Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The New Testament as a Legal Law System

I recently read the claim that "...man's typical nature resists authority (law)...".

In a sense this is true.

But also, in a sense, man's typical nature is to create law where none exists.

This was what Jesus accused the Pharisees of doing.

Humans, especially children, need structure.

Back in the 70s or 80s, progressive thinkers decided to take down the fences around elementary school yards, so the kids wouldn't feel like they were in jail. But the result is that the kids started staying away from the edges of the yard, because the edges were no longer safe. So in the 90s, up went the fences again, and now the kids feel safe enough to go to the very edge, taking full advantage of the school yard area.

The same is true in religion; as children, we needed the Law of Moses to define our boundaries. As adults, we no longer need the letter of the law, as we're led by the spirit, and know our own boundaries (or should).

This is why God, through Jeremiah (Jer 31:31ff), prophesied that the new covenant would not be like the old, laws written in stone, unflexible to changing needs, needing to be taught one to another, inviting punishment for infractions; rather, the new covenant is about "law" in our heart, based on relationship, based on knowing YHWH, and being forgiven for our infractions.

This is why Paul writes of being a minister of a new covenant, not of the letter (which kills), but of the spirit (2 Cor 3:6).

This is why there is no list of legal do's and dont's in the New Testament; it's a different type of covenant from the old covenant.

This is why Paul writes that it's worldly to think in terms of "don't touch this; don't taste that"; these external rules and regulations appear to be religious, but they have no value in steering your life from the inside (Col 2:20ff).

This is why Paul writes that the kingdom of God is not a matter of what you can and can't drink or eat, or keeping or not keeping this or that holy day, but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit (Rom 14:17 and context).

This is why Jesus emphasizes the inside of the cup (Matt 23:25-26), and the weightier matters of the law, rather than tithing on pennies (Matt 23:23).

This is why Jesus sums up the entire law in two broad principles: Love God, love each other (Matt 22:34-40).

The old covenant was a legal system; the new covenant is not a legal system.

This is Paul's point, when he contrasts salvation by faith/grace with salvation by law-keeping. He's not just talking about the Law of Moses; he's talking about *any* law. When you try to be justified by a legal system, you've fallen from grace, having adopted a different gospel than that which he preached.

James confirms this when he says that if you try to be saved by law, you have to keep all of the law; fail in any tiny detail, and you've failed in it all (Jam 2:10). So instead of living as if you're under a legal system, live as those who are judged under a law of liberty (v. 12). You want to fulfill the "legal system of Christ", the "royal law according to Scripture"? Then love your neighbor as yourself. That's it. That's the entirety of the perfect law of liberty (Jam 1:25; 2:8; 2:12). Paul confirms this, saying that bearing one another's burdens fulfills the law of Christ (Gal 6:2).

Pure religion is not about keeping a set of legal requirements; it's about visiting orphans and widows in their distress (Jam 1:27).

Jesus did not say his disciples would be known by their perfect doctrine, but by their love for one another (John 13:35).

When he divides the sheep from the goats (Matt 25), he won't do so on the basis of their doctrine, but on the basis of how they treated one another.

The new covenant is not a legal system like the old covenant was. But we "need" structure, we need law, and not finding it in a list of rules like we had in the old covenant, we search in the new covenant for that law by looking between the lines and by using human logic and by plucking this passage and piecing it together with another passage to arrive at a jigsaw-puzzle theology that gives us the laws we "need".

The new covenant is about the spirit, not the letter. Get that, and your outlook changes tremendously.

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