Wednesday, 28 November 2007

What is the place of the OT Law for Christians today? (4)

I've now finished the first section of my thoughts on the Law, looking at how the Pentateuch itself seems to render the Law. Thanks to Dave and all others that have read the posts and made comments thus far. This post will bring me up to where I think we've got so far and hopefully clarify some of my earlier points. As usual, I welcome comments and, given I'm at the end of a section, will try to make a special effort to give longer responses.

I think that one of the errors that some modern Bible-readers make is in understanding what it meant for Israel to keep their side of the covenant. Often, it is assumed that keeping the covenant was based on legalistic obedience to the Law. It's often assumed that this is how a person is made righteous. I don't think I'm wrong in saying that this is a false and rather short-sighted view. Both Old and New Testaments argue that a person is credited with righteousness by faith. Abram is the archetypal example in Genesis 15:4-6, in an episode that occurred hundreds of years before the issuing of the Law:

Then the word of the LORD came to him: "This man will not be your heir, but a son coming from your own body will be your heir." He took him outside and said, "Look up at the heavens and count the stars—if indeed you can count them."
Then he said to him, "So shall your offspring be." Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.

Rather, it appears to me that keeping the covenant meant trusting God and responding in loving obedience to what he had already done for his people, and relying on his ongoing grace. And I think that John Piper helpfully shows that God’s later judgement against Israel was not due to a failure in legalistic Law-keeping, but rather due to their hard-heartedness and unbelief, which led to abandonment of the covenant:

‘Again and again in the Old Testament the rebellion of Israel against the covenant is traced back to unbelief (Numbers 14:11; Deuteronomy 1:32; 9:23; 2 Kings 17:14; 2 Chronicles 20:20; Psalm 78:22, 32; 106:24). For example, Psalm 78:22 looks back and says that God's anger flamed against Israel in the wilderness "because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power." And Hebrews 3:19 says that the reason the wilderness generation did not enter the Promised Land was unbelief. Or as Hebrews 4:2 says, "The message which they heard did not benefit them because it did not meet with faith in the hearers."

So there are at least three reasons to conclude that the basic condition required from Israel is faith.

1. First, because the covenant is renewed on the basis of grace and offers merciful forgiveness for sins (Exodus 34:6–7). Forgiveness can only be received by faith.
2. Second, God promises mercy to all who love him (Exodus 20:6). But loving God is just the opposite of trying to earn wages from a heavenly employer. Loving God must include delighting in his trustworthiness as one who "bore you on eagles' wings (out of Egypt) and brought you to himself" (Exodus 19:4).
3. Third, numerous Old Testament and New Testament passages say that the root of Israel's disobedience was her failure to trust God. Therefore, the obedience required in the Mosaic covenant is the obedience which comes from faith.

It's the same obedience required in the Abrahamic covenant when the Lord said to Abraham, "By your descendants shall all the nations of the earth be blessed because you have obeyed my voice" (Genesis 22:18). And it's the same obedience required in the new covenant under which we live. […] The Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, and the covenant that Jesus sealed with his own blood are all various expressions of one great covenant of grace.’

In coming posts, I'll move onto the Law in the life of Israel - and her disobedience. For the time being, let's read the words again of David, the law-lover, in the opening lines to Psalm 119:

Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart.
They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways.
You have laid down precepts that are to be fully obeyed.
Oh, that my ways were steadfast in obeying your decrees!
Then I would not be put to shame when I consider all your commands.
I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws.
I will obey your decrees; do not utterly forsake me.

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