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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.


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 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.


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).


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)


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






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.


christianity, coercion and charlie

The recent slaying of Charlie Hebdo cartoonists as a jihadic response to Charlie’s satirical and irreverent cartoons of Mohammed has shocked the Western world. It has again pushed to the fore of western consciousness pressing questions regarding Islam that most in the West would prefer to avoid and it has led to a tsunami of support for what most in the West believe is an inalienable right, namely freedom of speech and expression. Recent marches in France and Spartacus cries of ‘Je suis Charlie’ express this surge of support.

How should Christians respond? For Christians it’s all too easy to give unqualified support for Charlie. In the face of atrocity, and the slaying of the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists in retaliation for blaspheming Mohamed is patently an atrocity, it is almost instinctive to give unqualified support to the cause of the slain. But gut reaction is rarely trustworthy for it is rarely considered; it is visceral rather than judicious. This post will argue that Christianity neither approves retaliation nor ill-judged provocation; it supports neither religious coercion nor untrammelled freedom of speech.


Let me repeat, Christianity is not coercive. When reviled it does not retaliate. Its model is Christ who when reviled did not retaliate and when threatened did not threaten in return. Peter the apostle writes plainly to some Christians being persecuted for their faith.

1 Peter 2:21-24
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.

Peter’s instruction is the uniform teaching of NT Christianity informed both by Christ’s actions and his words (Matt 5:10,11, 38-45). History shows that Christians have not always followed this instruction. Christian history has all too many examples of the sword being employed in the defence and advance of the Christian faith. There are various reasons for this. Many who did so in the name of Christ were not Christians at all. Others used the battles of OT Israel to justify the NT church engaging in holy wars (the crusades) and the OT law to rationalise a Christian State that employed the power of the state to enforce Christian belief (consider the Inquisition, the Salem witch hunts, Calvin had a citizen, Servetus, burned at the stake for heresy). Both were a (culpable) failure to understand the proper relationship between OT Israel and the NT church. Such corruption of Christianity is a terrible stain on its history and makes it difficult for Christians to claim the moral high ground in any criticism of Islam.

However, here an important distinction must be made and it’s this: when Christians used force they did so in contradiction of authentic Christianity , whereas, when Muslims employ force they are consistent with their faith. Islam, despite protests to the contrary, advocates the use of the sword on behalf of the faith. In Christianity, the State and the Church are properly separate, while in Islam they are one. Islam believes in a theocratic State and where this is approved violent coercion is never far away.

The West tries desperately to dissociate Muslim terrorists and oppressive governments from Islam. It is a foolish and forlorn endeavour. Arguably these terrorists are truer to the spirit of Islam than more moderate westernised Muslims whose moderate views are more a product of secularisation than their Islāmic faith. Both Islam and Christianity are engaged in holy wars. The difference is that Muslims conquer by slaughtering others whereas Christians conquer by sacrificing themselves (Revelation 12:11). Both Christianity and Islam call for submission (Islam means submission) but there the similarity ends. The gospel calls for submission to Christ but the choice to do so or not lies completely with the individual; it is entirely voluntary. Islam demands submission and arrogates the right to impose it, by force if necessary.  Islam wants to rule the world. Christianity, however, is radically apocalyptic; it hopes to reign not in this world but a world to come.

As an addendum, it’s worth pointing out that atheism has no better a record than religion in tolerating alternative world views. In fact, in the last century atheistic States murdered more people in their pursuit of a pure atheistic State than any religion in history. Atheism has no reason to be smug. Its track record is horrendous ( consider the Soviet Bloc, Red China, North Korea, Cuba, Revolutionary Mexico, the French Revolution).


It is Voltaire who said, ‘ I do not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it’. It seems a noble ideal and is much-lauded but it is not one any buy into; at least, not absolutely, not if they are responsible. Christianity, let me be up front, does not defend total freedom of speech and nor can any responsible worldview. No government has ever supported unfettered freedom of speech (there is no freedom in the UK to slander, libel, incite hatred etc). All draw lines and rightly so. The question is only where lines should be drawn.

Christianity is clear that Christians have no personal freedom of speech or expression; their speech is captive to Christ. They must always speak and act in ways that honour God. They must speak the truth and not lie but they must do so in love and with respect. They should choose words wisely and seek to be winsome. As much as is humanly possible they should seek to live at peace with all men. The wisdom of Proverbs is clear,

Proverbs 16:23-24

The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, to the soul and health to the body.

Further, the Christian Faith does not condone unnecessarily inflammatory language. Proverbs again reminds us,

Proverbs 16:27
A worthless man plots evil, and his speech is like a scorching fire.

The tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness we are warned, ignited by hell itself (Jas 3:5-9). It’s vitriol sparks raging fires. It tempts the turned cheek to head-butt. Therefore it must at all costs be bridled (Jas 1:26; 1 Pet 3:10) for every careless word will be brought into judgement. By a man’s words he is justified or condemned (Matt 12:36-37). Praise God, the new life Christians have in Christ and the indwelling Spirit of Christ enable gracious speech (Ephesians 4:20-30). Far from encouraging uncensored speech it is clear that the highest standard of speech is demanded by God and required of a Christian. Paul says,

Colossians 4:6
Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

However, it is one thing to say what speech God demands of his people, even that he will call all humanity to account for on the day of judgement but that does not address the level of freedom of speech society should tolerate; what God requires and what a society may allow are two different things. What does Scripture teach is an acceptable level of freedom of speech for society? It doesn’t. It is silent on this question. It gives no specific guidance at all and there is a simple reason for this: the Bible never envisages a this-worldly Christian State. We are back to the sharp distinction between State and Church that Christianity affirms.

In the OT, God’s Kingdom was an earthly theocratic State with laws that reflect this but in the NT this Kingdom morphs into a heavenly theocratic State; is spiritual not physical. It is a spiritual realm entered by spiritual birth (Jn 3), enjoying spiritual life, and spiritual blessings (Eph 1:3), engaging in spiritual warfare (Eph 6:12-20) employing spiritual weapons (2 Cor 10:3-6) to win spiritual battles. It’s only weapon is the Word of God. It is not seeking power in this world it is content with weakness. It’s ambitions do not belong to this world at all for It does not belong to this world but a world to come (Jn 17). God’s throne, for now, is not located in any geo-political locale but in the hearts of those who trust in Christ.

Thus God’s Kingdom does not impose its values on those who do not belong to it. The UK, the USA, or any other earthly State, is not God’s Kingdom on earth. The OT Kingdom of Israel is not a paradigm for any present nation State; its present counterpart is the Church. The Church, and only the Church, is God’s holy nation (1 Peter 2:9) and there, among his people, his standards are honoured and upheld. That is not to say that Christians do not commend their values in the public square. They may well do, but they do so if citizenship gives them such rights and not because Christianity insists on influencing government; it doesn’t for, I repeat, it is not of this world (Jn 18:36-38). Here it embraces a cross and does not aspire to a crown.

What kind of freedom of speech and expression will Christians advocate? Certainly not that which promotes moral filth. Much that is tolerated even vaunted by modern liberal States under the pretext of freedom of speech is repugnant to Christians. The liberal arts are awash with what is little more than soft pornography. It is irresponsible, degrading and destructive of society. Christians, in all conscience, cannot approve such toleration.

What of satire?

For Christians all satire will be controlled by speaking the truth in love. Satire is intended to wound. Its aim is to make others look ridiculous. It is a sharp sword that cuts to the bone. If, as we have been regularly told in the aftermath of the Charlie Hebdo atrocity, the pen is mightier than the sword, or the sketch more potent than the semi-automatic, then the pen and sketch must act responsibly. Ridiculing just because we can and openly mocking what another values should not be lightly undertaken. It is not normally the way to win friends and influence people. It hardly promotes peace and dialogue. It is possible to criticise without caricaturing and treating with open contempt; this must be the better way. It is certainly the Christian way. We should treat others as we would like to be treated ourselves. As John Stevens wrote,

Just as Paul called the Corinthian Christians to renounce the worldly methodology of sophistic rhetoric, we are called to renounce cheap and offensive satire. In relation to Muslims the use of such satire is entirely counter-productive. Our goal is not just to win an argument, to disempower a rival or to bolster our own fragile self-esteem in the face of a competing world-view, but to win others to faith in the Lord Jesus.

Christians cannot in all conscience say Je suis Charlie.

There is, of course, a great deal of hypocrisy in the shrill calls for freedom of speech and the apparent championing of it, for as already observed, no one supports full freedom of speech. Not even Charlie Hebdo. Try getting Charlie Hebdo to condone racism or the mocking of homosexuality. Speak intemperately about colour, race or gender in Western societies and see how quickly freedom of speech is stifled. Indeed, many seem to understand it as ‘freedom to screech’, for when Christians seek to express their views reasonably and quietly the screeching of the liberal left soon drowns them out… So much for freedom of speech.. As Dinesh D’Souza has said, ‘somehow freedom for religious expression has become freedom from religious expression’. Christianity is fine as long as its voice is not heard is the freedom that a liberal secular State is keen to grant. Freedom of speech is a myth. Only speech which enshrines the values of a culture at that point in time has freedom to express itself, anything that seriously challenges these will be anathema.

Christians, like many others, value freedom to express their views. They do not regard such freedom as an inalienable right. They understand that freedom of expression is never absolute, nor can be. To the degree they enjoy it they are thankful that God has granted it to them. But they do not take it for granted and Christians in the West recognise that for them the era of Christian privilege seems to be fast coming to an end. Yet this will not deter them for the authority to proclaim the gospel comes from God and not governments.  As in the early church and every previous century of Christian witness, Christ’s followers will go out into the world preaching all that he has commanded, confident that all authority in heaven and earth is given to Christ who has promised to be with them always even to the end of the age (Matt 28 cf Acts 4:20).  Je suis Christ.

See also.


all things new

all things are new

The NT is clear that there is a relationship of promise and fulfilment between the OT and the NT; what is promised in the old is fulfilled in the new. Fulfilment implies both discontinuity and continuity.  However, we should note that when the NT discusses aspects of continuity hard on its heels is normally a stress on discontinuity (Cf. Roms 5:12-21).  The reality is the NT writers are far more anxious to stress the ‘newness’ in fulfilment than the similarity; for them the new eclipses the old.  Indeed the very fact of ‘newness’ (we speak of a New Testament which is a  reference to the biblically referenced ‘new covenant’) suggests there is something, imperfect, inadequate, inferior about the old; the new renders the old passing and obsolete.

Some NT writers like John scarcely mention continuity at all.  After all if the ‘new’ has as its focus, basis and heart, a divine person, the Word who was with God and was God and has become flesh, then here is glory without parallel.  Here is something that was never here before,  the glory of the only Son of his Father full of grace and truth (Jn 1:14). 

There is nothing in the past that matches this.  Here God is introducing something breathtakingly new.  In the past God had spoken in shadows but now he reveals himself in his Son, he reveals himself in full glory, as he really and truly is, for to see the Son is to see the Father. 

No man has seen God at any time but the Son who is in the bosom of the Father has declared him (Jn 1:18).

And so John writes, with radical discontinuity, ‘the law came by Moses but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ’ (Jn 1:17).  Of course, in one sense there was grace and truth in law, after all the law was God’s truth and it did make gracious provision for sin, but John will brook no rival with Christ.  When the true light shines all lesser lights disappear.  He, and he only, is the way, the truth, and the life (titles some may have conferred on law).  He is the fulfilment that eclipses the promise, the new that replaces the old so that the old gladly says, ‘he must increase and I decrease’.  Thus when John the Baptist’ s disciples see Jesus they rightly leave John and follow Jesus; the new had come (Jn 1:35-44).

And it is the ‘newness’ in Christ, the ‘fullness’ that resides in Him that John invites us to receive, the irrepressible joy of eternal life, which is nothing less than shared fellowship with the one true God and Jesus Christ, whom he sent.

water becomes wine

Ch 2 makes this new joy to be found in Christ clear.  It is Jesus first miracle.  He is at a wedding in Cana.  It ought to be an occasion for joy as weddings are.  But the wine, a biblical symbol of joy, had run out.  All they had were empty stone water-jars kept for ritual purification.  Judaism was redundant.  The old had no joy to give.  It was lifeless, powerless, joyless.  Mere ritual.  Only in Jesus could new wine be found and wine that was (paradoxically) better than the old.

His mother knew this.  Instinctively she knows the solution lies in Him. She tells the servants to follow his instructions and entreats her son.  But she is mistaken, for it can be no longer be as a mother asking her son she must beseech but as one who asks her Lord for he is now anointed for his messianic mission and it is as Messiah she is inviting him to act.  Here she can only entreat on the same basis as everyone else; she must come apart from blood relationship and acknowledge him as Lord.  She must come not as one who gave him birth but as one born again through him; one who has received him, believed in his name and been given the right to be called a child of God.  And so he addresses her as ‘woman’ (a title of respect) but not ‘mother’.

His time to be revealed as Messiah had not yet come but Messiah is full of grace and out of that fullness all receive.  He commands the empty jars of (empty) Jewish ritual to be filled with water and served to the guests.  The water flowed as a fully matured wine.  Judaism was powerless to bring up for joy, fullness of joy, lies not in the ritual water of the old but in the rich wine of the new; it lies in Christ.  This is his glory.

John at every point stresses this newness that lies in Christ.  In him will be found a new power, through a new baptism, the baptism of the new covenant, the eschatological  baptism in the Spirit (in 1:33,34).  In him will be found too that eschatological life, the life that Ezekiel saw when dead bones lived, new life in the Spirit (Jn 3:3-10).  In him, God finds a new dwelling place on earth, a tent or temple, where his glory is not hidden but revealed (1:18;  2:19-22).  In him, a new centre of worship is created, a new sacred space, for in his ascension men will worship neither in Jerusalem, Gerazim, nor Mecca, but will worship in spirit and in truth through Christ (4:19-26).

In Christ, old things have passed away and all things have become new.  Day by day believers live in this newness.  Each day the Spirit of the risen reigning Christ bubbles up inside us like a fresh mountain spring, living water, refreshing, renewing, re-invigorating, realizing within us the life of the living triune God.  Filling and flooding our hearts with Christ.  We know even in troubles, especially in troubles, what it is to rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory.

The old is gone: the old self we once were; the old sin we once served; the old master who once duped us; the old world we once loved that hates us.  All are broken cistern that hold no water… empty jars that contain no wine.  The new is come.  In Christ we daily live and have our being.  We look to him and in Him have everything.  Every day is a celebration of all he is.  Every day is Christmas, Easter, Pentecost. We belong to the Eschaton.  The Fulfilment.  The rich wine of New Creation.

Each day belongs to the new, not just January the 1st.


christ the end of the law



Romans 10:4-13


For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.  5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. 6 But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); 9 because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. 11 For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. 13 For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Some debate exists whether by ‘end’ Paul means ‘goal’ or ‘terminus’.  Which it is, in the final, analysis, probably doesn’t greatly matter.  Both are true.  However, that being said, in my opinion in this text Paul’s focus is on the law as a terminus rather than goal.  He is not focussing on the prophetic nature of the law (3:21) but on its explicit principle; the law as a means of righteousness (v4) or life (v5).   

With the arrival of Christ any possibility of life or righteousness by the law (always a hope doomed to failure anyway) was now past.  With the arrival of Christ  God’s righteousness and life are located in Him.  The law is now redundant.  No longer is it offered by works, as in the OC, since it is now revealed as available only by faith, in the NC; and what was immeasurably beyond reach on the principle of works is now within easy grasp on the principle of faith.

This is precisely the point in 10:6-13.

At first blush this text throws up some problems for the OT text that undergirds these verses is Deut 30 and appears to apply to the OT law.


11 “For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. 12 It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 13 Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ 14 But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

We seem to have a double conundrum.  

Firstly, Moses appears to be saying that keeping the law is a relatively easy matter, a view with which both Old and New Testaments are at odds.  Secondly, Paul, in Romans 10, clearly understands this Deut 30 text to refer to the gospel and not the law? 

What is the solution to these difficulties?

The solution lies in doing what we must always do when we see the Old Testament cited in the New – we must look carefully at the context of the OT citation.

In Deut 29, 30, immediately prior to the above text Moses gives a prophetic history of Israel.  The nation will sin grievously under the OC.  It will prove a covenant impossible to keep.  As a result of their sin, Israel will be exiled from the land.  In exile God will begin to turn the hearts of the people to himself (there they had no law and so could not look to it for righteousness; they were entirely dependent on God’s promised Deliverer) and in time he will deliver them from exile, give them a new heart, and bless them.

Deut 30:6-10

6 And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. 7 And the Lord your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. 8 And you shall again obey the voice of the Lord and keep all his commandments that I command you today. 9 The Lord your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the Lord will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, 10 when you obey the voice of the Lord your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

Moses is describing the NC.  He is describing in OT language the gospel age, the age when God Himself would do for Israel what they could not do for themselves.   The impossible, acquiring righteousness and life, would no longer be an unrealistic pipe dream,  for God in Christ would achieve it.  They would not need to try to reach into heaven in obedience (a metaphor for the impossible) for heaven would come down to them in Christ.  Nor would their pursuit of righteousness take them into the depths of the sea, the abyss, for Christ has descended there and risen from it in glorious redemptive power.

Instead of demanding the impossible, superhuman works, the NC of grace would be a near word, within easy reach, a word in their mouth and heart….  as they confess with their mouth Jesus as Lord and believe on their heart God raised him from the dead.  It would be a word of faith in all that God achieved in Christ.  Faith proved to be sincere by confessed allegiance to him. 

And thus the law for righteousness came to an end for a righteousness of God (not of man) was revealed, a righteousness that is by faith in Christ, unto all, but only upon all who believe.  For those thirled to law-righteousness, as Isaiah predicted, Christ would be a rejected stone over which they would stumble, but for  those who believe he is the foundation stone of all God’s promised security and blessing.  Either way, his arrival signalled the end of the law with its premise of ‘this do and live’.

This Gospel Word, is the heart of the NC, a covenant not limited to the nation of Israel but one that invites in gentiles too, for ‘all who call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved’.

In this way, by the introduction of God’s righteousness in Christ heralding the redundancy of law-righteousness,  it seems clear that ‘end’ refers principally to ‘terminus’, however, for those who insist in squeezing in ‘goal’ I shall not demur.


definite atonement

I know some will disagree with the contention in this post.  That’s fine.  Christians may disagree agreeably over lots of things.  I wish to simply lay out the basics of why I believe the sacrifice of our Lord was not only universal in extent but also specific in intent.  My focus is not on the universal but on the specific.  It is for me a cause for great wonder and gratitude that God not only loved the world of rebellious humanity but in a specific sense the Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me.

In this snapshot of the atonement then the universal aspects of Christ’s sacrifice are assumed.  The Bible is clear that the sacrifice of Christ had a cleansing effect in heaven itself.  I have no doubt that Christ loved the world -the whole world –  and gave himself for it.  My focus is not on these, nor Is it to deny or diminish these, but to demonstrate that there is a specific focus in the atonement that is more than merely a subset of the whole but is tied in some way to purpose and intent.  In a word, there is clearly a sense in which the atonement is because God loves the world but there is just as clearly a sense in which it is because he loves his own.  If we as humans are capable of such different kinds of love it would be strange if God were not.  If we are capable of making sacrifices that have the potential to benefit many while having a definite intention to benefit our own, why not God.  


So where is specificity taught?  The best place to begin is with the idea of covenant.  In OT  times covenants were made between specific parties.  Major covenants were often ratified by a covenant blood sacrifice and covenant meal.  Both sacrifice and meal were exclusive to those bound in covenant relationship. The specificity of the sacrifice was underlined by its blood being sprinkled on the covenant people.   In the OT these features can be seen in various significant covenants between God and those with whom he chooses to enter into covenant.  When we come to the NT we see the same covenantal features in the New Covenant.  The covenant sacrifice of the NC is the death of Christ.  In the Upper Room as Jesus eats the Passover Meal (associated with an old people and an old redemption and an old covenant) with his disciples, he introduces a new meal commemorating a new redemption associated with a new covenant with a new (or renewed) people.  We read,

Luke 22:20

In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

Specificity is stamped on the sacrifice.  It is for the covenant people guaranteeing the covenant promises to them.  The covenant people are not indeterminate. They are not nebulous and undefined, a mere potentiality.  They are specific and concrete, those who have faith in Christ.   It is specifically for them the sacrifice is made, upon them it’s blood is sprinkled (1 Peter 1:2),  and it is they who participate in the covenant meal.  They are ‘the many’ of Isaiah 52, 53.  Those who shall be astonished and understand.  Those with whom he shall share a portion and divide the spoil; his offspring (53:10).

In Hebrews this specificity is enhanced.

Hebrews 9:15

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins commiintted under the first

Notice the new covenant sacrifice guarantees salvation blessings for the covenant people. Those in covenant relationship will receive the promised eternal inheritance, the mediator will ensure it and the certainty rests on what his sacrifice achieved.   It didn’t merely potentially ransom them, it actually ransomed them; it set them free from sins.  The sacrifice effected the salvation of the covenant people.

While it is true that the new covenant people are those who believe, in Hebrews it is not their belief that is the focus it God’s call.  The NC people are ‘the called’.   This is of course consistent with how the main covenants work.  It is God (the greater covenant partner) who is sovereign.  The covenant and the covenant partner is always his initiative.  He chooses those with whom he will enter covenant and he decides the terms.  In the NC the divine initiative could not be clearer.  The covenant is monergistic; its his will and power that accomplishes it.  It is a covenant of ‘I will’ (Jer 31:33,34; Ezek 36:22-32).  In this covenant faith, as with all else, is itself a covenant gift (Eph 2:8,9; Roms 12:3; 1 Tim 1:14,14; Phil 1:29; 2Thess 1:3; Luke 22:31,32; Mark 9:24; Luke 17:5).  In the NC God meets its obligations.  Thus those ‘called’ will receive the ‘promised inheritance’ – the death of Christ secures it.


This specificity in the death of Christ is seen elsewhere too.  We see it in John 10 where the shepherd’s death is specifically for the sheep.

John 10:11-15

 11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.  14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.”

The death of the shepherd arises from his love for his sheep.  The sheep are a defined flock. They are those known by the Shepherd and who know him.   They are those the Father has given (10:29).  They are his ‘own’ (10:3, 14). It is for these sheep he dies.  He cares about them in a unique way.  They are the focus of his death.


Special  love also lies at the heart of the next example; Christ’s love for his bride, the church.

Eph 5:25-27

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing[a] her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.

It is impossible to view this love is just part of the general love that God has for the world.  The whole image demands a discriminating, choosing, and bestowing love.  It is the wonder of an  inexplicable love for a moral Cinderella; a purposeful love that intends to transform her into something more wonderful than any fairy tale ending. It would be perverse to muddy this image with injecting the bride’s choice of her lover.  The whole focus is the love of the lover.  It is his delight in someone who is now ‘bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh’.  In a patriarchal culture the selecting love is the initiative of the male.  In this unique, undivided, exclusive love the bride is called to luxuriate and delight.  In it she finds security and dignity.   

And this exclusive love is the reason Christ dies.  Christ loved the church and gave himself for her.  Hallelujah.

The high priest, Caiaphas, declared (albeit unwittingly) the targeted nature of the atonement when he said ,

John 11:52

50 Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” 51 He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, 52 and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

Likewise the redeemed in heaven understand that the blood ransom of the cross was designed not to ransom every tribe and language and people and nation but to ransom from among every tribe and language and people and nation.

Revelation 5:9

9 And they sang a new song, saying,

“Worthy are you to take the scroll

and to open its seals,

for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God

from every tribe and language and people and nation.

Thus as one writer well says, ‘though Christ died for all men in some sense, he didn’t die for all men in the same sense’.  While the atonement is designed to be sufficient for all it is intended to be efficient for the many.

In the words of Romans 3,  

22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all (universal) and upon all them that believe (specific).

the cavekeeper

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


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