Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Covenants: Part X - Romans 14

Romans 14:1-6

In Part IX we saw that the promise of the New Covenant is eternal life.  This promise is not conditional, but is by faith alone.  We also saw that the old entry sign, circumcision, has been replaced by a new entry sign, baptism.  We further saw that there is a new repeatable sign, the Lord’s Supper.

So this raises the question of how we should regard the repeatable sign of the Old Covenant, the Sabbath.  Are signs from the Old Covenant required for New Covenant Christians in addition to the signs of the New Covenant?  Fortunately, the Bible is not silent on this matter.  The fledgling Church was given inerrant teaching in this matter, inspired by God the Spirit.

In Part X, I would like to look at a passage in Romans that addresses the question of observing holy days.  The Roman Church was a mixed church made up partly of Jews living in Rome who had accepted Jesus as Messiah and partly of gentile Romans who had forsaken Paganism and come to Christ.  As you can imagine there were some tensions as cultures clashed and as the Old Covenant began to give way to the New Covenant.  Many Jewish Christians were clinging to their customs of observing Old Covenant annual feast Sabbaths, New Moon monthly Sabbaths, and the weekly Sabbath day.  In addition, they were clinging to Old Covenant food laws.  The gentiles, who were not circumcised, had never entered the Old Covenant and did not observe holy days or food laws.  These differences were dividing the Church and they needed direction on how these differences should be handled.

It is in this climate that the Apostle Paul wrote the book of Romans under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit.  Now if gentile Christians were required to observe any Sabbaths (annual, monthly, or weekly) or if they were required to observe food laws, this would have been the perfect time for the Apostle to say so.  There was obviously a debate in the Church and Paul had the perfect opportunity here to set the record straight for the rest of the entire Church age.  Paul’s inspired direction clarified the situation not only for the Romans, but for all New Covenant believers who would come after.

Romans 14:1-6 (NASB)
1 Now accept the one who is weak in faith, but not for the purpose of passing judgment on his opinions.
2 One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only.
3 The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him.
4 Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.
5 One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind.
6 He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God.
Paul could have taken this opportunity to tell the gentiles that they really were required to observe Old Covenant Sabbaths, but he did not do so because it was not true.  Instead Paul sought peace in the Church by saying that the observance of any holy day is purely a personal matter, not an obligation.  If a person decides to observe a particular day, then they’re doing it for the Lord and that’s okay.  If a person decides to regard everyday alike, that’s okay too!

For New Covenant Christians, the observance of days is a non-issue.  It’s not a salvation issue.  It’s not a sanctification issue. It’s not a holiness issue.  It’s not an obedience issue. It’s not a truth issue.  It’s not an issue of special blessing. It’s not an issue at all.  At most, it’s just a personal choice.  Paul stresses that we are not to judge other’s based on their personal choice.  That command cut both ways for both Jews and Gentiles.  The Jews weren’t supposed to judge the gentiles for not observing food laws and not observing holy days.  The gentiles were not supposed to judge those who Paul called “weak in faith” (the Jewish Christians) for continuing in their traditions of food laws and observing Sabbaths.  There was to be harmony and unity in the Church even though there were different practices between Jews and gentiles. 

The only thing that would break that unity is if someone began to teach that these Old Covenant traditions were actually required for New Covenant Christians, rather than just being a matter of personal choice.  Such false teaching required a stronger response.  In Part XI we will see how the Apostle Paul responded to such false teaching.

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Covenants: Part IX - Promise & Sign of the New Covenant

The Promise and Sign of the New Covenant

In Part VIII of our study we saw that the Old Covenant is obsolete.  The New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant.  Christians have been given a New Covenant with a better Mediator and better promises.  Tonight I would like to explore the New Covenant further by looking at the promise and sign of the New Covenant.

Please read through the following verse and try to determine what the promise is:

John 3:16 (NASB)
16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
The promise we receive in Jesus is eternal life.  But what is this covenant promise based on?  Is it based on faith like the Abrahamic covenant or is it based on works like the Old Covenant?  It appears from our text that the promise simply comes through faith. There is nothing that a person can do to earn or deserve the promise of the New Covenant.  The New Covenant is a unilateral covenant within the Triune God and no person can do anything to merit having a part in the covenant.  Benefiting from the promise of the New Covenant is by grace alone.  It is a gift.  Let’s read the surrounding verses as well as a few more passages to drive the point home.

John 3:14-18 (NASB)
14 "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up;
15 so that whoever believes will in Him have eternal life.
16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.
17 "For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.
18 "He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
Romans 3:21-22 (NASB)
21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,
22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;
Romans 10:8-13 (NASB)
8 But what does it say? "THE WORD IS NEAR YOU, IN YOUR MOUTH AND IN YOUR HEART"—that is, the word of faith which we are preaching,
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved;
10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him;
These passages make it clear that the promise of the New Covenant is through faith alone.  The New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant which was conditioned upon works/obedience.  The New Covenant is like the Abrahamic covenant which was based on faith alone, not works.

So now we have the promise of the New Covenant which is an unconditional covenant based on faith alone. That just leaves the sign of the New Covenant. The New Covenant has a new repeatable sign, not like the repeatable sign of the Old Covenant, the Sabbath. Examine these verses for the sign of the New Covenant:

Mark 14:22-24 (NASB)
22 While they were eating, He took some bread, and after a blessing He broke it, and gave it to them, and said, "Take it; this is My body."
23 And when He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, and they all drank from it.
24 And He said to them, "This is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many.
Luke 22:19-20 (NASB)
19 And when He had taken some bread and given thanks, He broke it and gave it to them, saying, "This is My body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
20 And in the same way He took the cup after they had eaten, saying, "This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood.
1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (NASB)
23 For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread;
24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me."
25 In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me."
26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes.
The repeatable sign of the New Covenant is the Lord’s Supper. Every time we observe this sign we proclaim the fact that we are in the New Covenant purchased through the blood of Christ.  Every time we eat of the bread and drink the wine we testify that Jesus is our suzerain Lord and savior.

Not only does the New Covenant have a new repeatable sign, but it also has a new entry sign:

Colossians 2:11-12 (NASB)
11 and in Him you were also circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, in the removal of the body of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ;
12 having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead.
Baptism replaces circumcision, the entry sign of the Old Covenant, as the new entry sign to the New Covenant.  Circumcision was only a shadow of what was to come. Circumcision symbolized and looked forward to the removal of the “flesh” which Jesus Christ would accomplish by giving us new life in the Spirit.  Baptism is an outward acknowledgement of what Christ has done once for all, cleansed us of sin and raised us to a new life in the Spirit.  There is no reason to continue the entry sign of the Old Covenant because we are not under the Old Covenant.  The Old Covenant was replaced by a New and better covenant.  The old entry sign was replaced by a new and better entry sign that witnesses to Christ’s complete and finished work. 

But all this leaves the questions of, “What about the repeatable sign of the Old Covenant, the Sabbath?  Should New Covenant Christians still be required to observe both the Old Covenant repeatable sign and the New Covenant repeatable sign?  Are those who don’t observe the Old Covenant sign sinning, being disobedient, lacking in holiness, or missing out on a special blessing?  Should we try to correct New Covenant Christians who aren’t observing the Old Covenant sign?”

The Bible is not silent on these questions.  We will explore them further in Part X.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Covenants: Part VIII - A New Covenant

Hebrews Chapter 8: A New Covenant

The book of Hebrews was written to Jewish Christians who were undergoing hardship and persecution from other Jews.  They were sorely tempted to turn again to their Jewish roots and customs.  They were sorely tempted to turn back to the law and the things of the Old Covenant.  Hebrews was written to encourage them to stay the course and to remind them of the superiority of Christ over all the shadows in the Old Testament.

The author of Hebrews spends several chapters discussing Christ as our high priest.  Chapter 7 is devoted to showing how Christ is not from the order of Aaron, but of Melchizedek.  The basic idea of this comparison is that the Aaronic priesthood was temporary, but Jesus’ priesthood is without end.  This comparison leads naturally into a discussion of the Old and New Covenants in chapter 8.  The Old Covenant was temporary, but the New Covenant is without end.

Hebrews 8:1-5 (NASB)
1 Now the main point in what has been said is this: we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,
2 a minister in the sanctuary and in the true tabernacle, which the Lord pitched, not man.
3 For every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices; so it is necessary that this high priest also have something to offer.
4 Now if He were on earth, He would not be a priest at all, since there are those who offer the gifts according to the Law;
5 who serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things, just as Moses was warned by God when he was about to erect the tabernacle; for, "SEE," He says, "THAT YOU MAKE all things ACCORDING TO THE PATTERN WHICH WAS SHOWN YOU ON THE MOUNTAIN."
Before we skip too quickly over this, let’s note that Christ’s priesthood and the gifts He brings are not according to the Law.  Those things in the Law were only a shadow of what was to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.  Jesus’ ministry is truly new; it’s not just a continuation of the same Old Covenant.
Hebrews 8:6 (NASB)
6 But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, by as much as He is also the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted on better promises.
Note that not only is Jesus’ ministry more excellent, but He is the new mediator of a new and better covenant.  This New Covenant is better than the Old Covenant.  The New Covenant is better than the Decalogue.  The new covenant has better promises.  It truly is new.  It’s not just the same old covenant warmed up.  It’s not just the ministry of condemnation, the Decalogue, transferred off stone and onto flesh.  Such an idea is foreign to the text.
Hebrews 8:7 (NASB)
7 For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second.
Now note that the Old Covenant was not faultless.  Many want to say that the Decalogue is the ultimate law of God, but that does not square with the idea expressed here.  The Decalogue was good and holy to be sure, but it was not the ultimate law that God would bring. All the Decalogue could do was to condemn.  It couldn’t save and it couldn’t produce holiness.  The Decalogue rightly pointed out the depravity of man and condemned them to death under the righteous wrath of God, but it had no power to change this wretched condition.  A totally NEW covenant was required, not just some reworking of the Old Covenant; not just transferring the Decalogue from one place to another.
Hebrews 8:8-9 (NASB)  
This couldn’t be clearer.  The New Covenant really is new.  It’s not like the Old Covenant, the Decalogue.  Let me say it again for emphasis, the New Covenant is not like the Decalogue.
Hebrews 8:10-11 (NASB)
There are many things that are new about this New Covenant.  We will see later in our covenant study that God seals us with the Holy Spirit by actually putting Himself in our hearts!  It is not the old Decalogue that God puts in our heart, but the third person of the Trinity.  Because of this, scripture tells us that we have the very “mind of Christ” (I Cor. 2:16)!  This is how God’s laws are written in our heart.  We’re not talking about the Decalogue dwelling in our heart.  That concept borders on sacrilege.  We’re talking about the indwelling presence of God the Spirit. 
The ultimate law of the universe is God Himself.  God’s very nature, essence, or being is the very definition of righteousness and truth.  Through the presence of the Holy Spirit we partake in the righteousness of God.  No one needs to tell us “know the Lord” because we know Him in the most intimate of ways.  We have His very righteousness within us through the person of the Spirit.  The ultimate lawgiver of the universe dwells within us.  We will explore what the Bible calls the “Law of Christ” or the “Law of Liberty” later in our study.  Suffice it to say for now that the Decalogue is not, and never was, the ultimate law of God, it was only a shadow of what would come.
Hebrews 8:12 (NASB)

Here’s another contrast.  The Decalogue was the ministry of death and the ministry of condemnation.  The Decalogue highlighted sin and condemned all under the wrath of God.  The Decalogue had absolutely no power to change this sorry state.  Under the New Covenant our sins are remembered no more!  That really is new! 
Hebrews 8:13 (NASB)  
13 When He said, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
The New really is new and the Old really is obsolete, growing old, and ready to disappear.  The Decalogue is obsolete.  The Decalogue is growing old.  The Decalogue is ready to disappear.  The Decalogue no longer plays a role in the life of the regenerate believer.  The Decalogue is obsolete because we now have the Holy Spirit, God Himself, dwelling in us.  The Decalogue is obsolete because the Holy Spirit conforms us to the Law of Christ.  The Decalogue is obsolete because we have a new covenant, a better covenant, a covenant that is not like the Decalogue.  The Decalogue that came through Moses is obsolete because we have a new and better mediator, Jesus Christ Himself.  Everything about the New Covenant is truly new and better. Even the promises Jesus Christ has given us are better promises.    In Part IX we will explore the better promises of the new and better New Covenant.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Covenants: Part VII - The Intent of the Law

Galatians Chapter 3 – The Intent of the Law

In Part VI we saw that going back to the law is spiritual adultery.  We are to die to the law so we can live for Christ by the Spirit.  So what was the purpose of the law?  Paul expounds upon the purpose of the law in Galatians chapter 3.

Galatians 3:1-5 (NASB)
1 You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?
2 This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?
4 Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain?
5 So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?
The believers in Galatia had been bewitched by false teachers who were telling them that they were obligated to keep parts of the Old Covenant, including holy days (see Gal. 4:8-11).  Paul tells them that everything they have gone through for the faith is in vain if they now turn back to the law instead of continuing in the Spirit.  In fact, he calls them foolish for turning back to the law.  He now turns to Abraham, who lived under a covenant of faith not works, as an example.
Galatians 3:6-9 (NASB)   
7 Therefore, be sure that it is those who are of faith who are sons of Abraham.
8 The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, "ALL THE NATIONS WILL BE BLESSED IN YOU."
9 So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham, the believer.
Gentile Christians, like those in Galatia, had something in common with Abraham; they were never under the Old Covenant.  They were never required to observe holy days or any other part of the Old Covenant.  Paul makes the point that those who are of faith are the true heirs of the Abrahamic promise, not those who are living by law.  We are all justified in the same way as Abraham, through faith. We do not receive the blessings of God through the law, but by faith.  Paul goes on to give a dire warning to those who want to be under the law.
Galatians 3:10-14 (NASB)
10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM."
11 Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, "THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH."
12 However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, "HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM."
13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, "CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE"—
14 in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.
Unless a person is able to keep the entire law perfectly, every bit of it from day one till death, they are cursed and are under the wrath of God.  So obviously no one is going to be able to stand righteous before God through law-keeping.  In fact, that is the exact antithesis of faith.  The law is not of faith.  But the Good News, the Gospel, is that Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law and from the wrath of God.  Christ took the curse upon Himself and entirely fulfilled the law in His life and death.  This made it possible for Gentiles to enter the blessings of Abraham even though they never received circumcision (entry sign of the Abrahamic Covenant) or kept Sabbath (repeatable sign of the Old Covenant).  Christ fulfilled both covenants.  He fulfilled the promises of both and accepted the curse of the latter.  The gentiles were never under the Old Covenant.  They entered a New Covenant and received the promise of the Spirit through faith alone.
Galatians 3:15-18 (NASB)
15 Brethren, I speak in terms of human relations: even though it is only a man's covenant, yet when it has been ratified, no one sets it aside or adds conditions to it.
16 Now the promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. He does not say, "And to seeds," as referring to many, but rather to one, "And to your seed," that is, Christ.
17 What I am saying is this: the Law, which came four hundred and thirty years later, does not invalidate a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.
18 For if the inheritance is based on law, it is no longer based on a promise; but God has granted it to Abraham by means of a promise.
Notice here that the true objects of the promises made to Abraham are Abraham and the coming Messiah.  They were not necessarily promises to ethnic Israel per se.   The fact that ethnic Israel was given the Old Covenant 430 years after Abraham doesn’t invalidate the promise made to Abraham and his seed (singular).  The promise was not based on law or works.  The law was only a temporary covenant that was added later.  It had a beginning 430 years after Abraham and, for those of faith, an ENDING when the Messiah came and fulfilled the promise. 
Galatians 3:19-22 (NASB)
19 Why the Law then? It was added because of transgressions, having been ordained through angels by the agency of a mediator, until the seed would come to whom the promise had been made.
20 Now a mediator is not for one party only; whereas God is only one.
21 Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be! For if a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law.
22 But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.
So here we finally see the purpose of the law.  It wasn’t given to invalidate previous promises, but to condemn us in sin and to vividly point out the need for a savior.  As stated above, any failure at all puts us under the wrath of the righteous God of the universe.  The law points out that no human mediator could ever save us from that wrath.  Only God Himself can sovereignly save.  The law illustrates like nothing else that we are dead in sin and there is absolutely no way we could ever be declared righteous by our own merit or works.  The law proves beyond any shadow of a doubt that salvation must be by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone.  The law drives us to Christ and to His cross.  But notice, it was only added UNTIL Christ.  When we are in Christ we are no longer under the law.
Galatians 3:23-29 (NASB)
23 But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed.
24 Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.
25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.
26 For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
27 For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29 And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's descendants, heirs according to promise.
The Greek word “paidagogos”, which is translated as “tutor”, means “child-conductor”.  It originally referred to the slave who conducted the boys from home to school.  That was the purpose of the law.  The law shows our need for a savior, drives us to Christ, and then ceases to have a function in the life of New Covenant Spirit-filled believers.  We are no longer under a tutor!  Let me say that again, WE ARE NO LONGER UNDER A TUTOR!  The Bible could not be clearer on this.  If we are of faith we no longer need the tutor.  The law is not of faith and returning to the law is antithetical to life in the Spirit.  It is a bewitchment!  It is a foolish thing to return to the law.

This passage is also quite powerful proof that the law was only in effect for believers from the exodus to Christ (see verses 17 – 19).  This passage should forever put to rest the idea that the law preexisted the exodus or that it continues to be a tutor or teacher for those who are living life in the Spirit.

In Part VIII we will begin to explore the New Covenant and the implications of being under a covenant that is really new and different from the old.

Friday, August 27, 2010

The Covenants: Part VI - An Illustration from Marriage

Romans 7:1-6: An Illustration from Marriage

In Part V we studied a passage where Paul tackled head on the problem of the false teachers (Judaizers) in Galatia. We saw that the Bible teaches those who are under the Old Covenant given at Sinai are in slavery.  Scripture tells us in no uncertain term to cast out the Old Covenant (the bondwoman) and those who promote it (her son).  The Bible tells us that those who are under the New Covenant are free.

But what about keeping one foot in the Old Covenant and the other in the New Covenant? Should we continue to cling to the law just to be on the safe side?  Doesn’t the law still have some hold on us?  The Bible answers these questions in Romans chapter 7 using a truly apt illustration from marriage.

Romans 7:1-6 (NASB)
1 Or do you not know, brethren (for I am speaking to those who know the law), that the law has jurisdiction over a person as long as he lives?
2 For the married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning the husband.
3 So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.
4 Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God.
5 For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death.
6 But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.
Reread this passage a couple of times slowly and carefully with prayer.  Meditate upon what scripture is saying here. 

If we were still under Old Covenant law, then it would be spiritual adultery to break any part of the Old Covenant or to join ourselves to a New Covenant.  It’s like a marriage.  You can only have one spouse at a time; anything else is adultery, that is, unless one of the spouses dies. 

Christ fulfilled the law completely, both the righteous requirements and the penalty for disobedience (death).  His perfect life and substitutionary death are credited to us.  Because we are in Him, we die to the law he has already fulfilled, which allows us to live for Him. 

The old marriage to the law is dissolved through Christ’s death.  We are free from the law!  We have been released from the law and joined to Christ.  We are now Christ’s bride instead of being wed to the law.  However, if we try and go back to the law, then we are committing adultery.  We can’t live as Christ’s bride and cling to the law.  If we do this we are the equivalent of spiritual prostitutes.

We are called to no longer live by the old letter that kills, but to serve in the newness of the Spirit.  We cannot keep one foot in the Old Covenant and the other in the New Covenant and still be faithful to the one who bought us.  The old marriage is dissolved.  We have a new Husband and He wants us to live completely and totally for Him, unencumbered by past lovers.  It’s time to let those lovers go and be faithful to Christ alone.

Other passages say very similar things.

Romans 8:1-2 (NASB)
1 Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.
2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.
Galatians 5:18 (NASB)
18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law.
So if we’re to die to law and live by the Spirit, this raises the question of why the law was ever added in the first place.  We’ll explore that question in Part VII.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Covenants: Part V - Two Women, Two Covenants


Galatians 4:21-31: Two Women, Two Covenants

I Part IV we saw that the Bible calls the Old Covenant engraved on stone “the ministry of death”.  The Bible states that the Old Covenant fades away.  Finally, we saw that when the Old Covenant engraved on stone is read, a veil remains in place.  That raises the question of how we should relate to the Old Covenant and what we should do with it.  The Bible answers this question in the fourth chapter of Galatians.

The Christians in Galatia had allowed false teachers, Judaizers, to convince them that they were obligated to keep parts of the Old Covenant.  Paul dispels this serious heresy by telling an allegory.

Galatians 4:21-25 (NASB)
21 Tell me, you who want to be under law, do you not listen to the law?
22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the bondwoman and one by the free woman.
23 But the son by the bondwoman was born according to the flesh, and the son by the free woman through the promise.
24 This is allegorically speaking, for these women are two covenants: one proceeding from Mount Sinai bearing children who are to be slaves; she is Hagar.
25 Now this Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children.
Paul leaves little doubt as to exactly what he is talking about here.  We discovered earlier that the Decalogue was given to the people, who were alive at the exodus, at Mount Sinai (Deut. 5:3) and that the Decalogue was the covenant document (Deut. 4:13, 9:10-11, 9:15, and 10:4).  Paul now uses Hagar to represent the covenant given at Sinai and uses allegorical language to say that those who are under the covenant from Sinai are in slavery.  Now contrast this with his description of the New Covenant.
Galatians 4:21-28 (NASB)     
26 But the Jerusalem above is free; she is our mother.
28 And you brethren, like Isaac, are children of promise.
Those who are under the New Covenant are free.  They should rejoice because they are the children of promise.  Unfortunately, there will always be those who try to steal that joy.
Galatians 4:29 (NASB)      
29 But as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also.
I think those of us who have faced the transition out of Adventism could echo Paul’s words here and heartily say, “So it is now also”.  It seems that that many of those who want to be under law also want others to be in bondage as well.  As it was in Paul’s day, so it is now also.  So what are we to do with the Old Covenant and those who teach it and try to put us under it?  The Bible tells us in no uncertain terms in the very next verse.
Galatians 4:30-31 (NASB)
31 So then, brethren, we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman.
There are many groups who would try to put New Covenant Christians under the Covenant document engraved on stone at Sinai.  But the Bible tells us, in no uncertain terms, that we are to have no part of such Judaizing because we are not in bondage, but are free!  Cast out the bondwoman and her son! What blessing and joy we have as children of the free woman!  Let us rejoice, break forth and shout!

But what if we really, really want to cling to the law?  Can we keep one foot in the Old Covenant and one in the New Covenant?  In Part VI we will answer that question with yet another biblical illustration.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Covenants: Part IV - II Corinthians 3 & 4

II Corinthians Chapters 3 and 4

Last time we saw that the Old Covenant began at Sinai and was made with those who were alive at the time of the exodus, not their ancestors.  We also read the prophecy of Jeremiah foretelling a New Covenant that would be different from the Old Covenant. Tonight I would like to begin our examination of the ways in which the New Covenant is fundamentally different from the Old Covenant.

We will spend our time tonight reviewing the entire third chapter of II Corinthians and the first part of chapter four.  In II Corinthians 3, Paul refers to the two covenants as two “ministries”.  He compares and contrasts the covenant “engraved on stone” with the New Covenant.  As we go through the chapter, I would like to ask you to consider doing the following exercise on your own without my commentary:

  1. Pray for the Holy Spirit to teach and guide you.  Pray that He will show you truth and guard you against error.  Pray that if there is any veil in place that the Holy Spirit will remove it in Christ.
  2. Carefully read through the third chapter of II Corinthians for overall context.  You may want to read through a couple of different reliable translations.
  3. Now grab a pencil and paper.  At the top of your paper write “Old Covenant” on the left side and “New Covenant” on the right side forming two columns.  As you read through II Corinthians 3 again, take time to carefully list everything you learn about each covenant in the appropriate column.  List everything even if it seems insignificant at the time.
  4. Review the list and pray over the things that the Holy Spirit has pointed out to you.  As additional insights come to you, you may want to jot these down as well.

Why don’t you stop now and try this exercise before going any further.  This is a great way to develop your skills in determining the exegetical point of a passage. I’ve printed the entire third chapter of 2 Corinthians below for your convenience, but feel free to use any other good, solid, literal, and reliable translation that you like. When you’re done, come on back to the study. We’ll pause here for a little while.  Let me know when you are done.  I’ll be waiting right here for you. J
2 Corinthians 3:1-18 (NASB)
1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, as some, letters of commendation to you or from you?
2 You are our letter, written in our hearts, known and read by all men;
3 being manifested that you are a letter of Christ, cared for by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
4 Such confidence we have through Christ toward God.
5 Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God,
6 who also made us adequate as servants of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.
7 But if the ministry of death, in letters engraved on stones, came with glory, so that the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face, fading as it was,
8 how will the ministry of the Spirit fail to be even more with glory?
9 For if the ministry of condemnation has glory, much more does the ministry of righteousness abound in glory.
10 For indeed what had glory, in this case has no glory because of the glory that surpasses it.
11 For if that which fades away was with glory, much more that which remains is in glory.
12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,
13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.
14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;
16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.}}
Again, I would really like to recommend that you do the exercise I suggested above for yourself before proceeding.  I think you will find it fascinating to see your discoveries in black and white.  However, if you would like to see the list that I came up with, I have provided it here.

Old Covenant (Decalogue)
New Covenant
Of the letter v.6
Of the Spirit v.6
Letter kills v.6
Spirit gives life v.6
Ministry of death v.7

Engraved on stone v.7

Came with glory v.7
Even more glorious v.8
Ministry of condemnation v.9
Ministry of righteousness v.9
Has glory v.9
Abounds in much more glory v.9
Had glory, but now has no glory v.10
Glory surpasses the Old Covenant v.10
Fades away v.11
Remains after Old fades away v.11
Veil remains unlifted when read v.14-15
Veil is removed in Christ v.14-16

Liberty in the Spirit v.17

If your list looks anything like mine, then I think you will agree that this is a pretty shocking passage when you really begin to break it down and compare the two covenants. 

The apostle Paul leaves no doubt as to what this covenant is that he is talking about.  He clearly states that it is the covenant that was “engraved on stone”.  This can only be the Decalogue exactly as stated in Deut. 4:13, 9:10-11, 9:15, and Ex. 32:15.  And yet Paul says the Old Covenant, the Decalogue, “fades away”!  Not only that, but he refers to the Old Covenant as the “ministry of death” and the “ministry of condemnation”.  He even says that it “kills”! 

Contrast this to the New Covenant which gives life, is much more glorious, gives liberty, and remains after the Old Covenant has passed away.  Given all this, which covenant do you want to be under?

Before wrapping up Part IV of our study, let’s revisit the last seven versus of chapter 3 and continue into the next 6 versus of chapter four.  I believe you will see that chapter 4 flows from chapter 3 and continues the same line of thought.

2 Corinthians 3:12-4:6 (NASB)
12 Therefore having such a hope, we use great boldness in our speech,
13 and are not like Moses, who used to put a veil over his face so that the sons of Israel would not look intently at the end of what was fading away.
14 But their minds were hardened; for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remains unlifted, because it is removed in Christ.
15 But to this day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their heart;
16 but whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away.
17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.
18 But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit.
1 Therefore, since we have this ministry, as we received mercy, we do not lose heart,
2 but we have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God.
3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing,
4 in whose case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
5 For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord, and ourselves as your bond-servants for Jesus' sake.
6 For God, who said, "Light shall shine out of darkness," is the One who has shone in our hearts to give the Light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.
Notice that Paul says when the Old Covenant is read there is a veil that remains unlifted.  When people focus on the Old Covenant, on the Decalogue, there is a spiritual veil that prevents them from seeing the full glory of the Gospel of Christ.  Paul refers to those who are in their veiled state as “perishing” and goes so far as to say it is the “god of this world” (Satan) who is blinding them. 

Truly this dire warning ought to give us a great heart for family, friends, and loved ones who are clinging to the Old Covenant.  If we truly love them, then we will be praying passionately and regularly that they will be released from their blindness and that the veil will be removed the only way it can be, in Christ.

Next time we will continue to compare and contrast the Old and New Covenants by delving into a biblical allegory that will answer the question of how we should relate to the Old Covenant.

Monday, August 23, 2010

The Covenants: Part III - The Old Covenant

The Old Covenant (continued)

Last time we saw the Old/Mosaic Covenant had the following elements:

·         Promise – God’s special people/The Land
·         Condition – Obedience
·         Sign – Sabbath observance

We also reviewed a number of texts (Deut. 4:13, 9:10-11, 9:15, Ex. 9:15) showing that the “eser dabar” (literally “Ten Words” or “Decalogue”) were the covenant document.  The Decalogue was structured like an ancient near east covenant document, written on both sides of two tablets with the sign of the covenant at the center of the document.  Even its Hebrew name is consistent with it being a covenant document. 

Unfortunately, our English invention of “Ten Commandments” confuses the fact that the Hebrew Old Testament never uses that terminology.  Our English phrase masks the fact that the Hebrew term “eser dabar” (full form is aseret haddebarim) is legal language for a covenant document.  Therefore, throughout the rest of this study I will attempt to use more biblical language by referring to the Old Covenant document as either “The Ten Words” or the Latin form of the phrase “The Decalogue” (Deca = ten & logue = word).

Tonight, I’d like to continue by examining when the Old Covenant was given and with whom it was made.  In Deuteronomy chapter 5, Moses repeats the words of the Covenant, the Decalogue.  He leads into this with the following statement:

Deuteronomy 5:1-3 (NASB)
1 Then Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and the ordinances which I am speaking today in your hearing, that you may learn them and observe them carefully.
2 "The LORD our God made a covenant with us at Horeb [Sinai].
3 "The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, with all those of us alive here today.
We’re told that God made the covenant at Sinai.  It was made with those who were alive at that time, not with their ancestors who had come before.  This poses a problem for sabbatarian theologies that claim that the Sabbath (the sign of the covenant) was being observed by people prior to the exodus.  To deal with this problem, the Seventh-day Adventist published Clear Word paraphrased bible has dramatically altered this text to make it say exactly the opposite of what the actual scriptures teach:

Deut. 5:3 (Clear Word Bible)
It wasn't only with our ancestors that He made a covenant, but with us and with all who are alive today.     

This appears to be a deliberate distortion of the word of God in order to support the idea that Sabbath observance by human beings preceded the exodus.  The author of the Clear Word evidently found this necessary since there is not direct Biblical evidence for such an assertion. 

Although we see God resting or ceasing from His work of creating, there is no recorded command or instruction for any human being to do so prior to the exodus.  There is no mention of Adam or Eve being instructed in or ever observing Sabbath. As we shall see later, when we study Hebrews, God is still in His rest and we today are being invited back into that rest through faith in Jesus. This suggests that Adam and Eve would have continued in that rest indefinitely if they had not fallen into sin and required a Messiah to restore that rest. I think it is interesting that Moses goes to great pains in Genesis 1 to set up a repetitive pattern of evenings and mornings for each day, until he comes to the seventh day (or “yom”, a very flexible Hebrew word that can also mean a long span of time).  Suddenly, there is a jarring absence of the familiar evening and morning refrain on the seventh “yom”.  This rest was not for a single twenty-four hour time frame, but was to be ongoing. The blessed and sanctified rest of God was never intended to end and mankind was never intended to fall out of that rest.  Adam and Eve were created into that ongoing rest and fell out of it when they sinned. There is no mention of Adam and Eve being instructed to observe a certain ceremonial day in a certain way. The word “Sabbath” is not even used.

There is no mention of Cain or Abel observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of anyone in the godly line of Seth ever observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of Enoch, who walked with God, observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of Methuselah observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of Noah observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of any of Noah’s sons observing Sabbath. There is no mention of Job, who lived at about the time of the patriarchs, ever observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of Abraham, who was taken out of an idolatrous background, ever observing Sabbath or being instructed in Sabbath observance.  There is no mention of Isaac ever observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of Jacob or Esau ever observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of Joseph ever observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of any of Joseph’s brothers ever observing Sabbath.  There is no mention of any of the Israelites observing Sabbath while in Egypt. 

In fact, the word “Sabbath” is never used in the entire book of Genesis or in the first 15 chapters of Exodus!  It is not until the Israelites are freed from Egypt and are headed towards Sinai (Ex. 16) that we first see the word Sabbath used in the Bible.  As the Israelites approach Sinai we see God begin to teach them about the sign of the covenant that He will give them at Sinai.  It seems clear that this is a new concept to the Israelites and that Moses must explain the concept to them.  This is the very first time we see any human being instructed to keep Sabbath.  There is no record of any human being doing so prior to the Israelites making their way toward Sinai.  This is reinforced by other parts of scripture:

Nehemiah 9:13-14 (NASB)
13 "Then You came down on Mount Sinai, And spoke with them from heaven; You gave them just ordinances and true laws, Good statutes and commandments.
14 "So You made known to them Your holy sabbath, And laid down for them commandments, statutes and law, Through Your servant Moses.
The most we can possibly say about any human observing Sabbath prior to the exodus, is that it is possible, but uncertain.  We just don’t know because scripture doesn’t say. There is no scriptural warrant for insisting that people observed Sabbath prior to when the Bible actually tells us they began to observe Sabbath, on the way to Sinai. Given the lack of biblical evidence for the sign of the covenant being observed prior to the exodus, and the strong biblical evidence for the covenant first being given to those who were at Sinai, not their ancestors, it is easy to see why the author of the Clear Word Bible felt it necessary to alter Deut. 5:3 to preserve his theology.

So if the covenant had a beginning at Sinai, it raises the question, “Does the Old Covenant also have an end?”  It appears that the Old Covenant was temporary.  It had a beginning and would also have an end as prophesied by the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah 31:31-34 (NASB)
31 "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah,
32 not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD.
33 "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.
34 "They will not teach again, each man his neighbor and each man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them," declares the LORD, "for I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more."
Jeremiah prophesied that God would make a New Covenant, not like the old one.  We’re told that God’s law will be within the heart.  We’re not told at this point exactly what that law entails, only that whatever the New Covenant entails, it’s not like the Old Covenant.  That is, the New Covenant is not like the Decalogue (see part II, the Decalogue is the old covenant document).  Whatever this New Covenant is, it will be fundamentally different in some way. 

Next time we will begin to compare and contrast the Old and New Covenants and see just how different they truly are according to scripture.  The New truly is new!

Sunday, August 22, 2010

The Covenants: Part II - The Mosaic Covenant

The Mosaic (Old) Covenant

Last time we learned that covenants usually have a promise, or promises, and a sign.  Some covenants are conditional and some are unconditional.  We briefly looked at two biblical covenants, the Noahic Covenant and the Abrahamic Covenant.

This time we will turn our attention to the most prominent covenant in the Old Testament, the Mosaic Covenant, also known as the Old Covenant.  In fact, when we use the term “Old Testament” we are referring primarily to the Mosaic/Old Covenant. 

The Greek word “diatheke” can be translated into English as either “covenant” or “testament”.  The English words “covenant” and “testament” are used almost interchangeably in the KJV, e.g. the KJV in one place translates as “Ark of the Covenant (diatheke)” and at another place translates as “Ark of the Testament (diatheke)”.  So when we are talking about “Testaments” we’re really talking about “Covenants”.  We have divided our Bibles in reference to the two most prominent Covenants in the scriptures.

The Mosaic/Old Covenant is a conditional covenant. Let’s take a look at the Mosaic/Old Covenant and see if we can distinguish the promise, condition, and sign.

Exodus 19:3-6 (NASB)
3 Moses went up to God, and the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, "Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob and tell the sons of Israel:
4 'You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles' wings, and brought you to Myself.
5 'Now then, if you will indeed obey My voice and keep My covenant, then you shall be My own possession among all the peoples, for all the earth is Mine;
6 and you shall be to Me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.' These are the words that you shall speak to the sons of Israel."
Exodus 31:12-18 (NASB)
12 The LORD spoke to Moses, saying,
13 "But as for you, speak to the sons of Israel, saying, 'You shall surely observe My sabbaths; for this is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.
14 'Therefore you are to observe the sabbath, for it is holy to you. Everyone who profanes it shall surely be put to death; for whoever does any work on it, that person shall be cut off from among his people.
15 'For six days work may be done, but on the seventh day there is a sabbath of complete rest, holy to the LORD; whoever does any work on the sabbath day shall surely be put to death.
16 'So the sons of Israel shall observe the sabbath, to celebrate the sabbath throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant.'
17 "It is a sign between Me and the sons of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day He ceased from labor, and was refreshed."
18 When He had finished speaking with him upon Mount Sinai, He gave Moses the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written by the finger of God.
So we see that the promise of the Old Covenant was that the descendents of Jacob would be God’s special people, a kingdom of priests, and a holy nation.  The condition of the covenant was obedience.  Conversely, we see at many points in the Old Testament that if the Israelites disobey they will be driven out of the Land.  Finally, we see that the sign of the covenant is Sabbath observance.  To summarize:

Old Covenant:
·         Promise: God’s special people/The Land
·         Condition: Obedience
·         Sign: Sabbath observance

So what specifically was the covenant?  What were the very words of the covenant?  Read the following text and ask yourself what the text says the covenant was.

Deuteronomy 4:13 (NASB)
13 "So He declared to you His covenant which He commanded you to perform, that is, the Ten Commandments; and He wrote them on two tablets of stone.
This text clearly states the covenant was specifically the “eser dabar” (literally “Ten Words” or “Decalogue”.  Let’s look at another text.  As you read it ask yourself again what the text says the covenant was.

Deuteronomy 9:10-11 (NASB)
10 "The LORD gave me the two tablets of stone written by the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the LORD had spoken with you at the mountain from the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly.
11 "It came about at the end of forty days and nights that the LORD gave me the two tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant.
This text also confirms that the words on the stone tablets of the Decalogue (ten words) were the covenant.  Let’s look at another text for further confirmation.

Deuteronomy 9:15 (NASB)
15 "So I turned and came down from the mountain while the mountain was burning with fire, and the two tablets of the covenant were in my two hands.
Again we see that the Decalogue was the covenant.  I believe we could cite several more texts yet, but let’s just look at one last one.

Exodus 32:15 (NASB)
15 Then Moses turned and went down from the mountain with the two tablets of the testimony in his hand, tablets which were written on both sides; they were written on one side and the other.
Here we get an interesting fact. Unlike the artist renderings we are used to seeing, the tablets of the Decalogue were not just written on one side, but on front and back.  This is consistent with what we know of ancient near east covenant documents.  These documents were often written on the front and back of tablets with two identical copies produced.  One copy would go in the temple of the suzerain while the other copy would go in the temple of the vassal.  Many biblical scholars believe that the two tablets of the Decalogue were actually two copies of the same “Ten Words” written front and back.  In this case, because God (the suzerain) dwelt in the temple in the midst of His people (the vassals), both copies went into one temple.

In addition, we know that the sign of the covenant was usually inscribed in the very center of the covenant document.  This is also consistent with the order of the Decalogue.

In Part III we will continue our examination of the Old (Mosaic) Covenant.