A Refreshing Perspective

“To begin with, the OT nowhere maintains that relationship with God can be earned. Instead, the biblical statement concerning the establishment of the relationship between God and Israel can be described best under the theological heading of election. The OT consistently maintains that, in an act of unmerited and inexplicable grace, God chose and redeemed Israel well before and apart from the giving of the Law. In fact, the Hebrew word often translated “law” can be better rendered “teaching,” “instruction,” or even “principles.” That is, OT “Law” is not a set of restrictive rules, but the principles or guidance for living life as the people of God. In short, God “saved” Israel by grace, but the life God wishes for God’s people has a certain principled character. It manifests identity. Life as God’s people is neither anarchic nor formless. As Jesus put it, “By their fruits you shall know them” [Matt. 7.20]. In effect, the “Law” describes the character of the “fruits of grace.”

Biddle, Mark E. Deuteronomy, Smyth and Helwys Bible Commentary. (Macon, GA; Smyth and Helwys, 2003). 11

ht: Joel Usina

Something to Ponder

All Torah is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Of course, the text actually says “Scripture” (or graphe in Greek), but I believe we forget that the Torah was the primary document Paul had in mind when he penned those words.

Could most believers today unreservedly affirm that the entire Torah is profitable for reproof, for correction and for training in righteousness, i.e. equipped for every good work that God prepared beforehand for us to do? I think most of us would hem and haw, cough and sputter, provide caveats and addendums to Paul’s declarative statement.

A Strange Question

I get some of the strangest questions, but I think they are often questions that many people think, even if only a few verbalize them.

Q: So, if keeping God’s law means as much as not keeping God’s law, why keep it?

A:  That is like asking, now that I’m married why do I attempt to please my wife? If I displease my wife does that mean that I am unmarried? No, the state of marriage is not made nor unmade by my keeping of the “honey-do list”. Similarly, our relationship with God is forged by our acceptance of His work on our behalf. It is not made by our keeping of His commandments, nor is it unmade by our failure to keep His commandments, and yet it is still true that “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

I think this is precisely the type of thinking St. Paul had in mind when he penned:

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?
(Romans 6:1-2 ESV)

Piper’s 12 Theses #1

Pastor John Piper wrote:

Fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law in Romans 8:4 refers to a life of real love for people (Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 5:13–18; Matt. 7:12; 22:37–40).[i]

[i] From the list of some of the Ten Commandments in Romans 13:8–10 we may infer that the law that love fulfills is primarily thought of as the moral law of God, which finds its chief historical summary in the Ten Commandments, which are tailored for Israel’s situation. The focus of our fulfilling the law is not on all the Jewish-specific laws, such as circumcision and sacrifices and food laws and feast days. However, when Jesus says in Matthew 22:40 that “all the Law and the Prophets” hang on the love commands, he may indeed see love as, in some sense, the source and goal of even the more Jewish-specific laws. Either way, the point is that the law was pointing to Christ and to a life of love lived in dependence on him. 

I would have written:

Fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law in Romans 8:4 refers to a life of real love for God and for people; the first of which cannot be accomplished absent the second.

God indicates in Scripture that our relationship with Him is demonstrated through our relationship with our neighbor (1 John 4:21). So far, so good. I’ve clarified Pastor Piper’s statement, but otherwise we are saying the same thing. However, in his footnote a serious oversight appears; an oversight that will color subsequent statements, in such a way that I agree with the statement but find myself worried by the language chosen and not chosen.

The 10 Commandments may have been tailored for Israel’s situation but that does not in any way lessen their universal application. Certainly I agree that the law pointed to Christ and to a life of love for God and love for man lived in dependence on Messiah. Also, I would readily affirm, where Piper hesitantly affirms, that the entire law can be summarized in Yeshua’s quoting of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: i You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV)

What concerns me is the labeling of certain laws as “Jewish-specific.” The feast days in particular are not called the Feasts of the Jews, but “The feasts of the Lord.” These are “my appointed feasts,” God says (c.f., Lev 23:2 and others). Furthermore this seems to ignore broad statements found in multiple places but notably in reference to the Passover and in Numbers 15 where the topic of sacrifices is under discussion.

14 And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do. 15 For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. 16 One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you.  Numbers 15:14-16 (ESV)

Since Ephesians 2 makes it clear that all who believe (to reference Galatians 3:7) are sojourning with Israel it seems evident that we are to consider there to be one statute for both Jew and Gentile in Messiah.

To summarize, then, I heartily concur with Theses 1, but I am suspicious of the attempt to lessen the theses’ impact by the caveat found in the footnote.