Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Trust and Obey Has Always Been the Way

“...the law is not of faith...” (Galatians 3:12). The Law of Moses, the Law of the old covenant, is usually placed in stark contradiction with the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the new covenant. The old covenant is described as a works-based covenant, which means that it is obedience alone that is the burden on the covenant people. It certainly seems that this description is accurate.

“And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live...” (Deuteronomy 4:1; cf. Romans 10:5). But was the primary command of the Law of the old covenant truly obedience? For several reasons, I’d like to suggest that this is far too simplistic of a proposition.

First, “the just shall live by faith” is not first found in the New Testament, but the Old Testament – Habakkuk 2:4.

Second, the caricature of an idea that the Law was sheer obedience alone overlooks the fact that in the Law God commanded love from the heart (Deuteronomy 6:5; 10:12; 11:13; 30:6).

Third, when God condemned the people under the Mosaic covenant, it was because of their failure to believe, or have faith, that they were condemned:
  • “And the LORD said to Moses, ‘How long will this people despise Me? And how long will they not believe in Me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?’” (Numbers 14:11).
  • “The LORD your God Who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as He did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the LORD your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place. Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the LORD your God, Who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go” (Deuteronomy 1:30-32).
  • “And when the LORD sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the LORD your God and did not believe Him or obey His voice’” (Deuteronomy 9:23).
  • “Yet the LORD warned Israel and Judah by every prophet and every seer, saying, ‘Turn from your evil ways and keep My commandments and My statutes, in accordance with all the Law that I commanded your fathers, and that I sent to you by My servants the prophets.’ But they would not listen, but were stubborn, as their fathers had been, who did not believe in the LORD their God (2 Kings 17:13,14).
  • “He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God...they did not believe in God and did not trust His saving power...in spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe...their heart was not steadfast toward Him; they were not faithful to His covenant” (Psalm 78:5-8,22,32,37).
  • “...they despised the pleasant land, having no faith in His promise” (Psalm 106:24).
  • “For who were those who heard and yet rebelled? Was it not all those who left Egypt led by Moses? And with whom was He provoked for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies fell in the wilderness? And to whom did He swear that they would not enter His rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief (Hebrews 3:16-19).
  • “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, Who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe (Jude 5).

Perhaps we should be careful about how we understand Paul’s statement in Galatians 3:12. The Law, after all, is “holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good,” and even “spiritual” (Romans 7:12,14). For this and the reasons above, it would seem wise to consider a carefully nuanced approach to the differences between the old and new covenants. Both require faith. And even the new covenant has strong obedience commands (Matthew 28:20; John 14:15; 15:10; 1 John 2:3; 3:22; 5:3; Revelation 12:17; 14:12). There’s even an interesting echo of Deuteronomy 4:1 in Paul’s language: “if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (Romans 8:13).

Of course there are differences between the covenants, differences that should not be minimized. But let’s not treat the covenants as if they were night-and-day cartoons, in yin and yang opposition.

God has always required His covenant people to be humbly faithful to Him from the heart, and has always required that faith to bear the fruit of obedience.

Trust and obey.

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