The Ten Commandments

The Ten Commandments (Photo credit: bamalibrarylady)

Yesterday, Part 1 brought up the debate over how the Law, grace, atonement, character, and faith relate, and the confusion over Paul’s apparent conflict with Jesus’ teaching.

Many people believe that Paul sort of trumps Jesus because Paul’s preaching is more “updated” after Jesus’ death and resurrection.

But this has a sneaky way of making Paul the reigning expert and Lord instead of Jesus. It’s unintentional, of course, but nevertheless dominant in church thinking today.

If you want a good example, just ask any pastor, layperson, or yourself what the Gospel is. Ninety-nine percent will quote a dozen verses from Paul, but not a single quote from Jesus. (More info here: A Badly Needed Clearer Gospel.)

I myself did this for decades. But it’s just one of many inadvertent forms of “harlotry” that I now call The Great Substitution.

Lover or Hater?

At any rate, with the preliminaries from Part 1 in mind, let’s look at what Paul says in the book of Romans about the relationship between life, death, spirit, and Law. We’ll see he isn’t the Law-hater he’s been assumed to be, both in his day and ours. It’s the letter (or “works”) of the law and Death he opposes, while he loves the true Law and working of grace. In fact, all his epistles repeat this theme. And, to my great relief and amazement, he’s right in sync with Jesus.

Romans 7:6

“But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” Followers of Christ are “dead” to rule-following and alive to God because Jesus abolished Death, not love.

Romans 8:2

“…because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.”

Romans 8:4

“…in order that the righteous requirements of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the sinful nature but according to the Spirit.”

Thankfully, because God changed His tactics by sending Jesus to abolish Death, He doesn’t require flawless obedience. He simply wants honest practice and growth—fruit. Thus, the fruit of the Spirit that Paul teaches in Gal. 5:22 (love, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness) is precisely the righteous requirements of the Law he teaches here.

Anyone who says you cannot change your sinful nature underestimates the transformative power of human spirit working in conjunction with divine Spirit. Sure, by yourself you can’t do it. But that’s different from doing it with help from Jesus, the now-living, fully competent Expert on life.

Romans 2:13

“For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous.” This agrees with James, who says we shouldn’t be hearers of the Word only, but doers of the Word (Jas. 1:22-23).

Romans 3:31

“Do we, then, nullify the law by [our] faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.” Jesus won’t obey for us, but he will show us how to keep God’s commands. Grace and substitutionary atonement mean that his atonement substitutes for our atonement, not our obedience.

That’s why we no longer need repeated animal sacrifice but are still accountable to the Law’s intent. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus shows the way in great detail; faith means we follow his instruction because we trust that he, more than anyone else, knows what he’s talking about.

Romans 13:9

“The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Old Yet New Again

In Jhn. 13:34, Jesus gave a “new” command to love one another as he loved us, but it wasn’t new because God had just recently thought it up. It was new because people hadn’t heard it from their leaders. This mind of the Spirit was almost a foreign concept that had to be reintroduced. “The people were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, not as their teachers of the law.” (Mrk. 1:22)

In the Pharisees’ day, God had already proven His point through Israel’s long history that human virtue isn’t a matter of following divine rules. That doesn’t mean God wasted His time or that the Law was no good and should be thrown out. It means that mankind had reached a pre-determined point, ready for the game-changer: Jesus, the Messiah and Savior.

He teaches and demonstrates what kind of person lets the Law of love flow from the inside, thereby becoming well enough (“fit”) to live with God in His great kingdom of love. Regardless what tactics God uses over time to teach the world, His prime message is consistent throughout the Old and New Testaments.

“Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.” (Psa. 119:1) Not because they have to, but because it’s who they are in spirit.

 

 

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Getup Get God

Getup Get God (Photo credit: prettywar-stl)

The photographer of this graffiti says he saw it in a window and decided to capture it. I saw the photo and decided to use it (freely shareable) to address a widely held misperception among Christians and non-Christians alike.

Many people see God as predominantly unhappy, ready to smite at the slightest provocation. Yet love and grace don’t flow from an abundance of crankiness, but rather, from such profound joy that it spills over even to enemies.

Heaven and angels and all sorts of beings associated with God are consistently portrayed as rejoicing with Him, usually connected immediately with worship. God is supreme in joy, infinite in love, and unmatched in wise, creative goodness. While He’s clearly displeased with some things at some times, that doesn’t mean He’s an ill-tempered Being.

For example, four successive chapters in the book of Job (38-41) are God’s running commentary of delight over the creatures and systems He created on Earth and in its immediate cosmic surroundings. Consequently, Job decides he was a bit rash (though I don’t think entirely unreasonable) in his rant to God. “Surely I spoke of things I did not understand, things too wonderful for me to know.” (Job 42:3) God evidently didn’t think Job was unreasonable, either, for He wasn’t displeased with Job. Sarcastic with a touch of humor, yes, but not displeased.

At any rate, who knows what God has done in the billions of entire galaxies we’re only now discovering? A decade ago, we didn’t even know they exist let alone what marvels they contain. If you and I can delight over beauty or be greatly moved when gazing upon majestic sights even in this fallen world, think what God gets to see every day throughout His wondrous universe—densely rich things He’s not yet introduced to us.

My point is that we can be happy for God that His pervasive joy pours into His creation, which certainly includes mankind. That delight is meant to be contagious; we should “catch” it from Him because our glad-heartedness, cheer, and happiness delights Him and is a primary form of worship.

Old Testament vs. New Testament

So what are we to make of the “mean” God of the Old Testament? I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas. First, I know that if we overlook the joyful OT God, we’ll never make sense of Jesus or his vision of new life for the world that God has always loved.

I also know that while God Himself doesn’t change, He does change His tactics over the centuries when dealing with mankind. Off the top of my head, one example is the woman caught in adultery, whom Jesus protected from being stoned by the Pharisees.

They, of course, considered Jesus a lawbreaker. But he knew that the New Covenant overwrites the Old Covenant, yet doesn’t alter God’s intent that His Law of love—the Ten Commandments—be both the course and reflection of transformed human spirit and character.

It’s important to realize that lesser laws regarding circumcision, sacrifice, oaths, tithing, stoning, etc., aren’t the Law. The Pharisees had forgotten this, which is precisely what Paul, like Jesus and the original disciples, consistently pointed out.

Common Link

I think a major problem today is the idea that God gave the Law only to show how miserably mankind fails to measure up. God’s Law does do that, but its larger purpose is to restore to us His vision of who we can be. It shows direction and possibility rather than impossibility; and it’s precisely what Jesus embodies and teaches so we can see and pursue that vision.

We might also consider that the twelve original disciples were to Jesus what the twelve original tribes of Israel were to God—an ever-expanding inner circle of collaborators in His plan for the entire world. Although it started with Israel, it was always intended to include everyone—Jews and Gentiles, males and females, young and old, rich and poor, sinners and saints. (Coincidentally, this week I read an interesting article here about the Twelve. Since it fits with my post, you might like it, too.)

It’s wise to remember that Jesus never abolished the Law. What he abolished was Death. When Scripture says that Christ is the end of the Law, it means completion and fulfillment, not cessation or termination. Today’s widespread teaching that Jesus rendered the Law irrelevant is a serious flaw that blinds our faith and paralyzes blessedness.

As the writer of Hebrews said, we fix our eyes on Jesus, who for the joy set before him endured the cross (Heb. 12:2). But by ignoring or minimizing the Law, it is we who render Jesus and all his work irrelevant. In his own words, he boiled the Big Ten down to two simple commands: Love God with all your heart, mind, strength, and soul; and love your neighbor as yourself.

This is the common link I see between the OT and NT; and it doesn’t flow from perpetually miserable cranks. It’s the action of people who can cheerfully obey because they increasingly see what God sees as they prepare for bigger, grander, even more delightful things to come.

Therefore, when we trash-talk what God has made, and worse, ascribe that disdain to Him, we easily conclude that He’s either out to get us or has now taken refuge somewhere far away. It’s tough to love and admire a cosmic Sourpuss, yet that’s what we try to do. Then we say that relationship with God is difficult. That distorted view robs us of the desire to collaborate with Him in furthering His good in what He’s already created and, even now, is happily making new again.