Monday, 21 December 2009

evangelical burdens part 3 - golawspel

The law/gospel distinction is out of fashion. Some Reformed academics dismiss it as 'Lutheran' (as if that's a bad thing!), despite the evidence that the distinction was a staple for all of reformational Christianity. Others see it as an old fashioned idiosyncrasy of the reformation that can be quietly dropped. Yet the Reformers to a man believed that blurring the law/gospel (L/G) distinction was the chief way to corrupt the gospel.

What is the L/G distinction? If one was to express it in a snappy, soundbite, one might describe it thus, in true White Horse Inn style:
The Law is everything that God requires of us. The Gospel is everything God gives us. God gives us everything in the Gospel that he requires of us in the Law.
Yet since such a definition does not do justice to the wide variety of passages in Scripture that speak of "the law" (Gk. nomos), and those who hold to the L/G distinction are aware of the subtle nuances surrounding the phrase nomos.

Mike Horton, in his barn storming, Covenant and Salvation, believes that the term "law" can be understood in two ways, depending on context. Firstly, the law can be understood in its redemptive-historical sense. That is, it can be seen as a body of writings containing promises that point forward to the Lord Jesus Christ. In this sense there is no tension between law and gospel as we move from promise to fulfillment. Indeed the apostle Paul, in this sense, can describe the law as "glorious" (2 Cor. 3:7). Nevertheless:
...when the question was justification and the way a sinner can obtain salvation, law was regarded as a principle or method of salvation in antithesis to promise or gospel - a question of ordo salutis. Such gear shifting [between redemptive-historical and principle] far from arbitrary, is simply a way of interpreting the same term (nomos) in different texts and different contexts. (p89)
So as a covenantal principle, we are under grace not law. The two are mutually exclusive to the extent that the apostle Paul says that "the law is not of faith" (Gal. 3:12). The L/G distinction is merely another way of expressing the works/grace contrast (Rom. 4:4). Too many evangelicals are ignorant of this sharp distinction. It brings clarity to confused minds and results in consolation to bruised hearts. When one recoils as Christ thunders his "but I say to you's" from the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel According to Matthew, we hear the Law in all it's condemning power. When we read of Christ's bloody death for his people at the end of Matthew, we see the Gospel, i.e. (Christ taking upon himself our failures to live the Sermon in the Mount) in all it's gracious, life giving power. Let's pray that more evangelical preachers become gripped by this powerful hermeneutic.

35 comments:

Anonymous said...

No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no!! Everything was going so well until your last three sentences. Please go and read Matthew chapters 5-7 again, Nicky... and read them as someone under grace and not under law... i.e. read them as a blessed disciple... the Sermon on the Mount is for us, and it is not meant to terrify us or even drive us to Christ's death for cover. It's meant to show us that we now fulfil the law in Christ.

Shed

Nick Mackison said...

It's not meant to terrify us? Well it does me. I'm fully aware that the Sermon comes under a third use of the law heading and that it isn't supposed to scare. Nevertheless, viewed apart from the gospel it's even scarier than Sinai.

Anonymous said...

But Nicky... who was the sermon delivered to, who was it for!? If it scares you, either you havent been taught well, or you dont know and believe in God's grace.

Nick Mackison said...

Who was the law at Sinai for? I know what you're saying. The point I was making was that were it not for the cross, the Sermon on the Mount would be scary.

John Thomson said...

I'm with Shed. The Sermon on the Mount is the 'life of the Kingdom' in this present world.

Yet, again, with Shed, I agree with with much you said before.

The Lutheran insight that Law and gospel are in contrast. The Lutheran mistake is confusing obligation and Law. Gospel obligations are not Law nor ever confused with Law in the NT.

The proper distinction between Law and gospel is, I believe, redemptive-historical. It is between two eras (life in the old creation and life in the new creation; life in the flesh and life in the Spirit; life in the Old Covenant and life in the new).

The difference of 'principle' in these two eras or covenants is not 'obligation vs no obligation' but 'grace vs works' or 'the just shall live by faith' or 'this do and you shall live', or works righteousness self-earned vs 'the righteousness that is by grace through faith'.

Grace, however, has obligations. We are obligated to live by the Spirit not the flesh (Roms 8).

The life of the Sermon on the Mount describes such a life, in the context of C1 Palestine. It is a sketch by Jesus of life in his/God's Kingdom. It addresses disciples. It assumes people who are poor in Spirit, mourn their sin, rejoice in righteousness and are the salt of the earth. Later revelation will reveal more fully how this life is made possible by the Spirit.

I understand how seen as bare commands it can be seen as law and condemn, as indeed can any command divorced from its historical-redemptive context. However, we must work at seeing these commands and others within their covenant context for this determines everything.

Thanks for the blog Nicky. If I had to choose, I'd rather the mistake of Lutheranism than the Reformed mistake (that is, those many Reformers who with Calvin make the Law a rule of Life for the believer).

These are important issues well worth exploring. I expect some challenge to the views I have expressed.

Nick Mackison said...

Upon reflection I should have described the Sermon as a third use of the law type thing. Keep you two off my back!

Nevertheless, I think you guys are cutting conviction and the fear of the Lord from his commands. For instance, I take it that you (Shed and John) hear the command not to lust in your heart and rejoice? Is there not an element of cringing from God's holy standard? That's what I'm getting at.

But then we're back at the beattitudes, mourning, hungering, thirsting, etc. Were it not for the beattitudes and the death of Christ, the SoM would be terrifying, as it would have been to many hearers - even disciples. But the gospel makes it a 'law of freedom'.

I don't think the L/G distinction can be reduced to redemptive-historical. As long as works and grace are opposite principles (Romans 4:4), then law and gospel as justifying systems are a valid hermeneutic.

I have to disagree with you John and say that even gospel imperatives are described as the 'law of Christ'. These imperatives flow from the grand indicative of Christ's work.

Nick Mackison said...

PS Shed, you're way off if you say that the SoM doesn't drive us to Christ's death! What is the whole of Matthew marching towards?

Anonymous said...

But Nicky... how can children be terrified by the heavenly Father?... read chapter 6 in particular, count the number of times "Father" is used, how the Father is described to us, and the number of times "reward" is promised...it's a sermon for those who already know the warmth of being close to Jesus... I'd even tentatively suggest the disciples were being taught by Jesus to not fear God the way they used to...

Your problem is that you are trying to use Reformed Dogmatic categories to try and understand material that Reformed people have been notoriously bad at understanding... remember our criticism of Fesko... writing a book on justification and judgement without any reference to Matthew 25!!!!! Contemporary Reformed writers need to redress the balance in their use of scripture... and quickly, too.

Shed

John Thomson said...

Nicky

We love getting on your back. I thought that was why you exposed it.

Re the fear of the Lord, yes, these texts can hit me like that and to some extent, ought to. The fear of the Lord is after all the beginning of wisdom. This fear is no unhealthy thing. They also provoke joy and delight for his will is a delight to our holy souls.

Of course, the flesh resists, hates and fears (in a wretched way) these commands and obligations and Satan plays on our failure by accusing us. However, this is precisely the fight of faith. The fight is not won by denying obligations but by embracing them as God's will and delighting in them and simultaneously, as we see indwelling sin and our regular failure, recognising and rejoicing in justification by faith in a relationship of grace.

Re 'law of Christ' is this not the exception that proves the rule. Paul is underlining in Galatians and Corinthians that life in the Spirit is not free of command and obligation. The gospel releases us from The Law (a system or principle of works righteousness suitable for men in the flesh - a kind of kindergarten code) but we are thereby free from obligation but in fact live under 'law' to Christ.

The problem with some Reformed thinking on this topic is that it does not grasp sufficiently what it means to be in a new creation. The Law (Moses' Law)was given to man (represented by Israel) in an old and fallen creation. In that 'world' various authorities hold sway - sin, Satan, death and God's holy, yet condemning Law. Christians do not belong to the old creation,but the new. They have died to the old with its authorities and obligations. They belong to the new creation. However, in the new creation obligations still exist.

Obligations to God, but to a God who is for us, who gave us his son and with him freely gives us all things, who justifies and does not condemn.

Obligations to the Spirit, but the Spirit who indwells, who interces for us in our weaknesses, and who graciously supplies what he demands.

Obligations to Christ, who died, was raised and is seated at God's right hand interceding For Us.

We need not fear the obligations of grace and new creation. Our problem is that we do not adequately grasp the blessing and security of a life lived in the gospel. If we did his commands would not be burdensome but joyful; his burden not heavy but light.

The way for us all to avoid falling into the snaring condemnation of the devil is to live by faith in gospel grace, knowing by faith both the 'fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Spirit', rejoicing in perfect love that casts out unbelieving fear, confident that we are seated with Christ in heavenly places. As we refelct on this in believing faith we find gospel comfort and find ourselves walking more closely in step with the Spirit in all holiness and godliness.

John Thomson said...

PS

Just read Shed's last comment. I am with him all the way. I think he is exactly right.

What a relief to find someone who seems, at least here, to think similarly to me. I can't be completely deranged.

Nick Mackison said...

I know what you're saying Shed, I hear it. Yet I don't think Matthew is bound by your reductionist categories.

For example, in Matthew 10, Christ says:
"28And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father."

Fear your Father. That's Christ's word to his disciples!

I would agree that your interpretation of Matt. 5-7 is the primary one. Nevertheless, the question is how does the law (and surely you agree that the sermon is law?) function in the life of a believer? When Christ, in the Sermon tells us to cut off our hand and gouge out our eyes rather than sin (using hell as a motive), isn't he appealing to fear? Isn't his law in that instance a tad frightening?

John Thomson said...

Re fear of God, this is a characteristic of all godly folks whenever. Even Adam in the garden should have feared the Lord. Christ is heard because of his godly fear. The difference between the old covenant and the new covenant is the context of that fear. The OC generated a fear that was heavy in dread for it was a covenant of Law. It was Law given to man in the flesh and must be its very nature cause quaking and fear. How can man in the flesh stand in the presence of God? He naturally falls back from the mountain. he calls for a mediator. God is the God who thunders.

Mount Zion is equally awesome, or better God is equally awesome and worthy of fear, but it is the fear of grace. We still stand in supreme majesty and holiness. God is still the judge of all. But we come on the basis of sprinkled blood that speaks better things than Abel's.

In Romans 8 language we come to God as sons not slaves. He is our Father, not the one who thunders from Sinai. And in the words of Peter, 'And if you call on him as Father who judges impartially according to each one's deeds, conduct yourselves with fear throughout the time of your exile.'

For, as Hebrews reminds us, the one who is our Father is a consuming fire. And 'if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one kwho has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned lthe blood of the covenant mby which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said,“Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.'

John Thomson said...

PS

Just read Nicky's last comment. The Law is frightening but so too is grace, if spurned or treated casually.

Fear is not necessarily a bad thing.

My new year's Sunday sermon will be on the gospel of the fear of God - decided not today but a week ago. If I am well enough to deliver it.

John Thomson said...

PS

'Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and spirit, bringing holiness to completion in the fear of God.'

Gospel grace and the fear of God fit hand in glove.

R. Scott Clark said...

Yes, we are under grace but that fact doesn't turn the law into grace.

Saying that the Sermon on the Mount is "law" doesn't mean that it isn't normative for us or that it doesn't guide us. It certainly does!

Law and gospel are not, properly, only historical categories. Yes, the Reformation writers did speak that way but they did so using the older medieval (and Patristic) categories. In fact, however, the typological revelation contains both Law AND Gospel.

These are not only historical categories, they are also hermeneutical or theological categories. One of the great breakthroughs of the Reformation was the recovery of the distinction between law and gospel. Yes, there is gospel in the Sermon on the Mount but when our Lord says "Whoever has looked at a woman with the intent of lusting" he is not preaching the good news but the law. That law is normative for believers, but it is also condemning for those outside of Christ and it thunders the righteous judgment of God against sin. That's not good news for sinners. There's no way to make that good news for sinners.

The great medieval mistake was to ignore this distinction and to treat all of Scripture in purely historical categories. They spoke of law and gospel but they meant "old law" and "new law." The only difference between them was said to be the relative availability of grace to enable us to fulfill the law (by cooperation with grace). This is not good news for sinners, who have no ability to cooperate with grace toward justification.

That's why the theological/hermeneutical use of the law/gospel distinction was such a breakthrough and fundamental to the entire Reformation.

John Thomson said...

In 'fear and trembling' I am going to challenge R Scott Clark - well at least question.

I understand that historically some have distinguished between law and gospel as absolute categories where law=obligation/judgement etc and gospel/grace =total comfort. My question is whether this is how the Bible habitually invites us to think.

I think we both agree there is a Law/Gospel distinction on a redemptive historical plane. I certainly see 'The Law' as a covenant of works to obtain justification and the Gospel as a covenant of Grace that gifts salvation.

However, although I can see its usefulness theologically to sharpen distinctions and even that gospel=promise is sometimes a biblical way of speaking (OT reference to Abraham having the gospel preached to him and Hebs 4)and law=obligation (law of Christ, law of liberty), it is not clear to me that this is in any way absolute where law (small 'l')is in principle a generic way of considering all command/judgement and gospel in principle generic for all comfort/promise and blessing.

The 'good news' is the arrival of God's Kingdom, a Kingdom he will establish.

It comes with a call, a'command' (Acts 17) to repent for he has appointed a day he will judge the world. My point is repentance is associated here and elsewhere with gospel not law. Indeed we are called to 'obey' the gospel. Then again we have 'the obedience of faith' in Romans. As Christians we have 'an obligation, we are debtors to the Spirit'(Roms 8).


It is not just the Law that condemns but the Gospel too condemns. For some it is a 'fragrance of death unto death'. The world is condemned because it has not believed on the Son (Jn 3). The gospel becomes a stumbling block, and rock of offence.

It is not law but gospel that 'teaches us to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts and to live self controlled, upright, godly lives'

Finally, it is in the framework of gospel that NT writers often speak of both reward and punishment'.

My point is that a blanket law=command/judgement and gospel=promise/blessing is too reductionist. The reality of the Law/Gospel divide is more complicated. It is a reality of different epochs or creations based on different administrations.

Having said this I greatly value your writings and those of WHI etc on thse issues. I think the more Lutheran/Reformed approach is more helpful than the Calvinist/Reformed approach which seems to flatten out the covenants.

More particularly, I think the Two-Kingdom emphasis is vital as a socio-political gospel of redeeming culture gains momentum in evangelical circles and is in danger of occluding the gospel.

Alexander Smith said...

The gospel is the good news of Christ's atoning death for our sins and His resurrection so that we might have eternal life. He has fulfilled the Law and his obedience has been imputed to us.

We can now live the law out in our daily lives, for we are no longer "under the law" as a curse but it is our law, in our hearts, so that we might live holy lives; sanctify ourselves as we have been sanctified by God through adoption in Christ by the Holy Spirit.

The Gospel tells me I have been saved through the work of Christ; the Law tells me how I should live out that salvation.

Of course we must know how to apply the Law, but when the Law says do not commit adultery and we commit adultery, we have clearly broken the Law even if that breaking doesn't cost us our salvation (just as not breaking doesn't earn us our salvation).

That is how I understand it all. Have I missed something?

Michael F. Bird said...

Nick, one of the scariest things that happened to me this year was the 500 word mini-essays that my students had to write on the SOTM. They all treated it like OT Law and remarked that the purpose of the SOTM was to show us how sinful we are and Jesus doesn't really expect us to do it. This confirms to me that Reformed folk just don't know what to do with SOTM. It is scary only if you're reading Gospels through the lens of the law/gospel antithesis. The SOTM is the manifesto of the kingdom and it is how the new Israel is to live. It is not there as new law to remind us how sinful we are and we are expected to do it.

If law/gospel distinction is about how the law is not a step ladder to salvation - no problem from me. But if this reduces faith to mere assent without faithfulness to the example and teaching of Jesus, then it's pushed the wrong way.

John Thomson said...

Well Alexander, you've missed the fact that many who read and believe the same Reformed confessions you do, believe something quite different.

Maybe Reformed thinking about the gospel is not so uniform after all. Maybe it is not so easy to tie down what is Reformed (the above is all slightly tongue in cheek or mischievous given previous discussions).

I would simply add, not tongue in cheek, we are not under the Law (Mosaic Covenant which is a unity) in any sense.

Nick Mackison said...

Michael, you've got at what I was trying, badly, to say; the law/gospel distinction is about justification not being by law.

I'd be concerned to conceptually distinguish faith from faithfulness while maintaining that faith is never present without faithfulness.

I agree too that we are expected to live by the SoM.

John Thomson said...

Re The SoM I agree with MB (scared to disagree) but would add that as a Kingdom Manifesto not only is it addressing confessing/professing members of the eschatological Kingdom living in the 'not yet' phase but it views them realistically. It knows that while not 'in the flesh' yet they have 'the flesh in them'. It is realistic about the dangers of indwelling sin and the deceitfulness of sin;it faces the reality of potentially false profession.

The final conclusion is that 'he who hears and does' Christ's word is a believer. Whatever our doctrine of 'faith alone' we must always balance it by 'of course faith is never alone'.

The 'good news' of Kingdom righteousness is that it is both imputed and imparted.

John Thomson said...

And Alexander, I should perhaps observe that in the OC keeping the Law could earn salvation. It was after all a covenant of works. Of course, none did or could keep the Law, nor was it given with the intention that it would save any, rather it was given chiefly to show the sinfulness of the human heart.

Nevertheless the principle of the Law is clear, and is clearly pointed out by Paul - 'this do and you will live'.

John Thomson said...

PS Sorry about repeated comments.

Alexander, if the Law is the rule of life for the Christian isn't it strange how infrequently it is appealed to as such in the NT.

Indeed, in Galatians Paul specifically contrasts a life lived by the Law and the life of the Christian.

'For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.'

The reference to the 'life I now live in the flesh... faith in Son of God' is a reference not to justification but sanctification, or better the justified life. My point is it is not the Law that is the source or measure of that life, it is Christ. In the NT Christ not the Law is the source and standard of new creation life. The Law has no place in the new creation; it belongs to the old creation.

Alexander Smith said...

John, I think you're confusing two things about the Law in the OT. There was the Covenant of Works made with Adam: live by the Law and you will be justified. Adam failed; Man fell. In comes the Covenant of Grace. Justification and salvation in the OT is the same as in the NT: faith in Christ (Gal. 4:4-5, Rev. 13.8). This does not mean that, ultimately, the Law doesn't justify. Paul tells us it is the doers of the Law who are saved. The Law is what saves, but we cannot live by the Law on our own.

Christ comes, He fulfills the Law and His perfect obedience is imputed to us. And not just in an abstract sense but in a very real sense: we are counted as having fulfilled the Law, actually. We are truly justified and sanctified in the eyes of God (Rom. 5:8-10, 19; Heb. 10:10, 14; 2. Cor. 5:21).

In the OT the Law- the moral, civil and ceremonial- were types and foreshadows of Christ. Salvation was by faith in Christ- Abraham believed and it was counted to him as righteousness, hundreds of years before the Law was given at Sinai. Salvation is in Christ alone, who is the fulfillment of the Law. He does not abolish the Law.

Now, as Christians, we are holy and called to live holy lives. Paul, addressing the church in 2 Corinthians, quotes and applies OT passages which are commandments to God's people- the church, amongst whom God dwells- to seperate themselves from all uncleanliness and to live holy lives: 2 Cor. 6:16-7:1.

We have died in Christ, therefore we are to put to death the life of sin and to live holy lives (i.e. by the Law, which is the only guide for holiness we are given)- Col. 3:1-5.

The church is holy in Christ and therefore we are to live holy lives (1 Peter 1:14-16). 1 Thessalonians 3:13, Ch. 4 is Paul's commandment to that church to live lives of sanctification for Christ. His labour is to prepare the church for the return of Christ (Col. 1:28-29; 2 Cor. 11:2; Eph. 5:25-32).

So if you're saying that only in Christ are we saved, then of course that's true. But how are we saved in Christ? By his accomplishing on our behalf all that is demanded of God. In Christ we are holy, sanctified. This is our reality. Therefore, we are to live holy lives, sanctifying ourselves. This work will never be complete in this life but that is no reason not to pursue holiness.

How do we pursue holiness? By following the Law, as the only guide for holiness we have been given: Rom. 7:12, 22, 25; 1 Cor. 7:19; Gal. 5:14, 16, 18-23. The Law given in the OT, which then was a curse, is now written in our hearts: Eze. 36:27; Jer. 31:33; Gal. 3:21; Heb. 8:10.

Christ accomplished all and through His Spirit we are united to Him and are able to live by the Law: Rom. 8:3-4. Living by the Spirit means to live by the Law, which has now been engraved in our hearts. We are no longer under the Law as a curse but, in Ferguson's words, "in-lawed to Christ".

Which, from a cursory reading of the Westminster Confession, is what the Westminster divines understood by justification, the work of Christ, the role of the Law &c.

John Thomson said...

Alexander

Thanks for taking time to give such a full answer. You raise too many issues for me to be able to discuss at the moment.

The big area of disagreement lies in the Law and how it is understood in the life of the believer. Can I recommend you read Douglas Moo's article in the Counterpoint book 'Five views of the Law'. The article at one point was online but I can't find it now. I have attached below a link to a full summary of it.

http://www.covopc.org/Papers/Moo_Outline_Law.html

You may wish to explore too articles on the Law from Lee Irons' website - The Upper Register.

Another article that is worth reading is found here.

http://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/34/34-3/34-3-pp321-334_JETS.pdf

Have a good Christmas.

Alexander Smith said...

You too.

I'll just say this now: the issue is a very practical one: what does it mean to live as a Christian? What standard do we follow? Or does it not matter what we do because we have been saved in Christ through grace?

The Law, basically, to me anyway, is just the code of conduct we have been given by God so we can live holy lives. It has been used in different ways throughout history but at the end of the day, it shows us where we go wrong and how we can put things right.

So I'd ask you: all this stuff you have argued in this thread, how do you apply that day to day? How do you know what is right and what is wrong? To me that's the ballgame.

Alexander Smith said...

Oh, I think your point was that we are disagreeing on what the Law actually is, lol. As I understand it the Law was given to Adam in Eden- he was commanded to obey God and he didn't. There is the Mosaic covenant, which codifies the Law and brings in civil and ceremonial statutes which are clearly now defunt, but the Law as a requirement for salvation and a guide to holy living has been around since day one and still remains (now the requirement of fulfilment has been met in Christ and to the Christian believer it is a guide).

Apologies if that wasn't clear in what I said.

Donald Ferguson said...

I agree with Alexander [for what it’s worth] and think John is still suffering from residual dispensationalism! The covenant of Grace is primary theologically, logically and eschatologically and the covenant of works is its servant. That perspective should shape our understanding.

That’s all folks.

John Thomson said...

Alexander

You're tempting me into a discussion I can't have at the moment. My wife is insisting I help get the house ready for Christmas.

Now a question i may ask is how the Law tells me specifically how to respond to her request?

We need a long discussion on some of these matters.

I think Adam was given 'a law' in Eden. He was not given 'the Law'. 'The Law' which is mostly always what the NT refers to is the Mosaic Law. The Mosaic Law was a covenant. It was a unity. You could not pick and choose what parts of the covenant you wished to accept or reject. You must accept the conditions as a whole or not at all. This impinges on moral, ceremonial and civil distinctions. These have some significance but not if we try to carve the Law up by them. The Law is a unity and all of these together are 'the Law'.

For Paul, we either accept the whole package or none at all. That is his argument in Galatians and he is not simply speaking of the Law as a means of works salvation, though of course he includes this and it is important. No, he is speaking of the Covenant as a whole. His problem is not simply that the judaizers think the Law is a means of salvation but that they wish to impose any aspects of the Law on christians (Jew or gentile) at all. For Paul, if you impose any part of the Law as a 'must be obeyed' you are in fact imposing the whole covenant for it must be accepted or rejected as a whole.

Paul rejects completely the imposition of 'the Law'. he sees it as a covenant addressed to man 'in the flesh'(Gals 3:1,2; Roms 7:1-4).

He does not see holiness as achieved by following a set of rules, that leads to slavery (Gals 5:1). It belonged to God's people in a time of infancy, of spiritual immmaturity, when though sons, they were little better than slaves (Gals 3). When sonship is achieved lists of rules is redundant (Gals 4:1-6).

The mainspring of new covenant holiness is not rules of the Law but 'faith working through love' (Gals 5:6)
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John Thomson said...

The Law belonged to a different era, the era of immaturity. The era of 'flesh'. We belong to a new era, the era of 'Spirit', the new creation. We have died to the old era, paradoxically through the Law itself, and we serve not in the old way of the written code but in the new way of the Spirit.

We are no longer, in God's mind, members of the old world where the Law was an authority but members of the new world, the new creation.

In fact in this new age the model for serving God is Jesus, not the Law. He embodied the beginning of the new creation living in the old. He is our example and model for gospel holiness. That is why we find so many of the NT verses that engage with christian lifestyle point to Jesus not the Law. In fact the Law is rarely mentioned. See in Greenview Evangelical church website my article on Gospel Holiness. It is largely a large list of verese making this point.

Thus the adage is not true 'the law takes us to Christ for justification and Christ takes us to the Law for sanctification'.

Does this mean we can learn nothing from the Law. No indeed. We can learn from it as Christ did (though here he was in some respects different since he lived as a Jew 'under the Law'). We can learn from it as from all the OT Scriptures. But we cannot simply take it on board as it is. You know and believe this, I know. That is where the moral, ceremonial and civil distinctions come in. However, even such distinctions are a bit artificial since all the laws are moral if God gives them. More ALL of these categories need to be modified by the gospel. For example 'the Sabbath' was a Saturday and Christians observe a Sunday (however, that is another topic for another time).

In fact if we are not careful the Law will give us permission for a morality below NT standards. It sanctioned or countenanced polygamy for example.

NT morality calls on us to 'lay down our lives for our brothers'. The Law never demanded this. It is Christ and the gospel that models this. The Gospel calls us to take up our cross and follow Christ - again Christian mortality not 'the Law'.

This is just a quick rush of points. As I say much deeper discussion is needed. But it is the gospel not the Law that teaches us to deny all worldliness and undodliness and live sober upright lives in this world. we are called to fix our eyes on Jesus (not the Law which the Hebrew Christians wished to return to). His commands not those of the Law are our ethical lead,

'Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments
is a liar, and the truth is not in him, but whoever dkeeps his word, in him truly the love of God is perfected. By this we may know that we are in him: 6 whoever says he abides in him hought to walk in the same way in which he walked.' (1 Jn 2).

Again, God bless

John

John Thomson said...

Just noticed Donald's comment. he may well be right about my perspective. However, it is substantially that of Carson, Westerholm, Moo, Stott and many others.

Moo and Stott on Romans are well worth a read on these issues.

Longnecker on galatians.

John Thomson said...

PS

Further thought as I had a second look at Donald's comment. I agree totally with it. So too would any dispensationalist and covenant theologian of whatever stamp.

Alexander Smith said...

John, I don't really disagree with what you've said in your post.

I think it comes down to the big picture. Absolutely the Law does not justify, faith justifies. The Law, without Christ, doesn't gain us anything. The question one has to ask is: what does it mean to live "in Christ", to live "in the Spirit"? Christ's coming to earth was not a break from all that had gone before, but a culmination. His work on earth was in the context of what had gone before: in order for Him to win our salvation He had to do more than just die for us, He had to live for us. He lived for us by obeying the Law. When we are united to Him we are united to His Law-abiding life as well as His atoning death. Just as Adam's disobedience plunged humanity into sin; Jesus' life of obedience wins for us our salvation.

Yes Paul's focus is on living by the Spirit, but his calls to the churches to live holy lives is a very practical one. Of course we model ourselves on Christ, but Christ's model was the Law- as you say. And we should also be wary of this "I just want to be like Jesus" mentality. Jesus was a unique individual, He wasn't a type. We can never be like Jesus, however much His actions on earth can inspire us.

This is how the Law can benefit us: it gives us a code of behaviour, but, knowing we can never live by it perfectly, we turn to Christ. But we still need to know how to live as Christians.

The divisions of the Law may not be clearly articulated, yet there are strong implications. Paul in Ephesians talks about regulations being done away with (Eph. 2:14-18) yet he repeats the law to honour one's father and mother (Eph. 6:1). Here he is clearly distinguishing between the moral law of the Decalogue- the only part of the Law written directly by God's hand, on stone tablets (an image referenced by Jeremiah when he talks of Israel's sin being engraved upon the tablets of their hearts- Je. 7:1,9 and thus the need for new hearts in the New Covenant, on which the law would be written). The civil and ceremonial were contextual statutes given to Israel as God's theocratic nation. Their place was within the wider Covenant of Grace God had instituted to bring His people back to Him.

Only in Christ, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, can the believer be counted as having obeyed the Law but the indwelling of the Spirit also enables the believer to live by the Law. Again, holiness is a specfic thing. God's people are called to be separate, to avoid uncleanliness. The church is God's people, engrafted into the vine of Israel. We're not something totally new and unforeseen; we're not a parenthesis. As such, we are called to be holy as God's people have always been called to be holy, all the way back to Adam. This, too, is the teaching of the NT.

So whilst, apart from Christ, the Law is just condemnation and we have no hope; in Christ, we are empowered to live holy lives.

John Thomson said...

Alexander

There is much I agree with in what you say too. Where we disagree will be in some of the detail and also where the balance lies between continuity and discontinuity re OC and NC.

Let me say, I am not a dispensationalist, though dispensationalists, especially of the C19 vintage, are well worth reading. I do not think God has two programmes etc. I see the church as the eschatological people of God referred to in the OT. It is the international people of the eschatological Kingdom, those Paul calls in Galatians 'the Israel of God'.

I believe that the essential heart of the Law is lived out by the believer through the Spirit in the NC and in that sense the Law finds its goal achieved (Roms 8:3,4).

Yet, I believe, that traditional Reformed thinking, stresses too much the continuity at the expense of the discontinuity. A good number of modern reformed writers, some with a small 'r' and others with a big 'R' stress the discontinuity much more firmly.

For me, the removal from one epoch to another is fundamental. It is like the difference between living in two different worlds. I have tried to stress that in previous comments. In fact we are united to an ascended Christ and our life is hid with Christ in God. It is as if we are no longer alive in this world and all our authorities and obligations are in the world to Come. This changes completely our standing obligation wise. The Law is no longer an obligation in my life for I am dead to the world in which the Law functions; this includes the decalogue. In fact, in Roms 7, when Paul is developing the truth that we are outside of the Law, the one law he mentions is from the decalogue and is the most internal law of the decalogue - you shall not covet.

In practice, 9 out of 10 of the laws in the decalogue are repeated in the NT. The Sabbath is not. In fact Colossians expressly criticises observing of sabbaths etc. In fact we observe the first day of the week and not the seventh - a real discontinuity. Had the decalogue a binding application to the eschatological Church this would be impossible.

I do think you are underestimating the significance of Jesus as a model for christian living. Again, I would say download gospel holiness to see how pervasive this theme is in the NT. Yet of course there are many concrete examples of christian virtues and behaviour in the NT, most of which are not mentioned in the decalogue.

You will, I think agree, that the reference to the Law in Eph 5 is one of less than a handful of times the Law is expicitly mentioned as a support for ethical instruction. And it is mentioned only as a support, not as a binding authority.

Got to go, battery running out.

John Thomson said...

Alexander

There is much I agree with in what you say too. Where we disagree will be in some of the detail and also where the balance lies between continuity and discontinuity re OC and NC.

Let me say, I am not a dispensationalist, though dispensationalists, especially of the C19 vintage, are well worth reading. I do not think God has two programmes etc. I see the church as the eschatological people of God referred to in the OT. It is the international people of the eschatological Kingdom, those Paul calls in Galatians 'the Israel of God'.

I believe that the essential heart of the Law is lived out by the believer through the Spirit in the NC and in that sense the Law finds its goal achieved (Roms 8:3,4).

Yet, I believe, that traditional Reformed thinking, stresses too much the continuity at the expense of the discontinuity. A good number of modern reformed writers, some with a small 'r' and others with a big 'R' stress the discontinuity much more firmly.

For me, the removal from one epoch to another is fundamental. It is like the difference between living in two different worlds. I have tried to stress that in previous comments. In fact we are united to an ascended Christ and our life is hid with Christ in God. It is as if we are no longer alive in this world and all our authorities and obligations are in the world to Come. This changes completely our standing obligation wise. The Law is no longer an obligation in my life for I am dead to the world in which the Law functions; this includes the decalogue. In fact, in Roms 7, when Paul is developing the truth that we are outside of the Law, the one law he mentions is from the decalogue and is the most internal law of the decalogue - you shall not covet.

In practice, 9 out of 10 of the laws in the decalogue are repeated in the NT. The Sabbath is not. In fact Colossians expressly criticises observing of sabbaths etc. In fact we observe the first day of the week and not the seventh - a real discontinuity. Had the decalogue a binding application to the eschatological Church this would be impossible.

I do think you are underestimating the significance of Jesus as a model for christian living. Again, I would say download gospel holiness to see how pervasive this theme is in the NT. Yet of course there are many concrete examples of christian virtues and behaviour in the NT, most of which are not mentioned in the decalogue.

You will, I think agree, that the reference to the Law in Eph 5 is one of less than a handful of times the Law is expicitly mentioned as a support for ethical instruction. And it is mentioned only as a support, not as a binding authority.

Got to go, battery running out.