My wife and I recently enjoyed some fellowship with a woman in her seventies. She was raised Dutch Reformed and is now active in the Presbyterian Church of America. She is a delightful lady, one with whom we enjoyed visiting. However, through the course of our conversation there arose a stark and pointed difference between what she believes as a Presbyterian and what we believe as Baptists. She is a "Law person," and emphasized over and over that "God blesses obedience."
Of course, nobody would disagree with this statement. God does bless obedience. The question is "Whose obedience?" Our Presbyterian friend seemed to be emphasizing her and her husband's personal obedience. My wife and I only emphasize Christ's obedience (i.e. "His fulfillment of the Law"), and God's blessings freely given to us because of our faith in Christ.
This is the fundamental difference between Old Covenant Christians and New Covenant Christians.
Baptists historically have been New Covenant Christians. The early 18th century Baptists were uninterested in turning sinners into Mosaic Law-keepers and solely concerned with turning sinners into Christ believers. When Jesus Christ told us He came to fulfill the Law and the prophets, He meant it (Matthew 5:17). He fulfilled the Law with His life, death and resurrection, and then He abolished it and became a new Law Giver for His people. He said:
"A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:34-35).Some might wonder about the practical differences between an Old Covenant believer as compared to the New Covenant believer. One of the best illustrations of the differences between the behavior of Old Covenant Christians when compared to the behavior of New Covenant Christians is given by my friend Jon Zens.
Jon points out that the Puritans (Old Covenant Christians) came over to the New World and found themselves facing the Native Americans (Indians). Old Covenant typology dominated their behavior toward the Indians. The Puritans saw their exodus from England paralleling Israel's exodus from Egypt in the Old Testament. The Puritans viewed their crossing of the Atlantic as a parallel to Israel's crossing of the Red Sea. The Puritans believed that their arrival in the New World paralleled Israel's arrival and entrance into the land of Canaan. The Puritans hoped that the New World would indeed be a land "flowing with milk and honey."
But now came the mistake the Puritans made because of their emphasis on the Old Covenant.
The Puritans believed that the Native Americans they met in the New World paralleled Israel meeting the heathen nations in the land of Canaan. How should they respond? Old Covenant typology pointed to casting out the Native peoples by force, precisely as Israel cast out the heathen nations in Canaan. However, New Covenant theology commands believers in Christ to love their enemies. Should the Puritans follow the Law of Christ by loving and evangelizing the Indians, or should the Puritans follow the example of Old Covenant Israel and kill the native dwellers? According to Zens, the Puritans behaved in a manner consistent with their Old Covenant beliefs. Over time they removed or exterminated the Indians, claiming the New World for God.
Now, back to the Presbyterian lady we met. Her husband was not a believer. She had been married to him for over fifty years, but it had been "exceedingly difficult." She so desperately wanted her husband to be 'obedient' to God's Laws (worshipping on the Sabbath, tithing on their income, etc...) because "God blesses our obedience." I was worn out listening to her.
I would suggest that what her husband needed was a wife who was so full of Christ, so appreciative of the perfect righteousness that has been given to her because of her faith in Jesus, that she loves her husband exactly the way Christ loves her. It seems to me that if the New Covenant was the foundation of her theology and philosophy of living, then she would set aside any emphasis on her husband's performance--or lack thereof -- and simply love him without expectations or conditions.
Obviously, this post has simplified some very complex issues, but my goal is not so much to convince anyone of this truth as much as it is to encourage the beginning of a journey toward truth. It's an axiom that if there is maladjustment in one's behavior toward people, it's usually because of a problem in one's beliefs about God.
We need more New Covenant theology preaching in our churches so that our behavior as believers toward others will match our beliefs of God's behavior toward us in Christ - as taught in the apex of God's self-revelation, otherwise known as the New Testament.