Tribulation Saint

Historic Christianity in the Twenty First Century

Month: June, 2018

THE BELIEVER’S RULE OF CONDUCT – I

 

How do we determine right and wrong?  In a rapidly changing society, a society which has legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, the question becomes more pressing than ever.  And even among professing Christians questions arise over various particular ethical norms – is it ever right to take a drink, or to go dancing?  What exactly does God expect from us?

For many years the answer was that “the moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Question 41).  The Catechism then goes on to give an exposition of each commandment, stating that something is required in each and something forbidden.  Together they constituted “a perfect rule of righteousness” (Westminster Confession of Faith, XIX,ii), and “doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others” (Section v).

More recently that view has been challenged by some, primarily Dispensationalist theologians.  A footnote in the Scofield Reference Bible on “The Christian doctrine of the law” states that “Law is in contrast with grace,” that Christ “redeemed the believer both from the curse and from the dominion of the law,” that “law neither justifies a sinner nor sanctifies a believer,” “The believer is both dead to the law and redeemed from it, so that he is ‘not under the law, but under grace,’” and that “Under the new covenant of grace the principle of obedience to the divine will is inwrought” (pp. 1244-1245).  There are scriptural references for each assertion but little in the way of explanation, and it is not exactly clear what the editors of the Scofield Bible meant by “redeemed from the dominion of the law,” “dead to the law,” and “not under the law.”

What underlies both positions are distinctive systems of theology.  The Westminster Divines held to a system of Covenant Theology, which argues that God made a Covenant of Grace with Adam after the Fall, and that we are still under that same Covenant of Grace today.  The result is a tendency to minimize the difference between the Old and New Testaments, between law and grace.  There is no mention in Scripture, however, of any such covenant with Adam.

The Dispensational position, on the other hand, tries to draw a sharp distinction between “the Dispensation of Law” and “the Dispensation of Grace.”  But is a Christian still obligated to keep the Ten Commandments?  Now that we are “under grace” is it alright to commit adultery?  The editors of the Scofield Bible say that we are not “under the law,” but that we are not free to sin either.  But apart from the law how do we determine what is sin?  Is there not some sense in which we are still “under the law”?

The apostle Paul did, in fact, say that we are “not under the law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14,15; cf. Gal. 5:18).  But what exactly did he mean by that?  The context in both Romans and Galatians is the controversy surrounding Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, and his conviction that Gentile converts are not required to be circumcised or to keep the Mosaic law.  What undoubtedly lies in the background here is the Pharisees’ conception of the Mosaic law as a collection of 613 individual commandments, and that sanctification involved stringent rule keeping.  This, however, misses the point of what God really requires, which is that we “do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Mic. 6:8; NKJV).

When Paul draws a contrast between “law” and “grace” he does not intend to say that the believer is free to sin.  Far from it.  “What then?  Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace?  Certainly not!” (Rom. 6:14).  But what does he mean?  He goes on in the next chapter to say that “You also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another – to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God (Rom. 7:4).  He then says that “we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we could serve in newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter” (7:6).

What Paul is saying here is that the written law, per se, is powerless to change us or make us holy.  Only Christ working through the Holy Spirit can do that.  Hence the contrast between “the newness of the Spirit” and “the oldness of the letter.”  He then goes on in chapter 8 to say “what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son . . . that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4,5).  The “righteous requirement of the law” must still be fulfilled.  But what does it mean to “walk according to the Spirit”?  It means to “live according to the Spirit” and to “set their minds on the things of the Spirit” and “to be spiritually minded” (vv. 5,6).  Paul, then, is not saying that there is no moral law, but that the only way to fulfill the law is not by keeping the letter of the old covenant but by following the guidance of the Holy Spirit as He produces His fruit in us.

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THE WISDOM OF GOD

4.2.7

Albert Bierstadt: Yosemite Valley

 

With the widespread acceptance of the Theory of Evolution it is commonly believed that we came into existence through a blind, impersonal natural process.  And this, in turn, suggests that human existence is largely without meaning and purpose and calls into question the existence of moral norms and absolutes.  The French Existentialist philosopher Jean Paul Sartre said that “Everything is indeed permitted if God does not exist, and man is in consequence forlorn, for he cannot find anything to depend upon either within or without himself” (“Existentialism is a Humanism,” 1946).

But do we live in a random, purposeless universe?  We certainly see chaos and disorder, but we also see elements of rational structure as well.  The biblical answer is that God does, in fact, exist; that we live in a rationally ordered universe created by an intelligent Supreme Being, albeit a universe that has fallen into disorder since its creation.

“The Lord by wisdom founded the earth;

By understanding He established the heavens;

By His knowledge the depths were broken up,

And clouds drop down the dew.”

(Prov. 3:19,20; NKJV).

Wisdom is the ability to produce a positive outcome from one’s efforts.

“Through wisdom a house is built,

And by understanding it is established;

By knowledge the rooms are filled

With all precious and pleasant riches.”

(Prov. 24:3,4)

And so it is that when we look at nature we can see evidence of God’s wisdom on every hand.

“He has mad the earth by His power,

He has established the world by His wisdom,

And has stretched out the heavens at His discretion.

When He utters His voice,

There is a multitude of waters in the heavens:

And He causes the vapors to ascend from the

ends of the earth.

He makes lightning for the rain,

He brings the wind out of His treasuries.”

(Jer. 10:12,13).

The plain fact of the matter is that if there was no rational order to the universe, if it did not function according to consistent patterns, to natural laws, there would be nothing for science to study.  One cannot make rational sense out of pure chaos.  And the more we learn of nature the more complex it appears.  Everything from subatomic particles to the distant galaxies speaks of both order and complexity.  But what is the source of that order?  Order does not spontaneously arise out of chaos.   There has to be an intelligent Creator behind it all.

“The heavens declare the glory of God;

And the firmament shows His handiwork.

Day unto day utters speech,

And night unto night reveals knowledge.”

(Psalm19:1,2)

But according to Scripture not only does God control the forces of nature, He controls the course of human events as well.  Hannah could say:

“The Lord makes poor and makes rich;

He brings low and lifts up.

He raises the poor from the dust

And lifts the beggar from the ash heap,

To set them among princes

And make them inherit the throne of glory.”

(I Sam. 2:7,8)

But when we look at all of the chaos and turmoil in today’s world, one might ask, where is the wisdom of God in that?  This was the very question faced by Job in the Old Testament.  Even though he was described as “a blameless and upright man, one who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8), a series of seemingly inexplicable disasters befell him.  Job was led to question the wisdom and justice of God.  But in the end God challenged Job, saying, “Shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him? / He who rebukes God, let him answer it” (Job 40:2); and Job was finally led to respond, “I know that You can do everything, / And that no purpose of Yours can be withheld from You . . .Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, / Things too wonderful for me, which I did not know” (Job 42:2,3).

The fact of the matter is that what God created was originally good (Gen. 1:31).  It became corrupted through man’s sin and rebellion.  But amazingly God, in His wisdom, can even turn evil into good, and use it to accomplish His own higher purposes.  Joseph’s brothers had done much harm to him; but in the end he could say to them, “You meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive” (Gen. 50:20).

And so it is that God has a larger purpose in human sin and suffering, and that is the plan of redemption.  In Romans chapters 9-11Paul asks the question of why it is that the Jews, God’s chosen people, were rejecting the gospel; and he answers by saying that it is all a part of God’s eternal plan, and that although they may reject Christ now they will, as a nation, respond to the gospel at some point in the future.  “For God committed them all to disobedience, that He might have mercy on all” (Rom. 11:32).  The 19th Century Scottish commentator John Brown of Edinburgh put it like this:

“And thus God, by successively allowing the depravity of

human nature to develop itself in the idolatries of the

Gentiles and the apostasy of the Jews, will make it evident,

when He brings both these component parts of mankind

into the enjoyment of saving blessings, that He acts

towards them on the principles of sovereign kindness.”

(comm. ad Rom. 11:29).

In salvation God is able to demonstrate both His justice and grace at the same time.  Paul concludes his argument by exclaiming, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable are His judgments and His ways past finding out!” (Rom. 11:33).

What all of this means in practical terms is that we should stand in wonder, awe and admiration of such a great God.  “For of Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to whom be glory forever. Amen.” (Rom. 11:36).  Human wisdom, with all mankind’s science and technology, its business acumen and legal expertise, cannot compare with the infinite wisdom of God in creation and redemption.  This should lead us to worship and adore such an awesome God.

But the fact of God’s wisdom should also lead us to trust in Him.  His ways are always best, because He is wiser than we are.

“Trust in the Lord will all you heart,

And lean not on your own understanding;

In all you ways acknowledge Him,

And He shall direct your paths.

 

“Do not be wise in your own eyes:

Fear the Lord and depart form evil.

It will be health to your flesh,

And strength to your bones.”

(Prov. 3:5-8).