reload The Race by Maurice McCracken

Monday, July 20, 2009

Some thoughts about the law

posted by Little Mo | Permalink |
So, I have been having some thoughts about the law.

I have always been of the mind that stresses the differences between the way believers related to God in the OT and the way that they relate to God now. So, God promised to rescue his people, the law was "put in charge" to show us our sin, and then Jesus fulfilled the law and introduced the way that we can know God as sons.

I have had several prompts to rethinking this recently:

1) The long discussion about the Angel of the Lord on The Coffee Bible blog. Now, I'm still not convinced about TAOTL being Jesus and I am really not convinced that I have to believe that he is to avert myself from pluralism, but it did highlight to me that I do need to think through how OT believers were saved.

2) On another totally different tack, I have just attended a really excellent week of lectures on the topic of sanctification given by a committed Presbyterian. They were really inspiring, both in content and form and gave me much to chew on. I wondered though whether in my task of working out how OT believers and NT believers can be saved in the same way his approach to the law might help me. So, I have been thinking maybe my mistake is I have been thinking very flatly "people are saved by Jesus, so I must be able to find that in the OT". How about "people are saved by following the law, which is trusting God, and Jesus does that perfectly and we are in him"? You got to give me that it is snappy.

It has the advantage that I have always wondered why OT believers loved the law so much. It has the disadvantage of leaving me in a right old quandary about Galatians 3.

Hmmm. Lots to consider.


Blogger dave bish said...

Some kind of both/and?

On the one hand if you follow the Exodus material about the Tabernacle (which there is a lot more of than of say the 10 commandsments) and the offerings in Leviticus then you're either trying to save yourself which misses the point, or you're taking the oppportunity to trust God via the law, through the model of the ultimate reality that Jesus fulfils... aware that failing to find this leads to death. Aka the Hebrews approach to law??

And then the other side is the assumption that following the rules/laws could save you by your doing of them, and that that should be part of Christian life, which fails on both counts (Gal 2 + 3 + 4) because the law wasn't for that, but was both imprisoning, protecting and pointing for the Jews on a temporary basis... Aka the Galatians approach...

2:31 PM  
Blogger Glen said...

I suppose it's one thing to champion OT/NT continuity - as I do, you might have picked up a hint of that in previous correspondence ;-). But it's a very different matter as to what that continuity consists in.

I often find myself side by side with presbyterians on Christ in OT issues but then on law issues they tend to find me far too Lutheran and/or figure me for a dispensationalist!

You could say that the one thing that unites OT and NT people is law (and Jesus comes to fulfil (and much strengthen) the law). Or you could say that the one thing that unites them is faith in Christ (and law is off to one side - between Sinai and Golgotha to be precise). So on this one I begin from a Gal-3-type angle and let all those many other chips fall in some (sometimes) awkward places.

2:41 PM  
Blogger gethin said...

I suppose your snappy way of putting it would make more sense of things like how David could say near the end of his life (2 Sam 22:22/Ps 18:21) that he "has kept the ways of the Lord" and has not "wickedly departed from my God". Of course he had, but by faith he sort of hadn't.

2:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Faith in Christ must be the uniting thing between OT and NT believers, surely? (even aside from discussions about TAOTL/ how much they knew etc.)

I'd suggest that 'law' is meant to find it's place (in both testaments) within that primary context. It's the gospel all the way from Genesis to Revelation.

I think that's part of what Paul is on about when he argues that the law was never intended to be a replacement or an alternative or a doing away with the promise to Abraham. For both OT and NT believers, the law has to be viewed from within the covenant, in the context of salvation by grace through faith in Christ. I reckon failing to get that was what the Judaizers and the Pharisees etc. had gotten wrong all along.

2:07 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Hey - glad to see that I'm not the only one grappling with this.

Bish - both and, sure. But I guess my question remains about Galatians 3 - Paul doesn't seem to be talking about a misuse of the law, but the law itself ("faith came" "The law was put in charge") The way we relate to the law seems different, and in fact Paul is quite negative about the law in that passage.

Glen - I discovered last week that I have always been a Lutheran on this issue.

Gethin - the exact type of passages that have me thinking.

Pete - indeed. But in the meantime was the law primarily to show the need of Jesus or to model the life of faith. You can say both, but which you think is primary has quite a big effect on how one teaches the Scriptures.

3:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

'But in the meantime was the law primarily to show the need of Jesus or to model the life of faith. You can say both, but which you think is primary has quite a big effect on how one teaches the Scriptures.'

I agree. What people think of as primary here does impact the tone/ balance/ etc. of their teaching.

I think however, I'd like to work on a way of putting it that denied the choice between the two. 'Primary' is such a slippery idea, even though we evangelicals love it it's not always the best and most helpful way of putting things. Primary for what? for who? when? with respect to what?

It might be that this sort of question about what's primary is a little like asking 'is God primarily three or primarily one?'

As for a tentative attempt at an actual answer I think I'd say something like this:

The law was given to Israel to teach her the life of faith (hence why exegetically we can't 'get away' from the gospel-grace context the law comes in - e.g. the preface to the 10 commandments).

However, historically speaking (and therefore by the providence and intention of God) the law had the effect of pointing out the need for Christ to come and fulfil it, take it's penalty etc (and it should be noted that Moses spotted that the story would go this way, e.g. Deut 31:26ff., so it's also there exegetically speaking in the OT texts).

Therefore, pastorally speaking, both these uses of the law are open to us and necessary for good healthy teaching of the law. Instructing Christians how to live the life of faith using OT texts is a very good thing to do, and provided we do all the spade-work and hermeneutical stuff necessitated by the fact that Christ has come and fulfilled the law.

3:48 AM  
Blogger Little Mo said...

Oh Pete - I couldn't agree more.

BUT, for example, does one teach (as I have always done) the law's high standard and then point out grace even if exegeting a passage which seems to be moral commands?

Or does one merely hold up the standard of righteousness (both by preaching and living) and wait for it to do its work, by the Spirit in people so they are convicted and changed (as lovely Jerram Barrs was suggesting last week)

I guess partly its pastoral wisdom for your situation. But which one you tend towards will depend on where one comes down on this whole question. So "primary" does come into it I think.

4:18 AM  
Blogger Marc Lloyd said...

And of course Jesus would have sung "Oh how I love your law" and so should we as we are commanded to sing the Psalms. The law is God's law so how could it not be perfect, lovely etc. We need to think Torah, God's fatherly wisdom, he teaches us as we sit on his knee, not law as in judges, prisons, traffic wardens etc only.

8:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know whether this is even approaching an answer to your question, but, here goes.

I think it's always good to talk overtly about Christ, then I think we're pretty much always, in some way, explicitly giving the grace/ forgiveness/ transformation by Spirit background and context to any instruction, moral or whatever.

And since we're talking always to sinners, it means even when we're primarily talking about the way King Jesus wants us to live now we're his redeemed people, a lot of the immediate effect of our instruction will be to provoke repentance. Which means we'll need to be assuring of the possibility of forgiveness, the possibility of change, and the need to obey in faith and by the Spirit rather than autonomously.

Only my initial thoughts I'm afraid, and based on my limited experience.

2:22 PM  

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