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Law, Lawlessness and Legalism

Law, Lawlessness & Legalism.

Gary talked last week about judging, and the way “Judge not, lest you be judged” has been misinterpreted to mean that no matter what anyone does, we should not judge the behavior. He pointed out that we are not to condemn someone for their sins, lest we get condemned for ours, but that does NOT mean we are not to discern what is right and wrong, or identify certain behaviors as sin.

We have all known people or been in churches where we have felt their judgment. This judgment often takes the form of Religious Legalism and the pointed finger of accusation. This judgment can come as a result of real, bad behavior, or sin, like stealing; or it can come from religious legalism about externals like length of hair, card playing, make up, dancing, and the color of the carpet in church. Because of this legalistic attitude, in reaction to it, people often begin to err on the other extreme of lawlessness. They often appeal to Grace, implying that if you are for grace then you really shouldn’t judge anyone’s behavior and everything is acceptable to God because God doesn’t judge and he loves everyone. True enough, he does love everyone, but that does not mean he approves of everyone’s actions.

Now today, most people who think grace means you shouldn’t judge then means that you shouldn’t judge whether homosexuality, fornication, abortion or adultery are wrong. They immediately want to apply grace to sexual behaviors. And if anyone says these things are wrong, then these Christians are being legalistic and judgmental.

Today I want to talk about the Law and Paul’s understanding of Grace. While today, most people want to apply grace to homosexuality and sex outside of marriage, the same people are not very graceful if you happen to be Conservative Christians, nor are they tolerant of racists and rapists. In other words, even their tolerance and grace only goes so far. The same people who don’t want anyone to judge sexual behaviors will furiously judge racists and rapists. At the same time, they may give Islamic legalists a pass….weird … My point is, they too judge lawbreakers, only certain types of lawlessness.

First of all we must ask, “what is the purpose of the Law?” The Law was given to protect us from harm and to protect others from us doing harm to them. I compare the Law to a sign post that says: Bridge Out Ahead!
bridge out

Now if someone says, I don’t care what that sign says, I’m going to do what I want and rushes straight ahead anyway, ignoring the signpost or the law, doesn’t make it right. You end up like this:ignoring the bridge out sign

The Law defines sin, and the problem with sin is that it distorts the image of God in us. It is less than God desires for us. It damages us and enslaves us. We know the power of sin in addiction to drugs, alcohol, lust, pornography, greed, seeking power over others, and low self-esteem, physical abuse, self-hatred, shame, and guilt. God hates sin because it does damage to us and to the Creation. And sin causes us to do harm to others.

The problem with the Law, Paul stated is that while the “Law is Good” it is powerless to stop sinful behavior or sinful desire. In fact, the very command ‘not to lust’ for example, turned lust into a forbidden fruit and made the temptation to sin all the more powerful. (Romans 7). So people responded, “Well if I can’t stop sinning, I might as well give into it and let Grace cover me with forgiveness.” Paul faced this situation in Corinth, where a man started sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul’s reaction was furious to think that his message of God’s grace in Christ could be so seriously misinterpreted to mean that any kind of behavior was now lawful.

“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Well, you might say, if the law won’t help us be good, and grace doesn’t mean that we can go on sinning on purpose, then what do we do?

Paul’s answer is Holiness. And we will get to that in a minute.
Romans 6:13-23 “Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification. When you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? The end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:13-23

So, how can Paul preach grace and that all sins are forgiven, and preach that the Law is no longer binding on us, yet still believe certain things are evil and sin?

First of all, there are two meanings to the word Law:
1. A moral standard of right and wrong written down in a legal code
2. The Jewish Religious Law called the Torah.
When Paul says we are not justified by the law, he means that neither following the Torah or the legal code will save us, because “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Everyone needs forgiveness through Jesus Christ. His argument against the Law though in Galatians and Romans is against requiring people to follow the religious codes of the Torah, like how long your hair should be, what foods to eat, whether to be circumcised, etc. These things have been fulfilled in Jesus Christ and are no longer binding.

But the MORAL law, the standard of right and wrong, has never passed away because it reflects the righteous character of the Holy God of Love. Paul is saying that lying, cheating, stealing, sex outside of marriage, homosexuality, adultery, murder, etc. are still WRONG. And living in those ways is incompatible with the life of faith.

“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘‘You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,’’and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: ‘‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:8-10

So, if all fall short in attitude of the heart if not in deeds, and if we can’t make it into heaven by being good people and following the law, then how can Paul or God expect us to be moral?

I have to give you the short version here, because this sermon is already too long. If you are in Christ Jesus, the Holy Spirit of the Living God lives in you and He is righteous and will lead you into good desires and guide you into right conduct, and above all will lead you to love your neighbor as yourself…. IF YOU WILL YIELD to Him and not insist upon your selfish ways. Paul is saying that through Jesus and new covenant has been written into your hearts, where you and your conscience know the difference between right and wrong. God has called you to a higher righteousness than merely obeying the legal requirements of the law, he has called you into Holiness, and to dwell with him in holy fellowship. You cannot continue to sin on purpose and be immoral and live in holiness. Paul expects you to be holy.
I will place my dwelling in your midst, and I shall not abhor you. And I will walk among you, and will be your God, and you shall be my people – Leviticus 26:11, 12
The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt–a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, “Know the LORD,” for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more – Jeremiah 31:31-34

So, how do we treat others who are disobeying the moral law of God.
1. We are to love them, just as God loved us when we were still in sin and separated from him.
2. We are not to approve, endorse, or justify sin. You can’t say homosexuality or fornication is right, when the moral law of God says it is worthy of death, no matter what the culture tells you you should believe and approve of.
Why don’t we just go along with unrighteousness and call evil good ? Because it is harmful to them and it is not loving.
This holiness is now accomplished by the agency of the Spirit who is able to do in us what we could not do for ourselves:
For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do…so that the JUST REQUIREMENT OF THE LAW might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit – Romans 8:1-5, NRSV
Thus the Holy Spirit enables us to be a holy people, and Paul cannot separate the demand of God for holiness in us from the saving and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit. It is not human works of the law that produce holiness in us, but the Spirit. The reason that sexual impurity and idolatry are forbidden and excluded from the NT community is that they violate the norms of love; and love is the character of holiness… So the Law of Christ is the Law of Love, but it is not a law that is empty of content. The “just requirements” of the Law now fulfilled in us by the Spirit – in Paul’s mind – necessarily include sexual purity, no thievery, no idolatry, no homosexuality, etc. (I Cor. 6:9). And so there is no contradiction between the idea of being saved by faith through grace, not by works of the flesh, and the new Law of Love, which reflects the character of God in sanctified conduct. We are to be holy because He is holy. Any other lifestyle is incompatible with the character of holiness that now lives in us because a Holy God lives within us, and such conduct defiles his dwelling place.

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Invention #2 in Cm

Invention #2 in Cm PDF File

Invention #2 in Cm ©1985 Jefferis Kent Peterson, Baroque Style Invention

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Come to the Table – A Communion Hymn

Click for the Score


Chorus :







©1996 Jefferis Kent Peterson, UBP

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Our God is Able – A Hymn

Our God Is Able – Score

Click on Score above for PDF file. Hear it by clicking the arrow below.

Our God is Able
Ps. 37:16; Eph. 3:20
©1997 Jefferis Kent Peterson, I

O Our God is able Exceedingly able
To do all we ask Him to do
His hand is mighty and He is fighting
For His dreams to come true

Our God is able Exceedingly able
To do what He’s promised for you
If you will trust Him, take delight in Him,
He’ll give His blessing to you.

O Our God is able Exceedingly able
To do all you ask Him to do
If you will serve Him and not desert Him,
He’ll fight the fight for you!

O Our God is able Exceedingly able
To do more ‘n we ask Him to do
Don’t be uncertain where things concern Him,
He’ll be faithful to you

O Our God is able Exceedingly able
To do what we ask Him to do
Give your life to Him, be renewed in Him,
He has the best for you.

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Invention #1 in Fm

I am working to upgrade my musical composition audio and print output.  I’m using Finale to re-score, and Music-to-XML to scan in old pieces.

Invention #1 in Fm

In the Name of the Father,  Composed at Conn College, Dec. 1973-Jan1974

Fm Invention – Score

Click on  Score above for PDF file.  Hear it by clicking the arrow below.

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The Problem with Fundamentalism

Enlightenment Rationalism and the Problem of Fundamentalism

Or, How Misreading the Scriptures’ Intent Has Damaged The Christian Witness to the Modern Age.

from The Scholar’s Corner

 “As for you, you whitewash with lies; worthless physicians are you all. Oh that you would keep silent, and it would be your wisdom! Hear now my argument and listen to the pleadings of my lips. Will you speak falsely for God and speak deceitfully for him?” – Job 13:4-7

We are all products of our age. Assumptions we make about reality and truth are called our Worldview. The problem for us is that we cannot always see the prejudices of our assumptions, and when we interpret everything through the lens of our own understanding we often create misunderstandings without realizing it. This is also true of how we apply our assumptions to the interpretation of Scripture.

The Bible has faced many challenges throughout the ages. No one now questions whether the earth revolves around the sun, or the fact that the earth is not the physical center of the universe. However, that notion created a great challenge to the integrity, authority, and reliability of the Scriptures for the Church of Galileo’s day. In the late 18th Century, new challenges to Scripture arose largely due to the advent of Enlightenment Rationalism. A field of study, called the Historical-Critical Method, began to challenge the reliability of the historical nature of the Bible. One problem was the conflicting timelines in the Gospels themselves, with slight variations of the sequences of the stories. Since it was assumed by the interpreters that biblical, historical literature would follow a strict chronology, as any modern historian would, then the various timelines of the Gospels could be reconciled. A project called the Synoptic Gospels attempted to align historical events in Matthew, Mark, and Luke into parallel columns. Because of the apparent contradictions in the timelines of the Scriptures, it was then assumed by critics that the Scriptures were not reliable or historical. Because of these apparent contradictions, many critics jumped on the texts in an effort to attack or disprove Christianity, the Bible, and religion in general.

This critical line of thinking came to its inevitable conclusion within Christian Theology in the works of Rudolph Bultmann, who denied the possibility of the miracles and the resurrection of Jesus Christ because they were not scientific and the result of primative thinking of people in a pre-scientific age. We can see here that Bultmann was clearly imposing his own Newtonian Worldview upon the text. Is it possible that only what we can prove through repeatable experiment is true? Or is God, if he exists, bigger than our microscope? Can God abridge what we call “reality” and do whatever He wants?

Fundamentalism and EvolutionAt the same time as Historical Critism was gaining popularity, Darwinianism and the Theory of Evolution  provided a second significant challenge to Biblical accounts of creation and sacred history. Darwin’s works in 1858 and 1871 provided religion’s antagonists with more ammunition, and again the Church felt threatened and cornered by these events.

As a reaction to these attacks, a branch of theology known as Fundamentalism began in Princeton in the late 1800’s. It’s goal was to preserve faith in the veracity of the Scriptures. Fundamentalism’s principal tenant is that the bible is “inerrant”:

Biblical inerrancy, as formulated in the “Chicago Statement on Biblical Inerrancy“, is the doctrine that the Protestant Bible “is without error or fault in all its teaching”;[1] or, at least, that “Scripture in the original manuscripts does not affirm anything that is contrary to fact”.[2]

In layman’s terms, the idea of the Bible being inerrant is that whatever it teaches is literally true. While not the same as Fundamentalism, Literalism is an extension of the attempt to prove the faithfulness of the Scripture in all that it teaches.

The Problem with Fundamentalism

The problem with Fundamentalism is not the fact the Scriptures are true, but in understanding the way they are true. Fundamentalism’s weakness is that it is playing on the same field and by the same rules set up for it by Enlightenment Rationalism. A fundamental approach to the Bible assumes that that the record of the Scriptures, specifically the Gospels, is meant to be be taken in a strict chronological manner, when chronology was not the concern of the writers at all. In other words, Fundamentalism is imposing an Enlightenment Rationalist framework on the Scriptures as an historical record, but does not understand the intent, the method, and literary purpose of the Gospel writers. In the end, fundamentalists fight for truth but lose the battle because the Scripture itself contradicts their understanding.

What do I mean by this statement?
I think is rather naive to think that just because someone has found in the Bible apparent conflicts and passages which offend modern sensibilities, that someone has somehow been able to disprove the value and validity of the Scriptures. It is naive to think one has discovered the “gotcha” – without having spent years investigating the historical and cultural context of the writers and weighing the arguments fairly on either side.

Both fundamentalists who defend the scriptures and atheists who attack the chronological inconsistencies, and minor reporting errors, in the New Testament have made a significant cultural mistake. They are treating the writers of the New Testament as if they were the product of the age of Enlightenment Rationalism and were trying to create an exact, journalistic report of events in sequence. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Gospel writers were not writing down facts in order of occurrence, they were using historical events to show how the life of Jesus fulfilled the prophetic typology of the Scriptures. In other words, while being faithful to the events, they were not very concerned to live up to our historical methodology. The writers were creative theologians, using the life of Jesus to show how his life fulfilled the scripture’s predictions about the Messiah.

We have an historical attestation to this effect from the 2nd Century Papias, who said,

“Mark having become the interpreter of Peter, wrote down accurately, though not in order, whatsoever he remembered of the things said or done by Christ. For he neither heard the Lord nor followed him, but afterward, as I said, he followed Peter, who adapted his teaching to the needs of his hearers, but with no intention of giving a connected account of the Lord’s discourses, so that Mark committed no error while he thus wrote some things as he remembered them. For he was careful of one thing, not to omit any of the things which he had heard, and not to state any of them falsely…So then Matthew wrote the oracles in the Hebrew language, and every one interpreted them as he was able.”

So, to my mind, minor divergences of reportage on small details does not destroy the credibility on the widespread agreement of the authors on the major points. Jesus was crucified, Jesus died, Jesus was astoundingly raised from the dead. In fact, without his resurrection, they would have had no motivation to write anything, since immediately after his death they were all running for their lives afraid the same fate was to befall them…

Just to sum up the point: how can you know the meaning and validity of the scriptures if you don’t know the authors’ purpose, literary method, and intent? There is a literary form and structure of the Gospels, which most people miss. They were publicists, not simply historians. The Gospels are a literary genre called typologies. They wanted to show how Jesus is the fulfillment of the types revealed in the Old Testament books. They organized and arranged the events of Jesus’ life to fit the literary pattern of the first 6 books of the Bible. Matthew, Luke, and John, all use a different books of the Tanakh to reveal how the events of Jesus’ life are the fulfillment of the First Covenant. Matthew records Jesus’ 40 days and nights in the wilderness and his subsequent Sermon on the Mount. This part of Jesus’ life fulfills the paradigm of Exodus, where Moses is on the Mount for 40 days and nights and brings down the 10 Commandments and teaches the people from the mountain. Jesus is the new Moses, according to Matthew. Luke, however records Jesus’ Sermon on the Plain which follows the book of Deuteronomy where Moses recounts the history of the Law on the Plain outside the promised Land. Again, to Luke, Jesus is the new Moses. John uses the book of Joshua {Joshua is the Hebrew name for Jesus} to reveal how Jesus’ crossing the Jordan river corresponds to Joshua’s crossing the river when the people of Israel entered the Promised Land. Jesus is the new Joshua, bringing the people of God into the New Promised Land of the Spirit by his death and resurrection…

My point is this: if you don’t understand what the authors’ intent and purpose were, you cannot impose upon them modern, journalistic forms and expect the results you want, either for or against. You are arguing apples against oranges. Fundamentalism, by imposing a modern day historian’s method upon the texts of the Bible, is unconsciously assuming an Enlightenment Rationalist’s Worldview, and does not understand the purpose and intent of the writers. And critics of the truthfulness of Scripture have proven nothing by pointing out such inconsistencies, because they are “proving” false what the writers never intended to be true in the first place. They are, however, scoring points against a Fundamentalist’s interpretation of the Scriptures, but they are not disproving that the Bible. Atheists and antagonists may be reacting to the defensiveness of Christians, who insist on setting up arguments that can clearly be shown to be false in defense of their God, but they have not disproven the Scriptures at all. The Bible’s truth is infallible. Its moral teaching inviolate and timeless. But to understand its truth, you need to know what the writer actually intended.

For example, while the sun does not actually rise in the East, but the earth rotates towards the dawn, as we now know, the truthfulness of the Psalmists’ declaration does not change: all Creation declares the Glory of God. It is still God’s Word to humanity. You just need to understand how and in what way. It is worthy to be believed and followed. We just have to trust that God inspired the writers to use the liberty of a creative theological purpose in assembling the events of Jesus’ life.

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The Humanity of Jesus

from the Scholars Corner

The Humanity of Jesus

Why did Jesus have to be baptized by John?  He said, “it is necessary to fulfill all righteousness…”   What did Jesus mean by that?

Why are there no records of miracles by Jesus as a child?

What did it mean for Jesus to be fully human?

What does it mean when it says that Jesus “emptied himself… being born in human likeness”?

Philippians 2:5-11 “Let the same mind be in you that was  in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death–even death on a cross. Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

Jesus was not omniscient. As a child, it says of him: 

Luke 2:52 “And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men.”

How can you grow in wisdom if you are all knowing?

He was not all powerful: 

John 5:19 Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does.”

John 12:48-50 The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day. For I have not spoken on my own authority, but the Father who sent me has himself given me a commandment–what to say and what to speak. And I know that his commandment is eternal life. What I say, therefore, I say as the Father has told me.

He had to suffer as we do: 

Hebrews 4:15  For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.

Hebrews 5:7-9 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…

Example:  A Cross of Wills

It would have been no challenge for God in his omniscience and omnipotence to resist temptation. There would have been no redemption for us in that, but Jesus had to face temptation as a human being and be as tempted as we are, but not sin, for there to be any redemption for us. 

Adam and Eve failed in temptation:

Genesis 3:6 “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,   she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate.”

John calls these “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life, ” 1 John 2:16

Jesus faced this temptation and passed it, unlike Adam and Eve: 

Matthew 4:1-10 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, ‘‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’’(LUST OF THE FLESH) But he answered, ‘‘It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, ‘‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (PRIDE OF LIFE) Jesus said to him, ‘‘Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’’’ Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory.(LUST OF THE EYES) And he said to him, ‘‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘‘Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’’’

But he was tempted as we are, and even more so in the Garden before he went to the Cross.

In Order for Jesus to fulfill his ministry as prophet, priest and king, he had to be anointed with power, wisdom, and strength by the Holy Spirit, which he received at baptism.

John, the last in the long line of prophets, but also the son of a priest, anointed Jesus both as prophet and as the high priest. 

Zachariah is the father of John the Baptist, a priest of the sons of Aaron, a prophet in Luke 1:67–79, and the husband of Elizabeth who is a cousin of the Virgin Mary. Elizabeth, was also of the priestly family of Aaron.

The point is: Jesus had to rely completely on the Father and upon the Holy Spirit to do his miracles and to fulfill his ministry, just as we must. It was in his humanity that he did these things, giving us an example of what perfect trust in and obedience to the Father looks like in a human being.  If Adam had not have sinned, this is what we would have been able to do! 

When he emptied himself, he gave up his glory and power to become weak and as human as we are. It says that he became physically weary after walking to Samaria (John 4:6)

Hebrews 2:14-18 “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil– and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for  the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

He was completely dependent

So the reason he did not do miracles as a child, was because he was not yet anointed with power from the Holy Spirit which was given to him at his baptism by John.

You too can be anointed!

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