The Mind-Blowing, Soul-Stirring Doctrine of the Incarnation

The word incarnation comes from the Latin word carne, which means flesh, or meat. “Incarnation,” then, means the “in-fleshing” of God (Carson). The holy, eternal God put on a body and was born as a Man, in the Person of Jesus Christ! This doctrine is one of the core teachings of Christianity.

The “Ingredients” of the Incarnation

John 1:1, 14 is one of the clearest texts on the doctrine of the incarnation. Verse 1 declares that, in the beginning (i.e. before Jesus became a Man – in “eternity past”): The Word was with God – (He was God’s own “fellow” – Carson) [God’s friend, partner, colleague].

This phrase highlights the distinction of Persons in the Godhead. The Word was with, beside, distinct from, God. The Son is not the Father, is not the Spirit.

And yet, in the same breath, this verse goes on to declare:

The Word was God – (He was God’s own “self” – Carson). This phrase highlights the unity of the Persons in the Godhead. The Word was of one substance, one nature, with God.

So far we have a Person who is, at the same time, both distinct from God, and God!

Verse 14 then gives a crucial third piece of the puzzle: The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. This Person who was both distinct from God and God himself now adds something new to his experience: he became a Man. In becoming a Man, he did not lose his deity (for Jesus still claims to be the I AM who existed before Jesus’ birth – John 8:58, compare with Ex 3:14). Remaining what he was, he became what he was not (a human being). Carson clarifies that this is not God simply indwelling a human, or merely appearing to be human, but actually becoming fully human. By the time the apostle John wrote his letters, he argued tenaciously for the importance of teaching that Jesus came in the flesh, in full humanity. He wrote to the churches that anyone who denied this doctrine is antichrist (1 John 4:2-3; 2 John 7)!

So, we have a Person who existed before he was born, in a state of both unity with, and distinction from, God. This Person then stepped into human time and history and was born as a Man, called Jesus Christ (who remembers his preexistence and speaks of it – John 17:5). Jesus’ birth was not the beginning of his existence, but it was the beginning of his new experience as the God-Man. This is the incarnation!

Philippians 2:6-8 also speaks of Jesus’ preexistence: “who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothingbeing born in the likeness of men.” Here we see Jesus existing before his human birth. He existed in the “form” of God (Greek morphe, having the “essential qualities” of God – John Frame). Jesus then entered human experience by being born as a man.

So, the “ingredients,” or the “nuts and bolts” of the doctrine of the incarnation are the ideas of Jesus’ preexistence, his full deity (fully God), and his putting on full humanity.

The “How” of the Incarnation

The incarnation is a great mystery and the greatest of all miracles! How can God become a Man…and still be God? The Bible does not answer all our questions about this, but gives us only one hint, in Luke 1:31-35. The angel told Mary that she, a virgin, would conceive and bear a son of the Most High. Mary is the first one to hear of the incarnation, and she asked the same question we ask, “How will this be?” How can God pull this off, “since I am a virgin?” The only answer she received (and the only answer we receive) is this: “The Holy Spirit…” Boom! End of discussion. This will be accomplished by the power of God, through the Holy Spirit! By his work in Mary, the child “will be called holy – the Son of God.” So the Father sends the Son, who is born fully Man and fully God by the miraculous working of the Holy Spirit, through the virginal conception.

The Glory of the Incarnation

The event of the incarnation is a beautiful and soul-stirring display of the great glory and mighty power of God! Thinking deeply on this subject is good for both the mind and the heart! On particular display in the incarnation is the amazing and unparalleled humility of the Son of God (Scheumann). John Owen writes,

“How glorious then is this willingness of the Son of God to humble himself to be our mediator.  What heart can conceive, what tongue can express the glory of that mind of Christ which brought him down from infinite glory to take our nature into union with his so that he could mediate with God on our behalf?” (John Owen, The Glory of Christ).

Philippians 2:6-8 marvels at the great humility of Jesus seen in the incarnation: though he existed before his birth in equality with God, he “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped” (he did not fight for his position at all costs – did not “grasp” for self-elevation), “but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Jesus did not give himself to self-promotion, but embraced willingly his self-denial, for our sake! The greatest distance ever traveled by any being is the unfathomable distance Jesus traveled from glory to self-humiliation in the incarnation; he voluntarily went from the highest place imaginable, to the lowest place conceivable. The text presents layer after layer of self-humbling. He emptied himself (a figure of speech that means he completely humbled himself – Carson) and came down from heaven. Born in the likeness of men. Not just a man, but a man of low class – a servant. Then he humbled himself further by giving himself to the experience of death! Finally, he humbled himself to the greatest degree imaginable by embracing the shameful, painful death of crucifixion – “even death on a cross!”

This text is given to us so that we may stand in awe and worship of the glory of God displayed by the incarnation of Jesus. And it is taught to us so that we may follow his example of self-emptying as we serve one another in his church (“Have this mind among yourselves” v5; “in humility count others more significant than yourselves” v3). Jesus took on flesh, in humility, to serve (Mark 10:45 – Scheumann).

The Effect of the Incarnation

The doctrine of the incarnation is directly relevant to us today! Christ’s coming as the God-Man made salvation possible. Jesus, as a Man, was now able to live a perfect life as our representative, and die an effectual, sacrificial death as our redeemer! The Book of Hebrews quotes Jesus as saying, “a body have you prepared for me…I have come to do your will, O God” (Heb 10:5-7), before explaining, “And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb 10:10).

The incarnation was absolutely necessary for our salvation (Frame): “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil…He had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest…to make propitiation for the sins of the people” (Heb 2:14, 17).

Jesus needed a body so he could offer it up for us on the cross. He needed blood so that he could shed it for our sins. “The Word became flesh”…so he could save us from our sins by his death and resurrection, and bring us into the eternal enjoyment of God! My encouragement for you this season is to set this beautiful and edifying doctrine before your eyes. Think on it, meditate on it – chew on it like a tasty morsel! Let your mind marvel at the mystery and majesty. Let your heart be stirred to worship and love. Glorify the Lord Jesus, who took on flesh for us!

References

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The Passionate Pursuit of God

What is the number one pursuit in your life? What are you running after harder than anything else?

Christians believe that God should be first priority. Yet, we are pretty quick to forget the most important part of our lives. We are busy. Distractions abound. Temptation and sin are real, constant threats. All of this makes it easy for us to lose sight of our purpose. So, we begin to settle for empty, religious externals, “going through the motions.” Our sights move lower, until we become satisfied with false finish lines (“I’ll be good to go if I read my Bible today…or sometime this week…”). Before we know it we are trudging ahead, eyes glazed over, caught in the grips of moralism. What we forget is that our great goal is God himself: to know him, glorify him, and enjoy him! The greatest commandment is to love God with all our heart, soul and strength.

The truth is that our lives are to be passionate pursuits of God. Why do I say passionate? Because how could it be anything else in light of who he is?! If God is the great Treasure of the universe, the One who satisfies fully and forever, can there even exist such a thing as a “mediocre pursuit” of him? Kinda half-way seeking God?

Knowing God, enjoying fellowship with him, is a major theme running through the pages of Scripture. It’s part of the big story of the Bible. Walk with me:

Creation

God created us in his own image and then spoke to us (Genesis 1&2). God blessed Adam and Eve, put them in a garden paradise, and gave them instructions (including the house rules). Imagine! As the freshly created first humans opened their eyes, the first thing they saw was their glorious Creator! And he spoke to them! Conversation. Fellowship. There are even hints that they would would walk together in the garden (3:8).

Fall

But this fellowship with God did not last forever. Adam and Eve’s fall into sin broke their relationship with him. Sin is always an obstacle to the enjoyment of God. The Lord judged Adam and Eve for their sin and removed them from the garden (sin brings distance & separation) [Gen 3:23]. But God gave a gracious promise of a Rescuer (3:15).

Redemption

Now God began a long work of redemption, which he unfolded slowly over human history. After Cain killed Abel, God gave another son to Adam and Eve, Seth. This would be the line from which the promised Rescuer would come. And when Seth had a son, the Bible says, “then men began to call on the name of the LORD” (Gen 4:26). People began to seek God. And this was just what God intended, as Paul explains: “And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth…that they should seek God, in the hope that they might feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us” (Acts 17:26-27 ESV). God wanted us to seek him, even as he was working to accomplish our redemption and bring us back to him.

Over time, God revealed himself to Abraham and his kids, the nation of Israel. Finally, he sent his Son as a Man, born from the Israelite people. Jesus Christ accomplished the work of redemption by dying on the cross for sin and rising from the grave. This resulted in cleansing from sin, which is what we usually think about. But Christ’s death and resurrection had another wonderful result: reconciling us to God (2 Cor 5:18-19). Part of Jesus’ mission was “to bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18a). In other words, Christ came, not just to save us from sin’s penalty, but also to restore us to fellowship with God!  Those who come to God through repentance and faith in Jesus enjoy fellowship with the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit (1 John 1:3-4; 2 Cor 13:14b)!

Consummation

The fellowship with God made possible by Christ is enjoyed now in part, by the Spirit, but awaits the full experience at Christ’s return. In other words, we can know God and enjoy him now, but in a limited way. Yet, the time is coming when we will enjoy God “face to face,” because, “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Cor 13:12 ESV)! Jesus spoke of the time when he would drink with us in the kingdom of God (Mat 26:29). Imagine sitting around the table with Jesus, and all the redeemed! At the end of Scripture we see the new heavens and the new earth, with the announcement that God will now dwell with men (Rev 21:3)!! What was lost in the garden has now been restored by Christ! What a Day that will be!

Pursuing God While We Wait

So, what does that mean for us now? We are waiting on that great Day to come, when we will know God fully, face to face. While we wait, we continue to seek him. It is always the desire of the people of God to know him more. Pursuing God passionately is an overflow of faith; it is evidence of a heart that has been touched by God’s transforming grace. God’s people in every age desire him, and put away the pursuit of earthly things to know him more. We cannot serve two masters; we cannot walk two paths. We cannot pursue this world and Christ at the same time. Sin deadens our hunger for God. Other things creep into our hearts and slowly become our number one pursuit. So the people of God practice repentance, casting aside competing pursuits as God reveals them to us, and renewing our pursuit of the Lord, through faith in Jesus.

The pages of Scripture are full of God revealing himself to his people, and his people seeking him: Moses cried out to see God’s glory (Ex 33:13-23); The prophet Jeremiah told us not to boast in riches and wisdom, but in knowing God (Jer 9:23-24; 29:13); The writers of the Psalms used poetry to express great passion and hunger for knowing God (Psalm 17:14-15; 42:1-5; 62:1; 63:1-8; 73:25-26; 84:1-4, 10). What imagery! Panting in thirst for the Lord; describing his steadfast love as “better than life;” considering how blessed the birds are, who make a nest in the house of God!

Jesus called us to deny ourselves from the pursuit of other things and follow him (Luke 9:23). And Paul spoke passionately about counting every other pursuit as nothing but garbage and dung, compared to “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil 3:8-11)!

So, I will ask the question I started with. What is the greatest pursuit in your life? Is God bringing to your mind competing pursuits? Is he stirring up your heart to seek him?

In our busy world, seeking God first is a fight. But it is possible, with the grace and power of God! It will take self-discipline (eliminating competing pursuits), repentance, and diligence. You will need to set the Lord before your sights throughout the day, chewing on his word, continuing in prayer, singing songs of praise to yourself. It will mean preaching the gospel to yourself daily, fighting discouragement and guilt with the truth of God’s love in Christ. And it will certainly require fellowship with brothers and sisters in your local church family, who will give needed and timely strength, encouragement and accountability.

We were made to know God and enjoy him forever! Let’s pursue the One who has pursued us in Christ!

Building God’s House, Or Ours?

The Old Testament book of Haggai has a good word for the church today. Who in the world was Haggai, and what message did he preach?

Background

After many years of disobedience to God in the promised land during the age of the kings, Israel was finally given over to King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (586 BC). He destroyed the temple built by Solomon and hauled Israelites into Babylon for 70 years of exile. This punishment was from the Lord. In 539 BC the Persians conquered Babylon, led by Cyrus the Great. Cyrus freed the Israelites to return to the land and rebuild (just as God had prophesied through Isaiah, even calling Cyrus by name approximately 150 years before! – Isa 44:28; 45:1, 4b-5). The books of Ezra and Nehemiah tell the story of the rebuilding of Jerusalem, the temple and the city wall. The people laid the foundation of the temple, but then stopped building because of opposition (ESV notes – Ezra 4:24). Now God’s house was lying in ruins, while the people built their own houses and pursued their own interests!

Ezra speaks of two prophets from God – Haggai and Zechariah – preaching to the people and encouraging them to get back to work rebuilding the temple (Ezra 5:1-2). In the book of Haggai we actually read his sermon to the Jews, and their response! God wanted the temple rebuilt, his presence with his people, so that he would begin to fulfill the promises he made – to bless the world through Israel (ESV notes).

Haggai’s 1st Message

In Haggai chapter one we read his powerful message of confrontation:

Ø  Consider your ways (v5, 7)! Judge what you are doing and how you are living in light of God’s perspective, plan, commands and promises. God sees how you are living, what you are pursuing and what you love.

Ø  Examine your priorities (v4, 9)! Haggai’s message from the Lord is, in effect: “You guys are saying it’s not time to work on the temple. Really?! Is it time for you to live in your nicely built, paneled houses, while God’s house lies in ruins?? Is that the focus of the people of God? Is it time to prioritize your house or God’s house? Is it time to concentrate on your kingdom, or his? You are all busy with your own agendas and priorities instead of the Lord’s.” Calvin explains: “The Jews were so taken up with their own domestic concerns, with their own ease, and with their own pleasures, that they made very little account of God’s worship.”

Ø  What will God bless (v6, 9-11)? God will not bless our self-focus and neglect of his will. Haggai tells them that this is why God has been withholding blessing from them (they are experiencing drought, crop failure and financial troubles). They are being disciplined for sin! God’s people must understand that neglect of God’s will and focus on our own priorities is a sin that must be confessed and forsaken.

Ø  Get to work and build God’s house (v8)! Haggai gives God’s clear command. The people are to get back to work immediately! God wants his people focused on his will, not theirs. It is time for the people of God to build the house of God!

Ø  Live for God’s glory (v8)! The Lord declared that he would take pleasure and glory in his house. God wants his people to consider his pleasure and glory above all else. When we turn from God’s will and put ourselves first, at heart we are making ourselves gods and pursuing our own glory.

The People’s Response

The people paid attention to the preacher! They listened to his word from the Lord, obeyed what was said and feared the Lord (v12). The preachers encouraged the people in the work, equipping them for this ministry (v13). And God worked in them, stirring up their spirit to do the work of the Lord (v14).

Haggai’s 2nd Message

The people repented of self-focus and returned to the work of the Lord. But their heart was not in it, because they did not see the glory of what they were building. Solomon’s temple had been luxurious and extravagant, but this temple was much more…plain. Ezra reports that when the temple began to be built, the young people shouted with joy, but the older ones – the ones who remembered the beauty of Solomon’s temple – cried like babies (Ezra 3:10-13)! God did not just want his people obeying; he wanted them obeying with right hearts! So, he sent Haggai with a 2nd message to encourage the people.

Haggai told the people not to judge with their eyes. This temple may not look as great as Solomon’s, but it will be glorious (2:3-9)! Haggai encouraged them to be strong, keep working, and don’t be afraid, knowing that God is present with them by his Spirit.

Applying Haggai’s Message in the Church

While we do NOT apply Haggai’s message by constructing church buildings, God does have powerful things to say to us through Haggai’s words:

Ø  Christ is the Temple! Haggai’s words are ultimately fulfilled by Jesus Christ; he is the true, spiritual temple; God’s glory present with us (John 1:14; 2:19-21; Mat 1:23). Jesus said that he would build his church (Mat 16:18), which is his people (not buildings). Because we are united with Christ by the Holy Spirit, we who believe are also referred to in Scripture as the temple, the house of God in Christ, where the Spirit and presence and glory of God is present (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; Eph 2:19-22; 1 Pet 2:4-5).

Ø  We are Prone to Self-Focus. Like the Jews in Haggai’s day, we too are prone to neglect the things of God and elevate our own priorities above his will. We have a natural and sinful bent away from the disciple-making, church-building mission of the church; away from pursuing God’s glory and advancing his gospel cause. Instead, our bent is towards self-focus. We are quick to lose our passion for ministry in the church and drift to the “outskirts” of the action, leaving it for others. Our vision drifts from the community of believers to building our own house and kingdom, and chasing our own desires, hobbies, pleasures, comforts, cause, etc. From Haggai’s prophecy, we must recognize that this is a sin to be confessed and forsaken.  Philippians 2:21

Ø  We are Ministers on Mission. Jesus sent out his disciples on a mission to make other disciples. He is building his church in the earth, through the gospel, and we are first and foremost to be focused on this ministry and mission. Jesus calls us today to deny ourselves (Luke 9:23) and embrace the will of God. Christians follow Jesus in pouring out our lives for his cause, joining him in building up his church. We must invest our time, treasures and talents in building his house! This is done through ministry in the church and gospel mission in the world. So…where are your time, treasures and talents going? Whose house are you building? There is much work to do, and your church needs your commitment to Christ and his people.

Ø  Remember the Glory of What we are Building! Ministry is hard, and it is easy to lose sight of the eternal glory and beauty of what we are building. We get frustrated and exhausted; we battle our flesh and the world and the devil. We think we are the only ones doing it right. We look back on the “glory days” of how things used to be done, and we get discouraged. But our labor is not in vain. The church will shine! God’s glory will be seen, and it will all be worth it in the end.

For his glory, let’s get to work!

You Can’t Follow Jesus Without Humility

Faith, Hope and Love are the three great virtues of Christianity. But Humility seems to be a chief attribute of the believer. You just can’t follow Jesus without it. Humility is defined as “submissiveness before God” (Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church), “an attitude of lowliness and obedience, grounded in the recognition of one’s status before God as his creature” (Dictionary of Bible Themes), and even “being free from arrogance and pride, and having an accurate estimate of one’s worth” (Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary). But I’ve found that it’s easier to define Humility than it is to actually be humble.

The opposite of Humility is Pride. Pride is the great sin, the mother of them all. It brings competition and division and war. It destroys our fellowship with God and with others. It robs us of peace, and removes thankfulness and gratitude, because it causes us to feel entitled, never satisfied, deserving of better. Pride hinders our forgiveness of others (it would rather hold a grudge), and makes God-glorifying relationships virtually impossible. Someone has said that “Pride is God-repellant.” Nothing chases away fellowship with God like pride. It is a sin that lifts us up in opposition to our Creator.

It is at the moment of our conversion that God breaks our pride with a debilitating blow, and leaves a mark of humility on us that lasts forever. The very act of conversion is an experience of being humbled by God, who cuts us down before he builds us back up. We must recognize we are sick before we will call the doctor. We must feel the great depth of our sin-disease before we will fully appreciate the cure of God’s amazing grace in Christ. At conversion, God touches our pride, and we are never the same. He humbles us, bringing us to our knees. We bow low. Sometimes God uses difficult situations when we are especially stubborn, but he always knows just what to do to bring us to humbleness before him. The good news of the gospel begins with the bad news of our need. Through the gospel God shows us our sin and calls us to repentance. As we begin to see how wicked we are, God’s grace shines brighter and brighter, and the end result is a humbled, thankful and joyful heart that trusts him and loves him.

A picture of what I’m describing can be seen in the Old Testament story of the Patriarch, Jacob. Jacob was a trickster; a manipulator and deceiver. He was selfish. His cunning obtained for him the birthright that belonged to his older brother, Esau. He teamed up with his conniving mother to deceive and manipulate Jacob’s father, Isaac. The blessing came to Jacob, and Esau was furious! Jacob had to run for his life, and God used another trickster to begin to bring some humility into Jacob’s life. His father-in-law, Laban, deceived Jacob, giving him the wrong daughter for his wife! He went on to change his wages and make life miserable for him, until Jacob decided it was better to go home and face the murderous threats of Esau.

While waiting to meet Esau, Jacob had a life-changing encounter with God, who appeared to him as a man and wrestled with him all night! The man touched Jacob’s hip, and he limped for the rest of his life. But God changed Jacob’s name to Israel (Genesis 32:22-32). This was a changing point. Face to face with God. Jacob was a new man. He was still flawed, but there was now some maturity, some humility, about him.

This is a vivid picture of the way the Lord touches our pride at conversion. We limp the rest of our lives, having been brought to the end of ourselves. We see our sin, our need – our place before God. We see his gracious provision in Christ. There is a humility given to us that will become a great fountain in our lives, overflowing in many directions, and touching everything we do. The Christian life is impossible without it.

 

God’s word is absolutely full of calls to humility. Jesus taught that we cannot enter his kingdom unless we are humbled and become like a child (Mat 18:4)! We learn that everyone who exalts themselves will be cut down by God, and everyone who bows low in humility will be lifted high by God (Luke 14:11; James 4:6, 10; 1 Pet 5:5-6). We see wicked, idol-worshiping kings receive blessing from God when they humble themselves (1 Kings 21:29; Daniel 4:28-37). Even the evil Assyrian kingdom in Nineveh escapes God’s decreed disaster when they humble themselves and repent, much to Jonah’s dismay (Jon 3:6-10)! The mighty Creator God says he takes notice of the man who has a humble, repentant heart, who trembles at his word (Isa 66:2). And God sums up all that he requires of us as walking humbly with our God (Mic 6:8).

The life of the disciple of Jesus is only possible through humility. Pride is the opposite of following Jesus, who calls us to self-emptying, self-denying pursuit of God’s will (Luke 9:23). The life-long process of sanctification is the application of humility to all of life and all our relationships. As we walk in humility we are following Christ. Paul instructs believers to clothe ourselves with “compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness and patience, bearing with one another” (Col 3:12-13). As we embrace self-denying humility we will discover that the secret of Christian relationships is treating others the way God has treated us. Again, this is possible only in humility. Because we have been brought low before God, we understand that he has been gracious to us, much better to us than we deserve. Therefore, we can be gracious to others. Pride hinders this continually, and much of the Christian life is fighting this pride, consigning it to the cross where it belongs, and embracing humility once again. Because God has been patient with me I can be patient with others (Col 3:12b). Because we have been loved by God, we can live in love towards others (Eph 5:2). Because God has forgiven us in Christ, we can forgive others (Eph 4:32).

Paul describes this entire mindset of humility that sums up the Christian life: “In humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Phil 2:3b). He tells us to have this “mind” (“mindset,” or “attitude”), which is ours in Christ (v5). In fact, Jesus modeled perfectly for us this humble attitude. Though equal with God, he did not fight for the enjoyment of his rights, but rather, “made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil 2:7-8).

This humility enables us to have God-glorifying relationships in the church. We won’t be competing and dividing if we are walking with our limp – the humility given to us in Christ. Husbands and wives will discover that the only way it is possible for them to walk in the marriage roles assigned to them by God is through humility. Pride will stop a husband from loving his wife as Christ loved the church, serving her and leading her well in the Lord. Only in humility can he pour out self-sacrificing love on his wife! Pride will make submitting to her husband as unto the Lord the very last thing a wife wants to do. Only in humility can she look past her imperfect husband to Christ, and follow his leadership with respect and joy. Moms and Dads will only be able to patiently and joyfully parent their children through humility. Humility is a great key that opens the door for relationships that honor God.

So, are you limping like Jacob yet? Has God touched your pride and brought you low before him? Have you seen your sinfulness and your need for Christ? Have you embraced God’s will? May the Lord fill us with his humility, and enable us to walk out this life of discipleship, for his glory!

[All Scripture quotations, English Standard Version (ESV) (c) 2001 Crossway]

 

God is Jealous?

In the Bible, God describes himself as “jealous.” This confuses and turns off many people. At first glance, it seems to be painting a picture of a selfish and insecure being who is not really worthy of our worship. So what does God mean when he calls himself jealous?

When God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, he brought them to Mt. Sinai and revealed himself to them. God entered into a covenant relationship with the nation and gave them his law. As he spoke to Israel at the mountain, God said, “You shall not make for yourself a carved image…You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God” (Exodus 20:4 ESV). Later, when God told them to go into the land he was giving them, he commanded them not to worship the gods of the peoples of the land: “You shall tear down their altars and break their pillars…for you shall worship no other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God” (Exodus 34:13-14 ESV). What does this mean?

The problem with our understanding of God’s jealousy comes when we reduce God to being like us. We know that jealousy is most often a bad thing among humans. We think of someone smothering their loved one, becoming angry when they talk to anyone of the opposite sex. We think of abuse and over-protectiveness. But this is not like God’s jealousy. God is not like us: we are finite, fallen and sinful creatures; God is the infinite, holy Creator!

God’s jealousy is not wrong for two reasons. The first reason is that God deserves our allegiance and affection. Sinful jealousy seeks to take for itself what it does not deserve. God’s jealousy is righteous simply because he is God; he deserves our loyalty and love because he created us! God created us for his glory and praise. He is worthy of our worship because of the splendor of his Person and the majesty of his works (who he is and what he has done). It is good for God to forbid us to give that glory and praise to other things, because only he is deserving of it all.

The second reason God’s jealousy is not a bad thing is because he has our best interests at heart. When we give what belongs to God alone to other things or other people, we are worshiping a lie; a god of our own invention. We are becoming enslaved to what is not God; giving ourselves to things that will ultimately not satisfy us. Other gods cannot save us. They cannot help us or eternally fulfill us. Only God rescues us from the sin that brings destruction to our souls, and leads us into the eternal enjoyment of himself! For this reason, God is blessing us when he commands us to worship him alone. His jealousy sets us free from what will bring us harm.

Only God deserves all glory, praise and worship, and the allegiance and affection of our hearts. It is good for God to demand our praise, because there are no other true gods. He is calling us to true worship of the only God. He is worthy of it all as our Creator and Savior. When we demand the affection of others it is wrong, because we are not worthy of it. But it is right and loving for God to do this, because of who he is, and because he is acting for our eternal good.

May we give God what is rightfully his! And may we thank him for limiting our loyalty to the only true God; the only one who can delight our souls forever! Praise God for his jealousy!

Humility: The Key to Marriage?

Humility might just be the great sign of genuine Christianity, and the key to marriage.

Though no one – Christians included – is exempt from battling the monster of pride, it is impossible to be a real follower of Jesus without that pride being crippled to some degree by the power of the cross. The very act of conversion is an experience of being humbled by God. We hear the gospel and realize that we have sinned against a holy God. By grace we realize that this is part of who we are because of the fall of mankind; sin flows from our heart! We begin to understand that this disease has touched us to the core, affecting and tainting every part of us. Thus, the Holy Spirit humbles us. But in the next moment he raises us, showing us the great love of God for sinners displayed at the cross! We see Jesus taking our sin and bearing it for us, paying for it with his blood, and we are filled with humble, joyful faith. We get it. We believe, and we praise God for grace, which for the first time, seems truly amazing.

From that moment, we begin a walk with God and a process of becoming more like Jesus, by his powerful work in us. This process is sometimes two steps forward and one step back, but there is progress. We begin to see the fruit of the Spirit popping out in our lives. And with us every step of the way (but in varying measures) is the humility Christ etched into our soul the day we met him. This is illustrated by God’s dealing with Jacob in the Old Testament. When Jacob was touched by God, he limped for the rest of his life (Gen 32:30-31). God transformed him from a deceiver named Jacob into a growing servant of God named Israel. Humility, then, is a mark of genuine discipleship, and pride is its very opposite.

The self-righteous religious leaders of Israel needed Jesus just as much as the prostitutes and drunkards who were flocking to him; they just didn’t see their need, blinded as they were by pride. It is only those who perceive they are sick who call for the doctor. And those who have been forgiven much will love much, according to Jesus (Luke 7:47). Followers of Christ, therefore, must view ourselves through the lens of humility, considering others as more important than we are. This is how we follow the self-emptying example of Jesus (Phil 2:3-8). As we live day by day with an awareness of our sinfulness, and the great grace we have received from God, the gospel will radically transform our relationships; all of them! We will love others because we have been loved by God (Eph 5:2). We will forgive others as God in Christ forgave us, with humble, tender hearts (Eph 4:32).

One specific relationship that will be greatly affected by our continued growth in humility is the marriage relationship. Humility (and his friends, thankfulness, kindness and gentleness) is crucial to a good marriage. In fact, the instructions for husbands and wives in Scripture are actually expressions of humility toward God and your spouse! The roles God assigns to husbands and wives are the overflow of hearts that have been humbled by God. We see this in Peter’s words for husbands and wives (1 Peter 3:1-7).

Peter calls wives to act towards their husbands with the humility they have received from meeting God. For the wife, this is expressed through biblical submission. Biblical submission is never about inferiority. It does not imply that her husband is wiser, more knowledgeable, or closer to God (as verse seven of this passage will make clear). Rather, biblical submission is one equal choosing to submit to the other equal for a higher purpose. Christ, though equal to the Father, voluntarily submitted to him in order to fulfill his role. This is the pattern for wives, and it is impossible without humility. A wife looks beyond her husband to the Lord, and offers her voluntary submission as worship to God. Pride will be the constant hindrance to a wife’s biblical submission.

This humility is further seen as Peter calls wives to focus on inward, spiritual beauty, rather than what is outward and physical. Specifically, Peter refers to a “gentle and quiet spirit,” which is precious to God (v 3-4). A woman who is at peace with God, trusting him wholly, exudes this “imperishable beauty” from within.

Finally, Peter gives the example of Sarah and the Old Testament saints who displayed this beautiful humility in marriage because they “hoped in God” (v5). A wife whose heart has been touched by God will limp like Jacob. Her humble, inward beauty will radiate from her like a sunrise. She will not fear (v6), or continually butt heads with her husband, fighting for control, for she is looking to what is greater. Her eyes are on her Lord, and she seeks for his glory to be displayed through her marriage. So, like Christ, she voluntarily submits to her equal in quiet trust and humble worship.

Peter’s instructions for husbands are also all about humility. Men are called to approach their wives with sensitivity, understanding and consideration of their needs. They must live with their wives with “knowledge.” Schreiner thinks this is knowledge of how God wants them to treat their wives; knowledge of God’s will. It could also refer to knowledge of his wife’s specific needs. Either way, God requires husbands to put thought into their treatment of their wives.

Specifically, husbands are commanded to show honor to their wife (this is unique in Greco-Roman literature, according to Schreiner!). They honor their wife, because she is “the weaker vessel” (v7). This is not an insult (it is in the context of honoring them), and most likely refers to the fact that, in general, men are physically stronger than women. God, then, calls husbands to use their strengths to serve and honor their wives, rather than to abuse or mistreat them. God requires men to act in a gentle, humble, loving way to their wives, giving them honor and consideration. This is the outflow of a heart that has been touched by God.

Peter affirms the equality of husbands and wives in his last words on the subject, telling husbands that their wives are “heirs with you of the grace of life” (v7). This means that men and women stand as equals before the cross. This destroys pride, and encourages humility. A man who rejects this humble approach to his wife will not be blessed by God (“so that your prayers may not be hindered” – v7). God will not listen to a man who is not humble toward his wife.

The limp of Jacob must be seen in the way husbands and wives relate to each other. Our conversion to Christ makes a difference. Pride kills relationships, but a heart that has seen its sinfulness and God’s great grace will overflow in life-giving, marriage-building, joy-bringing, spouse-honoring humility, to the glory of God!

Are you acting in humility towards your spouse? Is there any area where God is calling you to humble yourself toward him/her? If you are failing in this area, receive God’s grace! Repent, and look now to the one who humbled himself for us at the cross. Touched by his humility, we are now free and enabled to show humility to others, including our spouse.

For his glory in the marriage!

Reference: (1, 2 Peter, Jude, The New American Commentary, Volume 37, by Thomas R. Schreiner. © 2003. B&H Publishing Group.)

Men Adrift…or Faithful Men?

Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it. For…how shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? (Hebrews 2:1-3a ESV)

In this passage, we are given a strong warning about a grave danger for believers: the danger of slow-drifting from the sanctifying effect of regular gospel belief/preaching. The words “drift” and “neglect” describe the problem in terms of spiritual laziness, distraction, misplaced priorities, and lack of diligence in keeping Christ and the gospel in first place. Like a small boat on the ocean, the current of sin and this world pulls us away from Christ, the gospel and the church – faster and farther than we realize – until we are gone… Outside of Jesus, only judgment remains.

The passage gives us not only the danger, but also the remedy. The call is to “pay much closer attention” to the gospel. We need the constant rhythm of the preached gospel washing over us over a lifetime. We are strengthened and matured and enabled to endure to the end through the means of continually hearing and believing the gospel (Rom 1:16; 10:17; 16:25). We need this continual gospel proclamation in our own walk with the Lord as we set the gospel before our own eyes/heart (Deut 6:4-6). We need it in our family as we continue to proclaim Christ to one another in the daily life of the home (Deut 6:7-8). And we need this in the community of the local church, where we commit ourselves to faithfulness in the gatherings, both to hear the regular preached word and to remind our brothers and sisters continually of the gospel (Heb 3:13; 10:24-25). The idea is to endure to the end in faithfulness to Christ, through the enabling power of the Spirit at work in the word.

Drifting through neglect is a danger to all believers, but particularly for men, who are called by God to lead in our families and in the church. We must realize that while we wait for Christ to return we are at war with sin, the world and the devil. We cannot afford to coast, fall asleep, become distracted with other things, or simply quit fighting. God created men to have strength and live for glorious things. The enemies of God attack this call for men, seeking to “declaw” men and render us sleep-walking zombies who are passive in the things of God and the fight of faith. This began with the very first man! Adam was passive as he watched the devil lure his wife away into sin, finally joining her in it. He allowed those under his care – those he was responsible for before God – to fall (Gen 3:6, 9; Rom 5:12, 18a).

A Call for Faithful Men in the Church (2 Timothy 2:1-13)

Christ restores the glory that was lost in man’s fall into sin. The world attempts to render men ineffective, spiritually weak and of no eternal significance. But Christ became a Man and,  through his death and resurrection for us, undoes the power of sin and death. Men who are brought to faith in Christ through the gospel are increasingly enabled to walk as men of God, with the power of the Holy Spirit and the encouragement of one another in the church community.

At the end of the Apostle Paul’s life, as he was in prison awaiting his death, he wrote his final letter to Timothy. In 2 Timothy chapter two, Paul called Timothy to be strong in the grace of Christ. And he instructed him to pass the gospel on to other men, who will teach others in the church. Christ wants to raise up men in the church.

These men should have the mindset of battle – ready to suffer, fight, and be inconvenienced for the Lord Jesus and his mission (2:3). Paul gives examples from the world of military, sports and farming to call men to rise up in strong servant-leadership in the church (2:4-6).

The Lord is with us as we stand for him and pour out our lives for his glory in the church. By his grace, through the gospel, let us be men who endure in the faith to the end!

Pneumatology: The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit

The word used in both the Old and New Testaments of Scripture to refer to the Holy Spirit can be translated as spirit, breath or wind. The Greek word is pneuma, and so the study of the Holy Spirit is called Pneumatology. Thus, the Bible speaks of the Spirit in terms of the breath, wind, or movement of God. The Holy Spirit is involved with the work, power and presence of God in the earth.

The Bible is full of references to the Holy Spirit. You only have to read to the second verse of the Bible to find him, where we see the Spirit of God hovering over the waters, involved in the creation of the world. It is important to know what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit is a Person

First, we see that the Holy Spirit is a Person, distinct from the Father and the Son. Jesus said he would send ‘another’ comforter (John 14:6). And at the baptism of Jesus we see the three Persons of God, distinct from one another, all showing up in that one moment. God has revealed himself to us in the Bible as one God, who is made up of a united community of three Persons, equal in divine essence. Because God has revealed himself to us in this way, it is important for us to observe these distinctions in our teaching, conversation about God and in our prayers. For example, we cannot thank the Holy Spirit or the Father for dying on the cross. Jesus did that. There are no nail scars in the Father’s hands (He is a Spirit, and does not have physical hands!). The Holy Spirit is the third distinct Person of this Godhead.

But is the Spirit really a Person, or, as some groups teach, merely a force or power from God, like electricity? The way Scripture speaks about the Spirit makes it impossible for him to be an impersonal force. Scripture uses a masculine pronoun in Greek, which is unexpected grammatically, for the word ‘spirit’ is neuter, not masculine (John 14:6; 15:26; 16:13-14). The Bible wants us to know the Holy Spirit as a “He,” not an “it.” This is also seen in the simple fact that He is given names (Helper, Counselor, Comforter). You don’t name an influence, but a person. Additionally, personal activities are ascribed to Spirit in Scripture (such as teaching- John 14:26, bearing witness- 15:26, interceding or praying- Rom 8:26-7, speaking- Acts 8:29; 13:2, being grieved by sin- Eph 4:30. Finally, we are instructed to have “fellowship” with him (2 Cor 13:14). All of this shows us that the Spirit is a Person and not merely a power.

The Holy Spirit is God

The Holy Spirit is not just a person; He is a divine Person. That is to say, He is God. He is included in the Great Commission with the Father and the Son (Mat 28:19-20; to baptize in his name is idolatry if he is not God – Grudem). In the early days of the church, Peter spoke of the same event as lying to the Holy Spirit AND lying to God (Acts 5:3-4). Attributes of God (things that describe only God) are applied to the Holy Spirit in Scripture. For example, He is eternal (Heb 9:14), omnipresent (Ps 139:7), and omniscient (1 Cor 2:10). And works that only God does are applied to the Spirit in Scripture (Creation-Gen1:2, Ps 104:30; Incarnation- Mat 1:18, 20, Lk 1:35; Ministry of Jesus- Mt 7:28-29, 12:28; Miracles-1 Cor 12:10; Crucifixion- Heb 9:14; Resurrection of Christ-1 Pet 3:18; Rom 1:4).

The Work of the Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit is very active! The Bible teaches us many specific works that He does. Here are just a few:

  • The Spirit gives life, both physical (Gen 1:2; Ps 104:30) and spiritual, or regeneration (Jn 3:1-8, 6:63; Titus 3:5; Ez 37:14; Rom 8:2, 6, 11; 2 Cor 3:6; Acts 10:44-47). These verses show our complete dependence on Him.
  • The Spirit writes scripture (2 Pet 1:21; Mt 22:43; Acts 1:16; 4:25; 28:25; 1 Pet 1:11; Heb 3:7-8).
  • He convicts the world of sin (Jn 16:8-11; Acts 7:51).
  • He unites believers with Christ at conversion (1 Cor 12:13).
  • The Spirit seals believers (Eph 1:13; 2 Cor 1:22).
  • He indwells believers (2 Tim 1:14; Jn 14:17; Rom 8:9, 11; 1 Cor 3:16; 2 Cor 1:22).
  • He gives assurance/bears witness with believers concerning their sonship (Rom 8:16; Gal 4:16; 1 Jn 3:24; 4:13).
  • The Holy Spirit is the guarantee of future salvation (the “down payment;” Eph 1:13-14. 2 Cor 1:22, 5:5).
  • He comforts believers (Jn 14:26).
  • He teaches/illumines believers (Jn 14:26, 16:13; Lk 12:12; Acts 11:28; 1 Tim 4:1; 1 Cor 2:12; Eph 1:17-19).
  • He sanctifies/purifies believers, making us increasingly like Christ (1 Cor 6:11; 2 Cor 3:18; 2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2; Rom 8:13).
  • He helps believers produce fruit (Gal 5:22-23).
  • He guides and leads believers (Rom 8:14; Gal 5:16-26).
  • The Holy Spirit makes pastors (“overseers”) in the church (Acts 20:28).
  • He helps us in prayer (Rom 8:26; Eph 2:18).
  • He is involved in spiritual warfare (Mt 12:28; Acts 13:9-11; 1 Cor 12:10; Eph 6:17).
  • The Spirit gifts believers for building up the church (1 Cor 12:7, 11).
  • He empowers believers for mission and service (Acts 1:8; 6:5).
  • It is the work of the Holy Spirit to maintain unity in the church (Eph 4:3).
  • He becomes grieved/outraged with sin and when believers drift from the faith (Eph 4:30; 1 Thess 5:19; Heb 10:27, 29).
  • He fills believers increasingly (Eph 5:18; Jn 7:37-39; Peter shown to be filled with the Spirit three different times: Acts 2:4; 4:8; 4:23; This is a continual, deepening work, not a one-time experience).
  • He leads believers to praise (Eph 5:18-20).

Our Relationship with the Spirit

The Bible calls Christians to have a relationship with the Holy Spirit. We are instructed to have fellowship with Him (2 Cor 13:14). This implies an ongoing awareness of the presence of God. Because the Spirit leads us, it is our responsibility to yield to Him. This means we surrender to his leadership. We ask the Lord daily to fill us with his Spirit (Rom 8:14; Eph 5:18). Scripture calls us to walk in the Spirit (Rom 8:4; Gal 5:16, 25), pray in the Spirit (Jude 20) and earnestly desire the gifts of the Spirit for the building up of the church (1 Cor 12:31a; 14:1, 39).

Let us pray, “Come, Holy Spirit” in every situation and aspect of our lives, and in the church! We are totally dependent on the Holy Spirit to breathe life in us and bring fruit to our ministry, for the glory of God.

 

Reference

Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology and J.L. Dagg’s Manual of Theology were helpful resources used in this article.

Under the Law of Moses or the Law of Christ? Christians and Old Testament Law, Part 2

Are Christians under the Old Testament Law of Moses? Are we under all of it, none of it or part of it (the Ten Commandments)? Many believers either disagree on this issue, agree but express what they mean differently, or are just totally confused on the subject. Tom Schreiner’s book, 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law, helpfully walks us through the teaching of Scripture on this important topic. We will draw some main ideas from his book as we look to the Bible for help.

The Law of Moses was Intended to be Temporary

First, we see that the Law of Moses was part of God’s covenant with the political and physical nation of Israel, not the church. The Law, summarized in the great Ten Commandments, showed Israel how to love God and neighbor as their worship response to his gracious rescue from Egypt. But the New Testament teaches that the Law of Moses (like the entire Old Testament Scriptures) looked ahead to Jesus Christ (Luke 24:44-45; John 5:39, 46). The Law was intended by God to reveal sin and create longing for the salvation of God, which would come in Christ (Rom 3:20; Gal 3:19). When Christ came this purpose was fulfilled in him, and the shadows of the Law faded away as Christ, the Substance to which they pointed, became the focus.

Consider these Scriptures:

  • 2 Corinthians 3:6-7, 14-15. In this passage Paul makes a distinction between the old covenant in Moses and the new covenant in Christ. He also makes a point of comparison between the temporary nature of the law of Moses and the fading glory of Moses’ face when it was given. Paul even includes the Ten Commandments (“carved in letters on stone”) as part of the old covenant ministry that has faded and passed away with the coming of Christ and the new covenant ministry in him.
  • Galatians 3:19, 23-25; 4:1-7. Here Paul also speaks of the Law of Moses in temporary terms. He says the law was added “until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made” (3:19). He adds that before faith came we were imprisoned under the law “until the coming faith would be revealed” (v23). The law was our guardian “until Christ came…But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian” (24-25). Paul continues this terminology in his example in chapter four (“he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father”). The continued use of the word “until” highlights the fact that the Law of Moses was temporary. It was in force until Christ came.
  • Romans 6:14; 10:4; 7:6. Paul says that “we are not under law but under grace,” and that “Christ is the end (telos – “goal”) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” In a comparison with marriage, Paul writes that “we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (7:6).
  • Hebrews 7:11-12, 18-19; 8:7-13. The writer of Hebrews says that there has been a change in priesthood (from the Levites under the old covenant to Christ in the new, who is priest in the order of Melchizedek), and thus “a change in the law” (7:12). The law was weak and useless to make perfect, and God has given “a better hope” (7:18-19). He later speaks of the new covenant prophesied in Jeremiah 31, and concludes, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (8:13). Commenting on this passage, Peter O’Brien writes, “According to Hebrews, God established the first covenant, and he has replaced it with a new one. …To call it a new covenant does not simply mean to describe it in a fresh way… Rather, the language points to a new act of God to which Scripture bears witness. …For Hebrews the old covenant was near its end as soon as the oracle was spoken. It had passed its ‘use by’ date, its demise was a foregone conclusion” (The Letter to the Hebrews, p302-3).

The conclusion from these passages is that the Law of Moses was intended to be temporary. The law pointed to Christ and served to highlight sin in order to produce hope in the salvation only God can provide. Now that Christ has come and has instituted a new covenant, the old covenant is no longer in effect for the people of God.

Is Part of the Law of Moses Still in Effect?

For centuries many believers have divided the Law of Moses into three parts: the moral commands, the ceremonial commands pertaining to Israel’s worship and life as a people set-apart to God (food and purity regulations, the priesthood, festivals, etc), and the civil commands involving the government of the nation. The common assertion is that the ceremonial and civil laws no longer apply to the people of God in Christ, but the moral laws do. This would mean that the Ten Commandments are to be strictly obeyed by the church (the church being in that sense ‘under’ the moral law), while much of the other laws are no longer in force.

This could be a useful and helpful way of thinking about the law and the Christian if not pressed to far. After all, the New Testament does quote or allude to several of the Ten Commandments when instructing believers. But there are a few problems with this understanding. First, the New Testament nowhere speaks of the law as being under these three headings. We are never given a clear statement that the moral laws of the old covenant still apply to the church, while the civil and ceremonial do not. Secondly, there seems to be some overlap between the three sections of the law! It is quite difficult trying to break down all of the laws of the old covenant into these three categories. Some of the ceremonial laws have a moral aspect to them; the same for the civil laws. Who decides which old covenant laws still apply to the church and which do not? Finally, as we have seen in the Scriptures above, the New Testament seems to speak of the old covenant Law of Moses as one cohesive unit. All of the laws rise or fall together. We are either in the old covenant or the new; under law or under grace. The Law of Moses has faded (2 Cor 3), is obsolete (Heb 8) and has vanished away. We have died to the law to become married to another (Rom 7) – Christ!

It is also helpful to understand that the two different covenants were between two different peoples. The old covenant was between God and the physical nation of Israel, through Moses the mediator, entered into by the blood of animal sacrifices. The new covenant is exactly that – new. It is between God and the multi-ethnic, spiritual nation of the church of Jesus Christ, through Jesus the Mediator, entered into by the blood of Christ himself. Israel rejected their Messiah and received judgment (Mat 21:43). Peter can now refer to the church as the “holy nation” (1 Pet 2:9-10) using the same language God used of Israel in Exodus 19! The old covenant is gone, and the new covenant people of God are one “new man” created from the two; a multi-ethnic, spiritual church:

  • There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise. Galatians 3:28-29
  • For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace. Ephesians 2:14-15

The old covenant is gone in all its parts, as God has made a new covenant through Christ’s blood with a  new people, the multi-ethnic church.

The Law is Fulfilled in Christ

Jesus said he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it (Mat 5:17). He fulfills the law in the sense that it pointed to him and finds its truest meaning in him. Jesus has also kept the law for us, perfectly obeying the Father. Through Christ we who are lawbreakers are forgiven of our trespasses because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us on the cross. And his righteousness is given to us who believe, so that we are counted not guilty and perfect in the sight of God on the basis of Christ. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). All of the civil, ceremonial and even moral laws looked ahead to Jesus Christ. The coming of Christ was so monumental that it has fulfilled the intentions of the law, accomplished the purpose of the law and changed forever the way the laws are applied by his people. Let’s look at a few examples:

  • Circumcision. In the new covenant the people of God do not have to practice circumcision (Rom 4:9-12; Gal 2:3-5; 5:2-4). Rather, circumcision is fulfilled in Christ, as he was cut off for us at the cross. Now we who are in Christ are circumcised in heart through faith in Jesus (Rom 2:29; Phil 3:3; Col 2:11-12).
  • Passover. The New Testament makes clear that in Christ we are not required to observe the festival days of national Israel (Rom 14:5-6; Gal 4:10; Col 2:16-17). Rather, Christ is our Passover lamb, and through faith in him we keep the festival in its true fullness (1 Cor 5:7-8).
  • Sacrifices. There are no animal sacrifices for God’s people in the new covenant (Heb 8:5; 10:1). Jesus is our sacrifice, who was offered to God for us at the cross once for all (Rom 3:25-26; Gal 3:13; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 9:11-14, 24-26)!
  • Priesthood. In the same way, we no longer have priests over us besides Christ. He is our High Priest (Heb 9:11-12).
  • Temple. There is no holy building in the new covenant for the people of God. Jesus himself is the temple (John 2:21). And because we are united with him, believers are a temple where God’s glory and presence resides (1 Cor 3:16-17; 6:19; 2 Cor 6:16; Eph 2:21).
  • Food and Purity Regulations. These are all done away with in the new covenant (Rom 14:14, 20; Gal 2:11-14; Col 2:16-17, 20-23). In the new covenant we learn that it is only false teachers who forbid “foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim 4:3-5).
  • Sabbath. Some are surprised to learn that Paul can specifically mention the Sabbath in Romans 14:5 and Colossians 2:16-17 as merely a shadow that points to the Substance, Christ. Hebrews 3:12-4:13 teaches us that in the new covenant Christ is our Sabbath rest! So those who come to God through faith in Jesus, ceasing their efforts to earn their own righteousness through works, have entered God’s rest and are keeping the Sabbath in its fullest, truest sense!

Christ is the fulfillment of the Law of Moses! His coming has changed things forever! Christ is therefore the filter through which all commands must pass in order that we might see how they apply to us in light of his Person and work. Some commands in the old covenant will change very little or not at all in the new covenant, because of the unchanging character of God. For example, the Ten Commandments instruct us to honor our parents. Though the Law of Moses has faded away and a new covenant has taken its place, believers in the new covenant are still instructed to honor our parents (Eph 6:1-3). The command has not changed, but it is given to us not on the basis and authority of the old covenant, but of the new.

But some commands from the old covenant change drastically when filtered through Christ into the new covenant. For example, Paul quotes a command from the law (Deuteronomy 17:7), which required Israel to kill those who break the covenant as a way of purging Israel. But Paul, understanding how that covenant filters through Jesus, uses this as an instruction to the church at Corinth to exercise church discipline on an unrepentant member (1 Cor 5:13)! Because Christ has fulfilled the law, and his people in the new covenant are not the physical nation of Israel, but the spiritual and multi-ethnic community of the church, the purging of God’s people looks quite different! Removing sinners from the old covenant community through death has become removing sinners from the new covenant community through church discipline. The teaching of Jesus must guide us in our interpretation.

We Are Under the Law of Christ

 Though God’s people in the new covenant are not under the Law of Moses, it is important to understand that we are not free to sin (antinomianism). The New Testament speaks of the “Law of Christ:” “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2). Paul said that he was not under the law, but that he was indeed under the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:20-21). Christ’s law is love for God and neighbor (Gal 5:14 in the context of 6:2; the “royal law” in James 2:8). Love for God and neighbor was also the purpose of the Law of Moses, which is why many of the commands in the old and new covenants are similar.

But this love is not disconnected from ethics. Romans 13:8-10 makes clear that our love of neighbor is expressed through moral behavior that does no harm to neighbor. This is, again, why we are not surprised to find some of the Ten Commandments being quoted in the New Testament. But they are not quoted because we are under the law, but because God’s character does not change. God gives us moral commands in the new covenant which guide our love of God and neighbor as we walk in the Holy Spirit.

It is also important to remember that the law is not bad! It is the holy word of God, which reveals God’s character and heart to us. Even when the coming of Christ changes the way the people of God apply his word, his word is never wrong; the law was not a ‘mistake.’ The law only brought death and condemnation (2 Cor 3:6-7), but it was not the fault of the law! It was our fault; sinners cannot keep the law. And that was always the point. So when we speak of the law as having faded away, or as being obsolete; when we say that God’s people are no longer under the law, we are not speaking negatively of the law but only using the words of the New Testament. Paul asks, “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Rom 3:31). In other words, when we speak of Christ fulfilling the law and setting us free from the old covenant obligations, we are only saying that the law fulfilled its purpose. Its goal has been met in Jesus! The Law of Moses looked ahead and bore witness to the new covenant salvation in Jesus (Rom 3:21). Jesus has come, and we are free!

May believers in Christ rejoice that we are not burdened by a crushing, old covenant law, but rescued by Christ from our sins, and empowered to obey him through his precious Spirit! May we not have a ‘bad taste in our mouth’ concerning the law, or rip the Old Testament from our Bibles, but rather see Christ on every page! He is the Substance of the shadows. Hallelujah!

Look at Part 1 in this series for more about the Christian and Old Testament Law.

References

  • Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
  • ESV Study Bible notes. ©2008 Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
  • 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law; Thomas R. Schreiner, ©2010, Kregel Publications; Grand Rapids, MI.
  • The Letter To The Hebrews, The Pillar New Testament Commentary, by Peter T. O’Brien. © 2010. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. Grand Rapids, MI.

Love God and Neighbor – Christians and Old Testament Law, Part 1

Few things are as confusing to many Christians as understanding and applying Old Testament Law. Some fall prey to extremes, from believing all the law applies to us in the same way it applied to Israel, to thinking the entire Old Testament is off limits. Many are guilty of cherry picking some verses from the Law and leaving others out, with little rhyme or reason.

Jesus said he came to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17), and that everything in the Old Testament was looking ahead to him (Luke 24:44; John 5:39, 46). His coming and ministry changed the way the Law was to be understood and applied, for Christ is the final and authoritative interpreter of Scripture (see how he taught with authority in the Sermon on the Mount [Mat 7:28-29], and let his word stand on equal ground with Scripture [Mat 5:21-22; 27-28; 31-32, etc), and the fulfillment of the pictures and prophecies. He is the Substance of the shadows of the law (Col 2:17); faith in Christ releases us from being under the “guardian” of the law (Gal 3:23-26). Jesus, then, is the filter through which all of the Old Testament must pass. All Scripture must funnel through his Person, ministry and message to see how it applies to his disciples in the New Covenant. Because God’s character does not change, many of the laws will remain the same for Christians (such as honoring parents, Eph 6:1-3). And yet, because he is the fulfillment of what the laws looked toward, much of the law will change drastically for believers, or even cease completely (such as animal sacrifices, Heb 9:11-14, 23-26). Paul can speak of not being under the law of the Jews, yet being under the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:20-21). This law of Christ (or “royal law,” James 2:8) is summed up in loving God and loving our neighbor (Mat 22:37-40).

An Example From Exodus

We will take a look at a section of the Law in Exodus to help us see how to approach Old Testament Scripture from the perspective of being fulfilled in Christ. God has rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt, brought them to himself at Mt. Sinai, and is entering into covenant with them. They will be a special people to him, a holy nation (Ex 19:6). God then thundered the Ten Commandments from the top of Mt. Sinai in the hearing of Israel, through Moses the mediator. The Ten Commandments show Israel how to love God (the first four commandments) and their neighbor (the final six). But these ten instructions are not all. God gives Moses The Book of the Covenant (24:7) – which are additional laws for Israel, and take up several chapters in Exodus (from 20:22 until 23:33).

Overview of the Laws

These ‘rules’ (21:1) are descriptions of what Israel’s loyalty to God looks like; they elaborate on the Ten Commandments, applying them to specific situations in daily life. They describe what a ‘holy nation’ to God is going to look like when God brings Israel into the promised land. This holy people is to be different from all other nations (19:4-6). They are to display to the world what God is like – to bear his image and declare his glory. Through this special nation will come the Messiah, who will bring blessing to all the families of the earth (Gen 12:1-3) – salvation!

These are things to keep in mind as we consider this Book of the Covenant:

  • The Law follows Grace. Remember that this law is not intended to save Israel if they can just keep it; they are already redeemed! God has already brought them out of Egypt by the blood of the Passover lamb, with a mighty hand and outstretched arm, bearing them on eagle’s wings to himself! Since they are so highly favored by God, and have already seen his grace and love and redemption, they must respond with obedience, which is their worship. The Law of God defines for them what this gratitude and love looks like.
  • The Law is Corporate. While individuals must walk in this law, it is given in the context of a redeemed community. A people who will reflect God. As we seek how we should apply this to ourselves as New Covenant believers, we can’t forget the corporate aspect. This is about a people of God, not me and how I can be a better person.
  • The Law is Love. Jesus said that to love God and love neighbor is the fulfillment of all the law and prophets (Matthew 22:36-40). God’s law describes what it looks like for Israel to love God and love their neighbor.
  • The Laws flow out of the 10 Commandments. The Ten Commandments are all over this Book of the Covenant. It defines, describes and applies the ‘Ten Words’ to daily life.
  • The Laws are not Exhaustive. God does not here describe every minute detail of life. He gives examples from various spheres of life. Israel’s judges (ch 18:25-26) can use these laws as precedents, illustrations and examples to learn how to judge Israel in every matter according to the character of God.
  • The Laws display God’s Character. In the law as a whole we see the glorious attributes of God displayed in Israel’s daily living. We see wisdom. Love to God and neighbor. Justice. Mercy. Compassion. Righteous Wrath. Supreme devotion to the glory of God.
  • The Law weaves Worship into the national DNA of Israel. This law begins with worship laws (altars) and weaves them into the social, judicial, financial fabric of the life of the nation.

This diagram shows how God’s Law flows into Israel’s everyday life: 

Law Diagram

The Laws

Now that we have overviewed the Book of the Covenant, let’s look at some of the specific laws God gave Israel. First, we need to understand the laws as they applied to the physical nation of Israel.

  1. Altars (20:22-26). Like the 10 Commands, the Book of the Covenant begins with worshiping God. They are to make simple altars rather than elaborate altars their hearts might idolize. He must be seen as holy, so they may not use steps for their altars (men’s clothing was like a type of modern woman’s dress, and with no underwear. They were not to be exposed as they walked up the altar!). God is holy.
  2. Slaves (21:1-11). These laws are for voluntary servants, not the kind of slavery that most often comes to our modern, western minds. It is not racial. Further, these laws describe how God’s people are to show love for God and neighbor within a broken world; God allows for the hardness of the human heart (Jesus, Matt 19:8). So these laws describe godliness within an imperfect society. All that being said, God is concerned to see that Israel does not become what they just came out of! They have been oppressed as slaves in Egypt; now God enforces rules that will keep Israel from doing the same to others. Their voluntary slaves will not be permanent slaves, unless that is their desire. A poor family might sell their daughter as a slave/wife to a rich man. She will have her needs met, and the rule prevents her exploitation.
  3. Murder (21:12-14). God recognizes the difference between premeditated murder and a crime of passion, or involuntary murder. Cities of refuge will be provided by God, where someone may safely stay until their case is resolved.
  4. Treatment of Parents (21:15, 17). God takes treatment of parents seriously. Attacking or cursing your parents is a capital offense.
  5. Kidnapping/Slavetrading (21:16). Kidnapping, slavetrading, people trafficking is another capital offense.
  6. Personal Injury (21:18-32). Various laws detail who is responsible when injury occurs. God wants Israel to value life. Of note – these laws call for a sense of personal responsibility and thought about the welfare of others in all our actions. If we are in a fight, we should see who is around us that might be hurt. If we have an animal that is prone to hurting others, we must restrain it. Love of neighbor considers the welfare of others and takes responsibility. What about ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth?’ The purpose of this rule is not cruelty, but to ensure that the punishment is not greater than the crime. God wants Israel to seek justice, not exorbitant cruelty (eye for eye; not eye+ear+tooth+legs for an eye).
  7. Restitution (21:33-36; 22:5-6; 10-15). Love of neighbor calls us to restore what we damage, lose, break, injure, etc. It also calls for forethought: how will my action affect others (example, the man who digs a pit and leaves it open for others to fall into; he must restore). Love of neighbor means being responsible for our actions.
  8. Theft (22:1-4; 7-9). Restitution must be made for what is stolen. If a thief is breaking into a house at night, they may kill him to protect their family. If it is during the day, the threat is lessened, and they must not kill him; let him go to a judge and answer for his crime. Again, God is calling for justice, not exorbitant cruelty.
  9. Social Laws (22:16-31; 23:9). Even the social life is filled with love and justice.
  • A man seduces a virgin. Though it was consensual, the man must still pay the bride-price to the woman’s father. This produces forethought; a man should not take sex, or women, lightly. A woman who has been dishonored would have a hard time in this society. But this rule ensures that she must still be taken care of.
  • Three detestable acts. God required the death penalty for a sorceress (magic instead of God; manipulation instead of trust in God’s plan), someone who has sex with an animal (dishonors the image of God in man and destroys the picture of marriage – Christ and the church; this was also a practice of other religions), and someone who sacrifices to another god. These three acts are deemed destructive to the holy nation’s social life.
  • Treatment of aliens. Because the Israelites were themselves strangers in a foreign land, they should be compassionate to any foreigners in their land. God reminds them, “you know the heart of a sojourner” (23:9).
  • Orphans and Widows. God promises to take vengeance on those who mistreat the downtrodden.
  • The Poor. Do not charge interest to the poor. Do not keep his cloak as a pledge (he will need it to be warm at night). These laws, again, call for special consideration and thoughtfulness about the needs of others!
  • Respect authority. Do not revile God or curse a ruler of the people. Recognize authority.

10. Judicial Laws (23:1-3; 6-8). God demands honesty from witnesses and prohibits going along with the crowd because it feels right. Rather, JUSTICE must be maintained. Surprisingly, he even says not to be partial to a poor man in his lawsuit. Impartial justice; No bribes! Do not punish those who are not guilty.

11. Your Enemy (23:4-5). The people must even show compassion and responsibility toward their enemies! This is not foreign to the Old Testament, as some suppose.

12. Sabbath and Festivals (23:10-19). God commands the people to observe the Sabbath in days, and years. In the Ten Commandments the reason given for the Sabbath was theological (the Lord rested from his work in creation); here it is more humanitarian (that your workers and animals may rest and be refreshed). Every seven years the land must not be planted, but left for the poor and the animals to eat from it. Three yearly festivals are given as well. He reminds them to bring him the first-fruits of the ground. They are not to appear before him empty-handed. Worship of God is woven into Israel’s calendar, lives, culture.

Boiling a young goat in its mother’s milk? Many explanations have been offered for this one, but it seems that this is forbidden either because it is unnatural (the milk of its mother is supposed to give life, not bring death), or because there is evidence that this was a worship-practice of other nations, and thus God is forbidding Israel to worship him the way other nations do.

Fulfillment In Christ

So how do these laws look when filtered through the Person and work of Christ? Consider these truths:

Jesus died for our transgressions and disobedience. None of us have lived up to God’s demands. We have not loved God or neighbor. But through Christ’s death and resurrection we who believe are forgiven for our sins. Full atonement has been made. The price is paid!

Jesus is the true Israel who obeyed the Law of God perfectly. Jesus did what Israel failed to do. Through faith in Jesus we are declared righteous – justified forever!

Jesus empowers his people to obey his commands. By the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit, believers walk in obedience to God. The law is written on our hearts and minds (Jer 31:33, Heb 8:10). We are not under the Law of Moses; we are not the physical nation of Israel. But we are under the law of Christ (1 Cor 9:21), which is loving God and neighbor. Through the fruit of the Spirit and the power to obey New Testament commands, such as the ‘one another’ commands, the church is a partial realization of God’s vision for Israel. And an even greater fulfillment is coming with the fullness of the kingdom! There we will experience perfect love of God and neighbor, and will live as the glorious people of God, enjoying the Lord forever!

So for believers in Christ, in the New Covenant, this looks like:

    • Love God: We learn from the Book of the Covenant to put God first; we worship him with obedience and loyal love. We love God by remembering him and honoring him in all of life, and worshiping him with the community of faith in the assembly. No other gods!
    • Love Neighbor: We also learn how to love our neighbor in these chapters of Exodus: Consideration of others. Forethought of other’s needs. Honesty. Compassion. Trust. Responsibility. Accountability. Mercy. Justice. Respect. Special concern for the downtrodden (widows, orphans, aliens, the poor). All of this is done corporately – loving God and neighbor together, as the people of God.

For more in this series, look at Part 2: Are we under the law of Moses or the law of Christ?

References

  • Promises Made: The Message of the Old Testament; Mark Dever; ©2006, Crossway Books.
  • How to Read the Bible for All Its Worth; Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart; © 1981, 1993, 2003. Zondervan.
  • How to Read the Bible Book by Book; Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart; ©2002, Zondervan.
  • 40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law; Thomas R. Schreiner, ©2010, Kregel Publications; Grand Rapids, MI
  • Exodus – The New American Commentary Vol. 2 ; Douglas K. Stuart; ©2006 B&H Publishing Group; Nashville, Tennessee.
  • Genesis – Leviticus – The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, Revised Edition Vol. 1; Walter C. Kaiser Jr (Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland, General Editors); ©2008; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530.
  • Exodus – The NIV Application Commentary; Peter Enns; ©2000; Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan 49530.