Law and Grace

Do you ever wonder how you can overcome the tendency to do wrong things? I mean, we kind of lean toward messing up don’t we. I would really like to get rest from the fight against myself where I know what is right but don’t do it. Maybe I need a tutor, but I would probably try to sneak off and do something bad even with a tutor.

In the early Roman Empire, Greek culture reigned supreme. The Greek language was dominant and education was of rising importance. At first education was limited to the practical side of life. As the role of education expanded mathematics, reading and writing also became more important. In a typical upward mobile family it became important for the whole family to be educated especially in the Greek language – the language of philosophy and politics. Since it was cheaper to buy an educated Greek slave than to send children to a school, slaves were purchased to be tutors.

The job of a typical tutor was to watch over the education of the household children. They were to be certain that the children learned the “right” lessons. The apostle Paul lived in that world and in explaining the role of the law to the Galatians in chapter 3 he illustrated that the law was like a tutor. The Message renders it this way, “23-24 Until the time when we were mature enough to respond freely in faith to the living God, we were carefully surrounded and protected by the Mosaic law. The law was like those Greek tutors, with which you are familiar, who escort children to school and protect them from danger or distraction…25-27 But now you have arrived at your destination: By faith in Christ you are in direct relationship with God. Your baptism in Christ was not just washing you up for a fresh start. It also involved dressing you in an adult faith wardrobe—Christ’s life, the fulfillment of God’s original promise.”

So how do you read the law in the Old Testament? Do you only hear the authoritarian voice of a demanding God, or do you hear the voice of promise? The promise is a right standing before God – rightness in our lives – a rightness that is a gift, not a rightness we work toward. The law was given as a protector delivering us to that place where we could receive that rightness from God directly – the law was only the tutor. That promise was given to Abraham, who believed God. Are you an ever failing rule keeper, trying to follow rules that can never make you right? “Galatians 3:5-6 Answer this question: Does the God who lavishly provides you with his own presence, his Holy Spirit, working things in your lives you could never do for yourselves, does he do these things because of your strenuous moral striving or because you trust him to do them in you? Don’t these things happen among you just as they happened with Abraham? He believed God, and that act of belief was turned into a life that was right with God.”

Today is Pentecost! In the church it is the celebration of the giving of the Holy Spirit. The result of receiving the Holy Spirit is power to witness to a life changed on the inside by God. The Holy Spirit is not the tutor – He is the comforter and the transformer. He is the promised one who makes the promise come alive within us. We celebrate that love this morning.

-Pastor Mark Lipscomb

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