Archive for the 'Biblical Theology' Category


genesis… a simple introduction

I am writing a short (very short) introduction to each book of the Bible for a Church Bible exhibition.  Each summary should be accessible to the average 13-year-old (though it is intended for adults).  I aim to have an opening paragraph that is comprehensive if terse and then a further paragraph or two (if necessary) unpacking the first.  Here is my first unedited stab at an intro to Genesis.  I feel it is a little longer than I would like.  Any helpful criticism on content, style etc would be appreciated.


Genesis is the first book of the Bible.  Unsurprisingly, it means ‘beginning’ or ‘origin’.  It tells us about the origin of the world, of humanity, of evil and suffering in history, and it tells us too about God’s promise to resolve the problem of evil and how he begins to do so in human history. 

In Genesis we discover that God made and arranged all that exists.  He is Creator-King of the universe.  Humanity is God’s greatest creation made to resemble and represent God in creation.  Tragically humanity chose to rebel against the Creator – choosing self-rule rather than God’s rule.  Much of Genesis is an account of the developing evil in humanity as the inevitable outcome of this choice and showing how human evil led to God’s judgements on humanity in various ways.

However, woven through the dark narrative of the progress of evil and its consequences we have another narrative.  It is a narrative of hope.  God is not only judging evil he is putting in place a plan to save humanity and creation.  The very humanity that has brought death and destruction will be used by God to bring life and blessing.  How is not fully revealed in Genesis but the building blocks are put in place.  In particular, God chooses to work through one man and his descendents to bring blessing to the world.  The man is called Abraham and his descendents are the nation we call Israel.  God’s promise to Abraham is expressed in these words,

The LORD had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

 2 “I will make you into a great nation,
   and I will bless you;
I will make your name great,
   and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
   and whoever curses you I will curse;
and all peoples on earth
   will be blessed through you. (Gen 12:1-3)

We meet Abraham and some of his immediate descendents in Genesis but it will be many centuries, many generations and many Bible books later before we discover how God fulfils this promise in the person called Jesus.


the psalms – experiences of ot faith realized and resolved in christ

The Psalms are the expression of faith in Israel.  They reveal the complexity of thoughts and feelings that were the response of faith to the experience of life  in the old covenant.  Moreover, they gave individual Israelites the language and thought-forms to express and interpret their own experience according to faith.  If they express the faith of the godly in Israel then it goes without saying that they express too in many ways the faith experience of the true Israel, the Messiah; the Psalms are in large measure the words of Christ, his prayers and petitions.

In fact, I would argue, it is only in Christ that the anxieties, perplexities and apparent enigmas of faith voiced in the Psalms find their resolution.  Without their fulfilment in Christ the Psalms remain a kaleidoscope of confused and apparently contradictory faith.  Thus, in the words of the theologians, the Psalms are ultimately Christotelic – they find their goal and resolution in Christ.  Christ not only experiences the Psalms but he explains them; the disconnects of faith in the Psalms are integrated in him.  Little wonder the NT again and again cites or alludes to the Psalms as it tells and explains the story of Jesus; the Psalms expound Christ and Christ expounds the Psalms.

The Psalter opens with the ‘blessed man’ who meditates day and night in the law of the Lord and prospers in all he does.  But such a man did not exist – until Messiah.  He is the ‘blessed man’.  He is the fully obedient man, the submissive one, who ‘delights to do your will O God’ (Ps 40); the man who has God’s law within his heart (Ps 40:7).  He is the true man of Ps 8, the ‘son of man’  made for a little lower than angels for the suffering of death now crowned with glory and honour, the man to whom God has subjected the world to come (Hebs 2).  (Adam was never a ‘son of man’ though Israel was (Ps 80:7).  And so ‘son of man’ is Christ’s chosen title for himself, the true man and true Israel – a title of humility with overtones of glory. Dan 7:13)

And he is a ‘true man’ who truly suffers for he lives in a fallen world opposed to God.  The Psalter is full of the cries of innocent sufferers, the righteous who suffer unjustly for their covenant faithfulness and bring their complaint to God in belief, yet dismay, for, if the covenant is true, why should the righteous suffer (Ps 73) rather ‘in all they do they should prosper (Ps 1).  Yet, mystery of mysteries, even Messiah suffers.  He is hated and despised  because of his loyalty and zeal for the Lord – the reproaches of those who reproached the Lord fell on him (Ps 69).  Shame, burned deeply in his soul (Ps 44:15) and isolating loneliness was his lot in obedience withering his soul (Ps 102).  Some who are so tried find deliverance in life but many do not.  Such is the experience of the godly sufferer in Psalm 22.  Others trusted and were delivered but he was not; he lay in the dust of death.  He knows what it is to make unrequited pleas for deliverance.  He knows, as no other, the forsakenness and forlornness of soul of one whose loud existential  ‘why’ echoes around the empty and pitiless heavens.   The language of this Psalm and many others that express the suffering of the godly is the language of the Christ. In Messiah, this suffering will be fully experienced and ultimately explained. It is the language on his lips on the cross (Mk 15:34).  Yet in all this harrowing there is no failure of faith.  He knows that when tested no fault will be found (Ps 17).  Even in death, in faith he will cry ‘it is finished’ and commit his spirit to the one who judges righteously.  His faith in death awaits and anticipates resolution.  If we wish to see the interior of the one whose self-given title was ‘son of man’ and who was made in all points like his brothers and tested as they (apart from sin) then we must bathe our minds in the cries of those who suffer unjustly in the Psalms.

Even the weight of sin and its consequences expressed in many psalms find their echo in Messiah.  We must be very careful here.  He had no sin to confess but as the sin-bearer, the one who was ‘made-sin’ (2 Cor 5) he knew only to well what the crushing weight of sin entailed.  The sins that overwhelm him seem more than the hairs of his head (Ps 40; 38:4).  He knows what it is to have the wrath of God sweep over him and lie heavily upon him (Ps 88) and what it is to be cast off and rejected and know God’s full wrath against him (Ps 89).  Note well the wrath-bearing!  The green tree enters into the same judgement (burning) as the tree that is dry (Ps 52:8; Lk 23:31).  Indeed this Psalm explores another theme.  It is not simply the enigma of wrath against a righteous sufferer, it is wrath against God’s ‘anointed’ (Ps 89:38), wrath against the Messiah, the appointed King.

Christ is the Davidic King of the Psalms.  He is the one anointed to bring God’s salvation (and judgement) to the nations (Ps 110:6; 22:27; 45:17).  The ‘blessed man’ of Ps 1 is the anointed King of Ps 2.  Against him the nations plot and rage in vain (Cf Acts 4:25).  In vain, because God has set his King upon his holy hill of Zion and he will rule the nations.  Yet, in Ps 89, this same Davidic King with whom the Lord had promised a father son relationship, whom he declared would be his firstborn over all the kings of the earth, and whom he had covenanted to protect and whose foes to crush, finds the covenant apparently renounced, his crown lying in the dust, and his enemies triumphant (Ps 89).  Is God unfaithful?  This is the besetting fearful doubt with which Satan attacks the godly in Israel seeking to rob them of joy and faith; it is the test of faith.

Only in Christ is the resolution.  The innocent sufferer of Psalm 22 may lie in the dust of death, his pleas for deliverance apparently unheard.  The messianic King may seem to have been abandoned to his enemies, his crown lying in the dust.  But God’s promises will not fail.  God is faithful to his covenant.  He is righteous and will deliver his righteous servant (Ps 18:43).  His fulfilled promise will eclipse all expectation for he will prevail over death itself.  And the innocent sufferer of Ps 22 affirms this.  In the dust of death he declares in faith, ‘ I will declare your name to my brothers and in the midst of the great congregation I will praise you’.   In the words of another Psalm, God will not suffer his holy one to see corruption but bring him into the light of life (Ps 16); deliverance from death would in Messiah take on a new meaning and hope (Acts 2:27).

It would be in resurrection triumph the righteous sufferer, Messiah would ascend the throne and hear the divine vindication and recognition, ‘You are my son , whom today I have begotten’ (Ps 2).  In resurrection he would receive the call to enthronement,  ‘sit at my right hand until I make all your enemies your footstool’ (Ps 110:1).  He would be the King-Priest exalted above all his enemies (Ps 18) , entering after victory in battle into the holy place in glory (Ps 24) commencing a reign that would have no end (Ps 110) and whose dominion will stretch from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth (Ps 72).   Indeed, it is then, in ascension, the greatest mystery of all would be fully revealed, when, ‘I shall be to him a father and he shall be to me a son’ would be understood as more, so much more, than merely Yahweh’s adoption of a Davidic King, rather it would reveal a truly Divine relationship – that he who was the Davidic ”son of David’ (Ps 132) and the Adamic ‘son of man’ (Ps 8 ) was in the fullest sense possible the Divine ‘Son’; he was in truth the ‘Son of God’. Here is the full resolution of the enigma of the Psalms.  This makes sense of the words of Ps 110,  ‘the Lord said to my lord, ‘Sit at my right hand…’ (Ps 110) and Psalm 45, addressed to the Davidic King on ascension to the throne:

Ps 45:6-7 (ESV)
​​​​​​​​Your throne, O God, is forever and ever. ​​​​​​​The scepter of your kingdom is a scepter of uprightness; ​​​ ​​​​​​​​you have loved righteousness and hated wickedness. ​​​​​​​Therefore God, your God, has anointed you ​​​​​​​with the oil of gladness beyond your companions.

Thus, upon the resurrection of the Christ Paul writes:

Rom 1:1-6 (ESV)
Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which he promised beforehand through his prophets in the holy Scriptures, concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh and was declared to be the Son of God in power according to the Spirit of holiness by his resurrection from the dead, Jesus Christ our Lord, through whom we have received grace and apostleship to bring about the obedience of faith for the sake of his name among all the nations, including you who are called to belong to Jesus Christ.

Total resolution awaits a future day – we too see not yet all things under the feet of man – we await the day of final and complete vindication, but like all who lived by faith in the Psalms, though with a clearer eye from a higher vantage-point, we see Jesus (his very human name) made a little lower than the angels because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honour, and with him we await the day when all his enemies become the footstool of his feet.  This is the Lord’s doing and it is glorious in our eyes (Ps 118:23).

This is a simple outline of the Christotelic nature of the Psalms.  In these weeks that precede advent I hope to reflect on one or two of these Psalms that reveal to us the human thoughts and feelings of the word who became flesh.


new covenant theology… and to a large extent my own theology

This link leads to an excellent summary of what is called ‘New Covenant Theology’.  Although, over the years, I read little of NCT when I ‘discovered’ it, I found it reflected fairly closely my own views.  I was raised a Dispensationalist and over the years read a fair amount of  Covenant Theology.  I found neither satisfactory yet felt both had important insights to give.  The architects of NCT had a similar journey.  It is therefore, perhaps, hardly surprising, that I find their and my biblical framework very similar.

I recommend you read the post.


does god care more for people or plants?

The malevolent ingenuity of Satan and the muggable incredulity of Christians never ceases to amaze.  If there is a cockeyed way of thinking then Satan will suggest it and we will embrace it.  One that  deserves a place in Satan’s Hall of Fame for C21 delusions is the idea that somehow God cares more about plants than people.  Or to dress the barmy belief up in more respectable clothes (and let’s face it to be credible it demands all the theological help it can get) the trendy teaching that God’s big concern is the salvation of the Cosmos rather than the Church.

Now if we were simply hearing that God intends to renew creation that would be fine.  It would be eminently biblical and have an honourable tradition.  Evangelicals have always believed this despite the efforts of some to suggest otherwise.  But we are not simply being told that God cares for creation and intends to renew it.  We are being told this is God’s main concern.  We are being told the gospel that focuses on the salvation of individual sinners is a gross distortion of the gospel.  The salvation of individual sinners from sin is a selfish concern, a ‘redemptive myth’, or at best ‘bit part’ in God’s great Cosmic drama of salvation.

Kevin De Young, obviously aware of this trend, has a helpful blog about it here.  He well says,

Do not think that salvation comes to sinners because God has a cosmic purpose for the universe and individual sinners happen to be a part of that universe. The movement of salvation is not from everything to individuals, but from individuals to everything. Don’t mistake regeneration, redemption, and adoption as byproducts of the larger work God is doing to restore creation. That logic is backwards. Biblically, it’s the renewal of all things that rides in on the coattails of the salvation of sinners.

Precisely. It is hard to believe that any could read their Bible and think anything else.  Read the story of creation.  The great drama of creation in Gen 1 does not reach a crescendo in v1 when God creates the heavens and the earth.  Nor is it in the creation of light (day one), nor the separating of waters below and above the firmament (day two), nor the separating of land and seas (day three)… the climax and crescendo of creation is day six when God makes man in his own image and likeness and personally breathes into him the breath of life.  Man is the focus and prime purpose of creation.  He it is, who bearing the divine image, God intended (and intends) to ‘crown with glory and honour’ and give ‘dominion over all the works of his hands’ (Ps 8).

It is not the plants in the garden that God comes to savour in the cool of the day, he comes to have fellowship with Adam.  The heavens and the earth, an arena of divine glory, were nonetheless designed for man’s blessing (Gen 1:26-30; 9:1-3).

When sin enters the world and brings destruction, God’s first concern is man.  It is man he clothes.  Indeed, it is in Man that a serpent-slaying deliverer will be found.  God will himself become man (in the final analysis this nutty notion is an assault on the value of Christ himself).  God’s love ultimately is not creation, nor even angels, but the seed of Abraham (Hebs 2).

Throughout the OT, while God is concerned about his creation, his chief desire is a relationship with humanity.  The rich images of OT relationship underline this.  He is a Father to Israel.  He is a Husband to his People.  He is a Lover to those he has set his love upon.  He does not ‘know’ creation, he ‘knows’ his people (Amos 3:2).  It is his people he loves ‘with an everlasting love’ (Jer 31).

The NT is exactly the same.   Joseph was told in Matthew’s gospel to call the child ‘Jesus’ because he would ‘save his people from their sins’.   The gospels, we are told, are concerned with a bigger picture, yet here, right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, we discover that Jesus has come to ‘save his people from their sins’.  Yes Matthew will speak later of the renewal of all things (Matt 19) but his concern even then, as he speaks of the ‘new world’ are those who will share with him in the life of that new world, the sons of the kingdom (Matt 19:23-30).

In new creation, as in old creation, God’s primary concern is not with property and plants but with people.  Like any good Father his primary love and chief absorption is not with his capital or chattels  but his children, not his real estate but his sons and daughters.  They are his heirs, a new heavens and earth is but part of their inheritance. In marvellous, staggering, dumbfounding grace God has made us his kin and bequeathed to us all he has (1 Cor 3:21).

Jesus argues from the self-evidently greater value of people over plants to convince his people not to worry.

Matt 6:25-30 (ESV)
“Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single hour to his span of life? And why are you anxious about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?

De Young points out that in Roms 8 creation’s future is contingent upon Christians and not vice versa.

Rom 8:18-22 (ESV)
For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

We could glance too at the picture of new creation in Rev 21.  What is interesting in this chapter is that only the first verse of the chapter mentions the new heavens and earth.  The rest of the chapter is taken up with describing, not the glory of the new heavens and earth but of the New Jerusalem, the bride of Christ and it is in her that the glory of God resides.  The high point of redemption is not a new heavens and new earth wonderful though that is but as the loud voice from the throne cries in joy and triumph,

Rev 21:3-4 (ESV)
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

Just in case the point has evaded us, God’s joy and glory and fulfilment is in his people not plants.  That evangelical theologians are prepared to argue otherwise is simply a proof of how wily Satan is and how wacky (though wise in their own conceits) some theologians can be.


out of Egypt have I called my son…

Matt 2:13-21 (ESV)
Now when they had departed, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, “Rise, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you, for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.” And he rose and took the child and his mother by night and departed to Egypt and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet, “Out of Egypt I called my son.”  Then Herod, when he saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, became furious, and he sent and killed all the male children in Bethlehem and in all that region who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had ascertained from the wise men. Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah:  ​​​​​​​​“A voice was heard in Ramah, weeping and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children; she refused to be comforted, because they are no more.”  But when Herod died, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph in Egypt, saying, “Rise, take the child and his mother and go to the land of Israel, for those who sought the child’s life are dead.” And he rose and took the child and his mother and went to the land of Israel.

Most modern commentaries will point out that part of the purpose of the gospel writers (especially the synoptics) is to show how Jesus recapitulates the history of the people of Israel in his own personal history.  Jesus, the commentaries will tell you, is the true Israel.  N T Wright has done much to highlight, popularise and resurrect this recapitulation perspective in recent times.  I say resurrect for it is by no means new to Wright.  Apparently it was outlined as long ago as Irenaeus.  Certainly it was a view with which I was familiar in youth long before Tom Wright had written a line.

As a view, of course, it is older even than Irenaeus, for it is clearly that of the gospel writers themselves – learned no doubt from Jesus who had taught them that he was the True Vine (Jn 15).  Israel was God’s Vine (Isa 5).  Yet as a nation, despite God’s great care of her, she produced only wild grapes – there was no joy or pleasure for God in Israel.  Christ, however, is the true Vine that produces fruit that satisfies God; Messiah is the true Israel.

This close identity between Messiah and nation is evident too in the OT.  Isaiah’s enigmatic ‘servant’ is Israel, but is distinct from Israel.  Ch 42-55 lay the groundwork for a Messiah who will be organically connected with his people’s history.  Therefore, it is no real surprise when we find in the NT parallels between the history of the nation and the history of her Messiah.

The Baptism of Christ in Jordan, for example, seems to parallel Israel in the Red Sea.  Just as Israel comes through the Red Sea to face the temptations of the wilderness (for forty years) so too Jesus’ baptism is immediately followed by his temptation in the wilderness (for forty days).  After the wilderness Israel enters the Land and sets about overthrowing all that polluted the land.  Likewise Jesus, the new Joshua and Israel, after his wilderness trials ranges through Israel overthrowing disease and demonic powers that pollute and destroy.  He is clearing the land of all that defiles and oppresses.

Other parallels are clear. Moses on Sinai receiving the Law and Christ on the mountain giving the ethics of the Kingdom.  The picture complicates as Jesus is in fact the progenitor of a new Israel of which his twelve chosen disciples paralleling the twelve tribes of Israel are the basis.  The Kingdom is to be taken away from Israel and given to a nation who will bear Kingdom fruit.  The twelve apostles are the rump of this new nation.

Israel’s history of disobedience inevitably results in the curse and catastrophe of exile.  She experiences the anathema of ‘forsakeness’ as she is handed over to the gentiles.  So too, the cross is the exile of Messiah, suffering like the nation at the hands of the gentiles, as God’s wrath-bearing judgement falls on him for the people on a gentile cross.

Exile, was for Israel a national death.   Humanly speaking her future as a nation was bleak. Only a miracle could make her a nation again, a miracle akin to resurrection .  The impossible must happen and long dead bones must live (Ezek 37).  Such a miracle could only happen by the power of the spirit of God and the prophets believed it would.  Messiah, like the people and for the people, finds life lies beyond judgement and death in resurrection, literal resurrection.  Messiah dies and literally and really rises from the dead to be the first of a new humanity – a humanity, an Israel beyond death, sin, law, Satan and all that destroys.

Thus Messiah embodies Israel’s story.  He is the King-Priest who experiences their experience and in the process delivers them from all their failure and its consequences.  God’s ‘Son’ par excellence is not Israel the nation but Christ. He is the true vine, the true son that God calls ‘out of Egypt’.

Thus in Matthew 2, in the text above we see the infancy of the nation in the infancy of Christ.  Just as ancient Israel moved to Egypt for protection and preservation in her infancy, so too does Messiah.  If the dreams of a Joseph took Jacob and his sons to Egypt so too the dreams of another Joseph will lead the Christ to Egypt for protection.  Ironically, if the danger for Israel’s male infants at the time of Moses lay in an Egyptian King then the danger for Israel’s male infants in the time of Christ lay with a Jewish King.  Satan is active in the heart not simply of a gentile King but of a Jewish King – his goal throughout history has never changed – he wants to destroy the ‘woman’s offspring’ (Rev 12).

The parallel is clear, but as is so often the case, ironies appear.  The enemy of Messiah is not the gentile nations (who have just visited to worship) but Israel herself.  For Messiah, the enemy will be within the gate.  He will be wounded in the house of his friends.  As N T Wright has well said – Israel is not simply part of the solution, she is also part of the problem.  She like all other nations is fallen and an enemy of God.

The immediate danger to the infant Christ passes with the death of Herod and Messiah like his people is called out of Egypt.  God’s ‘son’ travels like the nation before him to the land of Israel, the Land of Promise. For the moment the danger is passed.  The story has a happy ending.

But, of course, it is not the end.

Throughout Messiah’s life the serpent (Satan)  rages and seeks to destroy, and ironically, his primary instrument, is the nation.  While Herod, inspired by Satan, is unable to execute at Messiah’s birth, others will succeed some thirty or so years later when ‘the hour’ is come.  Instigated by Israel, the Romans (gentile nations) crucify the Christ.  The people will see placarded above his cross the crime for which he is crucified, ‘This is Jesus the King of the Jews’.  The irony is exquisite and complete.

The Christmas story is not a pretty story.  It is not a gentle tale.  It is part of an epic and bloody saga, a tale of irrational hate, deception, intrigue, murder and unrequited love.  It is a huge story as big as history itself.  But above all it is an uplifting story, of love and betrayal, of blood and victory, of fall and redemption, of Homeric hope, herculean grace, and quixotic valour, not in imaginary tales but the love of God in Christ for a rebellious world.  However devalued by the Hollywood machine,  it is indeed, ‘The Greatest Story Ever Told’.

And it is true.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (10)

The Bible and IAO.  My intention in the next few posts is to demonstrate that the Bible locates justification in the infinitely valuable death of Christ and his subsequent resurrection without reference to IAO.  Indeed, I hope to show that IAO is not only absent but does not fit as presented into the biblical contours of redemption accomplished.  For me, as I hope for all, the deciding authority in matters of faith is Scripture.  To quote J R W Stott once more,

‘I take it for granted that we will have a text. For we are not speculators but expositors’

And so to the text…


The OT is God’s picture book for the NT.   What God achieves in Christ in the NT is modelled in OT typology and prophecy long before it happens.  God, in the OT, is preparing his people for the Coming of Christ by giving them categories for thinking that will help them make sense of Christ’s person and work.  As we study the OT we discover:

  • IAO creates a distinction missing from the Mosaic juridical system.  IAO assumes the possibility of being acquitted of guilt or innocent without being simultaneously righteous.  The Mosaic Law knows no such distinction.  In the Law, the person who is condemned is guilty (or wicked) while the person acquitted is innocent (or righteous).

Thus we read in Exodus,

Exod 23:6-7 (ESV)
“You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his lawsuit. Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.

Innocence and righteousness are interchangeable.  Different translations use either word.

Deut 25:1 (ESV)

If there is a dispute between men and they come into court and the judges decide between them, acquitting the innocent (some translations say, righteous) and condemning the guilty (some translations say, wicked)

The regular categories before the Law (viewed either in terms of a local Court or in terms of covenantal status Cf. Mal 3:18) are simply ‘righteous’ and ‘wicked’.  Proverbs uses these categories 45 times and the Psalms 13.  For example,

Prov 17:15 (ESV)
He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.  (Cf Prov 18:5)

As George Eldon Ladd notes,  “he is righteous who is judged to be in the right” (Ex. 23:7; Deut. 25:1).

Because Paul works within an OT schema and not that of IAO theologies he has no hesitation in asserting that the person (David in Ps 32) whose sin is forgiven, whose guilt is covered, and against whom the Lord does not count sin, is not simply free of guilt, but is justified, is righteous.

Rom 4:5-8 (ESV)
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness, just as David also speaks of the blessing of the one to whom God counts righteousness apart from works:  ​​​​​​​​“Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered;  ​​​​​​​​blessed is the man against whom the Lord will not count his sin.”

To reiterate, the idea that before the Law one may be acquitted of guilt but not  righteous is foreign to OT discourse.  Such ‘distinctions’, the inventions of IAO theologies, are simply that, inventions.   If the Law acquits, the acquitted is righteous.

  • IAO argues the law-keeping obedience of one may be transferred to another.  The OT Law knows nothing of such a concept.

The Law demanded obedience, however, law-keeping obedience was non-transferable.   The law-keeping of one could not cover, replace, outweigh, balance, cancel, or be imputed against the law-breaking of another.  The Law is clear – the one who does it shall live…if a man does them he shall live by them (Lev 18:5; Ezek 18: 5-9; 20:11,13, 20; Gals 3:11; Roms 10:5).   Law-keeping counted only for the individual law-keeper.  In Ezekiel we read,

Ezek 14:13-14 (ESV)

“Son of man, when a land sins against me by acting faithlessly, and I stretch out my hand against it and break its supply of bread and send famine upon it, and cut off from it man and beast, even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver but their own lives by their righteousness, declares the Lord God.

We look in vain ifor OT vicarious law-keeping.    There is no paradigm for IAO in the Mosaic Covenant.

  • In OT Law, a blood sacrifice, and only a blood sacrifice, could atone for sin, avert judgement, cleanse, bring forgiveness and establish a right relationship with God.

Though a law-keeping life could not act vicariously for another, a death could and did.  The animal sacrificial system educated Israel that atonement for sin lay in blood-sacrifice.  There were five major kinds of offerings in the OC.   Two were non-blood offerings and they could not atone for sin.  Three were blood sacrifices, the burnt offering, sin offering and guilt offering, and these could atone for sin  and establish forgiveness (Lev 1-7).  Atonement for the nation on the annual Day of Atonement involved two goats, one of which had to die.  Atonement, cleansing and acceptance with God depended on a sacrificial death; blood must be shed.  Indeed even inanimate objects, the holy things of the tabernacle, were cleansed by blood.

Lev 16:16 (ESV)
Thus he shall make atonement for the Holy Place, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel and because of their transgressions, all their sins. And so he shall do for the tent of meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their uncleannesses.

Thus we read in Hebrews,

Heb 9:22 (ESV)
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

It is hardly surprising that the Hebrew writer when considering the fulfilment of these OT types (especially the Day of Atonement) writes,

Heb 9:23-28 (ESV)
Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

The Hebrews commentary is highly relevant to the present discussion.  Note, there is no hint of law-keeping on behalf of another.  It is the sacrificial death that is important.  Certainly, the animal that died had to be ‘without blemish’ (Lev 1:3; Ex 12:5).  It must be without defect to be suitable for sacrifice.  In this it foreshadowed the purity and perfection of Christ.  Christ is an efficient sacrifice because of his life of total obedience; ‘he offered himself without blemish to God‘ (Hebs 9:14).  His life gives value to his death – thus his blood is ‘precious’, the blood of ‘a lamb without blemish or spot’ (1 Pet 1:18-19).  But it is the death that atones.  Indeed, it is the death-obedience of Christ that brings supreme glory to God and to Christ (Jn 13:31).  Thus, it is the blood shed that atones; it cleanses impurity (meets a  holy God’s requirement for definitive sanctification, cultic or sanctuary imagery  Lev 16:16,30) and clears guilt (meets a righteous God’s requirement for justification, legal or law-court imagery   Lev 4:17; 6:13; 10:17; 16:16).  God made crystal clear to Israel that blood atones.

Lev 17:10-14 (ESV)
“If any one of the house of Israel or of the strangers who sojourn among them eats any blood, I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from among his people. For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life [many translations say, 'for the soul']. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, No person among you shall eat blood, neither shall any stranger who sojourns among you eat blood… For the life of every creature is its blood: its blood is its life. Therefore I have said to the people of Israel, You shall not eat the blood of any creature, for the life of every creature is its blood. Whoever eats it shall be cut off.  (Cf Lev 4:26, 31, 35; Matt 26:28; Hebs 13:12; Roms 3:25; 5:9; Acts 20:28; Rev 1:5; 17:14)

Of course, the animal sacrifices offered under Law couldn’t really satisfy God’s holiness in the face of sin.  The sin offering couldn’t really atone for sin.  It couldn’t cleanse or bring forgiveness and righteous acceptance.  Nor could the national sacrifice on the Day of Atonement purify and make the people righteous (Hebs 10:1-4).  The offerer of the sin offering was ‘righteous’ only until his next sin.  The annual Day of Atonement must happen ‘annually’ for each year fresh sin accumulated requiring fresh atonement.  The OT sacrifices could not bring lasting righteousness.  They could not bring ‘perfection‘.  They were, after all, only the involuntary sacrifices of dumb animals.  Only human flesh could atone for human flesh.  Only a voluntary sacrifice by a sinless ‘seed of Abraham’ could atone for ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Hebs 2:9:19; Hebs 10:1-9).  Only Christ’s sacrifice could bring real, complete, lasting forgiveness and acceptance.  His sacrifice alone could perfectly atone.   In the language of Hebrews,

Heb 10:11-14 (ESV)
And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

Note the argument well, and that of the Hebrews’ quotation above  (9:23:28).  No mention of IAO.  No hint of  a life transferred through divine book-keeping.  Hebrews simply says by  ‘a single sacrifice for sins he has perfected forever‘ his people.  Observe, they are ‘perfected‘ by this sacrifice.  There is no ‘back to probation’ or ‘forgiven but not righteous’, the brain-child of theological systems which treat the sacrifice of Christ as if it were no more effective than the OT sacrifices (revealing the essentially  legalistic thinking of the system). Scripture declares the sacrifice of Christ ‘perfects‘ those who are sanctified by it.  ‘Perfected‘ in Hebrews means, at the very least, already fully suited to live in the direct presence of God (Hebs 10:19) anticipating ‘the good things to come‘ (Hebs 9:12) in the ‘age to come‘ (Hebs 6:5).

The powerful efficacy of Christ’s sacrifice is repeatedly emphasized.  Christ has, ‘ put away sin by the sacrifice of himself‘.  By this ‘once-for-all‘ new covenant sacrifice ‘sins and iniquities will be remembered no more forever’ (Hebs 8:12; 10:17) and ‘where there is forgiveness of these no further offering for sin is required‘ (Hebs 10:17).  Christ has ‘secured eternal redemption‘ by means of ‘his own blood’ (Hebs 9:12). Redemption secured, note again, not by a life transferred but by blood shed; ‘the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God.‘  Hebrews could scarcely be clearer,

Heb 9:15 (ESV)
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.

To argue that without IAO the death of Christ simply puts us back at Adam stacking up fresh sins that will need atoned all over again is to gravely undermine the efficacy of the sacrifice of Christ.  It fails culpably to grasp its infinite worth.  This kind of almost blasphemous misjudgment Paul emphatically did not make.  He bases our righteousness and other blessings we have through the gospel squarely on this sacrifice (Roms 3:21-26).

Rom 5:6-9 (ESV)
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person-though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die- but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God…

Rom 5:1-2 (ESV)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Through him we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in hope of the glory of God.

And so, in the Mosaic Covenant, there was only one way to be ‘right with God’ and that was by blood-sacrifice.  The NT makes clear this sacrifice was ultimately the sacrifice of Christ.  In so claiming, the NT was once more simply building on OT revelation.  Isaiah sees that animal sacrifices  anticipate an ultimate sacrifice, an ultimate ‘sin offering’ for the people; a human sacrifice by God’s ‘servant’.  Isaiah has no doubt that peace with God, healing, forgiveness, and righteousness flow from this vicarious-sin-and-judgement-bearing-sacrificial-death.

Isa 53:5-10 (ESV)
But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  ​​​​​​​​All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned-every one-to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.  ​​​​​​​​He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.  ​​​​​​​​By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?  ​​​​​​​​And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.  ​​​​​​​​Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.  ​​​​​​​​Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.

The ‘servant’s’ death is viewed as a sacrificial sin-offering that atones for the people bringing healing.  The focus is clearly his obedience in death.  He is ‘led as a lamb to the slaughter… sheep…dumb…mouth‘.    It is his suffering in death that occasions his triumph in resurrection (53:10-12).  Right relationship with God (in resurrection) is established by his death, not his life.

Note too the text, ‘by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.‘   What ‘knowledge’ is referred to that ‘makes many righteous’ (‘accounted’ may be right by is more of an interpretation than translation).  If justification is in view it is hard to see how it can be any other than his ‘knowledge’ of the cross.  The ‘knowledge’ of ‘anguish of soul’ and being ‘acquainted (knowing) with grief’ (v4).  However, at the risk of muddying the waters, it is at least possible that what is being referred to here is not justification but sanctification.  ‘Accounted righteous’ is an interpretation not translation.  It is possible that ‘make righteous’ here means ‘by his knowledge shall my righteous servant instruct many in righteousness’.  That is, the ‘servant‘ who knew the way (and cost) of righteous living experientially would teach it to his followers, those whose iniquities he bore.  This would parallel with Dan 12.

Dan 12:3 (ESV)
And those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the sky above; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.

Whatever the precise meaning of v11 the thrust of the chapter seems inescapable; it is from the sacrificial death of the servant that all benefits flow.  It is because of his death that the servant lives and has an ‘offspring’ who are ‘the strong‘ with whom he ‘divides the spoils.’  IAO is again conspicuous by its absence.

An aside…

Perhaps, while reflecting on the OT, this is the moment to briefly discuss the ‘clothes change’ of the High Priest in Zechariah 3, for this is often used to support IAO.

Zech 3:1-5 (ESV)
Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the Lord, and Satan standing at his right hand to accuse him. And the Lord said to Satan, “The Lord rebuke you, O Satan! The Lord who has chosen Jerusalem rebuke you! Is not this a brand plucked from the fire?” Now Joshua was standing before the angel, clothed with filthy garments. And the angel said to those who were standing before him, “Remove the filthy garments from him.” And to him he said, “Behold, I have taken your iniquity away from you, and I will clothe you with pure vestments.” And I said, “Let them put a clean turban on his head.” So they put a clean turban on his head and clothed him with garments. And the angel of the Lord was standing by.

We are told that the ‘taking-off’ is being cleared of guilt by Christ bearing our sins in death and the ‘putting-on’ is being made righteous by being clothed in the active obedience of Christ.  Now, if this model were present in Scripture then possibly this sequence may illustrate it.  However, the sequence by itself certainly does not establish it.  Indeed, the interpretation itself is wooden and makes the symbolism run on all fours.  The evident meaning is simply that God radically changes the standing of the High Priest from being unrighteous to righteous.  No more is required of the symbolism.  Indeed, if we are going to be pedantic and stress the symbolism further then the clothes Joshua is clothed in are new High Priestly clothes ‘of glory and beauty’.  These are robes of glorification.  In the Day of Atonement the High Priest only put on his robes of Glory when atonement was accomplished and he returned to the people bringing salvation (Cf Hebs 9:28).  But I am unsure if this full symbolism is intended.  The main point, I repeat, is simply that God changes the status of Joshua from unclean to clean, unrighteous to righteous; no two stage process is implied.

And so, by this brief glance at the OT, we can see the contours of the ‘type’ prepare us for a Deliverer who will save his people by an atoning blood sacrifice.   There is no suggestion of vicarious law-keeping.  It simply was not an OT category of atonement.


imputed active obedience (IAO), a must or a misdirection? (9)

In previous posts I tried to demonstrate that it is mistaken to claim that IAO is  to evangelical orthodoxy.  In the next few posts I shall contend that IAO is inadequate biblically; the case is biblically wanting.

But first, a recap.  Let’s remind ourselves of the basic position of those who argue for IAO.  They argue that when God justifies he does two things.  Firstly, he forgives sins through the death of Christ.  This, we are told, makes us like Adam – innocent but not righteous.  We need not only forgiveness but a positive righteousness before the Law.  This positive righteousness is the Law-keeping righteous life of Christ which God imputes to us (namely, IAO), the second necessary component of justification.

G Machen writes,

“…if that (dying on the cross) were all that Christ did for us, do you not see that we should be back in just the situation in which Adam was before he sinned? The penalty of his sinning would have been removed from us because it had all been paid by Christ. But for the future the attainment of eternal life would have been dependent upon our perfect obedience to the law of God. We should simply have been back in the probation again.”

Machen goes on to say that Christ was

“our representative both in penalty paying and in probation keeping,”

and that for those who have been saved by him, the probation is over since

“Christ has merited for them the reward by his perfect obedience to God’s law. (J. Gresham Machen, “The Active Obedience of Christ,” in God Transcendent (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1982),

I ask, who says so?   Where is this distinction between penalty-bearing and probation-keeping so confidently asserted by Machen (and others) found in Scripture.  Where is this limitation of the cross in justifying that Machen affirms?  It is, I submit, the construct of a theological system without a trace of biblical evidence to support it.   I want to discuss this ‘system’ in later posts but for the moment  my contention, shared by many others,  is that Machen’s construction is built on sinking sands, even thin air.   I aver that while the Bible repeatedly locates justification, our righteousness, in the sacrificial death of Christ, it never locates it in his righteously lived life.  We search in vain for a text that teaches – even vaguely – the imputed law-keeping obedience of Christ.  There is no vicarious ‘probation-keeping’ biblical theology.  There is no scent of it in Scripture, not even a whiff.

Now I want to repeat this point because, for me, it is the absolutely basic and fundamental point.  I ultimately reject IAO as a construct in justification because in my view it is not evidently taught in the Bible. When the Biblical writers discuss the justifying righteousness of God (or indeed subjects like redemption, propitiation and reconciliation which the Bible closely aligns with justification) they locate  it firmly and exclusively in the death of Christ and his subsequent resurrection, not transferred law-keeping obedience.  IAO, despite the opining of a particular cast of theologians, is simply missing from the biblical text.  It is conspicuous by its absence.

Even some who support IAO concede this.

G E Ladd writes,

“Paul never states explicitly that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers.” (George Eldon Ladd, A Theology of the New Testament p.491)

Brian Vickers, In his book ‘Jesus’ Blood and Righteousness’ written to make the case for IAO writes,

‘The contention of this book is that the imputation of Christ’s righteousnes [by which Vickers means IAO] is a legitimate and necessary synthesis  of Paul’s teaching.  While no single text contains or develops all the ‘ingredients’ of imputation, the doctrine stands as a component of Paul’s theology (Brian Vickers  ‘Jesus Blood and Righteousness’ Pg 18  Crossway 2006).

Vickers, proceeds to engage with each text considered to support IAO.  In each case, true to what he wrote above, he acknowledges the text does not teach IAO as such.  His thesis ultimately is that the whole is greater than the sum of the parts.  However, if IAO is not the necessary conclusion of any one text, even those texts upon which it is supposedly based, as Vickers acknowledges, it is hard to see how any can affirm it is a core truth of the gospel.  Are we to believe that one of the most fundamental and critical truths of the gospel has no text that explicitly teaches it?

D A Carson,  a scholar and Bible teacher of the first calibre and one with whom I do not readily disagree, says,

‘the issues are extraordinarily complex’

He writes,

…if we agree that there is no Pauline passage that explicitly says, in so many words, that the righteousness of Christ is imputed to his people, is there biblical evidence to substantiate the view that the substance of this thought is conveyed?  And if such a case can be made should the exegete be encouraged to look at the matter through a wider aperture than that provided by philology and formulae?  And should we ask the theologian to be a tad more careful with texts called up to support the doctrine? (Vindication and Imputation  Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debates  Edited M Husband and D J Treiers  IVP 2004 Pg 50)

For Carson, rather like Vickers, IAO, though exegetically inexplicit is systematically justifiable.  Having said that, Carson’s understanding of imputation is so nuanced that it tones down more traditional book-keeping definitions of IAO.  He is reluctant to make any hard and fast distinctions between active and passive obedience and locates Christ’s vindication and ours in Christ’s resurrection.  In his own words, commenting on W Shedd’s traditional expression of imputation he writes,

Shedd presupposes that what God requires is perfect righteousness. I entirely
agree with this, although I would track the matter rather differently, as we
shall see.(
Vindication of Imputation  J:WSCD  Pg 53).

His discomfit at Shedd’s traditional formulation of IAO (similar to Machen’s) is clear when he writes,

… however sympathetic one wishes to be with Shedd, however much one
wishes to defend the view that the imputed righteousness of Christ is worth defending,
however much one acknowledges that the perfection of Christ is something
more in Scripture than the set-up that qualifies him for his expiatory death,
however heuristically useful the distinction between the active and passive righteousness
of Christ, one is left with a slightly uneasy feeling that the analytic categories
of Shedd have somehow gone beyond the New Testament by the absolute
bifurcation they introduce.

In summary, Mark Seifrid’s observation must be noted and weighed,

“It is worth observing Paul never speaks of Christ’s righteousness as imputed to believers, as became standard in Protestantism.” (Christ, Our Righteousness IVP, 2000 p.174)

And so we begin this examination of IAO and the Bible by recognizing that even some who support it concede it does not jump out of  the page of Scripture.  My contention is, that unless completely ‘sighted’ by a confessional grid, the very least any honest exegete of Scripture will do is confess with Ladd, Vickers and Carson that IAO is hard to justify purely exegetically.  I would go further and affirm, contrary to Vickers, that the sum of the parts in a biblically defined justification do not add up to IAO (imputed active obedience) plus IPO (imputed passive obedience, Christ’s death) but to the implications of Christ’s death and resurrection.  Justification, biblically considered, is not located in Christ’s life-plus-death but Christ’s death-plus-life.  Or, to be less cryptic, justification finds its synthesis not in ‘Christ’s-law-keeping-life-on-earth-and-his-sin-bearing-death‘ but in his ‘sin-bearing-death-and-his-vindication-in-resurrection-in-which-we-share’.

A degree of construction, of systematics, is inevitable as Carson argues, but this construction must be texted-based.  It should be little more than joining the dots between texts.   Gundry, responding to Carson says,

Of course theologians are not limited to repeating what the Bible says, but what they develop in and for their own circumstances should at least arise out of what the Bible says. So long as the Bible does not provide such statements, and in the present case says much that points in a contrary direction, an appeal to the difference between an exegetical field of discourse and a systematic theological field of discourse does no good for the putative doctrine.

This seems to me exactly right.  JRW Stott writes,

‘I take it for granted that we will have a text.  For we are not speculators but expositors’

The problem for IAO is it has no text and plenty that point in another direction.

But enough discussion.  Time to look at the Bible.  The question is, how to do so.    I shall try to move from the panoramic to the particular.  I shall first sketch the broad picture, considering some key texts in Scripture.  Later, I shall consider in more detail the subject of ‘the righteousness of God’ in Romans and also the key texts forwarded in support of IAO.  Clearly, this is not a scholarly inquiry.  However, I console myself that it is not scholars who win the day in the doctrines of the church but ordinary believers who hold fast to what is plain in Scripture and have a healthy skepticism for arguments that are rarefied and abstruse. Though, I may add, as far as I can judge, few scholars of note outside confessionally Reformed circles are patrons of IAO.  R Gundry writes,

It is no accident, then, that in New Testament theologians’ recent and current treatments of justification, you would be hard-pressed to find any discussion of an imputation of Christ’s righteousness . . . The notion is passé, neither because of Roman Catholic influence nor because of theological liberalism, but because of fidelity to the relevant biblical texts. Thus New Testament theologians are now disposed to talk about the righteousness of God in terms of his salvific activity in a covenantal framework, not in terms of imputation of Christ’s righteousness in a bookkeeping framework. (Why I didn’t Endorse The Gospel of Jesus Christ:An Evangelical Celebration  Justification: What’s at Stake in the Current Debate  IVP 2004)

At last…we turn to the Bible… in the next post!

Why I Didn’t Endorse The Gospel of Jesus Christ: An Evangelical Celebration


flesh and spirit in romans, and beyond (9)

There can be no doubt that the distinctive feature of new creation life is that it is ‘life in the Spirit’.  Christ’s enthronement began a new era, a new age, the age of the Spirit.  For Paul in Romans, and elsewhere in the NT, the Christian life is nothing if it is not ‘spiritual’.  Everything about it functions ‘spiritually’, that is, through the Spirit.  In one sense all believers pay at least lip service to this.  We all have a theology of the Spirit.  However, for many of us that is about all it is, a theology.  All too often we think of the Holy Spirit in terms of propositions rather than as a personal presence and power. We do not function consciously and deliberately in the realm of the Spirit.  We do not consciously seek to live in the Spirit, be led by the Spirit, and walk in the Spirit, though Paul makes all three imperative in the Christian life.  We hear lots of exhortation to keep God’s Law and live by the Ten Commandments (an emphasis conspicuously lacking in the NT) but little exhortation to keep in step with the Spirit (an emphasis continually pressed in the NT).

I understand why some are reluctant to emphasize the place of the Spirit.  They are afraid of charismatic excess.  They are also afraid of a rampant subjectivity and individualism that loses sight of objective truth.  Yet in their fear of ‘spiritual’ excess they embrace a much greater folly, a failure to recognise and so realize the radical newness of the new covenant.   They speak as though members of the old covenant not the new, as if slaves not sons, as though instructed by Law rather than led by the Spirit.  And the problem is how we think and speak affects how we live.  It is all too easy to embrace views that functionally, to some degree at least cause, us to ‘fall away from grace’ (Gals 5:1,2).  Many believers in their thinking (theology) so champion the Law and sideline the Spirit that functionally they live as old creation advocates of the letter rather than new creation believers actuated by the Spirit; their sensibilities are alert to the commands of the OT Law more than the leading of the NT Spirit.

If we miss the absolutely pivotal and pervasive place given to the Spirit in the life of the believer we live very sub-Christian lives.  Again, and again, and again, in the NT, the Holy Spirit is presented as the source of all we have in Christ.

The following are just some of the verses in the NT that stress that if we miss Spirit dependence we miss everything.  I hope just the sheer force of biblical reference and deference to the Spirit will help us to place the Holy Spirit where he ought to be, at the centre of new creation living.

Life in the Spirit

The indwelling Holy Spirit is the distinctive blessing of the New Covenant.  His presence and power (Acts 1:5) is what New Covenant living is all about (2 Cor 3,4).  Jesus told his disciples that the Holy Spirit who had been with them, as OT believers, would upon his exaltation be in them, as NT believers (Jn 14:17).  He would be their ‘helper’ when Jesus ascended to his Father and would be with them always (Jn 14:16; Acts 2:33).  And so we regularly read that believers are indwelt by the Spirit (Roms 8:2,9) both individually and corporately.  Our bodies are temples of the indwelling Spirit therefore we must not commit adultery – note Paul’s appeal to moral purity is based on the indwelling Spirit not the authority of the Ten Commandments (1 Cor  6:19).  The people of God are also unitedly the dwelling place of God by his Spirit (Eph 2:18; 1 Cor 3:16) an incentive to take care how we treat it for it is holy and those who destroy it will be destroyed (1 Cor 3:16,17).

The new age of the Kingdom which belongs to the last days is the age of the Spirit (Acts 2:17); this kingdom is not about ascetic rituals, matters of the Law concerning food and drink, but about righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit (Roms 14:17).  In the coming of the Spirit the ancient promise to Abraham was fulfilled (Gals 3:14).  Thus we discover that all aspects of new covenant life are in and by and through the Spirit.  If we are Christ’s we have been indwelt by him (Roms 8:29), that is, we have been baptized in the Spirit (Acts 1:4,5; 1 Cor 12:13).  The indwelling Spirit is the sign and seal of the new covenant.  That is, the Spirit within is the proof that we are God’s and the guarantee of future glory (Eph 1:13; 4:30; 2 Cor 1:22).  All in new creation is of the Spirit from first to last – we are blessed in the heavenlies with every spiritual blessing in Christ (Eph 1:3; Roms 15:27).

If we hear and believe the gospel it is by the Spirit (1 Thess 1:5; 1 Cor 2:4,13).  Indeed all hearing, believing and understanding received by joy at every stage of the Christian life is through the Spirit (1 Cor 2:10-12,14; 1 Thess 1:6).  He is for God’s people the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (Eph 1:16,17; Col 1:19)  Thus we are enlivened or born of the Spirit (Roms 2:29,8:2; Gals 5:25; Jn 3; 1 Jn 3). That is, our initial cleansing and renewal is by the Spirit who has been richly poured out on us (Tit 3:4).

In fact, a truth seldom noticed, our justification is also through the Spirit (1 Cor 6:11) as indeed was Christ’s (1 Tim 3:16). Moreover, through the same Spirit we await ‘the hope of righteousness’ (Gals 5:5).

Furthermore, we are sanctified by the Spirit (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2), a truth that Paul counterpoises with the inability of Law to so do (Roms 7; 8:1-4). To repeat, anything of God that is accomplished in us or by us is through the Spirit: if we work miracles it is through the Spirit (Roms 15:19, Gals 3:5); if we experience God’s love it is because it is shed abroad in our hearts by the Spirit (Roms 5:5) and if this love overflows to others it is also by the Spirit (Roms 15:30; Col 1:8); if we sense deep in our hearts that God is our Father (one of the signs of the seal of ownership) then this is by the Spirit (Gals 4:6) for the Spirit gives us the assurance we are God’s children (1 Jn 3:24, 4:13); if we pray then we pray in the Spirit (Eph 6:18; Jude 1:20) he makes our prayers articulate and acceptable (Roms 8:26).  It is by the Spirit we have access to the Father (Eph 2:18); if we worship it is by the Spirit (Jn 4; Phil 3:3) part of which includes singing spiritual songs (Eph 5:19; Col 3:16); holiness comes not through the law but by the fruit of the Spirit (Gals 6:22).  It is the produce not of following rules but of gazing at Christ and so by the Spirit being changed into his likeness (2 Cor 3:18).  Indeed, only by the Spirit can we put to death the misdeeds of the body and so live (Roms 8:13) or to put it another way, only by sowing to the Spirit can we reap eternal life (Gals 6:8); the Spirit gives courage (2 Tim 1:7), enables us to persevere through difficulties (Phil 1:19), helps us in our weaknesses (Roms 8:26), and strengthens us in our inner being (Eph 3:16; Roms 1:11); any zeal for God we have is generated by the Spirit (Roms 12:11); we are in life guided by the Spirit (Roms 8:14; Acts 20:22 We ‘live’ by/in the Spirit (Gals 5:25).  Indeed our whole future, including future resurrection is dependent on the Spirit (Roms 8:11) for what is sown a natural body will be raised a spiritual body (1 Cor 15:44).  The same Spirit who is the firstfruits and guarantee of the World to Come and who gives us longings for the World to Come (Roms 8:23; Rev 22:17) causes us to abound in hope as we await its arrival (Roms 12:13) for those who through the Spirit are sons are also, through the same Spirit, heirs (Roms 8:16).

So far we have focussed more on the Spirit at work in us as individuals but the new creation is not merely individuals, it is community.  We participate in the Spirit with others (Phil 2:1; 2 Cor 13:14).  Baptism in the Spirit does not simply unite us to Christ, it unites us to each other (1 Cor 12:13). The Holy Spirit has made us one body in the Lord (1 Cor 12:13) and a temple in which God dwells (Eph 2:18-22; 1 Cor 3:16) a spiritual house where spiritual sacrifices are offered to God (1 Pet 2:5).  We are called to maintain this Spirit created unity (Eph 4:3).  We grow as a body as the gifts of the Spirit that we have been given by the risen Christ build us up in love (1 Cor 12:7; Eph 4:6-14).  As we strive for the gospel we succeed as we strive together in one Spirit (Phil 1:27).

Paul does not exhort believers to keep the Law but he does exhort them to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18), to live ‘according to’ the Spirit (Roms 8:4), that is, to walk by the Spirit or keep in step with the Spirit (Gals 5:16, 25).  Paul does not caution Christians concerning breaking the Sinaitic Law but he does warn them about grieving the Spirit (Eph 4:30) and quenching the Spirit (1 Thess 5:19) and of the consequences of walking by the flesh rather than the Spirit (Roms 8:5,6).  His emphasis is ever on the Spirit because in the new covenant our service is not in the old way of the Law but in the new way of the Spirit ( Roms 7:6).  If we meet the requirement of the Law in any sense it is only as we walk according to the Spirit (Roms 8:4). Thus, in Galatians, it is those who are ‘spiritual’ (as opposed to the champions of law-keeping) who are to restore stumbling Christians. The spiritual can judge all things and are judged by no-one (1 Cor 2:13-15). If we are dull and childish in faith it is because we are living as those of the flesh and not depending on the Spirit (1 Cor 3:1).

Of course none of this makes the Word of God redundant.  Both the OT and NT are Spirit inspired (1 Pet 1:11,12; 2 Pet 1:21; Acts 1:16; Hebs 3:7; 1 Cor 2:12,13).  Indeed for believers engaged in a spiritual battle the Word of God is the sword of the Spirit by which they fight the enemy (Eph 6:17). The Word of God is the Word of the Spirit of God.  The two are not in conflict. Indeed the Word of God enables us to recognise the voice of the Spirit of God and reject false spirits (1 Jn 4:1-6). Scripture is spiritual milk which his people like new-born babies crave (1 Pet 2:2).

To live in the Spirit is freedom (Gals 5:1; 2 Cor 3:17): to live in any other way, including putting oneself functionally under law (which is what happens when we see our obedience as submission to the Law of God rather than walking in the Spirit) is bondage to a yoke of slavery (Gals 5:1).  It is to live like a slave rather than enjoy the full freedom of a son (Roms 8: 14-16; Gals 3:23-4:11).  It will result either in a life lacking assurance and joy, or a sense of constant defeat, guilt, frustration and wretchedness, or worse a life of Pharisaic self-confidence and self-righteousness, or a combination of all three.

I have only referred to some of the references to the Spirit.  Acts alone speaks of the work of the Spirit in the church over fifty times.  However, I pray God, by his Spirit, will allow these references to the Spirit, so pervasive and persistent in the NT, to persuade us just how vital it is to live consciously in the realm of the Spirit, depending upon Him to mature us individually and collectively into the likeness of Christ – one new man in the Lord.


don carson the church and the wilderness

In his recent book ‘Scandalous’ , a book which is really the outcome of a series of sermons on aspects of the cross, Don Carson has a chapter on the slaughtered lamb of Revelation.  In this chapter he has a comment about the woman who flees to the wilderness to be protected by God from the wrath of Satan in Rev 12.

Carson asks what this picture of the messianic community fleeing to the wilderness would have meant to a first-century Christian reader.  Below is part of his conclusion.

The significance of the wilderness

The wilderness is the place through which the messianic community of the old covenant passed on the way to the Promised Land. As such, it was a time of testing,difficulty, temptation and judgement.  It was not yet the Promised Land.  It was the desert.  But at the same time, it was the place where God had so miraculously provided for his people that the later prophets could look back on it as a time of intimacy, wooing and winning.  There God performed wonderful miracles: water from a rock, the provision of manna and quail, the preservation of their shoes.  God taught them wonderful lessons in revealed words and spectacular miracles.  Because of God’s faithfulness to his covenant community as they passed through the desert on way to the Promised Land, the same expression is picked up later by the prophets.  Thus in Hosea 2 when the people of God are again betraying him and committing spiritual adultery, God says, ‘Therefore I am now going to allure her; I will lead her into the desert and speak tenderly to her’ (Hos 2:14).  The wilderness was not only the place of trial and testing; it was also the place where God led his people with the tender wooing affections of a courtier.  God is winning his people, cherishing them, drawing them to himself, saving them, protecting them until the consummation, and preparing them for the move into the Promised Land.

…The desert is scarcely hospitable but it is prepared for the woman by God.  So also in the church’s experience today: we may have to go through terrible hardships, but those hardships are accompanied by the wonderful, wooing, grace of God.’

I am struggling a bit with ill-health at the moment.  I found this passage tremendously helpful… and true to experience.


flesh and spirit in romans, and beyond (8)

The Christian life is life in the Spirit.  For Paul this is absolutely paramount.  To be a Christian is to have ‘the law of the Spirit of life set us free from ‘the law of sin and death’ (Roms 8:2).  The requirement of the law impossible in the flesh is fulfilled in us through the Spirit (8:4).  It is through the Spirit we find ‘life and peace’ (8:6).  Indeed it is those led by the Spirit of God who are sons of God (8:14).

Paul has much more to say in Romans 8 about life in the Spirit to which I hope to return.  In the meantime I want to stress again that Paul understands Christians as people in whom God’s future Kingdom has already arrived.  The OT spoke often about the day of God’s salvation.  The nations (and Israel) were unrighteous and unable to bring about righteousness.  The prophets however spoke of a day when God would establish righteousness.  He would save those who seemed unable to save themselves.  This day of salvation and righteousness would be brought about by the Spirit of God.  God would accomplish salvation through his Messiah and this Messiah would be Spirit-anointed.

Isa 11:1-2 (ESV)
There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.  ​​​​​​​​And the Spirit of the Lord shall rest upon him, the Spirit of wisdom and understanding, the Spirit of counsel and might, the Spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.

He would be God’s Spirit-filled servant who would bring salvation.

Isa 42:1-4 (ESV)
Behold my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen, in whom my soul delights; I have put my Spirit upon him; he will bring forth justice to the nations.  ​​​​​​​​He will not cry aloud or lift up his voice, or make it heard in the street;  ​​​​​​​​a bruised reed he will not break, and a faintly burning wick he will not quench; he will faithfully bring forth justice.  ​​​​​​​​He will not grow faint or be discouraged till he has established justice in the earth; and the coastlands wait for his law.

Isa 61:1-3 (ESV)
The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me to bring good news to the poor; he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound;  ​​​​​​​​to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn;  ​​​​​​​​to grant to those who mourn in Zion- to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified.

And He would create a Spirit-filled people.

Isa 59:20-21 (ESV)
“And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.  “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

Isa 44:1-5 (ESV)
“But now hear, O Jacob my servant, Israel whom I have chosen!  ​​​​​​​​Thus says the Lord who made you, who formed you from the womb and will help you: Fear not, O Jacob my servant, Jeshurun whom I have chosen.  ​​​​​​​​For I will pour water on the thirsty land, and streams on the dry ground; I will pour my Spirit upon your offspring, and my blessing on your descendants.  ​​​​​​​​They shall spring up among the grass like willows by flowing streams.  ​​​​​​​​This one will say, ‘I am the Lord’s,’ another will call on the name of Jacob, and another will write on his hand, ‘The Lord’s,’ and name himself by the name of Israel.”

Joel 2:28-32 (ESV)
“And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  ​​​​​​​​Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.  “And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the Lord comes. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls.

He would do so through a new covenant.  The Old Covenant of law failed because it demanded righteousness but could not supply it, however, the new covenant would succeed because it promised God’s Spirit as an indwelling presence creating righteousness in the hearts of the covenant people and indeed giving them life.

Ezek 36:24-30 (ESV)
I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations.

Ezek 37:1-14 (ESV)
The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”  So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.  Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.”

All this is part and parcel with a Spirit renewed creation.

Isa 32:14-17 (ESV)
For the palace is forsaken, the populous city deserted; the hill and the watchtower will become dens forever, a joy of wild donkeys, a pasture of flocks;  ​​​​​​​​until the Spirit is poured upon us from on high, and the wilderness becomes a fruitful field, and the fruitful field is deemed a forest.  ​​​​​​​​Then justice will dwell in the wilderness, and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.  ​​​​​​​​And the effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever.  My people will abide in a peaceful habitation, in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places.

For the writers of the NT this End-Time salvation arrived in Jesus.  He was the Spirit-annointed Messiah and servant.  The eschatological age arrived in him.  To be sure it has still to be completed and this awaits his Coming again, yet in him the Age of salvation arrived and by faith all who are united to him share in this Age of salvation.  We who are Christ’s do not belong to the old age of the flesh but to the new world of the Spirit.  We find all our resources in Christ through the Spirit.  Thus for Paul, it is proper and normal to think of all aspects of the Christian life as lived in and generated by the Spirit of God.

While there is no doubt excess and much attributed to the Spirit that is not of the Spirit yet as believers we must not allow this to rob us of the glory and privilege of realising life in the Spirit.  Life in the Spirit is the great blessing of the church.  May we live as people of the Spirit.


the sabbath

Fine article on the Law and the Sabbath in an old article of The Briefing found here.


flesh and spirit in romans, and beyond (5)

If you look at the preceeding blogs on this topic you will be better placed to grapple with the issues in this one.  The fundamental point made is that Christians ought to view themselves not as ‘in the flesh’ but as ‘in the Spirit’.  This is a biblical distinction between two realms or two worlds.  According to the Bible, the Christian belongs to the world or realm of the Spirit and not that of the flesh (Roms 8:1-16).  This, we should note, is not a distinction between a material world and a non-material world – a Gnostic and Greek distinction and not a biblical one.  The World to Come to which believers now belong will be a material world.  Jesus in resurrection had a material body.  It was composed of flesh and bones.  But it was a resurrection body, energized and enlivened by the Spirit, and not what the Bible calls a ‘natural’ body. In a fundamental way Christ’s resurrection put him beyond what the Bible calls ‘the days of his flesh’ (Hebs 5:7).  In his death, he died to life in the old world forever.  He now lives as the First of a new creation spiritually sustained (Roms 1:3,4).  He was put to death in the flesh but lives in the Spirit (1 Pet 3:18).  In fact, the very forces in the flesh to which Christ subjected himself, he now rules (1 Pet 3:21, 22; Eph 1:21, 22; Col 2:10).

We too have died to life in the flesh, in him.  We are to consider ourselves as dead to all that belonged to that old world (removed from its claims, authorities and powers) and alive to God (1 Pet 4:6).   In the last blog we noted we are to consider ourselves, in Christ, dead to sin but alive to God. (Roms 6:1-14).  In Christ, and the resurrection life that is ours in him, the authorities and powers to which we were once subject in the flesh no longer have authority, in fact they become our servants.  Thus Paul can say, ‘All things are yours… and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s (1 Cor 3:21,22).

freedom from the law

Most Christians (perhaps especially many in avowedly Reformed churches) grasp what Paul is saying in Roms 6.  They understand they are no longer slaves of sin (though they are often unclear as to why).  They find it much harder to accept the teaching of Roms 7.  For if Roms 6 teaches us that through our death in Christ we are freed from the rule of sin, then Roms 7 teaches us that for the same reason, our death in Christ, we are free from the rule of law.  The Law, that is the Mosaic Law, has no rights, no claim in any shape or form on the Christian.  A contention Paul bases on a premise stated in the opening verse of the chapter.

Rom 7:1 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives?

Paul takes it as axiomatic, as self-evident to any who understand the law, that it (Mosaic or indeed any other) has authority over a person only as long as he lives.  When we die the voice of law is silenced.  You cannot tell a dead man to love the Lord his God.  You cannot tell a corpse he must not commit adultery or steal or covet.  The very notion is nonsense.  The dead person is beyond the claims and rules of the law. And of course Paul’s point is simple; having died with/in Christ believers are in precisely this position.  The Law has no jurisdiction over them.  Let me put it bluntly, you cannot tell a Christian he must keep the Ten Commandments for he is no longer alive in the world where these are authoritative.

Now to many such a statement is horrifying, even heretical.  It seems antinomian.  It seems a licence to sin.  Well of course, antinomianism was precisely the charge brought against Paul’s gospel (Roms 3:7,8; 6:1).  The immediate instinct of the flesh is to look for rules.  And so some say, well while the law cannot justify us, nor perhaps has the power to sanctify us, nevertheless it remains an authority in the life of the believer as a ‘rule of life’.  We must live by its commands.  I have already addressed some of these issues in a previous blog and don’t intend to go over them here.  See the previous blog for its points are pertinent.

However, two points at least must be made.

Firstly,  it is not I who asserts the law has no commanding authority over the believer; it is Scripture.  Those who wish to impose the law in some way on believers must by-pass Romans and Galatians (and of course some try to do just this). They must relativize what the Scripture teaches as absolute, namely, that the believer has died to the law.  Romans 7 has been a battle ground for centuries.  Christians argue over what it teaches, especially who Paul refers to in the later part of the chapter.  However, it is clear that whoever Paul may be describing in the latter part of the chapter and whatever the details of the main body of the chapter teach, the opening section of the chapter is fairly plain and relatively uncontested.  Indeed it is a summary statement of Paul’s is teaching regarding the believer and the law and the rest of the chapter is simply an exposition of it.  If we can grasp the meaning of the opening section 7;1-6 then it is the key to interpreting the whole.

What is Paul’s opening statement?  We read:

Rom 7:1-6 (ESV)
Or do you not know, brothers-for I am speaking to those who know the law-that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.  Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Paul’s point is plain.  Marriage is a contract (a covenant!) broken only by death.  In the death of the believer with Christ his contractual obligations to the law finished and so he is freed to enter a new marriage (covenant!) and submit to a new husband (authority!).  We cannot submit to the law and Christ.  We can be obligated to one or the other but not both.  Thus Christians (especially Jewish Christians) must understand that they were not obligated to the demands of the Mosaic Covenant; they were now married to Christ. We are ‘released’ from the law, not in part, but completely.  Nothing could be plainer.

Why are so many, especially reformed Christians, afraid of this?  Well, as I have said above, they are afraid it will lead to licence to sin.  It is ironic, for exactly the opposite is the case. And this brings us to the second point which is: only when we are free from the law and find life in Christ alone do we actually produce fruit for God. Christ is not only the basis of our righteousness (justification) and the strength for righteousness (sanctification) but he is also the measure of righteousness.  If we want to see what a godly life looks like we find it in the gospel of Christ – in all that is involved in his life, death and resurrection.

What we are in Christ is our rule of life.  Not the law.  This is precisely Paul’s point in Galatians 6.  In a book where Paul has been strenuously combatting all ideas of the Law having claims of any kind on believers he says:

Gal 6:14-16 (ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

What rule?  The rule of the law?  No, the rule of living as someone who is dead, who is crucified with Christ and is a new creation.  Weigh Paul’s words well.  Weigh well too the argument of the book in which they are found.  Is Paul antinomian?  Is the gospel of new creation antinomian?  Is it indifferent to sin?  Of course not.  Perish the thought.  It is only the gospel that can deal with sin and only the gospel that can produce holiness.  Thus again and again when exhorting to holy Christian living Paul’s reference point is not the Law but the grace of God in the gospel.  Paul lays it out clearly to Titus:

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV)
For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.

It is the gospel that trains in righteousness and not the Law.  I wrote an article some time ago that is really just a scout through the NT showing how text after text takes us to the gospel as our impetus and paradigm for holiness.  It can be found here.  The evidence to my mind is compelling, indeed incontrovertible.  Rarely do the writers of the epistles cite the Ten Commandments (only a part of the law I know, but the part many wish to insist is authoritative) in the context of holy living, and when they do, as an example and never as an authority in the life of the Christian.

does it matter?

Is this issue no more than a fight over words?  No it’s not.  It is important for it affects profoundly how we think of ourselves as Christians and so how we live as Christians. Below are some examples.

  • Living by a ‘rule’ mentality is sub-Christian.  We give children a list of rules not adults.  Adults have maturity and are act appropriately not because of imposed rules but because they have character, insight and wisdom.  This is precisely Paul’s point in Gals 3:23-4:6.  Christians who live with a ‘rule’ mentality are likely to remain immature in faith.
  • A ‘law’ mentality keeps a distance between us and God.  Those who think about living by the moral law have not fully grasped what it means to have God as Father.  ‘Law’ implies a Judge.  Judges make laws.  Kings make laws, not fathers.  Again this is Paul’s reasoning in Galatians 3:23-4:6.  A Father/Son relationship is not built upon laws to be obeyed but upon, ‘I delight to do your will’ and ‘all that the Father has given me to do will I not do’.  It is not a question of ‘laws’ or ‘law’ but doing the will of the Father.  It is a relationship based on reciprocated love not a legal obedience.  Language such as ‘living by the moral law or Ten Commandments’ undercuts this relationship.  It introduces fear where fear should be absent (1 Jn 4:18)
  • An example of the above is the often repeated claim that when we sin as Christians the law is God’s instrument to accuse us so that we flee back to Christ.  But is this true Christian reasoning?  When we sin, is God’s method to send in the law as a ‘heavy’ to bring us back into line?  Is he really standing ready to ‘accuse’ us when we fail?  The whole point of Roms 5-8 is to refute such thinking.  The argument of these chapters is that God does not ‘accuse us’.  He justifies us.  Who then accuses us (Roms 8).  It is true that when we sin the Spirit comes and prompts us and convicts us.  He may do so from the Word or apart from the Word.   But while he convicts he does not accuse.  There is something legal (the law) and even antagonistic (Satan) in accusation.  Fathers’ chide, discipline, teach, train etc but they do not accuse.  Again, ‘accusation’ is language and concept that puts us on sub-Christian ground.  Moreover yet again the assumption is that the law can do what the gospel cannot.  It is the gospel that convicts us of sin and not the Law.  Paul’s fundamental argument against sinning is not that sin for a believer is wrong because the law forbids it but incongruous because it is opposed to the gospel.  How can we who have died to sin live any longer therein? (Roms 6).
  • We may well ask too, in connection with the above point, are we really saying that the Law is more powerful than the gospel to create conviction of sin?  Are we saying that where the gospel has failed (to produce conviction and repentance) the law will succeed?  Is the shadow stronger than the reality?  Surely not.  If a ‘believer’ wilfully resists the gospel and acts rebelliously then the law is no help.  In Hebrews, the writer’s conclusion is that if they resist and reject the word of salvation in Christ then there is no further hope.  It is impossible to renew unto repentance those who reject the gospel (Hebs 6:6).
  • Law is a poor teacher in holiness because it tells us more about what we ought not to do than what we ought to do.  Further, it provides us with a standard but no example.  One more reason why the NT focus in holiness is Christ.  To quote but one example: ‘By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.’ (1 Jn 2:5,6).  I also doubt if the standard of righteousness the Law requires is as high as the life that the gospel displays.  Did the Law demand that we go the second mile?  Did the Law command us to love our enemies?   Did the Law command that we forgive as God in Christ has forgiven us?  Does the law demand that we lay down our lives for our brothers?

The fact is, the Law was given to man in the flesh (Roms 7:5: Gals 3:3).  It assumes unregeneracy (this do and you shall live).  It is not for those in the Spirit who relate to God on a completely different level than Law.  They belong to a realm or world where Law has no claim, no jurisdiction, no accusatory rights, no voice.  To grasp this is vital if we are to live with a proper gospel perspective on our relationship to God.  Paul says:

Gal 5:1 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.
(the yoke he refers to is the law)

and again

Gal 5:13-14 (ESV)
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

and again

Gal 5:16 (ESV)
But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

and again

Gal 6:14-16 (ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation. And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.

This blog does not address all the issues of this topic.  By no means.  However, I hope what has been said helps to give us a clearer biblical focus.  Far too often thinking on this issue echoes confessions rather than Scripture.

the cavekeeper

The Cave promotes the Christian Gospel by interacting with Christian faith and practice from a conservative evangelical perspective.


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