Fulfilling the Law (part 2)

Continuing this little thought exercise ( nb that is exactly what this is, some ” thinking out loud”).

When we think about the relationship of the Law to the believer then here are some key NT texts.

1. Matthew 5:17-18 is where Jesus tells us that he has not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it.  Note that this is the Law of Moses but note also that Jesus includes 2 ” untils”. It is both until heaven and earth pass away and until its purpose is fulfilled. Some people think that these are both saying the same thing for emphasis in which case it’s purpose is fulfilled when Christ returns. However, it could mean that its purpose is fulfilled at the Cross when Christ is completely obedient even to death. In that case  the bit about heaven and earth passing away is not a chronological thing and more a vivid way of saying there isn’t a chance it can pass away until it’s purpose is fulfilled. RT France (NICNT, 186) suggests what I think is more helpful way forward. The Law will do it’s job and so the joys and titles are taken up eschatologically in Christ so that they fulfil their purpose and are part of the new reality. In other words, they are written on the hearts of believers.

2. Romans 8 contrasts the Law of Moses with the Law of the Spirit.

3. Galatians 4:21-31 talks about the difference between the son of Sarah and the Son of Hagar. The emphasis is that we are true sons because are not slaves under the Law.

4. Hebrews 7:12 tells us that when there is a change in the  priesthood  there is a change in the Law.  Look carefully though, there is a specific focus to the change and the focus is not on a change of rules and regulations but a change on who can be and who is the priest. The writer tells us that the priesthood is transferred from Levi’s  family to Judah’s.

Putting these things together we come to a vital point. There is a significant difference about how we talk about Law under the New Covenant and how we talk about it under the Old Covenant.

The  challenge here is to do with ” continuity and discontinuity.” Is there a clean break between our experience under the New Covenant or is there some kind of link/ continuity with the Old Covenant.

To explain what I mean, here are a couple of examples of continuity/ discontinuity questions.

1. Away from our immediate question about Law is the question about the New Creation. Now, I can’t think of a single serious Bible teacher who thinks in terms of the end of the World meaning the end of physical matter so that we float off to a spiritual heaven ( even though this language can creep into our thinking). However, there is a significant discussion about whether or not the New Heavens and New Earth are a complete replacement for our current world.

2. At one extreme some people have talked about the Church replacing Israel (discontinuity). It is then pointed out that this seems to have been a cause of anti-semitism and that Romans 11 talks about ingrafting in, not replacing. However at another extreme we see churches that are so obsessed with the continuity with Israel that they adopt Jewish cultural practices.

3. God’s initial Creation mandate called humans to fill and subdue the planet. Has that been replaced ( discontinuity) with the Great Commission and if so does that mean we are not interested in the Environment, Social Justice etc? Or, is there continuity and does that mean that part of the mission of the Church is creation care and social justice?

4. Who do you baptised? Paedo- Baptists argue that there is continuity from the Old Covenant and therefore just as babies were in the Covenant and circumcised, so infant baptism becomes the seal of the New Covenant and in continuity with the Old includes babies. A lot of Baptists at this point focus on discontinuity and argue that circumcision of children has been replaced with baptism of converts. Note that both sides support some sense of change and discontinuity.  Reformed Baptists however would argue that the Paedo- Baptist position does not allow for enough continuity – or that they put it in the wrong place. There is continuity but it is not from Paedo- circumcision go Paedo-baptism. It is from outward circumcision to circumcision of tge heart.

Stephen Kneale includes a helpful chart on the continuity/discontinuity spectrum here.

So some further thoughts to move us on.

1. Focus on the heart leads to continuity. The Law is summed up as Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul and mind. It is a heart matter. This is a requirement that hasn’t gone away.

2. There is a powerlessness in the Law of Moses. It is not able to change our hearts. We cannot keep it. This powerlessness is not because the Law was defective in terms of its requirements which were good. Rather, the problem is human sinful nature which means first of all that we have hearts of stone and secondly that the priests who were meant to represent us were defective because according to Hebrews 6, they too were sinful ( needing to sacrifce for themselves) and frail so that they died.

3. There is a change in the priesthood with Christ. This means a change in the Law. The first change, Hebrews says is to who can be priest. It is now one from the Tribe of Judah. The functions of prophet, priest and King are united in one person for ever. This means that we have an effective mediator and an effective sacrifice.

4. There is a change to the place where everything happens from the Temple being the physical building in Jerusalem to the Temple being God’s people so that he indwells us through his Holy Spirit (see Kneale on this).

So, all the things that the Law of Moses wanted to do but could not do in terms of:

1. Showing people how to love God with their whole heart – and to be separated apart to him as a pure and holy people?

2. Helping us to know how to love our neighbours as ourselves and so be reconciled to people as well as God

are all now achieved in Christ.