Archive for the 'Ethics' Category

22
Feb
13

i am crucified with christ (2)… dead to law

If we are dead and our life is hid with Christ in God we will discover that this death is not simply to sin. Our death, in Christ, has even farther-reaching implications.   We have died not only to sin but to every power and authority that would seek to control us in a fallen world.  Death severs all relationships in this world. 

If in Roms 6 we are said to be dead to sin, then in Roms 7 we have died to the law for law, like sin, is an authority in the world.

Dead to the Law

 Questions

  • Is the law the ‘rule of life’ for Christians?
  • Where does the NT regularly direct us for the source and shape of our sanctification?
  • Should Christians have certain ‘holy days’ and observe festivals such as lent?
  • Are candles, impressive buildings, and other aesthetic and sensory stimulation an aid to (an advance in) Christian worship?

In Romans 7, Paul tells us that we are dead to the Law, that is, to God’s Law, the Mosaic Covenant and its commandments (and we may safely say, by implication, to all other rudimentary morality codes as binding authorities  Cf. Gals 4:9).  In Ch 6 he hinted at this when he said,

 Rom 6:14 (ESV)
 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.

His point is that the Law has no authority in the life of the believer, he is not ‘under it’ rather he lives in another realm, the realm and reign of grace (Roms 3:21-30, 5:2,15-21).  Grace and law are different realms with opposing principles of rule.  In Romans 7:1-6 he makes  essentially the same point through the metaphor of marriage.

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.

In the patriarchal culture of the C1 a woman submitted to the authority of her husband and did so until he died.  Paul uses this analogy to show how Christian obedience (particularly Christian Jews to whom the law specifically applied 7:1) is no longer to the law but to Christ for death has brought about a change in authorities (or husbands).  Jewish believers were ‘married to the law’ (the Mosaic Covenant had been the authority that controlled their lives) but in death (and the analogy is inverted in that it is the woman who dies not the husband) they have been freed from this marriage to marry another, namely Christ.  Consequently, their former husband has no rights or power over them.  They are not obligated to him any more.  Why?  They have died and no longer live in the realm or world where law has authority and rights.  Indeed, as those married to Christ, to subject themselves to the requirements of the law would make them bigamists.

Now the function of the Law in redemptive history is a big one that generates much controversy.  We cannot hope to deal with it at any length in this post.  Let me sum up briefly the two main functions of the Law as I understand them (as Paul outlines them in Romans).

  • The Law was given to reveal the reality of sin
Rom 3:19-20 (ESV)
Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
 

Sin always existed in a fallen world but the law revealed its nature and true power.  Law  (an explicitly articulated command generally accompanied by a sanction) made explicit what was previously implicit and so increased the gravity of the offence; sin became more sinful for it became an infraction or transgression of a legal demand.  Further, because fallen human nature meant none could keep the law, indeed all railed against it, sin is seen in its true colours as an evil malignant destructive enslaving power (Cf. 4:15, 5:13,14, 5:20, 7:7-12; Cf. Gals 3:19).  Law came in to increase the trespass (Roms 5:20) by exposing, exaggerating and exciting it.  

Rom 5:13-14 (ESV)
 for sin indeed was in the world before the law was given, but sin is not counted where there is no law. Yet death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those whose sinning was not like the transgression of Adam, who was a type of the one who was to come.
  • The Law was given to point to Christ
Rom 3:21-22 (ESV)
 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction:

It pointed to Christ a) by showing the moral bankruptcy of humanity and so the need of a Saviour b) by foreshadowing the coming Saviour and salvation in various ways.  Other functions of the Law may be added, such as being a hard taskmaster that would contrast more clearly the liberty in Christ (Gals 3:23-25), but these are subsidiaries of the main two functions, namely to give knowledge of sin and knowledge of Christ.

Most evangelicals will happily agree that the Christian is not ‘under law’ as a means of justification.  The Law (many will agree, though not all) was a covenant of works.  Life was promised for a life of law-keeping righteousness; law’s premise was ‘this do and live’ (Ex 24:7; Lev 18:5; Deut 8:1; Lk 10:28; Roms 10:5; Gals 3:12 Cf. Roms 7:10; Gals 3:21).  Law offered ‘life’ on the basis of obedience, it did not assume life, in fact it assumed the absence of life (thus, this do and live).

However, although the Law promised life upon obedience, life by law-keeping was impossible because law-keeping for sinners under it was impossible.  Addressed as it was to fallen humanity, it was only a counsel of despair (Roms 7:7-10).  Instead of providing life it became a vehicle of death; the curse of a broken law fell on the law-breaker and all under it were law-breakers (Deut 11:26-28, 27:26, 30:15-20; Gals 3:10).  From its inception it was clear that the revelation of law, although promising life, could only purvey death (Ex 19:12, 20:19).  We need only read the many death threats explicit in the law to see its danger to sinful people.  It is probably not without significance that the Law-giver, Moses, dies outside the Promised Land; typically it confirmed the inability of law to bless.  Thus, what offered life, because of the corruption of human nature, became an administration of death (Rom 7:10; 2 Cor 3:6,7).  By the works of the law no flesh would be justified for by the law came only knowledge of sin (Rom 3:20).  The Law only condemns and brings wrath (Rom 4:15).  Humanity under law needed to be rescued from it.  This is, in fact, what happened in Christ.  As Paul says to Jewish Galatian believers (in Galatians ‘us’ and ‘we’ refers to Jews and ‘you’ refers to gentiles)

Gal 3:11-14 (ESV2011)
 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith.

Law and faith, like Law and gospel-promise, are opposite in principle (Gals 3:12, 18).

The majority of the above will have unanimous consent among evangelicals.  However, while many will happily affirm that we are not ‘under law’ for justification some (many) will just as vehemently affirm that we are ‘under law’ for our sanctification.  The law, they say, takes us to Christ for our justification but Christ takes us to the law for our sanctification.   The law they will insist is the believer’s ‘rule of life’.  Such assertions are entirely mistaken.  Paul does not imply we are not under law for one aspect of salvation but under it for another; Christ is the source of both justification and sanctification for the Christian.  Christ, not the law, is the believer’s rule of life.  We ought to walk as he walked (1 Jn 2:6).  Christ is sufficient for all things.

For Paul, we are either married to the law or we are not married to the law.  He makes no subtle nuances or qualifications here.  Theologians,and theological systems may do so, but Paul does not.  There is no half-way house regarding Law, we are either under it or not under it, either obligated to it or not obligated to it.  We are not free from the law for justification but married to it for sanctification.  The relationship is absolute and admits of no exceptions.  If we are married to Christ then we are not married to the law and vice versa (Gals 5:4).  We are not bigamists and even less are we encouraged by Christ to be such, the very suggestion is blasphemous.  The second husband never sends us back to the first saying ‘obey him’.

The law is not the means or measure of our sanctification, Christ is.  Indeed the law can no more sanctify than justify.  Paul is clear and emphatic on this.  Romans 7, where Paul discusses the believers relationship to law, is less concerned with the question of justification than it is with that of sanctification.  The law produces only ‘the fruit of death’ (7:5).  It is a wife-beater demanding love but unable to either create or provoke it.  Only by being freed from it (through death) and married in resurrection life to Christ can we produce ‘fruit for God’ (7:4).  All of this is sanctification and it is Christ who is its source not law, decidedly not law.

Yes, we are told, but the law is how Christ sanctifies believers?  He sends us back to the law as our rule of life.  Implied bigamy aside, why do you say this?  Where does the NT teach this?  Paul says something quite different.

Rom 7:6 (ESV)
 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.

And what does the Spirit do?  Does he send us back to the law and say follow that code?  Does he tell new believers that the Christian life is a whole series of rules and regulations that they must learn and observe – for that is what the law is?  Does he say, ‘go back to the Ten Commandments and keep them’?  Does he say, ‘grow in grace by growing in the knowledge of the law’?   No he doesn’t.  Only rarely in the NT is the Mosaic Code explicitly cited in the context of moral living and never as an absolute authority requiring obedience.  The new way of the Spirit is not to send us back to the old way of the written code. This is palpable contradiction and folly.

We are not directed to the law for holiness but to the gospel.  The measure of a holy life is Christ not the law.  We grow in grace and in the knowledge (not of law) but of Christ Jesus.  The work of the Spirit is to floodlight Christ.  He points us to Christ and the grace and truth in him (Jn 15:26).  In the gospel we have the means, motive and measure of sanctification.  It is grace, not law that saves a wretch like me.  Grace teaches our heart to believe and relieves our fears.  It is grace that brought me safe thus far and grace that will lead me home.  Married to Christ we learn from Christ and are sanctified by him (Eph 4:20, 5:25-27). Living by the Spirit we walk by the Spirit (Gal 5:20).  Under grace, we are taught by grace.

Titus 2:11-14 (ESV2011)
 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.

And here is highlighted precisely the difference between the method of the Law and the method of the Spirit.  The law makes us look inside ourselves and examine our lives.  It suggests righteous living comes through keeping a long list of rules and regulations and so inevitably engenders introspection and despair as we self-analyse and constantly find ourselves falling short.  Look at the person under law in Roms 7;  he is constantly looking within, constantly focussing on the ‘I’ and constantly finding only failure and frustration.  The Spirit by contrast takes us outside of self.  He focuses our attention on Christ.  He sets our mind and affections on things above.  He gives us a vision of Christ and as we gaze on a glorified Christ we are changed into his likeness from one degree of glory to another.

2Cor 3:18 (ESV)
 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

We never need more than Christ.  In him, God’s fullness dwells (Cols 1:18).  In him are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Cols 2:3).  We are complete/filled in him (Cols 2:10).  What draws our hearts to hate sin is not a set of rules but a growing love for Christ.  What teaches us the ugliness of sin is the beauty of Christ.  It is the clean fresh air of heaven that makes us conscious of the foul air of earth.  We do not focus on mere restraints that when all is said and done outline only the basic rudiments of morality, but on Christ and all he has accomplished, and it is this that gives our soul power to live with God’s sentence of death upon the flesh and so produce fruit for God (7:5).

An imperfect illustration

Suppose you are driving along the road and you keep seeing road signs saying drive at thirty.  Do you obey them?  You see speeding cameras too.  You may break but it will be an external obedience – your heart won’t be in it.  Your heart resists them and wants to find ways of thwarting and outwitting them.  The law and its sanction only creates the desire to breach.

But supposing you have just viewed a beautiful sunset, or just got engaged to the girl you love, or just met and been bowled over by the person who made the road rules – will you still want to break them?  Will your heart filled with glory by the sunset, the love of the woman you adore, the worth of the one who created the rules, not find itself driving in such a way as reflects these experiences.

Let me say, if you have been taken up with Christ you will drive differently behind the wheel than if you’re simply focussing on road signs.

To the Colossian Christians who were in danger of adopting a gospel that added a number of things to Christ, including OT law, Paul says,

Col 2:6-7 (ESV)
Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.

Everything for life and godliness resides in Christ.  Mark this well.  If you need to go beyond Christ you are on dangerous ground.  These Colossian believers were in such danger.  They were in danger not simply of adopting the law as a rule of life for sanctification but as a rule for religious observance.  They were creating a religious calendar of OT rituals and regulations such as were found in the law.  They were being encouraged to observe days, months, seasons as well as abstaining from certain foods that were to do with ritual holiness.  Paul is perplexed and appalled.  They have not grasped the significance of the cross.  Notice what he says

Col 2:8-23 (ESV)
See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead.
 
And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
 
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. Let no one disqualify you, insisting on asceticism and worship of angels, going on in detail about visions, puffed up without reason by his sensuous mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom the whole body, nourished and knit together through its joints and ligaments, grows with a growth that is from God.
 
If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations- “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)-according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh.

Do you see his point?  The cross ended all this form of externally imposed religious observance.  We have died to the world in which this kind of religion had place. Law was a religion designed for man in the flesh not in the Spirit (Gal 3:2, 4:21-31).  Its very basis is sensuous or fleshly.  It focuses on externals and on sensory and aesthetic experience.  It placed great emphasis on impressive buildings (the temple) religious clothing, smells and bells; candles and altars, rituals and regulations.

But all this belongs to the old age before Christ.  In Christ we died to this.  Now we must grasp this today for evangelicalism is rushing headlong down the route of religious paraphernalia.  At one time the observing of liturgical calendars, special religious feasts like lent, the use of candles, incense and icons were denounced by evangelicals now they are embraced.  Evangelicals want a religion of ‘flesh’.  We want the sensory and aesthetic mistakenly thinking a sensory or aesthetic experience is an authentic gospel-driven spiritual experience (Hebs 12:18).

We must understand that magnificent buildings, stirring music, impressive oratory, and ethereal rites do not bring us closer to God.  They will not produce the slightest knowledge of God nor lead us into a holy life.  They are, says Paul, of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh, instead they feed it.  Christ, and Christ alone, the Christ seen by the eye of faith, leads us to God.  We come to the Father through him (Jn 14:6).  That is why Paul says,

Col 3:1-4 (ESV)
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

Instead of a focus on what is earthly (buildings, altars, incense, music, oratory, rituals, ascetic practices etc) we must seek what is in heaven.  We must focus on Christ.  He is the source of our life.  He is our satisfaction.  He is our food and drink.  He is our vision.  He is our altar.  He is our High Priest.  He is our sacrifice.  He stirs and satisfies the heart.  As Robert Murray McCheyne used to say, ‘No man can ever need more than is freely given in Christ’ We live by faith not sight.  We like Moses endure seeing him that is invisible.

No, law, in all its forms, is an authority for men in the flesh, for people ‘alive in this world’ but we are not in the flesh we are in the Spirit if the Spirit of God lives in us.  We do not live by and in the shadow we live by and in the substance; we do not seek the things of spiritual infancy but of spiritual maturity.  Christ not law is the source of our life; Zion not Sinai is the mountain to which we come (Hebs 12:18-24)

None of this is to say we cannot learn from the law nor even less that there are no obligations or responsibilities in the Christian life; we can and there are.  All Scripture is given by inspiration of God and is profitable for instruction, reproof, training in righteousness… (2 Tim 3:16).   However, it is one thing to read OT Scripture (through the prism of redemptive history) and learn from it, it is quite another to say that the law is a ‘rule of life’ for the believer for to say this is to make the law an authority we must obey.  Let me summarise some of the problems such a mistake creates.

  • It obliges us to qualify Paul’s insistence that we are not under law.  This is exegetically indefensible.
  • It emasculates the law.   If we accept its authority then we must also accept its sanctions (Gals 3:10).  To try to ‘draw its teeth’ is to demean it.  Sanctions (blessings and cursings) lie at the heart of the covenant; they give it glory (Ex 19:18-25, 20:18, 24:16,17; Deut 5:24, 28:58-68; Hebs 12:18-21)  We cannot reject the Law as a route of justification and embrace it as a rule of sanctification for the covenant does not give us this permission.   It is a covenant which cannot be altered.  We must accept it totally on its own terms or not at all.
  • It means living culturally as a Jew.  If we are obliged to keep one command of law we must keep them all.  Law is a covenant agreement.  We cannot be obliged to keep some but free to ignore others (Matt 5:19; Gals 3:10, 5:2,3; Jas 2:10).  We cannot enforce the Ten Commandments and jettison or modify the many other commands of the covenant.  The covenant demands obedience to all or it is broken (Ex 19:8, 24:3; Deut 27:26).  Accepting the covenant means accepting a Judaistic lifestyle.
  • It means keeping the Sabbath. The Sabbath was the seventh day and not the first day and to change the day to another day was unacceptable and covenant-breaking.  The Sabbath was the sign of the covenant (Ex 31:13; Ezek 20:12, 20). That Christianity focuses on another day strongly enforces that we are not under law; to abandon the Sabbath was by implication to be free from the covenant.
  • It means embracing what belongs to infancy and is ‘weak and beggarly not intended for sons (Gal 4:1-11) . Law is a rudimentary moral code that Christians ought to have no need to hear anyway.  We should not need to be told not to steal, commit adultery etc.  The works of the flesh are obvious (Gal 5:19).  Christian holiness should be beyond these prohibitions (1 Tim 1:6-11).  

Life under grace, by the Spirit, married to Christ, produces a morality in excess of laws demands.  Law expressed the demands of relationships existing in this life and no more. It did not require that a man lay down his life for his friends, far less that he lay down his life for his enemies.  It did not conceive or demand pure self-sacrificial love motivated by nothing other than pure love.  This is a life modelled only by Christ who reveals the Father’s heart.  Such Christ-modelled, grace-induced, Spirit-enabled love is the heart of Christianity.  Such love fulfils the law (Roms 8:4, 13:8,10; Gals 5:14) and fulfilment in Scripture usually eclipses/excels the original expectation.  Or to put it another way, against such Christ-like, Spirit-produced love there is no law (Gals 5:23).

Gal 5:1-14 (ESV)
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery… For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.. 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.”

The cross means an end to law-keeping religion.  For Paul and for the early Jewish converts this was precisely its offence (Gal 5:11) and the reason why they were being persecuted by their fellow Jews (Gal 6:11-16).  The world will tolerate religion that makes much of ‘the flesh’ but it will not tolerate Christ. Christ and all who follow him it will crucify.  We must live as those crucified with Christ, as those who having received the law’s own sentence of death, have died to it.  Such is the effect of the cross in Christian living.

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

06
Dec
11

more on same-sex marriage

Further to my previous post with links to the same-sex marriage debate I’d like to recommend one other.  My friend Jonathan McLatchie has an excellent post here.  Although general in scope, it addresses the Scottish situation.

02
Dec
11

same-sex marriage and christian reactions

Same-sex marriage is high on the cultural agenda these days.  As Christians, it is important that our thinking on this issue is biblically informed and guided and not simply visceral.   It is also important that we are able to present our understanding as clearly as possible both to other Christians and to non-Christians.  Below are some links that will help to educate us on the issues.  I do not necessarily agree with all that they say but they present a good launching pad for reflection.  It is also worth reading the comments on some as they often present the opposing case inviting us to clearer engagement.

Let me say, it is absolutely clear to me same-sex marriage has no biblical support and for a Christian it is completely forbidden.  It is clear to me too that churches which promote or condone same-sex marriage among their members are apostate in nature and should be avoided.  Bible teachers who so teach should be disciplined by the church as false teachers.  The harder question to answer for me is how far Christians should oppose same-sex marriage being made legal by society.

The bigger question here of course is the role that God expects of his people in society.  Or, to frame this question in contemporary jargon – what is the mission of the church?  Some questions in the mix include: is the church called to be a moral policeman in society; is the church mission to ‘redeem culture'; if we have an obligation to oppose society’s evils then where do we start and where do we stop; where do we find this moral imperative upon the church to attempt to change culture in Scripture?

On the other side many will ask, when faced with injustice and the ability to do something about it, should Christians pass by on the other side?

See, here here here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.

23
Nov
11

abortion as it is

This is not a reasoned argument against abortion, though such can be easily given, it is a plea to conscience and humanity.  If you are not squeamish see here and here.  Can we doubt God’s judgement on such a culture?

21
Nov
11

should christians go on strike?

Recently a friend suggested I write a post on whether Christians should go on strike.  I have not done so but a post that does can be found here.   The basic perspective and spirit of this post I thoroughly agree with and I think the writer (Louis Kinsey, an evangelical Church of Scotland minister) makes important and perceptive points.  I would add just a few observations, some underlining and others developing what he says.

1.  In the final analysis striking is a matter of personal conscience.  What is important is that Christians make a decision whether to strike or not based on conscience and not pragmatism nor the pressure of others.

2. In the UK striking is for many workers a legal option.  Industrial action is part of the legal provision of the country to help sustain equity in the balance of power between employer and employee.   Equity in power is a good thing in a fallen world and if withdrawing labour is part of the Government’s lawful mechanism for maintaining it then Christians may well feel freedom of conscience in exerting their rights (sometimes Paul used his rights and sometimes he did not).

3. We must be absolutely clear about our motives in striking (or not).  If we strike, we must be sure we are not simply motivated by dissatisfaction, greed and envy; is participating in the strike for my good or for the good of society?  If we don’t strike, we should be sure that we are not simply avoiding a loss of pay while allowing others to make sacrifices from which we benefit.  One possible option here is to contribute our wage to charity should we choose not to strike.

4.  We should consider carefully the wider context and implications.  The value to society of striking in the midst of a world recession should be weighed.

5.  We should consider carefully and in the light of Scripture the wider questions regarding justice.  Evangelicals today regularly tell us that God cares about justice.  This is true.  However, he also cares about how justice is achieved.  There are a number of correlated questions here.  How does God intend to bring about righteousness?  How far is personal justice a legitimate goal for a believer?  How far should we go in pursuing justice for others?  Does God intend  his people to pursue justice by coercion?  What does the way of the cross say to us about the God’s way of achieving ‘shalom’ in a fallen world?  When do Christians exercise their rights and when do they choose to forego them for higher Kingdom interests?

You may wish to further read here.

10
Nov
11

reacting to the sermon on the mount – a spiritual health check

Over the centuries the Sermon on the Mount has been subjected to many interpretations. —the older Catholic interpreters referred to,“two tiers of Christians,” the Lutherans viewed it as  “law to prepare for the Gospel,”the Calvinist as a “mandate for the state,” the nineteenth–century liberals conceived it as “social optimism”, an ethic for socially creating the Kingdom of God,  Schweitzer saw it as an  apocalyptic “interim ethic,” others, more hostile, a pitiful  ethic that negates the core of what it is to be human, and old–line dispensationalism placed it in the end-time tribulation or the Millennium — most today understand it as part of Jesus’ “already but not yet” ethic for the Kingdom of God.

The ‘interpretation’ we impose on the sermon tends to colour how we react to it and how we react says a lot about where we are spiritually.  Below are four reactions.  Which best describes yours?

you despise it

This is the most grave of all reactions to the sermon.  It reveals a heart deeply antagonistic to God.  This reaction was that of the C19 German philosopher Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche.  Nietzsche despised Christianity and its values.  He considered them weak and demeaning.  Far from dying to self, in poverty of spirit and meekness, man must be assertive.  He must seek power, glory and greatness.  ‘Be what you are’ was his motto, and, as a motto for man in sin, this is massively self-deifying and destructive.  Man is god.  Man is supreme.  Man must dominate.   In personal strength and not weakness is man’s destiny.   The values of the Sermon on the Mount are to be despised as a ‘slave morality’.  Nietzsche’s philosophy met with a fair degree of resistance in his (more Christian) time but it has become the prevailing view of many in the West today.  It is the brazen bold assertiveness of Adam in the garden without pretence or hypocrisy.  Nietzsche is the philosopher whose hubris declared the death of God.  In time of course it was Neitzsche who died, as defiant in death as in life.  His friend, Gast, gave his funeral oration, proclaiming: “Holy be your name to all future generations!”  Adam had come of age.

you admire it

For many over the centuries, however, the Sermon on the Mount has been admired and lauded.  Many moralists of society pointed to the Sermon on the Mount as a blueprint for society.  Gandhi, a Hindu teacher said of it,

Of all the things I have read what remained with me forever was that Jesus came almost to give a new law – not an eye for an eye but to receive two blows when only one was given, and to go two miles when they were asked to go one. I came to see that the Sermon on the Mount was the whole of Christianity for him who wanted to live a Christian life. It is that sermon that has endeared Jesus to me.”   

For Gandhi, the sermon presented the ideal virtues of non-resistance and pacificism. Gandhi was influenced by Leo Tolstoy who believed the pacificism of the sermon was a model for society.  The Kingdom of God arrrived as men embraced these values.  In the final analysis, it appears for both, and for many others, the Kingdom of God was not much more than aspiring to the life of the Sermon on the Mount.  Some grasped more than others the impossibly high standard of righteousness the sermon required (Tolstoy renounced all his wealth and became an ascetic in pursuit of its righteousness)  but few grasped that to enter the Kingdom and live this life to any degree one had to be ‘born again’ (Jn 3); the Kingdom is not firstly a life to be lived but a Lord to be trusted.   Death to self and the life of the sermon comes through the death and resurrection of another before it becomes our own.

In the final analysis, the belief of old-time liberals that moral living will bring the kingdom of God perishes on the rock of human nature.  It fails to recognise that the sermon is not compatible with fallen human nature.  Nietzsche had complete clarity in this point; his view of the sermon is more true to human nature as it is however desperate it may be.  Any unregenerate human heart who has an inkling of the thrust of the sermon does not find it is a message to admire but one to fear and hate.  The sermon crushes fallen human nature and leaves it dead.

you are  crushed by it

For many, the sermon is a message of despair.  They read the sermon and they recognise its impossibility.  They feel their powerlessness before it.  It leaves them, as Roms 5 says, knowing they are ‘without strength’.    The sermon acts, for them, upon conscience like ‘law’, that is, it makes them conscious of their sin.  In fact, its very commands incite rebellion in the heart.  They resent it.  Thy are condemned by it.  It makes them fear and resent God.  Lutherans tend to view the sermon this way, or at least many modern Lutherans do.

Now in many ways this is a good thing.  The Spirit of God often uses the sermon to convict of sin just like he uses the Mosaic Law, or our innate values.  Moreover, conviction of sin and a sense of our malaise is a healthy and necessary prerequisite to salvation.  It is far more promising than moral smugness.  Those who believe themselves well have no need of a doctor, only the sick:  the righteous (or those who think they are righteous) have no need of a Saviour, but Christ came to call ‘sinners’ to repentance (Lk 5:32).

But let me make a point in passing.  While the sermon or ‘law’ makes us conscious of sin it does not provide a Saviour or hope of forgiveness.  Indeed, law never does.  Law can only condemn.  It cannot lead us to repentance.  It doesn’t make us hate our sin, only know it and its consequences.  It doesn’t offer mercy or forgiveness (I speak of law, in principle as God’s demands apart from sacrifice).  Only the gospel can do this.  It is the kindness of God that leads to repentance (Roms 2).   It is the assurance of grace that makes repentance even a possibility.  Repeatedly this point is made in Scripture (Ps 78:34,35; Isa 55:7; Joel 2:13; Acts 2:38). Pure law provides only death; only grace shows the way of life.

For the unbeliever therefore, perhaps the first step towards faith, may be to be convicted of sin by this sermon.   For the careless who presume upon God’s grace and treat it ‘cheaply’ the sermon warns of houses built on sand and shakes false assurance.  But what of the ‘believer’?  Should a believer approach the sermon in fear and trepidation?  Should he/she be afraid to read it because it condemns?    Should the heart of faith read this sermon and be crushed by it?  Although many answer yes, I cannot agree.  Christ’s words are never intended to crush his people as they seek to follow him.  They may and should crush the flesh, but not the believer.

you delight in it

The believer rejoices in the sermon.   Like the psalmist in the OT he ‘delights in the law of the Lord’.   His ear is opened morning by morning to hear as one instructed (Ps 50:4).  He does not approach the sermon as a word of law to condemn rather, he comes as one who stands consciously in grace (Roms 5:1).  He rejoices in the fact that his iniquities are forgiven and his sin is covered (Roms 4).  By faith he grasps that he is seated with Christ in heavenly places, holy and accepted and before God in a place of love (Eph 1).  For him there is no accusation (Roms 8:1).  God is for him and who or what can be against him.  He stands secure in the knowledge that nothing can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus his Lord.

In this security he reads the sermon and his holy soul – the life he has in the Spirit – rejoices in it.  What the sermon teaches his spirit affirms.   This is the life of Christ that pulsates within.   Yes, his flesh rebels against it, but it is this very flesh he wishes, by the Spirit, to put to death.  If his eye offends he desires to pluck it out.  The divine nature of which he is a partaker delights in poverty of spirit and meekness.   It envies godliness.  It lusts after Christlikeness.  It yearns to know Christ and the power of his resurrection expressed in fellowship with his sufferings.  This is the life of faith, the life of a ‘believer’.

Yes, there will be failure.  But, in failure, faith finds confidence that we have an intercessor in the heavens, Jesus Christ the Righteous who restores us.  We know that when we confess our sins he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.  Thus, we do not constantly look back in regret, or inwardly in defeat, but we look up in faith, and forward in anticipation as we seek to lay hold of that for which God has laid hold of us.  Faith denies condemnation, accusation, impossibility, and defeat any voice.  It does not doubt or despair or stand condemned but is strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.

We live in confidence that what the sermon exhorts us to hear and do God works in us as he enables us to will and do for his own good pleasure.  Thus for the ‘believer’ who lives in gospel faith the sermon is nothing less than ‘the good, acceptable and perfect will of God’ which is his daily meat.

How do you react to the sermon on the Mount?  Do you despise it, admire it, fear it, or delight in it?

25
Aug
11

how would you persuade christians to turn away from adultery?

I have regularly argued that the way to holiness is not through teaching that the Mosaic law is binding on the Christian conscience and that it must be obeyed.  A mentality of ‘law-keeping’ is not the way to grow in grace.  This does not mean that we cannot learn from the OT  law.  We can.  Christians living in the Spirit mine the Scriptures, for they know that among other things  they are profitable ‘for training in righteousness’ ‘(2 Tim 3:16).  Yet they frame all they discover about righteous living within gospel realities.

Let me illustrate what I mean.  How should a preacher persuade believers to turn away from adultery?  Below is an example of how such an exhortation may be made.  Note it uses the OT but does so recognising its redemptive-historical setting.  And note too that the gospel provides the main framework and rationale for rejecting adultery.

My brothers and sisters, we ought to loathe adultery.  David’s adultery, although forgiven, brought ramifications that devastated his family.  God is opposed to adultery and adulterers.  Don’t you know that in the OT the very heart of the law of Moses condemned adultery in its Ten Words.  So great was God’s hatred of adultery among his OT people that the law demanded the sentence of death for adulterers.  Does this not tell us how seriously God views it?   Indeed the law was only codifying and formally forbidding what men universally know in their hearts.  All cultures oppose adultery.  All codes of behaviour condemn it.

But brothers and sisters, unconverted folks may need to be reminded adultery is a sin and will bring judgement for they harden their hearts against God, but we should not. We have the life of God in our souls. This life finds adultery unthinkable. Every instinct of your renewed nature is repelled by adultery. God’s Spirit within lusts for purity not impurity. 

It is to this end of purity that we have been justified in Christ.  Why did we seek justification? We did so because we wanted to be cleared of sin. We wanted to be done with it. We saw how sinful and offensive it was and how deserving of judgement. We wished to be finished with it.  That is what we were saying when we came to God in repentance seeking his forgiveness.  How then can we allow ourselves to be attracted again to that same sin that we died to in the death of Jesus that we may be freed from it?  We wished to cease being slaves of sin and become instead slaves of righteousness (Rom 6).  That is what we have been freed from accusation and sin to become.  Our calling is to yield our bodies as instruments of righteousness and not impurity.

How can you abuse your body in this way? Your body is not yours to do with what you will. It is bought with a price and belongs to the Lord. Glorify God with your body do not use it to bring disgrace on his name. Christ’s death was precisely because of the horror and ugliness of adultery. He died that we may be cleansed from sins like this and lives that he may enable us flee them.  The grace of God renews us and recreates us in the image of Christ.  Don’t you want to be like Christ?  Of course you do, this is the desire of every renewed heart.  It is the longing of every son of the Kingdom.  The Kingdom of God and Christ is a kingdom of righteousness, loyalty, truth and faithfulness. Adultery is the very opposite of this. Don’t you know that no adulterer will inherit the Kingdom of God.  The Eternal City of God in which the righteous dwell has no adulterers.  Nothing impure enters there.  We read in Revelation that ‘outside are adulterers’

Brothers and sisters, we are people who have been delivered from sin, we have a nature that is altogether new, we are a new creation in Christ living for a new heavens and new earth in which righteousness dwells let’s put off these impurities of the old life because of which the wrath of God is coming and let us live as the people of God with pure hearts that hate every suggestion of sin and unrighteousness…’

Much more of course could be said but I think this sample-sermonette illustrates how the gospel creates a godly people and how turning away from adultery can be considered an imperative of the gospel.




the cavekeeper

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

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