Under the Law and Keeping the Law

Understanding how the Mosaic Law relates to the follower of Christ has elicited all sorts of responses over the years. More recently we have Tullian Tchividjian, who espouses a very Lutheran view of the Law. He reduces the majority of the Scriptures into “imperative” and “indicative.” Imperative being the command to people concerning what they must do: i.e. law; contrasted with the indicative, indicating what has been done by God (in Christ) for you; i.e. the gospel.

In the above schematic, the law was God’s command to us, telling us what we must do. The primary purpose (at least retrospectively) was to lead us to see our own needs and deficiencies. Then, God’s second word was the gospel. The news that all of God’s commands have been met by the Messiah of Israel.

Whatever value this scheme may have in terms of illustration, it is certainly not what Paul meant, or the rest of Scripture for that matter. Other spin offs of this view vary considerably, but are related. They include: 1. The view that God’s expectations for us to behave a certain way has been relativized by Jesus: “all you need to do is believe in Jesus” they say, “Jesus did the rest.” 2. The view that obedience is “automatic” when you believe the right things. 3. The view that the law was God’s first way of salvation and it didn’t work out. So God scrapped it and introduced the gospel. 4. The view that the Law was perfect, but mankind wasn’t, so it wasn’t a good match up. 

All of these views I think miss the mark; some worse than others. Fundamentally all of them misunderstand the law. These misunderstandings work themselves out in all sorts of ways. Beginning with a consideration of the law, I would like to examine some key correctives to some of these views.

Let us start with the fact that the Law contains provisions for sins. By that I mean, that the law does not demand sinless perfection as many mistake it to. The law makes all sorts of provisions for when an individual sins, or the nation of Israel as a whole. The Law was therefore full of Grace, full of God’s forgiveness offered mercifully to his covenant people. When we think of sacrificing a goat, we need to remember that God is mercifully removing the guilt of the person performing the sacrifice. The sacrifice of the animal isn’t a “work.” The sacrifice of the animal was a form of good news, of grace, of God’s provision of a means by which he would deal with sin without punishing the perpetrator with the full consequences of the sin.

This leads to the next point. People like David repeat, throughout the psalms, that he is a righteous and blameless man. Some find this very uncomfortable. How can David claim these things?  He has sinned a plenty. Well, when he sinned, he embraced God’s gracious provision of sacrificial means of propitiation; this provision was by means of the Mosaic Law. He therefore was a perfect man. When he sinned, he confessed his sin, repented, and sought to follow God.

This is one helpful tip that will help correct misunderstood positions regarding the law. There are several others that we will cover. For now, let us bullet a few points that we will expound on later.

  • the law does have a negative role to play within Israel.
  • Israel is called to be the means through which salvation would come to the world; this will not happen without the law
  • many times, disobedience is linked to unbelief in the Scriptures, so believing God properly, does lead to obedience, but certainly not “automatically,” sweat and human effort are still necessary
  • Being a disciple of Christ is a requirement to enter the new heavens and earth; this is not merely “believing.”
  • The law was never the means of Salvation. Abraham was “saved” by believing God 430 years before the law was given. The Law was given as a supplement to that; not to replace it.

My new Project: What does it mean to Know God?

When you pray to a God who is Spirit, how can you keep your mind attentive to a being who is shapeless, odorless, colorless, and transcendentally out of reach?

If you focus on a thought, like the one above, instead of actually talking to God, then, you are thinking… but not actually praying; at least it would seem. Some would suggest that you use things in creation like trees, flowers, music, and so forth as catalysts of praise and thanksgiving. How can a tree connect you to the odorless, colorless, formless entity that you are seeking communication with? 

Can it become a idol? People are guilty of making creation or things in creation an idol, so, why suggest focusing on creation in order to worship God, if creation is the very thing that we as humans are said to disobediently replace God with?

At any rate, it is not acceptable for mature believers to have a translucent golden watery fairy dust Spirit in our minds when we address our Father in Heaven. Nor is it adequate to have a big man with a big beard. What then?

Never mind images! How can we love this God, and talk to him, relate to him as a person, as our Father, without wandering around in our thoughts, or injecting strange images that distort who he actually is. How can we attain the deepest and most profound relationship imaginable for ourselves as God’s creatures; especially when it rarely feels like a relationship at all. Our relationship to God is supposed to be the consummate relationship. In a sort, it is to be like Tolkien’s Ring of Power, the one Relationship to rule them all. 

A regularly recurring painful experience in my life is prayer. I go to Him who I feel so unfamiliar with, but, ironically, the one around whom my entire life revolves. I have given him everything, and I want to know Him. When attention turns to Him, there is a awkward unfamiliarity that stifles conversation. What do I do? Ignore the unfamiliarity and ask for stuff. Pray for the lost, and for the Mission of God’s Kingdom. Pray for my family. Or just begin to give thanks to Him for all that He has given me. The fear remains, however, that my life is certainly revolving around something else than Him, if, every time I try to talk to Him, I can’t even figure out who He really is without abandoning the whole enterprise of prayer to think theology (biblical stories, Scriptures, and so forth). Trying to hold Packer’s attributes of God in my mind, and push them into a mental square while imagining what kind of a person a God with all these attributes is like; it is just difficult to sustain. Then to begin talking to this imaginary mental projection while wondering why it feels like I’m talking to a mere imaginary mental projection engenders frustration. No wonder I like reading more than praying.

So, what is the key to relating to God in the most complete, dynamic, biblically intended way? This is not a question that I intend to answer quickly. It is not a question that I can answer right now to my own satisfaction. I’m compiling some resources: James K.A. Smith, “Desiring the Kingdom,” Diverse writings from C.S. Lewis, and most importantly, Edwards’s “the End for Which God Created the World.” I am committing myself to this project, and as time and resources allow, I hope that in answering these questions (if I do) that I will have something that will help others who have similar struggles.   

M. Kline on Genesis 1 (Days 1 and 4)

Understandably dissatisfied with the contrived nature of these attempts to avoid acknowledging that the act of making the luminaries was a day four event, other opponents of the non-sequential view of the creation narrative have been driven to seek a solution in a reinterpretation of day one. They would account for the presence of light and the cycle of day and night in day one by positing for this point in time some light source other than the one whose origin they admit is assigned to day four and which (according to their commitment to the temporally sequential order of the narrative) did not, therefore, exist until three days (or ages) after day one.

Some speculate about a supernatural light source, a manifestation of divine glory in space. But that distorts the eschatological design of creation history, according to which the advent of God’s Glory as the source of illumination that does away with the need for the sun awaits the Consummation. 30 Indeed, the assumption of such a supernatural mode of ongoing providence during the creation week is contradicted by the assumptions that inform Gen. 2:5ff. 31

No more satisfactory is the suggestion that the hypothetical lighting system was some natural arrangement. That would raise questions about the wisdom of the divine procedure. Why would God create such a vast cosmic order only to discard it three days (or ages) later? Why create a replacement cosmos to perform the very same functions already being performed perfectly well by the original system?32 Like the gap theory of Gen. 1:2, this scenario, with
its mid-course cosmic upheaval and starting over, would introduce a jarring, discordant note into the simple, stately symphony of the cosmic house-building ” planned, performed, and perfected by the all wise master builder.

Any such approach that disconnects the luminaries of day four from the light of day one, denying the cause-effect relationship of the two, violates the overall thematic scheme of the creation narrative. As we have seen, the successive members of the first triad of days correspond to the successive days of the second triad, the relationship of each matching pair being that of creation kingdom (theme of the first triad) to creature king (theme of the second triad). The correspondence is especially close in the day one-day four pair. It is clearly the light phenomena (kingdom) of day one over which the luminaries (kings) of day four rule, producing and regulating it. Temporal recapitulation most certainly occurs at day four and hence there is no escaping the conclusion that the narrative sequence is not intended to be the chronological sequence.

Meredith G. Kline, “Space and Time in the Genesis Cosmogony” Perspectives on Science and the Christian Faith 48: 1 (Mar. 1996): 6-8.

Inter-Racial Marriage

My wife had some conversations recently surrounding the topic of Inter-Racial Marriage. After answering her questions I thought it would be beneficial to jot a few of my answers down for others to see; seeing as this is a common issue in the South.

Question 1: Is it wrong to marry people of another race?

Answer: According to the Bible, it is NOT wrong to marry people of another race. As is well known, Moses, A Jewish man married a black Cushite Woman. This angered Miriam, and she spoke out against Moses because she did not approve of this marriage. God curses Miriam with leprosy and defended Moses. “Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married, for he had married a Cushite woman.” Numbers 12:1. For those who are interested: Cush was in the southern area of Egypt, which is well documented as a ethnically black area.

Question 2: Is it wrong for someone to marry a person who is not a Christian?

Answer: According to the Bible, Yes it is wrong. 2 Corinthians 6:14 advises against “yoking” oneself to an unbeliever; which is a reference to marrying an unbeliever and binding yourself to them in a lifelong covenant. The Old Testament also contains warnings about Jewish men marrying women who worship other gods.

Question 3: If God approved of inter-racial marriage, why did he not create bi-racial people to start with?

Answer: Well, God only created one man originally; Adam. So God did not directly create white, black, mexican, and brazilian either. Chances are, Adam had the appearance of a Middle Eastern man, since Eden was in the Middle East. Which brings up an interesting point. All people, black, white, and all the rest all come from one Man, Adam, who was created directly by God. So, indirectly, through Adam, God did create all races, including the bi-racial kind. The difference in color is simply a difference in concentration of melanin in the skin. There are obvious adaptations that come along with this like the eyes of Asian men and women, sickle cell traits, etc.

Question 4: What do you do with people who don’t care about what the Bible says?

Answer: Showing a person what the Bible says on an issue is about as far as you can go. Everyone has their own opinion; some people choose to believe what the Bible says, and others do not. The Bible is not an opinion, it is the authoritative truth. It tells us which opinions are right and which are wrong. If it says that interacial marriage was approved by God (in the case of Moses marrying a Cushite) then that is the absolute truth regardless of opinion, upbringing, newspapers, nations, cultures, likes, dislikes, etc. For a Christian, the Bible is the ultimate authority. If it says that marrying an unbeliever is wrong, then it is wrong. If the Bible says that inter-racial marriage is ok, then it is ok. Some cannot accept what the Bible teaches on the matter, however.

Acts 19

In Acts 19, Paul comes in contact with people and he asks them if they have received the Spirit. They respond “No.” Then he asked, “3 And he said, “Into what then were you baptized?” They said, Into John’s baptism.”

What is crucial to understand is the organic period after the time of the crucifixion but before the destruction of the temple in A.D. 70. To clarify an important thing to keep in mind: Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness. The same is true for Moses, he believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, and so on to Joshua and all of the saved of the OT; they were saved in terms of an Old covenant salvaiton: their sins were forgiven, they had favor with God, they were accepted by God. Faith, however, is not stagnant or passive, it does not “do nothing.” It is active, and belief in God was expressed in submission to God’s Law, and obedience to it. When the law was broken, belief in God’s promises led to obedience to other aspects of the law such as sacrifices.

So that, when you get to Acts 2, or Acts 19, many of the people were saved, with an old covenant salvation. The coming of Christ however is ushering in a new era, a new covenant, and is therefore bringing to a close the old covenant. At this transitionary period, God has people who were truly his saved people, who were still living under the old covenant salvation. God must deliver them into the new covenant, before totally destroying the old. Jesus in Matt. 24, actually prophesies of the destruction of the temple, which was the epicenter of this covenant. In A.D. 70, God officially ends that covenant.

So, when Peter preaches the sermon in Acts 2, the people there come to believe in Jesus, and God speaks an unmistakable miraculous heavenly “AMEN” by confirming the preaching, and rightness of the new covenant inaugurated by Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. He does it by pouring out his Spirit in the manner that he promised he would during the last days. Contrary to Tim LaHaye and others, the last days began with Jesus according to Hebrews 1:1-2. The last days, when He would pour out his Spirit on all flesh; was officially initiated in Acts 2.

When we get to Acts 19, then, we have people who are Old covenant saved, but not new covenant saved. They too must be delivered from the Old covenant into the new era. Paul does this by laying on his hands, and God validates Paul’s message to authenticate the teachings of Paul as truly from God.

Now, people who read Acts 19 and wonder whether Salvation should transpire in every individual life, the way it did for these followers of John the Baptist, are missing something very important. When you read Acts’s account of the conversion for Paul for example, he went around killing Christians, and Christ met him on the road to Damacus, and there Paul was converted to Christianity. It would be wrong to assume, that if I go around killing Christians, that Christ too will meet me on a road similar to Damascus. Acts is more so telling us what happened at this crucial time in history, more than it is telling us what will continue to happen as a normative experience for future believers.

The miraculous events in Acts have more to do with the cataclysmic event of the coming of Jesus on the Old covenant than is usually recognized. The question is not about how individuals will experience salvaiton, but about the world changing events precipitated by the coming of Jesus. The coming of Jesus is a once for all, unrepeatable event than cannot take place again. So too the events in Acts, in many ways are unrepeatable events that are testifying to the inauguration of the new covenant. Never again will there be people who are Old covenant saved, who are later to become new covenant saved. This is a special time in history that will never be repeated. We must remember that God loved the law of Moses, and he instituted it himself. Now in Christ he is ushering in a new covenant that is to fulfill and thus remove that covenant. The people who were Old covenant saved, didn’t suddenly become unsaved by jesus’s coming and work on the cross; they were people that MUST transition into the New covenant. For that to happen, God validated the preaching of the apostles to insure that this happened; and he validated that message with His Spirit.

A significant point of the new covenant being that all believers in Christ would be indwelt by the Holy Spirit, including both Jews and Gentiles. You can see this clearly in Acts 10 where the spirit falls on gentile god-fearers in just the same way as it did on Jews (which perplexed Peter’s crew). The very thing that the new covenant was NOT saying was that there would be some who are in the new covenant who had the Spirit and others who didn’t have the Spirit; in fact the point of the new covenant is the very opposite. The point was that ALL believers would receive the Spirit.

Jesus said to some people that John the Baptist was the greatest man born of a woman under the Old covenant. Then he says these astounding words, that nevertheless, the least in the kingdom of God that he was inaugurating would be greater than John the Baptist. Why is this so? Because those of the kingdom of jesus were going to receive the Spirit of the resurrected Messiah. Jesus said that he must depart so that the Spirit would come. And come it did!

The same can be illustrated with Moses. He was judging all of Israel, and his father in law Jethro said to Moses, this is not good for you Moses you need to install some ‘helpers.’ Moses took the advice, and later the Spirit came upon 120(I think), and Joshua was jealous for Moses. Moses responded to Joshua, saying “I would that God poured out his Spirit on all of his people as he has with me.

Moses would have rejoiced to see the new covenant where God DID pour out his Spirit on all of his people. The problem was that many of God’s people at the time of Acts were still under the old covenant, and were therefore not enjoying what Christ came to inaugurate.

So, the event of Acts 19 has more to do with the engathering of all of the Old covenant believers into the new covenant, than it does with the way in which all believers in the new testament will receive the spirit. It has more to do with jesus, and his impact on the Law, and the world, than it does with the sequence of events that each believer will experience.