Posts Tagged ‘Law

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.

14
Mar
12

funerals, fasting, feasting, and the first day of the week

Emergents (enchanted by the ‘Big Tradition’), some Old Life Reformed (emphasising the institutional church and sacraments), some Federal Vision folks like Peter Leithart (with a similarly high ecclesiology), the rising influence, in the States at least, of evangelical Lutheranism (which tends to stress liturgy), our ecumenical romance with Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, the popular influence of Anglicans like Tom Wright, the childish drive for the novel and sensual that marks a culture bloated on narcissism, and the shallow gospel of many Western believers have converged to create the perfect liturgical storm.   It is a storm threatening to swamp gospel fulness and freedom in Christ.  Evangelicalism, in many quarters, is all too ready to exchange the real for rituals and regulations, the freeing for the enslaving, Christ for the childish and cultic legalistic ceremonies.  Ritualistic faith is on the increase, an inevitable result of  faith that fails to ‘hold fast to the head’ (the risen reigning Christ in heaven) and instead seeks religious experience and assurance in that which is sensuous and ceremonial, that which is merely ‘earthly’ (Cols 2:16-20); when the substance is lost the shadows rush in to fill the void.

My previous post (but one) protested strongly against the present evangelical love-fest with all things liturgical (liturgical calendars and its seasons such as lent).   However, you may well read the post and say, ‘That’s all very well.  I see the force of your argument.  However, does not Christianity have its special day (the first day of the week), and its rituals (baptism, the Lord’s supper), and does it not promote fasting?  Is there contradiction here?’

It is this latter question I wish to address.

a believing hermeneutic

Whenever we find what we perceive to be a tension in Scripture the way forward lies in believing faith that seeks to do justice to both statements without playing off one against the other or adopting one to the exclusion of the other.

With this hermeneutic, we may well conclude that in principle New Covenant faith radically abandons ritualistic religion reducing many religious days to one, many different rites and ceremonies to two simple acts, and  regular ritually obligated fasts to the occasional and voluntary.  We may not understand why any special day or ritual is left but this is a question faith need not have answered to live obediently.  We do not have to fully understand a matter to be taught and guided by what is revealed.

This seems to me terribly important.  Christians ought to have a humble submission to God’s Word that believes and obeys without requiring all questions answered.  We must avoid the critical superiority that robs Scripture of its authority and impact by a thousand clever avoidance questions and arguments.  I am not advocating a faith that does not inquire, study and seek to learn.  Far from it.  Godly scholarship is a gift from God.  However, scholarship is not always godly, not always believing, and certainly not always submissive.    Scholars, like the rest of us, too often read the Bible without that childlike trust and submission.  When this is the case no amount of scholarly nous will compensate, indeed it is likely to blind; spiritual truth is spiritually discerned.

Church tradition can also be a force for good or ill.   Church tradition like scholarship can be good if the tradition encourages making Scripture humbly studied the authority for faith and practice, but where the tradition makes the authority the tradition itself (whether confessional or non-confessional)  spiritual blindness is inevitable.  Both scholarship and tradition are powerful forces to buck, yet a believing hermeneutic must be willing to challenge both.  Neither are final authorities.  Only Scripture is truth.

There is only one guard against deception and that is a heart and mind subject to the Word and depending on the Spirit.  This is ever the way of understanding and blessing.

sabbaths and sunday, law days and love days

We can, however, go a little further in addressing the apparent tension expressed above by noting some basic differences between OT regulations and NT practices.

We should remember that the nature of religion that allows man to save himself (as the Mosaic Law did) is to focus on what is external and ritualistic.  Such religion is typically full of rules and regulation, things to do.  The Mosaic Covenant (this do and live) was certainly like this.  The Sabbath was the key sign of the Mosaic Covenant (Ex 31:13) and exemplifies this principle.  So important was the Sabbath that it was enshrined as part of the Ten Words in the tablets of stone.  Remembering the Sabbath day and keeping it holy was a vital component of covenantal obedience.  It was a regulation carefully drafted with various activities proscribed.  Failure to observe it was punishable by death (Ex 31) and honouring it was the way of life (Isa 58:13,14).  We should not miss the fact that Sabbath observance was a legal obligation with much hanging on it.

However, when we come to the NT and the day Christians observe, the atmosphere is quite different.  Firstly, of course, Christians do not observe the Sabbath.  It simply will not do when Sabbatarians, in an attempt to claim Sunday as  the Christian Sabbath, argue for one day in seven.  The Sabbath is not any one out of seven, it is specifically and intentionally the seventh day.  It is the day when God rested having created for six.   There is simply no suggestion in the NT that the Christian day is a Sabbath, in fact the opposite is the case (Col 2:16).  The very choosing of another day clearly signalled a decisive change in covenantal relationship since the Sabbath was the covenantal sign of the OC (Ex 31).

But what of the Christian day of worship – the first day of the week?  Is this enshrined in a  statute or written on a tablet of stone?  Is there a command that Sunday must be remembered and treated as holy?  Is it defined as a day of rest? Is there a sanction of death on those who fail to observe it?  Clearly not.  Why do Christian’s worship on a Sunday?  We worship on a Sunday because that is the day of Christ’s resurrection.  Indeed, after his death the resurrected Christ appeared only to his disciples on Sundays (the first day of the week).  It would appear that the Holy Spirit so impressed upon the young church the association between the resurrection of Jesus and the first day of the week that  it quickly became the day of Christian gathering and worship.  Soon it was simply known as ‘the Lord’s day’ (Rev 1:10).  Love for the Lord had set it apart.

My point is, it was no mere legal regulation or ordinance that gave the first day of the week its significance but love for the one who was identified as Lord in resurrection on this day.  In this way the Spirit impressed on the heart of the infant church the appropriateness of Sunday for Christian worship.     The Sabbath signalled the end of the old creation: the first day of the week the beginning  of the new creation.   The Sabbath was for man, the first day of the week is for the Lord.  Sunday is not for Christians a day of rest but a day of worship.  Let me repeat, Christians worship on a Sunday not from duty, not from fear of judgement, and not to gain merit.  They gather out of love for their Lord.

Can I observe in passing, this is why the Lord’s Day observance society is so wrong-headed.  The Lord’s Day was never intended to be foisted on society.  It was intended for Christians and not the world.  It was a day when believers were drawn together to worship out of love for their Lord, not for unbelievers to observe by legal enforcing.  The whole premise is wrong.  We so easily lapse from grace into legalism.

These two days, it seems,  illustrate the different principles that guide the different covenants, the difference between the legal precepts of the old and the gracious privileges of the new, in particular, those of baptism and the Lord’s Supper.

baptism and the lord’s Supper

We speak of these as ‘ordinances’.  The word means ‘an authoritative command or order’.  Yet I wonder whether this word is best suited.  For, yet again, juridical language is entirely absent.  Both baptism and the Lord’s Supper may be better termed privileges than ordinances.  In both cases we receive from the Lord.  In both cases, the emphasis is far less on what we ought to do than what grace has accomplished.  Both indicate blessings bestowed.

In our baptism we are carried through waters of judgement and death (safely in Christ our ark) and emerge  to the privilege of a new world and life the other side of the deluge.  Sin is gone in the judgement of the waters and we stand before God in resurrection with no more conscience of sins (2 Pet 3:21).  Baptism is rich with the symbolism of grace; it brings us through judgement into a new creation.  (In terms of command, the preponderance of verses focus on the command to baptise rather than the command to be baptised.)

In the Lord’s Supper, again we receive.  We sit at the table of the Lord and eat what he provides.  He is the spiritual host.  And he is the spiritual food (specifically in his death).  The focus is what is graciously given.  Again there is no legal or juridical context. The context when the disciples are first introduced to the Supper could not be more intimate and familial.  Christ’s love for his own and his desire to fellowship with them is the atmosphere in which it is inaugurated (Luke 22:15).  His love is on full display.  He washes their feet, feeds them, teaches them, comforts and prepares them for the coming hours and days; having loved his own which were in the world he loves them to the end.

The Lord’s Supper is a love feast.  It is no formal ritual with eating a legal duty.  It is not rigidly confined by rules and regulations.  Nor is it elaborate or ceremonial.  The meal is the essence of simplicity.  It is simply bread and wine and we are free in when we eat it and where we eat it (Cf Acts 2).  What matters is the state of heart in which we eat (1 Cor 11).  We should eat realising that it is a meal symbolising the oneness of God’s people in the body of Christ (1 Cor 10:16).   We eat out of love for the Lord and a desire to fellowship with him and his people.  Any thought of mere obligation to a rite or ordinance fails to grasp what it is about; ritualism and relationship are mutually exclusive.

Much more of course could be said regarding these gospel privileges, however, my concern is simply to underline that both, like the Lord’s day, arise in a context of grace and relationship not law and ritual and both reflect the context in which they arise.  Be suspicious of every attempt to squeeze ritualistic drama from these privileges for the less we appreciate their inner spiritual realities the more we will make of their externalities.

We should also note in this context that neither has any intrinsic ‘magical’ saving quality.  They have no sacramental value of themselves.  Being baptised and taking the Lord’s Supper does not confer grace or guarantee spiritual security.   1 Cor 10 makes this very clear; it is possible to be both baptised and regularly take the Lord’s Supper yet be destroyed by God.

fasting

Paul is quite clear that denying ourselves bodily needs and provisions is no virtue in itself.  The Mosaic Covenant (Judaism)  made numerous ascetic ritualistic demands on the people.  Not so the NT.  In fact,  it explicitly condemns ascetic impositions (Col 2:20-23) describing such teachings as the teaching of ‘deceiving spirits’ and ‘doctrines of demons’ (1 Tim 4:1-5).  Real self-denial, we discover, is not a denial of the body but a denial of the flesh (our Adamic human nature opposed to God).  Yet, fasting is something the NT assumes God’s people may do from time to time (Matt 9:15) normally depriving ourselves of some legitimate bodily need (usually food).

What are we to make of this apparent contradiction?  The first thing to be said is that in the New Covenant fasting is always voluntary (whether by an individual or a group).  There is no imposed season for fasting.  There is no rule that tells us we must fast.  Indeed there is no injunction to fast. Yet  Jesus assumes his people will fast and Paul tells us he often fasted.  We are not told when to fast, where to fast, how to fast, or how long to fast (though it should not be of such a time that Satan can take advantage Cf 1 Cor 7: 5).  Again the difference between law and gospel becomes apparent.

If someone fasts it will be because the Holy Spirit prompts him or her to do so.  Such prompting appears to be definite and in lieu of a specific task or purpose.   Thus Jesus fasts before facing the temptation of Satan and the beginning his public ministry (Matt 4:2).   Some of the church at Antioch fasted as they were considering the future strategy of expansion.  When Paul and Barnabas were considering who to appoint as elders in various churches they fasted (Acts 13:2, 14:23).  It seems too that fasting was generally accompanied by prayer (Lk 2:37, 5:33).  The point is this was a time of intense seeking the mind of God and humbling oneself before the Lord.  It is to our shame that most of us know little of this today.  Prayer and fasting seem to be linked with spiritual power.  Perhaps we see here a reason for our spiritual weakness.

For our purposes, the main point to note is that fasting is not an institutionalised ritual that is part of an imposed church calendar but is an activity that arises out of a burden placed on the heart by the Holy Spirit.  How easily our legalistic hearts institutionalise and ossify activities that should flow from freedom in the Spirit.  The value of a fast does not lie in the hunger for food it creates but the hunger for God that created it.

conclusion

The heart of Christianity is a living relationship with Christ by faith.  We live in union with him, rooted and grounded in him, and nourished by him (Cols 2).  Everything that ritualises, institutionalises and mechanises this should be treated with suspicion.  How ready we are to make a ritual or a law out of what is intended to arise from the heart freely as it seeks God’s face.  How easily we turn from life in the Spirit to the deadening letter, from privilege to performance, from relationship to ritual, from the unveiled to the veiled, from the spiritual to the sensual, from grace to works.

Let’s make it our aim to discover the true grace of God and having discovered it, to stand fast in it.

03
Mar
12

lent…or the ashes of judaism that deface christianity

intro

Lent is the forty days before Easter in the Christian liturgical Calendar.  It starts with Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday.  It is traditionally celebrated in the West by Roman Catholics, Lutherans, and Anglicans.  Until fairly recently, for most evangelicals, the very hint of liturgical calendars and days like ‘Ash Wednesday’ and ‘Holy Thursday’ would have been enough for them to run a million miles.  No longer.  Liturgical calendars are de rigueur.  Evangelicals are outing as ‘liturgy-men’ and proud of it.  Celebrating Lent is where it is at in modern spirituality.  A cursory glance at many evangelical websites will make this plain.   Goodness, even Michael Horton has jumped on the bandwagon.  Everyone’s loving lent.

Have conservative evangelicals got it wrong all these years?  Have they been too strict, too stuffy, and too legalistic (an ironic claim in this context if ever there was one)?  Do we need to invest in the ‘Big Tradition’ and rediscover these disciplines?  I guess, my tone in writing so far will reveal where I stand on this issue.  I am appalled at how casually evangelicals are buying into traditions that are essentially Judaistic and sub-Christian.  At best these are a pointless distraction but the reality is much worse; they are actually an indulgence of ‘fleshly’ religion which draws away from Christ.  Strong words, I know.  Not likely to please many.  Such sentiments will be castigated as intolerant and narrow-minded for sure.

Let me say, at the outset, I don’t mean to be unkind or harsh.  As Brian McLaren would protest, how can a mild-mannered guy like me ever be misunderstood in this kind of way?  In fact, if Lenten-men were simply those who have observed it for centuries then I probably would have said nothing.  However, when those who were traditionally free from this kind of childishness (a word I shall later justify), even slavery (another word I shall endeavour to defend), begin to lapse into religious shadows that in Christ are fulfilled and abandoned, I feel compelled to protest.  I am jealous that Christ is being lost in the paraphernalia of human religiosity.  Indeed, all who grasp what it is to be a believer who has died and risen with Christ ought to be jealous for Christ’s glory and care deeply when they see believers submitting to what Scripture calls ‘weak and worthless elements‘  and being enslaved by them (Gals 4:8).

Paul writes, in a context closely allied to the matter in question (rites, rituals and regulations),

Gal 3:1-5 (ESV)
O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain-if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith.

The Galatian Judaizers were advocating Christ plus the Mosaic Law, and especially its emphasis on rites (Gals 5:2, 6:12), purity laws (Gal 2: 11), and liturgical calendars (Gal 4:10).  For Paul, the whole methodology and minutiae of the Law, symbolised in circumcision, was addressed to man in the flesh and not the Spirit; it is a methodology (a religion) for flesh (Gals 3:3, 4:21-31; 6:12) that is fulfilled and finished in Christ.  It is my conviction that adopting liturgical calendars, special festivals, dietary laws, symbols of penance and self-humiliation, and bodily self-denial rites as an end in themselves or as part of a religious calendar is to embrace the old covenant of law as a means of relationship with God and is seriously regressive in our walk with God (whatever protests are made to the contrary).  When the Christians of Galatia are tempted to do this, Paul says, ‘I am afraid I have laboured over you in vain‘ (Gals 4:11).  In accepting these principles of law ‘Christ will be no advantage to them‘ (Gals 5:2).  Thus the Galatians are urged,

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

Of course, those evangelicals who advocate Christian Calendars are at pains to point out that liturgical observances do not save.  They do not affect our justification or standing before God.  Nor are they to be imposed as a rule upon the church, but are a matter of Christian freedom.  Indeed, the legalist, it seems, is someone like me who opposes rites and rituals, certainly any promotion of them. I am apparently denying freedom in Christ to those who wish to worship and serve as they wish.  The irony is rich.  For, of course, it is precisely those who promote such practices that Paul regards as legalists.  Indeed it must be so, for they are promoting OT law not NT gospel; if you promote law you are ipso facto a legalist.

no nt mandate

Show me one text from the NT epistles teaching that Christians should live by religious calendars, or dietary laws, or observe special feasts, or abstain from foods, and so on.  It cannot be done.  Such rules and regulations in the NT are conspicuous by their absence, which is singularly odd because one would expect that if such disciplines are so helpful  the NT would be replete with exhortations to pursue them.  But it is not, for they are not (helpful).  The silence of Scripture here is deafening.

They do not ‘save’, their evangelical protagonists agree.  Yet, if this is so, and it is, why commend them?  If I can grow in my Christian life fully without religious rules and rituals, and I clearly can since the NT never advocates them, then what is their purpose?  Moreover, we should not be so confident that these ‘disciplines’ will remain a matter of ‘freedom’ in the consciences of those who embrace them.  The witness of history and Scripture is against this.  What begins as voluntary soon becomes established tradition and finally binding truth.  Whatever we give ourselves to we become slaves to (Roms 6:16).

It is little wonder Paul is so opposed.  He has great patience and sympathy with people who have been converted from legalistic religion.  He bears with weak consciences in Jewish converts who cannot feel free to eat certain meats etc.  He knows it can take time for these consciences to find their full freedom in the gospel (Roms 14,15).  Yet he is in no doubt that these consciences are ‘weak’.  They are not gospel-trained consciences fully aware of their freedom (from religious legalistic observances) in Christ.  However, while he bears with weak consciences, he has no patience for those who promote and teach the value of ritualism to others.  He is opposed to this root and branch and challenges any teaching that suggests or imposes such practices.  There is simply no freedom given in the NT to promote and champion Judaistic practices however ‘Christianized’.  The reality is, that there is no such thing as ‘Christianized’ Judaism (or at least the only version is its fulfilment and finish in Christ) only ‘Judaized’ Christianity.

Some of the above is contention I have not yet proved.  Let me regroup before engaging.

I am opposing religious calendars, man-made rules, and religious rites for holiness for two reasons:

  • because the NT nowhere recommends or suggests them for the life of godliness.
  • because the NT actually opposes them and suggests they deflect us from Christ.

I have made the case for my first contention, follow me as I now make the case more fully for my second contention: the NT actually opposes them and suggests they deflect from Christ.

colossians 2:1-3:4

The key NT text refuting calendars and man-made religious disciplines for holiness is Colossians 2/3.  I urge you to read this text carefully and prayerfully.  It is a clear and powerful criticism of all attempts to introduce religious ritualism into Christianity.  Below, I want to outline its main thrust and thesis.

christianity is christ

Paul’s central and vital point in this chapter  (and in Colossians as a whole) is that Christianity is essentially a relationship with Christ by faith.  Everything that matters is found in Christ alone.  Christ is supreme (Col 1:15-21).  God’s great revealed secret, hidden in the past (in OT events, figures etc) is Christ (2:2).  In Him, lie all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (2:3).  Further this revealed secret is that Christ lives in God’s people (1:27).  This union between Christ and his people is the sum of what the gospel and Christianity is all about.  As Paul writes,

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…

Living in our union with Christ is the be-all-and-end-all of Christianity.  We are ‘filled’  or ‘complete’ in Him, the one in whom God’s fullness dwells (2:9,10).  We have no more than Christ and need no more than Christ.  Indeed there is no more than Christ (Col 1:15-19).  Paul reminds us too that this union is a union of death and resurrection.  That is, to be united to Christ is to participate (by faith and through the Spirit) in the death and resurrection of Christ (2:8-11).  Like Christ we have died to this world (and so, as we shall see, to all its religious observances) and live in resurrection life to God.  Our ‘life is hid with Christ in God’ (Cols 3:3).  This means that Christ in heaven is the source, story and raison d’etre of our life.  We find and enjoy life as we set our affections on Christ in heaven.  As we put to death what is earthly (living for the things of this world as well as the sins of this world) and set our minds and hearts on the invisible world perceived only by faith we triumph in faith.  This, and this alone, enables us to grow in grace.  In this way alone ( looking to Christ in heaven and putting to death what is earthly) are we, ‘filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,  so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.’ (Col 1:9,10).

This is what it means to be ‘connected to the head’ (Cf 2:19).  To live other than by the faith union that puts to death what is earthy and lives by a heart absorbed with Christ in heaven is to fail to ‘hold fast to the head’ (2:19) and results in being ‘disqualified’ (2:8); or, in Galatian language,in being ‘severed from Christ’ (Gals 5:4).  It should be obvious that if we look elsewhere other than to Christ as the source of our life and power we are cutting the link of faith.   Only by a conscious living in, looking at, and living for Christ can we become ‘mature in Christ’ (Col 1:28).

false routes

Paul does not urge that the Colossians live in Christ in a vacuüm.  He writes because some were teaching otherwise.

Col 2:4 (ESV)
I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments...

syncretism

What precisely the Colossian heresy was need not concern us here.  Scholars delight in discussing such matters but rarely reach final conclusions.  In any case, the main components are clear and it is these that interest us.  It was a mixture of philosophy (2:8), mysticism (2:18) and Judaism (2:8, 11, 14, 16,17).  Singly, and as a whole Paul is opposed to these influences on Christian life and practice.  He says they ‘delude’ (2:4) for they are based on ‘plausible arguments’ (2:4).  They appear to promote sanctity (2:23) yet are merely ‘empty deceit… human tradition… elemental spirits of the world… having an appearance of wisdom… self-made religion… things on earth… not according to Christ’ and more  (Col 2:8, 20-23, 3:2).  Paul will have no syncretism of Christ and anything else.

Now, we should underline that what Paul is dismissing is not merely philosophy (what has Athens to do with Jerusalem) and mysticism (what has Eleusis to do with Jerusalem) but also Judaism or the Law (what has Sinai to do with Jerusalem, or better, the New Jerusalem ).  For many this dismissal of Law in Christianity is a bridge too far.  I confess, I do not really understand why.  Paul is consistent and clear in his proclamation that Christians are not ‘under law’ (Roms 6:15; 7:1-6; Gals 4:21; 5:18; 1 Cor 9:20).  While Christians can learn from the Old Covenant as we see how it points to Christ, we are in no way obligated to it.  It has no rights over us or claims upon us.  We are not called to obey it, nor to adopt it in any way.  In fact, we are told that there is a basic incompatibility between the forms of Judaistic Law and Gospel Christianity.  Jesus makes it clear that the gospel cannot be contained in the old forms of religion that belonged to law.

Mark 2:21-22 (ESV)
No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made. And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins-and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.” 

passé

This is vital to grasp.  Paul tells us the difference is profound; the law belongs to the old age and old world while the church belongs to the new age and new world.  It is those ‘alive in this world’ to whom the rules and regulations of law (moral, religious or otherwise) are of any relevance (Col 2:20). But Christians are not ‘alive’ in this world they have ‘died’ (2:11, 3:3) and they live in an age beyond this age and a world beyond this world.  They ought not to ‘submit’ (whether voluntarily or involuntarily) to regulations that belong to human religion (2:20) for they belong to an age which is passé.

earthly

This temporal distinction between the present and the future is tied into a spacial distinction between what is ‘earthly’ and what is ‘heavenly’ in Scripture.  This latter distinction is one that many modern evangelicals are reluctant to admit.  Yet it is clear and vital.  It is part of the distinction between the old and the new, the law and the gospel.  Jesus is ‘from above‘ and brings in a reality that is ‘from above’ (Jn 3:31; 8:23).  ‘Earthly’ things were revealed in the OT but as the one from heaven he reveals ‘heavenly things‘ (Jn 3:12).  Because he is from heaven he returns to heaven and on his return unites his people to him there.  We find our identity not in the earthly Adam but the heavenly Christ, not in the natural but the spiritual (1 Cor 15:45-49).  As a result we are a ‘heavenly people’ (Eph 1:20; 2:6) and our interests are to do with the realm where Christ our life is found (Gals 4:26; Col 3:1,2; Hebs 3:1; 11:6; 12:2).  The Law and its forms are ‘earthly’ and part of the elementary principles of ‘this world’.  They are merely an earthly copy or shadow of heavenly things (Hebs 8:5; 9:23). Thus they have nothing to do with the believer who is not ‘alive in this world’ but shares the resurrection life of Christ, a spiritual and heavenly life (Col 2:8-11).  This distinction is wrongly dismissed as dualistic and gnostic by some who should know better.  It is not.  It is the plain teaching of Scripture.  Ritual and rite are not merely passé but also unable to lift the soul above this world.  They cannot remove us from the realm of ‘flesh’.

fleshly, childish, enslaving, and inadequate

The law is Judaism. It belongs to the first creation, the earthly, the natural, this world.  It is called by Paul ‘the elemental spirits of the world’ (2:8).  Paul similarly describes the law in Galatians. He writes,

Gal 4:1-5 (ESV)

I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father. In the same way we also, when we were children, were enslaved to the elementary principles of the world. But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons.

His point is that Law, as a religion, functions much like a ‘disciplinarian’ or ‘nanny’.  These are hired to oversee children and in the past were expected to do so with firm discipline; they did not so much teach as control.  Law as the above text points out treated those under it as infants, as childish.

Although God-given, it was given to man in the ‘flesh’ (Roms 7:1-6; Gals 3:3; Cf Hebs 7:16; 9:13,14).  It was a ‘religion’ that attempted to curtail and curb human behaviour by external rules and religious regulations but it could dig no deeper.  It could not change hearts.  It could not give life (though it promised it for obedience) and it could not produce holiness.  When Israel was exiled the failure of law to influence flesh was proved.  This is why Paul says of law and all religion that is about undertaking rules, regulations, ritualistic restrictions that it are ‘of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh‘.  Mark these words well for they are very important.  However, holy and virtuously self-denying many rites and rituals seem to be THEY ARE OF NO VALUE IN PREVENTING THE INDULGENCE OF THE FLESH.   They may deny the body but they could not curb ‘the flesh’, that Adamic nature we have so opposed to God.  This is true of the rites not only of the law or Judaism but of every other religion.  In fact, from this perspective, Paul puts the Law or Judaism on the same level playing field as all other religions.  They all are elementary or rudimentary.  Paul tells the gentile Galatian believers who are being encouraged by Judaizers to embrace the Jewish Law that they would be as well going back to their old pagan religions for the law was no more effectual than they.

Gal 4:8-11 (ESV)
Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain. 

Let the force of this sink in.  In Galatians, Paul uses two plural pronoun groups, ‘we’ and ‘you’.  ‘We’ applies to Jewish believers and ‘you’ to gentile believers.  In Ch 4:1-5 he speaks of ‘we’.  We Jews, he observes, were enslaved to the law (the elemental principles of the world). In 4-8-11 the gentiles were enslaved to their false religions; however, if having being freed from these they now embrace the Law then this is tantamount to a return to their old religions; they are turning back to ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world’ and to slavery once again.  Paul’s comparison shocks and is intended so to do.

It is impossible to read Gals 3:21 – 4-11 and avoid the conclusion that those who submit (freely or otherwise) to the law and its ordinances are regressing to what is childish and enslaving.  They believe they are embracing something new and exciting, something progressive and fresh, something that may help them to be holy and godly, but actually they are embracing what is weak, worthless and inferior.  Satan’s sardonic irony as he deludes is keen.

Neither human philosophy nor religious mysticism, nor rites, nor ascetic practices enable us to grow in grace.  None enables us to know God.  It’s no good claiming that these regulations were Jewish rather than Christian rules and regulations.  Jewish regulations and rites were God-ordained religious observances (indeed the only God-ordained ones) and pointed to Christ but they were merely shadows not the substance (2:17).  The substance was Christ.  If we want shadows of the gospel rather than the substance then Jewish ceremonies is the way to go.  None we invent improves on those God gave.  But Paul’s criticism is not of this or that particular liturgical calendar.  It is not specific Jewish days, months and sabbaths to which he objects (though sabbaths clearly shows these were law-based since none but Jews had sabbaths).  It is not certain diets and ascetic techniques he objected to.  He objects to the whole methodology per se.  The methodology was passé, earth-bound, childish,enslaving and inadequate.  Methodologically these rituals were of no value in preventing the indulgence of the flesh.  Indeed, they did the very thing that was the problem – they focussed on the flesh.  Law in any shape or form does not deny flesh, it excites it and promotes it (Roms 7).

Law and all human religion focus on the flesh and have confidence in it (Phil 3:3,4)  This is Paul’s constant criticism of the Judaizers.  They focussed on flesh, whether its status (Phil 3:2-5) or its performance (Phil 3:6).  Circumcision (the symbol of the Judaizers) was all about the flesh (Phil 3:2; Gals 6:12).  For Paul, circumcision epitomised the flesh because it was circumcision of the body and not the heart.  It is what a man did to himself and for himself.  In this circumcision was an appropriate symbol of law which was essentially a covenant of works, of human achieving.  The gospel, by contrast, is ‘circumcision without hands‘ that is, it is by and of God not man (Col 2:11).  The circumcision of the gospel happens at the cross when we die with Christ to the law and its ordinances (Col 2:14).   It is an act of God that removes all human involvement and so all human boasting.

We need to see that self-denial programmes of ‘touch not, taste not and handle not’ are fusty and futile.  The Law and Judaism was full of such prohibitions at certain times in the religious calendar yet they did no good whatever; the nation that had the law crucified its Messiah.  Indeed, Messiah himself teaches that it is not what goes into a man (the food he chooses to eat or not to eat) that defiles but what comes out of his heart (Matt 15:1-20).

Artificially imposed times and programmes of repentance and ascetic self-denial and the like all focus on self.   If we succeed they puff us up with pride and if we fail we feel defeated.   Nowadays they tend to be about giving up chocolates or alcohol or some other luxury related to the body.  For those more serious about their faith they may mean self-imposed severe bodily deprivation.  But whether the dilettante denials of the modern evangelical or the more serious denials of the older ascetics the result is the same – no effect in restraining the indulgence of the flesh, merely a means of focus on it (Cols 2:23).  Flesh (fallen human nature) loves to act piously (and to be seen to do so either by others or self).  It loves to appear humble and focus on its achievements, religious or otherwise. So rather than subduing the flesh these ‘ordinances’ satisfy the flesh. Thus they are not merely passé, earth-bound, infantile and futile, but counter-productive.  In addition,and perhaps most damning of all, they utterly fail to come to terms with the position of a believer in Christ.   Those who promote them have not grasped that growth in holiness is not by looking at self and undertaking various ascetic disciplines but by looking away from self and focussing on an exalted reigning Christ.

christianity is christ

What draws me away from the world and focus on self is not my body on earth but Christ in heaven.  As I love him, look at him, live in him (and he in me) then I have the power to put to death what is earthly.  It is the expulsive power of a new affection.  Christ, and only Christ, is our wisdom, justification, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor 1:29).  Holding fast to the head is the only means of grace (Col 2:19).  The moment I put something else between, whatever shape this may assume, I am not holding fast to the head.  The hallmark of the ‘true circumcision’ is simply this- ‘it rejoices in Jesus Christ and makes no provision for the flesh‘ (Phil 3:3).  The question for all of us is simply, is Christ all?.  If Christ is not all then there is no maturity, only flesh.  Fathers in the faith (the spiritually mature) are recognised by this – they ‘know him who is from the beginning’ (1 John 2:14).  Paul’s cry of spiritual maturity is for Christ and yet more of Christ (Phil 3:8-16).  He did not want types and shadows, rules and religious observances; he wanted Christ.  He recognised in Christ he had everything and without him he had nothing.  The heart of a believer is satisfied and enraptured only by Christ.  In him, we have, ‘all things that pertain to life and godliness‘ (2 Pet 1:3).  Toplady is one among many who has expressed this in hymn.

Compared with CHRIST, in all beside
No comeliness I see;
The one thing needful, dearest LORD,
Is to be one with Thee.
Whatever else Thy will withholds,
Here grant me to succeed!
O let Thyself my portion be,
And I am blest indeed!
 
Loved of my GOD, for Him again
With love intense I burn;
Chosen of Thee ere time began,
I choose Thee in return!
Less than Thyself will not suffice
My comfort to restore;
More than Thyself I cannot have;
And Thou canst give no more.

to summarise

Allow me to once again briefly regroup.

Liturgical calendars with their special seasons and ceremonies are not progress but regress.  They represent a spiritual nose-dive.  Far from maturing, they are a regression to the childish and enslaving.  They do not lead to Christ but detract from Christ.  They are for those in the flesh and not life in the Spirit.  They limit our horizon to earth and do not raise our gaze to heaven.  I have every sympathy for believers raised in churches where Judaistic rites and rituals are taught.  Their consciences should be sensitively considered.  However, I have little sympathy with those who should know better.  I have little patience for evangelicals who have been free of such bondage yet now in the conceit of what they fondly call Christian freedom wish to promote and encourage what is weak and enslaving.  Such teaching receives stiff opposition from Paul (Col 2) and ought to be opposed by all who love freedom in Christ.

Let me say again that freedom in Christ does not mean freedom to worship as we please. Freedom in Christ is freedom to worship in spirit and truth.  It is freedom to live in Christ not shadows. There are forms of worship that are neither helpful nor appropriate for they lead us away from Christ; they disconnect us with the head.  They do not lead us into freedom in Christ but into slavery.  Such forms are neither commanded, commended nor condoned by the NT (Col 2).  That some who profess to be teachers of God’s people do not see this is culpably irresponsible.  We may rightly ask them as Jesus did Nicodemus: are you a teacher in Israel and do not know this?

My heart-felt appeal to my brothers and sisters in Christ is – do not be ‘bewitched’ by them.

a final comment

What then are we to make of fasting?  Doesn’t the NT promote fasting?  And for that matter, what about baptism and the Lord’s Supper?  Are not these ordinances?  These are good questions and I hope to address them.  But not in this post.  This post is already far too long.  I will try to address these questions in the next post.  For the moment, let me say simply this: whatever our questions, don’t allow these to undermine or relativize the plain NT teaching we have explored so far.  To exhort in a specific context: do not choke the living flame of the gospel with the Lenten ashes of Judaism.

16
Feb
12

the samaritan, the law, and grace

We are all, I guess, familiar with the parable of ‘the good Samaritan’.  If we were asked its point we would probably say it illustrates ‘neighbourliness’.  And we would be right.  Jesus says as much in his punchline question.  Here is Luke’s record of the parable.

Luke 10:25-37 (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.”  But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.” 

But there is more going on in this parable than a simple definition of neighbourliness.  Jesus’ interrogator was a lawyer, an exponent of Jewish Law.  For him the Law was everything. Eternal life was earned by law-keeping (and so his question… what must I do…).  The Law, he knew, required love for God and neighbour; it said ‘this do and live’.  And Jesus agrees, it does.  The lawyer then does what all do who try to avoid responsibility before hard facts; he asks an evasive question, ‘who is my neighbour’.  Perhaps he already saw the impossibility of law-keeping.  Certainly this is the first conclusion to which the parable narrative leads.

Those who boast in the law do not keep the Law.  Both the priest and the Levite (two of the main products, exponents and models of the Law in Israel) show no mercy or compassion to the injured man.  Law does not make men compassionate and neighbourly.  Laws, institutions, and commands could not produce neighbourliness.  For sure, the priest and Levite knew they ought to help, but didn’t.  Mere law never produces a compassionate heart and so could never lead to eternal life.  Do this and live is a counsel of despair for sinners.  The Law merely exposes sin it does not lead to obedience.

So how does the narrative progress?  Does Jesus instead call for faith in him?  Sometimes he does, but not in this instance.  Instead he indicates the only route through which ‘neighbour-love’ is achieved and it is completely apart from law.  He introduces a character who had nothing to do with the law – a Samaritan.  He is ‘moved with compassion’ and does all that is needed for the half-dead man.  And he is impressing that only grace at work in a human heart will produce neighbour-love.  The Samaritan does not know the Law but he has the heart of God.  For God is compassionate and merciful.  Grace has given him the life of God in his soul and so he loves and acts.  He doesn’t ask if the injured man deserves help.  He doesn’t ask if he has an obligation to help.  Love simply sees the need and reaches out to help.  This is the power of grace in the heart.  Whatever the need grace sees it and reaches out to help.

Law simply makes the heart look for excuses; it asks legalistic questions like ‘who is my neighbour’.   It looks for ways to do the bare minimum.  Law gives no desire, no love, no motivation, no power.  Grace, however, renews the heart and gives motive and strength.  Grace creates a heart that loves as God loves.  Grace bestows what law demands but can never achieve.  Eternal life is a product of grace: it is not the result of neighbour-love but results in neighbour-love.  It is those who are renewed in grace by the Spirit who fulfil ‘the just requirement of the Law’(Roms 8:1-4).

Finally, it would be a mistake to drag into this parable what it is not addressing.  Jesus’ is not saying here that any who show kindness to another are Christians.  This is simply not the issue of the conversation.  His point is simply the redundancy of Law as a means of neighbour-love and the primacy of grace.

Of course, the true revelation of grace, the true ‘good Samaritan’, is Jesus.  He is the only Son of the Father, full of grace and truth.  He was God revealed in flesh, in compassion and goodness, and what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God has done through Jesus (Roms 8).  Jesus fulfils the Law but he is much more than the Law.  He is the heart of God revealed in grace healing the sick, freeing the prisoners, enabling the blind to see, binding up the broken-hearted, preaching good news to the poor (Isa 61).  He will reach out in love to the needy not because he must, or because they deserve it, but because this is how grace acts.  It is while we were sinners and without strength Christ died for the ungodly (Roms 5).  Grace sees the need and acts.

Grace alone makes ‘good Samaritans’ and makes them of all God’s people.

26
Nov
11

works of law and works of grace

In a recent blog I argued that Christianity is all grace.  The OT Law, by contrast, was a covenant of works.   It did not function on the premise of grace or faith but human achieving.  Paul makes this crystal clear in Galatians.

Gal 3:10-14 (ESV)
For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 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.

And this is no isolated verse, though if it were it would be sufficient.  Other texts reveal the same teaching (Deut 27:26; Lev 18:5; Ezek 20:11; Roms 10:5; Lk 10:25-28). I underline this for many attempt to tell us, in the face of ample and clear biblical witness, that Law was a covenant of grace.  Emphatically, not so.

The simple fact is that the Mosaic Law was a covenant of works depending for its success on a righteousness achieved by man rather than a righteousness given by God; obedience brought blessing and life while disobedience brought curse and death.  It proved to be an abysmal failure leading ultimately to the curse of exile.  Thus, OT hope, realising the weakness of the OC, looked to a future when God himself would ‘work righteousness’ (Ps 103:6; Jer 51:10; Isa 33:5, 45:8) and ‘bring salvation’ (Isa 46:1).  This future salvation arrives of course in Messiah (Lk 1:67-80, 2:29-32, 19:9; Acts 13:23-51).  Today, is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6:2; 1 Pet 1:10).  Now is the realisation (at least in part) of the eschatological (end-time) salvation (1 Pet 1:10), righteousness (Roms 1:16-18), faith ( Gals 3:23, 25), and grace (Jn 1;17; 1 Pet 1:10; Tit 2:11) which the OT anticipated.  The Law may well have come through Moses but grace and truth comes through Jesus Christ (Jn 1:17).  Christianity is Christ and Christ is grace.

So stark and clear-cut is this contrast between old covenant law-works and new covenant gospel-grace that Paul can write:

Rom 4:4-5 (ESV)
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift [or, not counted as of grace] but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness

Rom 11:6 (ESV)
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

and again

2Tim 1:9 (ESV)
who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began.

Law and Christ are different in principle.  Now it is just at this point that the question arises: does this mean that there are no ‘works’ that are expected (even demanded) of a Christian?  Has the gospel no obligations?  If God saves me by grace can I live as I like (Roms 6:1)?  Paul’s answer is ‘God forbid’  (Roms 6:2).

And it is as well we hear this apostolic consternation and denunciation and grasp it, for some Christians in their zeal to say that ‘works’ have no place in the Christian gospel go quite wrong at this point.  In their well-intentioned effort to maintain the biblical distinction between ‘law and grace” or ‘works and faith’ they teach ‘doing or works’  is always law and ‘done and faith’ are always gospel; works, they say, have nothing to do with gospel.  This, however well motivated, is a false dichotomy.  It is not the biblical paradigm.  Paul clearly expects the gospel to produce righteous living (Roms 6).  Paul’s opposition is not to ‘works’ per se, but to ‘law-works’.  And by ‘law-works’ he means specifically the ‘works’ of the Mosaic Covenant and more generally ‘works’ that rest on the same premise as this covenant.  And the premise is all important.  The ‘law-works’ Paul opposes are those that are undertaken as a means of gaining a righteousness before God that will merit eternal life.  The Mosaic Law offered life through righteousness achieved (this do and live).  And it did so by demanding obedience but offering no grace to obey.  It laid the responsibility firmly on unaided humanity, humanity ‘in the flesh’.

The Law ever assumes man in the flesh; life is not the starting point of the Law, it is the goal (Lev 18:5; Gals 3:10-14; Roms 7:14; Cf. Gals 3:3).  However, that which ‘promised life’ brought only death, for flesh, to which law was addressed, could not and would not obey (Roms 7:9-11) indeed the Law simply provoked flesh to sin all the more (Roms 7:5, 7-9).  Thus, Paul asserts:

Rom 3:20 (ESV)
For by works of the law no human being (better, ‘flesh’) will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

Thus, the ‘works’ that Paul condemns and opposes are works that proceed on the basis of human nature seeking by its own righteousness to inherit (merit) eternal life.  Such are ‘the works of the law’.  When by my own ‘goodness’ I seek to gain a place in heaven, my ‘goodness’ is mere worthless ‘law-works’.  When I think I can ‘earn’ or ‘merit’  or ‘gain’ God’s favour by my own efforts, or believe I can somehow work my passage to heaven, I am attempting to ‘justify myself’ and  ‘trusting in myself’ before God.  I am looking for a way to put God in my debt (Roms 4:4).  And God will have none of it.  Quite apart from the futility of any efforts by me to achieve the righteousness God’s glory requires (Roms 3:23) God will simply not allow any man to have a basis for boasting before him (1 Cor 1:29; Roms 3:27; Phil 3:3).  And so we read:

Eph 2:8-10 (ESV)
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Yet, note carefully, this very text, which excludes all ‘works’ from salvation and insists instead that we are God’s ‘workmanship’ goes on toobserve that those saved by grace through faith are ‘created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them’.   ‘Good works’ are the very substance of the life that God has mapped out for those saved by grace.  And this text in Ephesians is by no means an isolated reference to the ‘good works’ of the believer.  Even if we limit our scan of the NT to the specific phrase ‘good works’ we find it is demanded and designated of Christians no less than twelve times (Acts 9:36; 1 Tim 2:10,5:10,5:25, 6:18; Tit 1:16, 2:7,14, 3:8,14; Hebs 10:24; 1 Pet 2:12).  Now, these are not ‘works’ that are dismissed and denounced but ‘works’ that are decreed and demanded.  In a word, these are not ‘law-works’ but ‘gospel-works’.  They are not ‘dead’ works of the flesh but the living fruit of the Spirit (Cf Acts 13:2).  They are ‘works of faith’ (Cf. Gals 5:6; 1 Thess 1:3; 2 Thess 1:11; Jas 2:18,22).  That is, they are ‘grace-works’ (2 Cor 9:8; Acts 14:28; Eph 3:7).  Once again Paul expresses clearly what ‘grace-works’ are:

1Cor 15:10 (ESV)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

The differences between ‘works of the law’ and ‘works of grace’ now become obvious: law-works find their source in man whereas grace-works find their source in God; law-works base their hope in man whereas grace-works base their hope in God; law-works seek to gain life through works whereas grace-works express a life already possessed by grace; law-works have life as their goal while grace-works have life as their ground; law-works seek to earn salvation while grace-works seek to express salvation; law-works are our workings to impress God whereas grace-works are God working in us to please him.

The differences between the two are as wide as eternity.  One works for salvation and the other works from salvation.  In one the source is man and his arrogance and in the other the source is God and his grace.  One damns and the other saves.

Allow me, in conclusion, to make one final important observation.  We can only produce ‘grace-works’ if we stand entirely confident in our justification by grace through faith.  If our ‘works’ do not arise from the assurance that we are God’s children being simply the faith-response of gratitude to grace, then our ‘works’ will inevitably be law-works; if they not arise from the assurance of standing in grace then they must inevitably arise from an attempt to earn that standing.  To make the same point in another way: if we do not stand strong in our initial justification by grace through faith then our fitting justification by works (Jas 2), that is grace-works, will collapse into a  false justification by law (Gals 5:4) that is, law-works’; we will be ‘severed’ from grace (Gals 5:4)

Christianity is Christ and Christ is the gospel of grace.  Christianity is grace from first to last, including ‘grace-works’.

22
Nov
11

the church and fellowship after the apostolic age (2) the apostasy of the church from grace

My contention is that the apostasy of the Christian Church, already underway before the demise of the apostles, led to the Judaizing of the church – a tendency already present during the lives of the apostles.  The NT church was plagued by both Jewish (Judaistic) and gentile (Greco-Roman) notions from early days.  Many of the NT letters are attacks these very diseases.   In fact, Judaism and Greco-Roman faiths had some principles in common which is why Paul was able to say to gentile believers ready to adopt Judaistic practices that this was simply a return to the ‘weak and beggarly elements’ of religious bondage and death they had left behind.

Gal 4:8-11 (ESV)
Formerly, when you [gentiles without the covenants of promise] did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more [the OT Mosaic Law, Judaism, they were being encouraged to embrace]? You observe days and months and seasons and years! I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

What then are the ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world‘ that the church were tempted to adopt, and in time did, in abundance?

I want to sketch over a few posts three areas of Judaistic recidivism now institutionalised in the professing church.

a)    a Judaistic soteriology

b)    a Judaistic ecclesiology

c)    a Judaistic eschatology

Let me say, these posts will but scrape the surface.  You will need to read and reflect much further to grasp the extent to which the Church has capitulated to a Judaizing apostasy.  It is a journey of discovery that is unpalatable for it shakes our complacency. Often, when the choice is between living in our comfortable and cosy theological world and the messy world of hard truth we choose the former.   We don’t like to think just how far removed our church experience is from NT Christianity for it requires adjustment and that is often painful.  So before reading on I would say to you as Morpheus says to Nero in the film ‘The Matrix’ :

‘This is your last chance. After this, there is no turning back. You take the blue pill – the story ends, you wake up in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill – you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes.’

To read on is at least to flirt with the red pill.

But first…

the gospel of the grace of god

Christianity is a wonderful story.  It is the story of grace.  It is the story of the grace of God revealed in Jesus Christ.  In fact, the whole biblical story anticipates this grace (1 Pet 1:10).  Yahweh (the Lord) who reveals himself to Israel in the OT is merciful and gracious.

Exod 34:6-7 (ESV)
The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”

His grace is evident among his people throughout the OT.  However, in the arrival of Jesus and the Kingdom, God’s  grace flows as never before.   John tells us ‘the Law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ – an implied contrast surely cannot be avoided.

In the Law, the glory of God was hidden behind a curtain in the Holy of Holies.  No ordinary Israelite could look on this glory and live.  Thus Moses hid his face (which shone with this glory) when he came down from the mountain.  Only the High Priest could enter into God’s Holy presence and see his glory and he could only do so once a year (and only with blood) and even then the Holiest was thick with the smoke of incense and his vision was faint.   God was among his people but essentially hidden from them.  One reason for this was that God’s glory under Law was essentially the glory of his holiness and grace was not to the fore.  Thus Sinai, which lays the basic character of the Law relationship, was a place of thick darkness, thundering, lightning, and terror – the people were afraid to draw near and forbidden to draw near (Ex 19; 20:18; 34:30; Hebs 12:18-21).

It is in Christ that God is revealed in the brilliance of grace and truth.  The Word became flesh and ‘tabernacled’ among us.  We beheld his glory, says John, the glory of the only Son of the Father full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14).  The hidden God is now revealed.  And of his fulness we have all received, grace upon grace (Jn 1:15).  The heart of God that moves out in love, compassion and salvation to sinners is seen in all its glory in Jesus Christ.  The gracious God – the God who is Father – is revealed in him.  We know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ that though he was rich he became poor that we through his poverty may be made rich (2 Cor 8:9).

In his flesh, he revealed the glory of God but, ironically, if there was any veil to this glory, it was this flesh.  While he lived in this life on earth the way into the ‘holiest’ (the immediate presence of God) was not open to us.  But through his death all this change.  We now have access into the immediate and majestically holy presence of God.  We enter with confidence, anywhere and at any time, the Throne Room of God.  We stand as creatures before his aw(e)ful purity and, beyond all belief, we do so without fear of expulsion, without fear of death, without fear of condemnation or accusation; we are holy and without blame before him in love (Eph 1:3).

Facing God in the filthy rags of our own self-righteousness, the way of  Judaism and human religion (though Judaism did acknowledge sacrifice and grace albeit as an adjunct to a relationship of works) is an impossible thing,  fearful and futile.  We are crushed and condemned if we seek to face him this way.  Our conscience immediately accuses us and we ‘tremble to die’.   If heaven and earth flee and there is found no place for them before the holiness of God on his throne what hope has a wretched sinner?  I cannot stand before God on the ground of responsibility – if I do, I am lost.  ‘I’ is a weak link that will collapse before intractable righteousness and all-seeing eyes.  No, if I am to be in God’s presence I must be there on another ground altogether.   I need the righteousness of grace (Roms 3:24), the righteousness of God that comes through  the infinite worth of the atoning life-blood sacrifice of Jesus Christ God’s Son which cleanses me from all sin.  I need to be there knowing that God is for me, and if God is for me who can be against me.  It is God who justifies (not, who judges, but who justifies) who then can condemn (Roms 8)?

In God’s presence the only righteousness that is acceptable is his own.  And so Christ was made sin for us, he who knew no sin that we might become the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor 5:21).  We stand as those whose sin no longer exists – without conscience of sins (Hebs 10:2).  We are without stain, a new creation.  We stand pure, justified, forgiven by virtue of his blood… justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Roms 3:24) and it is by faith that it may rest on grace (Roms 4:16).  Blood that gives more than a merely superficial, ceremonial, temporary cleansing but cleanses the conscience forever and brings us faultless into the presence of God.

Heb 9:11-26 ;10:19 (ESV)
But when Christ appeared… he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. For if the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to serve the living God… 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… he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself… Therefore, brothers we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh…’

All rests on grace.  And if it is grace it is no longer by works or grace would not be grace (Roms 11:6).  Being justified by faith we have peace with God and stand in grace (Roms 5:2).  We need no  further redemption, justification, sacrifice, or reconciliation before God.   All has been accomplished, once for all, by Christ’s death, a death that by the grace of God he experienced for every man (Hebs 2:9).  Our sins and iniquities God will remember no more forever.  We have been enriched in him with every salvation blessing out of the riches of God’s grace in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:7) – the God, who is the God of all grace (1 Pet 5:10) .  By grace we have been saved, and that not of ourselves, not of works [of Law] lest any man should boast (Eph 2:8,9).  God’s throne has become for us a throne of grace where we find grace (Hebs 4:16).  Indeed, we have, by immeasurable grace, been raised with Christ and find ourselves not merely standing in God’s presence, but seated there; seated with Christ in heavenly places (Eph 1).  We have been chosen by grace  (Roms 11:6) not merely to be forgiven sinners but to become family members, sons of God and co-heirs with Christ (Roms 8).  And all is of grace.  Our security and salvation rests on the reliability of grace for we are not ‘under law’ but ‘under grace’ (Roms 6:10).  We live in ‘the reign of grace’ (Roms 5:21).  Through the one man, Christ Jesus, ‘we receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness’ and ‘reign in life’ (Roms 5:17).  The invincible and inexhaustible grace of God in Christ is the source and guarantee of everything.

We can be sure, if all rests on grace, not only of forgiveness and filial relationship but also of freedom.  Freedom from all that destroys and enslaves.  We are no longer in bondage to sin because we are no longer under law but under the rule of grace (Roms 6:10; Cf Gals 5:1).   The Law of Moses could not bring this freedom.  In fact it only accentuated our slavery to sin and death (Acts 13:39; Roms 7).  It made demands that none could keep and that fallen human nature rebelled against.  Indeed to be ‘under grace’ is to be ‘free from law’, the only way to produce fruit for God (Roms 7:1-6).  It is God’s all-powerful all-enabling grace (not law) that has appeared in Christ to all men that is ‘ training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in m the present age waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (Tit 2:11,12).

All we are and ever will be rests solely on the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10).  His providing grace is sufficient, indeed more than sufficient, for our every requirement (2 Cor 9:8,14, 12:9; Jas 4:6).   If God did not spare his Son but gave him up for us all will he not along with him graciously give us all things (Roms 8:32).  Every skill and calling we have is a gift of grace (1 Cor 3:10; Eph 4:7; Roms 12:6).  Our salvation is to the praise of God’s grace, and to that grace alone (Eph 1:6).  The gospel is grace from first to last.  All is from God.

And there are immeasurable depths to the riches of this grace that only eternity will reveal (Eph 2:7).  Thus we live, growing in grace and the knowledge of our Lord Jesus (2 Pet 3:18) having our hearts strengthened presently by the grace that is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2:1: Hebs 13:9) and our hope set fully on the grace that is to be ours at the revelation of Jesus Christ (1 Pet 1:13). The gospel, in entirety, is the good news of the triumph of grace.  It is intoxicating, glorious, heady, liberating wine for the soul.

As usual classic hymns capture the heart of the apostolic gospel so well.  John Newton exults in the triumph of grace when he writes

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found;
Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed!

Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
’Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home.

And so too does Philip Doddridge in his eulogy of grace

Grace, ’tis a charming sound,
Harmonious to mine ear;
Heaven with the echo shall resound,
And all the earth shall hear.

Grace first contrived the way
To save rebellious man;
And all the steps that grace display
Which drew the wondrous plan.

Grace first inscribed my name
In God’s eternal book;
’Twas grace that gave me to the Lamb,
Who all my sorrows took.

Grace led my roving feet
To tread the heavenly road;
And new supplies each hour I meet,
While pressing on to God.

Grace taught my soul to pray
And made mine eyes o’erflow;
’Twas grace which kept me to this day,
And will not let me go.

Grace all the work shall crown,
Through everlasting days;
It lays in heaven the topmost stone,
And well deserves the praise.

O let Thy grace inspire
My soul with strength divine
My all my powers to Thee aspire,
And all my days be Thine.

Such is the gospel of the grace of God, the word and grace of God in truth (Col 1:6) by which the Church of God has been called (Gals 1:6), made a partaker (Phil 1:7), and with which it is entrusted as with a precious deposit (Acts 20:24; 1 Cor 9:17; Eph 3:2; 1 Tim 1:4; 2 Tim 1:8-14).  The gospel to which Peter referred when he wrote his first letter and urged:

1 Pet 5:12 (ESV)
I have written briefly to you, exhorting and declaring that this is the true grace of God. Stand firm in it.

When we begin to grasp the dimensions of grace in the gospel we understand the dismay, grief and anger of Paul when this gospel began to be subverted by Judaizing teachers and the faith of God’s people established in grace was being shaken, defected and potentially lost.  Listen to his words to the Galatian believers

Gal 1:6-9 (ESV)
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel- not that there is another one, but there are some who trouble you and want to distort the gospel of Christ. But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to the one we preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed.

Elsewhere he will say of those Judaizers that they are ‘dogs’ (an abuse rich in ironic intent for it was usually reserved by Jews for gentiles Phil 3:2 Cf. Mk 7:27) and wishes that they would ‘emasculate themselves’ (Gals 5:12).  He hates what they teach for it ‘severs’ from Christ those who believe it (Gals 5:4).

What did the Judaizers (often called, the circumcision) teach?  Simply put, yet truly, they taught that the grace of God in Christ was not enough added to it must be the Law of Moses.  They taught salvation in Christ plus Moses or salvation by grace plus works.    The very covenant of death that Christ had come in grace to deliver from and render obselete they wanted to reinstate, to rehabilitate.  Their teaching is a lethal virus that has invaded the church ever since in one form or another.  Tragically, the story of the professing church is all too often one of Christ plus Law for the flesh (self) cannot endure grace.  Grace exalts man, even to divine glory and divine excellency, but it sets aside self wholly.  Thus flesh neither trusts grace nor tolerates it.  Flesh always wants to glory in flesh and cannot bear exclusion.   Flesh demands that something in my salvation must be my accomplishment – the predicate of all human religion.    And, all too often it is the flesh and not the Spirit that has been heeded in the institutional church resulting inevitably in an apostate church – a church that is fallen from grace (Gal 5:4).

We shall explore this in the next post in this series: a Judaistic soteriology.

In the meantime…

The grace of our Lord Jesus be with your spirit (Roms 16:20; 1 Cor 16:23; 2 Cor 13:14; Gals 6:18… the benediction at the end of most Pauline letters).

13
Nov
11

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).’

25
Oct
11

the obedient life of christ was not vicarious

I know we should not use the weakest expression of a position to criticise it.  I know it is easy to knock straw men.  The following example is both.  However, it is a view that I hear echoed regularly online; it may be a weak expression of a belief but it is certainly a prevalent one.  Here’s the quotation:

‘The believer is lukewarm, his/her Saviour was consumed by zeal. The believer is prayerless, but Christ continued all night in prayer to God. The believer is sluggish in obedience, but Christ delighted to do the will of the Father. All this and more – he is our peace, he is our wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption – when the law comes asking for obedience, believers can point to the Substitute in their law place.’

This is a belief founded on the view that the life of Christ is vicariously ours.  We are told that Christ’s active obedience to the law is our righteousness before God.  His death is not enough to declare us righteous, we also need an ‘active’ righteousness, a life lived.  I have tackled some of the better expressions of this position elsewhere in detail, here I am simply observing the absurdity of a popular expression of ‘imputed active obedience’.

I hope the absurdity of the quotation is obvious to all.  A Christian woman fails to dress modestly but Jesus dressed modestly on her behalf!  Is the corollary true?  I am not a good father and as Christ was never married he cannot have kept the law for me in this area.   The whole line of reasoning is monstrously inappropriate.  Christ’s life does not cover every situation believers over the ages have found themselves in an provide a corresponding ‘law-keeping’ for our ‘law-breaking’.  Yes indeed, Christ has glorified God in a life lived entirely in obedience.  Yes this life was necessary for our justification for the justifying death of Christ required a perfect sacrifice; the value of the death is in the life.  But it is not his life that atones but his death.  In the law the sacrifices that atoned were blood sacrifices.  Scripture could not be clearer:

Lev 17:11 (ESV)
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.

Without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins.  Substitution lay in a death died not a life lived.  Consequently, we are said to be justified by Christ’s blood but never by his life (other than his life in resurrection which is something different).  The Law demands death for the law-breaker.  No amount of law-keeping by another can make a guilty man righteous.  Christ is my substitute by taking that death upon himself.  He took the curse of a broken law and so redeemed me from the law.  If I live now, I live on the other side of death in a resurrected Christ.  I stand in his righteous position before the Father.  It is a position that is beyond law and not answerable to law.

The great tragedy of this emphasis on IAO is that it takes atonement away from the cross and places it at the incarnation.  Notice how the writer finds his peace in Christ’s life rather than his death: ‘when the law comes asking for obedience, believers can point to the Substitute in their law place.’  The glory of the cross is occluded.  Yet in heaven the song of the redeemed is to the lamb, the one who has purchased men to God by his blood’.  It is at the cross that substitution takes place (Isa 53).  There redemption is accomplished (Roms 3).  It is Christ lifted up who draws all men to him.  The cross is the place of propitiation and where God’s righteousness in salvation is displayed (Roms 3).  It is in being justified by his blood we have peace with God (Roms 5:1).  We are reconciled to God through the death of his son (Roms 5:10; Col 1:10).  It is on the cross he suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he may bring us to God.  In the words of an old hymn concerning the cross:

Bearing shame and scoffing rude
In my place condemned he stood
Sealed my pardon with his blood
Hallelujah, what a Saviour.
 

The lesson for us all is – let the Bible speak and not theological constructs.  When we adopt constructs and then extrapolate on them, we end up with positions that are risible.  Moreover, it seems to be a rule that the construct eventually supplants the truth.

13
Sep
11

luther and law

I have come to understand Luther’s view of Law as law= imperative.  This is  the view promulgated by many online lutherans and indeed by WestCal representatives.  Apparently it was not Luther’s view.  Jono Linebaugh has a very helpful and illuminating post on Tullian Tchividjian’s blog discussing Luther’s view of Law.  Well worth the read.  It seems to expose as myth the view that Luther taught all imperatives are ‘law’.  It can be found here.

29
Aug
11

the love of law and the love of grace

The Law of Moses demanded love.  Love was a fulfilling of the law.  And so, we are told this love which the law demanded is the love which as Christians we should reflect.  But is this so?  It is true that the heart of the commandment was love for God and neighbour.  And it is true that Christians, living and lead by the Spirit fulfil this demand of the law.  But is the love that the Spirit creates in the heart of a believer no more than the law demanded?

Let me address the question from another angle.  Is the love that caused Christ to lay down his life on the cross no more than what the law demanded of a man?  Was dying on the cross a duty the law imposed on Christ?  Was Christ merely dying as a legal duty?  I hope the question answers itself.

The love of Christ in dying on the cross was far above mere legal obligation.  The cross was not the result of legal obligation but of the gracious forgiving heart of God.  It was a love motivated by love for the undeserving, for those what had no claim upon that love at all.  God commends his love towards us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.  The cross was not duty love to God and neighbour prescribed by law but the lavish love of free grace that goes beyond anything that duty can ever demand.  The law never demanded that a man lay down his life for another, far less that a perfect man die (rather, it demanded that he live).  As one writer has said,

‘God’s love, as specially known and commended to us, has its excellency therein that there was no motive, no claim, no worthy object, but, on the contrary, an utterly unworthy object.’

Legal love is based (as all law must be) on the premise of a claim.  A relationship exists that demands certain behaviour.  But the love of God displayed in Christ had no such claim.  We had no claim for we were enemies in our minds by wicked works.    It is grace, completely unmerited and without any relationship duty (other than upholding the promise to save) that motivated Christ who was rich to become poor.  It was not the constraint of law but of grace, the grace of God, that led him to taste death for every man;  the law came by Moses but grace and truth through Jesus Christ.

And it is this grace-love that we as NT believers are called to emulate.

Eph 4:32 (ESV)
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. 

1Pet 2:18-23 (ESV)
Servants, be subject to your masters with all respect, not only to the good and gentle but also to the unjust. For this is a gracious thing, when, mindful of God, one endures sorrows while suffering unjustly. For what credit is it if, when you sin and are beaten for it, you endure? But if when you do good and suffer for it you endure, this is a gracious thing in the sight of God. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly.

John 13:34 (ESV)
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

John 15:12-14 (ESV)
“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.

1John 3:16 (ESV)
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for the brothers.

Rom 12:14 (ESV)
Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.

Matt 5:43-48 (ESV)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect. 

All these exhortations to godliness go beyond legal rights – they arise from gospel grace.  They assume knowing a Father who is kind to the just and unjust and a God who has forgiven us in Christ.  Christ’s ‘new commandment’ is ‘new’ because it calls for love of another kind – love that loves as Christ loved, a love that gave himself up for others.  In  none of these is the call to love based on a legal obligation.  It could not for each calls for behaviour that is beyond the mere duty of human relationships.  Law-love is what we owe as creatures – grace-love is what we show as sons of a Father, it is love that loves for its own sake quite apart from rights and duty.  It is love that loves because he first loved us and love that loves as he first loved us.

2Thess 3:5 (ESV)
May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. 

27
Aug
11

the justification/sanctification debate and a biblical voice

I have been following the debate over at the Gospel Coalition Website on the relationship between justification and sanctification.  At the heart lies the place of the law in  the Christian life.  This link (here) should get you started if you are interested.  There is a lot of confusion in some Reformed and Reformed/Lutheran quarters about this topic as I have indicated in a previous post.  The most recent contributions have been by Mike Horton who is, I am afraid, hopelessly at sea in his understanding of law and its relationship to the Christian and so ends up with a bit of a dog’s breakfast for an argument (see here and here).  His basic problem is that his thinking is controlled by confessions and not Scripture.   However, in all this confusion I want to recommend a blog post that gets it just right.  John Starke’s post (here) is a shaft of clear light in troubled and confused waters.

If you are interested in the topic I suggest you begin by reading D Moo’s first-class article (here) and perhaps some of D A Carson’s mpg 3′s that can be found online.  T Schreiner’s book ’40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law’ would also be a valuable read, as would Jason Meyer’s ‘The End of the Law’.

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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Susanne Schuberth (G… on an apology…
Don J Chiechi on an apology…
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