In a couple of weeks my wife and I will be in Manhattan with one of our church mission teams. Emmanuel Enid is assisting in planting a church among West Africans who live in the Bronx. Our church sponsors a remarkable Christian ministry in Niger, Africa and we have discovered that many men have left their families in west Africa and moved to New York City to earn a living. Our hope is to connect with them and replicate the growing church that is reaching Muslims in Niger. We will only be in New York City for a couple of mid-week days with our mission team, but if possible, I am hoping to slide over to Tim Keller's Redeemer Presbyterian Church in mid-town Manhattan on Wednesday night to hear him teach.
Recently, Tim Keller published an article entitled Old Testament Law and the Charge of Inconsistency. In this article he writes, "I find it frustrating when I read or hear columnists, pundits, or journalists dismiss Christians as inconsistent because “they pick and choose which of the rules in the Bible to obey.” What I hear most often is “Christians ignore lots of Old Testament texts about not eating raw meat or pork or shellfish, not executing people for breaking the Sabbath, not wearing garments woven with two kinds of material and so on. Then they condemn homosexuality. Aren’t you just picking and choosing what they want to believe from the Bible?”
Keller goes on to show in the article how Jesus Christ calls both adultery and homosexuality contrary to God's design for men and women (Matthew 19:3-12). He then gives a 'short course on the relationship of the Old Testament to the New Testament.' Keller brilliantly shows 'the surpassing significance' of Christ, and how the Old Testament foreshadows the work of Jesus Christ--a work that Christ completely fulfilled--on behalf of sinners. He rightly shows that to continue abiding by the Old Covenant laws of ancient Judaism one would "deny the power of Christ's death on the cross!" I could not agree more with Dr. Keller on this point. However, I believe Dr. Keller makes a major error when he writes, "the coming of Christ changed how we worship but not how we live."
Christ's Coming Changes Everything
The coming of Christ changes everything about the way we live. We are now people led by the Spirit, not people led by Law. We listen to the voice of Christ, and are no longer bound to ANY Law of the Old Covenant. The Temple laws, the dietary laws, the Sabbath laws, the circumcision laws, the gender laws, the tithing laws, the hiearchial laws of authority, and all other laws of ancient Israel have been 'annihilated' by the death and resurrection of His Son (see Hebrews 10:9).
The hermeneutic or interpretative principle that leads Christians to live differently than Old Testament Jews is foreshadowed in the transfiguration of Christ. Jesus went to a mountain with a few of His disciples, and while on top of the mountain, Jesus was transfigured by Jehovah. In other words, God changed Christ's appearance in the presence of Peter, James and John (Mark 9:2-9), and they caught a glimpse of the Eternal Lawgiver. Notice closely what happens next, as recorded by Mark in his gosepl.
Mark writes that when the disciples saw Jesus transfigured, they became very afraid. Their fear was heightened when they saw the lawgiver of Israel (Moses) and the prophet of Israel (Elijah) suddenly standing next to the Eternal Lawgiver (Jesus the Anointed One). This amazing site transfixed the disciples. Peter, not knowing what to do or say, blurts out, "Teacher, it is good that we all are here. Let us make three tents: One for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah." (v.5).
Suddenly, the earth shook, a cloud descended and blanketed the moutain and the disciples fell on their faces in fear. A Voice spoke to the disciples saying, "This is my beloved Son; listen to Him!" When the cloud disappeared the disciples looked around and saw NOBODY BUT JESUS. Moses the ancient Lawgiver of Israel and Elijah, the ancient prophet of Israel were gone. God was saying, "Everything about the way you live is changing. Follow the direction of My Son." The original two words that form the last sentence of God's instructions to the disciples are "akoute auton" - Hear Him!
Christ Alone Is Our Authority
Christ's voice is the voice to which we listen. He supercedes the Old Covenant law of Moses and the Old Covenant sayings of the prophets. Hear Him! The Old Covenant possessed a "fading glory" (II Corinthians 3:13) and has been destroyed. The New Covenant, signed and sealed by the blood of Christ, is far superior in nature and glory! It changes everything about how we live.
Whereas in the Old Covenant you looked to your obedience to Laws for your right standing with God, in the New Covenant, you look to Christ's obedience and by faith in Him you are "declared righteous" by God. Whereas in the Old Covenant you reaped the rewards of your personal obedience to the law ("If you do this... then I (Jehovah) will do this"), in the New Covenant, you reap all the rewards of the personal obedience of Another. As Paul says, "I have a righteousness of my own that does not come from my obedience to any law, but a righteousness that comes from God and is mine through faith" (Philippians 3:9). All of my hope and confidence in life is in Him. All of my hope and confidence is in Him! I love Him, and I listen to Him! He is my Master. I "akoute auton." I hear Him!
There is, however, a slight problem. Unlike the disciples that walked with Christ on earth, we can't see Christ visibly or hear Him audibly. We can't physically walk with Him, personally and audibly talk with Him, privately eat with Him, or publicly minister with Him--so how in the world do we "hear Him" since He's gone? Of course, we have the record of what He said to the disciples who came before us, and we study His words carefully. But Jesus gives us another answer to this question. Right before He left the disciples to "Go and prepare a place for those who love Him," He said something astonishing. "It is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you . . . When the Spirit of truth comes, the Spirit will guide you . . ." (John 16:7-8, 13).
New Covenant believers must resist any imposition of religious laws that restrict the leadership and guidance of the Holy Spirit. In a coming post I will show you how institutional structures, church traditions, and religious performances can all mitigate against Spirit-led living for the believer.