This blog post is some interaction with an astute friend regarding the current validity of God’s Law (the Ten Commandments and the accompanying case laws).
I too am glad for the opportunity to reflect and dialog together on these things.
I am honored that you have read the book and the paper I suggested. May the Lord continue to lead us into greater understanding of His truth and enable us more cogently and persuasively to speak the truth in love that we may be a blessing to His people!
I read through your entire email and must say that I think I am in essential agreement and that the distance between our understandings is more perceived than actual. I will respond phrase by phrase or section by section below. You will find my responses where you see **********.
You, XXXXX, wrote:
I appreciate the dialog. I read the book, God’s Ten Commandments and the article you suggested “God’s Law for All Societies.” I found them both quite thought-provoking. God’s Ten Commandments does a superb job of finding the heart of God and the reflection of his heart all over the scripture. I basically agree with almost everything stated in these works. At the same time, I am concerned where some of these lines of thought could lead believers. I was wondering if you would address some of my concerns and questions about the implications of what is written in these two pieces. My questions are below:
************* I am glad to be growing to know you and your care and concern for the people of God. Your desire to hold and promote truth that will lead believers in the right direction gladdens my heart and is the prayer for myself also.
1. It seems to me that the article “God’s Law for All Societies” leads the reader to a conclusion that the written code contained in the Bible defines what the Spirit of God might consider right and just. For me, the written code helps us to know what the Spirit is like, but the Spirit is not defined by the written code. Rather, the Spirit defined the written code. The text of the Bible describes what the Spirit is like, but does it really wholly define the Spirit? It seems to me that we are elevating “the letter” and proclaiming that it defines the Spirit.
************** I believe you correctly observe that the Spirit defines the written code and that the Spirit cannot be wholly defined by the written code. We as mortals, the created, not the Creator, are not able to wholly define the Spirit, nor are we able to wholly understand the Spirit. God is infinite and we are far from it. We are continually learning, He is the same yesterday, today and forever, unchanging, infinite, eternal. At the same time, the Spirit has given to us, in our limited (non-infinite) state, codes of moral conduct (e.g. “You shall not murder”). If we live in the Spirit, we will walk in love. Love does not murder; love is the fulfillment of the Law. Yet the law is not removed because there is love. The law endures, but we are called to love, not to a truncated view of the Law such as the Pharisees had (Mat. 5:22); They supposed that if they refrained from plunging a knife into the heart of someone, they had abstained from murder. The “Law is spiritual” says Paul (Rom. 7).
************** We make no claim that either our document or the Bible wholly define the Spirit. Yet that which is written is true and steadfast and unchanging, for God Himself is not changing or evolving.
Dear Reader – the dialog continues below and it is quite extended. You may not wish to read all of it and so I wanted to give you some important information and links at this point. Please feel free to continue reading below.
Read the ICCP topic God’s Law for All Societies.
Footnote: 1. Robert H. Knight, Fighting for America’s Soul: How Sweekping Change Threatens our Nation and What We Must Do (Ft. Lauderdale, FL; Coral Ridge Ministries Media, Inc., 2009), 61.
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Read Dr. Clingman’s article on God’s Law for All Societies here.
the dialogue continues here
You wrote: How do you interpret passages about the effects of legalism and letter-following? 2 Cor 3:6 ?
************* “who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” 2 Corinthians 3:6 (NKJV). What is the New Covenant? Jesus told His disciples he was inaugurating the New Covenant on the night in which he was betrayed. When He spoke to them of the New Covenant, did they have any idea of what He meant? Did they have a context for Jesus words? Yes they did. The one and only OT book that mentions the words “new covenant” is Jeremiah (all the book of the Bible point to the New Covenant, beginning with Gen. 3:15). Jeremiah is the only one who uses the words “new covenant” (Jer. 31:31). What was that new covenant of which Jeremiah spoke? The New Covenant had to do with forgiveness of sins. But it had to do with God taking the Law that had been external (written on tablets of stone) and writing that same Law on hearts of flesh – clearly you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart.” 2 Corinthians 3:3 (NKJV) What was written on these hearts? Paul did not invent some new content. Paul spoke in context of Jeremiah’s understand of the New Covenant, which was also Jesus’ understanding of the New Covenant. The writing upon the hearts of the Corinthians was the same “stuff” Jeremiah spoke of – “…I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. Jeremiah 31:33 (NKJV) The Law which Jeremiah anticipated would be written on the hearts of God’s people was not a different law from that which was originally written on stone.
You wrote: 2. How would you interpret Abraham’s near-sacrifice of Isaac? It’s clear to see how Isaac is a Christ-type in this account, but how do you deal with the fact that God asked Abraham to do something that seems to be murder? I don’t believe that this was a case of God asking Abraham to do something evil. But, what would a human court of law, using the decalogue as a basis do with Abraham’s case if he had killed Isaac? Wouldn’t they have righteously administered justice and convicted him?
************** Yes, I agree that this was not something evil God asked Abraham to do. Though God never intended for Abraham to follow through physically in putting Isaac to death, Abraham did not know this. Abraham, on the day he departed from home, put Isaac to death in his heart. It took three days for Abraham and Isaac to reach Mount Moriah. Isaac was dead for three days so far as Abraham was concerned. Thus Abraham received Isaac back from the dead “as a type” of Christ’s death, entombment, and resurrection (Heb. 11:19). So then, Abraham, so far as God was concerned, put Isaac to death; “…you have not withheld your son, your only son….” I am iterating this to point out that whatever Abraham did morally, he really did do (Mat. 5:22). If it was murder to obey God in this way, then Abraham really did murder. However, all killing of human beings is not murder. God authorizes killing of human beings for such offences as murder (the society that kills a murderer is not itself guilty of murder), homosexuality, adultery, etc.
You wrote: But, what would a human court of law, using the decalogue as a basis do with Abraham’s case if he had killed Isaac? Wouldn’t they have righteously administered justice and convicted him?
************* This question may fall into the same category as, “Can God create a rock so big that He cannot move it?” At the very least, it is a question that is needless to ask since Abraham did not kill his son, and because we understand that God never intended him to follow through with the killing of his son. To consider your question further, there was only one Abraham. God is not asking people to offer up their sons today, nor did He ever again after Abraham. Later in Israel’s history they did so (Ez. 16:21), and it was indeed murder, and such activity was indeed subject to the death penalty (Lev. 20:20).
You wrote: 3. In “God’s Law for All Societies,” I agree that “rescinded unless repeated” is a groundless interpretation of how the moral nature of the covenants transferred.
However, the interpretation that the moral law of the old testament is to be “maintained unless modified” seems problematic as well. For me this is a continuation of living by the letter of the law instead of living by the heart of the law.
************ I hope I answered “living by the letter of the law” above when addressing the writing of the Law on the hearts of New Covenant people.
You wrote: This is what Jesus criticized so strongly with the Pharisees.
************* Jesus never criticized anyone living in accord with God’s commandments. On the contrary, Jesus said the people should obey Moses (the Law), but be careful not do as the Pharisees did (Mat. 23:1-5 f.). The New Testament tells us of Zachariah and Elizabeth “And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.” Luke 1:6 (NKJV)
You wrote: They released themselves from living by the heart of the law by simply living by the letter.
********* The Pharisees, far from keeping the letter of the Law, wrote for themselves the commandments of men; these they kept while they “transgress the commandment of God” (Mat. 15:3-9 f.).
You wrote: This is wickedness. Our freedom from the letter of the law is not a freedom to do evil
********* The question arises—How do we define evil if we do not have the Law? Evil, “sin” is “transgression of the Law” (1 John 3:4).
You wrote: (freedom used to act licentiously isn’t freedom anyway–it’s slavery.) As I see it, our freedom from the letter is so that we might fully and accurately achieve the heart and spirit of the law.
*********** The continuing validity of the Law does not keep us from attaining all God intends for us morally. Perhaps a simile would serve to illustrate – The “law” of gravity that keeps the turtle on the ground gives ordered flight to the eagle. The turtle has no other law associated with its nature that would allow it to fly. The eagle has another law, the law of aero dynamics. Without the law of aero dynamics the eagle could not lift off, without the continuing law of gravity it would not be able to keep from spinning out of control and out into outer space.
You wrote: Our hearts are what God has been after this whole time, even in the Old Testament. David ate the consecrated bread. He danced in an ephod before the Lord. Jesus healed on the sabbath.(Jn 5:18-Jesus “breaking” the sabbath) (Col 2:16–judgment on others about a sabbath) Consider that Paul was “blameless” as to “righteousness under the law” (Phil 3:6) and yet his heart was not with God–he had fulfilled the letter but not the heart. Doesn’t all of this indicate that it’s the heart that matters as opposed to a legalistic righteousness?
************ Yes, the Law itself shows us that God has been/is after our hearts; even some of Jesus listeners understood this in some measure (Mark 12:33).
“Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one! 5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength.” Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (NKJV)
And this love for God was into this response from those who would love Him:
6 “And these words which I command you today shall be in your heart. 7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, when you walk by the way, when you lie down, and when you rise up…” Deuteronomy 6:6-7 f. (NKJV)
Paul was blameless in an outward way, the way the Pharisees designated “blamelessness”; a pharisaical viewpoint is Paul’s assumption. Paul understood the law as “spiritual” (Rom. 7:14). As you note, Paul says he was blameless, yet when Paul understands the “spiritual” nature of the Law, he come under conviction sin by means of the Law (Rom. 7:7-12).
Again, you wrote: Consider that Paul was “blameless” as to “righteousness under the law” (Phil 3:6) and yet his heart was not with God–he had fulfilled the letter but not the heart. Doesn’t all of this indicate that it’s the heart that matters as opposed to a legalistic righteousness?
************* Yes, it is most certainly a matter of the heart (eagle, aero dynamics). But the heart matter does not nullify the Law. “On the contrary, we establish it” (Rom. 3:31). It seems to me that Paul is speaking of “heart” issues in the context of Romans 3:31. He calls it “faith”, and it is faith that is the matter of the “heart”. The problem with the Pharisees was that they did not live in faith before God, “their heart is far from me” (Mat. 15:6-9). But genuine faith/heart does not “nullify the Law”.
You wrote: 4. It seems to me that the root of my apparent disagreements are found in where ultimate moral authority comes from. The article indicates that God is the ultimate authority and I agree with that. But the article also seems to indicate that we cannot trust when we are hearing that ultimate authority(the Spirit.)
************ We make no such claim. We claim that the Spirit, whatever He says today, is never in opposition to what He has said in the past. If someone genuinely hears from the Spirit of God, that hearing will not be contrary to what the Spirit has written in His Book. We can test our “hearing” by going to the Scriptures. When someone today says, “Thus says the Lord, ‘Come, let us offer up our sons as Abraham did.’” We can go to what the Spirit has written (Lev. 20:20) and discover that the Lord is not actually saying this at all. We can know that this person has spoken presumption and rebellion against God. If we did not have the “written” of the Spirit, how could we know whether or not what someone is saying is “of the Spirit”?
You wrote: The hitch seems to be in this statement: “An individual’s personal understanding and sense of right and wrong (enlightened by that person’s understanding of how the Holy Spirit is guiding their life) is superior to the Christian Bible as a guide to issues of right and wrong.”
************** As you know, this statement is a “denial”. We deny that “An individual’s personal…” I believe in my response just above, I touch on this. We believe “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness;” 2 Timothy 3:16 (NASB). We believe God has given us the Scriptures that we might know what the Spirit has/does speak. The Spirit is able to give deeper insight into the Scriptures than we possess at this moment. But that insight “of the Spirit” will never be contrary to the writings of the Spirit, the Bible.
You wrote: I cannot unequivocally disagree with this statement. However, I would say unequivocally that an individual’s personal understanding as truthfully revealed by the Holy Spirit will be in complete agreement with the heart of God and the description of God’s heart as found in the Bible. My problem with the article’s statement is that it seems to suggest that we as believers cannot trust the Spirit to discern the correct path in moral matters. That we cannot know the Spirit’s voice in us.
************* We do not suggest that we cannot know the Spirit’s voice. I would suggest that our hearing the Spirit’s voice is not perfect and infallible (as you also acknowledge below in the “triangulation”); our supposed, “Hearing of the Spirit’s voice.”, ought ALWAYS be tested against Scripture.
You wrote: How then do you interpret 1 Corinthians chapter 2, especially verse 16?
************* Indeed, we have “the mind of Christ”. But does Paul say this without limitation for all Christians? I think not. He says of the Corinthians (I Cor. 3:1 f.) that they are carnal and he could not speak to them as “spiritual”. We all start out there. We cannot say to a man freshly converted, “You have the mind of Christ. Do whatever you think is good.” What do we tell the new convert? Learn of Christ. Desire the sincere milk of the Word that you may grow thereby. Learn the Word so you will be able to discern which thoughts are of God, and which are the devil’s fiery darts. We say to them, grow up into a “spiritual” man that you may be able to discern between good and evil (Hebrews 4:12 f.). We tell him, if you do not grow up, you will not be able to understand much of the things of God (Heb. 5:11-14). We should never tell him, “You have the mind of Christ. Run with it!”
You wrote: Don’t we have the mind of Christ? Doesn’t he go on to establish that the Spirit lives within us(1 Cor 3:16?) Should we make little of that? If we don’t trust the Spirit, how can we live and grow? Without the Spirit, we will simply apply fleshly, human wisdom in our interpretation of the scriptures. But we can trust the Spirit. Instead, we test the spirits by using all three: God’s word, the Spirit in other believers, the Spirit in us. Triangulate the truth.
********** “Triangulate the truth!” I like that. It is true. Iron sharpens Iron. I appreciate the opportunity to triangulate with you, xxxxxx. May God continue to help us and enlarge us for His greater glory, for the blessing of those around us, and for the humbling of our own hearts as we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, learning evermore how much we have yet to learn!
************ (please forgive typos, goofy sentences, etc. I did this rather quickly as my time is much limited.) God bless you and yours! Eugene