Monday, June 15, 2009

The Exceeding Righteousness of the New Covenant

Matthew 4:23-5:20:

And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought him all the sick, those afflicted with various diseases and pains, those oppressed by demons, epileptics, and paralytics, and he healed them. And great crowds followed him from Galilee and the Decapolis, and from Jerusalem and Judea, and from beyond the Jordan.

Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God. "Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people's feet. "You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. -- Matthew 4:23-5:20

A conflicted Maria has returned to the Abbey. It wasn’t supposed to turn out this way. She had left the Abbey brimming with confidence, off to be the governess of seven children whose mother had passed away and whose father was busy with his own military and social interests. Yet with music, charm, and a supreme confidence in herself that could not be shaken, a household had been transformed. But she hadn’t been counting on that curious thing called love.

Life throws Maria a curveball, and so… here she is, back at the Abbey, confidence in tatters, but seemingly wiser for having had the experience. Maria renews her vows at the convent and spends the rest of her life at the convent fulfilling the vows she had made to God and to her order. Right? Of course not! Rogers and Hammerstein know better. When things are darkest, what is it that Maria needs more than a confidence and morale booster? Enter Mother Abbess who proceeds to give Maria a bit of inspiration sent from heaven we are assured: “Climb Every Mountain, Ford ev'ry stream, Follow ev'ry rainbow, 'Till you find your dream.” Armed with that bit of honey from heaven, or so we’re led to believe, Maria returns to be the governess of the children again… and of course, we know the rest of the story.

The plot for the Sound of Music swings on the morsel of worldly wisdom: climb ev’ry mountain; exert some effort; make life happen for you; persevere through the bad times, because the sun will come out tomorrow (to borrow another choice morsel from another story we all know well); face your fears; have confidence in yourself; create your own destiny; just do it… till you find *your* dreams. Thus, the underlying philosophy driving one of the greatest musicals ever penned is the triumph of the human spirit and the self-created destiny. Your dreams, your *heaven* is yours for the taking. It’s up to you and no one else… all you need is a little confidence in yourself.

This kind of philosophy isn’t all that surprising coming from the moral philosophers of our culture with names such as Rogers and Hammerstein and Walt Disney. But visit your Christian bookstore, go online to any number of evangelical websites, listen to, or watch any number of evangelical personalities, and you’ll find wholesale adaptation of Mother Abbess’ moral virtue. Oh certainly, many evangelicals would not claim that their ultimate destiny depends on their tenacity and spiritual fortitude. However, they live the so-called “victorious Christian life” as if it were so. While it’s seemingly accepted that the rugged American individualism and Christian machismo won’t get one into the kingdom, it is quite apparent that one maintains the kingdom by climbing every mountain, fording every stream, following every rainbow until we find the kingdom dream. In the end, it might strike us as uncanny how the kingdom dream isn’t all that much different from the American dream. And in fact, some might even conclude that one can have both.

The Sermon on the Mount, though, depicts a kingdom life quite different from that of Rogers and Hammerstein. Life in the New Covenant has a different orientation. It is other-worldly. It is both counter- and contra- culture. It is of another kingdom, the kingdom of heaven. Most importantly, life in the New Covenant has its source in a Person. Not the person who climbs the mountain, but the One who has climbed the mountain for those who know they cannot, and now sits on His throne.

The Old Covenant

Surely, how different a picture this One on the mountain was painting for the Israel who had gathered to listen at his feet. This life being offered by the One named Jesus was radically different from the one that they knew in the Old Covenant. For the crowd who gathered to listen, their reality was still dictated by the old order that had been given on another mountain to the first and greatest of the prophets, Moses.

This was an Israel under the weight of an oppressive law they could not keep, and shackled to a covenant routinely broken. The etching from the first tablets of God’s law wasn’t even dry and Israel had broken the covenant and its moral code with a golden calf. At the sight of the calf Moses threw down the tablets; those broken tablets at the base of Mount Sinai not only symbolized broken law and broken covenant, but Israel’s inability to keep either law or covenant.

This Israel, gathered at the foot of Jesus on the mountain, is in need of a righteousness beyond her grasp. “Do this and live” were the terms of the covenant, terms broken early and often by a people seemingly bent on disobedience. Not only was this Israel without a righteousness, this was a people who year in and year out, the prophets warned, were confident in their own righteousness. So confident were they of their own righteousness, when they were reminded of their wickedness, more often than not, it was the prophets, not their iniquities, who were laid on the altar for execution.

This Israel, gathered at the foot of the mountain, was not only lacking an awareness of her sin, she also lacked a kingdom. Destroyed by Assyria and banished by Babylon, Israel never regained the kingdom that had been sworn to David and his posterity. Instead, Israel was merely a Roman territory, occupied by invaders who barely tolerated them.

And… lacking a kingdom, Israel had no king. More than 580 years had passed since a son of David had occupied the throne in Israel, and Herod Antipas was neither Jew nor king. And finally, this Israel that had gathered at the foot of Jesus on the mountain knew nothing of the dwelling presence of God in their midst. The temple had been rebuilt. Herod the Great, to gain favor with the Jews, gave it a bit of dressing up. But no amount of renovation, no amount of temple expansion could mask the glaring absence of God’s visible presence among his people.

This crowd, gathered at the foot of Jesus on a mountain, was sheep without a shepherd, citizens without a kingdom, worshipers without God’s presence, sinners without a righteousness.

The Promise of a New Covenant

What a paltry existence this was. What a sorry lot were these people of God. Defiant, disobedient, unable to keep the covenant and completely unaware of their need for a righteousness. But God, in his mercy and grace, gave the promise of a coming day when things would be different for his people. The old order would give way to a new order of things. In Isaiah, Israel is promised a new covenant in the form of a person; Isaiah 42, verse 6; notice all of the “I wills”. These “I wills” collectively form the terms of a new covenant:

“I am the LORD; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness.

And again in Isaiah 49:8, God promises to send Israel a new covenant in the form of a Person:

Thus says the LORD: “In a time of favor I have answered you; in a day of salvation I have helped you; I will keep you and give you as a covenant to the people, to establish the land, to apportion the desolate heritages, saying to the prisoners, ‘Come out,’ to those who are in darkness, ‘Appear.’ They shall feed along the ways; on all bare heights shall be their pasture;

In Jeremiah 31, Israel is told about a new covenant… in verse 31… again, notice all of the “I wills”...

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

Not only is Israel promised a new kind of law and a new covenant, but a new heart that will keep covenant forever. And this new covenant culminates in the highest expression of covenant that first appeared with Abraham: I will be their God and they will be my people. Jeremiah was not the only prophet pointing to a new covenant; Ezekiel 11:

Therefore say, ‘Thus says the Lord GOD: I will gather you from the peoples and assemble you out of the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you the land of Israel.’ And when they come there, they will remove from it all its detestable things and all its abominations. And I will give them one heart, and a new spirit I will put within them. I will remove the heart of stone from their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in my statutes and keep my rules and obey them. And they shall be my people, and I will be their God.

Exekiel 36:23

And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them….I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.

And Ezekiel 37:

(verse 5) Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live… (verse 12) Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves…And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD…(verse 21) Behold, I will take the people of Israel from the nations among which they have gone, and will gather them from all around, and bring them to their own land…And I will make them one nation in the land, on the mountains of Israel. And one king shall be king over them all…They shall not defile themselves anymore with their idols and their detestable things, or with any of their transgressions. But I will save them from all the backslidings in which they have sinned, and will cleanse them; and they shall be my people, and I will be their God. “My servant David shall be king over them, and they shall all have one shepherd. They shall walk in my rules and be careful to obey my statutes…I will make a covenant of peace with them. It shall be an everlasting covenant with them…My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

These are the terms of a New Covenant. If you want to know just what has been and is being accomplished in the New Covenant, just follow the “I wills” of these passages. Almost from its inception as a nation coming out of Egypt, Israel had been breaking covenant. Unrighteous covenant-breakers was the legacy of Israel. But in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, God says he will take care of Israel’s infidelity once and for all by giving them a new heart, a new law, his own Spirit within them that will cause them to obey, a new covenant, a new covenant Incarnate, a righteousness, a king and kingdom, and then, the promise that he will fully and finally dwell with and among His people: “I will be their God, and they will be my people”. Israel is carted off to Babylon, they return to the land… and they wait… for more than 500 years.

The anticipation of a new covenant

We come to the book of Matthew and from the very beginning there is a sense of anticipation about what is to come, chapter 1 verse 1: “The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David…(verse 17) all of the generations from Abraham to David were fourteen generations, and from David to the deportation to Babylon fourteen generations, and from the deportation to Babylon to Christ fourteen generations.” From the very beginning of his eyewitness account of the Christ, the Messiah, Matthew is bent on us and those in the early church reading his account understanding that this Messiah is the Promised King who is the final heir to David’s throne.

Israel needs a Savior; in chapter 1:21, Gabriel tells Joseph that the son born to Mary is to be named Jesus “for he will save his people from their sins”.

Israel no longer enjoyed God’s dwelling presence among them; in chapter 1:23, this one named Jesus is fulfillment of the promise of God through Isaiah, “Behold the virgin shall conceive and bear a *son* and they shall call his name Immanuel”, which means God with us. Months later, a shekinah-glory-like star leads wise men from the east to “came to rest” over the place where the child was. Immanuel has come to dwell among his people.

This crowd at the feet of Jesus on the mountain lacks righteousness; Christ submits to John’s baptism because it is fitting for Jesus to fulfill all righteousness.

Israel lacks a kingdom; Jesus comes out of the wilderness and begins to preach, “repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Israel lacks a king, they are sheep without a shepherd; in chapter two there come wise men from the east asking “where is he born king of the Jews?” The answer for the wise men is found in Micah and quoted by Matthew, “from you, Bethlehem, shall come a ruler who will *shepherd* my people Israel”.

Israel needs someone who can accomplish and fulfill all of the terms of the covenant and the law that it failed to do. Matthew chronicles for us that Israel’s champion, Israel’s incarnational representative is miraculously brought up out of Egypt, through the baptismal waters, into the desert where he is tested and tempted for 40 days, and now we come to chapter 5 and this one who has been brought up out of Egypt, through the baptismal waters, in the desert, has now ascended a mountain. And it is on this mountain that one better than Moses beckons Israel to draw near; it is on this mountain that THE Son of David ascends and sits down, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom (4:23).

The Sermon on the Mount

While many commentators have suggested that Christ is assuming the posture of a Jewish rabbi who dispenses wisdom with his students, Matthew is doing much more than that here. This is the “son of David”, the One born “king of the Jews” assuming the posture of One who has authority, and as the Sermon unfolds, One who has ultimate and supreme authority. At the bookend of this sermon Matthew tells us that the “crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority and *not* as their scribes”.

This king comes proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom that imposes itself on this world, a kingdom that does not look like the kingdoms of this world. This is the upside down kingdom with kingdom citizens living life upside down with an orientation toward the heavens.

This upside down kingdom’s citizens are marked by those things which are foolish in the eyes of the world. These kingdom citizens are poor in spirit, those who mourn, those who are meek. Contra a Jewish culture wrapped up in asserting its own righteousness, the kingdom citizen hungers and thirsts for a righteousness that only the King can satisfy… they seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and in doing so will find that He satisfies the desires of their soul. These kingdom citizens who are merciful, pure in heart, and peacemakers find themselves persecuted for the sake of that very same righteousness, a righteousness that had cost the prophets their very lives.

But this righteousness is beyond the grasp of the kingdom citizen. It is not self-generated. This king comes proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, a kingdom that is not of this world, a kingdom marked by a righteousness that can only come from above. Israel lacks righteousness. And this King tells his people that unless their righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees, the kingdom is not for them (chapter 5 verse 20).

One must feel the weight of this. The kingdom citizen hungers and thirsts for a righteousness that cannot and will not be his own. The demands for entrance into the kingdom have not changed… in fact, the ultimate standard of obedience to the law, “be holy as I am holy” is interpreted by Jesus as “be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect” (chapter 5 verse 48). What a severe imposition.

And as we track just what it is that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees through the rest of the Sermon on the Mount we might be driven to the point of depression. By highlighting the heart issues, which we will get to in a minute, the strict code of the law isn’t simply brought to bear, but the intent behind the code as well. This Sermon on the Mount proposes an ideal so high and unattainable, Christianity’s critics have scoffed at the ethic here, suggesting such severe demands are unjust and even unethical. No one can live up to the standard proposed by this king on this mountain. And they are right.

An exceeding righteousness

How is it that one could be more righteous than those who dedicated their entire existence to promoting their own righteousness? These Pharisees are those who have championed obedience to God’s law on their own terms, and in so doing, have come to have confidence in their own righteousness. The righteousness of their kingdom is attainable. These are they who sing “climb every mountain, ford every stream”, confident that the kingdom rewards the kind of righteousness applauded by men.

If entrance to the kingdom requires a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees, those paragons of Jewish virtue, how can anyone enter? How is it possible? The answer is found in the very same passage. Matthew 5:17-20 form the thesis statement, if you will, for the entire Sermon on the Mount, landing on verse 20. The entire Sermon swings on this question of the kind of righteousness demanded by the King for entrance into the kingdom of heaven. But it is a righteousness that this King himself provides. This king comes to the mountain having been baptized by John in order to fulfill all righteousness.

That same word “fulfill” is found here in verse 17 of chapter 5. The One fulfilling all righteousness is the One fulfilling the Law and the Prophets. Thus, the righteousness needed by this crowd at the feet of a King on the mountain, the righteousness that exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees, must come from the One who has satisfied not merely the demands of the law, but has fulfilled the entire Old Testament. “Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfill them”.

This king proclaiming the good news of the kingdom fulfills, or fills up to the very last measure, everything foreshadowed in the Old Testament. From the law to the prophets, comprehensively from Moses to Malachi, what was contained in law and in prophecy, Christ came to fulfill all that anticipated Him.

This word “fulfilled” isn’t simply about making all of the predictions in the Old Testament come true. This is the typical way “fulfill” is often preached or taught in our evangelicalism. No, the word used here, pleroo, has the idea of “filling up completely” or “filling up to the last measure”… so… this King doesn’t merely make the predictions about the coming Son of David come true; Christ here is saying that he is the final subject and object of that which had been foreshadowed and promised throughout all of the Old Testament. Christ is the sum and substance of all Old Testament revelation, the sum and substance of its history.

And this fulfillment includes all of the law (Matthew 5:18). In filling up the full measure of all that was foreshadowed in the law, in obeying the law to its fullest extent, Christ embodies the Law and becomes the standard by which all holiness is measured. In becoming the sum and substance of law by filling up the law to its fullest measure, in fulfilling all that had been foreshadowed in the law, this king sitting on the mount is the full and final Torah, he is The Law of the New Covenant invested with all of its authority and glory.

It was Christ all along to whom the Old Testament had been pointing. And it is this Christ, this king fulfilling all righteousness, who becomes righteousness for His people. This Christ, who sits on the mountain, dispenses to His kingdom citizens a righteousness that exceeds that of the Pharisees. This king who is proclaiming another kingdom proclaims that the righteousness necessary for entrance into the kingdom is a righteousness that comes from above, a righteousness given by another.

How does Christ’s fulfillment of the law become righteousness for us? Because this King, is the Blessed man of the beatitudes. In fulfilling the law and the prophets, this king has, on behalf of his people, has been poor in Spirit, This King is one who mourned. This King is one who in purity of heart was persecuted for righteousness sake. This Son of David, this new Israel delivered out of Egypt, affirmed in the waters of baptism, and tested in the wilderness, in meekness hungered and thirsted after that righteousness necessary to provide salvation for His people. On this mountain, this King, this Lawgiver, proclaims a kingdom that will be won by filling up the very last measure of a law that enslaved those who broke it. In obeying all of the demands of the Old Testament, this King, this Lawkeeper, gives life to those who seek first his kingdom and that righteousness only He can provide.

The New Covenant

This Israel, at the feet of Jesus on the mountain, lacks a covenant that is not and cannot be broken. And this king who comes proclaiming the advent of the kingdom of heaven comes bringing a New Covenant for his people. If we were to trace the storyline of Matthew’s unfolding of the kingdom of heaven that is imposing itself onto the stage of this world in the Person of Jesus Christ, we would eventually come to an upper room, where this One who is fulfilling all righteousness holds up the cup to His disciples and declares that this new kingdom, ushered in through His death and resurrection, inaugurates a new covenant, a new covenant ratified by His blood and personified in Christ himself. Fulfilling Isaiah 42 and 49, this King becomes The Covenant himself, his own promise and guarantee to His people, bestowing all the rights and privileges of kingdom citizenship. Entry into this kingdom, must be through the One who is Covenant Himself, the only One with the authority to bestow the rights and privileges of kingdom citizenry.

In this New Covenant, a great exchange has taken place: Israel’s unrighteousness for Christ’s righteousness. The heart of stone is replaced with a heart of flesh. God’s people, those of us who knew nothing but disobedience, have been given new heart that not only desires to obey, but we have been given a Spirit that causes us to obey. In fulfilling the tablets of stone, the kingdom citizen no longer lives under the specter of an external law that condemns, but lives the life of the Spirit, an internal law that produces obedience in the kingdom citizen.

Thus, in this New Covenant, the principle of inversion, a principle that has been prophesied in Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, becomes the order of the day. And at the outset of the kingdom, this principle of inversion is being proclaimed in the Sermon on the Mount by the king who sits on the mount. That which the world thinks is mighty really is weak. That which seems wise is foolish. What seems right to the average person is wrong. What seems to give life brings death. And being meek, waiting on the Lord, is now that status quo. Mercy rules the day. The foolishness of this world is wise. Peacemaking, not winning, not war, is the mark of the kingdom citizen. Self-reliance is out; utter dependence on someone else for favor with God and overcoming life’s difficulties is the mark of the kingdom citizen.

Everything Israel understood to be reality has been flipped on its head. The emphasis of the Old Covenant had been an external code written on breakable stone tablets. The emphasis has shift from a law demanding perfect conformity to an external code, or that which seemed wise to the law abiding Israelite, to a new order in which being poor in spirit, meek, merciful, pure in heart, hungry and thirsty after righteousness is the mark of the kingdom citizen.

If we were to read a little further in the Sermon on the Mount we would find that the emphasis of the New Covenant is on internal righteousness that flows out of the heart. In a series of 6 statements in chapter 5, Christ juxtaposes the law over against the intent of the law, which is aimed at the heart. Sitting in the backdrop of the external code of the Old Covenant are issues of the heart. “You have heard that it was said in the law, thou shalt not murder… but I say to you, those who hate are guilty of murder. You have heard it say, don’t commit adultery. But, I say to you, if you lust after a woman who isn’t your wife, you’re guilty of adultery.” This New Covenant inverts the emphasis on the fruits of obedience to the tree that gives rise to the fruit (Matthew 7:16-17).

Heart issues were certainly part of the Old Covenant. God’s people are condemned for having hearts that are far from him. Heart issues are implicit in the first and last commandments… having no idols before God and not coveting. Heart issues are certainly inherent to the greatest commandment which summarizes the law: loving the Lord your God with all heart, soul, and strength. But the identity of the Old Covenant was wrapped up in external code and law keeping. The external code dominated the Old Covenant landscape. Do’s and don’ts dominated the Israelite’s worship. “Do this and live” was at the forefront of everything that happened in the Old Covenant.

But in Christ’s fulfillment of the law and prophets, in Christ’s fulfillment of “do this and live”, the New Covenant he makes with his people is characterized by the internal, the new heart of flesh and its corresponding Spirit, that does not break Covenant (Jeremiah 31:31ff). In the Sermon on the Mount, the king who is proclaiming the kingdom of heaven, places the heart front and center because it is the heart out of true worship, true love, and true obedience flows.

This is why the kingdom citizen lays up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19-21). His affections are oriented toward a righteousness that the world cannot give, and toward a kingdom that cannot be seen. The fleshly heart of the kingdom people in the New Covenant is oriented toward this King sitting on the mountain as the only thing that can satisfy. This is why the kingdom citizen need not be anxious about life (Matthew 6:25). Those with eyes of faith are not anxious over the provisions in this world; indeed, these kingdom citizens recognize that the King sitting on the mountain dispenses bread that gives life (Matthew 4:4).


The King has come to the mountain proclaiming the good news of the kingdom. The crowds who gather at the foot of Jesus on the mountain are offered life in a righteousness only the One who fulfills the law and the prophets can provide. They are offered the kingdom of heaven in the Person who is born king of the Jews, the One who has an authority that is not of this world.

This sermon ends where we must end. Chapter 7 verse 28: “When Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. When he came down from the mountain, great crowds followed him.” If we are to find ourselves among those kingdom citizens to whom Christ feeds himself and gives life, we must find ourselves following Christ’s footsteps.

Kingdom citizens, this morning we meet at the foot of Mount Zion. We feast at the feet of the One who has been enthroned. We eat of the bread that He offers freely in his word. We find our satisfaction in One who has fulfilled all righteousness on our behalf. All that we lack, He provides.

These crowds who followed Jesus off of the mountain, most of them, if not all of them, were unaware that if they continued to trace the steps and path of *this* king, it would lead them to another hill where this king would inaugurate the New Covenant with his blood, beneath a sign that read, “This is Jesus, King of the Jews” (Matthew 27:37). The one who is born “king of the Jews” in Matthew 2 dies as the king of the Jews in Matthew 27. This king came proclaiming a kingdom in humility and meekness; this king came into Jerusalem not riding a white horse, but a donkey; and this king died inaugurating the kingdom with his own blood. If we are to follow this king, we must trace his footsteps in meekness and humility and mercy and being poor in Spirit to our own possible crucifixion.

As citizens of a new kingdom living under a new covenant with new hearts of flesh and the Spirit living within us, we live by the inversion principle. We eschew and forgo the climbing every mountain self-reliance and self-righteousness. The king proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom on the mount is determined to drive every bit of self-reliance out of us. We are fools to the world, living with our eyes focused on a kingdom that is not of this world, to the point of being persecuted for righteousness sake.

As we feast on Christ, as we find our satisfaction in the One who sits enthroned, as we pursue the expansion of a kingdom that is not of this world, we trace the footsteps of the king in mercy, in meekness, in purity of heart, to the point where we too are persecuted for righteousness sake. At the risk of being falsely accused because of His name, we orient our hearts toward our reward in heaven, a Reward who has exceeded the righteousness of the Pharisees. -- crb

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Christ, the New Torah

If Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is the Covenant of the New Covenant the natural question arises as to what law must be obeyed under the New Covenant since the law delineated the stipulations of the Sinatic Covenant. Those stipulations under the Old Covenant outlined, among other things, the terms of righteousness and holiness. To keep covenant was to obey the law (a thought worth much more consideration at some other time).

Spurgeon, in a sermon on the subject of Christ as Our Righteousness -- taken from Jeremiah 23:6, drops this tantalizing thought: "Christ in his life was so righteous, that we may say of the life, taken as a vehicle, that it is righteousness itself. Christ is the law incarnate. Understand me. He lived out the law of God to the very full, and while you see God's precepts written in fire on Sinai's brow, you see them written in flesh in the person of Christ." -- Charles Spurgeon, "Jehovah Tsidkenu: The Lord Our Righteousness".

Much could be said about Spurgeon's perception, but in the interest of brevity we will suffice with this: Christ's perfect obedience to the law not only fulfilled the law, but incarnated the Law as a New Standard. Thus, to answer one question that arises from the reality of the New Covenant, Christ is “the LAW we need to obey” since He (and no longer the Decalogue), in and of himself, is the Standard by which all holiness is measured. The stone tablets have been exchanged for a Person, a Person who has fulfilled and now incarnates the tablets. Not only has he imputed that work to those who could never obey the law and were under its condemnation, in that imputation he has placed a new law on the heart, the Spirit, to conform us to the Incarnation of the tablets.

But there's more. "Written in fire on Sinai's brow." Such a "Spurgeonic" phrase brings to mind an incident in the life of Christ that not only tends to be overlooked in Christian theology, but tends to be ignored in the discussion of what *law* constitutes the righteousness of the New Covenant: the Transfiguration. The imagery and implications of the Transfiguration event cannot be understated in consideration of Christ as the Law Incarnate. We do not simply obey Christ because He is the Lawgiver, though he is surely that. When that voice that shakes the foundations of the heavenly temple booms out, “this is my beloved Son, listen to Him”, it’s not merely in the context of Moses. The gloriously transfigured Messiah descends that mount not merely as the New Moses, the ultimate Lawgiver, but as the new Law (note the language of Deuteronomy 33:1-5 and its NC/NT fulfillment in Matt. 17:1ff, Mark 9:2ff, Luke 9:28ff AND Acts 7:52-53).

Unlike Deuteronomy 33, the New Moses descends the Sinai of Transfiguration empty handed. Why? Because the former code has been incarnated in a Person (insert here the indicative of imputation and justification, not merely sanctification). We *listen to* or *obey* the new Lawgiver because the Lawgiver has personified that standard which had been foreshadowed in temporary stone.

He also descends empty handed because there is no new code to deliver. The entire paradigm for obedience has been flipped on its head. As this Incarnate Law descends the Sinai of Transfiguration, he descends to finish His work in His own Person of breaking the tyranny of the law… and in doing so, descends as a Law that will cause His people to conform to His Standard, His image.

And this is precisely what happens. The glory cloud, which was the top of Sinai Transfiguration, and the Spirit descends @ Pentecost, even as Christ ascends. The law written on hearts of flesh comes to dwell among His people, even as the Lawgiver, Law, and Judge begins His rule from the heavens. This isn’t simply an exchange of code for code. The new law written on hearts of flesh *causes* conformity to the image of the Son. This “law” is alive, doing what the old code could never do… effecting transformation in those who are “under” it. Because it is everything the old “law” is not, this “Law” really is the perfect “anti-law”.

And what of the imperatives that are so dominant in the Old Covenant schema? The imperatives of the NC don’t “replace” the old code. Christ Himself replaces the code and then implants Himself in His people via the Spirit on hearts of flesh. The imperatives are the means by which Christ through His Spirit is conforming us to the image of God in His Son. Yes, even the smattering of OC code which appear in the NT, even those moral principles in the backdrop of the Decalogue, no longer have the same function as they did in the OC. They cannot simply be listed in the same way as *code* (Christ Himself is the *code*, applied to the heart by the Spirit). The imperatives have a new identity (“grace and truth” - John 1:17, providing more parallel between “law” and “lawgiver”). They are no longer external, but internal, being worked out of us in the transformation of the Spirit. We work out the imperatives of the NC, we *do* the imperatives because conformity through them to the image of Christ is *who we are*. To suggest that the imperatives are new code replacing old code is pulling an old paradigm into the new, when in fact, the very nature of commands and imperatives in the NC has been changed.

W.D. Davies suggests the Messianic Age was so bound up with the idea of New Torah, the early disciples understood the New Age that dawned in Christ had its Torah personified in Christ himself: "Although Paul regards the words of Jesus as the basis of a kind of Christian halakah (the entire collection of Jewish law), it is Christ Himself in His person, not only or chiefly in His words, who constitutes the New Torah; and so too in the Fourth Gospel the New Torah is not only epitomized in the commandment of agape which finds its norm in the love of Christ for His own and in the love of God for Christ, but is realized also in the Person of Jesus, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, i.e. the personalized Torah who is set over against Moses… those in the Early Church…saw their Torah in Jesus Himself, as well as in His words…" W.D. Davies, "Torah in the Messianic Age and/or the Age to Come", p. 93

Davies isn't the only Johannine reader tracking John's portrayal of a New Torah come from heaven in grace and truth. It's interesting to read John 1 (LOGOS as Torah) in light of what Theodore Vriezen notes in Isaiah 42, 43 and 55. Of Isaiah 42, Vriezen writes: "God wants to use Israel to bring to the nations the knowledge of his Torah... (Isaiah) proclaims... the universal vocation of Israel... as a missionary task. Israel is to bring the message of the Torah to the world and to reveal the redeeming and vivifying power of suffering for the sins of the world... Here the Old Testament revelation of God reached its culminating point, especially in Isaiah 43, for here the idea arose that the Torah (revelation) not only leads to theocracy, the rule of God over Israel itself, but also to that love which suffers unto death for the sins of others.

"This is the last new element of the revelation of God given to Israel before the coming of Christ... Jesus Christ becomes the fulfillment of this divine vision. In this way the greatest and most profound message of the Old Testament is *actualized* (my emph., crb) by Him among men on this earth, and thus the true meaning of the word of God, spoken to Israel is revealed completely... There will be an everlasting covenant which will reveal all the faithful acts of grace granted to David, so that all the nations will run unto Israel which is His witness (55:3-5); Israel is called to be a 'light to the Gentiles' and a 'covenant of the people' to teach the world the Torah and 'Righteousness/Justice' (misphat)... Israel should become a light to the Gentiles so that God's salvation might spread as far as the ends of the earth. " Theodore Vriezen, "An Outline of Old Testament Theology", p. 18, 34

In John, then, we see the New Torah tabernacling (as the original tablets had done in the Ark of the Covenant) among His people. Stephen picks up on this theme from the Deuteronomy 33 passage in Acts 7, when he equates "the Righteous One" with the "law delivered by angels" (Acts 7:52,53). Something or Someone greater than the Torah has been delivered by angels. And as the disobedient Israelites rejected what had been delivered by angels, so too, disobedient Israelites, including this Sanhedrin, had rejected the fulfillment of the law which had been accompanied by angels to Bethlehem.

Into the Old Testament line of martyred prophets, Stephen places the baby delivered by angels to be the new Torah. It is that baby, who is both Law and Lawgiver who would be martyred. It is the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, the Righteous One who numbered himself with the transgressors and made many righteous. It is the Righteous ruler and redeemer that Zechariah says would come riding into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey that has been betrayed and murdered. Surrounded by a heavenly host giving praise to God, the New Torah had been delivered and subsequently rejected, just as Israel had done to so many prophets who had proclaimed the Messiah’s coming. Stephen would soon experience that very same rejection.

Stephen's sermon, though, pulses with the energy of Pentecost. The Sinai of Transfiguration which displays the Torah Personified is brought to bear on the Upper Room as the New Torah ascends to the heavenly temple and the Law written on the Heart descends to indwell a temple made without hands, the church. Just as the external law descended on a mountain with fire in a shekinah glory-cloud with a roar producing fear and trembling (Exodus 19:16-20, 24:15-18), so too the Law written on the heart descended on an "Upper" room with fire in a shekinah glory-wind with a roar producing amazement and "fear" (Acts 2:1-12,33,37). Pentecost not only duplicated Sinai, but superceded Sinai bringing a greater, permanent glory than the one that was fading away (2 Cor. 3).

But Pentecost as Lawgiving in the descent of the Spirit occurred only because the Greatest Law and Lawgiver first had descended on a mountain with the radiance of light "like the sun" in a glory cloud with a voice producing fear and trembling (Matthew 17:2, Mark 9:3,7, Luke 9:29,34,35). Rather than hearing the commandments and indeed the entire Mosaic Covenant from Moses, the disciples are told to listen to Christ. It is Christ, not Moses, who is the new authority, the new Torah, for the new era that is about to dawn in the cross and resurrection. Sinai. Transfiguration. Pentecost.

Thus, Christ’s descent from Sinai Transfiguration, his ascent to His throne, and the descent of the Spirit to indwell Christ's temple must change everything we ever thought about law, law keeping and imperative obeying. Christ the King is Christ the Law. The very fingers that carved out the words in the tablets have now taken on flesh and have *become* the Word imprinted by the Spirit on the heart. In Christ, not only has David's throne found its promised and eternal Successor, but the law enforced by that throne has found its ultimate Endpoint and Final Expression.

This New Torah descending the New Sinai of Transfiguration wasn't New Torah for Torah's sake. While condemnation came through the law of Moses, "grace and truth" came through this New Torah (John 1:18). This New Torah descended the mount in order to effect a new order in His people. The One who became a New Covenant for His people now creates covenant keepers through His Spirit Who produces covenant keeping. The New Torah, who is both the original Lawgiver and perfect Lawkeeper, produces obedience in those who are indwelt by the Spirit, the law written on the heart.

But that's not all. This New Torah grants the lawless a righteousness that perfectly meets the standards imposed by the Sinaitic Law. The righteousness required by the condemning law comes from the One who obeyed it perfectly on behalf of those who could not keep it. Again, Spurgeon is sublime: "He carried out the law, then, I say to the very letter he spelt out its mystic syllables, and verily he magnified it, and made it honorable. He loved the Lord his God, with all his heart, and soul, and mind, and he loved his neighbors as himself. Jesus Christ was righteousness impersonated…the Law-giver has himself obeyed the law Do you not think that his obedience will be sufficient? Jehovah has himself become man that so he may do man's work: think you that he has done it imperfectly? Jehovah—he who girds the angels that excel in strength—has taken upon him the form of a servant that he may become obedient: think you that his service will be incomplete? Let the fact that the Saviour is Jehovah strengthen your confidence. Be ye bold. Be ye very courageous. Face heaven, and earth, and hell with the challenge of the apostle. "Who shall say anything to the charge of God's elect? "Look back upon your past sins, look upon your present infirmities, and all your future errors, and while you weep the tears of repentance, let no fear of damnation blanch your cheek. You stand before God to-day robed in your Saviour's garments, "with his spotless vestments on, holy as the Holy One." -- Charles Spurgeon, "Jehovah Tsidkenu: The Lord Our Righteousness".

This is the New Covenant. Things are not the same. We’re not in Kansas anymore (and all praise to Him who is our Covenant that we are not). Is it any wonder that one of the disciples at the foot of the mount would later write, "In the beginning was Torah (Logos/Wisdom), and Torah was with God and Torah was God"? -- crb

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

The New Covenant Person: Fulfillment and Interpreter of The Old Covenant

“It is, in other words, that all the law and all the prophets point to Him and will be fulfilled in Him down to the smallest detail. Everything that is in the law and the prophets culminates in Christ, and He is the fulfillment of them. It is the most stupendous claim that He ever made.” D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, on Matt. 5:17, 18
So then, how do we interpret the bible? Or let me say it another way. How do we understand the text, the printed page that we hold in our hands in light of who Christ is as the Living, Eternal Word of God.?
If we understand that Jesus is the Living Word and that means that He is the Word incarnate, then we can understand that the first way to understand Scripture is to understand Christ because that is the priority of Scripture from Genesis to The Revelation. If we do this we can say that the text we read was lived by Him. So, what we read about Him all through Scripture as God, as Jesus, and as The Holy Spirit, reveals to us His completeness as a person with all of His attributes and as we understand that and how He has acted before He was incarnate and how He lived as the God/man then we can more easily understand the things He says with His words because His life and His words are indicative of who He is and the imperatives- the commands He gives us - once we are in Him, are rooted or established first in Him and who He is then in us and who He has made us to be. We have the Living Torah, The Living Word, the Inscription of God. When we read Romans 12:1,2 this should give us a better understanding of why and how we understand the Word of God.
“1 Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. 2 And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:1, 2, NAS95.
For us the will of God in essence is growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord.
Romans 12:1-2 can be seen as some may say a way, others would say the means of doing this.
In the first verse, Paul speaks of a call to worship that all Christians will and must embrace to some degree or there is no work of the abiding Holy Spirit and a changed heart.
Paul speaks of the literal human body as a sacrifice unto God. Instead of taking a lamb to slaughter as a sacrifice for God, as Israel did before Jesus died on the Cross, Paul offers up visual imagery to allow the reader to better understand that Christians should offer their bodies unto Christ. This use of sacrificial language by Paul is important to mention. Literal sacrificial worship at this time was very vivid in the minds of most ancient religions, including Judaism. Using metaphors to describe this sacrificial act of worship were vastly understood by the Roman culture that he originally wrote the book of Romans to (Moo 73). Therefore, this usage of language was not foreign to the people that he wrote this specific letter to. This mention of a so-called spiritual sacrifice is considered an act of worship. Paul displays this sacrificial speech in symbolic and cultic terms in these verses (Moo 750). Instead of a literal slaughter of the human body, Christians should offer the body to be used by God for his discernment and will. The word “urge” or beseech in this verse is a translation of the Greek word parakaleo. This word is designed to deliver the correct meaning and usage of the word, which has moral undertones within it. The word parakaleo was often used when signaling a shift in conversation in the Greek language (Moo 73). Therefore, when a slight subject change was to be noted in text, this is a common word to include in usage to signal this change in conversation. This verse is designed to ask for dedication from Christians unto God, without demanding this act. Because the act of giving the body to Christ is an act of worship, this act cannot be forced but one who is truly regenerated does not ned to be forced because we possess the desire to do so, albeit the conflict of the remnant of the old man may at times cause a struggle within us. . This worship is, however, a worship that not only involves the mind, the heart -  meaning the total being of who we are in Christ.
The second verse of this passage speaks of God’s ability to transform an individual. The transformation is a life long enterprise as we are seeking the prize and the goal of Christ our Lord. Paul here is not referring, although some tend to believe so, to the church to stop conforming to the world, but is saying be continually being transformed
into the likeness of Christ ie., into who you are. This is a direct reference to the theology of Romans chapter 5-8. Not being conformed to the world, the age that produces what we were. Here in Romans 12, because of the work that has been accomplished for us by Christ from justification to sanctification to the indwelling of the Spirit we are now to be who we are according to the renewing process that keeps transforming us into the likeness of Christ. To be transformed is having the mind of Christ in a growing way, in a maturing way, in knowing the Living Word and His words and walking in the Spirit. Knowing the will of God does not first come from obeying some external standards of law like the Decalogue. We are bound to the Law of Christ which includes all that Jesus has taught us and that which has been taught us by His apostles, all that is Jesus’ teaching preserved in the teaching of the NT writers (This was Jesus’ own plan: John 16:12; John 14:25, 26; John 15:26, 27; 16:12-15). This includes how they interpreted the Old Testament Scriptures in light of Christ, which then gives us the proper understanding of how to understand the Old Testament Scriptures as they are fulfilled in Christ. In this way we know that all Scripture is given to us by Christ and therefore is inspired and we learn what is for teaching by way of illustration from the Old Testament and what can be applied in light of Christ in the New Covenant. For example, we do not follow the dietary laws of the Old Covenant but they teach us about the holiness of God’s people and how they were meant to be set apart as different. We see in all the sacrifices, which we do not make, that they pointed to Christ and are all fulfilled in Him. This informs and instructs us but we don’t do those things.
But the Law of Christ is Christ Himself and His law is written on our hearts. That Law is there because by His Spirit, His Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ we are internally driven to outwardly show who we are and a means of that is the desire to obey the imperatives-the commands- the written laws that reveal the standard of Christ for His New Covenant people. We are not shaped by the imperatives but by what Christ has made us to be and is causing/making us to be. I am not who I am in Christ because of what I do. I do what I do because of who I am, even though in this life it will be imperfect.
We should not be saying, as Steve Fuchs has written : “ that Jesus is the guy we need to obey and imitate.”
“We should be saying that ‘Jesus is causing us to act RIGHTLY’. It’s no longer about obedience to codes, but anticipation for being fully ruled. It’s about taking our eyes off of what we need to do in sanctification, fixing them instead on what we are/are becoming by his sanctifying work and fixing them on the glory of what is in store for us and longing for Him to speed up the procession being excited to be ruled (driven) entirely by Him in every act and thought.
We are still under a Law, but it’s a law of a different nature. His nature is Spirit, not code. Codes tell, but Spirit causes. This Spirit who causes us to think and act righteously is not conforming us to the list of imperatives in the NT anymore than to the Decalogue alone or the whole of Law and Prophets This Law of Christ is everlasting in the forward AND backward sense.
He existed from the beginning even while He was only revealed in the shadows of Law and Prophets. He was always the true substance of Righteousness.
The True Covenant didn’t change so much as His substance became fully visible and exposed the shadows to be mere shadows (Col 2 uses the word ‘mere’ ). None-the-less, among the shadows the faith of OC believers trusted that He would perfect them by ruling their very thoughts and desires with His own Spirit.
Our hope should not long for how much we’ll obey codes.
Our hope should be fixed on the Righteousness He is fulfilling in us…ruling our thoughts and desires to be perfect as the Father is perfect.”
As the living Word is eternal and as His people we are eternal then His words and the result of them will never pass away

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The New Covenant Economy of the Holy Spirit

The following preface is not original. I am not its author though I have modified its content just slightly when appropriate. When I conclude this preface I will give you an opportunity to tell me who wrote it.

Pentecost: the law of the Spirit

(The Kingdom Rule established by Christ through his Holy Spirit)

The descent of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost Day is the definitive completion of the revelation of Jesus Christ and the full realization of the announcements of the Old Testament fathers, especially those of the Prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel, concerning a new, future covenant which God would establish with man in Christ and an "outpouring" of God's Spirit "on all mankind" (Joel 2:28).

Joe 2:28-32
"And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. (29) Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit. (30) "And I will show wonders in the heavens and on the earth, blood and fire and columns of smoke. (31) The sun shall be turned to darkness, and the moon to blood, before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. (32) And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved. For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the LORD has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the LORD calls.

However, this also means a new inscription of God’s law "in the depths" of man’s "being", or, as the prophet says, in the "heart" (cf. Jer 31:33). Thus we have a "new law", or a "law of the Spirit", which we must now consider for a more complete understanding of the mystery of the Paraclete.

Jer 31:33-34
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, (32) not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. (33) But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (34) And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more."

The Old Covenant between the Lord-God and the people of Israel was established by means of the theophany of Sinai, was based on the Law. At its center we find the Decalogue. The Lord exhorts his people to observe the commandments:

"If you will obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my own possession among all peoples; for all the earth is mine, and you shall be to the a kingdom of priests and holy nation" (Ex 9:5-6).

Since that covenant had not been faithfully kept, God announces through the prophets that he will establish a new covenant:

"This is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts".

These words of Jeremiah, are joined to the promise:

"and I will be their God, and they shall be my people" (Jer 31:33).

The law of love for God and neighbor

(Understanding the Rule by which we live in the Kingdom)

Therefore the new (future) Covenant announced by the prophets was to be established by means of a radical change in man’s relationship with God and his law. Instead of being an external rule, written on tablets of stone, the (new) Law was to become, thanks to the action of the Holy Spirit on man’s heart, an interior guideline, established "in the depths of man’s being".
According to the Gospel, this (new) Law is summarized in the commandment of love for God and neighbour.

When Jesus states that "on these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets" (Mt 22:40), he makes it clear that they are already contained in the Old Testament (cf. Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18).

Love for God is "the great and first commandment";

love for our neighbour is "the second (which) is like the first" (Mt 22:37-39).

It is also a condition for observing the first:

"for he who loves his neighbour has fulfilled the law" (Rom 13:8).

The commandment of love for God and neighbour, the essence of the new Law established by Christ by word and example (even to giving "his life for his friends": cf. Jn 15: 13), is "written" in our hearts by the Holy Spirit. For this reason it becomes the "law of the Spirit".

As the Apostle writes to the Corinthians:

"You show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts" (2 Cor 3:3).
Therefore the Law of the Spirit is man’s interior imperative, rather, it is the same Holy Spirit who thus becomes man’s teacher and guide in the depths of his heart.

A law thus understood is far removed from every form of external constraint to which man may be subjected in his actions. The law of the Gospel, contained in the word and confirmed by the life and death of Christ, consists in a divine revelation which includes the fullness of the truth about the good of human actions, and at the same time heals and perfects man’s inner freedom, as Paul writes:

"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2).

According to the Apostle, the Holy Spirit, who "gives life" because through him man’s spirit shares in God’s life, becomes at the same time the new principle and source of man’s activity:
"in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit" (Rom 8:4).

In this teaching Paul would have been able to appeal to Jesus himself, who in the Sermon on the Mount had pointed out:

"Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Mt 5:17).

Precisely such a fulfillment of God’s Law by Jesus Christ through, word and example, serves as the model of "walking according to the Spirit". In this sense, the law of the Spirit, written by him "on tablets of human hearts", exists and operates in those who believe in Christ and share in his Spirit.

As we see from the Acts of the Apostles, the whole life of the primitive Church is a grand demonstration of the truth expressed by Paul, according to whom:

"God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Spirit who has been given to us" (Rom 5:5).

In spite of the limitations and defects of its members, the community of Jerusalem shared in the new life which "is given by the Spirit"; it lives out of God’s love. We also have received this life as a gift from the Holy Spirit, who fills us with love—love for God and neighbor—the essential content of the greatest commandment. For this reason, the new Law, inscribed on human hearts by love as a gift of the Holy Spirit, is the law of the Spirit within them. It is the law which gives freedom, as Paul writes:

"The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death" (Rom 8:2).

The beginning of a new morality

For this reason, Pentecost, in so far as it is "the pouring into our hearts" of God’s love (cf. Rom 5:5), marks the beginning of a new human morality, based on the "law of the Spirit". This morality is more than mere observance of the law dictated by reason or by Revelation itself. It derives from, and at the same time reaches, something more profound. It derives from the Holy Spirit and makes it possible to live in a love which comes from God; it becomes a reality in our lives by having (mb) been poured into our hearts".

The Apostle Paul was (perhaps) the greatest proclaimer of this higher morality, rooted in "the law of the Spirit". He who had been a zealous pharisee, an expert, a meticulous observer and a fanatical defender of the "letter of the Old Law,” and who later became an apostle of Christ, could write about himself:

"God... who has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life" (2 Cor 3 6).

(Original Heading)
"The Holy Father (John Paul the 2nd) continued his series of reflections on Pentecost during the general audience on Wednesday, 9 August."

L'Osservatore Romano August 9, 1989 - Reprinted with Permission


References to the Work of the Spirit in the New Testament[7]

The word pneuma (Spirit) occurs 381 times in the N.T. In approximately 120 cases the reference is to an evil spirit or to the human spirit. (In some cases it is difficult to tell if the reference is to the human spirit or to the Holy Spirit.[8]) The Hebrew word for Spirit is ruach which also means breath and occurs frequently with that meaning in the O.T. However there are many places where the context indicates that the Holy Spirit is in view. References to the Spirit in the O.T. will be considered where appropriate throughout the paper.

Initial coming of the Spirit

There are four references to the Spirit coming on Christ, and twenty-seven that refer to the initial outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost or related subsequent outpourings on the Samaritans, Saul, the Gentiles and the Ephesian twelve.

The verb most commonly associated with the Spirit in this context is baptize. Other verbs used include receive and fall upon.[9]

In many cases there is an explicit sequence of events. In every case the individual is already a believer, and in all cases but one[10] they have been baptized. The discussion of sequence will be taken up later in this paper.

The work of the Spirit related to evangelism or defence of the faith

There are twelve references. Often the Spirit is related to boldness, such as in Acts 4:8, “Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, ‘Rulers of the people and elders of Israel…’”

A number of different verbs are used, the most common being to fill. The disciples, Peter, Paul and the gathered believers are all described as being filled with the Spirit as they spoke.[11]

Revelation or reception of the truth of God

There are twelve references. Most commonly these refer to the communication of truth to the Apostles, or bringing to remembrance (John 14:25-26) but there is also the important idea of the need for the Spirit in the reception of truth, taught in 1 Corinthians 2.

Specific Gifts of the Spirit (mostly supernatural)

This is the largest category, with over sixty references.
The gift most commonly mentioned is that of prophecy. There are a number of examples in Acts and Revelation together with instructions for its usage and testing in the Epistles.

In several cases pneuma is associated with a list of gifts. Sometimes there is a general reference to signs and wonders. There are a significant number of references to speaking in tongues, but many of them are found in 1 Corinthians 12-14 where Paul is critical of their misuse.

Leading of the Spirit

There are seventeen occasions where the Spirit is described as leading, permitting, forbidding, saying, telling, or some such verb. In almost all cases, the directions have reference to the spreading of the gospel, for example in Acts, Peter is told to go to the house of Cornelius (10:19; 11:2) and Paul is forbidden to preach in Asia (16:6,7).

Non-specific supernatural power

There are ten references. In virtually every case the supernatural power (dunamis) is the testimony of the Spirit as a witness to the truth of the gospel. Jesus promised this Witness to his disciples,[12] and both Peter and Paul make reference to this general power in their ministries.[13]


In twenty places, the work of the Spirit is associated with the new birth, with circumcising the heart, or with giving life. Since this category is so important to our understanding of the work of the Spirit in the life of the Christian, it will be discussed again later.

It may be surprising to learn that out of over 260 references to the Spirit, not a single one is in connection with the new creation or the new man. However, there is an association of ideas which will be developed shortly.


Seven passages in the N.T. refer to this concept, with twelve actual statements of the Spirit indwelling the believer. One of the most important passages is John 14:15-24 where Jesus describes the coming “helper” and goes on to include the indwelling of the Father and Son. There are also two references in 1 John.

The second important passage is the discussion in Romans 8:1-11 which is vital to our subject since it links indwelling to our ethical response.

New fruit-bearing life in the Spirit

This is the second largest category with approximately fifty-eight references. It is here that in a number of places we cannot easily distinguish between a reference to the human spirit and the divine Spirit.[14] All of the references except for two in Acts and one in Jude occur in the Pauline corpus.

Positively, words that describe the blessings of the Spirit include, comfort, joy, love, help, peace, liberty, communion, fellowship, strengthening, and particularly unity. In addition there is the list of fruits in Galatians 5:22-23, “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.” The Spirit also assists us with our prayer life.[15]

Negatively, the Spirit is described as locked in a conflict with the flesh (Rom 8:1-17; Gal 5:16–6:1) and providing the power to defeat indwelling sin where the law has failed to do so.

Eschatological hope for the future

There are five references, all in Paul, which speak of the Spirit in terms of sealing, guarantee, promise, firstfruits, and eagerly waiting for the consummation of our redemption.

General Filling

In six places, believers are described as being filled with the Holy Spirit without any manifestation being associated. The seven men chosen in Acts 6 are described as “full of the Holy Spirit”, particularly Stephen who is described twice as such. Barnabas was “full of the Holy Spirit and of faith” (Acts 11:24) and the Ephesian believers were exhorted to “be filled with the Spirit” (5:18). Peter tells us that when we are persecuted, “the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you” (4:14).

Twice there are general references to the gift of the Spirit, and once the expression “the supply of the Spirit”.[16]

3. The Spirit’s Work of Grace in the Believer

A. The Old Covenant Believer
In the O.T. regeneration, or the “new birth” is pictured as circumcision of the heart:
[Old Testament believers] did not have to guess what circumcision symbolized because God told them many times. For example, in Ezekiel 36:26, God says to them “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” He goes on to explain in v. 27: “I will put my Spirit within you and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you will keep my judgments and do them.”

So Ezekiel equates this circumcised heart to having the Spirit within us. God will put his Spirit within us. This idea of an obedient, regenerated heart is even clearer when we look at Romans 2:25. Paul explains: “For circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.”[17]

This connection between becoming an obedient believer and the work of the Spirit is clarified further in the next few verses:

Paul goes on in v. 27: “And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?” And here is the climax in vv. 28-29: “For he is not a Jew who is one outwardly, nor is circumcision that which is outward in the flesh; but he is a Jew who is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the Spirit, not in the letter; whose praise is not from men but from God.”[18]

All of the elements of regeneration are found in O.T. saints. As Sinclair Ferguson points out, “The classical pattern of the work of the Spirit in evoking repentance is found in Psalm 51…”.[19] Salvation has never been by law, but always by grace through faith. This faith has always been a gift of God (Eph 2:8) and accompanied by repentance.

Is there any value in preaching to an unregenerate person? There is a close connection between the Spirit of God and the word of God. The first reference to the Spirit (ruach) in the O.T. is in Genesis 1:2, “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters.” As the divine word was spoken, the Spirit caused it to be effective. Likewise with the new creation: the word of God is heard or read or remembered by an unbeliever, and as it enters the mind, at the moment of regeneration, the Spirit gives it power to change the heart and evoke a response.[20]

Since faith involves knowledge, it ordinarily emerges in relationship to the teaching of the gospel found in Scripture. Regeneration and the faith to which it gives birth are seen as taking place not by revelationless divine sovereignty, but within the matrix of the preaching of the word and the witness of the people of God. (cf. Rom 10:115). Their instrumentality in regeneration does not impinge upon the sovereign activity of the Spirit. Word and Spirit belong together.[21]
This idea is powerfully summarized in Christ’s words: “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63).

B. The New Covenant Believer
Does this mean that there is nothing distinctly new about the work of the Spirit in regeneration in the N.T.? In some ways there is nothing new. What then about the prophecies?

“Then I will give them one heart, and I will put a new spirit within them, and take the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them a heart of flesh” Ezek 11:19.
“And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they have pierced; they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for Him as one grieves for a firstborn” Zech 12:10.

God had saved many people and given them new hearts back in those days. What is new is as follows:

  • The massive scale of the outpouring of salvation—there would no longer be a small remnant saved. The Gentiles would be included.
  • There would be a new (spiritual) nation of Israel in which every single person would be regenerate, (just as all of the old Israel were circumcised).
  • Every believer would be indwelt by the Spirit (Ezek 36:27) such that they could be led by him, and make independent judgments about truth, and not be reliant on a priesthood to interpret the Scriptures (Jer 31:33-34).
  • Whereas in the O.T. a few leaders would be given gifts of the Spirit,[22] every single member of the new people of God would possess a gift for the building up of the body.[23]

All this would be regulated by a new covenant.[24]

So in summary, the nature of the work of the Spirit in regeneration has not changed in the New Covenant, what has changed is the quantitative scale of the work, and the nature of the covenant which we are regenerated into.

4. New Life in the Spirit[25]
As mentioned above, there is no direct connection in the N.T. between the new creation and the Spirit. However, there is a close connection between Christ’s resurrection and our new life, and Christ is said to be raised from the dead by the power of the Spirit. In Ephesians 1:19-20 Paul says: “and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” Since power almost always has reference to the Spirit in the N.T., Paul is saying that the same power of the Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is available in our lives and has “made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:5-6).

The same connection is made in Colossians 2:12-13:

“buried with him in baptism, in which you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.”

Paul makes the application a few verses later, “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God” (Col 3:1).

A. Creator and created
It is vital to distinguish between the Creator and the created. We are indwelt by the Spirit but we do not become the Spirit. He is renewing us into the image of Christ, but we do not become divine.

Failure to appreciate this distinction leads to two opposite errors. In some Keswick[26] and Charismatic[27]/Holiness[28] traditions, there is an effective denial of any possibility of change in us. There is never anything good in us in ourselves. We cry “more of Christ and less of me” by which we mean that the only good thing about a Christian is Christ who indwells by the Spirit. The “self” cannot improve in any way. Increase in godliness consists therefore in “letting go and letting God.” The concept of spiritual transformation and renewal in the Christian life is absent.
In many cases this teaching is a reaction against a self-sufficient Christianity that denies the need for a moment by moment dependence on the power of God. It would be wrong to suggest that even the most mature and Christ-like Christian could survive for a moment without the power of the Spirit. Although we are being transformed, we are not being transformed into independence, but into increasing dependence.

The opposite error occurs in many traditions including some recent strands of Reformed teaching.[29] The emphasis is entirely on transformation. The Spirit is hidden in the background, providing a source of power to enable us to transform ourselves. He is relegated to being a force, not a person with whom we can have fellowship, who comforts, encourages and leads us.

B. The New Creation
These two aspects of the Spirit’s work, as indweller and as new creator, are usually distinct in the N.T. Romans 6–8 is particularly valuable because it is one of the few places where they are explicitly related together.

To summarize Paul’s argument in these chapters, union with Christ in his death and resurrection is the definitive basis for our new life. “Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:4). Our participation in Christ’s death has severed the power of sin in our lives. Our participation in his resurrection has transported us into a new kind of existence—the new man who lives in the realm of the Spirit.

Romans 8:9 tells us that in the new covenant the Spirit indwells all believers. “But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not his.” His indwelling results in power for our future resurrection, “But if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you” (v.11), and power for the battle against sin, “For if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live” (v.13). This presence enables us to live “according to the Spirit” and to set our minds on the Spirit.

The new creation is a new kind of man, a new order of existence. Christ was raised in the power of the Spirit as the firstborn of this new creation (Col 1:18). Even though we do not yet have new bodies, our spirits live in that new realm which is opposed to the flesh.

C. Power for the new life
The law is good, but it is utterly without power to change us (Rom 7:7-24; Gal 5:18-23). It is the presence of the personally indwelling Spirit that allows us to “put to death the deeds of the body”. At the root of our transformation is a renewal of our minds (Rom 12:1). Yet in order for this to begin, we must have a new mind that is spiritual rather than fleshly.

“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” 1 Cor 2:12-14.

John Murray makes a criticism of our traditional Protestant theology of sanctification:

The bearing of Jesus’ death and resurrection upon our justification has been in the forefront of Protestant teaching. But its bearing upon sanctification has not been sufficiently appreciated.[30]

It is surprising to read such a bastion of conservative orthodoxy as John Murray making such a sweeping criticism of his own tradition, but he goes on to say, “No fact is of more basic importance in connection with the death to sin and commitment to holiness than that of identification with Christ in his death and resurrection.”[31]

He describes how this connection works:

The truth is that our death to sin and newness of life are effected in our identification with Christ in his death and resurrection, and no virtue accruing from the death and resurrection of Christ affects any phase of salvation more directly than the breach with sin and newness of life. And if we do not take account of this direct relationship we miss one of the cardinal features of New Testament teaching.[32]

John Owen tells us to “Set faith on Christ for the killing of your sin.”[33] Yet he understands that it is the Spirit who applies this work to us. “This whole work, which I have described as our duty, is effected, carried on, and accomplished by the power of the Spirit, in all the parts and degrees of it.”[34] He then lists for us six reasons:

(1) He alone clearly and fully convinces the heart of sin.
(2) The Spirit alone reveals unto us the fullness of Christ for our relief.
(3) The Spirit alone establishes the heart in expectation of relief from Christ.
(4) The Spirit alone brings the cross of Christ into our hearts with sin-killing power.
(5) The Spirit alone is the author and finisher of our sanctification.
(6) In every prayer we have the support of the Spirit [35]

So in summary, the new “spiritual” man which we have become through our union with the resurrected Christ has the ability to receive the things of the Spirit and to benefit from his indwelling, resulting in transformation of our own selves into the image of Christ.

5. The Gift of the indwelling Spirit[36]

A. Ordo Salutis (the order of salvation)
Here we encounter one of the difficulties mentioned above. The indwelling Spirit is always spoken of as a gift that is given after belief. Below is a selection of Scriptures which suggest such a sequence.

John 7:39 But this he spoke concerning the Spirit, whom those believing in him would receive;

John 14:15-17 “If you love me, keep my commandments. And I will pray the Father, and he will give you another helper, that he may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth.”

John 14:21 “And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.”

John 14:23 “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.”

Acts 2:38 “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”

Acts 5:32 “And we are his witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him."

Acts 19:2 he said to them, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?”

Gal 3:14 that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.

Gal 3:2 Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?

Gal 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into your hearts, crying out, “Abba, Father!”

Eph 1:13 In him you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise.

It might be argued that the first four references from John are prior to Pentecost and so the sequence is historical and not soteriological. However the three references in Acts specify an unambiguous sequence of the gift following repentance/faith.[37] The two references in Galatians 3 support this idea, as does Ephesians 1:13.

How can this be squared with the testimony of the Scriptures that man without the Spirit is spiritually dead. “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” John 6:63. Faith and repentance are the work of the Spirit, so how can they be conditional for the giving of the Spirit?

We believe that the answer is found in the previous discussion of the need to separate the New Creator himself from his creative work. His act of regenerating us is not the same as his gift of indwelling. How can it be! Indwelling, in the sense spoken of by Jesus (John 7:39; 14:15-26; 15:26; 16:7-14, also Gal 3:14; 2 Cor 3:6-8) did not occur until Pentecost, yet many were born again before that time.

Note here that we are proposing a logical distinction, not a temporal one. At this point the classical Pentecostal will want to make indwelling a second work of grace, subsequent to conversion. However, the words of Paul in Romans 8:9[38] totally rule out that possibility for the post-Pentecost situation. Just as in the classical reformed ordo salutis, the immediate response of the regenerate individual is to exercise faith in Jesus Christ, so the immediate response of God to that faith is to apply to us the benefits of salvation including justification and the gift of the Spirit.

Just as regeneration is logically prior to faith, but it is not possible to find a regenerate person who does not have faith, in the same way faith and repentance are logically prior to the gift of the indwelling Spirit. Since the gift of the Spirit follows immediately from faith and repentance, all true Christians have this indwelling.

B. The Spirit of the risen Christ
O.T. believers could not be indwelt by the Holy Spirit in the same way as after Pentecost, but there is another difference. We now experience him as “the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead” Rom 8:11. The victory that Christ won on the cross has made a radical change in our experience of the Spirit. The power of his resurrection is now available to us. The decisive victory has been won.

Christ’s own experience of the Spirit led him into conflict, persecution and death. Although these aspects are equally present in the pathway in which the Spirit would lead us, there is the new dimension of joy and victory which Christ only looked forward to. Paul prays that:

“the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints, and what is the exceeding greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his mighty power which he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated Him at his right hand in the heavenly places.” (Eph 1:18-20)

C. The wonder of the Gift
Repeated time and time again in the N.T. is the statement that the Spirit is a gift. The impact of this image can be lost on us through familiarity. It is good to take some time to meditate on what this means. He is given as a love-gift, “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” Rom 5:5. We can get focused on the gifts of the Spirit and forget that the greatest gift is the Spirit himself.

If we could ask the Father for any present we wanted, anything at all, what better present could we possibly ask for than for he himself to be our possession. What better gift than that the Divine should take up residence in our being, and make his power available to us—not only his power, but also his intimate fellowship. This indeed is a foretaste of heaven. This is a reversal of the Fall where Adam and Eve were cast out of direct fellowship with God.

We cannot separate our experience of the Spirit from Jesus Christ. The Holy Spirit the Spirit of Christ.[39]

Our fellowship is not merely with the Spirit but with the whole Godhead through the Spirit. As Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14:23).

We can lose the sense of wonder at the generosity of this gift. Through lack of appreciation we can fail to enjoy the benefits of this level of intimacy with God that O.T. saints could never have enjoyed. This is the Spirit of adoption by whom we cry Abba Father! (Rom 8:15).

Even David, when he needed guidance about a specific situation (rather than a moral principle), had to go to the priest for a word from God. Yet we have God in our hearts who leads us. Authoritative revelation comes only through the Scriptures, and everything must be judged by this standard, yet the Spirit can lead us in many ways. It may be by bringing a particular Scripture forcefully to mind, or by causing us to understand some truth. It may be more subjective such as by giving us a burden, by causing us to feel uneasy or by giving us insight and discernment in a situation. Part of the process of Christian maturation is learning to distinguish the voice of the Spirit from that of our own flesh.

D. Repeated filling
If every Christian has the Spirit, how can we be commanded to be filled with the Spirit? As mentioned earlier, a number of individuals in the N.T. were described as being “filled with the Spirit.” Paul tells the Ephesian believers to “be filled [continually] with the Spirit” (5:18). Peter and Paul are both on occasion[40] described as being filled with the Holy Spirit, long after their initial baptism in the Spirit.

We can only conclude from this that we need to seek an ongoing filling. When circumstances arise that cause us to cast ourselves on the Lord, we may receive a special measure of grace and power. Those men and women who have been especially used in God’s service in the history of the Christian church, have often experienced one or more occasions where they had a special experience of the power of God, which had a transforming effect on their ministry. This should not be considered a “second blessing,” but an ongoing series of blessings and re-fillings.[41] How are we to obtain this filling? It is a gift for which we are invited to ask: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13).


I am especially grateful to my brother and good friend Dr. Andrew Fountain who provided me on very short notice with much of this working outline. - M. Bergeron

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Future Of New Covenant Theology

Ed Trefzger

Delivered at NCT Think Tank -- June 4, 2008

The purpose of this paper is not to present a theological position. Rather, this is an assembly of a few thoughts on the direction of New Covenant Theology as it gathers steam and a survey of what things lie ahead that need to be accomplished. It is not intended to be all-encompassing; instead, my hope is that this will be a catalyst for discussion today and for thought down the road.

The first item on my list is that of perception. In many circles, specifically in Reformed or Dispensational schools of thought, NCT has been defined in the terminology of those theologies and more specifically as error or even worse. As one brother said, “There is no greater danger to historic Reformed Christianity,” and referred to it as a “rampant antinomian attack. ...”1 The danger is not, however, to Reformed Christianity, which despite the motto of Semper Reformanda, has not been reforming; the danger is to specific systems or confessions, which are, in light of New Covenant Theology, in error and unfaithful to the clear teachings of Scripture. Those Covenant Theologians have strayed from Sola Scriptura and in doing so have strayed from Solus Christus.

(And to quote Moe Bergeron's presentation, it is those who insist on the Mosaic law and not the Spirit of Christ in us who are the antinomians.)2

As part of correcting this misperception, it is time now for New Covenant Theologians and pastors to define NCT on its own terms, using its own terminology correctly. NCT writers, most recently John Reisinger in his book In Defense of Jesus, the New Lawgiver3, have successfully and boldly defended their theology against criticism. But that successful defense means that it is now time to turn from polemics to a positive presentation of the theology, both systematic and practical. More on that below.

A corollary to that is correcting the mischaracterization that NCT is somehow attempting to find a mediating position between Dispensational Theology and the Covenant Theology of the Westminster Confession of Faith or the 1689 Second London Baptist Confession. While NCT holds positions that may be in common with one or the other of those theologies, it is not because it is a matter of choosing one from column A or two from column B. Rather, it's a case of agreeing with NCT in those places in which those theological systems are not in error.

NCT is not designed to mediate, compromise between, or find consensus among those theologies, but rather to adhere to a theology that is based on the clear teaching of Scripture, with Christ as Covenant, Christ as the hermeneutic, and the Spirit of Christ indwelling in the people of God. It is, in some sense, a return to a pre-modern view of Christ, before systems and confessions created a framework that distorted or obscured the lens.

NCT advocates have a lot of work ahead to transform the theology from a grass-roots movement to a more widely-known and correctly-understood system. Much of this work will overcome the stigma attached to it from both Dispensational and Covenant circles, each of which have right up to the present time attacked it as in error or even heretical.

Grass roots publications like Sound of Grace and early authors like Reisinger, Wells and Zaspel started to put NCT on the map, while the internet has fostered discussion and growth in the movement. What is still lacking, however, are works on the biblical, systematic, historical and practical aspects of New Covenant Theology. Much ground has already been covered, but there is quite some distance left to travel. We've heard presentations this week that could become part of some of that work.

In defining a systematic theology for NCT, there is a bit of a dilemma: it is a strongly biblical theology that doesn't hang on extrabiblical systems or man-made logical assumptions for it to be coherent. However, even in a less expansive form than a typical Reformed systematic theology, the NCT movement would be benefitted by having one. Using the outline of Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology as an example (although we could use Berkhof, Hodge, or others) we can see what such a work might look like.4 Many sections or topics will be very similar -- if not mostly so -- with Reformed systematic theology works like Grudem's, while other parts will be significantly or drastically different. Perhaps an early effort could focus just on those areas of difference.5

Chapters 2-8 of Grudem's book focus on the doctrine of the Word of God. It is unlikely that any NCT proponent would find drastic variance with those views on the forms of God's Word, the canon, or the authority, inerrancy, clarity, necessity, or sufficiency of Scripture.

Similarly, the following section on the doctrine of God, the Father, may not vary too significantly.

When we get to the next sections, the doctrine of man and the doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit, there will be a significant parting of the ways. Extrabiblical theological covenants -- outside of any enduring or predestined purpose of grace or redemption God has -- are at odds with NCT's clear belief in the Biblical covenants. Serious development of NCT's teaching that the economy of the Mosaic Covenant has passed in totality, replaced by a radically different New Covenant would necessarily replace those sections. This would outline clearly that the old covenant of external laws and a remnant of elect among a chosen nation has been replaced. It has been replaced with the Covenant of Christ -- so beautifully exposited by Chad Richard Bresson on Tuesday6 -- with its chosen people of God and its laws that describe the nature of those indwelled by the Spirit -- and not an external code of conduct.

This decidedly Christocentric view will also require much deeper development of NCT doctrines of Christ and the Holy Spirit. Pneumatology has been a widely ignored -- or at least under-represented -- portion of Reformed thinking and teaching, especially in the past century. Sanctification through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit -- not through the letter that kills -- as Moe Bergeron has presented this week7 -- requires us to take a more in-depth look at the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. Perhaps it also requires a more balanced look at the Trinity, which has shifted more and more toward the Father (in some circles) and away from Christ and the Holy Spirit.

Some NCT advocates are taking a deeper look at the doctrines of atonement and redemption. Reid Ferguson yesterday presented his intriguing initial look at some of the both/and tensions in Christ's atonement for sin and for the elect.8 Much of this discussion has been off-limits among five-point Calvinists, but a direct look at Scripture with a proper hermeneutic based in Christ and the gospel does require that we look at all doctrines with a critical eye, ever striving to be faithful to God's Word. I would hope that within NCT there would always be room for Scripturally-faithful doctrinal exploration without fear of reprisal or ad hominem.

Before ending his text with eschatology -- an area which I'll skip except to note that there here also is room for a variance of eschatological views, acknowledging that there are some which definitely do not fit within NCT -- Grudem includes a large section on ecclesiology. NCT is a definitively credo-baptist movement, but there are other aspects of our church and body life that should be reviewed. I'll address those, briefly, when we get to our discussion of practical theology.

All of NCT's systematic theology must be based on sound biblical theology. In the past century, the development of biblical theologies which address the redemptive-historical unfolding of Scripture, have been excellent tools to understand God's plan. An NCT systematic must not make the errors of anachronism or the perpetuation or return of obsolete type and shadow that are characteristic of other systems (cf. Hebrews 8:13).

And the establishment of NCT seminaries and programs, such as Dr. Gary Long's Providence Theological Seminary, will no doubt help and add a scholastic imprimatur to the movement.

In addition to scholarly works, popular NCT books are critical. Writers in our time like R.C. Sproul, John MacArthur, John Piper have beautifully explained Christian doctrine in accessible terms. Volumes on living in the Spirit, Christ as Covenant, even NCT-based popular commentaries will be very valuable to churches, teachers and saints as they seek to understand a theology that is as clear and succinct as Scripture itself.

This dovetails nicely with the next area, practical theology.

From a practical theology standpoint, NCT's commitment to look at Scripture and not system for its church and body life practice and its clear understanding of the role of the Spirit in sanctification and knowledge will clearly inform the life of the church and its people. Christ's commands to us to love one another as He has loved us (John 15:12), Paul's teaching on Spirit vs. letter (Romans 7:6, Galatians 5:18 and many others) and the examples of and cautions toward the churches from Acts to the epistles to Revelation are essential for us to understand church practice and how we are to live with each other as the body of Christ. Counseling in an NCT body -- in particular the field of biblical counseling -- must be informed by a proper focus on Spirit-based sanctification rather than the erroneous third use of the law.

Historically, New Covenant Theology as a movement only traces itself back to the latter part of the 20th century. While none of the following men are -- without being anachronistic -- NCT themselves, writings from the Reformation era like Calvin and Luther, and later through Bunyan, Gill, Spurgeon, Lloyd-Jones, Vos and countless others as well as many present-day authors (including the epic work from Carson and Beale)9, all inform and are aligned with various aspects of what NCT teaches. With a strong determination to be true to Scripture, in reality, the origins of NCT are as old as the Scriptures themselves.

Similarly, there are historic creeds and confessions which are aligned with NCT thought. The 1646 1st London Baptist Confession, for example, has found favor among some NCT churches.10

These writings, teachings and confessional documents form a direct line back to Scripture and indicate that NCT, while recent as a movement, is core to Christianity from the Apostles until now. A work tracing the thought and doctrine that leads to NCT is probably essential in showing that it is a theology that at its core is as old as the faith.

So, how does NCT proceed?

I've only just skimmed the surface here. But, standing on the shoulders of those who have paved the way by laying the foundation of the movement while successfully countering critics of the theology, we must move forward in a positive direction. We must write more. A lot more. And more of us should write.

We must continue to use technology to share our thinking and writing. The success of internet ministries like Desiring God11 as well as information businesses demands that material must be made available freely. This free distribution could be supplemented by on-demand book printing, as well as on-demand DVD or CD replication, in which the cost of the publication could be kept at a reasonable level or supported by donation. Churches and pastor/teachers should share their sermons, class notes, and audio/video recordings freely in a clearinghouse online.

We must define on our own terms the distinctives that characterize New Covenant Theology. (Many have started on this, and perhaps a harmony of distinctives is in order.)

But -- most importantly -- we must put into practice in our churches and in our walk what it means to have Christ as our Covenant, living as Spirit-filled people assured of -- and finding joy in -- our future glory with Him.

1 from the book Richard C. Barcellos, In Defense of the Decalogue (Enumclaw, Wash.: WinePress Publishing, 2001) quotation is from back cover and unnumbered inside page endorsement by Samuel E. Waldron

2 Moe Bergeron, presentation at New Covenant Theology Think Tank, June 2, 2008, at Camp Cherith near Hunt, N.Y.

3 John G. Reisinger,
In Defense of Jesus, the New Lawgiver (Frederick, Md.: New Covenant Media, 2008)

4 Wayne Grudem,
Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan, 1994 and 2000)

5 In the discussion following the presentation of this paper, it was pointed out that there may be an inconsistency in using a Reformed systematic theology as the template for a New Covenant systematic. An NCT systematic theology may very well take a different organizational form than a Reformed version, particularly with NCT's emphasis on biblical theology and the trajectory of redemptive history. The reader is asked to read the remaining paragraphs on systematic theology with this in mind.

6 Chad Richard Bresson, “Christ, Our Covenant”: paper presented at New Covenant Theology Think Tank, June 3, 2008, at Camp Cherith near Hunt, N.Y.

7 Bergeron, June 2, 2008

8 Reid A. Ferguson, presentation made at New Covenant Theology Think Tank, June 3, 2008, at Camp Cherith near Hunt, N.Y.

9 G. K. Beale and D. A. Carson, editors,
Commentary on the New Testament Use of the Old Testament (Baker Academic, 2007)

10 Discussion after the presentation of this paper included thoughts that the 1646 could itself form a starting point for a modern NCT confession of faith.