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BULLETIN ONE HUNDRED AND NINETEEN
LAW AND GRACE
Know the definition of terms, the contextual application and avoid rabid generalisations
There is a very fruitful ground for inter-house argument in this field, and often a feeling of casualness and indefiniteness mixed with bursts of assertiveness which shows it a good field for biblical analysis. The Bible itself is clear. You just have to take all of it bearing on the topic and not sweep off on tangents, volatile and super-reactive, or thoughtless of context. The Bible always justifies itself in precision in such matters, but as in so many affairs in this life, you cannot afford to be slack or premature.
You find for example in Romans 7 what some may take as quite conclusive. Here the law is almost an enemy, for it has this fast hold and will not relent. How marvellous to be free of it and to enjoy real liberty! Such is the take of some. But in that analysis, how is it that in the very same chapter we read this: "Therefore the law is holy; and the commandment holy and just and good," ! Then we are led to see that it is the good intent and character of the law which is in view, and its effect on the sinful nature of fallen man. Paul himself found that the very condemnation of covetousness, for example, was enough to evoke that very thing in his heart! There has to be both a heart cleansing and correction, a renovation that is not less than regeneration, through an acme of grace like the work of Christ which provided for it, with pardon (Romans 8:1-3).
In this treatment, it is apparent that the law INCLUDES the moral commandments, such as the ten commandments. The term is used widely.
Let us test and see if this is always the case (after all, there are many terms which we ourselves naturally use in different senses in different areas of discussion - for example, depending on tone, "not bad" can mean, nearly awful - not utterly bad, or little short of wonderful, as when used with an expiring breath added to it, in admiration, or fair to average, as in a declining tone with a relatively listless attitude.
We take then Colossians 2:17. So Sabbaths (majority text) are among the things not to be taken by imposition, and you can choose in such areas to suit yourself, now that " you have died with Christ from the basic principles of the world" (Colossians 2:20) ?
Not at all! That is too slick; for sabbaths are not uncommon in the entire pageantry and formatting of feasts and sacrificial display in the OId Testament, and with Christ as Hebrews points out almost continually, the substance that in ONE replaces the MANY merely animal sacrifices (Hebrews 7-10 esp.), this part of the legal paraphernalia is indeed dispensable, in fact "obsolete" (Hebrews 8:13). It is joined in this with other areas in the symbolic Mosaic teaching, fulfilled in Christ. This is apart of the divine preliminary address, expressive at that phase of the whole divine program of love and mercy, grounds for it and utter adherence to the pathway for communication and acceptance with God. It is very much in the shadow versus substance, prelude versus consummation line.
At once, some may say: Ah, here it is, the REAL meaning. The Sabbath itself is passing away, and we can do what we like on a Sunday (Christ being Lord of the Sabbath and thus able in His resurrection to give a new and more intimate ground of rest, than the mere work of creation could ever do). But can we ? More care is needed. In THIS plural context of sabbaths, a numerous breed and as such part of the whole medley of what in the law you can touch and taste and so on (Colossians 2:16-21), there is NO reference to the past, but only to the future (Colossians 2:17), for they are characterised in this manner: "a shadow of things to come." An account of how things came to be and a vision of the future are in time line about as far as you can get, and to substitute the one (the Sabbath) for the opposite and numerous, is an invasion of the text of the first order.
Thus, THE Sabbath, as so distinctively thrust into the 10 commandments, and so vitally and effectually mentioned in Jeremiah 17:19-27, is dramatically and indisputably related to the PAST and between things past and to come there is a gulf which is one of the main elements of time itself. It was not to heaven to come for the children of God that THE sabbath looked, the cases in mind in Colossians 2. Far from it; for it was to a past act of the King of it, namely the creation of man. THIS Sabbath, apart from any subsidiary one was an upkeep item, a maintenance element in the handbook from the first, a directive for keeping intact and in order in one vital way, this elaborate equipment, the human body - not to mention the mind given with it, which had been donated when God created man.
Its maintenance, like that of the the body, was - as it is - a way of showing reverence to God as Creator, obedience to Him as Mentor and thankfulness and gratitude that we have a renewable set of equipment in this manner (it has in one aspect a resemblance to a mobile phone, where failure to recharge the battery at the right time can obliterate its usefulness and to start with, make you miss a call).
This therefore, this use in Colossians 2 of sabbaths in its particularistic legal framework is a reference to a fulfillable shadow, something with its import in the imposing future, and lies far from a code for conduct relating to the past, indeed in essence to that elementally significant part of it that unrolled in the table of time and timing, when man was actually and actively created.
So this view of law, or concept of sabbaths in context, involves rather the idea of "the handwriting of commandments that was against us," a burden, and it focusses on the requirement aspect and in particular on its less central side. The definition of what one has in mind has always to be kept in view, for many are the different aspects which could be in view, the stark blessedness of the whole divine revelation for the grace to be shown man, the smaller round of impositions, the pageant of priestly and sacrificial aspects in contrast to the superior, final and wholly effective work of Christ as in Hebrews, and so on.
Thus, in Romans 7, the point of focus in law, is a control unit from which we escape, in that Christ's fulfilments release from these elements he has fulfilled; but of course it is not discussing what they do not alter, that is, the moral nature of God. In Colossians 2, it is a question of the relative insignificance of the minor elements of the fulfilled law, in terms of the release and relief of Christ in His totality.
Don't be Fazed by variant usages, but adapt to them
We turn then to Matthew 5:17-20, and find that not a single jot or tittle of the law and the prophets will pass till all is fulfilled. Here the law appears to be all that is not the prophets in the Old Testament. It is comprehensive in its dual setting here. It is not at all focussing just on this element or that, but on the entire revelation, and its accuracy and reliability.
Again, in Romans 14:5, the emphasis is on comparison of one person's approach to areas of choice, with this or that religious consideration in mind individually, and the importance in such subjective areas of preference or personal attachment to this or that day to have special religious significance, one is not to judge another. It is each to his or her own master preference which is in view. Leave it there, for it is Christ who rules, not some social amalgam or bullying of other people to make them conform to your desires.
This is not to do with revelation as such, but making oneself a law for others outside the actual law of God. It briskly condemns the additive tendency, to find this or that 'nice' and then to ask all the other people to do exactly what one happens to like. This is an anti-tradition point, concerning the forcing, the foisting of additives in compulsive form! (cf. Mark 7:7). It is easy to become so preoccupied with one's special likings and traditions, that the word of God is muffled, or even muzzled, Christ Himself indicates in Mark's record!
The use of the idea of law can even as in Romans 3-4 and Hebrews 11, extend to fulfilling the essence of what God by conferment awarded to Abraham in refusing human sacrifice. This at last is fulfilled in what is accorded to the Christian in having Christ as the-better-than Isaac very Son of God who was NOT spared, so removing for ever any claim on man for his own sacrifice. God has done that for you; your part is to receive it and its powerful consequences both within you and before God..
It is God who has provided, as He did when a lamb was found caught in a bush, and thus served, and not Isaac, for sacrifice. Christ is He whom God provided, caught by His own willingness, to serve as sacrifice once and for all (Hebrews10:8-10). The faith in God as righteous and real in His promises because that is what He is in Himself, as incandescently moral, utterly faithful, was indeed tested as in Genesis 15, but its redoubtable reality did not shrink and it was verified to the uttermost. That is the acme of faith, and the undergirding of law. Abraham's was tested; and it acted as faith does, by accepting what God has said and acting on it. Thus acting on faith in Christ, the acceptable and indeed necessary lamb for sacrifice, is a reflection of what has been shown from the first. When faith operates, grace can function to the uttermost, and the impact of law ceases to be deadly: through death, that prepared from the foundation of the world (Revelation 13:8).
Thus different aspects of law appear in different contexts, and we are to avoid generalising on particulars, as if a doctor were to generalise about all the diseases one might have, and invent some special way of treating them all at once (with possibly disastrous results). Each part and principle needs to be taken in its place, as prescribed BY GOD.
Let us then examine further the broader aspects of divine law, where God exhibits His own moral nature, which since He does not change (Psalm 102:23-28, Malachi 3:6, Psalm 90:1-3, Psalm 100:5, Isaiah 14:27).
We turn to I Timothy 1. Here there is a listing of immoral, undivine, unrighteous, unacceptable, ungodly horrors. It is stated that the law is not made for righteous people but for such as those listed right down to slaying parents. The law is MADE for such, is what is written. But if Christ as "the end of the law for righteousness" (Romans 10:4), and if "the law" means all in the Old Testament as in Matthew 5, is law a spent bubble ? did Christ dismiss it ? or rather its penal consequences, for the believers in Himself! He is the end of the law for obtaining righteousness, but for showing it.
Clearly in its context in Romans,
the meaning is that there is now a no context for Pharisaism and its ilk, for
the righteousness required for entry to the kingdom, CAN only be a gift, and
Christ has provided. There, the point is, make sure that you have taken that
gift by faith, and have no pretensions about your 'earned' place in heaven
(cf. Romans 3:27ff.). Such boasting is against the very intensity which makes
heaven what it is, and the reality of God Himself. It is He who gives both life
at creation and redemption and regeneration, cover in the tempest of failure and
comfort in His grace.
Delight in what is actually being
told in each case
Relish the point
The conclusion is that Romans 10:4 means exactly what it says. If you are interested in the obtaining of righteousness, of a source for it efficient and effective, the law is not it. It is Christ. This, so far from meaning that the law is passť, means that it is SO significant that if you want the ultimate acceptability, you must receive it from One who Himself in incarnation kept it PERFECTLY and met its ineludible force in full in His own person. Its perfect keeping was so important in the hallowed precincts of the heavenly, that ONLY Christ could meet it. However, meeting it was a Messianic must (I Peter 2:17-18).
Thus in I Timothy 1, we have an ENDURING as well as underlying LAW by which all those evil persons noted in the fateful list are judged. THIS is applied in either testament, in any situation, God varying not at all in the wonder of His nature or the principles on which He insists in His operation. There is not even the slightest thought of all those immoral facilities and functions listed in I Timothy being ended, and no more facing judgment. On the contrary, they form part of a category for condemnation: namely, "any other thing which is contrary to sound doctrine," I Timothy 1:10. It is ALL totally and abidingly and abundantly condemned! If you are ijnterested in what the apostle has to say, this expresses an essenxe. Thus the Lord does not change; His morals accordingly do not change, nor do the very bases of His righteousness which indeed, is the foundation of His throne (Psalm 89:14-15), while mercy goes before His face!
This is the basis of the law, whether it be peripheral in some aspects, compared with others, part of the pageant of sacrificial instruction, the entirety of revelation outside the prophets, or a concept matched among mankind only by Christ in His faultless victory. It is all part of the morality of God, whether considered in this or that aspect, or application.
God is moral.
Man must be moral.
What have we found from the text of the Bible ? What is moral does not change, though its form and format may do so as a teaching mode; it may be put in different aspects, but it is always there.
When therefore it IS fulfilled, the continuance of THAT section of it becomes irrelevant, obese, and should not be compared with keeping what is not fulfilled and therefore WILL BE.
Moral rules such as keeping a day of rest, though not in the New Testament concretised in many features as was the case in the pageantry of the Old, do not change. The chosen day for it may, and does; but the Lord of the Sabbath makes the change, He rather than creation, the new greatest work in salvation, authenticated on the Sunday of the resurrection. The body created for man has not changed, Its needs have not changed. Its sexuality (apart from errors that develop over time in the DNA generally, in its trillions of copyings) has not changed: there are just two genders, their design features both obvious and complementary, efficacious and kind. There are no more.
Talk is just rebellion when it ignores the unchanging morality of God, His described designs and requirements for their use and upkeep, it is viewed as pernicious and worthy of judgment. The case, says Romans, is even worse when people take pleasure in thwarting the design specifications of God, in whatever sphere (Romans 1:32).
Similarly, we find here that lying
does not cease to be sin, and further, the truth is precious, liars being a
special segment for condemnation (Revelation 21:8). When the truth, which of
course is personal, for it depends on knowledge and the nature of the God who
holds it, is manhandled, it is fitting to recall this. Christ died for sinners,
to meet the cost for the lost who should believe in Him. He did not die so that
we could ignore as trivial, what He met for us! ALL will be fulfilled, and much
has already been, In the outcome
department, that issued in the manhandling of Christ, not conformity to Him!
(John 8:37, 40).
Morality does not flutter; God does not fossick: His majesty is vast, His morality stays fast and continues to the last.
Finally, being warned of this inveterate continuity, consider in parallel the text of Romans 1.
Here we have a withering, damning indictment of a whole series of immoral activities, not in the least altered even in the vigour of the condemnation by the death of Christ. THAT was to cover sin, not redefine it!
Here also is cause and effect in unrighteousness, in diversity before and diversion from the will and ways of God Himself. Nothing reduces the blighting horror of the sin for which Christ died, to provide for mankind on his reception, through His atonement for it.
First as in Romans 1:17, you have the vastly common aversion from God in spirit amid mankind - indeed all have sinned. Yet it can have a developmental aspect.
Thus we find in this and the following verses, that the active suppression as in a wrestling match, of the manifest realities of God lies at the base of human revolt from revelation of God Himself, overwhelmingly obvious in itself. This spiritual attitude matures amiss into a whole world of carnal horror, as if you refused to brush your teeth and inherited endless fruits in dentistry, or refused to recognise your parents in a teen-age rebellion extravaganza and paid in impoverishment of life and experience of different aspects of death.
Sexual perversion is in this Chapter of Romans given great specialised attention, man in wry revolt being blighted with sin's come-uppance in terms of lust, of being against the natural order, amid a divinely detested misuse of His equipment. That however is only one of the outcomes.
As one noted recently in a conversation, Australia is busy being unthankful (in the case of ruling majority nationally) for its most attractive position, so much desired by so many who would join us, and despite this many love to talk in derogation of our past, founded by a Protestant nation formally. Yet they do not consider that if you are leaving somewhere, it is a good idea to have somewhere in mind to go to. Indeed, our current rows nationally, our dysfunctional squabbles are an attestation. WHERE to go ? all sorts of extremes love to lead, some to the pit of the results of self-indulgence, whiles others laugh or gloat, all the readier to take over a place of such disequilibrium and slackness when we have become foolish enough. This is indeed a danger; but only one.
Consider, finally, the characterising list of sins in Romans 1:28-32. This application of God's own unchanging morality to the human situation is not less dramatic than before the planned offering for sin, in the mind of God and in the sight of man at Calvary; but if possible it is more so! Vast is the exposure, as in a snake pit of writhing reptiles, of man moving from God and thrusting his importance opportunistically into the depravities of spirit, almost too awful to enunciate.
God's own divine morality judges, undismissed, undiminished, from an unchanged character and a holy nature. We are not cardboard for cutting out interesting shapes, but made in the image of God and wrought through His Spirit, by the eternal Word of God, we are donated an underlying liberty which conscience exhibits, guilt attests and the smothering pollution of sin cannot delete.