Saturday, 26 May 2012

Those Two Laws

Dave sent me this text at 8.59 on Saturday morning. "Maybe you can help me with this one: righteousness is not of our own making is it? It's completely of God, right - i.e. without Jesus we haven't got a chance of being right with God (original sin). So can we say the same about purity? I'm thinking these amount to the same; so it's simply a matter of 'putting on Christ' and resisting the enemy rather than fighting to attain more of what we haven't got yet? Hmm."

I was going though my summer clothes in the suitcase from the top of the wardrobe.   When I rang him back he was washing the cars.  So I suggested he went and got a pencil and paper.  Here's the gist of my reply.

Let's start with some definitions.
Sin is the tendency (disposition is a good word) in man's heart to turn away from God; rebel; seek to live independently of Him.  In the Old Testament this is referred to as iniquity.

Righteousness is dealing correctly with each person who comes across our path.  God always acts righteously.  Romans tells us that sin reigned from Adam to Moses, that is, people got on with dealing with each other wrongly in whatever unspecified way they did it.   (I prefer the term "inherited" to "original" sin.)

Then, in the covenant with Moses, God codified righteousness in the Law.  Now, unrighteousness equated with transgression of the Law.  God provided for atonement of these transgressions through the sacrificial system.  Through grace, we (i.e., the Jews) could have a fresh start.  However, these provisions didn't deal with the iniquity, which is why Hebrews (10:3) says it was an inadequate arrangement and the new covenant is better.  This was a piety code, and religions like Islam share the idea (and inadequacy).  In basis, the ten commandments have nothing to do with Christians, except that they're to be noted as a set of prescriptions drawing from the good principles of righteousness God gave in the Law.

In Jesus everything changes.  He fulfilled all righteousness.  He did this both in terms of the Law and in the fullest terms that God would recognise, i.e dealing with each person that came across His path in the appropriate way.  Where the righteousness recognised by the leaders of His day didn't match full righteousness, He faulted their Law (not His action!).  Jesus also comes with the heart spirit of an obedient son.  He lived this fully, against difficulties (with "loud cries" - Hebrews 5:7-9).

Through the cross, having thus lived, God mercifully accounts to us the "not guilty" due to Christ.  And also accounts to us His righteousness.  This is marvellous, and the heart of gospel proclamation.  The legal substitutionary atonement equates the representation (in all sin) of Adam and (in all righteousness) of Christ Who is the new Adam.  In the New Testament, unrighteousness becomes rejecting the way of justice that Christ lived, and sin (iniquity) becomes manifest in rejecting the claim He made to be this new Man.  Note that.

The cross then brings us two works - freedom from the penalty of our guilt, and, significantly, the death of the self life that bears the root of sin.  (What the Methodists called the "guilt and power" of sin.)  We celebrate them both in baptism.

Paul speaks of his experience.  Where there are more "external" laws defining righteousness, the old heart gets fed up with them.  This becomes our daily experience where people wind us up, we "want out" of the obligations of love, holiness, serving, etc., because the old heart is struggling against death.  Nobody dies prettily.  Paul appreciated the Law, but was trying to live it out through the wrong heart (Romans 7:25).  We call this the law of sin and death.  Then comes the second law, the Spirit of Life in Christ Jesus. 

Now, in any Court trial the fundamental question is "under what piece of legislation is this being carried out?"  As long as we keep harking back to piety codes, we'll find condemnation.  When we allow the Spirit of Christ to deal with our heart, we find we genuinely live righteousness.  The Holy Spirit writes the "Law" on our hearts.  It's from the inside out.  A whole new resurrection identity is promised to us in baptism.  This "exchange" is the way it works.  Paul talked in terms of reigning, and surrendering (Romans 6:12-22).

I asked Dave what had prompted his question.  It went something like this: he'd been to see a friend who had a drink problem.  He needed to encourage him to pack it in.  He also needed to encourage his own heart that the way was to find God working, not to grit your teeth and struggle.  I love it when folks latch on to this.  Our rising generation battle with feeling that their testimony is compromised by their failings.  They lose confidence in the face of "free" sin-loving world-satisfied indulgent contemporaries.  The can't see what Christianity offers that's any way better.  Answer - what law do we live by?

No comments: