Friday, September 26, 2008

Ramblings spurred by a comment

I wrote this kind of “on the spot” in reference to a comment by Russ of Satire and Theology on my last post. I was simply going to comment back to him, but as I started, and as is usual with me :-), I just kept going…and going…and going…! My comment back to him spurred some other thoughts that were somewhat related; and rather than attempting to “redo” a proper comment to him or “redo” this into a more concise and understandable post (which would be better, but would take a while), I thought I would just leave it as is. I know it may seem a little disjointed at times and in places, and I know that I’ve jumped right into issues relating to the Sermon on the Mount without laying a proper foundation for what I’m talking about; but you’ll just have to ask questions if you want better clarity. I’m only assuming that most of the spelling mistakes have been automatically corrected; and I’m hoping that the jumbled mess of thought that was in my mind has come out somewhat coherent and understandable. Good Luck!! :-)

I think it does. I think the “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian (in this context) both have a fundamental misunderstanding with regard to “commandment” obligation. I think they both misunderstand their relation to “law”, which a proper understanding of the Sermon on the Mount, I believe, would rectify.

The issue with Jesus’ confrontation with the Jews in The Sermon speaks to their misunderstanding of “obligation”. They knew (rightly) that they were under obligation to the Law of Moses, but they didn’t comprehend the purpose of the Law and what their obligation consisted of. They conditioned themselves to “follow the rules”, so-to-speak, without reference to what the Law really meant. They rightly recognized the obligation of “purity” and felt that by their meticulous keeping of “commandments” they were in obedience and therefore “pure in heart” (and also, therefore, citizens of the Kingdom).

But “purity of heart”, as Jesus explains, is not “keeping commandments”, as such, but recognizing the One of whom the Law speaks. In other words, the Sermon on the Mount (in general) and “purity of heart” (specifically) really have nothing to do with keeping commandments; but it has everything to do with keeping the Law. Jesus is saying that obligation to the Law is to recognize that it is fulfilled in Him and to, therefore, come to Him by faith.

The people thought then, as people (and Christians) still think today, that the Law has to do with them (or us); when in reality, as Jesus and the NT writers tell us, the Law has to do with Him! We don’t “keep the Law” by obeying rules and regulations; we “keep” it by believing it (believing Moses) and affirming with it that it is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. We recognize it as speaking of the One to come, and when He arrives we “obey” it by coming to Him.

The Law (which is to say totality of the Scripture as well as the Law of Moses) prophesied of the King and His Kingdom. From the very beginning, when we read of the promise of the Seed of the woman, this was the purpose of God. So to “obey” the Law is to recognize God’s purpose in it and to believe Him when that promise arrives. And the King has arrived! We "obey" the Law when we agree with the Scripture and we come to Him by faith! So... “purity of heart” is the condition of the person who, in obedience to the Law, comes to the King for entrance into His Kingdom. This is what Jesus is saying.

So... getting back to your original comment (you probably thought I’d never return, did you?:-); I think that the “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian in this context are still viewing the Law as “commandment” rather than “relationship”. To the one, he is still constrained to “commandment thinking” in his behavior to “follow rules”, so-to-speak; for the other, he is betraying a “commandment mind-set” in his “freedom” from rules and regulations. Both examples are missing the “constraint” and “freedom” that is Christ. The constraint and freedom provided by love.

As Christians, we are not under obligation to the Law but to Christ who has fulfilled the Law. And this obligation to Christ is the obligation of Love. The “weak” Christian and the “strong” Christian should be directed and constrained by love, not by obligation to commands or even freedom from commands. But this Love is an “other-worldly” reality that the “natural man” can’t comprehend or practice. This Love is a product of the New Creation in Christ. God is love. Only those who have the Spirit residing in them are now capable of expressing Biblical Love.

And this issue of love ties us back to the Sermon on the Mount as Jesus declares that the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand. This Kingdom that Jesus brought with Him is the promised Kingdom of the Scripture. And the Scripture speaks of this Kingdom as a Kingdom of Renewal, the Kingdom of the New Creation. The citizens of this Kingdom must partake of the New Creation; they themselves must be renewed to enter into it. This renewal comes only in connection with Christ, the King. We must be “born again”; we must be “born of the Spirit”; we must have the life of God in us (through the presence of the Spirit) in order to enter the Kingdom.

Isn’t this what Jesus said? He said that a person must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees (who were notoriously meticulous in the “law-keeping”) to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. That is a pretty strong “ethic”. But Jesus’ examples all speak to the fact that no one has this righteousness—it’s impossible for the “natural” man. The ethic of the Kingdom is the ethic of Jesus' surpassing righteousness and the reality of the New Creation (the Kingdom that He brings) as it pertains to human beings. In other words, the ethic of the Kingdom is the same ethic of the Law—LOVE. And this love (as with the Kingdom itself) is "unavailable to the old Adamic order of things and those who continue to inhabit it" (KC notes). People must be transferred out of this world (spiritually speaking, of course) and into the New Creation to be capable of Love. And this only happens when a person is “joined” by the Spirit to Christ--who is Love incarnate.

Love is the great “ethic” that defines the Kingdom and, therefore, our lives as Christians—not perfectly, of course, since we’re not yet in our perfected state. But as the Spirit continues to conform us (back) into the image and likeness of Christ (the image we “lost” in The Fall--Hughes), our lives will “naturally” manifest the life of Love (which is to say, the Life of Christ). As Jesus explains to the people: physical, ethnic descent from Abraham doesn’t matter; sincerity in trying to keep commandments doesn’t matter; what matters is the New Creation—the New Birth, the presence of the Spirit, the life of God. Apart from this “renewal”, the Kingdom of God and the “love” that defines it is inaccessible.

Love governs our behavior…not commandment (for or against).

16 comments:

satire and theology said...

The people thought then, as people (and Christians) still think today, that the Law has to do with them (or us); when in reality, as Jesus and the NT writers tell us, the Law has to do with Him! We don’t “keep the Law” by obeying rules and regulations; we “keep” it by believing it (believing Moses) and affirming with it that it is fulfilled in Jesus of Nazareth. We recognize it as speaking of the One to come, and when He arrives we “obey” it by coming to Him.

Good point.

A truly 'strong' or mature Christian should realize that following Christ in spirit through the Holy Spirit is a fulfilment of the law.

Russ:)

Please feel free to note this is my satire comments if you wish GGM.

satire and theology said...

Thanks for the link.:)

jeleasure said...

Hi Jason,
I have not been blogging much lately. Neither have I seen your presence in my blog, though my statcounter gives me the impression that you may have been their or someone came from your page to mine.
Anyway, I just want to say that you are making a valid point in discussing the mistaken intent for the Law. We know the Law was said to be for perfecting man when we consider that the writer of Hebrews draws a contrast in Christ's fulfillment of the law.
Simply put, God is edified more by what the Law was unable to do for Christ was made perfect in suffering and fulfilling the Law. And if Christ is made an atonment for sin by perfecting the Law, God reaps a greater benefit. For, one only needs to accept the atoning work of Christ vs. having to attempt ritualistic fulfillment on our own.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks Jim,

Christ made atonement for sin not simply in "perfecting" the Law (as if it were imperfect), but by "fulfilling" the Law (as He and the NT writers tell us).

I would say that the Law WAS "perfect" in one sense and "imperfect" in another sense. It was "imperfect" because it could not affect or produce that which it required--LOVE! Even in the Old Covenant, LOVE was the fulfillment of the Law. If people truly loved God and one another, they would "naturally" be living lives that looked like "law-keeping". They wouldn't be living lives purposefully to "keep law", but in living lives of LOVE, they would be "keeping law" naturally.

But as Jesus and the testimony of Scripture tells us, true Biblical LOVE is not known or accesible to the "natural" man. Love is "otherworldly" and only realized in God Himself who IS love. Only by being "born again", "born of the Spirit" does one have the capacity and bent to "love". Only as one is joined to Jesus Christ--LOVE INCARNATE--does one now have the ability to LOVE. What the Law could not effectuate or produce in the lives of the people, what the Law could not do...Christ does! This is the "imperfection" of the Law; though even here, since it was not designed to "produce" or effectuate Love, it is hard to call it "imperfect".


The "perfection" of the Law, however, is understood in the same way that we can say that "Eden" was "perfect"; that is, it was "suitable" for its purpose as a promise. In the beginning, man, Eden, the created order could be called "perfect" because of the purpose and destiny that God had in mind for all things. From the beginning, God's purpose was to "redeem" all things in Christ.

Man was "perfect" not in and of himself (because he was not "complete" apart from Christ), but only in reference to God's purpose for him. This is the same for "Eden" and the entire created order. It all serves the purpose of God's ultimate goal to "sum up all things in Christ". Perfection doesn't have to mean "completion"; it refers to "purpose". God's created order was perfect because it spoke of God's ultimate purpose in Christ.

Likewise the Law. It was "perfect" NOT in that it was desigend to PRODUCE Love, but in that it "prophecied" of the One who IS LOVE. The Law is "perfect" in its prophetic role. Paul could declare that the Law was "good" not because it was supposed to produce that which it demanded (love), but because it prophesied of and then found its fulfillment in Christ. The "perfection" of the Law is in its "promise" of and then "fulfillment" in Christ.

Just like a "promise" is to "fulfillment", so the Law is to Christ. A "promise" is "perfect" in that it speaks of something to come. The promise isn't that something, it isn't the realization ("fulfillment") but it speaks to it. So...for what it is, a promise is "perfect". When the fulfillment comes, the promise is done away with--it's usefulness, its "perfection" is caught up in the "fulfillment" so that we don't continue to look to or long for the promise, we rejoice in the realization of the promise--it's fulfillment.

As a parent doesn't continue to cherish the sonogram photos of her baby, but cherishes the fulfillment of the "promise" of the sonogram, so also we don't look to Law for our relationship with God but to its fulfillment; we look to Christ, the One of whom the Law spoke. As the sonogram was "perfect" in its "promise" of fulfillment (the thing to which it "spoke"--the child), so also the Law was "perfect" in its "promise" of fulfillment (the thing to which it spoke--Christ, the true Israel and true Son of God).

Thanks for the interaction, Jim.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

After that last long "comment", I'm thinking I should just start "posting" my comments as new material. I'm becoming like my pastor--I just can't seem to make any short "comments"! :-)

GGM

thekingpin68 said...

Yes, comments are at times like new material, and I know they need to be revised as such.

I just added this comment at the top of my latest.

Please note, within this article I have primarily in mind recent debates with persons I DO NOT blog with.

jeleasure said...

Hey,
You wrote:

"I would say that the Law WAS "perfect" in one sense and "imperfect" in another sense. It was "imperfect" because it could not affect or produce that which it required--LOVE! Even in the Old Covenant, LOVE was the fulfillment of the Law. If people truly loved God and one another, they would "naturally" be living lives that looked like "law-keeping". They wouldn't be living lives purposefully to "keep law", but in living lives of LOVE, they would be "keeping law" naturally.".

This sounds like an agreement with something I wrote to you a few months ago.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

"This sounds like an agreement with something I wrote to you a few months ago."

I agree :-) And I think there are many things that we agree about, Jim. But when it comes to the issue of "obligation" to law, I don't think we mean the same thing.

I will write a (lenghy, I'm sure) response sometime in the morning to clarify my position. Right now I have to get back to reading "The Swill"...err..."The Shack" :-)

jeleasure said...

GGM,
I have not really sounded off on our 'obligation' to Law.
In short, I will exclaim as Paul does, "Thanks be to God!" ...Romans 8:2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.

1 Corinthians 15:57 "but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ". (NASB ©1995)

My understanding of what the Law was for was to give man a standard by which they might find righteousness. However, Ezekial sais that only three were righteous by their own effort: Noah, Daniel and Job. And, then Jesus Christ who became the sacrifice, atoning for man's inability to live by God's standard. And, as the Law goes, He became a sin offering on the day of atonement for the entire 'community' (all who will accept Him as an atonement for sin).
I feel as if I too can write much about this, Jason. But, I think I've summed it up.
I'll look forward to your explaination. I always find them interesting.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

"My understanding of what the Law was for was to give man a standard by which they might find righteousness."

Before I try to examine our difference of opinion on "how" we are obligated to live by love (an obligation that we both agree exists), let me respond to your statement here. (And who knows, this may help us in understanding one another in the long run :-)

You seem to suggest that the Law was put into place in order to impart righteousness if a person were to keep it. I have a fundamental problem with that because I believe that the Scripture is clear, especially in the book of Galations, that the Law was never intended to impart righteousness. The Law only served to condemn and to "shut up all men under sin, that the promise (of the Law) by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe." No one is righteous under the Law--not even Noah, Daniel and Job; their "righteousness" was in their purpose and role as "types of Christ"; both personally and situationally.

By saying that righteousness (or life) is found in keeping the Law, I believe that you feed (though probably unconsciously) the "self-righteousness" of the flesh. This is the problem with moralistic, exemplary preaching--it feeds the flesh, not the spirit; it motivates us to "follow rules" rather than to "live by faith" by the power of the Spirit.

Even though we would both agree (I believe) that no one is CAPABLE of "keeping the Law" (I'm not yelling when using CAPS; I just don't know how to use italics and bold for emphasis in these "comments"); even though no one is CAPABLE of "keeping the Law", the IDEA that to do so would merit our righteousness is, in my opinion, an unbiblical idea and the source or foundation for teaching that, as Christians, our obligation is now to "keep the Law" because we CAN. This is the idea that, as Christians, we are now governed by the "moral law" and I think this is fundamentally wrong. The Bible never breaks up the Law in a tripartite division and neither should we. We are not "governed" by Law; we are "governed" by the Spirit.

Anyway, this, in my opinion, misses the fundamental (Biblical) purpose of the Law--which is to lead one to Christ, who is the fulfillment of the Law. Our righteousness (anyone's righteousness, for that matter) is only found in Christ. And our obligation is now, not to Law, but to Christ; to live by the guiding of the Spirit.

Our motivation in life is not the Law or "commandment", it's the presence of the Spirit of LIFE who conforms us into the image and likeness of Christ. As a Christian, I am a Law-keeper not because I CAN now "keep the Law", but because I'm found in the One who is the definition of the Law...the One that the Law spoke of.

So...when I'm commanded to "love" (or when I'm "commanded" to do anything in the Scripture), the imperative is always and only based on the indicative of WHO I AM as a "born-again" Child of God. The commands are not for me to DO anything, but to BE who I (already) am as a New Creation in Christ.

This is a subtle but fundemental difference in our understanding of "obligation". I'm afraid that your understanding simply feeds the flesh in a "works" righteousness. I'm not saying that you believe that we are saved by our works. You've stated many times that you believe we are saved only by the grace of God through faith in Christ--and I agree! :-) But, I believe that you are saying that we are "sanctified" by our works (as we follow the Law--to "love", or whatever). I'm saying that our "sanctification" is based on and proceeds from our salvation; it's not separate from it. In other words, sanctification is simply the LIFE of justification; a life that is controlled and motivated by the Spirit residing in us, not by laws or commands.

Everywhere in the Scripture the imperatives are based on the indicatives so that we are "commanded" to BE WHO WE ARE--not to DO anything. Again, I'm not yelling, I'm just trying emphasize a subtle point that, in my opinion, makes all the difference in the world.

Even though we seem to be going around in circles sometimes, I believe that this is not an exercise in futility. Anytime that Christians can cordially and "lovingly" discuss the Gospel, God is glorified. I believe He enjoys it when we seek to understand Him and the Gospel of our Lord as best that we can. I believe He takes great joy in us when we seek to plumb the depths of His Person and Work on our behalf. We'll never get to the bottom of it; but I believe He is pleased as we seek to know Him better. Don't you agree?

There is certainly a simplicity in the Gospel that we should never lose; but there is also a depth to the Gospel that we should seek to experience so that we can "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ" in order to love Him even more--AMEN?

Thanks Jim, I appreciate your comments very much.

GGM

jeleasure said...

Thank you for taking the time to voice your thoughts.
Here is one statement that requires the Law to have an effect; your words..."that the promise (of the Law) by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe".

The promise of the Law? I believe I understand this statement. However, you seem to suggest that the Law points to Christ, which it does. Christ became the 'scape goat'. Jesus, by fullfilling the requirements of the Law remained perfect, as He is and was brought into the world, perfect. And, therefore became a part of the Law, the 'perfect, spotless sacraficial lamb'. So, I would say, the Law had an effect on Jesus, as it would have had an effect on anyone who may have been able to be completely obedient throughout their life.
So, I suggest, the Law was to serve as a foreshadowing of Christ. And, I suggest, the Law had to cause an effect in Jesus for him to be considered a perfect 'man'. Living as a man is an important element in the atoning work of a savior. The Law required that Jesus live as a man, fulfill the law and die as a perfect atonement for sin.
This is my opinion. And, yes, I believe our exchanges are edifying to God, as well.

Greg said...

Good post, GGM... and interesting discussion, here in your comments. God did say many times that He takes no pleasure in sacrifices and lip service, but in obedience. How wonderful that Jesus boiled down the entire Law and prophets to just two commandments, which are really one: love! But as you say, human, natural love falls far short of living up to His standard. It is only His perfect love, that comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that can empower us to live according to Jesus' two great commandments. And if we can do that, we will not sin.

Great Googly Moogly! said...

Thanks Greg,

You said, "How wonderful that Jesus boiled down the entire Law and prophets to just two commandments, which are really one: love!"

One of the great points of condemnation for the nation of Israel in the OT and in Jesus' day is that they knew that the requirement of the Law was "love" but they only concerned themselves with the outward "performance" of obedience. Jesus really wasn't telling them anything that they didn't already know; He wasn't telling them something new.

What they should have learned from the Law is that they simply couldn't fulfill it--and that's because the Law prophesied of the One who would fulfill it. When Jesus came saying that He is the Law's fulfillment, the leaders should have recognized Him as such. They should have come to Him by faith IN FULFILLMENT as their "fathers" were required to do (come to God by faith) IN PROMISE.

Love always has been the "requirement" of God, yet it is out of our grasps in our fallen "Adamic" nature. Only IN the One who is Love Incarnate are we not only CAPABLE of love, but we are transformed by the Spirit to ACTUALLY love.

In the Sermon on Mount, Jesus is teaching on the Kingdom of God. This is the Kingdom of the New Creation (prophesied of throughout the OT) whose inhabitants are participants in the New Creation by virtue of the New Birth and presence of the Spirit.

The Kingdom of God, as expressed throughout the Scripture, is the Kingdom characterized by love. And it would have to be so since it is God's Kingdom.

You rightly say, "It is only His perfect love, that comes through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, that can empower us to live according to Jesus' two great commandments."

And this is the "ethic" of the Kingdom that Jesus presents in the Sermon on the Mount. We are citizens of this Kingdom if we are joined to Christ; and by the work of the Spirit in conforming us (back) into the image and likeness of Christ, we are now people who love--not perfectly, of course, since we've not yet been perfected in our consummative state; but truly in that we are truly "New Creations" in Christ who have been delivered from the domain of darkness and into the Kingdom of Light, the Kingdom of God's Beloved Son.

Whew! Sorry about the looong response...I sometimes just can't contain myself! :-)

Greg said...

Hey, I'm often long-winded myself, so you're in good company. ;)

If Godly love is obedience and righteousness, then sin is the result from imperfect or misdirected love. A glass that is truly full (so that it has a meniscus at the top) has no more room for anything else. Likewise, when we are truly filled with the Holy Spirit and His love, there will be no more room for anything but supreme love for God and love for others. Just because you or I may not have our menisci showing, does not mean we have to wait until we cast off these mortal shells. Just because I can't bench 200lbs (or probably 100, for that matter!) doesn't mean I would never be able to, if I worked at it.

Sorry, I didn't mean to start an argument. How about I leave it at that? :)

Great Googly Moogly! said...

No argument coming from me!

I also believe that we should strive to live our lives according to (worthy of) our calling as Children of God. We have the indwelling Spirit, so there is no excuse for our lack of love...but we do have a lack of love, don't we? And we will have a lack of love until the work of the Spirit is complete, until He conforms us fully into the image and likeness of our Lord.

I'm just saying that our "imperfection" on this side of the consummation at the return of Christ is nothing for us to beat ourselves up about. We don't condone our sin, but we don't live defeatist lives as if our relationship to God depended on our perfect "obedience". Our relationship to God is only dependent upon Christ--this is truly freedom to LIVE as Children of our Father, warts and all.

Thanks for the dialogue, Greg.

Greg said...

Hi, Jason. All I'm saying is to keep striving toward the goal, which I think you agree with. I think too many Christians resign themselves to their sin, because they've been convinced that they have no other way out. But Paul said that God always provides a way out of temptation. And Jesus said that it is better to cut off an offensive eye or foot (sinful part of us) than to keep it and spend eternity in Hell.

My interpretation of these scriptures is, admittedly, not a popular one.