Friday, 6 March 2009

Obeying the Law thru faith

I was listening to a talk recently about understanding the Law. He discussed many of the issues such as type and antitype, old covenant and new covenant and gave a helpful distinction between covenant and dispensational theology. What struck me however was a helpful comment about sacrifice.

Post crucifixion we live under grace. It is not our obedience to the Law that saves us, rather our trust in Christ. Actually it is not our trust that saves us, rather we trust in Christ's salvation that he obtained thru death.

Now Paul says that not only can the Law not save us, it was never intended to.
Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Galatians 3)
Much has been written about law and grace. What I specifically want to address is faith for those under the Law. Paul makes it quite clear that men are and always have been saved via faith. We have faith in Christ now. The ancients had faith in God then. Habakkuk mentions the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2) and Paul reminds us that Abraham was justifed prior to the Law (Romans 4). I have no difficulty agreeing with what Paul is claiming, what I found difficult to marry is his claim about the Law being unable to save, and commands in the Torah suggesting otherwise.
"For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, 'Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, 'Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?' But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

"See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuternomy 30)
Paul mentions there was nothing wrong with the Law. It wasn't unable to save us, obeying the Law could save but it is sin that is in us that prevents us obeying the Law. And the curses and cautions in the Law allude to God's knowledge that the Israelites would fail. Nevertheless, there seems to be the suggestion in passages such as Deuteronomy 30 and others that the Israelites were able to obey the Law and live by it.

The insight given by the recent talk was the issue of sacrifice. It was offering sacrifices which was the activity of faith by which the people under the Law were saved.

I think that all men at all times are saved by faith. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Queen Sheba, the Ninevites, and all the Israelites who trusted in God. So how does this work under the Law?

The term "Law" has multiple uses. It applies to the Torah as a whole: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It also applies to the specific commands contained within the last 4 books that God gave at Sinai and during the following 40 years. These laws are often divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial. Included in this, or in addition to them, are the laws surrounding sacrifice. What to offer, why to offer, and how to prepare sacrifices and participate in them.

One can consider the Law here as a set of rules, and the sacrifice as the mechanism of forgiveness for breaking the rules. We have a set of rules that God knows the Israelites cannot keep (due to sin, not due to the Law) and a mechanism for which forgiveness can be obtained.

For these ancient Hebrews it was not obedience to the rules that saved them, it was faith in the sacrifice that saved them.

This is the key point.

They had to trust God that the sacrifice that he had specified would somehow remove their offence. We understand now that the particular sacrifices in themselves did not take away their sins (Hebrews 10), rather they just were the type pointing to the true sacrifice of Christ. Whatever clarity, or lack thereof, they had at that time concerning the animal sacrifices is less important than the faith they had in the God who had appointed the sacrifices; the God who told them that this was the path of redemption.

Israelites prior to Christ knew that all men were sinners.
Enter not into judgment with your servant,/
for no one living is righteous before you. (Psalm 143)
"If they sin against you— for there is no one who does not sin..." (1 Kings 8)
Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;/
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?/
We have all become like one who is unclean,/
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment./
We all fade like a leaf,/
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64)
The Law was never given to save people and it was never suggested that they could fully obey it, even at the time it was given by Moses. It was understood at the time of Moses that people cannot obey the Law, that is why the sacrifices were mandated at the same time the Law was given.

2 comments:

  1. I think that is very well said. I could quibble with a few insignificant technical details, but on the whole I agree.

    ReplyDelete

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