A former police officer is on trial in Minneapolis for murder. He was going through the motions of arrest when he killed another human being. As a police officer he had cause to stop the victim; in the face of resistance from the suspect, the officer then went into the procedure for overcoming that resistance. It’s what police officers do. In overcoming the suspect’s resistance, however, he went even further and overcame the suspects life.
The officer went through the practised motions of his job; but he had completely lost contact with the spirit and purpose of those motions/procedures. He was slavishly adhering to the form, while denying the very spirit and purpose of his work. He lost all sense of perspective and proportion. He lost sight of the fact that the forms he adhered to were leading him to commit a far greater evil than the minor offence which he was attempting to arrest the suspect for.
Form replaced the right spirit of his role and behaviour. As a police officer he was surely there to uphold justice. Instead he committed the worst act imaginable. He killed a fellow human being. This goes to the heart and purpose of all we do; it goes to the heart of the common psychological failing in human beings: we lose sight of what matters by slavish obedience to procedures and forms. Going blindly through the motions.
It is hardly surprising that both Old and New Testaments condemn this mindset.
We continue in the vital matter of interpreting the Old Testament according to New Testament explanation and practice. We reach chapter 17 of Genesis, a chapter whose subject matter follows on from chapter 16. And just as this follows on in the Old, so we find the appropriate interpretation following on in the New Testament.
Last time we spoke of the parallel of Genesis 16 with Galatians chapter 4. This time, we find the relevant interpretation continues in Galatians chapter 5. The apostle may have had these specific Genesis scriptures in mind as he wrote to the Galatians. Romans is also an apposite letter of New Testament writing.
It concerns the heart of the matter; adhering to the spirit, not just the letter of God’s law.
Many Jews in Jesus day had defaulted to observing forms like circumcision etc, without appreciating the vital meaning. They forgot the significance. Circumcision was ordained by God for the Jews in chapter 17 of Genesis for a reason. It was a physical sign to remind them of the far greater truth of God’s covenant with them. To remind them they belonged to God, not to themselves or the nations around them. To remind them they were different because of God in their lives – not because of a religious ritual or a social custom. God matters, not the form.
That is the meaning of the apostles words to the Romans and to the Galatians. The apostle states in chapter 2 of Romans:
FOR HE IS NOT A JEW WHICH IS ONE OUTWARDLY; NEITHER CIRCUMCISION WHICH IS OUTWARD IN THE FLESH.
BUT HE IS A JEW WHICH IS ONE INWARDLY. AND CIRCUMCISION IS OF THE HEART, IN THE SPIRIT, NOT IN THE LETTER; WHOSE PRAISE IS NOT OF MEN, BUT OF GOD.
and as the apostle Paul points out to the Galatians, that inward circumcision requires living by the spirit of God and not by the sinful efforts of our natural humanity. Paul contrasts the self centred works of the flesh with gracious and good fruit of the Spirit in Galatians chapter 5. That passage is well worth reading.
BUT THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT IS LOVE, JOY, PEACE, LONGSUFFERING, GENTLENESS, GOODNESS, FAITH, MEEKNESS, TEMPERANCE – AGAINST SUCH THERE IS NO LAW.
AND THEY THAT ARE CHRIST’S HAVE CRUCIFIED THE FLESH WITH THE AFFECTIONS AND LUSTS.
IF WE LIVE IN THE SPIRIT LET US ALSO WALK IN THE SPIRIT.
And by walk in the Spirit, the apostle means to behave and act according to the Holy Spirit, not according to the self centredness of our natural senses and instincts. This is the newness of life which Paul speaks of in Romans chapter 6:
KNOW YE NOT THAT SO MANY OF US AS WERE BAPTISED INTO JESUS CHRIST WERE BAPTISED INTO HIS DEATH ? THEREFORE WE ARE BURIED WITH HIM BY BAPTISM INTO DEATH: THAT LIKE AS CHRIST WAS RAISED UP FROM THE DEAD BY THE GLORY OF THE FATHER, EVEN SO WE ALSO SHOULD WALK IN NEWNESS OF LIFE.
- Trust Christ, therefore
- be baptised, and
- live by the Holy Spirit