Sometimes people ask me: “If God does it, and He is living His life through me, what about the commands of the New Testament? We may have died to the Old Testament law, but aren’t we supposed to try to keep God’s commands? This is what I tell them.
In 1 Corinthians 3:1, Paul talked about someone called “the soulical man” (usually translated “carnal” or “fleshly”). The soulical believer is indwelt by Christ, but he doesn’t know it. Or, if he does know about it, he doesn’t know how to live out of it. He is living out of his soul. He operates as if life originates with him. He is living in Romans 7: “What I want to do, I don’t, and vice versa.” As a result, he is operating under the power of sin, which is energized by the law he puts himself under (1 Corinthians 15:56). He is still asking, “What do I do? How do I live it?” He thinks the life begins with himself. He is a babe in Christ.
To the babes in Christ in Corinth (and I refer here not to chronological time since salvation, but to spiritual maturity; a person saved for 50 years could still be a babe in Christ)—to these babes Paul said, “I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not able to receive it.” After he gave them the good news that Christ died for them, Paul said, “I fed you with milk.” What was the milk? I believe the milk was the do’s and don’ts it was necessary to give them.
I found this to be true in my own ministry. I would travel around the country, always talking about Christ living in you, as you. Then I would get home and receive some letters. Often I would get a specific question: “What should I do about this situation?” or “What do you think about this decision?” So I would write back and give them an answer.
Paul often had a whole list of questions posed to him. When the people asked specific questions concerning real life situations, he gave specific answers. Why? Because the people didn’t yet know how to operate out of their true identity and their union with Christ, and they needed answers.
The Corinthians had questions about marriage. Paul answered them with some basic instructions. They had a problem with disputes going to court. Paul responded. The believers in Thessalonica must have asked, “What about these guys? You told us Jesus was coming and they just quit working.” Paul said, “If they don’t work, they don’t eat.”
That’s an immediate situation. These folks didn’t have a Bible. They only knew what to do by asking someone who had passed through and taught them about Christ: Apollos, Aquilla and Priscilla, Paul, or someone else. So they would send their questions, and Paul would send back his responses.
If you can’t operate out of who you are yet, you want somebody to tell you what to do. We do that all the time. Even if we ourselves are living out of our union with Christ, we give specific instruction to people that, because of the immediate situation, isn’t really based on Christ in them. Instead, we provide a “to do” that meets an immediate need; all the while trusting that God will move them into a deeper experience of His life.
Many of Paul’s letters were written to address specific problems. They were crisis letters, sent to address the need of the moment. But all of them may not reflect what Paul emphasized day by day. What we primarily have in Paul’s letters are his answers to questions and heresies.
We don’t have a record of what Paul taught daily when he stayed in Corinth for 18 months or in Ephesus for three years. But we can get a pretty good idea of what he taught. To the Colossians Paul wrote that he had been commissioned by God to preach
…the mystery which has been hidden from the past ages and
generations, but has now been manifested to His saint…which
is Christ in you, the hope of glory. We proclaim Him, admonishing
every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, so that we may
present every man complete in Christ. For this purpose also I labor,
striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.
The burning zeal of Paul’s heart was to present every person complete in Christ. To accomplish that, He preached Christ in you, the hope of glory. He preached Christ living His life through them. He preached their union with Christ. In the last chapter we noted Paul’s burden for the Galatians:
My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed
in you… (4:19)
Paul’s focus for the churches was Christ in them. The other things were side issues. They were important issues, but they were momentary diversions from the main course. If we could have heard one of Paul’s typical teaching sessions, I am confident he would have been teaching Christ in you.
Once someone begins living from the reality of Christ in them, which is the solid food of the gospel, they are weaned from the milk. They need the do’s and don’ts less and less. They have learned to allow Christ to live His life through them. And the truth is this: Christ in us doesn’t steal and isn’t lazy and doesn’t need the do’s and don’ts. He authored them. He lives them naturally through us as we learn to allow Him to.
So New Testament commands have their function, just as the Old Testament commands had their function as a tutor to lead us to Christ. But the commands are not the meat. They are the milk. The Holy Spirit’s role is to bring us to a complete knowing of who Christ is in us and how Christ lives as us. When that has been done, He will fulfill the commands through us (Romans 8:4). But it will be His living, not our striving.
Taken from “The Rest of the Gospel” by Dan Stone and David Gregory