How can one man make you stand up and cheer one minute and send a wave of discouragement over you the next? And a godly man at that?! (I know, I’s the reality of human nature.)

First the cheering:

In order to understand Paul properly we must grasp how his perspective both continues and modifies the religious tradition in which he was reared, especially his understanding of his Old Testament roots.

First, we must recognize his own sense of continuity with his heritage. Paul sees himself and his churches as being in a direct line with the people of God in the Old Testament; and despite his deep convictions about the radical implications of the coming of Christ and the Sprit, he regularly reaffirms that continuity. He includes a primarily Gentile church in the events of the exodus: “all our forefathers were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea” (1 Cor 10:1-2). … Paul never speaks of a “new Israel” or “new people of God”; his language is now composed of Jew and Gentile alike as the one people of God.

Now the weeping:

But just as clearly, there is significant discontinuity. The people of God have now been newly formed. Christ is the “goal of the law” (Rom 10:4), and the Spirit is “the promised Holy Spirit” (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13). Christ’s death and resurrection have brought an end to Torah observance (living on the basis of the Old Testament law, (Rom 7:4-6; 8:2-3); being led by the Spirit has replaced observance as God’s way of fulfilling Torah (Gal 5:18); indeed, the righteous requirement of Torah is now fulfilled in those who walk in/by the Spirit (Rom 8:4).

Argh!!! Gordon Fee is one of the most excellent exegetes of the 20th century (he lived mostly in the 20th century and it’s too soon to tell what impact he will have on the 21st century), and yet here is a grievous misunderstanding, in the midst of a book titled Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God that is jam-packed with excellent material on the Holy Spirit! It makes me want to scream. His reputation and excellence give added weight to his words; do I dare give this book to eager learners?

I sure wish I could call up Dwight Pryor and chat about this one.

But, here we are, so let’s deal with the section I referred to as “the weeping.”

The people of God have now been newly formed.” Well, yes and no.

Yes, they are now re-invigorated with a fresh infilling of the Holy Spirit specifically for the expansion of the Gospel to the nations (Acts 2) and given an awareness that God specifically intends for the Jewish nation to be the agent for the spreading of His message to the nations. This had been prophesied all along, but it was a new awareness for the Chosen People. They’ve been newly formed in that they now believe in Jesus Christ as their long-awaited Messiah, and they’ve been re-invigorated with a new and fuller understanding of the tools God had given them all along for the purpose of transformation into His image. Those who felt they could earn their way into God’s graces, have been disabused of that notion, and their entire heritage has been re-cast in the light of Messiah’s identity and teaching.

No, the same people have always been the people of God, and “those of faith,” to use Paul’s language in Galatians 3:7 have participated in the New Covenant all along, whether they were aware of that fact or not. They’re not so much “newly formed” as newly added to, and newly invigorated with a renewed or new understanding. And, they are being taught about the reality that they are new creatures in Messiah–the old has gone and the new has come. But this is not a new reality, just a new understanding, and there is much evidence that it’s not even entirely new understanding. Certainly new to the majority of the Gentiles, to whom Paul is writing, but not new to all the Jews.

Christ is the “goal of the law (Rom 10:4).” For sure, and assuredly Fee gets it right when he renders telos as “goal” rather than “end.” Certainly also, “the Spirit is ‘the promised Holy Spirit’ (Gal 3:14, Eph 1:13),” and yet the Spirit is not new either. Joshua was “a man in whom is the Spirit,” as were all the prophets, Moses, David, etc. Assuredly there were Jews not filled with the Holy Spirit, but in whose name do you think R. Hanina ben Dosa performed miracles? It seems that the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost with a fresh infusion, with an anointing for a task of newly epic proportions–take the Gospel to the nations, rather than let the nations come to you–but it was not as if He had not already been indwelling “those of faith” for centuries already.

being led by the Spirit has replaced observance as God’s way of fulfilling Torah (Gal 5:18)” What? No! Being led by the Spirit is synonymous with observing God’s law…after all, who was it that was to write the law on our hearts? “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” (Jer 31:33) It was the Spirit, aka, the “finger of God” that wrote God’s law on the stone tablets, and it is He who also writes God’s law on our hearts.

indeed, the righteous requirement of Torah is now fulfilled in those who walk in/by the Spirit (Rom 8:4).” Well, yes, of course, for now that we are in Christ and His law is being written in us, as we walk by the Spirit, He guides us in the Way (Ps. 25:8-9,12; Ps 119:1, 30-33)


1 Gordon D. Fee. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996. pp 3-4.

Love Works in Surprising Ways

Sometimes it’s the little things that get you.

Yesterday I used up the last of my bar of Grandpa’s Pine Tar soap (wonderful stuff!), and I thought, “Oh, need to make sure I grab a new bar,” but by the time the shower door closed I was thinking about why κοίνου is translated “unclean” in Romans 14:14.

Today when I hit the shower, there was a brand new bar of soap! Only my wife would first of all notice that my soap was gone, secondly, remember further than the bathroom door, and replace it with a new bar. I am truly blessed by an amazing woman, well-suited for me!

Now you folks need to understand, I live in a home with multiple families and my soap is kept in our bedroom, not in the bathroom, so if I had stepped into the shower to find no soap at all… well, that’s just a very inconvenient circumstance!

Babe, I love you! Thanks for enabling me to think theologically no matter where I find myself!

Is it a sin?

“Is it a sin?”

I’ve heard this question delivered with defiance and with sincere desire to understand. In this vein sometimes one hears, “Is it a sin, or just not recommended?” The question can apply to almost any behavior (or lack thereof) and is typically trotted out in discussion about something different than your conversation partner’s present practice.

“Is it a sin?” is a loaded question both in terms of what it reveals about a perspective too many of us unconsciously share, and in what it suggests may be behind the perspective of the person to whom the question is posed.

But let me put it this way: sin is anything less than the perfect glory of God (Romans 3:23), so yes, doing anything Jesus wouldn’t do is a sin. However, there is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jess….shall we continue to sin that grace may abound? God forbid!

So what am I saying? We are swimming in sins of a variety of kinds, some of ignorance, some of weakness, and some of our own deliberate fault; praise be to God that we have forgiveness of these many sins through the sacrifice of His Son on our behalf. So, now that I have no obligation to earn my salvation or to try and improve God’s opinion of me, I am now free to diligently labor to imitate Jesus ever more faithfully over time, as He leads and convicts me, and enabled to do so by the presence and leading of His Spirit in my new man. We are privileged to have His help in gradually re-fashioning our selves back into the image in which we were originally created.

I thought about it this morning, when once again God woke me up 30 minutes before my alarm, and I sensed He was calling me to come spend time with Him. Yesterday, I started praying but stayed in bed… there is this complex mixture of truths that I reflected on as I sat on the edge of my bed and then shuffled downstairs. On the one hand, I realize that God is calling me to live up to the potential for which He created me, and the circumstances of my life will be altered as a result of how faithful or unfaithful I am to His ways. On the other hand, I thought about how I feel when I open my kids bedroom door at 6:30 am and they moan and stretch and then rise to go swim… my feelings are entirely loving and positive–there is no condemnation or impatience in my heart, just love for them–and I pondered the truth that this is how God feels about me as well. And some mornings because I both want what is best for them, but also have compassion on them, I want to just let them sleep…as we did this morning. And I know that this too is what God is like: 

Psalm 103:13–14 

“As a father shows compassion to his children,
so the Lord shows compassion to those who fear him.
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust.”