Inescapable Logic

When you assume there is such a thing as evil,
you must assume there is such a thing as good.
When you assume there is such a thing as good,
you must assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
on the basis of which to differentiate between good and evil.
When you assume there is such a thing as a moral law,
you must posit a moral law Giver.

If there is no moral law Giver, there is no moral law.
If there is no moral law, there is no good.
If there is no good, there is no evil.

If sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4),
and all have sinned (Rom 3:23),
and if the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23),
then I need a Savior.

If I still need a Savior there must,
still be an eternal, moral law, or…
I no longer need a Savior.

Four Foundational Principles on the Law of God

Here are four foundational biblical principles that will help you develop Jesus’ positive attitude toward the Law of God and revitalize your engagement with the Scriptures.

  1. The Torah of God is a loving Father’s teaching. The Hebrew word torah fundamentally connotes guidance and instruction—that which aims you so that you hit the mark. And the mark for the Torah always is life (Deuteronomy 4:1,6-9; Habakkuk 2:4b; Romans 1:16-17; Eph 2:2-3,8-10; 2 Peter 3:11-13). Much more than “the Law.” It is God’s will, wisdom and direction conveyed in love to His covenant children for their on-going fellowship with the Holy One of Israel.
  2. The Torah is a treasure. Only in light of the above can we appreciate the Psalmist’s attitude: “O how I love your Torah!” Psalm 119 consists of 8 verses for each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and every one of the 172 verses extols an aspect of the multi-faceted Torah.
  3. The Torah is a gift of the Spirit. The Torah was written by the “finger of God” (Exodus 31:18); Deuteronomy 9:10). This Hebrew idiom is found in Luke 11:20 and explained in the parallel passage of Matthew 12:28. It means “the Spirit of God.” Truly the Torah—the foundational “Scripture” to which the Apostle Paul alludes in 2 Timothy 3:16—is “inspired”. Said another way, it is “in-Spirited.”
  4. The Torah is guidance for a redeemed people. The Law was given to Israel after they had been saved out of Egypt, not as the basis or means of their salvation. It was meant to guide the covenant people in paths of righteousness that would bring them to their appointed place of promise and productivity. It is good to remember in this regard that these things “were written for our instruction” as well (1 Corinthians 10:11).*

*Copied and slightly edited from Dwight Pryor’s Foreword to Keren Hannah Pryor’s book A Taste of Torah.

In Response to “A Letter To Christians In Indiana, [supposedly] From Jesus”

It is absolutely vital, particularly in this day and age, that we read the Scriptures as the connected whole they comprise. If we seek to be “red-letter” Christians we make a critical error, for Jesus’ words were not the new manifesto for how now to live, but an example of perfectly and faithfully living out what we—rather unfortunately—call the Old Testament.

If we presume the Gospels portray a comprehensive example of how we are to live, we make the same mistake as the people of the Gospel’s era: mistaking Jesus’ mission and purpose for that time. He was not there as conquering King, but as suffering servant. This did not mean that he is not the Sovereign of the world; did not mean that he doesn’t have a plan for civil justice. Rather, in the Torah God had already demonstrated how His word/character was comprehensively worked out in every arena of life, and Jesus exemplified living perfectly as an individual who faithfully kept every single jot and tittle of God’s law. But in his time on earth, he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful civil servant, he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful voting citizen (he lived in an occupied land), he did not demonstrate how to be a faithful father, etc. But, he did demonstrate how to be a faithful servant, and how to love your neighbor.

We need to pay greater attention to how he loved his neighbor(s). For some reason, we note that he defended the woman caught in adultery from injustice (note: she was caught in the act, but then, where was the man?), yet he also told her, “Go and sin no more.” Note that Jesus did not break God’s law (the law required the testimony of two or three witnesses to convict, and furthermore required a valid court to hear the case), rather he upheld the law’s requirements and prevented a perversion of justice (which is defined and described by God’s law).

Note that Jesus ate with tax collectors and sinners—who were seeking salvation and the truth. What was his response to those who self-righteously thought they were fine as they were? “You brood of vipers,” etc. Or to one who was unwilling to change? In what context did Jesus confront the rich young ruler? Mark 10:21 reveals how love really works: “And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him…” and proceeded to deliver a command to change; a command Jesus knew would highlight the young man’s unwillingness to repent.

The fact that we do not have in the earthly life of Christ an example of a faithful citizen, nor of a faithful father, nor of a godly judge, nor of a righteous politician, does not mean that we are left without instruction. The character of God is described in detail by His law as expressed in application from Genesis to Revelation, and exemplified in limited but personal humanity by the life of Christ in the four Gospels. It is our task to wrestle with how to pull these instructions for life into our time and place. This is no easy task, but it will never mean failing to exercise our God-given responsibility to work for justice—as biblically defined—in the nation where we live.

Certainly, we should be known by our love—but love is defined, not by the society around us, but by the character of God as described in the law and exemplified (partially) by the life of Christ. Love is compassionate, but it always works for the good of the loved one, even if that is not what the loved one wants. There is such a thing as unsanctified mercy, and lying to someone about the consequences of their lifestyle choices certainly qualifies.

Why is it that we highlight (and misunderstand) many of Christ’s actions, but fail to weigh his other statements? Perhaps it is because we are not committing ourselves to wrestle with the totality of Jesus’ message.

“Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household (and denomination). Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.”

What are we to take from this? The truth, though delivered in love, will often drive the unrepentant away. This does not mean we should modify the truth to accommodate their sin, for to do so is not loving. To unjustly infringe on actual rights in order to gratify the unjustly claimed false rights of unrepentant sinners is not to imitate Jesus. Rather, if Jesus were a citizen of the United States of America he would both work for justice in legal structure, and minister to the brokenness of individual neighbors.

It is not contradictory to lobby for a just law which prohibits or restricts the practice of sin (or protects the rights of all not to participate in, encourage, or bless sin) and at the same time invite a sinner over for dinner, or out for coffee, or to live in your home. Both should be happening. I know this is possible because both have been occurring in my life for the last 20 years.

Pondering a Three-fold Division of God’s Law

From our brief survey, we conclude that any suggestion that … Christ rejects certain Mosaic laws as unauthoritative is quite groundless. What He is doing is simply exhibiting the true meaning of the law as a rule for life in the kingdom of God.

Nor can we fairly treat the words by which (according to Mark’s later interpretative comment) Christ ‘declared all food clean’ as implying that He rejected the Old Testament food-law as uninspired and unauthoritative. The subject about which He was speaking was not, after all, food, but defilement; and what He was saying about defilement was that the thing that makes a man unclean in God’s sight is not what he eats, but what comes out of his heart. This only shows that our Lord saw that the uncleanness with which the food-laws dealt was merely ceremonial, not moral or spiritual. It typified the real defilement of sin, but was not to be equated with it. That it was God who had instituted the food-law, presumably to be a constant reminder to His people of the reality of spiritual defilement, Christ was not denying in the least. The effect of His statement was thus to interpret the food-law, and throw light on its real significance, but not in any way to impugn its divine origin, or its binding authority over Himself and His fellow-Israelites.

It seems, then, that all the problem passages in which Christ appears to cast doubt on the inspiration and authority of parts of the Mosaic legislation can be explained, and, indeed, demand to be explained, in a way that is entirely consistent with Christ’s assertion that no jot or tittle should ever pass from the law. Christ knew, of course, that the civil and ritual part of the law, which had been given specifically for the ordering of Israel’s national life in Palestine until Christ should come, would soon cease to apply, when the Israelite state passed away. But when He spoke of the perpetuity of the law, what He had in mind was the moral law, which in different ways both the civil and ritual law had subserved. This, He maintained, was an abidingly authoritative word from the Lord, which, in the final form and application which He Himself had given it, would stand for ever as the law of God for His own people.[1]

I agree with Packer that all the New Testament passages which seem to cast doubt on parts of the Mosaic legislation can be explained, and demand to be explained; I don’t always agree with him on how they should be explained… and I view that difference as being a result of the consequences of the re-planting of the Jewish people in their homeland, and the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls—two factors which have radically impacted how the Church reads (and how accurately we are able to read) the New Testament.

Also, I struggle with, on the one hand, but agree with on the other hand, the categorization of the law into moral, ceremonial and civil. I think Packer and most other Reformed scholars misunderstand how Christ/the Bible see the ceremonial aspects of the Law, and this causes a weakness in our theology of sanctification. However, we do not thus lose so critical a linchpin as when we reject the abiding prescriptive force of Old Testament law as being the foundation of New Testament explication, amplification and application.

For example, having lost their moral foundation, the zeitgeist of contemporary Christianity is moving in the direction of concluding that just as Christ explicitly overturned the food laws (a mistaken presumption), by not mentioning homosexuality he implicitly condoned monogamous, committed same-sex relationships.  In the same vein, we must ask: upon what coherent basis does your theological reading of Scripture account for the abiding prohibition of bestiality or a fiat monetary system? If it cannot do so (and no perspective of discontinuity can) then we have a serious problem on our hands, a problem well highlighted by our current circumstances within both secular culture and the Western Church.

As it relates to the tri-fold division of the law, I think it is accurate to speak of a ceremonial, civil and moral categorization of the laws on an observational basis—meaning, one can’t deny that some instructions pertain to clearly ethical/behavioral issues, and others clearly pertain to the conduct of worship, while others clearly pertain to the theocratic judicial system.

Unfortunately, we often move from an observational analysis to thinking of the law as if it was conceived of in a three-part manner. As if God gave us a ceremonial law, a civil law and a moral law. Rather, the truth is (as the dispensationalist protests), the Mosaic law was delivered as a unified whole. This thinking leads us to thinking/behaving as if the ceremonial no longer
applies, etc.  This is where we get in trouble.  The reason the ceremonial laws are no longer practiced is not because they’ve been superseded in Christ, but because it would be unlawful to do so.

Let’s take the biblical festivals as an example. The Spring feasts point to events in the course of redemptive history that have already happened: Passover=Redemption, First Fruits=Resurrection, and Pentecost=Revelation. The Fall Feasts, on the other hand, point to parts of redemptive history that have not yet been witnessed: Trumpets=Return, Atonement=Glorification, Tabernacles=God dwelling with man, the marriage feast of the lamb, the inauguration of the world to come. By observing the primitive Church in Acts and the 1st century we see that they did not stop celebrating these festivals, or stop the Spring feasts but continue the Fall feasts.

Unfortunately, however, due to our separation from our Jewish Roots and the onset of supersessionism as a theological perspective, much of the Church has come to believe that fulfillment equates to uselessness. Nothing could be further from the truth; when Christ is revealing to his disciples that he is about to fill Passover full (a useful way to more accurately think of “fulfill”) by becoming their sacrificial lamb, his words to them were the opposite of stop: “Do this in remembrance of me.”

In other words, Passover is clearly a ceremonial instruction, but Jesus didn’t introduce its cessation, he filled its significance full that it might becomes so much more to us than just a remembrance of our rescue from Egypt and from the hand of the death angel.

The Churches of the Reformation from the very beginning distinguished between the law and the gospel as the two parts of the Word of God as a means of grace. This distinction was not understood to be identical with that between the Old and the New Testament, but was regarded as a distinction that applies to both Testaments. There is law and gospel in the Old Testament, and there is law and gospel in the New. The law comprises everything in Scripture which is a revelation of God’s will in the form of command or prohibition, while the gospel embraces everything, whether it be in the Old Testament or in the New, that pertains to the work of reconciliation and that proclaims the seeking and redeeming love of God in Christ Jesus. And each one of these two parts has its own proper function in the economy of grace. … Both are subservient to the same end, and both are indispensable parts of the means of grace. This truth has not always been sufficiently recognized. The condemning aspect of the law has sometimes been stressed at the expense of its character as a part of the means of grace. Ever since the days of Marcion there have always been some who saw only contrast between the law and the gospel and proceeded on the assumption that the one excluded the other.”[2]


[1] J.I. Packer, “Our Lord’s Understanding of the Law of God.” The Campbell Morgan Memorial Bible Lectureship. No. 14, 1962. Published on-line at http://www.biblicalstudies.org.uk/article_law_packer.html.

[2] L. Berkhof, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans publishing co., 1938), 612.

The Faith of Jesus vs. Faith in Jesus

I recently read an essay by David Flusser that I had not previously been familiar with; perhaps I had read it before, but for some reason it never struck me till now. Flusser writes,

“This scholarly digression has been necessary in order for us to arrive at an understanding of the dual nature of the Christian religion, which comprises both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus. The first aspect, that of Jesus’ faith, consists of the tenets of Christian love and ethics. These were a special development of the new Jewish ethical sensitivity that developed in the period of the Second Commonwealth, and while this aspect of Christian behavior and feeling stems primarily from Jesus’ own preaching, it was also influenced by contemporary Jewish ethics and theology. The latter aspect of the Christian religion centers around what is known as the charisma of Christ. The primary motifs of Christian messianism and Christology are also derived mainly from Judaism, and I would venture that their point of departure lay in the acute self-awareness of Jesus himself. As already stated, this latter belief in the metahistorical drama of Christ and especially in the idea of redemption through Christ’s death and resurrection became the cornerstone of Christian religious experience and until very recently was a kind of conditio sine qua non for calling oneself a Christian.”[1]

I agree with Flusser that both Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus derive from (and indeed, remain) Jewish thought. I also believe, however, that it is a unique requirement of post-Yavneh Judaism to view Jesus’ faith and faith in Jesus as separate, and that Christian thought is correct in viewing them as rightly composite. Similarly, healthy Christian thought ought to view both the faith of and faith in Jesus as being essentially Jewish in nature. It is the truth, however, that redemption is through Christ’s death and resurrection, and this is a cornerstone of True Religion that at this point, Christianity uniquely holds vis-à-vis contemporary Judaism.

As Flusser rightly concludes:

“By its very nature, moreover, Christianity cannot really renounce offering its salvation to all [Jew as well as Gentile].”[2]

This observation follows faithfully in the footsteps of the Apostles, who felt it urgent to inform their Jewish brethren regarding the identity and the redemptive action of Yeshua mi Natzeret.

Flusser also rightly observes, though this is MUCH more difficult to digest and to parse without falling off the precipice of supersessionism: “The authentic Christian interpretation of itself is that it is the true religion of Israel and that without faith in Christ no one can be redeemed….” (65). Of course, this conclusion is further complicated by Christianity’s large scale rejection of Torah (and in many circles of Israel herself). But we must wrestle with two equal and polar truths: theologically speaking (emphasizing its focus on Christology) Christianity is true, while theonomically[3] speaking Judaism is true.

Said another way, while we cannot conclude that God has two paths to salvation, we may truly state that Christianity can authentically declare to all, “You need the Savior,” while Judaism might with equal authenticity declare to all, “You need the Torah (way of life).”

It is these two parallel truths that grip me much more powerfully than any emphasis on distinction within the utilization of Torah, precisely because they are of primary importance. In other words, it is part of accepting Yeshua as Messiah to acknowledge that He is fully God and fully man, while it is also part of accepting Torah as prescriptive to acknowledge that the Torah contains within it distinctive commands relative to gender, ethnicity, time and place.

There are two great propositional battles in our day (there may be more, but these two have captured my attention), one within Christianity and one within Judaism. We must articulate a cogent reading of Scripture that at the same time acknowledges the Redemptive nature and necessity of Jesus Christ, and avoids supersessionism and anti-nomianism. Stereotypical Judaism denies the divine nature and requisite redemptive action of Messiah, while too much of Christianity denies the requisite relevance of Israel in the on-going redemptive plan of God and ignores the continuing necessity of God’s law in the process of sanctification.

It is clear that in our time the Holy Spirit is placing these two concerns upon the hearts of many believers. Unfortunately, to date the believers so energized have often split into various camps frequently equally critical of one another. All seem aware of both propositional battles, but emphasize varying approaches.

I wish that we could all begin by acknowledging our unity: we are one Body in Messiah, and He is both fully God and fully man. Furthermore, He did not come to replace God’s Law as delivered from Sinai, but to explain, apply, and fulfill its righteous demand. God’s Law then, remains prescriptive for all God’s children and in fine Jewish tradition, let’s allow it to be interpreted and applied variously across time, place, denominational and ethnic lines as the Holy Spirit seems to permit.

I’m sure, we will variously disagree on the manner of its application, but if we can agree on the divine identity and redemptive necessity of Messiah, as well as on the continuing necessity of the Law for the progressive sanctification of the believer, as being pivotal truths, I believe we will observe a wave of unity that will push before it a consistency in character and application not seen among the Body of Messiah since the first century of this era, which will in turn result in a similarly unprecedented lifting of the partial hardening that has been upon God’s Chosen People since the days of the Apostles.

My argument is this: unitatem in necessariis; in non necessariis libertatem; in omnibus caritatem – in essentials unity; in non-essentials liberty; in all things charity.[4] In other words, unity and peace require an agreement upon Truth, but secondary things like halakah (way of walking out God’s commands), can be left in the hands of the local inheritors of the authority of the Apostles to bind and loose, so long as the essentials are maintained.

I believe that any de-emphasis of the need of all who believe, whether Jew or Gentile to:

  1. believe in the divine nature and redemptive action of Jesus of Nazareth, and
  2. obey God’s law since it continues to be “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, and for training in righteousness”

will unnecessarily sacrifice essentials for sake of non-essentials and obstruct the Unity of the Body of Messiah.


[1] David Flusser. “Christianity,” in 20th Century Jewish Religious Thought: Original Essays on Critical Concepts, Movements, and Beliefs, ed. Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr (Philadelphia, PA: The Jewish Publication Society, 2009), 61 (this quote from p. 63).

[2] Ibid. 65.

[3] For deeper discussion of theology vs. theonomy see http://jcstudies.com/resourceDetailFree.cfm?productId=570

[4] Often mis-attributed to Augustine of Hippo, Richard Baxter (who widely distributed it among English-speakers), or Philip Melanchthon, this phrase is first found in the writings of Marco Antonio de Dominis (1560-1624), Archbishop of Split, in book 4, chapter 8 (p. 676 of the first volume) of his De republica ecclesiastica libri X (London, 1617).

Two Sides of the Same Coin

I read this in a recent article on Relevant magazine:

This is how Christ won over his followers: By setting an example and investing in people’s lives through loving relationships. We should do the same.

That statement was accurate till the author put a period at the end of it. Jesus won over his followers by example, relationship, and teaching… And then we could accurately and helpfully end the article with, “We should do the same.” I don’t get the push to over-emphasize actions against right-thinking or true belief. Yes, “faith without works is dead.” But works without faith is dead too!

I was struck several weeks ago by this statement in Mark:

So as Jesus stepped ashore, He saw a huge crowd and had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. Then He began to teach them many things. (6:34)

After teaching all afternoon, he then fed the 5,000. But notice where he started; seeing they were suffering, having compassion on them, he began to teach. What was the focus of his ministry? Mark 6:6

Now He was going around the villages in a circuit, teaching.

I am absolutely in agreement that our lives give witness to the truth, the value, and the efficacy of our beliefs, and that if our actions are inconsistent then all our thoughts and words will be largely wasted (and in some cases totally wasted), but we find the guidance for understanding proper action in having right beliefs.

What do I mean?

Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.

(J.I. Packer, Growing in Christ. 232)

I am seeing a large percentage of an entire generation of believers become swayed into wrong thinking and beliefs by over-emphasizing action above belief. They are reacting to legitimate wrongs/injustices, but not doing it in a Christ-like manner. And in the long-run this will do more to harm our Christian witness than to help it; it will erode our ability to truly help people. We’ll find ourselves giving them fish instead of teaching them to fish, to put it over-simply. (And I completely agree there is a time to just give them a fish, or two, or three…)

I don’t say these things as one guilty of prioritizing words over actions, but as someone who daily pours out my life in the service of the hurting, as one whose home is open both to temporary residents and to constant visitors, and as one who teaches all who will listen to do the same. But along the way, I insist on the truth so far as I am able, because otherwise I’m only applying band-aids instead of healing hurts.

The Theological Balance of Praying the Collects

I have often opined about the importance of Christians understanding the inter-dependence of love and law, or love and virtue, or gospel and grace…however you think about it, these are essentially the same ideas. Unfortunately, in our day many Christians have been convinced that Law and Gospel or Law and Grace, or Spirit and Law are opposed. This belief is detrimental to the process of sanctification in our day to day lives.

Will Armstrong recently posted to his blog a quote on this topic, and I replied with a favorite quote from evangelical Anglican J.I. Packer:

“Law needs love as its drive, else we get the Pharisaism that puts principles before people and says one can be perfectly good without actually loving one’s neighbor…. And love needs law as its eyes, for love … is blind. To want to love someone Christianly does not of itself tell you how to do it. Only as we observe the limits set by God’s law can we really do people good.” [1]

But what I really wanted to comment on in this post is my delight in the weekly Collects from the Anglican liturgy. What is a “collect” you ask? Well, I’m glad you asked! A collect (pronounced like “call-ect”) is a prayer that gathers up the prayers of a group. It can be prayed in unison as is often the case with the Collect of Purity (sometimes called Prayer of Preparation), or it can be prayed by one individual on behalf of the group, who subsequently indicate their agreement by speaking Hebrew in response and saying, “Amen” (so be it). This is the standard practice of the weekly Collect.

Our practice at All Saints Anglican was to send the forthcoming Sunday’s Collect out via email during the preceding week so that congregants could be mulling it over and be prepared to wholeheartedly agree in prayer rather than be exposed to it for the first time during the service. For life-long Anglicans the Collects may have become familiar but since the majority of our congregation are newly Anglican this is more than typically important.

I have been increasingly delighted by the wide range of significant doctrinal truths mentioned in the weekly collects. But when I noted the collect for this coming week, it returned to mind the content of this past week’s, and I was newly pleased to see the two parallel truths of the continuing significance and required interrelation between law and love displayed in the Collects for two sequential Sundays.

Here is the Collect for last week, note how it prays through the theological and practical importance of God’s commands to the believer’s life.

The Collect for First Sunday After Trinity – Proper 5

O God,
the strength of all those who put their trust in you,
mercifully accept our prayers
and, because through the weakness of our mortal nature
we can do no good thing without you,
grant us the help of your grace,
that in the keeping of your commandments
we may please you both in will and deed;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

And now lest we forget that love is blind without law, and that law without love is legalistic, this coming week’s text:

The Collect for Second Sunday After Trinity – Proper 6

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

It tickles me to see this reminder that those saints who have gone before often safegaurd us from the errors of contemporary life, if we will only heed the lessons of their experience.

A few months ago I attempted to convey God’s design for this interplay between Word and Spirt or law and love in a homily titled The Two Helpers.

_______________________________________________

[1] J. I. Packer, Growing in Christ, Originally Published: I Want to Be a Christian. Wheaton, Ill. : Tyndale House Publishers, c1977.; Includes Index. (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996, c1994), 232.