Wednesday, April 19, 2006

It's The Principle of the Thing

In this discussion on the Sabbath day, we have flown over quite a bit of ground that merits further discussion. One of those things being the nature of God's law in the life of the believer. We know, and I am certain that we almost universally agree, that the law is holy and just and good. We also agree that no one will ever be justified by keeping the law; salvation is by grace through faith.

So how does the law function this side of Calvary for the believer? I do not agree that it no longer serves any purpose. I believe that it continues to bring us closer to Jesus Christ, not by obedience to it, but by the constant revelation that we need Christ Jesus to be our mediator. Positively, it teaches us about the wonderful, holy nature of our God.

No commandment of God is harsh or mean. Not even the commands not to trim the beard or wear mixed fibre clothing. The Bible teaches that every command God issues hangs on the principle of love. While some of the Old Covenant commands may seem absurd to us (I can't live without fried catfish!), they were given to us as an opportunity to love God through obedience.

It is for this reason that I disagree with Daniel on one of his statements. That is, I believe it is worse to steal a computer than to steal a pencil. Both are wrong, both make us lawbreakers, but the fact that more people are harmed in one instance than in another does actually make one sin worse. If part of the law hinges on the command to love our neighbor, the more dastardly we behave towards him, and the more neighbors that we offend, heaps guilt upon us.

It is not I who distinguishes between the severities of commandment breaking. It is a principle laid down in God's Word by God Himself. We see this even in the New Testament. Even a cursory examination of the evidence will illustrate that sexual immorality is particularly devasting in consequence to the believer. Certainly, the man who steals his neighbor's wife incurs more guilt than the one who steal his pen! Both are theives and lawbreakers, but one is exceedingly more abhorrent. However, both men are in dire need of grace and forgiveness.

I also understand that we, as Christians, are not "under the law." But I do believe that this means that it is no longer applicable in any way or valid for us. I believe that this means that we are no longer under the condemnation that lawbreaking brings. After all, the law is good and just and holy. The commandments of God are not burdensome. If we love Christ we will keep His commandments, etc. What the law does for the Christian is to remind him that he serves a holy God who punishes sin, and it reminds us of the tremendous debt we owe to Jesus Christ for bearing our punishment in our stead. We may still break God's commands, and when we do, we may rest assured that Christ suffered for it. So then, our love for Christ compels us to be obedient, faithful children.

In the end, for the Christian, the law plays a role in our justification only in the sense that it reveals to us our dependance for mercy from God. We recognize that the law is just and fair and good, and that we are lawbreakers, therefore our punishment for law-breaking is just and fair and good. Graciously, God in Christ reconciled us to Himself apart from the works of the law. The law drives us to grace to escape its deadly sting.

The question now remains to see if the law plays any role in our sanctification, and if so, how? If it does, which laws should we pay attention to? Oddly, besides the varying degrees of guilt for sins, Daniel and I basically agree up to this point I believe. The Lord's Day falls under the category of my second question here, and the principle I am pushing for is to find out if observing Sunday as a special day may somehow help in sanctification.

8 comments:

Daniel said...

You seem to couple sin to its worldly consequence - as though sin were something that was committed against man first, and God second.

I think this is why we disagree.

Sojourner said...

Ultimately, all sin is wrong because it is an offense to God. If this were not true, then how do we explain Psalm 51:4, "Against You, and You only, have I sinned." David is confessing to God here, after he killed Uriah and committed adultery with Bathsheba.

So if someone truly sins against a man, then it is ultimately a sin against the creator who made him. In this, I believe that we agree.

However, if we push the analogy of the "Sabbath", aren't we saying that the OT Sabbath is a foreshadowing of the Sabbath rest we have in Christ? I believe that we can also say that temporal punishments handed out by God are the same types of judgements that will be handed out at the last day. The punishment will fit the crime, and some affronts to God's holiness are worse than others.

I believe that hell will be worse for some than for others, and I believe that there will be varying degrees of enjoyment of heaven. How else will it be more 'tolerable' in the day of judgment for some cities than others? Surely this doesn't mean that more folks from Sodom and Gomorrha will be in heaven than the other cities Jesus pronounces judgement against?

psalm92 said...

In case you're interested in my uninvited opinion ... just stumbled across you and this discussion is fascinating ...

Re the last sentence in the post - Keeping the Lord's day special definitely helps in sanctification - eg there's a list of blessings at the end of Isaiah 58 attached to "finding the sabbath a delight," i won't quote it all here. Keeping a whole day free from secular issues, purely to focus on worshipping God, that's a huge benefit to your spiritual life. Partly cos it's one aspect of obedience, your reasonable service, and partly cos it's good for you.

And just to endorse the London Baptist Confession - if you wanted to pursue it, there's a series of questions in the Westminster Larger Catechism which address lots of relevant issues here (Q115-121)

now i'll clear out of your discussion!

Sojourner said...

Psalm92,

All comments are invited here, so long as they are not profane or personally abusive. In fact, they are encouraged. Thanks for stopping by, and I hope to see you again!

Daniel said...

I think we are more in agreement than disagreement, certainly.

Correct me if I am wrong, but when Christ speaks of tolerance (in this context) is he not talking about judgment day being more tolerable? You make it sound like hell will be more tolerable for some - and whether that is so or not, I don't think these verses makes that point - at least not clearly enough for me to say, "Yes, I agree."

God is perfectly just - so when God says that the penalty for stealing a pencil from work is eternal torment in a lake of burning sulphur, hey, I need to make sure that I understand the magnitude of even the smallest sin.

Perhaps if you stopped measuring sin according to the magnitude of the sin's effect, and measured it instead according to the magnitude of the person you are sinning against (God) you will appreciate my perspective?

If I swing an axe at a stone no one cares. If I swing an axe at a tree - well, if a person owned that tree they might care - but if I swung an axe at a person - that person would certainly care. The point is that the severity of the action is tied, not to the action, but to the target that action imposes itself upon. In the case of sin - as you rightly point out - our sin is against God - and the punishment for sin against an eternal God must be equal to the nature of Him whom is sinned against.

In this way I say one sin is as condemned as the next - because both are sins against an infinite God.

Sojourner said...

Indeed, we are nearly in total agreement. It is precisely because of your line of reasoning that I still disagree with you. Any sin against man is sin because it is an affront to God, in whose image man is made. Therefore, the more people a single sin affects, the more heinous the crime. By this definition alone we can conclude that wife-stealing is more heinous than pen-stealing because of the human, and therefore Godward impact of the sin.

Elizabeth said...

I am "johnny come lately" to this series of posting...so this may not fit in this particular line of comments but I have a few remarks to make considering this topic.

One is: WHEN did God FIRST command us to keep the Sabbath? Was it really at Mt. Sinai????

#2: When it says (in English) that our Lord came to abolish the LAW...if you go into the original language a bit what is referred to is the word "dogma" which the English dictionary describes as rules and laws of men...NOT OF GOD!!! What HE came to do away with was all the ADDITIONS and SUBTRACTIONS the Pharisees and others had put into following HIM...He said His burden was light, right? We have found it so for our own life. If only we could understand this!! What HE says for us to do is totally and simply for our good...when we observe the Sabbath as commanded, basically it is a TRUE day of rest, study, and prayer observed primarily at home (we have no Temple and no priesthood currently).

#3: WHEN and WHO changed the Sabbath to Sunday? Was it not in Constintine's time about 300 years after the LORD was ressurected? So you need to consider WHOM you are going to follow...

#4: Didn't HE say HIS WORD was above even HIS name? So then WHAT is HIS WORD then? Those verses in the NT that talk about scripture...WHAT scriptures? That would have to be the OT as this was written BEFORE the NT became scripture...right?

One thing that has so amazed us was when it was pointed out to us that in the OT, there are 19,000 times when the letters aleph and tov are sprinkled in there. Our LORD told us that HE was the alpha and omega, the begining and the end (in Hebrew those words are: aleph and tov)...therefore that is HIS signature ALL over the OT...that should make us sit and notice WHERE those are (a good Hebrew OT will show where these are located) and try to understand what is being pointed out there...

I don't think where hubby and I are currently or have been in the past ought to make a difference but I will state it here anyway. We were born into conservative protestant families who were at the church EVERY time the doors were open...we are now in our 5th decade of life...and in the past about 7 or 8 years have been into intense study of so many things that was simply ignored or left out of our earlier exposure. I am glad to see you examining this issue! Because understanding better about the Sabbath issue will lead you into understanding many other things as well. There are many who have mastered Hebrew and can point out so many things to us, as well as these wonderful computer programs today also help us better understand the real meanings behind many things. We also need help in understanding things from the culture of the time scripture was written plus the idioms of the language, etc. We love the KJV, but as my hubby likes to say, "the KJV boys were a bit biased here". Blessings on this path to you all...when we desire truth HE will lead us to it! When the search for truth becomes the major thing, rather than subscribing to men's ideas we really begin to get blessed!!

A final question: How many people REALLY keep even Sunday as a true day of rest? For most who are involved heavily in the church, it is anything BUT a day of rest...it is a day one needs to recoup from on Monday, especially preachers, right???

Even So... said...

Elizabeth,

Point #2 - do you really want to do this? There were 613 laws, not including the additions, etc.

Point #3 - simply wrong.

Point #4 - This , forgive me if I am wrong, seems to me to be a subtle, even if not intended, slap at the New Testament scriptures. Everything is supposed to be about pointing to Jesus, and the Apostles expounded upon what Jesus taught in the epistles. The Old Testament IS NOT THE GREATER REVELATION! The New Testament is not some vehicle that is supposed to point us back to Torah. The Old Testament is the seed, and the bud, the New Testament is the flower.

To the paragraph below point #4 - Honestly, this sounds a lot to me like esoteric mumbo jumbo.

If you "simply ignored or just left out", or accepted things before without looking at the Hebrew, as you say, then couldn't that still be the case? What some professed Hebrew scholar you have spoken to, or many even (even if its your husband) says, does not override what others who also know Hebrew might believe. And on the idea of Sabbath, no one denies, it is as you say, Saturday (or 6pm Friday, etc.) But on whether we are to keep it or whether we can worship on Sunday, and if it is right to call it the Lord's Day, then well, the jury is still out.

The "real meaning" of the scriptures? How about the perspicuity of scripture?

I'm sorry, Brad, and Elizabeth, if I might seem a little excited. Perhaps I am seeing things in what you wrote (Elizabeth) that aren't there. Please tell me, are you a "messianic"? If you are, of what particular stream, if any, such as "two house" or whatever may be the case? Again, I apologize in advance if I am in the wrong here.


Even So...