Moses, God said, “I will rouse your jealousy through people who are not even a nation. I will provoke your anger through the foolish Gentiles.””
Romans 10:18-19 NLT

Once again Paul quotes some Old Testament Scriptures to support his argument. In response to his question, “have the people of Israel actually heard the message” he quotes a verse from Psalm 19:4, “Yet their message has gone throughout the earth, and their words to all the world. God has made a home in the heavens for the sun”. In the context of Psalm 19, the Psalmist, David, looks up and sees God’s message of Good News in the skies above. Psalm 19:1 reads, “The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship”. David makes it clear that God’s creation is sufficient for all peoples everywhere, and in particular the “people of Israel”, to see Him and His Good News. So everyone has had an opportunity to hear, even see, the message. Do we pilgrims look up into the sky and associate what we see with our wonderful Heavenly Father’s creative abilities? Such knowledge elevates the mundane “It’s a sunny day today” into a declaration of praise and worship, lifting us into His very presence. I often think that the beauty of the world around me has been blighted by sin – imagine what the new sinless earth (Revelation 21) will be like?

So Paul is effectively saying that the people of Israel have heard the message of Good News, even if no-one has told them. But he goes on to think, “did the people of Israel really understand”? Again, Paul accesses another Old Testament Scripture to answer his question. This time it comes from Deuteronomy 32:21, “They have roused my jealousy by worshiping things that are not God; they have provoked my anger with their useless idols. Now I will rouse their jealousy through people who are not even a people; I will provoke their anger through the foolish Gentiles”. Paul may have been a little out of context here, but the implication is that the “people of Israel” understood the message because even the “foolish Gentiles” did. We of course remember the warning Jesus gave to the Jewish religious leaders of His day. We read in Matthew 21:43, “I tell you, the Kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation that will produce the proper fruit”. 

A question often asked of us is “Did you hear what I said?” Often we “hear” what someone says to us but we fail to process the audio into understanding, particularly if our minds are already occupied in thinking or reading something else. Misunderstandings can be commonplace – “I thought you said …”. Those of us who sit through many a sermon in church – can we summarise what the preacher said last Sunday? Hmmm… 

But there is no excuse for the Israelites, if they failed to understand the message God had given them. The Psalmist, David, in Psalm 19 wrote about the “catch all” of seeing God’s message in the skies above and His creation around us. We pilgrims have heard God’s message, and have responded to it in a positive way. When God speaks, we must listen. His messages contain life and hope, love and grace. Do we feel a sense of excitement from hearing His voice? Or are we jaded and dejected? If the latter state is the case, we need to turn the volume up to hear God’s messages. The problem is not the message but our focus being on something else, something that is drowning out what God is saying. Elijah, in the episode recorded in 1 Kings 19, earnestly sought God’s voice following wind, an earthquake, and fire. But the message was in the “still small voice”. Listening to God is an art that we must perfect. It will take a lifetime, but perseverance is required. And hearing God for ourselves, and not through another’s experience, will lead us in the way He wants. Another’s journey may not be the one God wants us to take. Being a God-follower can be a roller-coaster of experiences but through it all we find life God’s way. So listen out – that whisper you thought you heard in your spirit might just have been the Holy Spirit.

Dear God. Thank You that You care so much for us, to the point that You always know what is best for us and try and communicate with us. Please help us to learn to listen out. In Jesus’ name. Amen

Belief and Faith

“But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message?” So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.”
Romans 10:16-17 NLT

Paul realistically states to his readers, that not everyone will welcome the “Good News about Christ”. That was just as true in his day as it was in the days of the prophet Isaiah, who wrote in 53:1, “Who has believed our message? To whom has the Lord revealed his powerful arm”? This verse in the prophecy from Isaiah is a remarkable vision of God’s suffering servant, Jesus Himself. But the people of his day apparently didn’t take much notice. It was the same in Paul’s day, and it is the same today. Why wouldn’t a message of Good News be welcomed with open arms, and immediately responded to? 

We see the answer in part by the behaviours of people, who want to be in control of their own lives, and not be controlled by a faith in a God they cannot see, let alone believe in. Our scientists develop theories to explain the world around us to avoid having to acknowledge that there is a God who created all that we see. Psychiatrists go to great lengths in their counselling sessions to explain away the mental state and guilty feelings of their patients when all that is needed is repentance and faith in God. Our politicians and law makers devise legislation that they think will suit their mistaken political assumptions but that does not adhere to God’s principles, and get themselves in an awful mess in the process (for example the recent Gender Recognition Bill passed by the Scottish parliament). Lobby groups stridently declare their own particular ideologies, infecting the society around them with their poisons. A society that is not aligned to God’s way soon starts to collapse, and we fear that this century will not end well.

But none of this must stop us pilgrims from sharing the Good News about God and His saving grace. We will be ridiculed, bullied, criticised, and ostracised in the process, but we must persevere anyway. We do not know if the words we speak become seeds that slowly germinate in a person’s soul, eventually sprouting up some years later into a declaration of faith in Christ. Or we may be harvesters, bringing the right word that finally encourages a waverer to accept and believe in the message of Hope, God Himself. 

Paul wrote, “faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ”. It is through our senses that we receive the Good News, and our ears are the gate through which it flows. So, how is our communication script? Do we have a ready-made message that we can roll out, with suitable adaptations, to introduce someone to the Good News about Christ? Or do we sense an opportunity, and end up spluttering and blurting out something that doesn’t quite fit the occasion? Of course, the Holy Spirit within us can provide some important insights into the encounter. Jesus stopped at a well in Samaria for a rest and a drink. A woman came to draw water, and He shared His message of Hope on the back of some remarkable insights into her private life. We read in John 4:16-18, ““Go and get your husband,” Jesus told her. “I don’t have a husband,” the woman replied. Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband— for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!”” How did Jesus know this except through the Holy Spirit providing the information? We pilgrims also have the Holy Spirit living within us, as Jesus told His disciples in John 16:13, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own but will tell you what he has heard. He will tell you about the future”. The Holy Spirit knows the key that will unlock even the hardest, most resistant, hearts, and He will provide this information, if we listen to Him and act upon what He says. A contentious thought for some? Perhaps, but the Holy Spirit is powerful, the third person of the Trinity, and, sadly, is mostly discounted in churches today. We pilgrims must carefully listen for His voice, and act upon it.

The Good News about Christ really is good news. Those who hear it, and act upon it, are securing their future for ever. What can be more important than that?

Dear Father God. Once again we thank You for Your grace and love, that flow unceasingly into the world today. You are there us, always a loving Father and Someone we can be secure in. Thank You. Amen.

Totally Convinced (4)

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Romans 8:38-39 NLT

Paul finishes his musings about God’s love and what could get in the way with it, by writing a catch-all statement. Just in case he had missed something that might possibly block him from experiencing God’s love, he included the thought that there was nothing that God had created that would apply. And because God created everything, that was a very complete and conclusive statement. 

But in all of Paul’s thoughts, he missed out one very important entity that will block us from God, and that is our sin. It won’t stop God from loving us, of course, but a sinful human being can never enter His presence. The purity and holiness that is God’s very essence can never be soiled by sin in any form. The rebellious devil and his angels were evicted from Heaven because sin could never be allowed there. Heaven is a very real place with very real conditions, and sin won’t be one of them.

Are there ever any times when we pilgrims feel isolated and forgotten by God? Have we ever felt that our prayers never go beyond our ceilings? Just when we need God in a situation, does He seem to have gone on holiday somewhere? However, we can be assured that God will never forget us, or leave us. What God said through Joshua in Joshua 1:9 applies just as much today as it did then. He said, “This is my command—be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid or discouraged. For the Lord your God is with you wherever you go”. Some of the last words Jesus spoke before He ascended into Heaven were the reassurances that He will always be with us, His disciples. Matthew 28:20, “Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you. And be sure of this: I am with you always, even to the end of the age”.

So if God has never left us, how is it that we can feel that He has? Sin may get in the way, of course. And our enemy, the devil and his forces, may have a part in it. But sometimes that is how things are. At times of apparent spiritual isolation, it is our faith that keeps us going. God is always there for us. So we continue to pray, read our Bibles, fellowship with other Christians, because that is what faith does. We perhaps evaluate what we’re doing, just to make sure that a spiritual error of one kind or another hasn’t crept into our devotional lives.  But sadly, I have known people who return to their old lives in a sinful world, because of their doubts and lack of faith. Instead of pressing through they turn around on their journey, complaining that God’s demands are too hard for them, perhaps convincing themselves in the process that God doesn’t exist anyway. We who are strongest in our Christian walk need to encourage our weaker brothers and sisters to keep the faith. 

Paul wrote that nothing in all creation can separate us from God’s love. That is a statement that underpins our faith. It is a pillar on which our future is built. If the Bible has recorded such a statement we cannot ignore it. The Holy Spirit inspired Paul to write it. Perhaps He is inspiring us to heed it.

Father God. We know You are always there for us. Thank You. Amen.

Spiritual Groaning

And the Holy Spirit helps us in our weakness. For example, we don’t know what God wants us to pray for. But the Holy Spirit prays for us with groanings that cannot be expressed in words. And the Father who knows all hearts knows what the Spirit is saying, for the Spirit pleads for us believers in harmony with God’s own will.
Romans 8:26-27 NLT

As human beings we are weak, Paul writes. And it is true. Compared with God’s strength, our every thought and deed must appear weak to Him. We certainly have deaf ears, when it comes to hearing and understanding what God wants of us. The extent of our weakness can be found by comparing who and what we are with Jesus. As He made His way around Palestine, His every move, every prayer, every attitude, was recorded by faithful men, and accounts left us in the Gospels. To His disciples, Jesus was an open book, and He left them a legacy that changed the world after He died. But Jesus encouraged those first disciples by trusting them, teaching them, and showing them what a child of God could be capable of. He loved them to the end, as we read in John 13:1, “Before the Passover celebration, Jesus knew that his hour had come to leave this world and return to his Father. He had loved his disciples during his ministry on earth, and now he loved them to the very end”. 

But Jesus also encouraged His disciples practically. In Mark 6:7,12-13, we read how He trusted them to further His mission to His people, “And he called his twelve disciples together and began sending them out two by two, giving them authority to cast out evil spirits. …  So the disciples went out, telling everyone they met to repent of their sins and turn to God. And they cast out many demons and healed many sick people, anointing them with olive oil”. Jesus of course knew that once He had returned to heaven His disciples would need help and he promised them an amazing Helper, the Holy Spirit. We read in John 14:26, “But when the Father sends the Advocate as my representative—that is, the Holy Spirit—he will teach you everything and will remind you of everything I have told you”.

Paul wrote to the early Christians in Rome about the Holy Spirit’s help for them, and he gave them an example of how weak they were – “we don’t know what God wants us to pray for”. He included himself in this statement, and, by implication, us modern pilgrims as well. Occasionally, we may get a direct revelation from God, such as Ananias did when he was told to go and pray for Paul (Acts 9). But for the majority of our lives, we don’t really know what God wants us to pray for. We can get a good idea from Scriptures. We can follow the prayer Jesus left us – the “Lord’s Prayer”. But anything specific? Paul wasn’t a “pie in the sky” sort of person, and he knew all about human limitations. He knew that we particularly would need much prayer in a world that has always been hostile to Christians. So he informed his readers that the Holy Spirit was there to fill the gap in our communications with God. He would pray for us. But he then referred to the Holy Spirit praying for us with “groanings”. Here was something deeply spiritual, embedded within us, and able to communicate with God without us even knowing what it was. Communication directly from our spirits communicating with God, but bypassing our minds.

Paul concludes by informing the Romans that God Himself knows what the Holy Spirit is saying through these “groanings” and that this will be in accordance with God’s thoughts and His will for us. And these “groanings” were prayers pleading for us. We may, or may not, be aware of any of this. Tongue-speaking Christians will perhaps understand in part the process that is going on within us. But there is something very reassuring about the Holy Spirit within us, praying and pleading on our behalf. I don’t know about you, my readers, but I need the Holy Spirit within me. Those pleadings are essential. I need all the help God can give me in this increasingly secular world. 

Dear God. We need more of Your Spirit within us, each and every day. Without Him we are a weak and lost people. Amen.


Residence Permits

“But you are not controlled by your sinful nature. You are controlled by the Spirit if you have the Spirit of God living in you. (And remember that those who do not have the Spirit of Christ living in them do not belong to him at all.) And Christ lives within you, so even though your body will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God. The Spirit of God, who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in you. And just as God raised Christ Jesus from the dead, he will give life to your mortal bodies by this same Spirit living within you.”
Romans 8:9-11 NLT

Scientists claim that there could be just as many non-human organisms living within or upon us as there are human. Wee beasties such as the bacteria in our gut. The microscopic mites that live on our skin. And many others as well. There is a synergistic process at work that mutually benefits both us and the other organisms. But none of this was what Paul was referring to. He said that there is also a synergistic process going on within our spirits. Within us lives either sin or the Holy Spirit. And we will be controlled by one or the other. 

Our spirits are home to a violent battle between two opposing enemies. They are battling to take control over our minds, our actions, over who we are. There will be no prisoners of war. It’s a fight to the death. But God, through His love and grace, will win in the end, if we let Him. Paul reminded the Roman Christians that “even though your bod[ies] will die because of sin, the Spirit gives you life because you have been made right with God”. Sadly, we live in bodies that will eventually wear out and die – sin will overtake us one day. But our spirits will live on, in a wonderful partnership with the Holy Spirit.

But Paul continued by reminding his readers that the “Spirit of God” is so powerful that He raised Jesus from the dead. And through that same power He was going to “give life to your mortal bodies”. But we know that our bodies will become lifeless one day, and end up buried or cremated, ultimately to disappear from this life forever. Paul wrote to the Corinthian church the following words, “For we know that when this earthly tent we live in is taken down (that is, when we die and leave this earthly body), we will have a house in heaven, an eternal body made for us by God himself and not by human hands” (2 Corinthians 5:1). One day we will receive a new body, and we get a few clues about what that might be like from reading the Scriptures about Jesus after His resurrection.

The Holy Spirit living within us has a transformational impact on who and what we are. We are given access to God’s thoughts. We are able to follow His ways. We really do become a new creation, as Paul wrote about in Ephesians 4. No more do we have to be controlled by our sinful thoughts. But we have a choice. Who have we provided a residence permit for? Sin or the Holy Spirit? Hmmm…

Dear Father. Thank You for Your grace and love. Without it we would be a miserable and lost people. Please help us to allow Your Spirit to refine and improve us, so that we become more like Jesus in true holiness and righteousness. Amen.

The Human Jesus

The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”
Romans 8:3-4 NLT

Our sinful natures, ubiquitous and universal, give control freaks a problem. No matter how hard they try, they will never be able to control their seemingly unstoppable ability to commit sins. As Paul said in these verses today, even with the help of the Law of Moses, they will be too weak to effectively live up to God’s righteous standard all of the time. We may all succeed in staying righteous for a few moments, but then, at the very least, our thoughts will wander off and focus on something sinful. But thankfully, God didn’t walk away from us, wringing His hands in despair. He sent His Son Jesus “in a body like the bodies we sinners have”. Surely, He must have thought, they will listen to My Son.

We know from the accounts of the Apostles that Jesus lived His life as one of us but in a sinless state. No-one has ever been able to point a finger at Jesus and say, “Aah, but what about …”. We know how His life ended. Surely the greatest and most devastating miscarriage of justice there has ever been. But by God allowing His Son to be sacrificed, He “declared an end to sin’s control over us”. 

We note from these verses today that God didn’t do away with the Law. But we know that, because Jesus said so in Matthew 5:17, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose”. The Law, according to Paul, had a “just requirement” that had to be fully satisfied. And it still does. Jesus told His disciples that He would send the Holy Spirit to help them, and by following Him, they would be released from the power of sin over their lives. Jesus said in John 15:26, “But I will send you the Advocate —the Spirit of truth. He will come to you from the Father and will testify all about me”. And we know how that happened if we read Acts 2.

Through Jesus, there is no more condemnation for sinners like us. As the old song says, “It is no longer I that liveth but Christ that liveth in me”. And because He lives in us through His Spirit, He helps us so that no more will we be under sin’s power. We are free! Praises be to God!

Dear Lord. You set us free from the power of sin and death at Calvary. Please help us to share that truth with all those we meet. In Your precious name. Amen.

Good to Evil

“Sin took advantage of those commands and deceived me; it used the commands to kill me. But still, the law itself is holy, and its commands are holy and right and good. But how can that be? Did the law, which is good, cause my death? Of course not! Sin used what was good to bring about my condemnation to death. So we can see how terrible sin really is. It uses God’s good commands for its own evil purposes.”
Romans 7:11-13 NLT

Paul found himself in a situation in which he was perplexed. Once he was exposed to the demands of the Law, he discovered that his thoughts and deeds, some habitually committed since his earliest days, were actually sinful. The Law was a standard against which he found himself falling short. However, he found that if it wasn’t for the Law, he would never have known that what he thought or did was wrong.

As an example from society today. The expression “Oh my god” is ubiquitous, even being abbreviated to OMG in messaging, but do the users of this expression know that they are violating the second commandment from Exodus 20, “You must not misuse the name of the Lord your God. The Lord will not let you go unpunished if you misuse his name” (Exodus 20:7)? Without the benefit of the Law perhaps they would never have known. Of course, people, even Christians, claim that, because of Jesus, the Law no longer has any jurisdiction over them. But that isn’t really the case. Jesus said, as recorded in Matthew 5:17-19, “Don’t misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved. So if you ignore the least commandment and teach others to do the same, you will be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. But anyone who obeys God’s laws and teaches them will be called great in the Kingdom of Heaven”. 

So Paul lamented the fact that because of the Law, he found out that he was a sinner. He recognised that the Law was good, even holy, but because of it, it had effectively an evil purpose. 

Of course, we need laws to set boundaries on our lives and prevent society from falling apart. Without the Highway Code, drivers would have no idea of what constitutes a safe journey. Imagine the chaos if no-one knew what side of the road to drive on? But should we veer into the wrong lane, even by accident, we know that we have committed a dangerous act and put ourselves in danger. 

The Law acts as a constant reminder, a perfect standard, against which we pilgrims can gauge our progress in the Christian life. But thankfully, falling short need not be fatal, if we cover ourselves with Christ’s redeeming power, and listen to the Holy Spirit whispering within us. The old Apostle John wrote, “But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness” (1 John 1:9). What is He saying to us today? Many activities and thoughts will drown Him out if we are not careful and allow Him space. He is always more willing to speak than we are to listen.

Dear Father God. We thank You for Your grace and mercy. Your care for us knows no limits. Thank You. Amen.

Death to the Law

“So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God. When we were controlled by our old nature, sinful desires were at work within us, and the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds, resulting in death. But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.”
Romans 7:4-6 NLT

Perhaps we can see how the Roman Christians became a bit confused, prompting Paul’s detailed and enlightening letter. They must have thought that if the Law was replaced by something far better – their faith in the redeeming power of Jesus – then they were free to do what they wanted. Paul associated the Law and its many rules and regulations about what to do and what not to do with arousing within them the desire to do what they shouldn’t. Imagine the scene. There is a door to a cupboard in the house and a small boy living there is warned to never open it and look inside. What is the first thing he would do when the opportunity arises? He will open it and have a look. Perhaps if he had not been given that instruction, he might never have given it a thought. Paul wrote, “the law aroused these evil desires that produced a harvest of sinful deeds”. 

Paul wrote that because of Jesus and all that He did at Calvary, and through their faith in Him, they were released from the power of the Law. So for the small boy in our example, instead of listening to his “evil desires”, he has the opportunity to listen to the “still small voice” of the Holy Spirit within him, leading him to make the right decision. Perhaps not a good example but it hopefully illustrates the point.

God’s Spirit has unfettered access to the hearts and minds of redeemed Christians. And we pilgrims welcome Him in with open arms. Without the Holy Spirit we are very spiritually impoverished and thrown back to a time when all we had was the letter of the Law. But thanks to God and His wonderful plan we have a new way – life in the Spirit.

There was a principle taught to youth groups a few years ago, and it spawned a number of wrist bands with the letters WWJD engraved on them. The letters stand for ”What Would Jesus Do”. Perhaps this could be a mid point between the legalism of “obeying the letter of the Law” and true life in the Spirit. For most people it is perhaps too big a leap going from a Law-inspired life of sinful thoughts and actions to one of pure obedience to the Holy Spirit within us. So on occasion there might be a fog of doubt and confusion as to whether the voice within was really the Holy Spirit. To put skin on the Spirit’s voice is often helpful in times of uncertainty. But as we listen more and more to the Holy Spirit within us we increasingly recognise His voice and learn, almost intuitively, how to learn the ”new way of living in the Spirit”.

Dear Father God. What would we do without Your Spirit’s dwelling within us? Going back to slavery in the Egypt of laws is not an option we can consider. We are so grateful. Amen.