The following is adapted and expanded from a portion of my July 28, 2009 presentation, “I Did Not Come To Abolish” given at the New Covenant Theology Think Tank in Evans, N.Y.
Despite its brief mention and a lack of a far-reaching or biblically-explicit context to support the notion, there have been whole theologies and there have been whole NCT doctrines built around a systematic, rather than an exegetical and biblical theology approach to “the Law of Christ.”
Covenant Theologians would typically refer to it as identical to the moral law or Ten Commandments, and would consider as the imprimatur, “I have not come to abolish the Law,” full stop. Continue reading
17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.18 For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (ESV)
One of the most treasured theological tomes on my bookshelf is D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, a work collected from 60 sermons by the Doctor.
In a recent discussion on the role of law in the believer, I was reminded of some quotes from that book.
First, is the audacious statement of in which Jesus declares Himself to be the fulfillment of the Hebrew Scriptures:
It is, in other words, that all the law and all the prophets point to Him and will be fulfilled in Him down to the smallest detail. Everything that is in the law and the prophets culminates in Christ, and He is the fulfillment of them. It is the most stupendous claim that He ever made. (p. 163)
Is the Sermon on the Mount codification, or is it a description of the believer? The “blessed are” statements of the Beatitudes are indicative in the Greek; they are descriptive of the new creature that is the believer.
About the Law — which Paul calls our pedagogue/tutor/guardian, Lloyd-Jones wrote:
The gospel of Jesus Christ does not treat us like that. It does not treat us as children. It is not another law, but something which gives us life. It lays down certain principles and asks us to apply them. Its essential teaching is that we are given a new outlook and understanding which we must apply with respect to every detail of our lives. That is why the Christian, in a sense, is a man who is always walking on a kind of knife edge. He has no set regulations; instead he applies this central principle to every situation that may arise. (p. 216)
Lloyd-Jones further explains:
What is of supreme importance is that we must always remember that the Sermon on the Mount is a description of character and not a code of ethics or morals. It is not to be regarded as law – a kind of new “Ten Commandments” or set of rules and regulations which are to be carried out by us – but rather as a description of what we Christians are meant to be, illustrated in certain particular respects. It is as if our Lord says, “Because you are what you are, this is how you will face the law and how you will live it.” (p. 21)
It is not a new set of letters (“For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” ESV).
Ultimately, the eternal standard of righteousness is Christ Himself, the revelation of and reflection of God, the perfect image (Greek eikon) of the Father. He is and always has been the righteousness that the Law pointed to. And He is the standard of our righteousness. No law has ever encompassed His holiness, the only standard that matters. No law, no letters can encompass the righteousness that exceeds the scribes and the Pharisees. Only the living Torah, Christ whom the written Torah pointed to, is that righteousness.
Christ’s teaching, Paul’s exhortations, all point to being that which we as new creatures are recreated to be.
“This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” ( ESV)
The Spirit of Christ, indwelling the believer and informing him in His word is not a set of rules. Looking at God’s law merely as rules to follow inherently misses the heart and focuses on the external. What the Law pointed to was fulfilled in Him and in is being fulfilled in us. While it is shrouded in this body of death now, it is realized fully in glory.
As one of many in New Covenant Theology circles who is trying to push the discussion forward while seeing a stronger Biblical Theology/Redemptive History case made for what we believe to be the best understanding of Scripture, it grieves me to see those who advocate NCT — even some of its pioneers — aim to shut down the discussion, ostracize brothers, or toss people out of the movement.
On one hand, there are those in what has been called the “Classic NCT” camp who would like to shut down any discussion of what is the nature of the Law of Christ. So-called Classic NCT wants to find a new set of statutes in the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. I’m among those who would respond that Jesus did not come to die for sin, rise from the grave and ascend to the Father only to bind people to a more stringent law, but that He came as the One with all authority to free us to walk in the light, live without fear, and love without limit. Christ is the enfleshment of the law.
Furthermore, He gave us His Spirit to dwell in us as the fulfillment of ff and ff; the Holy Spirit is Himself the promise fulfilled.
I’m convinced that this understanding lays great groundwork for the pioneering thought and study that has preceded us. Unfortunately, instead of opening up dialog, it has caused those who advocate this understanding to be made targets by some of those who champion so-called Classic NCT.
Certainly discussion and critique of any view should be welcomed. But putting people outside of the camp should not be tolerated.
Similarly, another assault has been made — unnecessarily — on those in NCT who hold to a premillennial view, suggesting that they should not be part of NCT. I’m not a premillennarian myself, but I see no need to push people out of the discussion who are.
This movement is too new and its foundations still are being constructed. It is sinful to ostracize those working to grow the movement and build its foundations. And it is most egregious to see those who have themselves been ostracized take part in it.
33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. (ESV)
25 I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. (ESV)
The Bible makes it clear that the gospel’s premier enemy is one we often call “legalism.” I like to call it performancism. Still another way of viewing it, especially in its most common manifestation in Christians, is moralism. Strictly speaking, those three terms — legalism, performancism, and moralism — aren’t precisely identical in what they refer to. But there’s so much overlap and interconnection between them that we’ll basically look at them here as one thing.
And what really is that one thing?
Well, it shows up when we fail to believe the gospel. It shows up when behavioral obligations are divorced from gospel declarations, when imperatives are disconnected from gospel indicatives. Legalism happens when what we need to do, not what Jesus has already done, becomes the end game.
Our performancism leads to pride when we succeed and to despair when we fail. But ultimately it leads to slavery either way, because it becomes all about us and what we must do to establish our own identity instead of resting in Jesus and what he accomplished to establish it for us. In all its forms, this wrong focus is anti-gospel and therefore enslaving.
Tullian Tchvidjian is one of the best voices for grace and the Gospel out there. He writes today:
But while I’m not surprised when I hear venomous rejoinders to grace, I am saddened when the very pack of people that God has unconditionally saved and continues to sustain by his free grace are the very ones who push back most violently against it.