Currently, in the adult Sunday school class, we are studying the book of Acts and using a study book written by N.T. Wright. This past Sunday, I taught the class. We were in Acts 21-22 where the Apostle Paul has returned to Jerusalem for the last time before being arrested and heading to Rome.
There was something that Wright wrote in an explanatory paragraph about the encounter Paul had with James and the elders of the assembly with which I disagreed. He wrote that there were rumors among the believers in Jerusalem that not only had Paul been telling Gentile converts that they didn’t need to be circumcised, but had also been telling Jews to abandon their ancestral traditions and customs as well. It was Wright’s assertion that Paul neither said nor did this very thing. I totally disagree.
By this time, Paul had written his letter to the believers living in Rome, which encompasses much of Paul’s understanding of the gospel as it was revealed and taught to him by Christ. In Romans 7, Paul tells the Jewish believers (he starts by saying that he is speaking to those who know the law, meaning Jews) that just like a woman whose husband has died is no longer bound by the law to her husband and is free to marry another, any believer, Jews included, because s/he has died to the law, is released from the mandates of the law and free to be joined to Christ. So Paul is directly telling Jews that it is no longer necessary for them to follow their ancestral traditions and customs. Wright was wrong and the rumors were true.
I bring all of this up because there are people within the global assembly today who teach adherence to the law. This is very dangerous territory. Paul says in Galatians 5:3 that anyone who allows himself to be circumcise is obligated to do the whole law. In other words, a requirement to follow one part of the law must be followed with a requirement to follow ALL of it. Cherry-picking is not allowed. And Paul then says that that person has been brought to naught, separated from Christ.
One of the key components of the gospel Paul received from Christ and proclaimed was the death of the old nature, “being crucified with Christ,” and “being resurrected with Christ to walk in newness of life” a new creation with a new nature. And when one has that new nature as his/her one and only nature, no law is needed or necessary to live as God would have that person live. That’s what Paul is meaning when, after listing the fruit of the Spirit, he says that “against (or over) such things there is no law.” When one’s nature is Christ, there is no need for rules and regulations to make a person be loving, or generous, or the other characteristics. What needs to happen is for that person to continue to learn who s/he is in Christ in that new nature. Rules aren’t needed for that.
So, here’s my challenge: examine, in reality, what your approach to and relationship with the law is. What “rules,” whether explicit or implicit, does your particular assembly of believers expect you to follow? Then start questioning why, for they are unnecessary for you to be who you truly are by nature. What is needed is continually being taught who you truly are in Christ, and rules are not needed for that.
Discipleship is the process of understanding who one is in Christ by nature. Discipleship is not about giving rules and regulations for a person to follow and the better you follow the rules, the more mature a disciple is. Discipleship is helping a person understand what God has done in him/her by giving him/her a new nature, making him/her a new creation, not about adherence to a set of religious rules and actions.