Shouldn’t Uriah have gone home to be with his wife?

Q. I have a question about 2 Samuel 11, but not about the behavior of David or Bathsheba. My question is about the behavior of Uriah. He is often seen as heroic, manly, virtuous because he does not spend the night at home with his wife but sleeps with the servants as a show of solidarity with the troops who are still on the front. Certainly as a soldier he has a commitment to the troops. But as a husband, he also has a commitment to his wife. I think his behavior is not all that commendable. We all face competing competing commitments, obligations, etc. when they all seem worthy. How do we sort out the correct choice?

I will address your question about sorting out competing commitments, but I would like to observe first that one possibility we do need to consider in this passage is that Uriah knew about David’s crime against his wife Bathsheba, or that he at least suspected it. If that is true, then he would also have recognized that by arranging for his return to Jerusalem, David was trying to make it appear that he (Uriah, not David), was the father of the child Bathsheba was expecting. We can then understand all of Uriah’s behavior as something he pursued in order to prevent that false appearance. He was not neglecting his wife, he was preventing a coverup.

Bathsheba could have sent word to Uriah, just as she did to David, that she was pregnant with David’s child. Or one of the many servants in the palace who knew what happened could have told Uriah when he arrived. Or Uriah might just have found the circumstances of his recall to Jerusalem a bit too suspicious. I am not an expert on ancient military practices, but it seems to me from what I read in the Bible that a warrior champion such as Uriah (he was one of “The Thirty,” David’s mighty warriors) would not ordinarily have been sent from the front just to provide a report on how a campaign was going. That was the work of messengers. Fighting in those days centered around these warrior champions, so it seems to me that it would have been unusual to send one of them away from the front during an active campaign. I may be wrong about that, but in any event I think there are grounds to believe that Uriah knew or suspected what David had done to Bathsheba, and so by staying away from home, he was preventing David from creating the impression that the child Bathsheba was expecting was his.

However, your question also deserves an answer on the premise that Uriah did not know or suspect anything about what had happened. Could we still commend his behavior under those circumstances? I think we could.

Each one of us needs to strike a balance between our competing commitments. For example, we should not neglect our families for our work, but at the same time we need to meet the reasonable obligations of our work and not fail to meet those because we are spending time with family and friends when we really should be working. And the balance that we strike needs to be sustainable. That is, it needs to be something that ordinarily holds for the long term.

However, from time to time there will also be extraordinary circumstances that call for us to make an exception to the usual arrangements. For example, to honor his responsibilities both to his family and to his church, a man might commit to arranging his work schedule so that he is, as a rule, free every Wednesday evening to participate in a home group that his church sponsors. But what if, one week, there is a project at work that requires his participation, is vital to the company’s success, and has a deadline that can only be met if he works late into the evening that Wednesday? Under those circumstances, he could miss the group that week, and that in itself would not throw his competing commitments out of balance. If that happened every week, it would be a problem. But if he were back in the group the next week and the weeks that followed, this would be seen as a genuine and legitimate exception.

I think we could understand Uriah’s actions in this light. For all he knew, he was being sent back to Jerusalem on an overnight mission to give a quick report on the campaign and then return to the front. (It was David who extended the visit to two nights in an effort to make Uriah look like the father of the baby.) Under those circumstances, it seems, Uriah felt that his commitment was to his fellow troops and that he needed to show solidarity with them. If he never went home to his wife, even when the army was not in the field, that would be a different matter. But I think that under these exceptional circumstances (and I believe they certainly would have seemed exceptional to Uriah), we can give him the benefit of the doubt for honoring the commitment that he felt needed to take priority at the time.

How do I know what Jesus is calling me to do?

Q. How do I know what Jesus is calling me to do?

I’m not sure whether you mean this question in the sense of daily matters of obedience or in the sense of a life “calling” (that is, a vocation). But I will answer it in the first sense and then say how the answer applies to the second sense as well.

Ideally, we learn to recognize the voice of Jesus by developing a close relationship with him through prayer, worship, devotion, and obedience. There is an analogy that Jesus himself gave that I find very helpful. When Jesus described himself as the Good Shepherd, he said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” He said that after explaining in general terms about a shepherd: “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” So the ideal is to learn to recognize the voice of Jesus so that we know enough to follow him when we hear him speaking, and we also know enough to run away from what opposing voices are telling us.

But this is a process that takes time, and there are things that can help us along the way. I think it is accurate and helpful to expect that a number of factors will converge to show us how God is leading us. In addition to the way we may have a sense of God speaking to us, these factors include what God says in the Scriptures; the advice we receive from wise, trusted advisors; what the circumstances permit (“open doors” vs. “closed doors”); the godly desires of our own hearts; the fact that we find we are yielded and willing to obey God about something—to have it, not to have it, or to wait; a sense of peace about it; and a recognition that it will require faith and that God is giving us the faith to believe for it. When many such factors converge to point in a direction that we sense the voice of Jesus is also indicating, then we can reasonably proceed in that direction, believing that he is guiding us that way.

But we should always be open to continual refinement of our understanding. We need to learn from experience. If it turns out that somehow we got the wrong sense of what God wanted us to do, then we need to think about how that happened and learn from it for the next time. There is a learning curve here. But it is also an adventure of walking by faith with a loving God who will reward us for our desire to hear and obey his voice, not punish us for hearing imperfectly while we are learning.

All of these principles apply to God’s guidance about a life “calling” or vocation. Vocation includes our paid work or profession, but it also includes our relationships, the ministry we have in our church, volunteer and leisure-time activities, and so forth. It is the “whole package” of life, but it does center around certain key decision such as what work to do and where, and what our primary relationships will be. The main difference between guidance about this and about daily obedience is that vocational guidance unfolds over time, as the result of much exploration. So you should still study the Scriptures, pray, seek godly counsel, understand the desires of your heart, and so forth. But you should just expect that you will need to find your way over time into your vocation; it’s unlikely that one day God will suddenly announce the whole picture to you.

Here are a couple of questions that are usually helpful for people exploring what their vocations should be.

  • What would you do if you could do anything in the world, if money were no obstacle and assuming that you could get any education or training you might need for it? Those limitations might actually be there, but answering this question helps you know what direction to head in.
  • What can you “not not” do? Most people can do a number of things well. But there is one thing, or a related cluster of things, that they just can’t help doing, no matter where they are. That points very clearly in the direction of God’s vocation for their lives. So don’t ask, “What can I do?” Ask, “What can I not not do?”

I hope these reflections are helpful, and may you find yourself able to hear more and more clearly all the time what Jesus is calling you to do.

What does it mean to “cooperate with God when sufferings come”?

Q. I have just finished reading God Mingled With Us, an inspiring little book about a wife’s difficult journey caring for her terminally ill husband. It reminded me a lot of the extended blog your wrote about your own journey. (Sorry, I can’t recall the name, and I couldn’t find it on your home page. Is it still available?) At one point the author writes, “There is a transformation process that occurs, making us more like Him as we cooperate with His divine life in us. This is ultimately what God is after in the process. The question is, will we cooperate with Him when sufferings come?” My question is, if you agree with this statement, what do you think cooperating with Him when sufferings come looks like?

Thank you for your question. First, let me say that Endless Mercies is the name of the story I have told of God’s faithfulness to my late wife and me during the four years when she battled ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease) with unfailing faith, joy, and courage. As you noted, I told this story in an extended blog format, and you can still read it here. (I have also added a link to this blog in the sidebar.)

I have not yet read the book God Mingled With Us, but it sounds very interesting. It does seem that the author and her late husband experienced God’s presence and help during his illness in many ways similar to the ones in which my late wife and I experienced those things. Let me share some thoughts in response to your specific question about what it means to cooperate with God when sufferings come.

My wife would often say to people about her illness, “This is something that God is trusting me to trust him with.” She felt that God was giving her the opportunity to believe by faith that her sufferings had meaning and purpose, even if she never found out in this life what the meaning and purpose were. She also felt that God was giving her the opportunity to rely on him for grace and strength for each day, no matter what challenges came. That does sound to me like cooperating with God.

My wife also talked about “peace through acceptance.” (That was a phrase she learned from Amy Carmichael, who became a historical mentor to her through her books.) If we do not question the wisdom, goodness, or love of God, but instead accept that God has allowed these sufferings for reasons that must be wise and good, even though beyond our understanding, we can experience peace and even joy in the midst of sufferings.

Someone once asked my wife, “Don’t you ever wonder, ‘Why me?'” She responded, “Why not me?” She explained that this is currently a broken world in which people experience sufferings, and we shouldn’t expect that just because we have faith in God, we will be exempt from them. Instead, she resolved to live each day of the illness as someone who loved and trusted God and who wanted to honor him by the way she conducted herself.

Those are some thoughts in response to your question. But I think the best thing I can do in reply is to invite you to read Endless Mercies. Having learned the phrase “cooperating with God in sufferings,” I do believe that you will see that modeled and illustrated throughout the story. Thanks again for your question.

Would being baptized with “tongues” help me experience God’s presence more?

Q. I gave my life to Jesus over 40 years ago and throughout those years, I have had times where my walk with Him has been blessed and I knew He was with me. However, many of these years have been done by will power. I know God is with me, but that is mostly an intellectual choice. I have been water baptized, but I have never been “baptized” with tongues, although I have prayed and prayed and prayed for it. I love God as best I can, but I feel like God has chosen my life with Him to be one of service by willpower with drops of his Spirit to keep me going. This can’t be what He wants for anyone who wants Him. Do you think it is because I haven’t been “baptized” in His Spirit by speaking in tongues? I know there are disputes about what baptism means, but if it is, why wouldn’t He want this for someone. Any thoughts you have would be appreciated. God Bless.

Thank you for your question. I do sympathize with what you are feeling and I understand what you are asking. Let me respond to your specific question about “speaking in tongues” first, and then let me respond to your general concern.

The phrase “speaking in tongues” refers to a spiritual gift that God gives that allows people to speak a language that they have not learned. (The word “tongues” in this phrase is being used in the older sense of “languages.” So “speaking in tongues” means “speaking in languages,” that is, languages that the speaker has not learned.)

I believe that the teaching of the Bible is quite clear that not every Christian receives this gift. Paul asks, rhetorically, in his first letter to the Corinthians, “Do all speak in tongues?” The expected answer is “no,” just as that answer is expected to his other questions, for example, “Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers?” (I say this with no disrespect for the Christian traditions that teach that “tongues” in the form of a “prayer language” is a gift available to all believers. I do not find that the Bible teaches that, but as I said, I intend no disrespect for those who hold that it does.)

So while I do believe that this gift is still available today, I do not believe that every Christian should seek it or expect it. I certainly would not say that having it is the key to a life in which someone experiences the presence of God all the time. In fact, if you have prayed and prayed and prayed for it and God has not given it to you, then I would conclude that you are not one of the Christians who is going to get this gift. But this only means that God has another wonderful gift for you. It is probably already in your life and you just need to recognize it for what it is and develop it for God’s glory and for greater fulfillment in his service. Please see this post: Why haven’t I received a spiritual gift like tongues or prophecy? Please also see this post regarding the “baptism of the Holy Spirit”: Are people “filled with the Holy Spirit” once or multiple times?

Beyond this, to speak to your larger concern, I would encourage you to consider that perhaps you are someone who will experience God’s presence in your life not primarily through your emotions but through other means. Every person is different, and every person who knows God experiences God differently. Jesus said that we should love God with our heart, soul, mind, and strength. Perhaps different people will love God more with some of these than with others. I actually hear in your question how you are already loving God with your mind (intellectually) and with your strength (willpower). Maybe the thing to do is to recognize these as genuine ways of loving God and to realize how much God values and appreciates receiving love from you in these ways.

If the feeling of God’s presence continues to come and go, please don’t be discouraged by that. That is the nature of feelings. They come and go. But I hope you can always experience satisfaction in your faithfulness to God. Our hope is not that when we stand before God in heaven, he will say, “It was so nice that you felt I was there all the time.” No, our hope is that he will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” So let us seek to be good servants and faithful servants. If we are, we can be sure that God is pleased with our lives, no matter what we are or are not feeling at any given time.

Could remarriage after divorce not “amount to adultery” in some circumstances?

Q. My question is one seeking clarification. You wrote in this post: “It’s clear from Scripture that God does not like divorce, and so the Bible says many things to discourage divorce, such as the warning that marrying a divorced person can amount to adultery. (This is especially true if someone gets divorced in order to marry someone else.)” First, you’re one of the few people I’ve seen who mentions the “in order to” part. I believe that’s an important point of translation. What I want to know is, based on the phrase “can amount to adultery”: Is it your stance/belief that there is a situation of remarriage after divorce that might not “amount to adultery”?

I would say yes, I do believe that a person who is divorced and then remarries, or someone who marries someone who has been divorced, can have a marriage that is honoring to God and not under any condemnation from God as adultery. I say this after many years of pastoral experience and many years of studying and teaching the Bible.

I would stress once again that there is no biblical sanction to divorce a spouse in order to marry someone else. But consider the much different case of someone who, before they gave their life to Christ, married as a young and immature person and whose marriage broke down because of sin and immaturity on the part of both spouses. What if, many years later, once they had given their life to Christ, been transformed by the influence of the Holy Spirit, and learned the lessons of their first failed marriage, they met another believer and were truly convinced that the two of them could serve God more effectively together than apart? In such a case, after making very sure that all these things were true, I as a pastor would be prepared to perform the wedding (and I have done so in such cases).

My reasoning is that God is not so much against divorce as in favor of marriage. (The reason why God is so against divorce is that he is so in favor of marriage.) So I believe that if the two people I have just describe hypothetically could form a strong, healthy, God-honoring Christian marriage together, then the purposes of God in the world would be much better served by allowing them to live out that ideal as a model and example to others, and as a blessing in itself, than by continuing to penalize them for the rest of their lives for something that happened when they were young and immature and before they knew the Lord.

I recognize that some Christians would still disagree with this, and I acknowledge that they would do so wanting to honor what they understand to be the biblical teaching. But you asked what my understanding was, and so I have shared it with you. I hope this is helpful.

If Jesus didn’t sin because he didn’t have a sinful nature, why did Adam and Eve sin when they didn’t have a sinful nature?

Q. I once held the view that Jesus to be truly human had to have at least the option of sinning. I changed my view when I was taught that Jesus didn’t have a sin nature like us, thinking that without this fallen nature, it would have been impossible for Him to sin. But, the thought came to me that Adam and Eve didn’t have a sinful nature at first, yet they sinned. So, any thoughts?

Your question bears on the issue of whether Jesus on earth was “not able to sin” or instead “able not to sin.” Christians of good will with equal commitments to the authority and inspiration of Scripture hold different views about this. I personally believe that it was not the case that Jesus was “not able to sin” while he was on earth. I believe he was instead “able not to sin” (your original view). But this was not because he did not have a fallen nature or sin nature.

Rather, to borrow the language of Augustine, once we come under the influence of original sin or a fallen nature or sin nature, we are “not able not to sin.” We may do some good and right things in life, but we will also sin, inevitably. We need to be born again, regenerated, so that we will have a new nature that is no longer under this constraint.

Without original sin or a fallen nature, we would then be in the same situation as humans before the fall. To quote Augustine further, in that situation, people were both “able to sin” and “able not to sin.” That is the radical nature of human freedom. So Adam and Eve sinned, even though they didn’t have a sinful nature at first, because they were “able to sin,” in addition to being “able not to sin.”

So what about Jesus on earth? I would describe him as “able not to sin,” and that was true of him because he was completely yielded and obedient to his heavenly Father and because he lived his life in the power of the Holy Spirit. This was true of him to such a degree that I would actually hesitate to describe him as “able to sin” while on earth, although technically that was a possibility, in my view. What I mean is that while it was a theoretical possibility, it was not an actual one, given how absolutely devoted he was to God.

In that way Jesus sets an example for us. We, too, are “able not to sin” when we yield our wills completely to God’s will and live in the power of the Holy Spirit. Jesus did this consistently for a lifetime, which is far more than we can realistically hope for ourselves, but we can at least hope for more and more occasions on which we find that we are “able not to sin” as we are yielded to God, obedient, and Spirit-filled.

And we can also anticipate the wonderful time when, glorified in the presence of God after this life, we will be truly “not able to sin.”

Can you lose the Holy Spirit?

Q. Can you lose the Holy Spirit?

I believe personally that when people genuinely put their trust in Jesus as Savior and Lord, the Holy Spirit comes to live in them and does not depart. However, the Bible does warn us that we can “grieve” or “quench” the Spirit.

In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul describes the kind of behavior that grieves the Spirit: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.

And in his first letter to the Thessalonians, Paul describes the kind of behavior whose absence or presence can quench the Spirit: “Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.”

So if a Christian is wondering whether they have lost the Spirit, it’s possible that they have grieved or quenched the Spirit in one of these ways. The Spirit has not left them, but the Spirit has withdrawn out of grief or been relegated to a marginal role in their life. I would say to all who might be wondering about this that they should examine themselves to see whether they have done this. They might be harboring bitterness towards another person, for example, or indulging in some activity that they know is wrong. They should recognize what they are doing, ask God’s forgiveness, and change their ways. Then, I believe, they will be able to pray confidently, in the words of William Cowper’s hymn:

Where is the blessedness I knew
When first I saw the Lord?
Where is the soul-refreshing view
Of Jesus and his word?

What peaceful hours I once enjoyed!
How sweet their memory still!
But they have left an aching void,
The world can never fill.

Return, O holy Dove, return!
Sweet the messenger of rest!
I hate the sins that made thee mourn
And drove thee from my breast.

What is God’s full armor, according to Ephesians?

Q. What is God’s full armor, according to Ephesians?

In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul describes the “full armor of God” as follows.

The “belt of truth.” In biblical times, soldiers would gather up their robes and fasten them with a belt so that they could move freely in battle. So we can think of speaking the truth and proclaiming the true message of God as something that allows us to work unencumbered for God, without having to think about whether we are “sticking to the story” that we have made up and without having to defend positions that have no grounds in the word of God. One translation says, “Let the truth be like a belt around your waist.”

The “breastplate of righteousness.” The breastplate was the piece of armor that protected a soldier’s chest and abdomen and the vital organs inside. One translation says, “On your chest wear the protection of right living.” The best protection against accusations of doing wrong is to have done right! Don’t give the opponents of God’s work any grounds to thwart that work based on your conduct.

“Your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace.” This is a reference to footwear that would allow a soldier “to face the enemy with firm-footed stability,” as one translation puts it. The “gospel of peace” is the good news that God wants peace with people, based on the reconciliation that Jesus achieved on the cross, and that God wants people to be at peace with each other on that same basis. Someone who ultimately wants peace and has good intentions can deal with conflict with a confident assurance that a hostile and hateful person cannot experience.

“The shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” Soldiers would carry shields to fend off sword blows and attacks from flying weapons such as spears and arrows. As Paul observes, sometimes arrows were even set on fire before being shot at soldiers. This is a reference to the way the attacks of the devil, the evil one, have a special sting or burn to them, because the devil tries to make us believe wrong things about the character of God. But if we respond in faith, that is, implicit trust in who God is and what God wants, then those flames are extinguished.

“The helmet of salvation.” Soldiers wore helmets to protect their heads, perhaps the most vital part of their bodies. They certainly could not fight if they could not see or hear or think. The word “salvation” can be understood in the sense of “deliverance,” meaning that we must ultimately count on God to deliver us, and when we do, we will see his power working to do that. But “salvation” could also be understood in the sense of being saved from sin and being forgiven by God. One translation says, “The covering for your head is that you have been saved from the punishment of sin.”

“The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.” This means the Bible. It has often been noted that this is the only offensive piece of the “full armor of God.” All the others are defensive. They protect us so that we can carry on our mission of advancing God’s purposes in the world. And we see here that we advance those purposes by knowing and applying God’s word to our situations and by proclaiming its truth and promises to those who need to hear its good news.

I hope this answers your question and gives you a better idea of what the “full armor of God” is. So now, as Paul says at the beginning of the passage in which he describes it, “Put on the full armor of God.”

Did Jesus say that Christians needed to keep the law?

Q. How should we understand this statement of Jesus: “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven”? How would you respond to someone who claimed that this statement meant that Christians were required keep the Mosaic Law (including circumcision, the Sabbath, dietary laws, etc.)?

I would respond, respectfully I hope, to someone who made that claim by saying that I believed they were taking the statement out of context and thus interpreting it to mean something other than it actually meant.

Jesus came teaching an inward righteousness that was based on becoming inwardly disposed to doing what God wants. Some people misunderstood him to be saying that it therefore didn’t matter what they did on the outside. So Jesus clarified his teaching. In the same passage where the statement you quote is found, he also said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.

What he meant was that if a person really were motivated by an inward desire to please God, then they would actually exceed the standards specified in the law. He goes on to give examples. Such a person would not only refrain from murder, they would not hate. They would not only refrain from adultery, they would not lust. And so forth. So the main point Jesus is making in the statement you quote is that the commandments in the law pointed how people could live with one another in the way that God intended, and that he had come not to set aside those commandments and the course they set, but to help people live in that way even more authentically.

We should also observe that Jesus was speaking to his fellow Jews when he made that statement. The Jews were required to observe certain insignia (such as the ones you list, the Sabbath, the dietary laws, etc.) to show that they belonged to the people of God. When the people of God expanded, through the work of Jesus, to include non-Jews, the question arose as to whether they had to keep the law. Large parts of the New Testament are devoted to this question, and the answer is a very clear “no.” So once again, anyone who claims that this one statement by Jesus means that all Christians must obey the specific requirements of the Jewish law is taking the statement out of context and failing to appreciate its meaning within the overall message of the New Testament.

I discuss this question in greater detail in a three-part series of posts that deals specifically with the case of Sabbath observance. That series begins here:

Are Christians required to keep the Sabbath? (Part 1)

Do believers in Jesus still have a sinful nature?

Q. What kind of sinful nature do you think we have that needs to be changed?

From indications that accompanied the submission of this question, I understand the word “we” to apply to followers of Jesus. Here is what I say about the subject of the “sinful nature” in my study guide to Paul’s Journey Letters. (You can read the guide online or download it at this link.) As you will see, I do not believe that followers of Jesus still have two natures, one sinful and one redeemed. Rather, they have one redeemed nature, but they must still learn to live as people who have been transferred out of one realm into another.

Let me quote first from p. 100, where I discuss Paul’s comments about the “sinful nature” in the book of Galatians.

—–

To explain how people who aren’t governed by the law can still live as God intends, Paul uses the Greek term sarx (“flesh”) in a specialized sense, to refer the characteristic patterns of this “present evil age.” (The NIV
formerly translated sarx as “sinful nature” when Paul uses it in this sense. But in the 2011 update to the NIV, this was changed to “flesh” in most places.) We’ve seen Paul use the term this way earlier: In 2 Corinthians he writes, “we regard no one from a worldly point of view” and that he doesn’t “live by the standards of this world ” (in both cases, “according to sarx”).

Here in Galatians, Paul uses the term to reframe the problem he’s been addressing. All the behaviors the agitators want to control through law-keeping are actually evidence that people are still living “according to sarx,” that is, in the way characteristic of this “present evil age.” Paul says that those who commit the “acts of the flesh [sarx] . . . will not inherit the kingdom of God.”

He means that these acts aren’t characteristic of those who will inherit the kingdom of God and are already experiencing its realities. The law can’t help people overcome these behaviors, because it can’t take them out of this age. The law itself belongs to this age. The true question isn’t whether a person is depending on faith or law; it’s whether they’re living in this age or the next.

When a person trusts in Jesus, this makes them part of the coming age. Paul says at the beginning of Galatians that Jesus “gave himself for our sins to rescue us from [take us out of ] the present evil age.” However, believers won’t automatically follow the characteristic pattern of the coming age. Paul explains that the two ways of life “are in conflict with each other,” and that believers are living in the crossfire, “so . . . you are not to do whatever you want.” Paul doesn’t want the Galatians to misunderstand the way the Corinthians did and think that because they’re “spiritual,” they “have the right to do anything.” Instead, they must depend on the Spirit to guide them into the way of life characteristic of the coming age that they’re already a part of.

As we’ve seen, Paul considers the Spirit a “down payment” on everything believers will receive and experience when the coming age fully arrives. As the advance agent of that age, the Spirit can show them how to live according to its patterns. When believers do that, taking on the character qualities that Paul calls the “fruit of the Spirit,” they’ll also truly fulfill the law, because “the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

—–

And here is what I say similarly about the “sinful nature” on p. 120, as I am discussing Paul’s main argument in the book of Romans.

—–

Paul now steps back from his argument again, to address more anticipated objections. If people aren’t expected to keep the law, but are simply told they’re forgiven because of what Jesus has done, doesn’t this give them an incentive to sin? The more sin, the more forgiveness, right?

Paul addresses this concern from several different angles, correcting four potential misunderstandings of his message. Essentially he explains that people who put their faith in Jesus aren’t simply forgiven; they’re transferred entirely out of one realm, where they sinned by compulsion, into a new realm, where it’s natural for them to obey God.

Paul describes the difference between these realms in several ways. He portrays those under the control of sin as living in this present age and those who’ve been freed from sin as experiencing the coming age, “living a new life” and serving “in the new way of the Spirit.” He also describes the difference between these realms by contrasting life according to sarx (this is often translated as “the sinful nature”) with life in the Spirit, as he did in Galatians. He contrasts the “mind” or “inner being” that “delights in God’s law” with the “body of death” that’s a “prisoner of sin.” More generally, he speaks of being brought from “death” to “life,” or from “slavery to sin” to “slavery to righteousness.”

But no matter which image he uses, Paul’s point is the same: Believers in Jesus have been taken out of one realm and placed in another. They don’t have any more incentive to sin, and they also shouldn’t have any desire or compulsion to sin, because they’re new kinds of people, dead to the past, alive to the future, animated by the power of God’s Spirit.

All of this leads Paul to the conclusion of this first part of his main argument in Romans. His language reaches heights of eloquence as he marvels at the work of the Spirit in the life of the believer and at the love of God, which has called us and saved us and from which nothing in all creation can ever separate us.

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Thank you for your question. I hope these reflections are helpful to you.