Look with me at the last chapter of the gospel of John. It’s not merely an interesting add-on. This chapter is an important bridge from the facts of Jesus’ life, teaching, death & resurrection to our lives.
After these things Jesus manifested Himself again to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias, and He manifested Himself in this way. Simon Peter, and Thomas called Didymus, and Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, and the sons of Zebedee, and two others of His disciples were together. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will also come with you.” They went out and got into the boat; and that night they caught nothing.
But when the day was now breaking, Jesus stood on the beach; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, “Children, you do not have any fish, do you?” They answered Him, “No.” And He said to them, “Cast the net on the right-hand side of the boat and you will find a catch.” So they cast, and then they were not able to haul it in because of the great number of fish. Therefore that disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord.” So when Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put his outer garment on (for he was stripped for work), and threw himself into the sea. But the other disciples came in the little boat, for they were not far from the land, but about one hundred yards away, dragging the net full of fish.
So when they got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught.” Simon Peter went up and drew the net to land, full of large fish, a hundred and fifty-three; and although there were so many, the net was not torn.
Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” None of the disciples ventured to question Him, “Who are You?” knowing that it was the Lord. Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and the fish likewise. This is now the third time that Jesus was manifested to the disciples, after He was raised from the dead.
So when they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Tend My lambs.” He said to him again a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” He said to Him, “Yes, Lord; You know that I love You.” He said to him, “Shepherd My sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me?” Peter was grieved because He said to him the third time, “Do you love Me?” And he said to Him, “Lord, You know all things; You know that I love You.” Jesus said to him, “Tend My sheep. Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were younger, you used to gird yourself and walk wherever you wished; but when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and someone else will gird you, and bring you where you do not wish to go.” Now this He said, signifying by what kind of death he would glorify God. And when He had spoken this, He said to him, “Follow Me!”
Some of Jesus’ disciples went back to fishing. To the way it had been before Jesus came along. Back to the same old same old – people, home, work, lake, tackle. John is showing the tendency we humans have to default, to return to the same values, habits, patterns, behaviors, & lifestyles. He’s showing this so he can show the difference Jesus Christ makes with his dying & rising, defeating the enemy kingdoms, & becoming King. Now that he’s alive, what differences will there be? What differences will we accept? Did Jesus go through all that & there not be anything different come out of it? Can we believe Jesus is the Messiah & Son of God and that not make anything different? Now that he’s alive – what?
Fishing was not sport or recreation for those men. It was sustenance – how they kept themselves and their families alive. It was their career – their purpose, their reason to get up every morning, the way they produced something worthwhile. It was their lifestyle – what they did 6 days pretty much every week. Maybe they went back for safety, thinking if they stick with fishing maybe the people who killed Jesus won’t come after them. Maybe they went back because it was comfortable – Jesus has risen but maybe they’re not sure what’s going to happen next, so they go back to what’s comfortable. Fishing gives them meaning, security, control; it gives them life – physically, emotionally, psychologically, & spiritually. We all have those – like family or job, something of your own – which makes you happy. Does Jesus being alive make any difference in those things?
They caught no fish. John is saying there’s no real meaning, security & control in the same old same old. There’s no real life in all that.
On shore, Jesus yells: “Fish on the right side!” They take in a huge haul. One of them realizes: “It’s the Lord! The King is right here in Galilee!” Peter swims to shore, the others row the boat. What’s John saying? Get to Jesus.
They make it to shore. Jesus greets them: “Breakfast is ready. Let’s eat!” He already had the fish that had been trying all night to catch! John’s showing that Jesus has what we’re looking for, he provides what we need. Life. He’s been saying that all through this book: the Bread of Life, the Living Water, the Door, the Way & Truth & Life, the True Vine, the Resurrection & Life. Jesus is & has what you need. And now it’s ready for you. That’s the difference made by his sacrifice on the cross, rising from the dead, taking the throne & bringing the Kingdom into this (your) world. Breakfast is ready. You can have what you need. You can have meaning, security, & control. You can have life. Take it in. Take in God’s love & be accepted, take in God’s mercy & be forgiven, take in God’s righteousness & be good, take in God’s wisdom & be competent, take in God’s healing & be renewed, take in God’s peace & be secure, take in God’s joy & be satisfied, take in God’s hope & be confident. Now that he’s alive, it’s all ready.
Don’t go back to fishing. Don’t stick with the same old same old. Get to Jesus – swim, row, bicycle, 4-wheel, run, walk, crawl – get to him by faith & take the life he has ready for you.
They finish breakfast. Jesus starts a conversation with Peter. Peter’s the one who led that fishing trip. He’s a born leader, and he had led back to same old same old. But he also led the way getting to Jesus on shore. Peter had always been one of the 3 closest to Jesus, with James & John. Then he was the one who denied he even knew Jesus. In this conversation, Jesus taking all those pieces of Peter’s life and putting them together so Peter becomes a new man – he has a new relationship with Jesus, he has a new mission, he has a new destiny. He’s actually going to be a partner with the King building the Kingdom until the day he dies.
That’s a difference for us. The risen, reigning King takes the pieces of our lives & builds us into new people. Some pieces, he throws away. Some pieces, he repairs. He brings in some new pieces. He puts us together in a way that we can live in his Kingdom & work as his partners.
I wish I could say that all this is working smoothly in my own life. To tell you the truth, I have a lot of same old same old. A lot of the same sins, fears, & distractions.
I can say this. I know there can be a difference. I know that Jesus’ dying & rising was not just to add something religious to the same old same old so I can go to heaven. I know that Jesus being the risen King brings about the difference that I and every person (you) are looking for. Now that he’s alive, we can live. Get to him.
A lion woke up one morning in the jungle and felt pretty proud of himself. He decided to take a walk. He came across a monkey eating bananas and yelled, “Hey, monkey, who’s the king of the jungle?” and let out a tree-shaking roar. The monkey bowed low and said, “You, great lion, you are the king of the jungle.” The lion moved on and found a zebra grazing on the grass. He yelled, “Hey, stripes, who’s the king of the jungle?” and gave an earth-shaking roar. The zebra bowed low and said, “You, great lion, you are the king of the jungle.” The lion was quite pleased with all this and walked on. He found an elephant drinking at the watering hole and yelled, “Hey, dumbo, who’s the king of the jungle?” and roared with all his might. The elephant turned and looked, then reached out and wrapped his trunk around the lion, picked him up off the ground, threw him against a tree, and jumped up and down on him. As the elephant walked back to the watering hole, the lion scraped himself off the ground and yelled, “Okay, okay, no need to get mad just because you don’t know the answer!”
Do you know who’s king? Yes, Jesus is King. But do you know how he became King and what it means for you and for all of us and for the whole world? We’ll find the answer in the Gospel of John, chapters 18, 19, and 20. This is John’s description of Jesus’ trial, execution, and resurrection. He wants us to see that this is all about who will be King. Here are the sections that make this really clear.
(Ecce’ Home’ by Antonio Ciseri)
18:33 – 40
Therefore Pilate entered again into the Praetorium, and summoned Jesus and said to Him, “Are You the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Are you saying this on your own initiative, or did others tell you about Me?” Pilate answered, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests delivered You to me; what have You done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” Therefore Pilate said to Him, “So You are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say correctly that I am a king. For this I have been born, and for this I have come into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears My voice.” Pilate *said to Him, “What is truth?”
And when he had said this, he went out again to the Jews and said to them, “I find no guilt in Him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover; do you wish then that I release for you the King of the Jews?” So they cried out again, saying, “Not this Man, but Barabbas.” Now Barabbas was a robber.
19:1 – 3
Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; and they began to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps in the face.
19:12 – 16
As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”
Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” So they cried out, “Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.”
19:19 – 22
Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews’; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
19:28 – 30
After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth. Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.
A few days before this, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey colt, and the people welcomed him as the King, the Messiah whom God had promised. Jesus did not assemble an army and take down his enemies by force as the way he took the throne. He put himself in his enemies’ hands and died as a sacrifice. That’s how he became King.
There certainly were other kingdoms in force. Force is the right word because that’s how they operated. The religious leaders used the Law as a force to require people to live the way they thought would qualify them as God’s favored people. Law without mercy or kindness or love. Heavy requirements that kept the people under the authority of those religious leaders. And if anyone dared oppose them, there would be severe consequences, including even execution, which is what they wanted for Jesus since he was claiming to be King but not including their way in his Kingdom. So the Jewish religious leaders made the astonishing declaration: “we have no king but Caesar.”
Caesar, the Roman emperor, represented by Pilate the governor. Rome was the great empire that claimed to bring peace on earth. Well, there was peace as long as you did what they told you to do. Their military legions were stationed all over the lands they had conquered by war. The Romans lifted up Caesar as Lord, as a god, and you didn’t have to believe that in your heart, but you better pay him your taxes and you better not try to take back any place he had conquered.
Now the reason those kingdoms of force were in place goes back to the beginning. Those ways of running things were in place because humanity rebelled against the Creator. Instead of continuing to rule the world which God had made as partners with him, we went our own way. We sinned and corrupted the world. We sinned and brought chaos. We sinned and brought death. Running the world by force is just the opposite of the way God intended it to be.
And instead of being partners with God, that rebellion made us partners with the Ultimate Sinner. Jesus called him “the prince of this world” (John 12:31). He’s the one who leads the whole world astray, that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan (Revelation 12:9). The world was under the dominion of a being who intended to rule forever in rebellion against God and who was quite satisfied for humans to keep on doing things their way because that meant they were really doing things his way.
So Jesus took on those kingdoms, those powers of force, in his own way. Without violence. Without force. With sacrifice. He put himself in their hands for them to have their way, yet God was using it for his way, to bring rescue and redemption to the world. Jesus gave his life. He took the sin of all people as his own. He took the rebellion of all humanity to himself. And because he took the sin and rebellion he had to take the consequence, and so he died.
Now that doesn’t look like a King taking his throne. It looks like he lost and the other kingdoms won. It looks like rebellion and force and violence come out the winners. It looks like humans will keep doing their own thing until they run the world into the ground. It looks like death will not be beat. It looks like Satan will remain the prince of this world.
Thanks be to God, that’s not the end.
John 20:1 – 2
Now on the first day of the week Mary Magdalene came early to the tomb, while it was still dark, and saw the stone already taken away from the tomb. So she ran and came to Simon Peter and to the other disciple whom Jesus loved, and said to them, “They have taken away the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid Him.”
The two men ran to the tomb and yes, it was empty. They went back into town and Mary stayed close to the tomb. Someone else spoke to her.
John 20:14 – 16
When she had said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, and did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?” Supposing Him to be the gardener, she said to Him, “Sir, if you have carried Him away, tell me where you have laid Him, and I will take Him away.” Jesus said to her, “Mary!” She turned and said to Him in Hebrew, “Rabboni!” (which means, Teacher).
Well, now things look completely different! The Law-enforcers condemned him but he didn’t stay condemned! The political/military establishment killed him but he didn’t stay dead! He has risen! He knocked the prince of this world off the throne by breaking the hold of sin and guilt. He took our sin to himself and left it in the grave. He took our rebellion as his own and left it in the grave. The enemies were conquered and Jesus became King. The apostle Paul put it this way: “Having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us, he took it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross” (Colossians 2:14-15). Jesus is King and so, God’s Kingdom has come into the world.
But wait just a minute, you may be thinking. Look out the window – does it really look like Jesus is King? There’s still a lot of force bearing down. Governments make us live by their codes and regulations. Political/military powers move into smaller nations and take them over. And look at the evil that makes headlines every day – murder and abuse and embezzling and mass shootings. Terrorist attacks throughout the world. And there’s all the dark, twisted stuff in our own hearts. God’s Kingdom has come? Jesus is King? If he is, you may be thinking, he’s not doing a very good job of making things right.
But see, Jesus did not become King by force and he doesn’t rule by force. Jesus and his first followers knew that even though he is King, opposition and rebellion will continue; force will still be used to run the world. They taught that the Kingdom takes root in individual hearts and that it spreads slowly and gracefully. It’s like a gentle stream of water that soaks dry ground instead of a raging river that washes everything away. A gentle stream can be dammed and diverted. The Kingdom and the King can be refused and rejected. But the King has promised that his Kingdom will never end and eventually the glory of God will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea.
We can see the basis for this in one more incident in this story of how Jesus became King.
John 20:27 – 31
Then He said to Thomas, “Reach here with your finger, and see My hands; and reach here your hand and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.” Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are they who did not see, and yet believed.”
Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
The King and the Kingdom come to those who choose to believe. Thomas became convinced that Jesus was his Lord and God. His King. Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ and Son of God – the Messiah, the Rescuer, God come in the flesh and now the King will have life. Because Jesus is King, people can start over like Nicodemus (John 3). People can have their deepest thirsts quenched like the woman at the well (John 4). People can be unconditionally accepted like the woman caught in adultery (John 8). People can and will be raised from death like Lazarus (John 11). Like Thomas and John and Mary, we can become partners with the King building the Kingdom – not by force – and bringing life to others.
I’d like you to hear one young man’s story.
Jesus has died. Jesus has risen. And he is King.
Hey, law, you can move on now
When the Bible speaks of the Law, it is talking about the entire covenant which God made with Israel when he brought them out of Egypt. It includes the Ten Commandments, the sacrificial system, the temple organization, the feasts and holy days, the moral commands, the social guidelines, and the economic instructions. I remember being taught that the work of Christ took the place of the sacrifices but the moral law was still binding on Christians. As far as I know, there is no such division like that mentioned in Scripture. The Law is all of the Law given to Israel (including the prophets who made application of the Law to the nation in their times). Note: I will capitalize the word Law as a reminder of its all-inclusiveness.
There are several statements in the New Testament that clearly assert the Law is no longer required for living as a follower of Jesus, such as:
Romans 7:6 (NASB) “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.”
Ephesians 2:15 (NIV) “by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations.”
Colossians 2:14 (NASB) “having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.”
Hebrews 8:14 (NASB) “When He said, ‘A new covenant,’ He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.”
The contexts of these verses as well as the entire Letter to the Galatians and 2 Corinthians 3 show us that the Law given by God to Israel is not in effect any more. We have been released from the law. By abolishing the law. He (Jesus) has taken it out of the way. He made the first (covenant) obsolete. I don’t know how it could be any clearer.
But it is still difficult for us to see. Deeply embedded in our minds is the idea that we are supposed to be behaving by obeying God’s commands, that God has given us a set of rules which bring order to life and guidelines which determine our faithfulness and righteousness. We may say that we believe Jesus saved us so we can obey God’s Law. And we assume that since God gave the Law, it is permanent and therefore mandatory for all people in all times to live by it.
What helped me the most with this is finally understanding why the Law was abolished and the purpose of the Law.
The Law “was taken out of the way” (Colossians 2:14) because Jesus fulfilled it. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:17-18 NASB). His intention was not to just say “no more Law.” He intended to fulfill it. Fulfill doesn’t just mean he obeyed it perfectly so he could be the Savior and help us obey it. Fulfill means that he completed what the Law was meant for. Romans 10:4 (NASB) says, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” The word “end” means “complete.” It’s the same word Jesus used when, on the cross, he announced, “It is finished.” Jesus finished, completed, fulfilled the purpose or meaning of the Law. He said, “Not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law UNTIL all is accomplished.” Meaning that once all was accomplished, once the Law was fulfilled, it did “pass away.” Jesus began the passing away of the Law even before his death and resurrection: “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean” (Mark 7:19).
So, what was the purpose of the Law? Why was it given by God to Israel? There are two primary features that are attributed to the Law in the New Testament.
The first: “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor” (Galatians 3:24-25 NASB). The New International Version puts it: “So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.” Paul even says, “we were held prisoners by the law” (v23). God gave the Law to the Hebrews to get them ready for the arrival of the Messiah. It wasn’t meant to be a code of behavior for everyone to follow. There was a specific time frame it was in effect: “until Christ came.” Since the Messiah has come, the Law is no longer needed. Its purpose – get ready for the Messiah – has been fulfilled. This is kind of like a mortgage: the purpose of the mortgage is to pay for a home; when all the payments have been made the mortgage has been fulfilled so you’re no longer under the requirement to send money to the finance company.
The second feature of the Law’s purpose is closely related. In fact we might say this is how the Law served has a tutor or guardian. How do the following three statements describe the Law?
Colossians 2:16-17 Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day— things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ.
Hebrews 8:4-5 there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law; who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things…
Hebrews 10:1 For the Law, since it was only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near.
Did you see it? “Shadow.” The Law (the entire Covenant with Israel) was a “shadow of what is to come” – “a shadow of the heavenly things” – “a shadow of the good things to come.”
The shadow of any object – a tree, an aardvark, a woman, a skyscraper – shows something of the object but not everything. It shows a basic outline, but no details, no texture, no color, no expression. And no life. The shadow is not the real thing. The Law was not the real thing – it was not the real means for God to reconcile and redeem humanity. It was not the real expression of God’s Kingdom. It was not the real way for God’s people to live with him and each other and the creation forever.
“The substance belongs to Christ.” Jesus is the real thing. The Person and Work of Christ cast a shadow over Israel so they would have some idea – but not complete – of God’s plan for saving and restoring humanity. Everything in the Old Covenant – the Ten Commandments, the sacrificial system, the temple organization, the feasts and holy days, the moral commands, the social guidelines, and the economic instructions – pointed to Jesus. After he had risen and appeared to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, Luke says, ” Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures” (24:27). All of it is about him.
But the Law is only a basic outline, only a shadow, so we don’t hang on to it now that Christ has come and redeemed. There’s a wall corner that juts out into a room in my house. Imagine me standing near the corner, not able to see around it. I see a shadow on the floor of a person around the corner. And then my wife walks around the corner. Do I keep watching the shadow, talking to the shadow, hugging the shadow? Of course not. I want my real wife!
Jesus is the reality of all that God is doing. The Law was his shadow.
The Law’s purpose has been fulfilled. It has accomplished what God intended it to do. Now it is obsolete. It has been abolished. It has been taken away. It is not in effect for anyone. We still can learn much from the Old Covenant, but we do not need to try to obey it or adhere to it or observe it.
Now an important question has to be dealt with. If we don’t live by the Law, how do we live? How do we know what’s right and wrong? What determines our morality? How can we identify God’s will, what he wants us to do? Where do we get wisdom for making right choices? How do we function as God’s people in the world religiously, morally, ethically, socially, and economically?
The Law has been replaced with a new way – the only real way – for living faithfully and obediently to God.
To this day, Pentecost (Shavuot) is observed in Judaism as the feast of the giving of the Law. On the fiftieth day from Passover and leaving slavery in Egypt, the Hebrews came to Mount Sinai. The Lord descended to the top of the mountain with thunder and lightning and thick smoke and a loud trumpet blast. The people trembled in fear. Moses went up the mountain, and God sent him back down with the Law – the tablets of the covenant, the instructions for how to live in obedience to the Lord. That is the shadow cast backward from the day of Pentecost that’s described in Acts 2. Fifty days before, Jesus died as the true Passover Lamb then he was resurrected, making the way for humanity’s release from slavery to sin and death. Like Moses climbing Sinai, he ascended to the throne with his Father, and the Holy Spirit was sent down with the power to put the new covenant into effect. This new covenant is not operated by words written on tablets of stone. It’s operated by the Spirit living in the hearts of God’s people. The Holy Spirit has replaced the Law as the way for us to live faithfully and obediently.
The way God wants us to live cannot come about by commands and rituals and observances on the outside of us. The Spirit works in us to produce inner change so we each become a different kind of person. God wants us to be more than people who obey rules. He intends for us to be his images, his likenesses (Genesis 1:27). That is our true identity, what it means to be fully human. Ephesians 4:24 says “[you] put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.” Due to our sinful corruption we can’t do that on our own, and the Law bring it about. The Holy Spirit present in our lives makes that happen – he teaches, confronts, shows, and enables. Paul teaches on this in 2 Corinthians 3 and 4, and this verse sums it up: “we all…are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (3:18).
The Spirit is working in our hearts and minds, our wills and emotions, our thoughts and desires, transforming us into a different kind of person. This is what God promised through Jeremiah and confirmed by the writer of Hebrews: “For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts” (8:10, shortly before he said the old covenant is obsolete). God makes the ways for people to live a part of who we are. For example, I won’t just manage my anger but will become the kind of person who does not get angry when it’s not called for. Behaviors and priorities and desires and spirituality come from within instead of being requirements forced on us by external rules and commands. Of course, this doesn’t take place instantaneously or easily for the most part; it is a lifelong process.
The crux of becoming a different kind of person by the Spirit is learning to live relationally with God. Instead of adhering to a list of commands and observing a schedule of holy days or following a system of principles, we live by responding to God. The Gospel of Mark, in chapters 2 and 3, describes how Jesus taught this. He and his disciples were criticized for not obeying the laws of fasting and Sabbath observance. His response to the fasting issue was, “While the bridegroom is with them, the attendants of the bridegroom cannot fast, can they? So long as they have the bridegroom with them, they cannot fast. But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast in that day” (2:19-20). Instead of fasting in obedience to a rule, you decide whether or not to fast in response to what the bridegroom (Jesus) is doing. The Holy Spirit reveals what God is doing (John 14-16) through Scripture, prayer, circumstances, other believers, and sometimes by speaking directly to our spirit.
This is kind of a messy way to live. It’s not well-ordered and scheduled by a Law. It’s a relationship with a Person. It’s not about mere surface behaviors. It’s about deep, inner transformation. So it can be a challenging struggle. Ben Patterson, campus pastor of Westmont College, explained, “Through circumstances he nudges us or draws us or jolts us into prayer. Suddenly we are faced with something that challenges our deepest securities, knocks away all of our props or violates everything we ever believed to be true about God and his ways.” Living in response means we must deal with God dealing with us. It’s messy and challenging, but it’s real, and it results in our developing a genuine closeness with God and being renewed in his likeness. Living by the Spirit in relationship with God is freeing and victorious.
This is a radical way to live. It’s not what most of our Christian training looks like. It’s not how the world operates. Most of our culture promotes a legalistic approach to morality, ethics, economics, society, and religion. Things like rules, values, rights, legislation, medication, executive orders, and coping skills have their place in a community of broken sinners, but they are only stopgaps and makeshift methods to control human behaviors and prevent anarchy. They produce very little real change. Much of American Christianity promotes a formulaic approach to religion – “here are the 19 keys to having a blessed, prosperous life!” – and attempts to find satisfaction in emotional experiences. Some still emphasize keeping the laws of the old covenant as the way for Christians to please God – “tithing is God’s financial plan for supporting the work of the Kingdom!” – and even believe they were meant to be the guide for all civilizations – “use of the Ten Commandments for their civic and moral significance should be not only permissible, but indispensable in encouraging age-old maxims of good citizenship.”
No, it takes something more radical than Law for us to hear the Spirit and become more like Christ. The Law doesn’t give life. John Piper provides a great description of this radicalized Christianity:
The way we strive towards being obedient, holy and loving people is not by getting up in the morning and pulling the list out of our pocket. No! We get on our knees and we open ourselves to the whole counsel of God in the Bible. We saturate and shape ourselves by everything he has done, he is doing and he will do. We stake our lives in the gospel and then instead of serving the law, we serve one another in love… You are now married to the risen Christ. You are not married to the law and the oldness of the letter, but to the newness of the Spirit. Our whole approach towards transformation, love and life is different than list keeping.
This is a guide for encountering Christ for yourself. You probably will need to set aside some time to be alone and uninterrupted. Use it any way you need. Don’t feel you have to be locked in to what I’ve written; follow the Spirit’s lead for you. I pray God will meet you and give […]