Reunited With I AM (The New-Covenant Sinner)

One question in various forms I’ve heard over and over again is, “So you’ve done away with the law – now you can freely do whatever you want without consequence because grace means tolerance?” The thought is that discontinuing observance of the Law is the same as being without moral and free to do every wrong.

I respond to this testing question with a resounding “No. No. No!” I am not preaching freedom to do anything you like! If you’ve ever read James, you’ll see that grace does not now allow us to live in sin and still inherit life. Paul did not preach this belief that grace licenses us to live in sin and lawlessness either.

A regularly-quoted scripture showing this is Romans 3:31 which says, “Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.” Now, many people jump in with this verse alone to prove that the old covenant Law is still in effect, but they miss the rest of the chapter in which Paul declares that the purpose of the law is to show sinners how sinful they are, and that they need Jesus Christ’s free gift of righteousness to be righteous before God. The Law was never intended to make us righteous but to show us our unrighteousness. Does Romans 3 prove that the Law is done away with to those who keep the new covenant? Not necessarily, but I’ve covered scriptures that do in previous posts so I won’t go into detail on it here–that’s not where I want to focus today. Suffice it to say, the Law was meant for those still outside of the new covenant, to guide them to the new covenant.

So now we’re getting in on the new covenant, Jesus has saved us, cut away our sinful nature and we find rest abiding in Him. Do we now do whatever we wish? Certainly not! Then are we still living in accordance with the Law? Some may see it that way, but no; we live in accordance not with the Law of the old system, but rather with the Spirit of God.

Let me take you back a while – a long while – to understand this. We’ll look right back to the garden of Eden when God placed Adam and Eve on the earth and directed them to rule and reign. This is something I’ve had on my mind for a few days, and shared briefly the other day. I’ll go a little more in-depth here.

In Genesis 2:15-17 we find God’s commission and command to Adam: 15 Then the Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to tend and keep it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”

God gave Adam charge of the garden and gave him a command: “Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat … “

Genesis 3 tells the saddest tragedy we all know – the fall of man, the moment of sin’s entrance into a perfect world. We’ll take a look at verses 1-13.

1 Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Then the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.

Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings.

And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?”

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

                                                  –  Genesis 3:1-13

Here’s my first question: where is the sin in this picture? I’ll tell you this, the problem was a lot bigger than Adam’s wife eating a bit of fruit. We see the real root of it in the serpent’s first words: “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”He brought into question God’s knowledge and understanding. And when Eve confirmed that God had, indeed, said this, the serpent came back with “You will not surely die.For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” And that certainly was what the tree would give Eve – a concept of right and wrong. But we see the sin in the next verse, the rebellion and separation from God’s instruction in the next verse:

So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.”

So when the woman saw. What did she see? That the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and desirable to make one wise. This is, I believe, where it all took place. Eve chose to disregard the instruction of God (based, might I add, on His understanding of His own creation) and trust her own understanding of how things were. She disregarded God’s understanding and chose her own understanding, which seems to have been rather limited. She deviated from God’s direct instruction and took her own perspective from what the serpent had said; that the tree was good food, pretty, and desirable to make her wise. And so, having chosen to rely on her own understanding rather than the understanding of the Creator, Eve at the fruit–and then gave some to Adam who was right beside her, and he ate some too.

And did the tree work? You bet. Suddenly they realized they were naked–and afraid–and they made clothes out of fig leaves to cover themselves.

Suddenly they realized something was wrong–something was missing. And they happened to notice they were naked – that must be it! Let’s fix up some fig leaves, maybe that will help our situation. But then God came along, and they hid from him. Alright, what? They hid from God.

I laugh a little at this – Adam and Eve were so innocent. First they hid from God, and then when God called for him, Adam goes “Hey, I’m right here… hiding from you…” The wave of knowledge and emotions that must have hit them that they had no idea about…

Verse 10 says Adam heard God’s voice in the garden and he hid, because he was naked and afraid. What has happened here? Adam and Eve are in the garden, they’ve realized they’re naked. They’ve probably realized a lot more than that but don’t have any idea what all these other things they’re experiencing even are, they’re practically children. Adam knows two things: he is naked and he is afraid. Why afraid? Probably because now he has a concept of right, wrong, and consequence, and that the wrong he’s done will be followed by consequence – death. (whatever that is?) And not only is there a sense of right and wrong but there is a sense of inadequacy, the real problem behind the nakedness. Why inadequacy? Because they chose separation from their Beginning and End. Choosing to step away from God meant choosing to step away from their completeness in Him. It may have only been a small thing–the choice to disregard one instruction–but the sense of separation it brought them, having never before felt any amount of separation from God, must have seemed massive. Oh, to be so innocent, so sensitive to such separation!

So to finish out verses 10-13,

10 So he said, “I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself.”

11 And He said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I commanded you that you should not eat?”

12 Then the man said, “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

13 And the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

There’s one more effect of the tree; neither Adam nor Eve could give God a straight answer.

God: “Adam, where are you?”
Adam: (doesn’t really answer the question;) “I heard you coming; I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”
God: “Who told you that you were naked? Did you eat from the tree I told you not to?”
Adam: (still avoiding the question) “The woman that you put here with me gave me the fruit and I ate.”
God: (now to Eve) “What have you done?”
Eve: (definitely avoiding the question;) “It was the serpent’s fault, he tricked me into eating it.”

They couldn’t outrightly admit to God that they had eaten from the tree. Adam even completely overlooked God’s question of who had told him he was naked. Now as a brief aside, who did tell Adam he was naked? Was it the serpent? If so, it’s not recorded, but I’m sure the serpent didn’t need to tell Adam that. It was the tree that opened their eyes to their own nakedness, and this is the nature of the old covenant Law also, that it opens our eyes to our inadequacies. Keep that in mind for later. Now, I don’t know how things were back in the garden, but I can guarantee Adam and Eve’s circumstance would have turned out a lot different if they had come right back to God to say “God, we ate from the tree and now something’s terribly wrong and we don’t know what to do, we’re scared, please help us.”

But it didn’t turn out that way. Instead, they continued to rely on their own understanding of what was happening to them, rather than going back to the Creator to get His assessment of the situation. At this point perhaps we can derive a basic definition of sin; since God is, in essence, life, and sin leads to death (the wages of sin is death) then the core of sin in action must be willful separation from God, from life. This was the root of Adam and Eve’s problem when they chose to go by their own understanding rather than God’s instruction.

To say more I would have to begin repeating myself. So going back to Adam’s nakedness and the Law, the purpose of the Law was to show us our sin, as Paul teaches in Romans 3:19, 7:7-10 for example. The law’s purpose was to give us knowledge of sin versus the perfection of God, just as the tree’s purpose was to give knowledge of good and evil–the difference between ‘sinful‘ and ‘sinless’. So we see that the Law and the tree had the same purpose. The law was given to show the people of Israel that sin was still an issue, otherwise they wouldn’t later understand the need for Jesus to come.

But the Law wasn’t given as the solution. God did not give the Law as the solution to the sin problem! He gave His only son to do that. When Jesus died, He restored our right–which Adam lost–to approach God freely and blamelessly. Because our original position with God is now restored, we live in a similar state to that which Adam and Eve held in the garden. No, the world still is not perfect – yes, there still is sin and satan’s judgement has not been passed. But God has called us righteous and blameless through the blood of Jesus Christ, and if we believe in the name of Jesus then that is what we are. On our acceptance of Jesus’ free gift for us, we receive the Spirit of God who dwells in us, and we abide in Christ through God’s spirit. The Spirit of God produces good fruit in our lives–the works which James declares keep our faith alive–and we live once again complete in our Creator.

Now here’s the crunch: Jesus removed the sin separation problem and invited us back to God; this is the new covenant. The tree of Life–the other tree in the garden that we so easily forget about–was there to provide eternal unification with God. Jesus fulfilled the old covenant and brought in the new – essentially uprooting the tree of knowledge and replanting the tree of Life for all to eat from. And it isn’t that the tree of knowledge wasn’t good–God declared everything he had made to be good. It was that the tree of Life was so much better, and of so much more importance. The Law is of no purpose to the one who believes in Jesus. It is and has always been about our reunification to I Am through Christ, and since Christ’s death, we are united with God in Christ through His blood.

So what does sin look like in the new covenant? Choosing again our own knowledge, as Adam and Eve did in the beginning, and stepping out of unity with Christ. That doesn’t mean stealing, killing, committing adultery and all the rest are now justifiably right, it means that we get to the root of the problem now, while all those things were only ever the after-effects–mere evidences–of the original sin separation problem begun by Adam and Eve in the garden 6,000 some years ago.

The final question is, where then does that leave our morals? At the root of the tree of knowledge. All Adam and Eve had to know about right and wrong was that God knew and would do what was best for them. In essence, by stepping into the new covenant we put the knowledge of what’s right and wrong back at the throne of God where it belongs, and put our entire trust in God to direct us step by step in what is best for us.

I think part of what makes this so difficult for others to understand is that I live this in theory; this is the goal I aim for, and while the work of the Spirit leading me to perfection is not yet complete, and I can’t honestly say I live moment-by-moment with 100% of my trust in God’s knowledge of right and wrong for me, I’ve come a long way, and at the end of the beginning of the story, I’ll be right back where I belong. But this IS the good news, that the focus is no longer on my knowledge of right and wrong but on God’s knowledge of what is best for me, since Christ made it possible for me to be once again completed in my Alpha and Omega, Creator God.

Covenants: Revisiting Jesus

There is one point that those teaching old-covenant Law with new-covenant faith (or pseudo-covenant as I like to call it) always come back to, and one which has been the near-forced subject of several discussions I’ve been watching. Sabbath-keeping. Does New Covenant belief continue to observe nine commandments and toss out the sabbath law? Or are all New-Covenant believers liars, cheats, murderers, adulterers, idolaters, rebellious, etc. etc… The sabbath is under attack as they say; not from us, but from their poor understanding of the Word of God.

I’ve heard some argue for the sabbath day by saying that God instituted it at creation, so even if the other nine are done away with as Paul continually preached, the sabbath must still be in effect. Alternatively I’ve heard it argued (and often from the same lips that said the Sabbath was separate from the law) that God gave Adam and Eve the Law–the ten commandments–at the Fall. I haven’t read that anywhere in my Bible and till I do I won’t uphold that belief. At the Fall Adam and Eve already knew right from wrong because they had eaten from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. In essence, the tree had the same purpose as the Law, but God didn’t hand the ten commandments over to them when He evicted them from the garden. So here’s the question to jump-start our conversation today:

When did Sabbath begin?

As I’ve pointed out in previous posts and to individuals on occasion, the Hebrew word translated as “Sabbath” doesn’t show up in the Old Testament till the Israelites are picking manna in the wilderness. But that’s not a good enough starting point. We have to go back to the beginning, 6 days after God said “Let there be light.” Everyone knows that God rested on the seventh day, and He made it holy. That’s in Genesis 2:2-3:

[2] And on the seventh day God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done. [3] Then God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it, because in it He rested from all His work which God had created and made.  – Genesis 2:3 [NKJV]

But notice something: God didn’t call the seventh day “Sabbath,” the only thing He did was blessed the day and sanctified it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not discrediting or undermining what God did here. But this wasn’t an institution of the sabbath day–Adam and Eve didn’t need a sabbath day anyway; God was readily available to them at any moment of any day before the Fall; He created them to live in communion with Him and that is what they had available to them.

So where did this sabbath thing get started? If you’ll remember my previous post, Jesus Christ, Our Sabbath Rest, the Bible first mentions Sabbath in Exodus 16:23-29. You may want to return to that post to refresh on the earliest mentions of the sabbath in the Bible. The second place the sabbath is mentioned is in Exodus 20 when God dishes out the Old Covenant to the Children of Israel (that’s the guy that used to be Jacob).

The thing is, God didn’t make the seventh day at creation to point forward to the sabbath law, He gave the Israelites the sabbath to point back to His rest after creation. I’ll say that again: God’s day of rest after creation didn’t point forward to a sabbath law, the sabbath law pointed back to God’s day of rest–initially, as God declared to Moses in Exodus 31:17:

” ‘It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever; for in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, and on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.’ ” [NKJV]

Further, the sabbath was a testament to God’s ability to sanctify not only a day, but an entire people, as declared in verse 13 of Exodus 31:

” ‘Speak also to the children of Israel, saying: ‘Surely My Sabbaths you shall keep, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I am the LORD who sanctifies you.’ ” [NKJV]

Also notice that keeping the sabbath day was a sign between God and the Israelites – a sign of what? A sign that they continued to observe this covenant. God tied observance of the sabbath day right into the core of the Old Covenant, as He also did the ten commandments, which were not just Law, but these were the terms of the covenant.

All this should be merely overview by now if you’ve been studying and believing New Covenant.

I’ll answer the question now: I don’t keep any of the ten commandments, including the fourth one regarding the sabbath day. The Law was not meant for me–or for you.

Before you sharpen your moral pitchforks, no, that doesn’t mean I approve of killing, stealing, lying, covetousness, idolatry, adultery, disrespecting my parents, being rebellious, or any other thing you want to throw in there. Living without the Law does not mean we live lawlessly. Living under the New Covenant rather than the old simply means this: I leave the knowledge of what is good and what is evil up to God, just as Adam and Eve should have done in the garden. I don’t live under the Old Covenant Law because I have the spirit of Jesus Christ in occupation of my life, and He satisfied the requirements of that Law so that all I have to do is believe in Him. It’s as simple as the gospel which Paul and Silas shared with the jailer in Acts 16:29-31; “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved–you and your whole household!” I no longer live up to a Law system, but Christ lives in me, and His spirit produces good works in my life – this is what James was talking about when he preached faith+works, because real faith in Jesus leads to an indwelling of the Spirit of God and it is the Spirit of God which causes good works.

But what about the commands of God we see all throughout the new testament, and in the New Covenant? Again this should be review. The Old Covenant “Law” is not the same as the “commands” or “commandments” of God that we see in the New Covenant. Adam and Eve had a command from God: “Don’t eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil”, though they did not have the ten commandments (and they were not even in a fallen state at that time). Similarly, we have commandments from God still, and we find the core of God’s commandments in the entirety of 1 John (I recommend reading this book in its entirety), and John brings it down to this:

” [22] And whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do those things that are pleasing in His sight. [23] And this is His commandment: that we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment. [24] Now he who keeps His commandments abides in Him, and He in him. And by this we know that He abides in us, by the Spirit whom He has given us. ” – 1 John 3:22-24

Golly, that’s all we need! Believe and love. And when we believe, Christ lives in and loves through us. And by the way, Jesus showed in his own life that love was the essence of everything in the Law – not that by loving we live under or keep the Law, but there is no contradiction in the New Covenant with the Old, nor is there contradiction in love with the justice of the Law; I may appear to keep the Law because the Spirit of God produces good things through my life, but I do not keep it nor do I live under it anymore.

So where does that leave the Law? Completely unnecessary. And look at it this way, if you will: the Old Covenant was given specifically to the Israelites–to Jacob’s descendants. It was given exclusively to Jacob’s descendants. God didn’t give the Old Covenant to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham, or even Jacob himself, for that matter. God gave it to the Israelites camped around mount Sinai. God gave this covenant to the people who had just come out of a pagan land (Egypt) to show them how sinful they were and to show them that He alone could sanctify them; He had chosen them as a special people, and this covenant He made with them was to show them what perfect righteousness looked like – not to give them a way to enter into perfect righteousness. The whole system pointed towards Jesus’ once-for-all sacrifice–Jesus’ sacrifice to sanctify them and be their perfect righteousness. But what about everyone else? Jesus made it clear that everyone could have a piece of the promise when He ministered to a gentile woman–a non-Jew. (You can find that story in Matthew 15:21-28). But the Old Covenant system was exclusive to the Jews; God only signed this contract with the leaders of Israel on mount Sinai back in Exodus 24:9-11. A new covenant had had to be made; not a change in the old system, but a brand new covenant, the agreement between God and Man that every piece of previous history pointed toward. This New Covenant included not only the Israelite people, but everyone! 

So now we get back to the New Covenant. The good news is that Jesus is and has provided everything in and of himself. He was our perfect sacrifice to fulfill the terms of the Old Covenant so that a new covenant could be made. He shed his blood and provided eternal remission of sin. He became our high priest – not under the Levitical priesthood which the Old Covenant operated by, but under the priesthood of Melchizedek – and He guarantees this New Covenant with God (Hebrews 7:15-22).

And getting back to the issue of the sabbath, remember that we learned that to the Israelites, keeping the sabbath represented sanctification by God. But in the New Covenant, Jesus represents our sanctification, as Paul states in 1 Corinthians 1:3,

“But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God—and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” [NKJV]

Wisdom from God. Remember what the tree in the garden of Eden was? Knowledge of good and evil. Now Jesus is not only knowledge for us but wisdom as well! That means if we have Christ in us, we can trust him to be our understanding of right and wrong, and to direct each of us accordingly. Really, it comes down to trust; do you trust Jesus enough to lead you into paths of righteousness?

And further, we find our rest in Jesus as well, as He himself declares in Matthew 11:28-29:

” [28] Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. [29] Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” [NKJV]

Life in Christ is abiding–resting–in Christ. That’s what New Covenant is all about, because HE does it all for us.

A Second Helping of Grace

I’ve given up on trying to paraphrase a letter I wrote today regarding some of what I’ve been learning, so I’m just going to put it down like I said it the first time and revise from there. This is what I have been learning today.

Romans 3:31 was brought to my attention today:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law.”

We know that Paul declares that the law is good; it is just and right. But what about righteousness by faith? Where does law fit with a new covenant that does away with the ten commandments?

God showed the Israelites his character through teaching them the ten commandments. The law is good, and perfect – it is God’s character, after all, and James shows us the importance of the law, but reminds us that keeping God’s law (works) is a result of faith, (James 2:14-26) and that you can’t see faith in action without the action. John, too, declared the importance of the law, but explained that all the law and character of God culminates into one commandment for us – belief in the name of Jesus Christ, and love to others (1 John 3:23).

Under the old covenant we were in bondage to the law; the ten commandments were the very terms of the old covenant. Paul, however, declares that under the new covenant our salvation is not based on obeying the law we’ll get to that now, as well as Romans 3:31.

Take a look at Romans 3:27 and read on down to verse 31 to get a little more context here:

27 Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. 28 So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.

29 After all, is God the God of the Jews only? Isn’t he also the God of the Gentiles? Of course he is. 30 There is only one God, and he makes people right with himself only by faith, whether they are Jews or Gentiles. 31 Well then, if we emphasize faith, does this mean that we can forget about the law? Of course not! In fact, only when we have faith do we truly fulfill the law.

– Romans 3:27-31

Notice as an aside that in the New King James (the above is from the NLT) Paul notes two laws, the law of works which we cannot boast in for our salvation, and the law of faith, which we can boast in (boasting in the saving power of Jesus). And how is the law established by faith? Faith working through love (Galatians 5:6b – … What is important is faith expressing itself in love”). Then could we not say that the law of faith is, as John put God’s command, “That we should believe on the name of His Son Jesus Christ and love one another, as He gave us commandment.” (1 John 3:23)

God’s character hasn’t changed, and that is why Paul declares that the law is good. But let’s go back to Galatians 5:16-26 briefly.

16 So I say, let the Holy Spirit guide your lives. Then you won’t be doing what your sinful nature craves. 17 The sinful nature wants to do evil, which is just the opposite of what the Spirit wants. And the Spirit gives us desires that are the opposite of what the sinful nature desires. These two forces are constantly fighting each other, so you are not free to carry out your good intentions. 18 But when you are directed by the Spirit, you are not under obligation to the law of Moses.

19 When you follow the desires of your sinful nature, the results are very clear: sexual immorality, impurity, lustful pleasures, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hostility, quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, selfish ambition, dissension, division, 21 envy, drunkenness, wild parties, and other sins like these. Let me tell you again, as I have before, that anyone living that sort of life will not inherit the Kingdom of God.

22 But the Holy Spirit produces this kind of fruit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against these things!

24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have nailed the passions and desires of their sinful nature to his cross and crucified them there. 25 Since we are living by the Spirit, let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. 26 Let us not become conceited, or provoke one another, or be jealous of one another.

– Galatians 5:16-26

We’re called to allow the Spirit of God to work in us, and it is the Spirit of God which aligns our lives with the character of God (of course, because the Spirit of God is God, after all). In verse 16 Paul calls us to walk in the Spirit, explaining in verse 17 that the sinful nature and the Spirit of God are complete opposites, and unless we walk in the Spirit of God, we won’t ever be able to live the good ways that we wish to. But then Paul makes this statement in verse 18 – that if we walk in the Spirit, we are no longer under the law. So as important as the law is, it is ONLY important because it is the character of God. When the Spirit of God lives in us, the written law is no longer necessary, because all the lusts of the flesh that kept us from entering God’s kingdom before (verse 19-21) are the fruits of our sinful spirit, but the Spirit of God living in us produces fruits (verse 22-23) in alignment with the nature and character of God. And we know that the fruits of the Spirit do not go against the character of God, because Paul tells us there is no law against them.

Going back the 1 John 3, we find that John confirms this in verses 4-6:

Everyone who sins is breaking God’s law, for all sin is contrary to the law of God. And you know that Jesus came to take away our sins, and there is no sin in him. Anyone who continues to live in him will not sin. But anyone who keeps on sinning does not know him or understand who he is.

This is from the NLT, but I prefer the language in the New King James:

Whoever commits sin also commits lawlessness, and sin is lawlessness. And you know that He was manifested to take away our sins, and in Him there is no sin. Whoever abides in Him does not sin. Whoever sins has neither seen Him nor known Him.

Sin is lawlessness, and the law is God’s character. But the way out of sin isn’t by keeping the law of works (e.g.: keeping the ten commandments perfectly), as Paul said; the way out of sin is an indwelling of the Spirit of God, as John stated in verse 6, “Whoever abides in Him [Jesus] does not sin.” It isn’t that we stop sinning in order to abide in Jesus, in order to live by the Spirit and have the fruit of the Spirit in our lives, but we abide in Jesus (believe in His name and love others 1 John 3:23) and live by and walk in the Spirit so that we can be sinless. It’s Jesus, after all, that cuts away our sinful nature. And recalling that sin is lawlessness, abiding in Jesus and living/walking in the Spirit fulfills the law without our having to keep it. Lawlessness is the natural result of sin (separation from God); lawfulness is the natural result of abiding in Jesus.

Spirit of God does not live in us to merely enable us to keep the law and produce the fruit; the fruit we produce is no good! But Paul is talking about something much greater, he’s talking about the Spirit of God doing it all; it is the Holy Spirit alone who brings the change in our life from sinful, lawless nature to Godly nature, and that is how the law – God’s character, really – fits into grace.

Jesus Christ, Our Sabbath Rest

Some time back now, I wrote an article on the Sabbath from my less-than-new covenant viewpoints of the time. I unfortunately removed that article not long ago, and no longer have it to reference to. However, I’m turning a new page in my journey tonight; this is how I came to believe that the Sabbath means something much, much greater than I ever imagined before.

It all began when somebody read somebody else’s book and told somebody else about what they had read. As it happened, the last somebody in that chain of events happened to be my fiance. In passing one afternoon she happened to mention what she had heard–essentially that since we can find rest in Jesus, Sabbath as a day is irrelevant now. At least, that is the gist of it as well as I can remember now. I utterly rejected it.

You should understand that I hadn’t begun to study new covenant at that point–hadn’t even begun to think that there could be something amiss in my view of things. It was a predictably defensive, Adventist response that I gave to this new idea about my precious Sabbath. Even after beginning to understand the new covenant more, and even after really starting to get a revelation of grace, I was still in a fog about the Sabbath. But one night it just hit me like a hundred-pound hammer.

Sabbath started after creation, in Genesis 2:3; God looked at everything he had created, saw that it was fantabulous, and sat down to take a commemorative breather (as if God ever needed a breather), and he declared the day holy. But actually, we don’t see this day called ‘Sabbath’, (or shabbath in the original Hebrew) until Exodus 16:23-29. And what was going on here you ask? The Israelites were complaining again; they didn’t have anything to eat. So God sent them quail, and manna from Heaven. For five days they gathered only what they could eat in a day–if they kept it over, maggots got into it. But on the sixth day Moses commanded them to gather twice as much manna, enough to last two days. When the people asked what this meant, he gave them a command from the Lord: “Tomorrow will be a day of complete rest, a holy Sabbath day set apart for the Lord.” (Exodus 16:23) They ate what they wanted on the sixth day and saved the rest over for the Sabbath, and what they saved on the sixth day didn’t spoil. On the seventh day, no manna came.

The Israelites were in a perfect position to learn that God’s goodness is new every morning, as new as the manna. But some went out on the Sabbath to collect more anyway, and God said,

“How long will these people refuse to obey my commands and instructions? They must realize that the Sabbath is the Lord’s gift to you. That is why he gives you a two-day supply on the sixth day, so there will be enough for two days.” (Exodus 16:28-29)

God said it himself, the Sabbath was a gift to the Israelites. Why? So that they could rest from their work. So that they could chill out, munch on some day-old manna and just rest in the goodness of God.

After this, the next mention of the Sabbath is in Exodus 20:8-11 when God includes it in the ten commandments. Further instruction is found later along, and not only does God give a weekly Sabbath, but others as well; for instance, every seventh year they were to live off the produce they had stored up, leaving their fields unplanted, so that the land itself could have a Sabbath rest for a year. Sabbath in the old covenant is pretty in-depth, but I’m not going to cover it too thoroughly.

One point, however, is important. The next mention of the Sabbath in Exodus after the giving of the ten commandments comes in Exodus 31. Moses was still on the mountain, and God was settling the terms of the old covenant with him. God had just finished giving him all the instruction to build the earthly tabernacle–the place where the old covenant priesthood would minister. Then God seals the deal with final instruction about the Sabbath. Let’s take a look at that:

 

12 The Lord then gave these instructions to Moses: 13 “Tell the people of Israel: ‘Be careful to keep my Sabbath day, for the Sabbath is a sign of the covenant between me and you from generation to generation. It is given so you may know that I am the Lord, who makes you holy. 14 You must keep the Sabbath day, for it is a holy day for you. Anyone who desecrates it must be put to death; anyone who works on that day will be cut off from the community. 15 You have six days each week for your ordinary work, but the seventh day must be a Sabbath day of complete rest, a holy day dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who works on the Sabbath must be put to death. 16 The people of Israel must keep the Sabbath day by observing it from generation to generation. This is a covenant obligation for all time. 17 It is a permanent sign of my covenant with the people of Israel. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, but on the seventh day he stopped working and was refreshed.’”

18 When the Lord finished speaking with Moses on Mount Sinai, he gave him the two stone tablets inscribed with the terms of the covenant, written by the finger of God.

                       – Exodus 31:12-18

The Sabbath was not just another commandment; it was central to the old covenant. And it was a serious deal; anyone working on the Sabbath got the death penalty, and in Numbers 15:32-36 we find the first account of someone being stoned for breaking the Sabbath–by gathering sticks. But let’s not leave off Exodus just yet.

In verses 13, 16 and 17 of the above passage, God explains to Moses that the Sabbath is the sign of the old covenant, and that it is an obligation for all time. And at the end of 17 he throws in another reminder about what the Sabbath is all about – rest and refreshment. Then in verse 18 he wrapped it up and handed the terms of the covenant–the stone tablets with the ten commandments written on them–over to Moses.

It is important to remember (though not as relevant to this post) that the ten commandments were the terms of the old covenant, therefore when the old covenant was done away with, the ten commandments were too, as part of this package deal that God just handed over to Moses at the end of Exodus 31.

Let’s jump for a moment over to Colossians 2:11-17. We’re going to get back to Exodus in a little while, but first let’s take a look at some new-covenant teaching, courtesy of Paul:

11 When you came to Christ, you were “circumcised,” but not by a physical procedure. Christ performed a spiritual circumcision—the cutting away of your sinful nature. 12 For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.

13 You were dead because of your sins and because your sinful nature was not yet cut away. Then God made you alive with Christ, for he forgave all our sins. 14 He canceled the record of the charges against us and took it away by nailing it to the cross. 15 In this way, he disarmed the spiritual rulers and authorities. He shamed them publicly by his victory over them on the cross.

16 So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 17 For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality.

               – Colossians 2:11-17

First, Paul recaps what happened when the Colossians accepted Christ and began living under the new covenant; they came to Christ, he cut away their sinful nature in a spiritual act of circumcision (the symbol of this is baptism rather than physical circumcision, as Paul goes on the explain in verse 12 and 13). Then in verse 14 he explains that Christ canceled the record of the charges against us (more on this in future posts) and nailed it to the cross. But the part that is most important for the moment is verses 16 and 17. Paul goes on to say that “these rules (the holy days, new moon ceremonies and Sabbaths) are only shadows of the reality yet to come.” And what is that reality? Jesus Christ. It is interesting to note that this passage is the last time the Sabbath is mentioned in the Bible–by pointing toward Jesus as the real Sabbath.

Everything in the old covenant was a shadow of a better counterpart in the new covenant (Hebrews 9 and 10:1-18). The earthly tabernacle that God instructed Moses to build back in Exodus was just a shadow of the heavenly sanctuary. The offerings the priests ministered with were only shadows of Christ’s once-for-all offering. And the feasts, holidays and Sabbath days were a shadow of Jesus himself.

Let’s just spend a moment to recap. The Sabbath was given by God so that the Israelites would have assurance of rest from their work–rest assured. It was a symbol of rest from the very beginning when God rested from his work of creation (Genesis 2:3) and God reminded the Israelites that he gave them the Sabbath day so that they could rest in his provision and goodness (Exodus 16:28-29). The Sabbath was the sign of the old covenant, and obligatory for anyone under the covenant as long as the covenant was in effect; anyone breaking the covenant died.

But if Christ is the true Sabbath, the Sabbath which the old covenant Sabbath was just a shadow of, how does it fit? This is what hit home for me only just recently:

The Sabbath was God’s assurance to the Israelites that they would always have rest from their labor. And now that Jesus Christ has made his once-for-all sacrifice for sin, he is the very embodiment of eternal rest from our labor of earning God’s favor through the work of keeping the law. Christ made it possible for us to rest from our work of earning salvation by offering salvation as a free gift–forever! Now we can rest in God’s goodness and providence forever, trusting to him to take care of our every need, the same way he gave the Israelites manna, new every morning! What an incredible picture of Grace! Jesus himself invites us into his rest:

28 Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.”

                           – Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus was essentially saying, “Come to me all you who are tired out and trying to live up to the perfect requirements of the law, and I’ll give you a new burden–resting your souls in my teaching, humility and gentle heart. It’s an easy burden! All you have to do is accept it; I’ll do the rest!”

And if we don’t accept this rest? The penalty for disregarding the Sabbath was severe–death! How much more the penalty for disregarding Christ, the Lord of the Sabbath, the provider of our ultimate rest from the labor of the old system of law!

Finally, to close:

God’s promise of entering his rest still stands, so we ought to tremble with fear that some of you might fail to experience it. For this good news—that God has prepared this rest—has been announced to us just as it was to them. But it did them no good because they didn’t share the faith of those who listened to God. For only we who believe can enter his rest. As for the others, God said,

“In my anger I took an oath:
    ‘They will never enter my place of rest,’”

even though this rest has been ready since he made the world. We know it is ready because of the place in the Scriptures where it mentions the seventh day: “On the seventh day God rested from all his work.” But in the other passage God said, “They will never enter my place of rest.”

So God’s rest is there for people to enter, but those who first heard this good news failed to enter because they disobeyed God. So God set another time for entering his rest, and that time is today. God announced this through David much later in the words already quoted:

“Today when you hear his voice,
    don’t harden your hearts.”

            – Hebrews 4:1-7

God’s rest is still available in Jesus for you and me–today! And by resting after his work of creation, God assures us that he has the capacity to rest. There is a place of rest in Him, a place planned for us since the beginning of the world. That place of Sabbath rest is found in Jesus. So in the words of King David, “today when you hear his voice,” beckoning you into his eternal rest, “don’t harden your hearts.”

P.S.: Yes, the view that the mark of the beast is Sunday worship and that the remnant church is marked by Saturday worship is blown right out of the water if Jesus is the new-covenant Sabbath.

That’s fine by me 😉

The Ministry of Death

“The old way, with laws etched in stone, led to death, though it began with such glory that the people of Israel could not bear to look at Moses’ face. For his face shone with the glory of God, even though the brightness was already fading away. Shouldn’t we expect far greater glory under the new way, now that the Holy Spirit is giving life?”

                         – 2 Corinthians 3:7-8 NLT

If you want to know about law in regards to the new covenant, Paul is your man. Romans and Galatians especially are just full of grace and new covenant. And this guy was no amateur, either; he told the Galatian church that he had been far ahead of his Jewish peers in zeal for their ancestral traditions (Galatians 1:14) and we all know the story, Paul was raised up and trained carefully in the Jewish laws and traditions, as he testified to at the beginning of his defense in Acts 22:1-3. I think we can all agree; Paul knew his stuff when it came to the old covenant. He was young and zealous, and God got a hold of him and turned that zeal right over to Christ. And so this is where we turn to first, in his second letter to the Corinthians. 2 Corinthians 3 – Take a few minutes and read through the chapter (don’t worry, it’s only 18 verses).

Now that I have begun learning to live under the new covenant, it seems absurd that people still in the Adventist church–or any old covenant based system of religion–cannot see the new covenant as I do. Why couldn’t the Pharisees and teachers of the law see Jesus for what He is? Paul gives us the answer in this chapter; “Yes, even today when they read Moses’ writings, their hearts are covered with that veil, and they do not understand.” (Verse 15) Focus on the old covenant blinds our hearts to the new covenant. To truly see the new covenant in all the glory that Paul was talking about in verses 7-11, we must begin to let the old covenant be…the old covenant. Dead. Gone and done with. And, Paul goes on to say in verses 16-18, “But whenever someone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. For the Lord is the Spirit, and wherever the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. (Amen?!) So all of us who have had that veil removed can see and reflect the glory of the Lord. And the Lord–who is the Spirit–makes us more and more like him as we are changed into his glorious image.”

It is important to notice that in verse 7 Paul tells us that the “old way,” the old covenant, had “laws etched in stone”. The ten commandments are not only part of the old covenant, Paul places them at the core of what the King James Bible calls here the “ministration (ministry) of death”, the old covenant. (Grab a King James bible and take a look at the language in these verses)

What does that mean? That means that when Paul says the law was fulfilled and done away with, he’s talking about the whole law. Not just the “ceremonial” law, but the ten commandments. And we see in examples such as Romans 7:6-7 that Paul makes no distinction between the “ceremonial” laws and the ten commandments. Let’s take a brief look:

“But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” “

                         – Romans 7:6-7 NLT

These two verses are absolutely packed. If you have some time, read through the whole chapter, but for now I just want to emphasize these two things: 1) Paul says that we are released from the law, and 2) refers to the tenth commandment (Exodus 20:17)  in his example. Neither did the Pharisees and teachers of the law (who taught Paul everything he knew about the law) distinguish between the ten commandments and the rest of the laws God gave to Moses.

So to recap:

1) Focus on the old covenant blinds our hearts to the new covenant. (2 Corinthians 3:15)

2) The ten commandments are an inseparable part–the core–of the old covenant.

So now the law is abolished and we just do whatever we want? If you’ve ever read James you’ll know that’s not the way the new covenant works. Living under the new covenant means rather than the old covenant’s ten commandments, written on stone, we now have the commands of God written on our minds and in our hearts (Jeremiah 31:33). It’s the core of the new covenant–God teaching His people His ways personally. And we know from Jesus’ ministry here on the earth that God’s command is to believe in the name of Jesus, love God and love our neighbors–essentially, to love as He loves us. (1 John 3:23)

At this point it may be very helpful and clarifying for you to read 1st John. That’s right, the whole thing. John just lathered the love of God on his church in this letter; a holy, sinless love.

And God’s command to love isn’t new; John says as much in 1 John 2:7-8. Love has been God’s character for as long as God has been God! The ten commandments were a spittin’ image of the just character of God, but they also summed up to love in two commandments (Matthew 22:34-40). So it really shouldn’t be any big deal that the listed ten got thrown out with all the ceremonial stuff, because God is still God; it isn’t that God’s justice was abolished with the law, but:

“now God has shown us a way to be made right with him without keeping the requirements of the law, as was promised in the writings of Moses and the prophets long ago. We are made right with God by placing our faith in Jesus Christ. And this is true for everyone who believes, no matter who we are.”

                                   – Romans 3:21-22

“So now there is no condemnation for those who belong to Christ Jesus. And because you belong to him, the power of the life-giving Spirit has freed you from the power of sin that leads to death. The law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit.”

                                    – Romans 8:1-4

But you know what? Why don’t you close down my blog now, and go check it out for yourself?

An Everlasting Covenant

Behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah: – Jeremiah 31:31

My Grace Journey began with a revelation of grace–and what better way? I remember when I was 10 or 11, reading Paul–Galatians in particular–and getting so hung up on his doing away with the law. The law had been so central to what I had been taught to that point It just didn’t make any sense to me that Christians could live apart from the law.

Let’s go back to the beginning briefly. Not quite to the very beginning where my safe, warm world was intruded upon by a doctor performing a caesarean section, but to my days growing up in the Seventh Day Adventist belief system.

I have to hand it to my parents – by the time I came along they were getting a lot more liberal with their Adventist faith, so I was saved some confusion and Ellen G. White quotes. But that’s another story.

I was brought up into the Adventist church, and although I was baptized outside of the church, allowing me to make even further liberal choices aside from Adventism, I was not spared being taught primarily an old-covenant based belief system. That’s not to say Adventists don’t teach salvation through Jesus at the cross, but I was taught that I had to work to be good enough before I could go to Jesus. The old way of being blameless before God through the blood of sacrifices mixed with the grace of Jesus to become a faith which uses the grace of Jesus as an enabler to make one perfect through keeping the law. I call it pseudo-covenant.

I was so well-fed on this belief system that I began to do all I could to be better. It was during this period that I read the New Testament all the way through once. I competed religiously with my peers almost vehemently. At Sabbath school we often played a game in which we put all the books of the Bible in order; one day the teacher decided to stack me against the rest of the class to see who could do it fastest–one boy versus seven girls. I can’t remember now whether I was given the New or the Old Testament to do, but you better believe that I beat those girls, and I was proud.

But sin finds us all no matter how perfectly we try to perform. What would become a 9+ year addiction to pornography began. No matter how I tried to believe what I’d read in the Gospels, Romans, Hebrews and other books, that it didn’t matter anymore what I’d done, I couldn’t get it out of my mind that if I didn’t stop this, I would follow it straight into hell. I continually cried out repentance after repentance, asking for God’s mercy. I chose to be baptized out of fear in order to secure my salvation.

I had never heard the quotes from Ellen White saying that no one could be sure of salvation, and that no one should ever say they were saved. I fell in between the cracks of grace and the Adventist pseudo-covenant and embraced that I was now saved, and that perhaps now I could finally leave the chains of pornography behind me. But I was only weighted down with more–chains of fear.

All that in mind, when I finally started to “get” grace, I was overjoyed. Like David in Psalm 32:1-2 I was saying, “Oh, what joy for those whose disobedience is forgiven, whose sin is put out of sight! Yes, what joy for those whose record the LORD has cleared of guilt, whose lives are lived in complete honesty!”

Take a look at the first 18 verses of Hebrews 10. It is a wonderfully clear picture of the new covenant God made with us. Actually, first go back and read Hebrews 8 and 9 as well.

Hebrews 8:8-12 outlines God’s plan for a new covenant:

[8] But when God found fault with the people, he said: “The day is coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and Judah. [9] This covenant will not be like the one I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand and led them out of the land of Egypt. They did not remain faithful to my covenant, so I turned my back on them, says the LORD. [10] But this is the new covenant I will make with the people of Israel on that day, says the LORD: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. [11] And they will not need to teach their neighbors, nor will they need to teach their relatives, saying, ‘You should know the LORD.’ For everyone, from the least to the greatest, will know me already. [12] And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.”

 And because God has made a new covenant, the old is done away with:

[13] When God speaks of a “new” covenant, it means he has made the first one obsolete. It is now out of date and will soon disappear.

But the justice of God is perfect. The law demands death; therefore Jesus came to fulfill the law in his death in order that he could cancel the first covenant, and put the second covenant into effect (Hebrews 10:5-9).

And that was all that was needed. Hebrews 10:10 goes on to say that “God’s will was for us to be made holy by the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ, once for all time.” Christ offered himself as “a single sacrifice for sins, good for all time.” (verse 12) When Christ died on the cross, sin was paid for. He knew that his work was done and he cried out “It is finished!” (John 19:28,30) and he died. And when he died that perfect death of sacrifice, once for all, he put the second covenant into effect, and this is that new covenant declared by the very mouth of God: I will put my laws in their minds, and I will write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people! And I will forgive their wickedness, and I will never again remember their sins.

The writer of Hebrews sums it up in chapter 10, verses 16 and 17 saying “This is the new covenant I will make with my people on that day, says the Lord: I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds … I will never again remember their sins and lawless deeds.”

And suddenly everything Paul had to say makes sense! The Sinai law as part of the old covenant is fulfilled in Jesus’ death on the cross. Grace has made us righteous by faith alone, not so that we can go on sinning (see Hebrews 10:19-39), because now God’s perfect laws are written on our hearts and minds and his command to us now is to love as he loved us. Jesus calls us to go above and beyond what Moses’ law demanded, but He has empowered us to live above and beyond Moses’ law.

And so no longer do we have to make ourselves right before we may approach God, no! Since Christ’s death on the cross, we have been made right by the blood of His perfect, eternal sacrifice, to approach the throne of God and cry out “Abba, Father!” Because Christ did not only cover our sins forever, but He covered us with His son-ship, that we might be called sons and daughters of God. Amen.