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Sat, Apr 20, 2002

10 - The Failure of Legalism

1 Corinthians 1:25-31 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 5 secs

The Failure of Legalism; 1 Corinthians 1:25-31

 In Corinth they failed to understand the implications of some basic doctrines on how they were to think. So Paul doesn't address what we would consider to be the problem, that is, the external problem, but the real issue was how they were thinking. They were thinking about life in a completely different way and were still operating on the human viewpoint thought systems and the human viewpoint value systems that dominated their pagan culture which was Greek philosophy. So he has to start by drawing this contrast between God's way of thinking and man's way of thinking. God has one way of thinking. We call it divine viewpoint or biblical wisdom, and it is one unified viewpoint that God has expressed from Genesis 1:1 all the way through the end of Revelation. God expresses His viewpoint on many different subjects. Every category of human endeavour has some foundation in biblical thought, whether it is law, politics, ethics, family life, raising children; whatever the arena is God has something to say and that is to be our starting point.

The problem with man is he wants to start away from the Word of God and then bring the Word of God into whatever thought system he has already adopted independently of God. In human viewpoint thinking you start independently of God, so this is not saying that reason or experience are irrelevant. God obviously uses both human reason and empirical evidence to substantiate the truth of His Word and to validate what he has done. Revelation starts with the starting point that God exists and that God reveals Himself to man, and that human reason and human experience, then, operate within the framework of that starting point. So when you come to the Scriptures you don't prove the Scriptures in the same sense that you might prove a proof in geometry, you don't prove it in the sense that you might prove something or demonstrate from the biology lab, but there are clear evidences of the validity of Scripture. For example, you can go to numerous prophecies in the Old Testament that were given many years, if not centuries, ahead of time and came true in phenomenal detail. That validates the role of the prophet. There is nothing in human history outside of the Bible that can even come close to that.

God continuously throughout history gives empirical validation of what he does in private. God never once gave revelation in private that He didn't substantiate publicly. For example, when you have a private subjective experience with king Saul when he is first anointed by Samuel, it is given validation externally because Saul is going to defeat the enemies of Israel as a sign that God is giving him His favour and establishing him as king over Israel. This happens again and again and again. We see, though, that when man operates on empiricism and rationalism independently of God it doesn't matter what validation, either through logic or empirical data that God provides, when man holds rigidly to his independent use of reason and experience it doesn't matter what happens in front of him he rejects it. That is exactly what we see in 1 Corinthians 1:22 NASB "For indeed Jews ask for signs and Greeks search for wisdom." But both had it right before their eyes.

The Jews wanted a sign. This is something that was consistent with the Jews. They had wisdom because they had the wisdom books so they are not looking for wisdom so much as for a sign, some sort of confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah. The place to look for this is Matthew 12:38ff. Matthew chapter 12 is a key chapter in Matthew because this presents a major turning point in the ministry of Jesus. Up to this point Jesus has offered Himself as Messiah to the entire nation, but in the first part of the chapter the Pharisees as the legal representatives on the nation reject His miracles. All of His miracles were providing empirical verification of His claim to be the Messiah. He was doing everything the Old Testament said the Messiah would do. He was healing the lame, He was healing lepers, He was casting out demons. These were all understood to be signs that of the Messiah. When he healed a leper, that had never happened before, and so when the rabbis saw that they knew that that was a sign of the Messiah, a claim within itself that he was the messiah. Yet they reject it, and in the first part of the chapter they claim that Jesus was casting out demons only in the power of demons. So they have this presupposition that they are able to correctly interpret empirical data on their own. They had presupposed that when the Messiah came He would validate their Pharisaical structure, he would validate all of the Mishnah and the Pharisaical interpretation of the Mosaic law. When Jesus came He did not validate these things. In fact, He said that if a person was going to get into the kingdom of God their righteousness had to exceed that of the scribes and the Pharisees. So he immediately offended the Pharisees from the starting point. Jesus wouldn't validate their system and no matter what he did in terms of signs, no matter how structured it was, no matter how much evidence He provided, they rejected it because it didn't fit their presupposition. Their starting point was apart from Scripture and it obstructed their line of thinking. Because of that Jesus gave them sign after sign after sign but they were blind to it.

Then in Matthew 12:38 NASB "Then some of the scribes and Pharisees said to Him, 'Teacher, we want to see a sign from You.'" They had already seen hundreds of signs. [39] "But He answered and said to them, 'An evil and adulterous generation craves for a sign; and {yet} no sign will be given to it but the sign of Jonah the prophet…'" Here he uses the phrase evil and adulterous to refer to them. It is their generation that has seen the incarnate Son of God, it is their generation that has seen the fulfilment of the Old Testament prophets, it is their generation that has seen the fulfilment of the Old Testament promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their generation has seen the greater son of David incarnate in the flesh, and yet they reject it. Adultery is used here in its primary sense of being unfaithful. You have to determine in the context unfaithful to whom, and here it is faithful to God and that means they are evil. No more signs are going to be given and Jesus never again from this point on gives a public sign. Everything He does in terms of miracles from this point on is done in privacy among the group of disciples. [40] "or just as JONAH WAS THREE DAYS AND THREE NIGHTS IN THE BELLY OF THE SEA MONSTER, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth."

The problem the Corinthians had and so many Christians have is that they want to come to the Scriptures and come to God with certain presuppositions about how they think God ought to be and how they think God ought to work in human history. Then when the Scriptures say otherwise they say it can't be God, and so they turn their back on the Scriptures because they think everything ought to be run according to their presuppositions. We see a lot of that today in most churches—basic rejection of the Scriptures rather than letting the Scriptures change the way we think; they want to change the Scriptures. Another instance of that is the fact that there is more and more movement to put out translations of the New Testament that are based on non-specific language where you have gender confusion in the Scriptures instead of sticking with what the text says, and that is just another example of how a modern culture wants to go in and restructure what God has said rather than let God speak for Himself.

So Jonah is the Old testament type of what happens when Jesus dies and is in the grace for three days and three nights, and He uses this as an illustration of this evil and rebellious generation. [41] "The men of Nineveh will stand up with this generation at the judgment, and will condemn it because they repented [changed their mind] at the preaching of Jonah; and behold, something greater than Jonah is here. [42] {The} Queen of {the} South will rise up with this generation at the judgment and will condemn it, because she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and behold, something greater than Solomon is here." So He is showing that historically, both in the instance of Jonah and in the life of the Queen of Sheba, there was positive volition that accepted the gospel, and without the great evidence that was present before this generation. They had the signs but they rejected it, so there was only going to be one more sign and that was the resurrection, given twice: when Lazarus was raised and when He Himself rose from the dead.

So this is an illustration of how autonomous reason and autonomous empiricism presupposes that God is going to act a certain way, and when God then comes in and acts the way that God determines they reject that because it doesn't fit their preconceived assumptions of how God is going to operate. That is the problem in Corinth and it is a problem of their ultimate starting point. Rather than starting with God they are starting with their own finite reason or their own finite experience, and the only thing you can come to from a finite starting point is a finite conclusion. You can never argue from a finite starting point to universals. It never has worked and never will work in philosophy. The challenge that Paul is setting forth here in 1 Corinthians chapter one is that the believer must completely renovate the way he thinks. His starting point of knowledge is no longer autonomous reason or experience, it must be the Word of God. The Word of God is radically different from the way autonomous man thinks reality is. This is exemplified in salvation.

1 Corinthians 1:23 NASB "but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness." A crucified savior was completely contrary to anything the Greeks would want in life. The Greeks were looking for something that would bring success and value in life, they were looking for something that would be coming from the upper class and not looking to someone who died the death of a criminal. Jesus died the lowest form of death as the lowest form of criminal and they couldn't imagine that their salvation would be based on something that was so much and example of the lowest class. So they rejected that, it didn't fir their preconceived notion of how God would enter into human history. It was a stumbling block to the Jews because they did not accept Jesus as Messiah and to the Greeks it was foolishness because it didn't fit their preconceived notions of how God would enter into human history. [24] "but to those who are the called [believers], both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." This verse starts off "to them." This is a third person plural dative of advantage of the pronoun AUTOS [a)utoj], and it is followed by a relative clause, the articular form of the participle to call. Then "both Jews and Greeks." Then the next phrase looks to us like it should be "Christ" and that the verb might be left out—"Christ is the power of God." But in the Greek "Christ" is in the accusative case. The accusative case is not the subject case, that is the nominative case. The accusative case is the object case, so that tells us we have to look elsewhere for the verb, and the elsewhere is back in verse 23, "we preach Christ crucified." Christ is the object of the preaching, "because he is the power of God and the wisdom of God."

The thing to note here is that Paul does not emphasize Christ as truth. Truth was a major issue in Greek thought. He wants to sidestep the truth issue because that would get them all involved in all kinds of debate and, like Pilate, ask the question: What is truth? Paul wants to shift the focus so he uses the term DUNAMIS [dunamij] the power of God. This is important to understand here. We often think that power is strength, is force, and that is not what we are talking about. When we talk about the Holy Spirit as the power of the Christian life don't envision something like an electrical power or strengthening where somehow people get the idea that the Holy Spirit somehow overrides our volition and makes it easier for us to obey. That is not the kind of power. The word really has to do with ability. He gives us an ability now, and that ability is related to wisdom. Note that here in the text. This is the whole point in understanding the ministry of God the Holy Spirit. The filling of the Spirit and walking by the Spirit are related to knowledge, understanding truth. Jesus said you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free. It is truth that makes us free, it is divine viewpoint truth that provides that freedom and that ability to live free from the constraints of the sin nature. The point that Paul makes in Romans 6 is that we have to reckon ourselves, and that word in the Greek is LOGIZOMAI [logizomai], and it means to think in terms of the fact that the sin nature is dead. It has to do with knowledge, not some sort of metaphysical infusion of power. Jesus said it was the Holy Spirit who would guide us into all truth. So the emphasis here is not on some sort of power that is going to boost you up so that you can live the Christian life better, but that the ability comes from a knowledge of the truth, and once you know the truth by walking by the Holy Spirit we can apply the truth. So we see this emphasis here that it is the message of Christ that is the starting point to experience the real ability that God has for us related to the wisdom of God.

Unfortunately man can't know the wisdom of God on his own, starting from his own starting point, and unless he is saved it is meaningless to him. It is the subject of chapter two as to how unsaved man, natural man, the soulish man, doesn't have the capacity to understand the truth of God. He can only understand the gospel because God the Holy Spirit is the one who makes it clear to him, but the rest of Bible doctrine is going to be fuzzy and unclear because he is unsaved and doesn't have the capacity yet to understand all that God has given us.

1 Corinthians 1:25 NASB "Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men." Here we have the comparative that even if God were foolish, and He is not (Paul is using this in a hyperbolic figure of speech), His "foolishness" is wiser than men. Even God at His worst is better than man at his best. That is the upshot of what he is saying here. It is a figure of speech, he is not saying God is foolish or weak. [26} For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble [are called]." When Paul went into the city and communicated the gospel the ones who responded were rarely the leaders, they were frequently just the everyday average worker. In God's plan it is not man at his best, emphasizing human ability, that is going to solve man's problem. The whole point that Paul is making here is that in the final analysis you can't emphasize human ability because you have to learn that everything is based on God, based on His power, on His position, on what He has supplied for us in grace. So God is demonstrating in human history that the creature cannot live independently from God, acannot solve his problems independently from God. The creature can't even gain accurate knowledge of the creation as a whole independently from God. So not many wise men are called, and that is because they are too impressed with their own intellectual ability to humble themselves to accept the complete provision of salvation. Man independent from God does not understand how God's system works. Man wants to define reality in a different way from God, they want to define justice differently from God. [27] "but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong." The "foolish things" are the things that do not have value in the value systems of the world. He is making the point that is it not human ability, human wisdom, human achievement, human intellectual capabilities, that gets you anywhere, it is dependence upon God. [28] "and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are." God is demonstrating. This is all part of the angelic conflict. In the angelic conflict and Satan's fall Satan is basically claiming that the creature is able to run creation apart from God, to live his life independent from God. So what God is demonstrating in each dispensation is that no matter what ability man has, no matter how much grace God gives man, man cannot live apart from God at any level, it will always collapse. So God is demonstrating through His plan of salvation that nothing in life is dependent upon human ability, it is complete dependence upon the cross. [29] "so that no man may boast before God." He has devised a system that completely excludes human ability in any arena. Because if at any level we can say that somehow I did something right, I was smart enough to believe the gospel, I was smart enough to understand the truth. I was smart enough to respond; if we can at any point say that it depended upon our own ability, then we have something to boast about to God. But God is saying He has built the entire system of salvation based upon sending His Son to die on the cross as a substitute for man's sin to demonstrate that man can't do anything apart from Him.

Verse 29 comes from Jeremiah 9:23, 24 NASB "Thus says the LORD, "Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things," declares the LORD." Arrogance is completely rejected, human ability is completely rejected. We have to understand that to understand and know God we have to give up that human viewpoint way of knowledge, the autonomous use of reason, the autonomous use of empiricism, and we have to have our starting point in God. If you continue to hold on to an autonomous starting point you will never get to a point of understanding what God has to say to you in Scripture.

Notice once again that we come back to the key elements in the character of God which represent His integrity—His perfect righteousness, His justice, His love. Righteousness represents the standard of God's character. God defines ultimate reality and ultimately what is right and what is wrong because of who he is. His justice is the application of that standard toward His creatures. Love is expressed in terms of His consistent faithfulness. It is always related to God's consistent action for the best and for the benefit of His creatures. Salvation itself exemplifies the character of God in terms of His righteousness, justice and love. This is something that both the Greeks and the Jews, operating on their systems of empiricism or rationalism or religion, could not come to understand. They thought that somehow it was based on human ability, intellectual or religious and moral.

In verses 30-31 we see the answer to the question, Where is the scribe? In other words, where is the religious legalist and his system? Paul demonstrates that that system is also a failure. [30] "But [from the source of God] by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification, and redemption." "But by his doing" is a bad translation. It is the Greek preposition EK [e)k] plus the genitive of AUTOS [a)utoj], the preposition of source, indicating from the source of God. The issue, then, is the cross. The cross itself completely contradicts all human viewpoint systems of thought. It violates their concept of justice, it violates their concept of righteousness, it violates the concept that man somehow must do something to either gain or to keep salvation. And what Paul is emphasizing here is that God has devised a plan that completely excludes all human ability and effort. It is of Him that we are in Christ Jesus, and it is Christ Jesus through the cross that is the example of God's wisdom, i.e. the cross is the wisdom of God; it is the power of God and the wisdom of God. Everything in God's system, everything in God's character, everything in God's concept of justice is focused at the cross. If the cross is rejected it is a rejection of God's entire way of administrating the universe.

The wisdom from God consists of three things: righteousness, sanctification, and redemption. At the cross the perfect righteousness of Christ is imputed to us when we have faith alone in Christ alone. It is on the basis of that imputed righteousness that God saves us. He is demonstrating that at no level is it dependent upon what man does, it is dependent exclusively on who God is and what Jesus Christ did on the cross. Secondly, it is sanctification. Sanctification means that we are at the instant we receive the perfect righteousness of Christ set apart unto God. We are isolated from the world system, we are set apart unto God positionally, and we are placed in Christ. This is the great doctrine that Paul has started with in 1 Corinthians chapter one, and that is the understanding that at the cross we are placed in Christ. This is a positional identification with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ and what is known as the baptism by means of the Holy Spirit. It is that which sets us apart and makes us a uniquely new creature in Christ. Because of that new position in Christ and that new reality we now can face every problem in life from a new vantage point. Third, redemption because we have been purchased with a price. It is the Greek word APOLUTROSIS [a)polutrwsij] which is the key word for redemption, which means to be set free for a ransom, to purchase, to pay a redemption price. It always emphasizes the payment of a price. It is the basis for freedom in John 8:34; Romans 6:17; 2 Peter 2:19. The classic passage for this is John 8:31ff.

The doctrine of redemption

1)  Redemption describes salvation from the viewpoint of a ransom paid on the cross for salvation. 

2)  Redemption portrays the human race as slaves born into the slave market of sin.

3)  Redemption describes the purchase of those sin slaves in the potential provision of freedom. (The issue is whether the slave steps out of the slave market or not, accept the payment or not.)

4)  The payment price is the blood of Jesus Christ, which is a symbol or representative analogy of His spiritual death on the cross.

5)  There are eight results of redemption: a) we are delivered from the curse of the law, Galatians 3:13; 4:4-6; b) we have the forgiveness of sins, Ephesians 1:7; Colossians 1:14; c) redemption is the basis for our justification, Romans 3:24; d) redemption is the basis for our sanctification, Ephesians 5:25-27; e) redemption is the basis for our eternal inheritance, Hebrews 9:15; f) redemption is the basis for the strategic victory of Jesus Christ in the angelic conflict, Colossians 2:14-15; Hebrews 2:14-15; g) redemption of the soul in salvation results in redemption of the body at the rapture, Ephesians 1:14; Romans 8:23; Ephesians 4:30; h) redemption views salvation from the standpoint of the complete payment of our sins. The option then is to believe in Christ.