Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Old Testament Sword

It seems too many Christians think that God’s Old Testament Law is impossible to keep, and that is the reason (they presume) it has been made obsolete. The assumption is that keeping it perfectly would result in one’s salvation, and since no one can keep it perfectly, an alternative (Jesus) was needed instead.

I have argued earlier that God’s law is indeed possible to keep, and there are people on record (both Old and New Testaments) who have done it. Yet even the people who were blameless in the God’s Law still needed His salvation. So even though it is possible to perfectly keep the law (some have done it) it will not merit salvation. Roman’s 3:20a states that no human will be justified by the works of the God’s Law.

This begs the question: What then is the Law’s purpose? The answer is in the second part of the verse: so that we will have knowledge of our sin.

So I think the better the Law is kept, the more we become aware of how much we need to be saved from certain spiritual death. That is why those who keep it best are the most humble. The process of following God’s Law uncovers the heart’s corruption; it dispels Satan’s deception that being good is good enough. But observing the Law perfectly does not change a person’s sinful nature, and that is the “fault” (Heb. 8:7, ESV) in the Old Testament Law.

But when we come to see Jesus as see a man of pure heart, upright nobility and fierce love; when we come to see him as perfect King strong in arm, violent in conflict and gentle to faint hearted; when we come to see this man willingly stripped, tortured and executed so we can escape our fate; and when we hear that he resurrected from death – and believe it, this does change our nature. It creates in us a desire to know Him who would go to such length to be with us. It creates a reciprocal love in our heart, and a willingness to be different and new. It gives us the will to invite the Holy Spirit in so we can be changed and made new. It’s like the sulfur on the tip of a match that ignites a flame. While in the body our sinful nature will still remain, but it suffers a death sentence and we are given a new will to resist our carnal nature.

This is why it would be fatal to dismiss the Old Testament Law as obsolete. It is good for more than just teaching and learning. It acts as a sword that cuts into our conscience, making us painfully aware of our desperate condition and need of a savior. Without this conviction Jesus would be nothing more to us than a dying man. His resurrection would be dismissed as a fable.


Leila Mills said...

Hello Russell! I’m glad you made this post because I was hoping to get your thoughts on a discussion we had in my Making of a Christian Mind class.
Do you think human beings washed in the blood of Christ, saved by the Lord, can go at least one day without sinning? My professor said yes. She made some of the same points you did saying our sinful nature may still be around but it is suffocated by the light within us. Many of my classmates say that it is impossible to go a day without sinning because we can’t control our minds and that leads us to sin.
What do you think?

Russ said...

Thanks for your comment Leila. First, as a disclaimer, I think it’s important for me to confirm my status as a layman – not an expert. I write merely from my perspective as a sheep.

With that understanding, I think it's important to recognize a difference between breaking God's OT Law and sinning. The Law was established because sin was introduced. We must remember that people were sinning before they were breaking the Law – Moses came long after Adam. The Law, therefore, mercifully anticipates sin. It assumes we will sin and gives detailed directions on how to pick up the pieces afterward. Additionally, it provides guidelines to live by in order to mitigate and avoid sin. So theoretically, one could unintentionally sin and then repent in accordance with the Law’s required follow-up actions (i.e. guilt offerings) and still be blameless from transgressing the Law. There are many OT examples.

But I think you’re more interested in my answer on sin and not law-keeping (since much of the OT Law hinged on civil requirements unique to the nation of Israel).

Upfront, I will say I agree with your professor – that one can go a whole day without sinning, as long as we define sin as an active and conscious behavior, and not an inherent nature or make-up of our hearts, (Eph 2:3). But when we consider the corruption of our hearts, this becomes a difficult knot to untangle. Emerson wrote that an action is a publication of a thought, and I think sin works much the same way. What do we consider to be the sin, the thought (e.g. lust) or the action (e.g. adultery)? The thought is wholly connected to our nature and the action to our behavior. But isn’t the behavior merely an outworking of our thinking? our nature? And if this is the case, we must admit the absence of action isn’t proof of the absence of thought. There is much in our nature we leave unpublished. And if we see sin in this light, the action isn’t the sin at all; it is instead the ugly result of a sin that was already present and nurtured by the host. In other words, I think we all consummate sin every day, but the disciplined among us, the wisest and those closest to God do not allow it to mature into an action.

I go into detail on this because I believe it is very dangerous to promote the idea that it is impossible to go a day without sinning. It would suggest to a young or faltering Christian that since it is unavoidable, it is fruitless to resist. It is in resisting that we become strong. It is in resisting that we experience righteous tribulation and suffering that enable us to identify with Christ. Even if it were impossible to go 24 hours without committing a sinful act, it is worthy to resist for these reasons. But I believe the action of sin can certainly be avoided not only for a 24-hour period, but for as long as one is determined and disciplined and in harmony with the Spirit. We even have moderate control over our thinking. It is our nature that we are unable to change – and for this we depend wholly on Jesus to remake in us. This is where our faith must hold fiercely to Him. If we had no hope that He would eventually change our corrupt nature, resisting sin would quickly become a wearisome and hopeless endeavor.

I hope this answers your question Leila.