Thursday, May 21, 2015
The New Covenant and Divine Law
For several decades now, there has been an antinomian attitude present in the teachings and sermons of evangelical Christians. The antinomian mindset has reached so alarming levels that Christians are routinely told and routinely think and believe that Christians have no relationship whatsoever to divine law. The Christian, through grace, is completely free in Christ. The idea of law in many Christian circles has been mocked, vilified, characterized as legalism, and ridiculed by most pastors within evangelicalism. The results have been more than a little devastating. It is the purpose of this post to set the relationship of the Christian and Divine law as it relates to the New Covenant in its proper biblical frame.
The first area to be investigated is the relationship between divine law and the New Covenant. We have a new arrangement today that finds its ground in the sacrifice and person of Jesus Christ. Jeremiah prophesied about this new arrangement several hundred years prior to the Christ event. It is in the words of Jeremiah then that we begin to understand how the New Covenant relates to divine law. Upon investigating this relationship it is my hope that our understanding of the unique relationship between divine law and the New Covenant will bear more fruit so that we may have a better understanding of what our mindset ought to be regarding the Christian, the gospel, and the law of God.
The explicit promise of the New Covenant is located in Jeremiah 31:31-34. The components of the covenant are as follows: 1) it will be a completely new covenant and entirely different from the one God made at Sinai; 2) It will be with the house of Israel and Judah; 3) God Himself will put His law within them and on their hearts He will write it and they will be His people; 4) they will no longer need an intermediary teacher; 5) each one will know the Lord directly; 6) sins and iniquities will be forgiven, never again to be remembered. This is the covenant that Jesus Christ came to enact some 2,000 years ago. Since the purpose of this post is to trace the relationship between the New Covenant and divine law, I will avoid chasing the distinctive characteristics of the New Covenant and focus my attention on just one of those distinctions: the law that God Himself writes on the heart.
The very first point here that should not go unnoticed is the place of prominence given to the law of God in the New Covenant. For so long now, certain antinomian theological schemes have prevailed in popular evangelicalism that have resulted in not just a misunderstanding of the place of divine law in the New Covenant, but in addition, an outright hostility toward God’s law on the part of people who are supposed to love God’s law. The situation is not just disturbing; it is extremely alarming.
The New Testament Church is governed by the New Covenant arrangement instituted by God in the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus said in Luke 22:20, “This cup which is poured out for you is the kaine diatheke, new covenant in my blood.” Outside of the New Covenant arrangement, men cannot relate to God in any way other than by way of hostilities. Peace with God comes through the blood of Christ, which was spilled to establish the New Covenant. Jesus was extremely clear that what Jeremiah had prophesied, He was here to fulfill. Paul informs us that He has made us servants of a new covenant. (2 Cor. 3:6) According to the writer of Hebrews, Christ has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which is enacted on better promises. (Heb. 8:6) New Testament Christians are members in the new covenant community. And this new covenant is the arrangement that governs the new covenant believer’s relationship with the Triune God of Scripture. The question then is what about divine law and its relation to the new covenant and to the believer under the new covenant arrangement. What does the Scripture actually say?
In Matthew 5:17, Jesus tells us that He did not come to abolish the Law of the Prophets but to fulfill them. In v. 18 He informs us that the Law will have an abiding presence in the kingdom of God. In Matthew 7:12 Jesus tells us to treat people the way we want to be treated for this is the Law and the Prophets. In Matthew 22:36-40, Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are to love the Lord your with all your being and to love your neighbor as yourself. The Law hangs on these two commandments. Paul says that the Law is good, and the commandment is holy and good. (Rom. 7:12)
The question that comes to mind is which law does Scripture mean when it speaks about the law? At the Jerusalem Conference recorded in Acts 15, this very same question came up. There was a sect of Pharisees who believed and who were also teaching that Gentiles had to be circumcised and that they should keep the Law of Moses. The apostles arrived at the decision that everyone, both Jew and Gentile were saved by the grace of the Lord Jesus. Hence, it would seem here that Christians are not obligated to keep the Law of Moses. In 1 Corinthians 9:20-21, Paul made some very fascinating remarks regarding the Law of Moses and the Law of God. Paul clearly tells the Corinthian Church that he is not under the Law of Moses in v. 20. He could not be clearer in his statement. Paul then says that he is not without the law of God but under the law of Christ in v. 21. We have to conclude then that Christians are clearly under the Law, but they are not under the Law of Moses. We are clearly under what is termed in the NT, the Law of God or the Law of Christ. It is this Law that we must conclude is written on the heart.
In order to understand the Law of Christ, one must take the New Testament in its entirety. The commandments found there are the commandments that make up the Law of Christ which is itself an expression of the Law of God. We see components then of the Law of God expressed in the Old Testament covenants and especially at Sinai, but we see an even greater, clearer, and more precise expression of the Law of God in the New Testament revelation, within the New Covenant arrangement, in the Law of Christ written on the human heart through regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit by the washing of water by the Word. We see true Christians are those who have the Law of Christ, God’s law, now written on the heart. That is the difference. Christianity is not a religion whose essence consists of external religious ceremony. It is not a religion whose essence consists in the mystical experience of the idolatrous human heart. Christianity is the pure religion, the only pure religion whose essence exists in a person. The essence of Christianity exists in the essence of the person of Jesus Christ, God incarnate.
This essence of the Christian religion, expressed in the person of Jesus Christ, is carried into the life of the believer as we are in Christ and Christ’s Spirit, the Holy Spirit who makes his abode in us. This is what Christianity refers to as the Spirit-filled life. This is why the John says that Children of God and the Children of the Devil are obvious, easy to see, evident, clearly distinguishable.
In Matthew 18, Jesus issues instructions to the Christian community related to how we must deal with individuals in the Christian community that engage in lawless behavior. The steps are very candid. They begin with a private discussion, progress into a group confrontation, and then finally and public rebuke, ending in excommunication. It is incredibly peculiar that modern versions of Jesus complete ignore this aspect of the Christ they claim to love. In Acts 5, a couple named Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit by lying to the Church leaders. God executed both of them for this egregious violation against His Law. Once again, the modern versions of Jesus and of Christianity are radically different from this story. In 1 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul reacts to a couple in the Corinthian Church that had married under forbidden circumstances. It is not permitted for a man to marry his father’s previous wife. That type of relationship is regarded as incest. The Law of God strictly forbids Incest. The couple ignored God’s Law under the guise of grace and Christian liberty. Paul’s reaction was to have them excommunicated from the community immediately. The concern that Paul displayed regarding lawless behavior in the Christian community was both swift and severe. Paul’s attitude was that lawlessness is like leaven, or a cancer, that if left unaddressed will spread through the body eventually extinguishing any and all life that it infects. In Galatians 6:1 Paul commands the community to take action when anyone is overcome by sin or lawless behavior. The Church is never to ignore the lawless attitude of those in her community. Action is not an option. Inaction is not a viable course.
There are 1221 active imperative verbs in the GNT appearing in 952 verses. Clearly, the NT writers had a very specific ethic that they issued from the start of the Christian community. That a certain ethical and theological standard were imposed on the Christian community is beyond controversy. Christians were expected to adopt a certain set of beliefs and embrace a very specific ethical standard. Refusal to do either one would not be tolerated.
John tells us that anyone that claims to love God but that does not keep His commandments is a liar. Jesus said that every branch that abides in Him bears much fruit. In other words, just as lawlessness cannot abide in Christ, neither can a lawless person abide in Christ. Lawless people must be identified, instructed, corrected, rebuked, and they prove obstinate, they must be removed. There is no place in the New Covenant for lawlessness. There is no such thing as a New Covenant believer who has adopted a lawless lifestyle.
Contrary to some radical versions of Christianity, the biblical form of Christianity, the Christianity of the New Covenant is a Christianity, the core of which includes God’s Law. Apart from the Law of Christ, there is no salvation. To despise divine law is to despise God. Biblical Christianity teaches that men are regenerated by the work of the Holy Spirit on their heart, their whole person as it were. It is here that the Holy Spirit writes the Law of God, the Law of Christ. The believer grows in their love for, appreciation of, and obedience to the Law of God contrary to modern American Christianity, which seems to have cultivated an attitude of disdain for that which they are supposed to love. In short, modern American Christianity has produced record numbers of false converts and false teachers who deny the essence of the New Covenant arrangement. Spiritually speaking, these cavils are like wild dogs, trolling the spiritual dumps, feasting on rotting and decaying matter of every sort. Their stench rises to the nostrils of God whose wrath boils over against the vile blasphemy hurled at his righteous name daily by these pompous vipers, who in the midst of their vile and corrupt lives, smile on Sunday mornings claiming to love Jesus and to know Him. They are the children of hell sent into the community to deceive and to destroy and it is time the Church stop playing games with them and show Christ the respect He is due by obeying His commands to put these obstinate pigs out of the parlor.