A pair of good friends used to chide me over my messages saying that, while I answered some questions, I raised still more. I am reasonably sure that I have done that in this book. I say that without apology, because it is in the nature of things that the more you know, the more you become aware of things you don’t know. Getting the questions right is always half the battle.
There came a time in my life when I ran aground on the law and had to deal with it. It was a landmark moment to realize the truth of what Jesus said, that he had not come to destroy the law, but to fulfill it. In the years that followed, I learned that literal, legalistic observance of the law was fruitless and frustrating. It just didn’t work, and most of the people who tried it found themselves compromising on all manner of issues. I have noticed that those who argue against the observance of biblical law are actually arguing against the literal, legalistic approach to the law.
One of the most important things I learned was that, if a law is written in the Bible, it hasn’t gone away. It is still there for our admonition and instruction. To be sure, we don’t even understand some of the laws, and there are others that we can find no immediate way to apply. But if that is true, then we are probably trying to apply them too literally. We need to look for meaning, not mere words.
But I still had to deal with what Jesus said, and so I looked for a different way of understanding the Law. No passage of Scripture was more influential in this pursuit than the 119th Psalm. It tells plainly what the Law is for: it is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. That’s a far cry from shackles and chains, or even a yoke of bondage. I began to see that the Law is a description of how to live and how to love.
But a real surprise came when it dawned on me that the Law, like prophecy, is often symbolic and aphoristic. I hadn’t expected that. It was only a short step from that idea to the realization that we need to be looking for the spirit and meaning of the law. Even the civil law, the law that depends on a civil government, has not been abolished, but the enforcement provisions are vested, not in the individual or the church, but in the civil government of the time. Adultery is still a sin, but the church does not have the authority to stone an adulterer.
I went on to learn that, while a covenant may include the provisions of a law, it is not itself the Law. When a covenant is superseded by another covenant, it is the relationship that changes, not the law. This follows naturally when one realizes he is not under a covenant, he is in a covenant. It is a lot like marriage. It carries obligations.
This last may be the most important lesson of all. I am in covenant with Christ and with everyone else who is in covenant with Christ. We have a personal covenant and an implicit social contract. John, in his first epistle declared that our fellowship with Christ implies a fellowship with one another (1 John 1:3-7). Thus, we are in covenant with our church and with all other faithful churches. Moreover, the covenant is not only with our generation:
But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV).
I take this to mean that we are in covenant with every Christian who has ever lived. Let us not break faith with the generations that have gone before—many of whom shed their blood for the faith. Tradition is important. True, it doesn’t have the force of law, but the accumulated judgments of the saints should be treated with all the respect it deserves. Oddly, the pursuit of the letter of the Law is destructive of the covenant. The pursuit of the spirit of the Law confirms it.
These are some of the ideas I have tried to convey in this book. It is my fervent hope that the book will generate discussion and lead us a little further down the road to understanding.
Get wisdom, get understanding;
do not forget my words or swerve from them.
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you;
love her, and she will watch over you.
Wisdom is supreme; therefore get wisdom.
Though it cost all you have, get understanding
(Proverbs 4:5-7 NIV).
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