13
Apr
15

the word became flesh

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. 15 (John bore witness about him, and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks before me, because he was before me.’”) 16 And from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known. John 1:14-18 | ESV 

The Word became flesh’.   The Word who was with God and was God became man.  As Peter Lewis in his excellent book ‘The Glory of Christ’  writes, ‘the philosophically unthinkable became a fact’.   As is so often the case, God’s wisdom confounds the wisdom of the wise: while the philosophical world saw progress in terms of escape from the physical and material by contrast God’s salvation, the only and best possible progress for humanity, involves God becoming flesh.  Human aspiration (hubris!) is to become pure Spirit, like God: God, in the person of this Son, humbles himself to assume flesh that he may redeem it, and to do so forever.   God’s thoughts are not human thoughts and God’s ways are not our ways. We should remember,that while God becoming man established that there is nothing morally suspect about material creation itself (before the entrance of sin it is described by God as ‘very good’) yet nevertheless for God the Son to assume human nature was an act of immense grace and self-humbling (Phil 2:5-11). God, that he may reveal and redeem, would experience creation ‘from within’ (to us another Peter Lewis expression).

enfleshment to reveal

It is in the Word made flesh that God in history is finally and fully revealed.  God had spoken in the past in a variety of ways and he had truly revealed himself but only in Christ do we see God as he fully and completely is.  John says,

No one has ever seen God; the One and only, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known (or fully revealed him). John 1:18 

John’s background to this statement in v18 and to the previous verses in this section (vv14-18) is Moses’ encounter with God on Sinai.  Moses had two Law-receiving visits to Sinai.  On the first visit it was to receive the covenant, the two tablets of stone containing the Ten Commandments (and various other aspects of the covenant). The context was law and the mountain was a terrifying place, full of thunderings and darkness.  Pure law and a sinful people is a terrifying combination.  Little wonder the atmosphere was terrifying.  In fact, the two tablets of the covenant given by God to Moses on Sinai never reached the Israelite camp  for when Moses saw their idolatrous revelry as he approached he threw the tablets down breaking them. Even while receiving the covenant commands on the mountain God informs him the nation are busy breaking it on a grand scale in the valley below.  Law, as a covenant, proved to be a failure, even before it had properly begun.  If the covenant terms are to be enacted then God’s judgement will consume the people (Exod 32:10) for covenant justice is outraged.  The covenant was pure law and offered no mercy.  All, if left to the covenant, was over for Israel. Moses, however, ascends Sinai a second time.  This time the meeting is more complex. Moses pleads with God on behalf of the people.  He asks for and receives a ‘seeing’ of God.  And he receives a second giving of the law.

It is this second visit to Sinai that lies behind John’s text (vv14-18). The covenant like the stones on which it was written is in broken and in pieces.  Fearful judgement is the justice the law demands.  Is this consuming justice the only way?  God finds the solution to the covenant demand for consuming wrath in the goodness of his own character (Ex 33:19).  More precisely, he finds it in his own determination to be merciful if he chooses. God’s heart is gracious and he wills to show mercy to whomsoever he chooses.  Israel’s salvation (both at that point and in future occasions) and ours rests solely on this determination in God’s part to bless and be merciful.  God will be gracious to whom he will be gracious and be merciful upon whom he will be merciful.  He loved Israel and that love would overcome all obstacles.  He is the Lord, the ‘I AM’, the Sovereign Self-Existing,  Self-Determining One, who chooses to bless (Exod 33:18). Moses, asks to see the glory of the ‘I AM’ but he is told he can only see God’s ‘back’.  He will see the glory but not fully.  He will not see God’s ‘front’.  He will not see his face where the full identity of the Lord will be known.  He will be placed in a rock-cleft and will see the trail of God’s glory after he has passed (Ex 33:20-23). Thus we read,

The Lord descended in the cloud and stood with him there, and proclaimed the name of the Lord. 6 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, 7 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.” 8 And Moses quickly bowed his head toward the earth and worshiped. Exodus 34:5-8 | ESV

The full glory of the God who ‘abounds in steadfast love and faithfulness’ he will not see but a partial view of it he will.  Perhaps, in a sense, Moses experience on Sinai shapes the covenant experience of Israel. The covenant will include a sacrifice system for human failure (Leviticus).  The God of mercy provides for sin.  The ‘back’ of God’s glory as the Lord,  the merciful and gracious God, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ is revealed in this provision for sin in the covenant and in the many occasions in their history when God acts graciously even if the covenant people deserved otherwise.  However, the revealing of God’s ‘front’, of his ‘face’ and full glory must await another day. This day arrived in Jesus.  In Jesus, the full glory of the ‘I AM’ is revealed.  John says,

and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (1:14).

The words ‘grace and truth’ are the same words as those in Exodus, ‘steadfast love and faithfulness’.  That glory which was partially seen by yet partially hidden from Moses radiates in its fullness from Jesus Christ. To see him is to see the Father.  The full identity of ‘the Lord’ is revealed by the incarnate Word.  All that God is in himself is revealed in Christ.  God’s ‘face’ is shown and it is the face of a Father.  The ‘truth’ of who God is finally revealed.  The gracious heart of Yahweh is unveiled.  Unlike the OT tabernacle or tent where God lived among his people but remained hidden behind its veils, in Jesus, the tabernacle where he now dwells, his glory is not hidden but shines out in all its beauty.  In his character, his demeanour, his words, his actions, his life, death and resurrection, the divine shekinah radiates and God is fully seen.

John will brook no rival to Jesus.  He, like God on the mountain of transfiguration, is jealous for the unique glory of Christ.  Moses and Elijah may be there (representing the revelation in the law and the prophets) but they must disappear if Jesus’ unique glory is threatened.  He alone is the beloved Son to be heard (Mk 9).  Moses may at Sinai see the glory, however partially; Jesus is the glory.  He is the Lord, the ‘I AM’ who was before Abraham (Jn 8:58).  He and he alone is the Light of the world.  Not creation, not the covenant (of Sinai), but Christ is the image of the invisible God (Col 1:15), the radiance of the glory of God and exact imprint of his being (Hebs 1:3).

Do we wish to see God as he really is?  Does our heart wish to see the full beauty of the one living God? Look at Jesus.  Behold his glory.  The glory of God was (and is) revealed in Jesus but not all saw it.  It was then and is now perceived only by faith.  For those of faith the gospels are the Spirit-breathed portrait of Christ and so of the living God.  John tells us many more books could have been written, more books than the world could contain, but in God’s wisdom four have been written, enough for us to see the divine glory in the One and Only, enough for us to receive of his grace, believe in his name, look only here and nowhere else for glory, and adore.

enfleshed to redeem

The word must become flesh not only that God may be fully revealed but that man may be redeemed. In his Prologue John only hints at redemptive issues.  They are implicit in Christ as life and light and explicit, if undeveloped, in the promise of birth into the family of God.  John’s primary focus in his prologue is that Jesus reveals but it is sure that the revealing is to the end of redeeming.  The one who was in the form of God took up human nature for the death of the cross.  The glory of Christ will include, and especially be, the strange glory of the cross (Jn 12:22).  There his glory of grace and truth will transmit to the world for it is in being ‘lifted up’ he is fully disclosed for who he is and draws all men to him (Jn 3:14; 8:28; 12:32). For unless a corn of wheat falls into the ground and dies it abides alone but if it dies it bears much fruit (Jn 12:24). Thus he assumed humanity that he may redeem humanity.

Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. 16 For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 17 Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. 18 For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. Hebrews 2:14-18 | ESV

The logos became flesh. God did not merely live in a human body, he became human.  Jesus is the seed of the woman.  He had a biological, not adopted, human mother (though her sinful nature was not transmitted).  He had human physiology and human psychology.  He is truly Abraham’s seed and has true birthrights to David’s throne.  He is our brother in every respect, except sin. He has experienced our experiences and known our emotions.  His heart has praised yet cried out ‘why’. He has enjoyed a meal yet known hunger, drank wine and felt thirst, worked all day and experienced weariness.  He knew friendship, isolation, betrayal, and abandonment.  He experienced the extremes of being lionised and demonised.  He loved and hated.  He knew compassion and anger.  He obeyed and trusted.  He prayed and hid the Scriptures in his heart.  He anticipated, sometimes with joy and sometimes with dread.  He knew satisfaction and shame.  He loved and lost (Judas).  He learned what obedience meant by experiencing all obedience cost.  As Peter Lewis says, ‘he laughed and cried, hoped and feared, knew delight and disappointment… was tempted as man and perfected as Mediator’. This is God manifest in flesh (1 Tim 3:16).  He assumed flesh that the divine glory may be revealed not least in redeeming it, sanctifying it, and that it may, like him and in him, be received up in glory.

Let Peter Lewis have the last word.

Go to the spiritual heart of the created universe, and you will find a man!  Go to the place where angels bow who never fell, and you will find a man!  Go to the very centre of the manifested glory of the invisible God, and you will find a man: true human nature, one of our own race, mediating the glory of God!

11
Apr
15

marriage, man and woman, an observation

I listened to a podcast a few moments ago where the speaker made an observation on Genesis One regarding marriage I had not heard before and thought worth sharing.  He pointed out that the creation story concerns a series of binary complements that are integral to how things are intended to be.

We read of God creating the heavens and the earth.  We read too of light and darkness or night and day, moon and sun, sea and dry land.  Finally, and as a climax we read, ‘male and female’ he created them (in the following chapter we discover this is for marriage).   In each case, both are necessary for the whole. The whole requires the complementary parts to be complete, to be ‘good’.

When, thousands of years later, society begins to reconfigure marriage to include same-sex marriage then not only is it tampering with something very ancient and long established, a scary thing in itself, but is tampering with a building block that Christians believe lies at the very foundation of the created order. Every previous tampering with marriage (polygamy, divorce, etc) has threatened the harmony of life.  It seems indisputable that this even more fundamental attack on the nature of things can only lead to greater chaos, societal dysfunction and decay.  When we erode the divinely ordered foundations trouble can only ensue.

10
Apr
15

trinity, a simple reflection

Who can understand God?  Who can grasp far less explain all that is meant by the Holy Trinity.  Who can even adequately explain what is revealed.  The creeds and confessions seek not so much to explain what we mean by trinity as guard against what we don’t mean.  This snapshot reflection is just that, a snapshot of one revealed insight into God in trinity.  No doubt it needs balanced and deepened by other revealed truth.  I hope, snapshot though it is, it warms our hearts and instructs our minds.  I hope it helps us worship in truth.

Man is made in the image of God.  There are certain resemblances between God and a man as man made in the divine image implies.  These correspondences help us grasp a little of what we mean by God as trinity.  Intrinsic to human beings is an intelligence or heart that plans and purposes.  To express and fulfil these plans/desires in a normal human being requires him being personally active both in words and actions.  In a powerful autocratic king of the ancient world his desires and plans were expressed and realised simply by a word of command; he needed to do nothing his words were enough.   In this he is but a shadow of the immense power of God who simply speaks and it is realised.   God’s word in this sense is virtually an expression even extension of his identity, his personality, and his word creates what his heart desires.  Of course we express words through the breath of our mouths.  Continuing the analogy of a person speaking, the words we say are only possible through the breath of our mouths.  The breath gives energy to the word.  It is its empowerment.  The Bible speaks too of the breath of God, a breath so powerful it is also synonymous with the wind.

Putting this together we can say something like this regarding the being of God: God is a divine being with plans and purposes.  These intentions are expressed and realised by speaking, by words, the facility for which is the breath of God.  As we read the OT again and again God acts and these actions are tied to God’s word and breath (or Spirit). Cf. Ps 33:6;  Job 33:4; 4:9; John 3:6-8; 2 Tim 3:16

By the NT, these OT aspects of God’s unified being are revealed as being distinct ‘persons’ within the one God.  So we can say something like, God the Father, is the fount and source of deity (as Father implies).  All is rooted in him.  He plans and purposes.  God the Son is the divine word in deity.  He is the word or speech, heard and seen, through whom God the Father accomplishes all the purposes and plans of his heart (Jn 1:1, 18; 5:19-29).  Deity made visible.  God the Spirit is the breath of God.  He is the power, the divine energy, who enables the Son, the Word, to ‘speak’ that is to accomplish all the desires of the Father’s heart (Matt 1:18; Lk 4:1,18). 

06
Apr
15

jesus, the logos, the word of god

Christianity is Christ.  A Christian is someone who has faith in Christ.  He has come to see the glory of Christ and to be enthralled.  The glory of Christ is all he is and all he has accomplished.  There are many facets to this glory and Scripture uses many images or better, concepts, to describe it but perhaps none is richer than that employed by John in the prologue to his gospel; for John, Jesus is ‘the Word’,  the logos, the Word of God.

Many have commented on John’s genius in employing this image. It was a word familiar to the Greek world of that time, particularly the world of philosophy and religious concepts.  The use of logos gives John a point of contact with this world, a concept bridge to more easily convey the gospel into another culture.  That being said, John’s source for logos is not Greek but Hebrew; like the other NT writers his conceptual and semantic source, as far as truth is concerned is the OT Scripture.  Revelation not human reason is his authority.

To understand the gospel meaning of logos we must begin with OT revelation for that is where John begins.  Or rather, where the Spirit begins, for the genius in revelation does not lie with John but with the Spirit who inspired both John and the OT writers before him, the same Spirit who providentially ensured that logos was a concept in the cultures surrounding, corrupted of course, and awaiting the light of the gospel to imbue it with its true meaning and glory.

John, in unpacking what he means by ‘the Word’,  begins as far back as revelation reaches; he begins in Genesis One.  There we learn the Word is…

a divine word

Speech is the expression of who we are.  Our speech, even in deceitful folks like us, reveals our hearts.  Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks (Matt 12:34; 15:18).  What we say is profoundly who we are.  In God, who cannot lie, his speech is the perfect expression of who he is. God’s heart and his word are one; what he says, he is.  It is this indivisible union between God and his word that John employs to express the deity of Jesus.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the word was God.

We should be in no doubt what John is saying in this climax building statement: he is saying as plainly as he possibly can what he goes on to confirm in a variety of ways  throughout his gospel that Jesus is a divine person (though actually John avoids the normal Greek word for divine, theios, because apparently it may be used for something  less than God and uses only the definite word for God, theos), he is God: the word was, the word was with God, the word was God.  Some of the building blocks of a full-blown doctrine of the trinity are being laid here and John traces the revelation to the opening words of Scripture, to Genesis.

In Genesis one, when all things were created, we read, ‘and God said…’.  Here, in this ‘said‘, John finds ‘the Word who will become flesh’.  

Greek ideas apparently suggested that a word, a principle of reason, or created knowledge  was involved in the basis of the universe.  But whatever vague ideas concerning origins may have been permitted by God to develop John is clear that the creative word is divine.  From Genesis onward nothing is more closely associated with God than his Word.  It is who he is.  In Proverbs, wisdom is personified as he which was with God in the beginning (Proverbs 8).  No doubt OT references to God’s word and wisdom inform this first primary assertion of John, that Jesus is the divine word.  He can fully reveal God for he is God.

In various ways this will find echoes throughout the gospel.  He is the unique Son displaying the glory of an only Son of a Father (1:14).  No one has seen God at any time but the Son who dwells in the Father’s side has made him known (1:17).  He is the Son who does what he sees his Father do (Jn 5:19), the Father whose divine glory he shared before the world began (Jn 17:5).

Again, John’s sentence at the beginning of the gospel makes it clear and cannot be improved on: in the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God.

the creative word

In creation ‘God said… and it was so‘ (Gen 1:3,6,9).  God creates, of this there is no doubt.  Yet, to be precise, it is God’s word that creates.  But this is not contradiction for God and his Word though distinct are clearly one.  Everything God does he does by speaking, by a word, by his Word.  Autocratic kings of the East spoke and their word carried absolute authority.  Here is kingly authority and power on another scale altogether.  God is the autocratic King of all things.  His word is fiat in all of creation.  It does exactly what he intends.  His word is never empty but always energetic and effective (Isa 55:11).  God’s word is limitlessly powerful.  It is powerfully active (Ps 29:3-8).  It is completely authoritative.  By his word the worlds were framed and that which had no existence came into being (Hebs 11:1; Roms 4:17).  He spoke and it was done.  He commanded and it stood fast (Psalm 33:9). God’s word always succeeds because God himself watches over it to perform it (Jer 1:12).  He is jealous for the honour and glory of his word.  Indeed, such is the value and esteem God places on his Word that he magnifies it above all his name (Psalm 138:2).   There is about God’s word, an authority and majesty that makes it sure and settled; it is invincibly established (Psalm 119:89).  The grass withers, the flower fades but the word of the Lord stands, endures, forever (Isaiah 40:8).  Why?  Because God himself endures forever.

Given language like this it is not hard to see the profound biblicity of John’s statement:  the word was with God and the word was God.  God and his speech are distinct but indivisible.  And Christ is this limitlessly powerful creative Word.  He is God’s agent in creation.  God created the world of this there is no doubt.  Yet it is Christ, the Word, that creates.  All things are made by him (Col 1:16; Hebs 1:3).  God plans, his word performs.

But does this not mean he is a created being who made everything after he himself was previously made by God?  The Genesis ‘and God said’ should sufficiently guard against this.  God’s breath (the Spirit) and his creative word (the Son) are not created things separate from God but part of who God is, integral to him.  Yet, John further guards against the misconception that the word is created, by adding, ‘without him was not anything made that was made’.  He is not created, rather he creates all things with no exceptions. Thus in Christ, the Word of God, is all the fullness of God.  He dwells in the bosom of the Father (God’s word is precious to him) and has told him out.  It is the Father’s intention that the Son (the word) be honoured and glorified and in this God is himself glorified (Jn 17:1).  He is the one who does all that the Father does and is all that the Father is (Jn 5, 14).  Father and Son are one.  God and his Word are one.

God’s word in the beginning is manifestly good; it creates the fecundity of life.  In the creation week life burgeoned in every realm of the earth by the Word: God said and it was so.  It  seems that the first expressed word of God in Genesis  is, ‘ light, let there be’.  Life and light those great and good gifts of the Creator come through his Word.  Of that same Word, now revealed in Jesus,  John says, ‘in him was life and that life was the light of men‘.  Now, however, the emphasis will be on spiritual life and spiritual light.  Jesus comes as the light of the world through whom, though a man walk in darkness he shall receive the light of life.  The Word who has life in himself will give life to whomsoever he will.  He comes full of grace and truth and of his grace we have received grace upon grace.  He is the one who will not fail (it is folly, as we have seen, to speak of God’s Word failing).  He is the divine Word who is established and watched over by God himself, who will endure forever.  Biblical images or better, realities, intersect, morph and mould as they seek to do justice to the one whose glory is the glory of the only son of the Father.  Jesus is the unified, true, perfect and complete expression of the Father.

the incarnate word

All the above discussion presupposes the Word, though God, is distinct within God and has distinct personality.  In fact, since John’s Word is a man on earth, Jesus, we know it goes much further.  Thus we confront John’s brave, bold and unambiguous language, ‘the word became flesh and lived (tabernacled) among us‘.  The Word who was God and was with God in the beginning became human.

Here is a concept utterly repugnant to fashionable sophisticated thinking.  Greek thinking saw matter, the material universe,  as something essentially base.  God could have nothing to do with it.  He is pure spirit and could not contaminate himself with grubby matter.  If he created he must have done so through secondary intermediary created forces (demi-urges).  But John will have none of this.  The Word was God and the Word became flesh.  By using the word ‘flesh’ John was deliberately choosing a word that conveyed the stark uncompromising reality of the incarnation.  God became the very thing all tasteful cultured educated people found inferior and gross and hoped one day to escape, unpalatable flesh; the spiritual became material.  The logos was not some impersonal creative force but a divine person who became a human person.  Even the Jewish theologians do not seem to have anticipated this.  Whenever, I hear folks say we must adapt the gospel to make it palatable to our current generation or it will die out I think of just how essentially counter cultural so many aspects of the gospel was at its inception: God manifest in flesh is one huge example.  The ‘truth’, was not tied up in philosophy and clever human reasoning; it was found in a man who was the perfect expression of all wisdom and knowledge, of God himself, for he was God.

The Word became flesh.  The Son became human.  The glory seen to the eye of faith was the glory of an only Son of a Father.  But that, perhaps, is a topic for a future post.

12
Mar
15

romans 8:1-4 the righteous requirement of the law fulfilled in us

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4 in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5 For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.
Romans 8:1-6 | ESV

How is ‘the righteous requirement of the law fulfilled in us’. Some argue it is by Jesus meeting its righteous requirements in his death. Of these, some say it is by his law-keeping life (the law required a perfectly lived life and this Jesus accomplished on our behalf) while others see it in his curse-bearing death (in his death Jesus meets the curse-bearing requirement of the law).

The first view I think is wildly wrong. It is wrong because Christ’s life is not atoning, it is his death, and only his death that atones. A cursory reading of the text shows the focus is on Christ’s death; Christ is sent ‘for sin’ and in him God ‘condemned sin’. Where is sin dealt with in Romans? It is in the death of Jesus exclusively. In the flesh of Jesus on the cross sin is dealt with. He bore ours sins on his own body on the cross.

The second view, that the just requirement of the law is met in his curse-bearing death, is in itself accurate theology. Christ did bear the required penalty of a broken law, however, I do not think it is what Paul is meaning here by ‘the righteous requirement of the law’. I believe he is referring to the life of loving God and neighbour that the law required. Let me explain why.

Various signals in the immediate text point to ‘the righteous requirement of the law’ being Spirit-filled living rather than Christ’s sin-bearing death. In Christ’s death sin was condemned in order that the just requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us. Christ’s sin condemning death is not said to fulfil the just requirement of the law but was necessary for the requirement of the law to be fulfilled in us. Note, it is in us, not in Christ, that the righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled. It seems too that it is fulfilled in us because due to Christ’s sin condemning death, we are no longer living in the flesh where sin reigned but in the Spirit where sin has no authority.

In a sense, this text is a compressed version of what Paul has already said in Romans 6, though the difference between the two humanities is now more clearly defined as flesh and Spirit.

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. 6 We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.12 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. 13 Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. 14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.Slaves to Righteousness. 15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16 Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17 But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18 and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness.
Romans 6:5-18 | ESV

Notice, the death of Christ has so dealt with sin that it no longer has dominion over us; because we are justified from sin we are no longer slaves of sin but have become slaves of righteousness (we are acquitted of sin that we may be free of it).  Romans 8 echoes this with its added reference to law and Spirit arising from issues introduced in Romans 7. But more about Romans 7 connection shortly.

Firstly, let me back up my contention that the reference in 8:4 is to fulfilling the righteousness of the Law in our lives by citing similar reasoning from other Scriptures. Romans 13 is a strong parallel.

Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. 9 For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 10 Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
Romans 13:8-10 | ESV

The parallel is not exact, love, not the Spirit, is the subject. However, this love is only possible through life in the Spirit. Galatians makes a similar point with a more explicit context of two states of humanity, flesh and Spirit, as in Romans 8.

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. 14 For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” 15 But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.Walk by the Spirit 16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
Galatians 5:13-16 | ESV

These parallel texts,and others (James 2:8), demonstrate that the fulfilling of the law in the life of the believer by the Spirit In Romans 8, is a reasonable, even probable, interpretation of ‘ that the righteous requirement of the law may be fulfilled in us who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit’.

Finally, a comment on the more immediate hinterland to this text from which the issues of 8:1-4 immediately flow.

In Romans 7, Paul demonstrated that being ‘under law’ is a fruitless marriage in terms of righteous living. The reason being, the law addresses man in the flesh and makes demands that the flesh (powerless as it is) cannot meet.  Thus the law can only produce death. A new marriage is required, a marriage to Christ, that places us ‘under grace’ (6:14,15) and ‘ in the Spirit‘ (7:6), if we are to produce fruit for God (6:22; 7:4).  This change of marriage partners is only possible through death, our death with Christ upon the cross (Roms 7:1-6). The fruit to God the law demanded, ironically can only be realised if we are no longer under law. In a word, we must be delivered from the law before we can fulfil the law.

Against this background we read in 8:1, ‘For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death’. The ‘law of sin and death’ is probably not a reference to the Mosaic Covenant but to ‘the law/principle of sin that dwells in our members’ (7:21-24). Be that as it may, the principal point is that the hopeless slavery to sin and death to which the flesh is captive, is broken by ‘the law/principle of Spirit of life’. In chapter 7, there is only wretchedness, not simply because of the guilt of sin but because of powerlessness in the face of it (7:18-24). Paul finds hope that this slavery to sin and death is broken through Jesus Christ our Lord (7:25).

How? Jesus death in the flesh to sin has dealt with sin and freed us from the flesh ( in his death we died to sin and to the flesh) so that the righteousness the law required will be fulfilled in us as we walk according to the Spirit. Believers do not stand impotent and wretched before the requirement of righteousness, rather, by the Spirit, righteous living becomes the air that they breathe. They are slaves of righteousness. The kingdom of God is not for them food and drink but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Roms 14:17. Cf. 2 Cor 3:7-11).  Of course, this righteous living that the law demanded is realised not according to the letter of the old code but to its spirit, to its eschatological fulfilment in a new covenant, in Christ.  But this latter point we will not explore now (see previous post).

May God give us the grace to live this Spirit-filled life, a life that: rejoices in the Spirit of sonship that enables us to cry ‘abba’; listens to the Spirit’s illuminating wisdom to guide; searches the Spirit-breathed word for understanding; depends on the power of the Spirit to put to death sinful temptations; is glad that our confused groans are translated into intelligent prayer to the Father; and has Spirit-produced fruit in which God delight.

02
Mar
15

sussing the sermon on the mount

It seems that The Sermon on the Mount has a negative press in large segments of evangelicalism.  Some insist it is pure law and its purpose, like the Mosaic Covenant, is only to kill (Lutheranism and variants of it).  Others also see it as law but think its primary focus is to instruct believers during ‘the great tribulation’, a so-called period between the expected ‘rapture’ and ‘revelation’ of Christ (dispensationalism). Both viewpoints tend to create a fairly dismissive approach to the sermon.  Certainly both undermine what seems to me to be the self-evident positive intention of the sermon which is to instruct those who belong to God’s Kingdom how to behave for God’s glory in a fallen world.  In the words of the Sermon:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:16 | ESV

I wish to argue that in describing life in the Kingdom its message is for believers today ( for we presently are part of Christ’s inaugurated Kingdom. Matt 11:11,12,26; 12:26-28; 13; Acts 8:12; Roms 14:17; Col 1:13).  Further, we should not approach the sermon negatively for while it stresses continuity with the Old Mosaic Covenant which must not be downplayed equally there are discontinuities that are equally vital and raise it massively above the Sinaic covenant of law.

Context

Context is of course king in interpretation; it rules everything.  Firstly, we must understand the sermon then  within the narrative of salvation-history.  The Sermon on the Mount has a complicated place in terms of salvation history.  Clearly with the arrival of Jesus, the long expected salvation has arrived; promise is giving way to fulfilment.   The ‘law and the prophets were until John ‘; in Jesus the Eschaton (promised End-time salvation) arrived (Matt 11:13; Lk 16:16; 7:18-23).  The good news is that the arrival of the kingdom is imminent (3:1) for its King,  Messiah, the eschatological Prophet like Moses (Deut 18:15-19; Acts 3:17-26; 7:37), has arrived.  He will be all Moses was and so much more.

Matthew is keen in his narrative to point out the parallels between the story of Messiah and Israel. For Messiah recapitulates in his life the experience of the nation.  Like Israel, Jesus is God’s son who finds protection in Egypt.  He leaves Egypt (Matt 2:15) and after baptism (the Red Sea cf. 1 Cor 10:1) is in the wilderness (3:13-4:1).  There, like Israel, he is tested (ch 4:1-11).  In ch 4:18-22, the twelve are chosen, the new eschatological Israel.  Israel in the wilderness journeys to the mountain, Sinai.  There, on that mountain, the covenant of law is given via Moses to the people.  In Matthew, the first event after Christ’s desert testing and choosing of twelve is the sermon on the mountain.  Matthew’s point is clear, Jesus is the new Moses, the new law-giver, the new Ruler of Israel.  Time will reveal just how new and radical this new law, new era, new Ruler, the Mediator of a  new covenant, really is.

Continuity

Yet it is not the radical aspects that are initially stressed but the regular.  Consciously taking the ground of the Prophet who was to come who would be like, but superior in authority to, Moses and who would succeed, support, yet surpass him, Jesus says:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. 19 Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17c-20 | ESV

Jesus, like John before him, has been preaching the good news, the gospel, of the kingdom of God (Matt 4:23).  Both proclaim its arrival in him, the Messianic King.  Its arrival is evidenced in his overthrow and expulsion of all that is evil (Matt 4:23-25; Deut 33:50-55; Lk 7:18-23) in the land and by instruction for the eschatological Israel, the disciples, how they should do so in their lives (5-7).  We should note that the gospel here is the arrival of the rule of God.  It is God’s will being done on earth as in heaven (Matt 6:10). This shows clearly that we cannot divorce gospel from obedience as some wish to do today; to do so creates a false dichotomy.  To call indicatives gospel and imperatives law is a Lutheran distinction without biblical warrant and leads to confusion.  The rule of God by its very nature implies imperatives.  Thus the Sermon on the Mount is a snapshot of Kingdom obedience in this present age (the sermon assumes a fallen world, a rejected Messiah, and not-yet-perfect sons of the kingdom).  It is life in a not-yet-fully-conquered eschatological Canaan (Deut 33:50-55).  Life in Canaan involved a restatement of the law, the deuteronomy, without obedience to it all would be forfeit.  Jesus lays down the same dynamic in the sermon; hearing and doing is the way to inherit the land or earth, to realise the eschatological Kingdom, and to prove to be a son of the kingdom (7:15-27).

In the Kingdom,  the time of fulfilment has arrived.  The first thing Jesus is anxious to establish is the positive relationship between the old and the new.  He wishes to make clear the continuity between ‘the law and the prophets’ and the eschatological (promised End-time) Kingdom.  His principal point is that the old is not slighted or disparaged in any way in the arrival of the new.  He has not come as some iconoclast or subversive who disdains the past.  The new does not disparage the old, it is its denouement.  Christ does not abolish the old, he does not oppose it, he fulfils it; in the new the old is accomplished.  All that the old was about, all it aspired to and anticipated, finds its fulfilment in the new.

In the realised Kingdom the old is neither disparaged nor diluted nor dismissed.  It is dignified, deepened, and discharged.  In the new covenant the perpetuity of all the old stood for is guaranteed (Ex 12:14; 31:16; Roms 3:31).

Discontinuity

Yet, even in this clear statement of continuity a signal is given that continuity will not be a wooden literal conformity to the old.  The key word is ‘fulfil’.  It, or semantic  equivalents, is often used in the NT to describe the inaugurated kingdom.  Only a study of the many NT texts that discuss fulfilment give us a full picture of what fulfilment looks like and these present fulfilment in a kaleidoscope of ways.  We cannot expect fulfilment to be found in its full clarity here in this sermon for Jesus is addressing people before the cross, resurrection and Pentecost.  Further, he is addressing Jews who until his death and resurrection must live under law (as Messiah did).  Thus we have references in the sermon to presenting oneself to the Sanhedrin, leaving gifts at the altar, etc.  Any competent hermeneutic must make allowances for this historical ambiguity.  Yet, even here, in this incipient description of the Kingdom, and elsewhere in the gospels (Matt 9:17; Mk 7:19), we discover that fulfilment does not mean facsimile and realisation isn’t replica.  Post-resurrection every aspect of the law and every prophecy is still honoured and fulfilled but NOT necessarily literally.  The NT writers give us the spiritual principles for interpreting both the law and prophets, for both the law and the prophets were prophecy, bearing witness to Christ and the coming kingdom, principles first taught by Jesus himself (Matt 11:12;Lk 24:27,44; Jn 5:39; Roms 3:21).  Prophecy by its very nature is provisional. It is also opaque.  Fulfilment or accomplishment, as noted above, takes place in a rich diversity of ways that often the initial prophecy merely hinted at.  Shadow gives only an outline, a silhouette of what is real and substantial (Col 2:17; Hebs 8:5).

The transition from ‘the law and the prophets’ to Kingdom fulfilment is essentially  the transition between the old covenant and the new covenant where again we observe continuity and discontinuity.  The continuity between the covenants is clear in Scripture; the law that the Mosaic Covenant demanded, in the New Covenant is written on the heart (Jer 31:31-34).

Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, 32 not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”  Jeremiah 31:31-34 | ESV

On the one hand the demands of the law transfer in essence from one covenant to the other and so the old is upheld in the new (continuity).  But in another sense, the covenant involves significant and far reaching changes.  In the new covenant, the eschatological covenant, all sins are forgiven and the law, previously written on tablets of stone, is now written on the heart (cf 2 Cor 3).  This makes it a superior covenant (Hebs 8:6-13).  Elsewhere we discover it means a new life, a new heart, and the indwelling, empowering Spirit (Ezek 11:19; 16:60-63; 36:22-38; 37:1-28).  Unlike in the old covenant, God is known by all and not a few (Jer 31:34).  The old was merely a pallid reflection of this massively more glorious reality (2 Cor 3:7-11); the moon to the sun.  The Sermon on the Mount assumes this new covenant relationship; God is assumed to be known for he is addressed as Father, a distinctly gospel relationship (Matt 5:16, 6:1,4,8,9,16,26,32 etc).

It is within this unique historical context and this tension between continuity and discontinuity in fulfilment that, ‘for truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished’ must be understood; in the new the old is treasured even as it is translated and transfigured.  It is this treasuring or valuing of the law that Jesus deals with next.  He says, ‘Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven’.  Jesus, in the sermon demonstrates the truth of this.  The Pharisees, feeling the human impossibility of the law, and having with the scribes assumed responsibility for teaching the law, interpret it in ways that make it less demanding, less onerous.  They found ways to water it down and to circumvent its demands.  It is these he addresses when he says, ‘you have heard it said’.  The scribes and Pharisees ‘relaxed’ the import of the law. Of course, they were not the last to water down God’s commands, many teachers of the church have done so over the centuries, in fact, it is the temptation of all.  In fact, I suspect much of the present clamour to insist we are not ‘under law’ is just another manifestation of this impulse; for many it is not an attempt to make clear that we are not under law in the sense of not under the mosaic covenant as a way and rule of life (as is certainly the case) but that we are not under any kind of command or rule at all.  The suggestion of being under the authority of another and having to obey commands of any kind our egalitarian and self-determining generation finds objectionable.  Yet this sermon makes clear that such commands do exist as does the rest of the NT (Matt 28:20; Jn 15:14; 1 Cor 14:37; 1 Tim 4:11; 1 Jn 5:3; 1 Cor 7:19; 1 Tim 5:21; Gals 6:16).

Jesus,  by contrast (but I say unto you) gave the law its full weight. He shows it calls for a righteousness beyond that which the scribes and Pharisees taught and displayed.  He brought out that murder was not simply physical killing but an attitude of heart; he demonstrates in the sermon the spiritual depth of the law.  Indeed, he takes the commandments of the law and gives them a breadth and depth that transforms them into commandments that flow from himself; he is the Prophet that Moses anticipated who would succeed and supersede him (Deut 18:15-19; Acts 3:19-26), the King-Prophet Law-giver (Ezek 37:24-28).

The Lord your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among you, from your brothers—it is to him you shall listen— 16 just as you desired of the Lord your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly, when you said, ‘Let me not hear again the voice of the Lord my God or see this great fire any more, lest I die.’ 17 And the Lord said to me, ‘They are right in what they have spoken. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their brothers. And I will put my words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him. 19 And whoever will not listen to my words that he shall speak in my name, I myself will require it of him.
Deut 18:15-19;

It would no longer be the Ten Words of Sinai but the law of Christ (Messiah), something of richer value and full revelation.  And what is more, what he teaches he lives in his life; he is par excellence the one who ‘does them and teaches them’ and who therefore has the moral right to be ‘ called great in the kingdom of heaven’.  He in all ways magnifies the law and makes it glorious (Isa 42:21).  Jesus is the scribe who ‘has been trained for the kingdom of heaven and is like a master of a house, who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.”  Matthew 13:52 | ESV

Thus, whatever we mean by being no longer ‘under law’ what we do not mean is that the life of godliness and holiness which the law required is in anyway less under the gospel.  If anything ‘fulfilment’ aspires to a godliness beyond what the law, certainly in letter, required.  It involves, among other things, loving your enemies and laying down your life for them, turning the other cheek, and going the second mile; it involves living like and identifying ourselves with a rejected Christ and reflecting the graces of our Heavenly Father (Matt 5:11, 38-48)

Conclusion

Thus the Sermon on the Mount models for us, at least in embryo, how the OT law is fulfilled in eschatological Kingdom living.  All that the law and prophets reached for is accomplished in the Kingdom. Yet, I repeat, there is no wooden continuity.  We can and should go back to the law and, as with all Scripture, find it profitable for understanding many aspects of Christian doctrine concerning Christ and his work.  Equally it is profitable for training in righteousness, but, and this qualifying preposition is very important, only if we understand it through the prism of redemptive history, only if we grasp its metamorphosis in Christ.  If we fail to do this we will soon become enslaved to the OT law and begin to live as OT Jews (as some advocate we ought).

Indeed, If we place ourselves under the OC in any sense (as Reformed folks come uncomfortably close to doing by making the law a rule of life) then we shall soon find ourselves struggling with  assurance of salvation, having a slave-mentality to obedience, and feeling constantly wretched by our failure before its demands; we shall fall from grace (Gals 3:1-3; 5:1-4; Roms 7; 8:14-16).

The law, as Jesus speaks of it in the sermon, was the Old Covenant (not every biblical command as many insist) addressed to man in the flesh (Roms 7:1-6), but we are in Christ, new covenant believers, in the Spirit and not the flesh (Gals 3,4; Roms 8; ).  We serve in the new way of the Spirit and not the old ways of the flesh.  God’s commands do not come to us as a letter that kills (as the law did) but, by the Spirit, as words of life.  This is where Lutherans and some who follow their law/gospel dichotomy go so very wrong. They insist on approaching the imperatives of the Sermon on the Mount and indeed any biblical imperative (those from the OT understood through the prism of Christ and redemptive history) as if they carry old covenant conditions, that is, as if they, the hearers, were still in the flesh.  Little wonder they are viewed so negatively.  Little wonder they kill.  The flesh hates God and hates any command he gives (Roms 8:7,8).  The flesh always wriggles and squirms at anything that smacks of commandment.  But Christians approach every command from God from the standpoint of faith.  They hear every command as the voice of the Spirit and rely on him to enable.  The Spirit causes them to rejoice in the command.  It is after all an expression of God’s good, acceptable and perfect will.  They rejoice where it exposes sin they need to rout out (Roms 8:13,14) and rejoice for the light it sheds on the will of God for the regenerate, Spirit-filled life, finds that will not burdensome but a delight; what God commands the renewed heart covets (Ezek 11:9,10; 36:25-31;Psalm 1:2; 199:47,48,127).  The great need is to approach the sermon through Christian eyes, to hear it with spiritual ears.  When we do this it is not a law that kills (it cannot, for believers are already dead) but as words leading into life (Jn 6:63; 12:49,50; Roms 8:6, 10,13).

In fact, if we place ourselves in any sense under the OC of law (whether as a weapon to kill or a rule for life) we shall find ourselves dismayed for we will soon discover that not only are the demands of the Old Covenant beyond us because of our sinfulness they are also beyond us because the conditions required to keep them no longer exist.  There is no temple, no sacrifice system, no levitical priesthood, no cities of refuge etc.. The Old Covenant was morally finished at the exile, dispensationally finished at the cross, and had its final nails driven into its coffin at the destruction of Jerusalem and the dismantling of all that was integral to covenant-keeping (Hebs 8:13).  It is gone, and gone forever: yet it lives on in the only way that matters, in the gospel, in the new covenant (Deut 30:4-14… a description of the eschatological new covenant Israel.  Cf.  Roms 10:5-16; Roms 8:3,4).

It is from this perspective we must approach the sermon, as new covenant life in Christ.  To be sure, only when the Spirit is given and full gospel status is understood will what before the cross is sometimes considered hard and difficult to bear (Matt 19) be understood as an easy yoke and light burden unlike the old covenant of law (Matt 11:28-30; 1 Jn 5:3).  But these post-Pentecost eyes and ears are ours.  We, of all people should approach the ethical demands of the sermon and other Biblical instruction in righteousness  as they are intended, not as an impossible law to crush and condemn but as a Kingdom lifestyle to affirm and embrace.  To look at the sermon is to see Jesus and the desire of every believers heart is to be like him.  In and through gospel realities this is possible.

To walk and run the the law commands
Yet gives me neither feet nor hands
But better news the gospel brings
It bids me fly and gives me wings

Finally, I should point out that the sermon is about Kingdom living.  If we want to find out how we may by grace enter the Kingdom and the source of  the empowering grace to live Christlike within it we must look elsewhere.  Here the good news shows us the blessed life of the Kingdom.  We must read on in the gospel to discover the good news of the cross and resurrection.  But we must never think there is something sub-Christian about this sermon, something essentially  legalistic.  Rather we read it remembering the words of the resurrected Christ to his disciples before returning to heaven.

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
Matthew 28:18-20 | ESV

 

 

 

 

01
Feb
15

ethical foundations, an observation

Modern ethics are dismayingly utilitarian; the pursuit of happiness for the greatest number defines what is right. Biblical ethics always looks at the nature of thing; an is implies an ought.

Peter Kreeft, in his Three Philosophies of Life writes:

Ancient ethics always dealt with three questions. Modern ethics deals with only one, or at the most, two. The three questions are like the three things a fleet of ships is told by its sailing orders. [The metaphor is from C. S. Lewis.] First, the ships must know how to avoid bumping into each other. This is social ethics, and modern as well as ancient ethicists deal with it. Second, they must know how to stay shipshape and avoid sinking. This is individual ethics, virtues and vices, character- building, and we hear very little about this from our modern ethical philosophies. Third, and most important of all, they must know why the fleet is at sea in the first place . . . I think I know why modern philosophers dare not raise this greatest of questions: because they have no answer to it.’

This explains why NT ethics may differ from OT ethics. OT ethics assume man in Adam, in the flesh, and commands accordingly: NT ethics address the church as man in Christ, in the Spirit, and command accordingly. Responsibilities flow from what is.

This also explains both why it is on the one hand foolish to place NT believers under obligation to OT law and why it is equally foolish to see NT believers as having no obligation or command at all.




the cavekeeper

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

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