Posts Tagged ‘Covenant


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.


ot and nt worship

Since I am writing a few intermittent blogs considering the Judaizing  of the Christian Church, I thought I would post an extract from an article ‘Worship Wars’ I wrote a few years ago.  It seems relevant to the topic. The article in full can be sourced here.

OT Worship

The old covenant ‘form’ of worship, especially Temple worship, was striking in two ways: it laid great emphasis on sensory experience and it was largely ‘performance-worship’.  All the senses were involved in old covenant worship.  The vast spectacular and imposing temple conveyed the grandeur of God.  The High Priests rich vestments were all a vivid dramatic statement, conveying the glory and beauty of God (Ex 28:2).  The spectacle of priestly ceremony at the altar, the bloody sacrifice conveyed the messy ugly cost of sin. The smell of burning fat (sweet savour) and the aroma of incense was a vivid olfactory experience; the sweet fragrance conveying God’s delight in the sacrifice.  The performance music of the temple, with its choirs and various musical instruments all contributed to a rich aural experience.  Nevertheless, paradoxically this elaborate sensual worship served not to bring God near but actually hid him from the people (Hebs 12:18-20). The people had little personal involvement; they watched as the priests officiated on their behalf.  They listened as the Levitical choir (male) sang praises to God and the Levitical musicians (male) played (2 Chron 5:2; 35:15).

All of this was quite intentional on God’s part for although, in one sense God resided among them; in another sense he made it clear that there was a distance between him and the people.  This is made evident as soon as they come out of Egypt.  The first place he took them was Sinai – the mountain of the Lord (it was a prototype temple).  The Lord was present at the top of the mountain, though hidden in the dark cloud.  Moses was allowed to ascend the mountain; the elders (symbolic of the priests) were allowed to go part way up but no further; and the people were instructed (by God) to remain at the bottom on pain of death.  This they were only to glad to do for the thunder and fire at the top made the presence of God a place of dread (Ex 19).  This three-tier system of approach to God remained the same throughout the OT.  Only Moses at Sinai, and the High Priest in the tabernacle and temple could approach God closely; in the case of the High Priest, only once a year.  The point was clear, God was holy and the people could not come too near.  The old covenant ceremony did not create a sense of intimacy or nearness.  It was designed (since worship was through representatives) to stress distance; in the words of the writer to the Hebrews, ‘the way into the holiest was not yet open’ (Hebs 9:8-10).

We shall see how this contrasts completely with NT worship and approach to God.  The observation I wish to make just now is that much modern worship finds its justification and model in OT worship forms – it is highly sensory and increasingly performance-based (the congregation watch someone else worship).  Often those who promote modern worship forms turn, in a quite unabashed way, to the OT for both inspiration and justification  There is no recognition that there is clearly a sharp divide between OT and NT when it comes to the forms of worship and that OT forms of worship in the law are emphatically inferior to the NT experience of worship; that sensory and performance-based worship forms, far from enhancing worship actually are an obstacle to worship.

It is tempting at this point to do no more than simply highlight some of the self-evident differences between the OT and NT when it comes to worship and let these speak for themselves.  We could point out for example, that the NT lays no emphasis on buildings whatsoever.  Places and buildings are of no significance.  A cursory glance at the NT shows that there is no hint of liturgy, holy days, choirs, musical accompaniment, dance incense (smells and bells), or any other purely sensory experiences in NT church worship.  Baptism and the Communion meal are the only two ‘rituals’ of the NT church; both are simple and are the exception that prove the rule.  This stark contrast between OT and NT can scarcely be exaggerated and its implications must be faced by a modern church increasingly enchanted by the sensory.

These differences cannot be explained merely by changing culture; the cause is much more profound than culture.  The difference is a spiritual one; it is not a change in culture but a change in covenant that is responsible for the radical difference between OT and NT worship forms.  OT worship is shaped around and appropriate to the conditions of an old covenant (the law) and NT worship is the outflow of the new covenant that God introduced in Jesus.  NT Christians are in a relationship with God that is quite different to OT believers.  It is not only different, it is superior.  We shall, I hope, see that it is not merely anachronistic for NT Christians to adopt OT practices in public worship but theologically and tragically wrongheaded for it replaces the superior with the inferior, substance with shadow, reality with model, that which is living with that which is dead.

Weak and beggarly elements…

The Mosaic covenant of Law that God established at Sinai has long been a stumbling block to Christians.  Despite the many clear statements in the NT that the Old Covenant of law was made only with Israel, was temporary and intended to be so, became redundant (by being fulfilled) in Christ as even the language ‘new covenant’ implies (Hebs 8:13), and has no direct bearing on Christian people (Jew or gentile), Christians still find themselves clinging on to it.  Many Christians of a Reformed persuasion who are quite clear that the worship forms of the Law are superseded in Christ ironically wish to retain the law as a rule of life (a moral code) for Christians to obey.  By contrast many other Christians, less reformed, perhaps more dispensationally inclined, who rightly believe the law belongs to a pre and sub-Christian era and should remain there, ironically, are at the forefront of reinstituting the very forms of worship that belong to that old covenant.  The lesson perhaps is that the heart of a legalist is not far from any of us.

Why is it important for Christians to live beyond law, to reject it – either as a rule of life or as a model for worship?

The short answer is that the NT overwhelmingly calls us to do so.  The teaching of the NT is that believers are ‘in Christ’.  This means that they have died to this present age and all the powers that hold sway in it (sin, the world, the flesh, the devil and , paradoxically, God’s Law) and live in the world to come (the world of the Spirit). We do not belong to the realm where law has force or claim and for this we may be glad for Law represents an inferior spiritual experience (Roms 6:14; 7:1-6; Gal 3:23; 4:1-6, 21; 5:18; 1 Cor 9:20; Hebs 7:11)

The NT makes clear that ‘the law’ was given to men ‘in the flesh’; to people considered ‘alive’ in the old age.  This is too big a question to be fully explored here, only some elementary observations can be made. 

Although Israel was redeemed from Egypt, were declared God’s people and given the covenant of law at Sinai – they were still ‘in the flesh’.  That is they were not a ‘new creation’; new creation, life in the Spirit, only comes after the resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  The Mosaic Law represents a God-given religion of works not of faith (Gal 3:12) given to man (albeit God’s people) in the flesh (Roms 7:5; 8:3; Gal 3:3; 4:21-31; 6:12; Phil 3:3).  God effectively says – if you want to have relationship with me on the basis of (fleshly) self effort then here is the only way to do so.  Morally, the Ten Commandments represented the standard of righteousness that must be attained if the people wished to gain ‘life’.  Ceremonially, the detailed religious cultus (all the holy places, days, sacrifices, ceremonies, liturgies etc) was religion suited to a people in the flesh (still belonging to the old creation, not the new creation); it was expressed in highly sensory ways that are attractive to flesh, ways that are all essentially external.

Another way of understanding the OT law is by seeing it as something given to children (Gal 4:1-6).  Children are taught in simple terms.  Moral guidance is given to children in black and white rules.  They do not decide what is right and wrong for themselves (we do not yet trust their internal moral instincts), we tell them; sometimes we give them reasons, more often we simply give rules.  Children are also taught in pictures.  The era of law is a period of spiritual infancy and the law is designed for spiritual infants; it is a set of black and white rules accompanied by lots of pictures of God’s salvation.

Both ways of viewing Israel (in the flesh, infants) lead to the same conclusion – Old Covenant worship is inferior to New Covenant worship, for God is kept at a distance. 

It is impossible to draw near to God in the law, a religion designed for man in the flesh (only the High priest could enter God’s presence, and only once a year and not without blood). Jesus will teach Nicodemus, a teacher of the law, that flesh cannot inherit the kingdom of God that a new birth of the Spirit is necessary (Jn 3).

Infants too, in the ancient world, using Paul’s analogy in Galatians, had only remote contact with their Father – they were brought up by a pedagogue (someone responsible for controlling their behaviour, a picture of the Mosaic Law) not by their Father.  For children growing up in a Roman household their Father was a distant remote figure with whom they had little contact (Gal 4:1-6).  It was mature sons (NT believers indwelt by the Spirit) who had close contact with their Father.

Thus OT law, and my implication OT worship forms, belong to a time of spiritual infancy.  The Law’s cultus (worship forms) was designed for the spiritually immature, indeed for people still in the flesh. The Law never brought intimacy and nearness in worship, indeed its whole apparatus was designed to stress distance.  It is for this reason that Paul finds it, to say the least, tragic and frustrating when C1 Christians kept being drawn back to the trappings of law (Gal 3:1-3). For Law, with its rules and rituals and religious razzmatazz was not progress but regress; it seemed solid but was really shadow (Hebs 10:1; Col 2:17); it had an air of godliness but was really only a show of flesh; it led to distance not nearness (Gal 4:1-3; Hebs 12;18-24); it led to a religion of fear not joy (Roms 8:15; Hebs 12:18-24)  it seemed to offer spiritual life but actually was no more than ‘weak and beggarly elements’, or ‘dead works’ or ‘basic principles of the world’(Gal 4:1-11; Hebs 9:14; Col 2:8,20).

True worship, the NT would make clear, is in spirit and truth; true worship is in every respect in a contemplation of Christ, seated at God’s right hand.  True worship is New Covenant worship.

NT Worship

It is impossible if we read the OT and then read the NT to avoid seeing the radical change in worship that takes place.  Worship is radically decentralised, radically de-sacralised, and radically de-externalised.  Worship that once was an elaborate external ceremony becomes a matter of the interior life of the spirit/Spirit; it is radically internalised (Roms 8:16).

Now it is not enough to say that God is simply focussing on heart commitment.  He always demanded that, even in the OT (Amos 5:21-24; Hos 2:11; Isa 1:11-17; 29:13) as the people knew (Ps 103:1).  No, it is the form of worship that radically changes; the form changes from focussing on the visible, tangible, and sensory to focussing on the invisible, intangible and spiritual.  From Pentecost onwards the church has worshipped what it cannot see, touch or experience with the physical senses – a glorified heavenly Christ. 

This is the key to NT worship.  All that the elaborate OT cultus focussed on pointed to and is fulfilled in one person – Christ.  It is this that the NT with one voice proclaims.  The ‘regulative principle’ of NT worship is laid out by Jesus himself in his conversation with the Samaritan woman (Jn 4).  The Samaritan woman was concerned with the place of worship – Gerazim or Jerusalem – Jesus informs her that place is no longer important, that all future worship of God would be ‘in Spirit and in truth’.  In these words he was heralding what the NT Scriptures would in time develop more fully, that Old Covenant worship forms were finished for they were fulfilled in him. NT worship is radically Christ centred; cross centred; gospel centred.

To worship ‘in Spirit’ means to worship in the Holy Spirit.  Jesus, commentators agree, was contrasting the old covenant (age), externalised worship of Law to the new covenant (age), internalised worship of the Spirit.  All that belonged to spiritual infancy, to a flesh based religion, had been superseded.  In Christ the New Creation had arrived, the Age of the Spirit, and in this age infancy had given place to adulthood; Christians were no longer children treated like slaves but mature adults treated like sons with direct access to the Father (Gal 4:1-6; Roms 815,16).  They could go where only the High Priest could go once a year – into the Holiest itself, into the presence of God (Hebs 10:19).  All of this meant the old childish, elementary forms of worship were redundant.  God is spirit (not material) and those that worship must worship in spirit, not flesh (Jn 4:24).

Worship would also be ‘in truth’.  In truth is not so much worship of what is true as opposed to what is false but what is reality as opposed to what is merely shadow. In John’s gospel Jesus refers to himself as the true bread (6:32); true vine (15:1).  John says he is the ‘true light that enlightens every man (Jn 1:9). True worshippers will worship in Spirit and in truth for such the Father desires as worshippers (Jn 4).  To worship in truth therefore is simply to worship Christ.

NT worship therefore can be defined as worship that is more internal than external and that focusses on the true rather than the type.  It is profoundly Christ-centred.  He is the truth (Jn 14:6).  The Law came by Moses but grace and truth by Jesus Christ (Jn 1:14).  He is the one to whom the Spirit always points.  Jesus told his followers that when the Spirit came (at Pentecost) he would tell the disciples about Jesus (Jn 15:26), he would glorify Christ (Jn 16:14,15).  We worship God the Father when we find our minds and hearts captivated and enraptured by Jesus; by who he is in himself and by all he has accomplished.  The worship that delights the heart of God is that which adores his Son (Matt 9:7-9; Jn 5: 22,23). God is glorified in Jesus, as we glorify Jesus (Jn 12:28; 13:32; 17:1). God’s desire is that every knee should bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord this brings glory to God the Father (Phil 2:11).  To see and know and honour Jesus is to see and know and honour the Father (Jn 14:9).’


covenant distinctions… credo and paedo baptism… a statement

The case for credo-baptism (adult baptism) is much stronger than the parameters of this post.  However, the ‘creedal statement’ of this post lies at the heart of the debate.

Credo and paedo-baptists both believe there is continuity between the Abrahamic and New Covenant.  Both believe the New Covenant to be the linear fulfilment of the Abrahamic.  In addition, both believe that true believers are Abraham’s spiritual seed.  Controversy lies not in the continuities but the discontinuities between the two covenants . Credo-baptists believe that there is important discontinuity in how one is deemed to be a covenant member.  The following ‘creedal statement’ expresses this important distinction which paedo-baptists deny.

‘Both the Abrahamic and New covenant make accredited birth the entrance point to covenant rights and responsibilities, including the covenant sign. In the Abrahamic covenant the accredited birth is physical – birth by blood into a Jewish home – whereas, in the New covenant it is spiritual – birth by faith in the gospel. In both cases the covenant sign follows the birth. In both cases too, the spiritual life or otherwise that follows will reveal the ‘genuineness’ of the ‘birth’ and whether the person is a genuine child of the covenant or not.’

What do you think?  Is this a fair statement of a credo-baptist position?  If you are a paedo-baptist, where do you think this ‘statement’ is wrong?  Is there a better way of expressing the credo position?  Has anyone a ‘statement’ that succinctly contrasts the different understanding of credo and paedo baptists on the two covenants?


horton, hood, turk… law and gospel

Some of you may have been following the online debate  involving Michael Horton, Jason Hood, Frank Turk and others.  It is a debate about the relative weighting of indicatives and imperatives.  Some  concerned that the gospel is being turned into mere moralism (calls for holy living), a legitimate concern, stress vehemently the ‘done’ aspect of the gospel.   Indeed they go so far that they virtually deny ‘doing’ is gospel at all.  All ‘doing’ they say is ‘law’ and all gospel is ‘done’.

Michael Horton, an able biblical exegete, is the most able exponent of this position.  I enjoy much that Horton writes.  He recognises that Law and Gospel are firstly a salvation-history distinction.  That is they are covenants that are time-specific.  The Law is a covenant that operates from Sinai until Christ. With Christ Law came to and end.  It came to an end by being fulfilled in Christ, in gospel.   Horton recognises and argues well (which many Reformed writers don’t) that Law and gospel are not only different in period but are different in principle.; they differ in time and terms.  Law, Horton would argue is human works, while Gospel is God’s grace.  In this he is undoubtedly correct.

It is, however, just here that Horton makes his mistake.    Horton, in his eagerness to emphasize the ‘done’ side of the Gospel, does so by excluding from his definition of gospel all ‘doing’.  He describes all ‘doing’ as law and all ‘done’ as gospel.  Thus, all ‘works’ are law.  But this is not the biblical distinction and as soon as we start using biblical words in non-biblical ways we create confusion and eventually contort, conceal and change the gospel.

Law is a covenant of works.  It teaches ‘this do and live’.  It promises life through autonomous law-keeping.  If a person by their own strength and effort completely obeys the Sinai Law he will ‘live’.   Law demands obedience without any promise of divine help or enabling.  Righteousness, if attained by Law, is therefore ‘human righteousness’.  I think, with these observations, Horton would agree.  It is when he comes to gospel things get muddled.

Horton agrees that Gospel is grace.  For him this means ‘done’.  As a result he seems to exclude from Gospel all its demands.  Demands, for Horton, are always ‘law’.  But this is mistaken.  It is not ‘demands that are ‘law’ but unaided  ‘demands’.  ‘Works’ that are not ‘Spirit-driven’ are in principle  ‘law’.  However gospel commands/works/obligations are not ‘law’, they are gospel, and they are gospel because what God commands he confers, what he enjoins, he empowers.

We are right to distinguish between justification and sanctification.  We are right to draw the conclusions from these distinctions evangelicals normally do.  However, we are wrong to treat one as gospel and the other as law; both are gospel.   The gospel is the good news of new creation.  Gospel righteousness (that which the gospel realizes) is ultimately new creation; it is righteousness imputed and imparted to individuals upon faith and ultimately to the whole of creation.

In conclusion, while understanding the mere moralism that Horton and others wish to avoid, they do so by creating a truncated gospel.  The practical result is that ‘disciples’ begin to see justification as everything.  Expectations of real change in life is ‘legalism’ and a kind of vaunted practical antinomianism is the result.  This is the last thing Horton wants or approves.  It is however the danger of soundbite theology, where the soundbite  does not reflect the biblical balance.

Read and benefit from Horton.  But don’t buy into the mistaken extreme of his law/gospel divide.


do this and live

The Law, that is, the Sinai Covenant,  in the words of the NT, is ‘not of faith’ (Gals 3:11).  God’s covenant with Abraham relied on God’s promise for its fulfilment received simply by faith (Gals 3:17-19, 22).  Law, by contrast, depends on human ‘works’.  It is a covenant of works and so Paul  speaks regularly of ‘the works of the law’ (Gals 2:16; 3:2, 5, 10; Roms 3:20).  Law and promise are not merely two different covenants they are covenants based on two different principles (Gals 3:18).  Promise rests entirely on righteousness  and life gifted from God while Law depends on righteousness and life gained by man.  Promise requires only faith in the Promise-Maker; Law demands faith in self.    And so Paul juxtaposes ‘the works of the Law and the hearing of faith’ (Gals 3:2)

Despite the NT consistently and clearly presenting the Sinai Covenant as a works covenant many doubt that it is.  It is hard to understand why.  The evidence seems overwhelming.  For instance at the inception of the covenant we read,

Exod 19:1-8 (ESV)
On the third new moon after the people of Israel had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that day they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They set out from Rephidim and came into the wilderness of Sinai, and they encamped in the wilderness. There Israel encamped before the mountain, while Moses went up to God. The Lord called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”  So Moses came and called the elders of the people and set before them all these words that the Lord had commanded him. All the people answered together and said, “All that the Lord has spoken we will do.” And Moses reported the words of the people to the Lord.

The Lord makes clear that the covenant with all its promised blessing (you shall be my treasured possession…) depends on their obedience and faithfulness to the covenant laws.  Israel understood this, for the people rather too self-confidently affirm, ‘All that the Lord has spoken we will do’.  The covenant depended on works; it was a covenant of ‘he who does shall live’.  That is precisely the point made in Lev 18.

Lev 18:1-5 (ESV)
And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, I am the Lord your God. You shall not do as they do in the land of Egypt, where you lived, and you shall not do as they do in the land of Canaan, to which I am bringing you. You shall not walk in their statutes. You shall follow my rules and keep my statutes and walk in them. I am the Lord your God. You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.

The covenant did not assume obedience as the consequence or effect of life rather it promised it as the cause or means of life.  This law-works perspective of the covenant is repeated regularly through the OT.  When Moses repeats the covenant to the generation of Israel about to enter the Land we read,

Deut 4:1 (ESV)
“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.

and again,

Deut 8:1 (ESV)
“The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers.

Life, and life in the Promised Land depended on ‘doing’ the covenant commands.  Moreover, it depended, not in keeping them approximately, but completely.  They must be careful to do, ‘the whole commandment’. The curses of a broken covenant fall on those who fail to do ‘all‘ the commandments of the Lord (Ex 15:26; Lev 26:14,15; Deut 5:29; 6:2; 13:18; 27:26; Gals 3:10).

Ezekiel reiterates the covenant conditions to those of his day.  That life depends on obedience could scarcely be clearer.

Ezek 18:5-9 (ESV)
“If a man is righteous and does what is just and right- if he does not eat upon the mountains or lift up his eyes to the idols of the house of Israel, does not defile his neighbor’s wife or approach a woman in her time of menstrual impurity, does not oppress anyone, but restores to the debtor his pledge, commits no robbery, gives his bread to the hungry and covers the naked with a garment, does not lend at interest or take any profit, withholds his hand from injustice, executes true justice between man and man, walks in my statutes, and keeps my rules by acting faithfully-he is righteous; he shall surely live, declares the Lord God.

Indeed, Ezekiel states a principle that Paul reiterates in the NT – that judgement (life or death) is according to works (Roms 2:6-10).

Ezek 18:21-24 (ESV)
“But if a wicked person turns away from all his sins that he has committed and keeps all my statutes and does what is just and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. None of the transgressions that he has committed shall be remembered against him; for the righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live? But when a righteous person turns away from his righteousness and does injustice and does the same abominations that the wicked person does, shall he live? None of the righteous deeds that he has done shall be remembered; for the treachery of which he is guilty and the sin he has committed, for them he shall die.

In Ezekiel 20, the Lord tells how Israel had been warned in her infancy that God’s blessing depended on obedience – ‘if a person does them he shall live’ – yet Israel had disobeyed and God’s judgements had fallen on them in the wilderness – that generation did not enter the Land.  In Ezekiel’s day similar failure meant exile from the land; life in the land was contingent on obedience… this do and live.

Ezek 20:10-13 (ESV)
So I led them out of the land of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my statutes and made known to them my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live. Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the Lord who sanctifies them. But the house of Israel rebelled against me in the wilderness. They did not walk in my statutes but rejected my rules, by which, if a person does them, he shall live; and my Sabbaths they greatly profaned. “Then I said I would pour out my wrath upon them in the wilderness, to make a full end of them. (Cf Ezek 20:21)

So unable are Israel to keep the covenant and thus gain life that Ezekiel foresees (as did Moses in Deut 30) a new covenant.  In this New Covenant God would allot by grace what Israel could not achieve by works.

Ezek 37:14 (ESV)
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.”

The key point of the New Covenant is that any ‘doing’ that is required, God does it.

Sometimes it is suggested that the life promised in the OT is simply temporal life in the land and not eternal life.  In one sense, this mistake is understandable for the OT perspective on life and death is in the main physical and this-worldly.  However, by the NT, the understanding of life and death has considerably enlarged.  Life in its fulness is ‘eternal life‘ and likewise death, is ‘eternal death‘.  Jesus’ discussion with the lawyer who hoped to trip him makes this plain.

Luke 10:25-28 (ESV)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.

Notice the context.  It is clear the discussion is framed within the terms of the OT Sinian Covenant.  The lawyer is thinking of life earned through law-keeping.  He speaks in the language of the Law – ‘what must I do’. That he means ‘do‘ in the sense of law-keeping is clear, for Jesus asks what the Law requires and cites the Lev 18 text ‘do this and live’ (Cf. Matt 19:18).  Yet, the lawyer conceives this law-life not merely as temporal but as ‘eternal life’ (cf. Matt 19:16-25).

Furthermore, in the NT letters, when law-life and faith-life are contrasted, the contrast is not that one is temporal and the other eternal but that one is possible and the other impossible.  Righteousness and the ensuing life cannot be attained by Law for law-keeping is impossible.  The Law does not effect righteousness rather it  exposes and excites sin (Roms 3:20; 7:5).  Righteousness and life are always gifts from God (Roms 3:21-26; 5:17) and come only through faith.  And so Paul writes,

Gal 3:11-12 (ESV)
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.”


Rom 10:5-13 (ESV)
For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) or “‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

This last text is an important one.  For here, in NT language, we have the difference between the old covenant and the new covenant to which Ezekiel alluded (Ezek 37) and of which Jeremiah spoke.

Jer 31:31-33 (ESV)
“Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

Obedience is no longer an impossibility (who shall ascend…descend) but entirely possible (the word is near and in your mouth and heart).  In the Roms 10 text, Paul takes a text from the OT (Deut 30) that refers to the Law (old covenant) and speaks of it as gospel (new covenant). How he can do this must wait a future blog.  The purpose of this post is simply to establish, by glancing at the OT, the truth of Paul’s contention that

Gal 3:12 (ESV)
… the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.”


adam, the mosaic law, and faulty logic

Some writers speak of the Mosaic Covenant as a republication of the covenant of works God made with Adam.  Now it is true that the Mosaic Covenant (the Law) is a covenant of works.  It is true too that Adam in Eden was in probation, a sort of covenant of works (though I suspect the word covenant rightly belongs to after the fall where sin has made the need for covenantal agreements).  However, it is ludicrous to suggest, as some do, that the ‘works’ Adam was under were those of the Mosaic Covenant.

In what sense was Adam supposed to ‘honour his father and mother’?  In what way was ‘You shall not commit adultery’ relevant to Adam?   Of what relevance were laws about clothing or battle or sacrifice? The Bible presents but one ‘law’ to Adam; he is forbidden to eat of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  There is but one ‘law’ carrying a sanction.  There was no other test.  To recognise this is vital to the intention of the biblical narrative which contrasts the lavish generosity of God (in the undemanding the test given to Adam) with the inexcusable failure of man (but one simple prohibition that he defied).

Thus, a point that is basically right (Adam and Israel both related to God in a probationary covenant of works) is then shaped by human logic into something the Bible neither says nor makes sense.  It is another example of how we must take care with the apparent ‘logic’ we impose on Scripture.  We easily (all of us) create systems that go way beyond what Scripture teaches and then anathematize those who disagree.  Often the anathematizing is over these points that are least supported by Scripture and are most obviously the invention of our risky logic.


christianity is not judaism, though few would know it

Judaism is religion in the proper sense.  It is the only God-given religion.  In saying it is religion in the proper sense, I mean it represents the only God-ordained means of earning salvation.  Its basic promise was, ‘Do this and live’ (Lev 18:5; Roms 10:5; Gals 3:12).  It addresses humanity ‘in the flesh’ and offers a way to gain eternal life by self-effort, that is, by ‘the flesh’ (Roms 7:1-5;  Gals 3:1-4).  It presents ‘life’ as the reward for doing ‘the works of the Law.

In Judaism too, the civil and the religious are in close union.  The civil gives patronage to the religious.  Civil and religious are both the Kingdom of God.

It is suited to ‘flesh’ for it is highly sensory.  It is a religion of magnificent temples, exact rituals, aesthetic beauty evident in the smorgasbord feast of the temple with its savoury sacrifices, visceral bloody sacrifices, pungent incense, rich and heavenly robes and vestments, stirring music etc.  It was a God-given religion placing great emphasis on externals.

Christianity is of course the opposite.  It is not a religion in the sense that it is not about self-effort to gain acceptance with God.  It is not built on a principle of ‘doing’ but of ‘believing’.  It does not address humanity ‘in the flesh’ but ‘in the Spirit’ (Roms 8).  It is not about the outward and sensual but about the inward and spiritual.  It is not about the seen but the unseen.  We look in vain in the NT church for grand temples, extensive ritual and rite, and sensory stimulation.   We look in vain too for any union with civil authorities; Christ’s kingdom is not of this world.   It is a faith where all that is concrete and tangible belongs to a world to come and is appropriated by faith.

It is all the more ironic and tragic that the Christian church today resembles more the religion of Judaism than it does the new creation of Christianity.  Cathedrals old and new are the landscape of the church.  In many denominations ritual and ceremony abound.  Church leaders dress like OT high Priests.   Electronic sensory stimulation is the order of the day as musical prowess swamps church life.  The sensual and aesthetic dominate.  And the gospel of grace is increasingly drowned out by the Judaistic gospel of self-help packaged and preached in one form or another.  Judaism has all but occluded Christianity.

The way of faith is a narrow road and hard road.  It does not pander to the flesh.  It is not ostentatious.   It is not full of pageantry and posturing.  It does not mistake the aesthetic for the spiritual.  It is not patronised by the powers that be.  It does not preach ‘because you’re worth it’ or ‘seven steps to a more effective life’.  Yet it is the road that leads to life while all others lead to destruction.

May God help the Church to discard the entrails of Judaism and embrace the new life of ‘the gospel of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ’.  May we live as ‘new creation’ and not as ‘old religion'; may we live ‘according to the Spirit’ and not ‘according to the flesh’.

the cavekeeper

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


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