Gluten-free Intolerant?

Here’s a fun little video to start the discussion found below…

This video is hilarious. And it really does represent a growing trend among people trying to eat healthier. There’s this thought that going gluten-free will somehow make you healthier. Gluten does not make you fat (although pastries with gluten can!). It’s a myth.

But this does not mean that all people who eat gluten-free are just ignorant foodies who’ve been duped by yet another diet trend. I want to be very clear: some people cannot eat gluten. And it’s not that they don’t like gluten. It’s not that they are just trying to be healthier. It’s that their body simply cannot digest it.

But as a result of these two types of people, there’s been this mixed community of people that eat gluten-free. Some are fad-foodies that don’t even know what gluten is (much like the other food trends: low-fat, no-carb, etc). But others have been diagnosed by real doctors, have a legitimate issue, and / or need to eat gluten free.

And what I’ve noticed is that non-gluten-free people have begun to bash the entire gluten-free community because of the “food-fad” group. And while the aim of this “bashing” is toward the fakers, I’ve also noticed that people with real dietary issues have come under fire too. Some people legitimately cannot process / digest it, and it causes all sorts of problems with their bodies. And now they have to, because of no fault of their own, eat gluten free. Why must gluten-intolerant / celiac people come under fire because some within the group are fakers?

Here’s my point: if you have been bashing the gluten-free trend, you are not only accusing the fakers; you are also being intolerant toward those who are legitimately gluten-intolerant.

For instance, my wife is highly gluten-intolerant. When we were first engaged, if she ever ate gluten, she would turn pale-white, have flu-like symptoms, and be restricted to her bed for a day or two. She spent months going to doctors, trying to figure why in the world her body would react this way. Finally, after a myriad of tests, the doctors told her to take gluten out of her diet. There was a 100% difference in just a few weeks. As a result, it’s pretty clear she has real issues with gluten. And when you make accusations that gluten-free is just a fad, you are inadvertently being insensitive to her (and others like her) real struggles. This is why I’m so passionate about this. My wife is so much better simply because she stopped eating gluten. It turns out her body just cannot and will not process gluten. Why? We really don’t know. But I know that her strength is back, her symptoms are gone, and she has a normal life (apart from being gluten-free of course) because of it.

And here’s another thing. I simply do not understand why Christians are getting all up into arms about the gluten-free stuff. What does it matter? For instance, there’s this incredibly strange article telling all gluten-free dieters that they worship a false god. And while I can appreciate that the article is aiming to expose companies looking to make a pretty penny off of the gluten-free fad, it is still lumping gluten-intolerant people into the discussion. And to make it worse, the author downplays those who legitimately suffer from gluten-intolerance: “Celiac disease affects about one percent of Americans. Even the more murky ‘gluten sensitivity’ applies, at best, to six percent of the population”. This article ends saying, “we’re just being sold products…In truth, all we’re getting is something that looks like a bagel but tastes like false hope”. Wow — gluten-free false hope (well, except for 1% of the population). Or, just maybe, there are legitimate issues that people have with this protein called gluten? I think so. 

And as a Christian, here’s my rub. There are several instances where dietary issues and the like are addressed by Paul. And in none of these instances does Paul denounce any type of diet. While Paul does admit that all food is made by God and profitable for eating (1 Cor 10:26), he also tells Christians that some won’t want to eat certain foods for various reasons, and that it’s ok for them not to (Rom 14:6)! And this means that if someone wants to eat gluten-free, let them! Just because you realize that eating gluten-free is pointless for some doesn’t mean you should dictate their diet. In fact, Paul tells us that when it comes to dietary issues like this, Christians should neither judge nor despise their brother (Rom 14:10). Besides this, does it really matter if eating gluten-free really only benefits a small percent of the population? Aren’t we all free in the Lord with regard to conscience issues? What point are we really trying to make here?

Another passage that comes to mind with this whole thing is Matthew 13:24-30. This is a passage where Christ reveals that within the church there will inevitably be fakers; some professed Christians will simply be pretending. In the passage, Christ tells a parable, comparing the church to a field of wheat mingled with weeds. What makes it more complicated is that the weeds look all too similar to the wheat. In the parable, the farmers ask each other, “should we try to pick out the weeds amongst the wheat?”. To this question, another farmer says, “No, lest in gathering the weeds you root up the wheat along with them” (Mt 13:24-30). I find so much wisdom in this parable. If we aim for the fakers, we will do harm to genuine. This is what I find happening so much in whole gluten-free debate. I know my wife (and others) has often been offended by people’s insensitivity to her real issue, simply because they are after the foodies.

I’m all for constructive critique of food fads. I myself get annoyed at all the low-fat foods I see all over the place. But I really want us, especially as Christians, to be sensitive to the real needs of gluten-intolerant people. If we aren’t sensitive to their needs, we easily compound the entire issue, and become gluten-free intolerant.

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What is the Purpose of the Mosaic Law Today?

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There is much debate on this question. Many Reformed thinkers see that the Law has 3 main purposes: to reveal sin, to be a positive guide for the believer, and for civil use. Other theologians, mainly in the Lutheran camp, would see the Law more primarily as a means toward revealing sin and pointing us to Christ. Still others see no real application for the Law. Dispensationalists see that the Law in its fullness has been fulfilled in Christ, and that we are now driven by the Law of Christ (Gal 6:1-6), meaning we are to strive toward being like Jesus. He is the ultimate embodiment of the Law, and so we look to a person rather than a list of rules.

While I can see a lot of truth in the Dispensationalist camp, and really tend to shrink at the Reformed understanding (mainly because Reformed thinkers would generally agree that the Mosaic Law is still in effect in its moral codes today), I still see some truth in the Reformed understanding of the Law as being a positive guide. My reason for this is because there are many moral expectations in the Mosaic Law that were set in place before it was instituted. For instance, “do not murder”; the expectation that man should not take a life of another is explicit in Cain’s guilt (Gen 4), and is specifically prohibited for Noah (Gen 9:6). So, although I would say that the Mosaic Law was fulfilled in Christ, moral expectations still abide.

And besides this, I can also appreciate that God’s moral character is eternal, and he does not change. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). And so we can read the Mosaic Law, for instance in Leviticus, learn about God’s unchanging character, and live that out. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 10 that we are to learn from Israel’s example, and not fall into the same sin they did. This implies that we can learn moral lessons in the Old Testament, and (if we are filled with God’s Spirit) live them out. Otherwise, what did God mean when he told Israel that the heart of the New Covenant is divine enablement to live out the Law by his writing “it on their hearts” (Jer 31:33)?

However, I would tend to disagree with the Reformed view that these moral expectations are a continuation of the Mosaic Law. What else can Christ mean in Matthew 5:17 when he says that he came to fulfill the law? Which law? He explicitly says, the “Law [and] the Prophets” (5:17). So when Christ said, it is finished, he was not merely pointing to his final payment for sins, but to his active fulfillment of God’s righteousness. So I would agree with the Dispensationalist by saying that we are not bound (in an official sense) to obey the Mosaic Law.

Finally though, I heartily agree with Lutherans (and all theologians who affirm human depravity) that, without regeneration and divine enablement, the effort to live out God’s moral character by one’s own power will only fail. In fact, as Paul says in Galatians 3:10, that all who “rely (as a means toward righteousness) on the works of the law are under a curse”. Meaning, if you think that apart from justification and the regenerating work of the Spirit, that you can work yourself into the kingdom of God, you will find yourself even more condemned (Mark 10:17-21). In fact, Paul says that the Law is a prison to those who would try to be saved by it (Gal 3:22). And in this way, the Law reveals the wickedness of those who think they can abide by it, and who believe they don’t need Christ. And so, even Gentiles, who would desire to be a good and moral person (see Rom 2:15), will find that they can’t abide by their moral principles forever, and will find themselves in need of saving.

I love Luther’s remarks about this purpose of the Law from his Commentary on Galatians. He says, “Now, when a man is humbled by the law, and brought to the knowledge of himself, then followeth true repentance…and he seeth himself to be so great a sinner that he can find no means how he may be delivered from his sin by his own strength, endeavor and works…Here then cometh in good time the healthful word of the Gospel, and saith: ‘Son, thy sins are forgiven thee’ (Matt 9:2). Believe in Christ Jesus crucified for thy sins, [and] if thou feel thy sins and the burden thereof, look not upon them in thyself, but remember that they are translated and laid upon christ, whose stripes have made thee whole (Isa 53:5)”.

And I think that by looking to Christ, and finding this wholeness in him, only then can the law be used positively by the work of the Spirit in us.

 

 

Why Israel?

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Why Israel?

Why would God, whose intention was to save a people from all nations to himself, conceive in his mind to establish, redeem, and work with the nation of Israel? What was in his mind, when most of the Old Testament is a story about a single nation? Why create this nation, when his purpose is ultimately to sum up all things in Christ (Eph 1:7)?

In other words, what was and is the purpose of the nation of Israel?

While we could cover a multitude of reasons, Paul provides one comprehensive answer in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13:

For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.
Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, 10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer. 11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. 12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. 13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

In short, Paul says that Israel is in a way, a historical sermon for all believers–and really for all of mankind–to be gleaned and learned from. Their example serves as a sober warning and amazing illustration for all men.

A Survey of Israel’s History

To get a grasp of what Paul means here, it is helpful to look at Israel’s history as a nation:

Israel was an elect nation, chosen by God’s sovereign grace and love (Deut 7:6-10), and promised a land in which the nation could dwell in God’s midst (Gen 12-18). Israel was miraculously redeemed from bondage on the merit of the blood of a spotless lamb (Exodus 11-14), they were led by God’s presence to the land promised them (Numbers 9), and provided for in the wilderness (Exod 16-17, Numbers 11). As God’s redeemed people, he enabled them to be holy as he was holy and to dwell in his presence in the land by providing his Law; and when they transgressed, God provided sin sacrifices to temporarily cover their guilt (Exod 24, Lev). Israel was given a King to mediate for the people and guide them into obedience to God (1 Sam 16-17).

But, in light of all that Israel was given, they broke God’s Law, and were spurned and removed from their place of blessing in the land (Jer 3-4). Being transgressors of God’s Law, they were removed from their land and scattered among the nations, forced to live as exiles and aliens (Hosea 3:4).

And yet, although Israel was stubborn and disobedient to God’s calling, they were promised a Messiah who would fulfill the Law for them, and be the ultimate King, Messiah, and Lamb who could truly wash away their sins and cause them to dwell in the land and in God’s presence without fear of punishment (Is 52-53, Jer 31:31-40, Ezek 36:22-37:28). And through this King, Israel is promised one day to be saved, brought into their land, and placed under the rule of Messiah who will bring peace the the nations (Is 2:2-4, Zech 14, Rom 11).

The Lord has really and truly covenanted himself to this nation. He elected them, loved them unconditionally, and redeemed them to himself. Yet Israel, in her sin, broke God’s holy Law, and brought condemnation onto herself. And although Israel deserves no more grace than they have already been given, God promises to have grace on this nation yet again.

Israel is a Mirror for Our Own Lives

It’s because of this long and drawn out history that Israel is a parable for all mankind. Israel’s story is one of grace and covenantal faithfulness on God’s part, and yet sin and rebellion on Israel’s part. And it’s because of this that Israel’s story is our story.

In his wisdom, God put a small meta-narrative in the middle of human history for all to witness–the story of Israel.

Of Israel’s history, Horatius Bonar gives this insight:

“The history of Israel, in every age, preaches to us the gospel of the grace of God. It is throughout, the story of man’s sin and Gods deep and untiring love. It shows us how manifold, how endless are man’s ways of sinning; and it shows us how still more manifold and endless are God’s ways of forgiving, and loving, and blessing” (Prophetical Landmarks)

Is this not entirely true? God’s tireless love for a rebellious nation is a mirror and illustration of God’s tireless love for me! As a Christian, I am aware that God has elected, redeemed, cared for and enabled me, and promises to lead me to a land where I can dwell in his presence without fear, and yet every single day I sin against this gracious and loving God.

When I see Israel’s failures, I see my own. This is why Paul can say in Romans 3:19:

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.

Paul says that those who are under the Law are held accountable to the Law. Paul was of course speaking of Israel–God had given this nation the Mosaic Law, and held them accountable to it. And yet, Paul also says that the Law is able to stop every mouth, and hold the whole world accountable (even though not every mouth is held accountable to the Law). What could Paul means by this?

What he means to say is that when we see Israel break God’s Law, and spiral into sin and decay, it makes us realize our own moral inability and sin. To witness Israel’s failure is to see our own failure. And so through Israel’s history, God has not only stopped Israel’s mouth, but everyone’s mouth.

So back to the original question–why does God build and bless this nation, Israel?

God wants to tell the story of every man. He wants to tell the story of his relentless love, of sin and failure, and of grace and redemption. Israel does not, nor will they ever exist for their own purpose. Israel has always and will always exist for the nations. Their story is our story. And our story is theirs.

It is the story of God’s great and lavishing love for helpless sinners in need of salvation.