Monday, December 31, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 7 : The ‘Contradiction’ of Law in the New Testament

So, at last, we come to the New Testament. What we find there might seem to easily settle the issue of the relationship between the law and gospel.

Jesus affirms the permanency of the Law: “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20). These sentiments are also echoed in the writings of the Apostle Paul: “Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary, we establish the Law.” (Romans 3:31) So, the New Testament does not seem to do away with the Law.

Yet, despite the passages we have just looked at, the New Testament also teaches that there is a sense in which we are free from the Law:

“But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” (Romans 7:6)
“For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14)
“But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.” (Galatians 5:18)

So, what are we to make of the differing messages or the apparent paradoxes? Over the next four entries, we’ll attempt to sort through it and arrive at a consistent perspective on law and gospel.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Look What Was in My Stocking!

A brief break from the law and gospel discussion to show what was in my Christmas stocking. It was very exciting to receive them (the one by Tom Nettles I have known about but never read, the Michael Haykin book was completely new to me) and, I confess, I struggled to keep my nose out of them while the rest of my family were opening their presents. Perhaps in subsequent posts I'll publish reviews.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 6 : Between the Testaments

Over the last several postings, we’ve seen that even in the Old Testament, right standing before God was obtained, not through acts of outward obedience, but through faith and a transformed heart. These were always the main things in the Law. But, did the Israelites ever really see it that way, or did they have other interpretations of the Law and how one came to a right relationship with God?

The short answer is, no. What followed the giving of the Law, and especially during the inter-Testament period leading up to the advent of Christ (~ 400 hundred years), was a sad corruption of what the Law was and is. Instead of being considered the blessing from God which it was[1] , it was simultaneously denigrated and elevated above it’s place. That is, during the centuries following the giving of the Law, it was misunderstood and mischaracterized to the extent that by the time Jesus began His ministry, Israel was in the throes of the worst form of legalism.

George Ladd and Millard Erickson have both written on this and observed that during this period, the Law cam to be seen as the grounds for hope, salvation, justification, righteousness, life, resurrection and the means by which God’s kingdom would be established (sort of a primative theonomy). In short, “the law came to be viewed as an intermediary between God and man”. That is, in the minds of many, the law, instead of pointing towards the saviour, became the messiah instead!

In the next posting, we’ll see what Jesus and the Apostles had to say about the subject.

[1] I know there are some who are right now aggitated by that statement and would cite New Testament examples to show that the Law was a burden. To them I say, “Just wait, we’re not in the New Testament yet! Wait a couple more posts, and we'll get there!”

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 5: The Law in the Old Testament (cont’d)

Continuing with my look at the Law in the Old Testament, my final point is:

3. Much of the Law was meant to point towards greater things than the specifics of the Law itself. As we will later see, the New Testament writings make the typological aspects of the Law abundantly clear. While is it also true that some aspects of God’s revelation of Himself through the Law and Prophets were shrouded in mystery and only revealed with the advent of Christ (Romans 16: 25-27), there are also examples in which the Old Testament text itself makes the connection explicit.

One such example is circumcision, which was initially given as a mark of the Covenant (Genesis 7:9-14), but more than just an outward and physical practice was (and is) required of those who would keep faith with God. "Moreover the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” (Deut 30:6). "Behold, the days are coming," declares the LORD, "that I will punish all who are circumcised and yet uncircumcised-- Egypt and Judah, and Edom and the sons of Ammon, and Moab and all those inhabiting the desert who clip the hair on their temples; for all the nations are uncircumcised, and all the house of Israel are uncircumcised of heart." (Jer. 9:25, 26).

The phrase “Circumcised yet uncircumcised” strikes at the heart of our problems, we so often think we possess a form of external and comely righteousness, but our hearts are far from God. In summary, in even our brief survey of a few key verses and concepts, the Old Testament makes it clear that those who are God’s People must both believe it is true, but also live like it is, by their actions and attitudes.

Next time, we’ll examine whether Israel ever understood the Law in this way.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 4: The Law in the Old Testament (cont’d)

Continuing with our look at the Law in the Old Testament; not only was faith, belief in God’s promises, what was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness, but we know that his faith and belief were reflected in his actions (Gen 12:5). We’ll come back to this when we consider the Law as it relates to the New Testament. However, turning to other areas of the Old Testament, we see:

2. That, despite the common idea that the Law given at Sinai was a series of actions commanded and forbidden, it is clear that the Law always was intended to govern the internal life as well. That is, it dealt with attitudes as well as actions. Two commands that illustrate this are “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deut 6:5) and “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the sons of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself; I am the LORD.” (Lev. 19:18). What should be clear is that no one can obey either of these two commands without a transformed heart. Both these commands deal with our attitudes and internal lives, not just external actions.

Next time, we’ll continue with the Law in the Old Testament…

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 3: The Law in the Old Testament

I recall as a young believer being very confused about how the Law and the Gospel related. I knew that since the resurrection of Jesus Christ we are saved by grace through faith, but laboured under the misapprehension that in Old Testament times, people were saved through following the Law and the sacrifices prescribed at Sinai. I quickly moved beyond that but have been surprised at how many Christians I meet and speak with (even ones who have walked with the Lord for a long time) who think that relationships between man and God were restored by obedience to the Law in the Old Testament, and that only in the New Testament did faith enter in to this business of salvation and atonement.

But this is not so! God’s covenantal relationship with His people always was and is the main thing in the standing of men before God. This is clear for at least three reasons:

1. Genesis 15 recounts a reaffirmation of the Abrahamic Covenant. That is, the covenant God made with Abraham whereby Abraham would be blessed, and through him, all the world would be blessed. It is important to observe that the Covenant was established at God’s initiative and by His grace (Gen 12). After God has restated His covenant, we have Abraham’s reaction: "Then he believed in the Lord; and He reckoned it to him as righteousness". Gen 15:6 Quite so. This was in pre-Mosaic Law days, but Abraham’s belief is what makes him righteous, not adherence to external rules. His faith and trust in what God has promised to do are the things that determine his right standing before God.

Next time, we’ll continue with the Law in the Old Testament…

Friday, December 07, 2007

Law and Gospel: Part 2: History & Cautions

As we continue our series on the relationship between law and gospel, I am very conscious of the thin ice that surrounds me. I am aware that there are many views on the subject, and of some of the historical divisions that have arisen as a result of differing interpretations. It could be argued that the fundamental basis of the Reformation was differing interpretations of the law and the gospel and how they relate to one another. It was even the cause of some splits between first and second generation Reformers (I am thinking specifically of Luther and Calvin).

Additionally, there are serious errors that can easily overtake any who begin delving in to this subject. On the one hand, there can be a slavish adherence to the letter of the law with no regard to the spirit, the worst form of legalism. On the other, there can be a total disregard for the commands of God and free-wheeling, self-centred antinomianism that can result.

So, as we go through these studies, let us do so with a spirit of humility and a prayerful desire to comprehend God’s Word fully. I pray also that addressing difficult, controversial issues will not cause unnecessary divisions, but will encourage us to think more deeply about the things of God and emphasize our reliance upon the correcting influence of Scripture to help us think rightly about our Saviour and how we should live to please Him.

So, feel free to make full use of the comments section, and next time, I’ll begin the study proper by looking at the role of the Law in the Old Testament.

Monday, December 03, 2007

All – Law and Gospel

Let my return to posting be marked by a discussion of a topic that should have been more thoroughly and explicitly dealt with earlier.

It has never been our intention with this blog to provide an exhaustive treatise on the Christian faith, not even the ten commandments. We have merely hoped to show how the ten commandments apply to our little homeschooling family. The implication and assumption being that adherence to the ten commandments was a necessarily good thing.

However, through conversations with friends and family over the past several months, I have been reminded that there are many different views of the Christian’s relationship to the Law generally, and to the ten commandments specifically. Not only so, but there seems to be a lack of clarity in the thinking about the Law on the part of many Christians. All this has caused me to re-examine my understanding of Law and Gospel and to reconfirm my beliefs on the subject. It has been a helpful study and over the next several postings I will be sharing some of the results. I pray the studies will as much a blessing to readers as preparing them has been to me.