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What is “rightly dividing”?

What is “rightly dividing”?

Many Christians are told that they are saved by grace through faith… not by their own efforts or works, otherwise they would have something to brag about (Ephesians 2:8-9). Only the most legalistic churches preach salvation by our self-righteousness in this day and age.  Yet, most of these grace-believing churches mix grace with law, something Paul tells us can’t be done (Romans 4:4-5). Peter also recognizes the difficulty of understanding the grace that Paul preached in II Peter 3:15-16. He says that some of the things Paul speaks of are hard to understand, and the unlearned or unstable wrest (distort) to their own destruction. Paul refers to these people again in Galatians 1:6-9, when he calls what they are doing a perversion of the gospel.

The solution to the problem lies in learning how to rightly divide the word of God.  We all know that when Adam was told not to eat of the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil, he was getting instructions that were specifically for him and Eve.  We can learn from their experience, but we know that those instructions were not to us.  When Noah was told to build an Ark, God was not giving those instructions to us.  It is easier to rightly divide between those instructions given in the Old Testament to specific people, and those given to us in the New Testament.  The problem is that that is not the only division in the bible, it’s not even the most important one.  That honor is reserved for the difference between the gospels of Mathew, Mark, Luke and John… and the epistles of Paul.  Not understanding this key difference is what Paul is referring to when he says that some pervert the gospel.  The misunderstanding happens when we think that the age of grace started with the birth of Jesus Christ.

Hebrews 9:16-17 tells us that a testament (or will) doesn’t become valid until after the death of the testator.   It says that it has no force while the man still lives.  In other words, the New Testament of Jesus Christ could not have become valid until after His death!  That is what scripture says, and in doing so it tells us that if we want to study the New Testament, we better study what is told to us after Christ died, which is at the end of the gospels.  That fact takes us from the transition book of Acts to Paul’s epistles.  All the bible is written for us, but Paul’s epistles are written directly to us so that we can understand why Christ had to die for us, and how we enter into His grace, and what that means practically in our everyday Christian lives today.

I know that what you are reading is a handful, but if you follow the scripture, you will see that it is all true.  These are the forgotten truths that are almost completely lost to the churches today.  Does it matter?  Am I just picking at a small matter just to cause a controversy?  No, without understanding this division we have confusion and perversion of the gospel.  If the gospels are not part of the New Testament, where do they belong?  Do you remember where the actual Old Testament started?  Was it in Genesis 1:1?  No, it was the Law delivered to the Jews… the Ten Commandments, the hygienic, the social, the sacrifices, etc.  It was given to the Jews in Exodus through Deuteronomy, but the deal was sealed in Exodus 19:3-8, where the Jews were appointed a holy nation and kingdom of priests if they obeyed…  the Old Testament (the law).

When Christ came and started preaching, did he tell anybody that the law was no longer in effect because we had entered the New Testament?  No, he didn’t.  In Matthew 5:17-28, he tells us that he didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it… and that if you break the least of the commandments, and teach other men to, you will be called the least in the kingdom of heaven.  Then he introduces the doctrine that if you so much as think an evil thought, it’s the same as if you have committed the sin.  When he picks his apostles he tells them to go to the Jews only, not to the Gentiles (Matthew 10:5-7). When a rich young man asked Jesus what he could do to inherit eternal life, what was his answer?  It was not “repent and be baptized”, or “by grace are you saved through faith”.  It was “keep the commandments… sell everything you have and give it to the poor… and follow me” (Matthew 19:16-21).  If we don’t understand that this happened while Christ and the rich man were under Old Testament Law, we will begin to think that we are still under the law… or we will at least be very confused about the contradictions.  “Rightly dividing” takes away the contradictions.  The New Testament doesn’t begin until after Christ’s death, which is at the end of the gospels.

To summarize:

  • Luke 6:37 says that we will be forgiven only if we forgive others first (Old Testament),
    but Ephesians 4:32 says forgive others because you have already been forgiven (New Testament).
  • Exodus 20:8 & Matthew say remember to keep the Sabbath holy (Old Testament),
    but Colossians 2:16-17 says Sabbath days are not important (New Testament).
  • Mark 11:24 says you will receive everything you pray for if you believe (Old Testament),
    but II Corinthians 12:8-9 says that Paul prayed three times and the Lord said, No.
  • Matthew 10:5-7 says go to the Jews only, and not the Gentiles (Old Testament),
    but Romans 10:12 says Jews and Gentiles are the same, there is no difference.
  • Luke 18:18-22 says for salvation obey the law and sell everything you have (Old Testament),
    but Ephesians 2:8-9 says salvation is by grace through faith, and not by any good works you do.

It is to the above seeming contradictions that Peter is referring to when he says that those who don’t understand Paul distort the scriptures.  It is the mixture of the verses above (law and grace) that Paul is referring to when he calls it a perversion of the gospel.  Yet don’t you see how this would confuse anybody that didn’t understand that the first verse in each set is part of the Old Testament, and under the law, before Christ’s death, burial and resurrection… which is what brought in the New Testament?  And that the second verse in each set is part of the New Testament, and under grace, which didn’t become valid until after the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

This doesn’t even scratch the surface of how much more you understand when you learn how to rightly divide the truth, and the freedom from bondage and security of salvation that you receive when you don’t mix law and grace.  That is what our ministry is all about.  We want people to have the peace and joy that comes from fully understanding the grace of God.