Falling from Grace: Understanding Faith, Love, and the Spirit

Chapter 5 is a critical passage in understanding Paul’s doctrine of faith vs. works. You see, Paul believes that those who’ve been saved receive the Spirit, and that the Spirit leads to a changed life.

Thus, his logic is: faith (which include faithfulness/penitence) => salvation (at the point of baptism) => receipt of Spirit => fruit of the Spirit/good works/love/service

In short, faith expresses itself through love because the Spirit changes our nature so that this is the kind of people we become. We become people with loving natures. But we have to cooperate with the Spirit in its work in our hearts.

We can resist and grieve the Spirit and ultimately quench the Spirit and lose our salvation. The Spirit does not take away our free will, but the Spirit is our Helper to help us live as God wishes.

Thus, another way of asking whether someone becomes an apostate — falls away — is to ask whether they have lost the indwelling Spirit.

And so, why does salvation by faith not lead to license? Because “faith” includes faithfulness/penitence and because those who are saved receive the Spirit, which leads them to love their neighbors and bear the fruit of the Spirit.

Other passages on the Spirit

We see this concept of being changed by God to have a more Christlike nature in many other passages —

(Rom 8:13-14) For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, 14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.

This passage teaches that the Spirit helps us further our repentance by helping us “put to death the misdeeds of the body.” Further, we are assured that all who are sons of God are “led by the Spirit.”

Many interpret this passage as referring to the New Testament, but the New Testament had not been written at this time. It’s likely that not a single Gospel had been penned. And given that Paul is confident that every single Christian has the Spirit, and only a handful of Christians would have possessed any of the other epistles that had been written or even the Old Testament, he could not have been speaking of owning parts of the Bible.

Besides, a sinner who believes in Christ and is on his way to be baptized is being led by the scriptures, but he is not yet a son of God who is being led by the Spirit. Paul says that all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God already. So “Spirit” can’t mean scripture.

As before, we see the cooperative nature of the Spirit’s work. We put to death the misdeeds of the body, but we do it “by” the Spirit. The Spirit leads and helps us in so doing.

(Heb 8:8-10) But God found fault with the people and said: “The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. 9 It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.

10 This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

The author of Hebrews quotes a prophecy of Jeremiah who says that in the Messianic age, God will deal with his people in a different way. Under the new covenant, God says, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.”

Now, the Jews had the Old Testament and they studied it diligently. Synagogues were houses of study of the Law and the Prophets. Rabbis actually memorized the Torah, and a few managed to memorize the entire Old Testament. Few of us know the scriptures as well as the First Century Jews did.

The difference between the old and new covenants isn’t that the Christians will study God’s word while the Jews did not. History will not permit that conclusion. Nor is it the point Jeremiah was making.

The emphasis in v. 10 is not whether we will put the laws in our hearts and in our minds, but who will put the laws in our hearts and minds. God says that he himself will take on the task of assuring that his laws are written on our hearts and in our minds — and that this will be different from the old covenant.

Now, I bring this up to make a critically important point. When we understand the work of God through the Spirit, we see that repentance is not just about whether we will obey what we’re told. Rather, it’s more about whether we’ll cooperate with God’s work in us through his Spirit. Will we allow the Spirit to bear his fruit? Will we accept the gifts he gives us and use them in God’s service?

If we interpret the New Testament as saying, for example, “Either obey the command to have joy or else go to hell,” we entirely miss much of what we are being taught. Rather, the truth is that we have been given freedom and grace and the Spirit — and joy is the natural consequence both of God’s work in us (it’s a fruit of the Spirit) and of our cooperating with that work to understand it (how could we not have joy once we understand how very generous God has been?!).

What law is written on our hearts and in our minds?

A vitally important corollary we learn from the Hebrews passage is the nature of “law” for a Christian. What law does God write on our hearts and in our minds?

When I read this passage for the first time, it made no sense to me, because to me God’s law was all about how to worship, how to organize a church, and how to use the church treasury. I was a Christian, and yet I could not recall God having written any of such laws on my heart or mind. Rather, I’d learned those laws by study. They were in me by my own efforts and the efforts of my teachers at my home congregation and at Lipscomb.

And yet the passage says what it says. It finally occurred to me that in this passage “law” must have an entirely different meaning. If the law referred to in Hebrews 8 was the law of love, then I could easily imagine that God had written his command to love my neighbors on my heart and in my mind —

(Rom 13:8) Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.

(Gal 5:14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

If we take Paul seriously, so that we actually believe that love fulfills the law, then we can easily see God, through his Spirit, writing “love your neighbor” on our hearts.

(Rom 5:5) And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

Indeed, this becomes the essence of God circumcising our hearts through the Spirit.

(Rom 2:29) No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

And this tells us what’s most important to God. Indeed, it reconciles 1 John with Hebrews, Romans, Galatians, and the Gospels. They all teach the same thing —

(1 John 3:14) We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love our brothers. Anyone who does not love remains in death.

(1 John 3:23-24) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 Those who obey his commands live in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.

(Mat 7:12) So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.

(Mat 22:37-40) Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

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9 Comments on “Falling from Grace: Understanding Faith, Love, and the Spirit”

  1. Jerry Starling Says:

    Jay,

    Another excellent post! However, the conservative position is not accurately represented in it, so much so that you are likely to be accused of building a straw man. You wrote:

    “This passage teaches that the Spirit helps us further our repentance by helping us ‘put to death the misdeeds of the body.’ Further, we are assured that all who are sons of God are ‘led by the Spirit.’

    “Many interpret this passage as referring to the New Testament, but the New Testament had not been written at this time. It’s likely that not a single Gospel had been penned. And given that Paul is confident that every single Christian has the Spirit, and only a handful of Christians would have possessed any of the other epistles that had been written or even the Old Testament, he could not have been speaking of owning parts of the Bible.

    “Besides, a sinner who believes in Christ and is on his way to be baptized is being led by the scriptures, but he is not yet a son of God who is being led by the Spirit. Paul says that all who are led by the Spirit are sons of God already. So ‘Spirit’ can’t mean scripture.”

    The conservative position is not that Scripture itself is the Law of God, but that the Message of Scripture is that Law. The Message was in the apostles and prophets (who had the measures of the Spirit that gave inspiration) before it was in the book – and that the early Christians were led by the Spirit through the teaching (doctrine) of the apostles and prophets. Today, since we do not have inspired people, the Scripture is the Message for us. Hence, all you wrote about the early church not having the Scripture is nonsense, because the early church DID have the inspiration of the apostles and prophets.

    Of course, the Bible never speaks of “measures” of the Spirit, except in italicized words in the KJV (which indicates the words were added by the translators) in John 3:34 – “God gives not the Spirit by measure” and adds, “to him” (i.e., to Jesus). Thus, the real thrust of your position is negated by denying that each Christian has the indwelling Spirit, except through the Word.

    Keep plugging away at that mindset, though. It is gradually wearing away. When we begin to understand the role of the Spirit of God in the spiritual transformation of the child of God, we will begin to find the freedom of which Paul wrote in Galatians 5!

    As I said in the beginning, an excellent post focusing on the Spirit as our “helper” or “Comforter” as in John 14 – 16.

  2. Ed Boggess Says:

    “I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts.” What laws? God’s laws, all of them that apply to me. Is it the law of love? Of course, because the fact that God loves us is the foundation of every law He provides us – every one of them is written for our good. To have them written on our hearts is to understand that they are given for our good, to believe or trust God’s goodness which Satan denies, and therefore to follow them because we believe they will bring us only good. Consequently, in worship it is sound practice to stay within the realm of recorded apostolic practice – “whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven”. And in assembly organization or use of money gathered, the heart in which resides God’s law will desire to please God in all things for he knows God has only the Christian’s best interests in mind. Such a Christian is led by the Spirit that lives within, not goaded by fear by threats of hell without. Such a Christian’s resolve to remain within the boundaries of what is written is strengthened by the truth that not only does the Spirit indwell but God’s laws indwell also. Boundaries and restrictions (read: laws) are not negative when they are from God. They are blessings.

  3. Jay Guin Says:

    Jerry,

    The point remains the same. Those who are on their way to the baptistry are being led by the word just as much as they are being led by the scriptures. They are not yet being led by the Spirit, as they won’t receive the Spirit until baptism (in the normative case).

    Just so, it can hardly be argued that all First Century Christians possessed the entirety of the word, if by “word” we mean God’s completed revelation that’s now found in the New Testament. They all had the gospel — the “truth” — but not the “word,” as so understood. But they did all possess the Spirit.

    After all, it’s obvious that even the prophets didn’t possess the complete revelation that we now have. As I explain elsewhere,

    You see, the Churches of Christ (and many others) have traditionally taught that New Testament prophecy was given in lieu of the New Testament until the canon was complete — and thus that prophecy served to fill in the gaps of inspired literature. But if that’s so, why did Paul need to write to Corinth? Why didn’t the several prophets who were already there straighten things out?

    Just so, as Rome had prophets (Rom 12:6), why did Paul write Romans to them? Why didn’t the prophets already know this material and teach it straight from the Spirit?

    http://oneinjesus.info/2009/08/04/church-of-christ-deism-showing-the-spirit/

  4. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed,

    You says that to have God’s laws written on our hearts means “To have them written on our hearts is to understand that they are given for our good, to believe or trust God’s goodness which Satan denies, and therefore to follow them because we believe they will bring us only good.”

    I don’t deny that this is part of it, as you’ve paraphrased Rom 12:2. But many First Century Jews had exactly this attitude toward God’s law. How then do Jeremiah and the author of Hebrews say that the new covenant is different from old covenant? What’s changed?

    According to Heb 8:9-10, the difference is that it will be God himself who writes the laws on our hearts.

    Do you concede this? Or do you believe that we write the laws on our own hearts, after having first read the word? The Jews read the word. What’s different now?

  5. Randall Says:

    In Acts it is said of Lydia that God opened her heart to receive the things that Paul was saying. Do you see this as an exception (rather than the norm) as to how God may work in the lives of people? Do we come to God based on scripture and preaching alone apart from God working in our hearts to draw us to himself?
    Peace,
    Randall

  6. Jerry Starling Says:

    Jay,
    Some interpret 1 Corinthians 12:13, “For we were all baptized by one Spirit into one body….” (NIV) to mean that we were led by the Spirit to the waters of baptism. Thus, they are “led by the Spirit” even before they became sons of God by faith because they were baptized into Christ and were consequently given the Spirit! (See Galatians 3:26-27; 4:6).

    No, it doesn’t make sense, but that is the argument. Actually, 1 Corinthians 12:13 uses the Greek preposition en, which is the same preposition John the Baptist used when he said the one coming after him would baptize in or with the Holy Spirit (Matthew 3:11). So, the exegesis of 1 Corinthians 12:13 in my first paragraph above in not correct. Rather, this passage points to our new relationship to the Spirit as a result of our baptism.

    I mention this only to suggest that as good as I think your argument is, the conservative mindset will not understand it. It is outside his way of approaching Scripture.

    Keep up the good work!

  7. Ed Boggess Says:

    “What’s changed?” God’s desire was that His law be written in the hearts of the Israelites – Deut 30:10; 32:46. David certainly succeeded in this and thus was a man after God’s heart – Ps 37:31; 40:8; 119:11, 34. And evidently there were others, Is 51:7. So that hasn’t changed. “I will be their God and they shall be my people” – this hasn’t changed. But v 34 specifies a change. With the coming of the new, people are not first born but new born into the covenant. Before they had to be taught they were Jews and under covenant with God; no choice. Now everyone chooses willingly and the more we comprehend God’s goodness, the more we eagerly accept His will. — Brother James O. Baird, one time president of Oklahoma Christian University, told this story. One day he was driving the route he always took to get to his OCU office. The route involved passing through an elementary school zone. On this particular day he was thinking about various issues that faced the university and how he might resolve them, when suddenly a ball bounced in front of his car and right behind it a first-grader darted out right in front of him after the ball. He hit his brakes as quickly as he could and the car skidded to a stop. The child had frozen in his steps when he saw the car. Shaken, Baird got out of his car and came to the front and saw that it had slid to a stop with the bumper touching the leg of the child. Fortunately, no harm was done other than a bad memory. Baird says that before that experience he knew that the law governing speed and school zones was in the books kept downtown and he was in full agreement and compliance. But after that experience that law was not only written in the books downtown, it was also written in his heart. — It is always the Spirit who writes God’s law on our hearts. He does so from the beginning – “born of the Spirit”, “written not with ink but by the Spirit”, “not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of flesh of the heart”. It is interesting to note that even Gentiles of old had God’s law written in their hearts, Rom 2:15. How so? They had a sense of some things right and some wrong. Who wrote that law in their hearts? Whoever did, did well because the result was that they to a degree followed their conscience. If the law they followed was God’s law, then it was God’s Spirit who provided it and since it was written in their hearts then the Spirit wrote it there.

  8. Jay Guin Says:

    Ed,

    The distinction drawn by Moses, Jeremiah, Paul, and the author of Hebrews is not whether the law is written on our hearts. It’s who writes the law on our hearts.

    Compare —-

    (Deu 10:16) Circumcise your hearts, therefore, and do not be stiff-necked any longer.

    (speaking of the pre-Messianic age) with —

    (Deu 30:6) The LORD your God will circumcise your hearts and the hearts of your descendants, so that you may love him with all your heart and with all your soul, and live.

    (speaking of the Messianic age).

    Just so, speaking of the pre-Messianic age, Jeremiah writes,

    (Jer 4:4) Circumcise yourselves to the LORD, circumcise your hearts, you men of Judah and people of Jerusalem, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done — burn with no one to quench it.

    but Jeremiah speaks of the Messianic age saying,

    (Jer 31:33) “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.”

    The command is the same. The means of obedience is different. And Hebrews quotes Jer 31 in Heb 8, applies it to Christianity, and argues from it through chapter 10.

    (Heb 10:13-18) Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool, 14 because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. 15 The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: 16 “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds.” 17 Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.” 18 And where these have been forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.

    In v. 15, the author says this passage from Jeremiah testifies to what he’d just said: “he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” And notice the verb tense: “are being made” holy is passive — which perfectly suits the meaning of the Jeremiah passage quoted.

    Just so, we see in Romans 2:29 —

    (Rom 2:29) No, a man is a Jew if he is one inwardly; and circumcision is circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the written code. Such a man’s praise is not from men, but from God.

    Again, the active element is found in the Spirit who circumcises, in contrast to being circumcised by the “written code,” that is, from merely reading and applying what you’ve read. It takes something more, which is God’s own hand.

    Your example of David is entirely apt, as God was a man after God’s own heart because he possessed the Spirit.

    (1 Sam 16:13a) So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the LORD came upon David in power.


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