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Law, Grace, Email, and Sex

January 21, 2012

Under the Law and/or Grace?

What do Christians do with “the law?” This was a big a question in the early church. It seemed as confusing to them as does to many Christians today. Sometimes Paul talks as if faith cancels the law, but other times he advocates for keeping the law.

In the same letter to the Romans, Paul writes both, “you are not under the law, but under grace,” and also, “Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.”[1] In his letter to the Galatians, he seems to argue against keeping the law, but later in his life, he joins in a Jewish purification rite to prove to the Jews living in Jerusalem that he was “living in obedience to the law.”[2] He was actually arrested just before he could make his planned sacrifice in the Temple.

And we see why this can be so confusing. The same Paul says ‘no’ to the Galatians, and then tries to make sacrifices at the Temple? What’s going on?

We can begin to make sense of the law, when we remember that the law (Gen-Deut) is the Word of God. The law was God revealed to Israel. We call this “special revelation” because it is what God reveals about himself that we could not have known from nature (natural revelation). The law is revelation, and revelation from God is always precious.

The law is God’s Word–are in Greek: logos. One gospel writer described Jesus as the logos. He wrote, “The logos became flesh, and made His dwelling among us.”[3]

Email or Making out?

I guess you could say I always loved Janna Mahoney, even since the first day I met her. But the more I got to know her, the more my love for her grew.

In 2005, we starting dating, but then she broke up with me just before I moved to Berlin in July of 2005.

In July of 2007, after a 2-year break up, Janna and I decided to give our relationship another shot. And then I flew away 2 weeks later to spend the year in Berlin. But Janna stayed in Lafayette.

So the year before Janna and I got married, our primary mode of communication was email. Everyday I jumped out of bed and checked my inbox.

Those emails from Janna were the most precious part of my day. I read and re-read them.

Email was the only Janna I had.

We learned so much about each other through email. We expressed our love for each other through email. I remember wanting to just be with her and hold her, but all I had was my laptop and Yahoo!Mail.

Now let’s fast-forward to 2011. We’ve been married for over 3 years now.

Let’s imagine that I’m lying in bed next to my wife and I am so filled with love for her that I must express it. So I get out of bed and go compose an email to her. I tell her how much I want to hold her, how I want to know everything about her, and that I wish she were just here in person so we could just be together.

Wouldn’t this be absurd? I hardly ever write my wife emails anymore. Why? Because when I’m filled with for love her, I can just tell her in person or I just start making out with her.

There was a time when email was all we had, but now we have so much more.

I learned a lot about Janna through email. But I’ve learned much more living with her. I’ve got a much better idea of who she is, how she loves me, and why I am committed to her for my entire life.

Today, it would be sick for me to choose emailing her over being with her in person.

Sinai, Pentecost, and a Bride from Galatia

Pentecost is the Jewish celebration of God giving the law. And it is no mistake that God poured out His Holy Spirit on the disciples on the Day of Pentecost.

Because He prophesied through Jeremiah that He would “make a new covenant
with the people of Israel.” God said, “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts.” [4]

At Sinai God put his law on clay tablets. The old covenant. This was the law–outside of man–signified by circumcised penises and kosher meals.

At Jerusalem God put his law on the hearts of His people. The new covenant. This was the law–inside of man–signified by circumcised hearts and the infilling of the Holy Spirit.

So Paul writes a letter to the gentile Bride of Christ in Galatia. She has been sleeping in bed with Christ for several years now, but someone has come along and told her that if she really wants intimacy with Christ, she needs to send him an email. The crazy thing was, she was actually about to send the email.

So Paul writes and says, “Are you crazy? You’ve got the Holy Spirit inside of you! Jesus, the living logos, lives inside of you! Cutting off those foreskins is not going to do anything for you.

Why would you settle for an email? You’ve got the real thing right there in bed next to you!”

Paul describes the old covenant as Mount Sinai – God is way up on the mountain, we are down here —we need email to communicate from such a great distance.

The new covenant is described as the New Jerusalem – the city where God lives – God is in close proximity—his Spirit is in us—we don’t have to settle for email–we can be in His presence.

So now, is Email Bad?

Email (the first covenant) was great, when it was the only revelation of God we had, but since the logos became flesh, dwelt among us and sent his Spirit to live in us, we have a much better revelation.

Although I have much better ‘revelation’ of Janna—Janna in the flesh—-I still have every email and letter she ever sent me.[5] I didn’t start erasing those emails once we got married. I don’t speak badly against those emails. No. In fact, they still tell something about who she is and our story together. I cherish those emails.

So it makes sense that Jesus says, “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill the law,” and  “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law”?[6]

Those emails about Him were true. No need to delete them. No need speak against them. They actually confirm that Jesus was the Christ.

So hopefully this helps to make sense of Paul obeying the law and trying to make sacrifice in Acts 21. He had no problem sending an email, because he was doing it out of love for his fellow Israelites, who had high regard for email. He was fine with email, as long as it doesn’t cause division and as long as it doesn’t replace making-out.

You’ve gotta make out.


            [1] Romans 6:14; Romans 3:31.

For verses where Paul seems to speak against keeping the law, see: 2 Cor. 3:6-17, Rom 6:14-15, Gal 3-4.

For verses where Paul seems to advocate keeping the law, see: Rom 2:12-23, 3:31, 8:7-8, Acts 21:20-26, Acts 25:8.

            [2] Acts 21:24

            [3] John 1:14

[4] Hebrews 8:7-13; Jer. 31:31-34

[5] Thus Jesus says, Matthew 5 17 “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. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”

And Paul says that all “scripture (referring to the Law and the Prophets) is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,”

[6] Matthew 5:18

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Sebastian Lopez permalink
    January 17, 2013 5:03 pm

    Thanks Jon! You have no idea how much I enjoyed reading this… Candidate for a translation 🙂

    • January 17, 2013 8:39 pm

      thanks Sebastian. coming from a theology stud like yourself, that really means a lot.

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