Law and Grace – Part 2

We saw yesterday that although we aren’t under the Mosaic Law we are nevertheless still bound by the commands and strictures of the New Covenant, including the ones which many Christians seem to not like. There is nothing lawless about the Christian life, and we are scripturally bound by what God’s Word terms the ‘Royal Law.’ Not being under the Mosaic Law doesn’t mean that we are not under anything at all. Indeed, not being under Moses means we are actually under the Lord Jesus Christ, and precisely as Lord of all He is meant to be obeyed, and obeyed implicitly! But what about the teaching that many Christians buy into that we are meant to still be subject to the Mosaic Law in some way? Let’s go to the scripture we need then in this regard:

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

‘The days are coming, declares the Lord,

    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
    It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
    This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.’

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.” (Hebrews 8:7-13)

I think the problem is that some Christians fear that the idea of the Mosaic Law being done away with in some way impugns it, and therefore disrespects the Lord Himself and His chosen people Israel. This is understandable but mistaken. Paul deals with this in his writings too (Romans 7 and Galatians 3 in particular), and demonstrates how the Law was perfect for what it was designed to do, but that having so wonderfully fulfilled its role is now necessarily obsolete. I hope this isn’t going to be too ‘Trekkie’ for anyone but let’s properly understand this by looking at modern day space travel and getting to grips with the design of the space shuttle and how it works.

The difference between the space shuttle and more conventional spacecraft is that it is designed to return to earth intact after each mission. It is, in such respect, as much an aircraft as it is a spacecraft. But of course in order to get into orbit in the first place it needs far more fuel than it could ever contain within itself. In order to fulfil whatever mission it is on, and then return to earth in one piece, it has to be designed just the way it is, thus precluding any idea of it having tanks large enough to hold enough fuel to get it into orbit. It is therefore fitted with booster rockets which do contain enough fuel, but which are not an integral part of its design. The shuttle is therefore transported into orbit through the agency of these attached booster rockets which, once in orbit, are ejected to be burned up and destroyed as they re-enter the atmosphere, being no longer needed.

Now here’s the point: although once the shuttle is approaching orbital height the booster rockets are jettisoned, it’s not because they were no good, or because they were a load of rubbish, or because they were flawed in some way and couldn’t get the job done, having to therefore be replaced by something better. No! They are jettisoned precisely because they have done their job and are therefore just no longer needed. More than that, if they weren’t jettisoned and remained attached to the shuttle they would actually become a dangerous liability. They would not only hinder the shuttle in the performance of its mission whilst in space, but actually cause its destruction upon re-entry as both boosters and shuttle burn up in the atmosphere. Streamlining is not needed anything like as much during take-off as it is during re-entry.

This is exactly the case with the Mosaic Law. The reason it is redundant since the death of Jesus is because it finished its job and simply has no further role to play. It got Israel, and humanity in general, to the coming of Jesus and therefore to the enactment of the New Covenant. It didn’t fail in any way at all! Indeed, it performed its role to complete perfection! But having done its job, then just like the booster rockets on the space shuttle, it is discarded. But also like the booster rockets on the space shuttle, any failure to properly discard it inevitably results in disaster further down the line, and any mixture of the Old Covenant with the New Covenant will rob the believer of the full experience of what being in the New Covenant is actually all about.

In every respect the New Covenant, outlined largely in the New Testament, trumps the Old Covenant, and therefore also much in the Old Testament. And for anyone who balks at that and wants to hang on to their Old Testament ‘booster rockets’ just be clear that throughout the Old Testament God allowed, and blessed, polygamy. However, neither polygamy nor the Law of Moses are for Christians who are under the New Covenant of Grace. The ‘old’ is gone and only the New Covenant now stands!

One more thing: What about the Ten Commandments? Aren’t they binding on Christians? Answer: Of course not!! The Decalogue, so called, is part of a covenant that is, as we are seeing, dead and gone. None of it’s commands are therefore binding on anyone, let alone believers who are under the New Covenant. But of course nine of those ten commandments are brought over into the New Covenant and are therefore binding on us for that reason! So, of course we aren’t free to lie, or to commit adultery or steal etc; but not because those commands are in the Old Covenant (Mosaic Law) but because they are also part of the New Covenant of Grace. The only command in the Decalogue that isn’t carried over into the New Covenant is the sabbath command, this being why sabbath observance is not part of the Christian life. (Though Paul does give concession that if someone has a weak conscience regarding it, then it is correct for them to observe such!)

So what we actually have here with the whole Law and Grace thing is is another example of the twin errors of Legalism and License. To in any way insist that the Mosaic Law is binding on the believer is to require more than the New Covenant does, and is hence legalism; but to distort Paul’s teaching about Law and Grace so as to imply that there are New Covenant commands we are free to break is to not require as much as the New Covenant does, and is therefore licentiousness. (There were obviously aspects of the function of the Mosaic Law which I haven’t mentioned relative to the nation of Israel whilst it was a theocracy, but we are here only concerned with it as it pertains to the Christian life.)

Definition: We are not under the Law of Moses because it has done its job and has been jettisoned so as to make way for the New Covenant of Grace. However, the New Covenant of Grace, though a free gift that cannot be earned, nevertheless contains commands and demands that Christians are duty bound to fully obey and to be in compliance with. These demands and commands are clearly stated in the pages of the New Testament and are non-negotiable, including those which many modern Christians don’t appear to like very much!

 

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Law and Grace – Part 1

“…for you are not under law but under grace…” (Romans 6:14)

Many believers seem to be quite hazy on this, so because it’s so important it might be profitable to take a deeper look. I can illustrate the way in which many believers completely mis-understand this crucial verse through the story of a young guy I knew who, during a discussion about keeping to speed limits on the road, maintained that it didn’t matter that he would regularly speed in his car because as a Christian he wasn’t under law but under grace. And there you have it!

Another example would be the sheer number of believers, especially here in the UK, who are feminists, and who unquestioningly accept the idea of female pastors and Bible teachers. When made aware of the verses in the New Testament that specifically teach against this, rather than addressing what those verses actually say they will similarly just play the ‘law vs grace’ card. They virtually always go straight to the verse where Paul says, “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:6) However, their take on this is that it means that the Holy Spirit will sometimes lead believers counter to what scripture teaches about certain things, and that when that happens then we must obviously go with His leading irrespective of what the text of scripture says. This, they say, is an aspect of what ‘not being under law but under grace’ means.

What they never seem to properly address though is just how widely this principle they so readily espouse might be legitimately applied. After all, if the Holy Spirit leads some believers to go against some of the things clearly taught in the New Testament (such as women not being in leadership in the churches), then what’s to stop Him leading any believer to go against anything taught in it? Might the Holy Spirit lead a single guy to sleep with his girlfriend? Might He lead a husband to leave his wife for another woman? Might He lead someone to abort their baby? Might He, as many Christians are now claiming, be leading God’s people to embrace gay marriage?

And of course it’s no use responding, as they often do, by saying that He would never lead anyone to do anything like that, because any such objection could only be on the basis that scripture clearly teaches that such things are wrong, and that the Holy Spirit would therefore never lead anyone to do them. But hang on! The New Testament equally teaches that we should obey the governing powers, and that it’s wrong for women to be in church leadership! So do you see the problem? I obviously accept that having women in leadership in the church isn’t in the same league of wrongdoing as such things as speeding, immorality or abortion, but the point here isn’t degrees of wrongness but simply whether or not scripture teaches a particular thing, whatever it might be. The inconsistency of such thinking is absolutely astounding! To maintain that some things scripture teaches are absolute and therefore binding whilst other things it teaches are negotiable and can be overruled by the leading of the Holy Spirit is complete nonsense. And of course the other problem is that of who gets to decide which bits are binding and which bits aren’t, and how one could be sure that what one concludes is the leading of the Holy Spirit and not an evil spirit deceiving one! The moment you buy into the deception that the Holy Spirit ever leads counter to scripture, then what you are actually saying is that you can simply decide for yourself which bits of the Bible you are willing to obey and which you are not. It is to be in disobedience to God”s Word, in whatever way, whilst trying to make out that He actually wants you to do so. Convenient, eh?

So let’s get this clear in our minds once and for all. In both the above verses Paul is comparing the Law of Moses to the covenant of grace (being saved by grace through faith in Jesus), and making the simple point that obedience to the Law of Moses doesn’t, and was never intended, to save, such being the reason for the establishment of the covenant of grace which does. The Law convicts of sin in order to demonstrate our need of salvation, but is not itself designed to do anything further. It is, so to speak, the straight edge that reveals our bent-ness! Only the covenant of grace, the new covenant, can bring about forgiveness and result in us being declared righteous in God’s sight. The Mosaic Law (the letter) kills because it convicts of sin and that is all, whereas the New Covenant (the Spirit) actually enables personal holiness through the Lord’s life in the believer. Paul’s comparison is not, therefore, letter – as in the text of scripture, vs Spirit – as in the subjective guidance and leading of the Holy Spirit in the believers life. No! It is the Mosaic Law vs the New Covenant of Grace!

But although the covenant of grace is, by very definition, salvation apart from works; that is, a free gift, and therefore not in any way earned or merited, it nevertheless still contains commands and instructions which, once saved, we are required to submit to. It isn’t that getting to Heaven is then contingent upon ongoing obedience to those commands, of course not! Getting to Heaven is contingent upon what Jesus did for us on the cross, and that we have entered into that through faith in Him; but having become God’s children when we were born again – that being what being born actually means – our Father in Heaven wants us to then be good children who are becoming increasingly obedient to Him. Further, he will discipline, and even punish us, when we are not being obedient, but such chastisement has nothing whatsoever to do with whether or not we will make it to Heaven. It’s simply that He wants us to start being the obedient children down here that we will eventually fully and perfectly be for eternity in glory.

Definition: the law we are not under is the Mosaic Law which kills. We are, however, under the New Covenant which gives life, and which requires us to live in obedience to whatever scripture teaches other than the Mosaic Law. Regarding our examples of obeying the law of the land when driving, and women not being in leadership in the church, both are taught in the New Testament quite separate to the Mosaic Law, and are therefore binding on us as Christians. Being under grace is not, therefore, as many believers seem to think, a form of lawlessness that gives us the freedom to just go against anything in the Bible we don’t happen to like, and to do so by claiming that the Holy Spirit is leading us. The Holy Spirit never leads counter to scripture – He wrote it, for heavens sake – and we are completely deceived if we think but for one moment that He does.

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)

That’s the balance! There you have the correct mix! The law that was given through Moses is, as Paul and the rest of the New Testament writers make so clear, gone! It has been superseded and replaced by the covenant of grace. But that covenant of grace isn’t just grace alone with no further definition or clarification! No! It is grace and truthand that changes everything! And the truth of this covenant of grace that we are under, its terms and conditions, have been fully revealed in the pages of the New Testament, there therefore being a great many requirements and demands on us. In other words, it is also law in such respect, just like the Law of Moses is! It has different commands and instructions in many respects, certainly, but it nevertheless still does contain commands and instructions that we are expected by the Lord to live in obedience to. Paul calls this new covenant ‘the law of the Spirit’, whilst James refers to it as being the ‘royal law!’ And there you have it! Not being under the Mosaic Law doesn’t mean we aren’t under law at all. Quite the contrary! We are under the law of the new covenant of grace! So whereas it’s fully biblical to think in terms of the Mosaic Law vs Grace, it is completely unbiblical to think in terms of Grace vs Truth! So too when it comes to love. We can no more set love and truth against each other than we can grace and truth. As Paul says, “..speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15)

There is therefore never a legitimate choice between grace and truth, any more than there can be a legitimate choice between love and truth. It is never grace or truth, and neither is it ever be love or truth. This isn’t an either/or deal but strictly a both/and one! It’s grace and truth and love and truth…or it is none of them at all! Whether you choose grace and love over truth, or truth over grace and love, you will always end up with something that is not only unbiblical, but ugly in the extreme. As we saw in an earlier post, you will end up being either harshly legalistic or sinfully licentiousness! Grace and scripture, and love and scripture! That’s the balance!

Al’righty then! We’ve dealt with the error of thinking that not being under law but under grace is a kind of lawlessness, but now we must tackle the equal and opposite error which many Christians buy into, that we are in some way still under the Mosaic Law.

See you tomorrow then!

 

The Ezekiel Factor

“The Spirit then lifted me up and took me away, and I went in bitterness and in the anger of my spirit, with the strong hand of the LORD on me. And I came to the exiles who lived at Tel-Abib near the Kebar River. And I sat where they sat overwhelmed among them for  seven days.” (Ezekiel 3:14-15)

The intent of the above verses follows on very much from the previous post concerning Jesus’ view of Nicodemus and the uniqueness of each individual. Two vitally important things are inter-twined in them! The first is that Ezekiel had already received the heart of the Lord concerning the situation into which he was being sent in order to speak the Word of the Lord; but the second is that he also then had to embrace, feel and share the hearts of the people in those situations before uttering a word!

The Hebrew of the text conveys the idea of the silence of deep mourning, anguish and distress. In other words, it wasn’t enough for him to feel what the Lord was feeling concerning the people he was being sent to, he had to also feel what they were feeling in the situation, thus sharing in their pain and distress, before delivering the burden of the Lord to them. Hence the need for him to sit silently with them for seven days so that he could become properly identified with them, share their hearts, and feel their pain. This is what compassion is: to enter into the distress and anguish of those you are seeking to share the Lord with. It is to feel their pain, to vibrate in sympathy with the distress they are going through, only then bringing to bear any truth or wisdom such as they need to hear. It is what Paul means in 1 Corinthians when he says that believers should “weep with those who weep.”

This is yet another facet of a theme that anyone who knows me will know that I return to again and again: the biblical relationship between grace and truth, stated elsewhere by Paul in terms of the need to “speak the truth in love.”

We should never just dole out truth and advice left, right and centre, irrespective of how true and scriptural that truth might be, or how biblical, inspired and wise the advise. No! Not in a million years! We are to rather bring the Lord’s heart to bear on the hearts of whoever His burden through us is for. This means that, like Ezekiel, we must first actually receive His heart and mind concerning whatever the burden might be, but then become one with, and feel the pain of, those for whom the burden has been given. This is what intercession is, and what compassion actually looks like. It is to become one, and to vibrate in sympathy with, the pain of those to whom we are called.

Truth is obviously always objective, but what we are highlighting here is that so often we lack this subjective emotional element of actually feeling for people, of resonating in identification with their hurts, joys and fears. It is not mere sentimentality because what we are speaking of issues from, and will always apply, the objective truth of God’s Word. No! It is rather to become more and more like the God Who feels the pain of every man, woman and child whom He has created.

At the heart of everything God is, and has done, is incarnation. In the Lord Jesus He has incarnated Himself into every aspect of human life. And this He has done because not only is He the God of Truth, He is also the God of all Grace. And what this issues in is a principle that underlines everything concerning the manner of His dealings with us, and it is simply this: God beats the problem by becoming the problem! Think about it! What was the problem? Human beings! A fallen human race! So what did God do? He became a human being called Jesus! He beats the problem by becoming the problem! But of course it’s so much more than just that because what was the underlying problem that had made men, women and children a problem in the first place? Sin! Human beings are a problem because of their problem with sin! So what did the Lord do about that?

“God made Him who knew no sin to become sin, that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21. Emphasis mine.)

In our relationships with both unbelievers and our fellow Christians with whom we fellowship, incarnation is at the very heart of how we should live, and the kind of people we should be. Seeking to identify with those around that we might feel what they feel. That we might vibrate in sympathy with them, and sit where they sit, overwhelmed among them, in order to discern, and then meet, their needs.

“And I came to the exiles who lived at Tel-Abib near the Kebar River. And I sat where they sat overwhelmed among them for seven days.”