Dispensationalists and followers of "New Covenant Theology" (hereafter "NCT") unite in claiming that the Old Testament law is not binding on Christians. However, Paul's use of the Law showed that he had no such opinion. I want to examine three places where he describes the abiding authority of the Law, including for Christians.
First is Romans 3:31: "Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law." While both dispensationalists and NCT claim that one is either in faith or in the law, implying a dichotomy between the two, that is certainly not Paul's doctrine. That's because of a bait-and-switch in the dispensationalist and NCT arguments. They properly point to a dichotomy of the two in the realm of justification. And I (and every other covenantalist) agree whole-heartedly that no one can be saved by the Law. However, the same people act as if that is the end of the discussion, sweeping the issue of sanctification under the rug. Yet that is Paul's point: the man saved by faith is now freed and enabled to love and obey God's law. Second is I Corinthians 5:1: "It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and
of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his
father’s wife." We know the story: The Apostle rebukes the church at Corinth for failing to exercise discipline against this member who is living in a sexual relationship with the wife of his own father (probably the man's step-mother). But how does Paul determine that such a lifestyle is wicked? It is never addressed anywhere else in the New Testament! However, in Leviticus 20:11, we read, "If a man lies with his father’s wife, he has uncovered his father’s
nakedness; both of them shall surely be put to death; their blood is
upon them" (see also Deuteronomy 27:20). Paul applies an Old Testament law, and one not repeated in the New Testament, something which both dispensationalists and NCT claim is necessary for a law still to be valid. And third is I Corinthians 14:34: "The women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted
to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says." Paul again issues a rebuke to the church for acting contrary, not to a principle stated in the New Testament, but rather to one in the Old Testament Law! So, here we have three New Testament examples that refute the antinomianism of the dispensationalists and New Covenant Theology. Their rejection of the Law is contrary to the apostolic testimony, and, therefore, false. Rather, the Scriptures demonstrate the accuracy of the confessional covenant theology: "The moral law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others,
to the obedience thereof; and that not only in regard of the matter contained
in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave
it. Neither doth Christ in the gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen,
this obligation" (Westminster Confession of faith XIX:5).
Among those who claim to follow "New Covenant Theology" (hereafter "NCT"), a supposed midway between dispensationalism and covenant theology, it is common to say that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law for the believer. And there is a sense in which that is correct: He perfectly fulfilled the Law so that His obedience could be imputed to believers. He is also the antitype to the ceremonies of the Mosaic law. However, NCT takes it further and claims that there is no further role for the Law for the believer. Rather, it posits a new law, the law of Christ. That is false.
Let me start with the second part first, the "law of Christ." That is a biblical phrase: "Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2). In this case, I don't think Paul is referring to the law, per se, but rather to the specific commandment of Christ, that we love one another (John 15:12). He is not talking about a system of laws.
However, the NCT use of that phrase is selective, ignoring another use of it by Paul: "To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being
outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win
those outside the law" (I Corinthians 9:21). Here he explicitly denies being outside the law of God. Rather, by acting as one under the ceremonial law, he is able to evangelize those who remain under that law, that is, His fellow Jews, thus demonstrating the law of Christ, love for his neighbor, as he mentions in Galatians 6:2.
In Isaiah 42, one of the Servant passages that pointed forward to the Messianic work of Jesus, God says (Isaiah 42:21), "The Lord is well-pleased for His righteousness' sake to magnify the law and make it honorable" (emphasis mine). In the incarnation of Jehovah in Jesus Christ, He did not intend to do away with the Law, but rather to magnify it. I think that is to make it a joy to His people, rather than a burden, as it is to the unforgiven sinner (Matthew 11:28).
Also, in Isaiah 51:7, He says, "Listen to Me, you who know righteousness,the people in whose heart is My law; fear not the reproach of man,nor be dismayed at their revilings." This verse is absolutely destructive of the NCT claims regarding the Law. How so? Because of the parallel description of the new covenant in the New Testament: "This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israelafter those days, declares the Lord: I will put My laws into their minds,and write them on their hearts,and I will be their God, and they shall be My people" (Hebrews 8:10, repeated in 10:16). The promise of the new covenant is not that God will do away with the Law, but rather that He will renew our love for it and obedience to it!
It is taken as a truism by Christians of every stripe (something which itself should raise red flags) that we are to love everyone, every single human being in the world, with no exceptions. However, exactly as a truism, it is a principle which is rarely checked against our standard of truth, the Bible.
In I Corinthians 16:22, the Apostle Paul gives a blunt and startling command: "If anyone has no love for the Lord, let him be accursed." Unless one is willing to claim that cursing is a form of love, Paul can only be taken to be commanding us to hate him who hates God.
As startling as that statement might be, it doesn't originate with Paul. Rather, the beloved King David, the man whom God Himself calls "a man after My own heart" (I Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22), says (Psalm 139:19-22), "Oh that You would slay the wicked, O God!O men of blood, depart from me! They speak against You with malicious intent; Your enemies take Your name in vain.Do I not hate those who hate You, O Lord? And do I not loathe those who rise up against You?I hate them with complete hatred;I count them my enemies."
When I have brought this up in other circumstances, someone always mentions Matthew 5:44: "Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you." Does Jesus say something different? Not at all! He tells us to love those who hate us, not who hate Him. And, of course, that makes sense. We are wicked sinners, deserving of wrath. How can we blame anyone if he treats us as our sins deserve? But that is not true of the sinless and sovereign God. Not only do His enemies hate Him wrongly, out of bald-faced malice, but that hatred is an act of treason against their rightful Lord! It is far from the same thing.
It is common knowledge that Mormons baptize their members on behalf of the dead. In fact, they keep a gigantic genealogical library so that they can find the names of the dead to use in their proxy baptisms. They base this practice on their tenuous interpretation of one verse, I Corinthians 15:29. By these proxy baptisms, Mormons believe, they give dead non-Mormons a second chance to convert to Mormonism. To Christians, Mormons express their belief that it is unfair of God to judge people who may never have had an opportunity to hear about Jesus (ignoring what the Bible says in Romans 1:18-22).
I deny their assertion that there are second chances after death, because the Bible says, "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Also, Jesus tells us that the one who refuses to believe is under judgment now, in this life: "Whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God" (John 3:18).
Moreover, Luke tells us this story from Jesus: "He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, 'Lord, will those who are saved be few?' And He said to them, 'Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.When
once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin
to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, Lord, open to us,
then he will answer you, I do not know where you come from. Then you will begin to say, We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets. But he will say, I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil! In
that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see
Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God
but you yourselves cast out.And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God.And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last'" (Luke 13:22-30).
In this parable, Jesus describes the master of a house, representing Himself, who has closed and locked his door for the night. But latecoming visitors come knocking at his door, asking to be admitted. No, he answers, and those latecomers, whom he calls "workers of evil," are left in a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, a phrase used for Hell in the Synoptic Gospels. Could Jesus have been any clearer? He urges His audience to enter the Kingdom now, because later the gate will be locked against them. They will have no second chances. These Mormon baptisms for the dead are a ritual, not only with no biblical warrant, but actually contrary to the teaching of Scripture. It is a deception, both to the Mormons themselves and to all those whom they give a false hope.
There are several comparisons in the New Testament between Moses and Jesus, such as in their office of prophet (Acts 3:22, Deuteronomy 18:15) and as mediators (such as Hebrews 8:6). It is this latter parallel that I want to discuss here.
We talk a lot about the mediatorial office of Jesus: "There is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus" (I Timothy 2:5). And with good reason, for it is the basis of our justification before God.
But, if Moses was a type of Christ as mediator, where do we see his acting as mediator? There are obvious places, such as in the giving of the Law. But there is another, more-obscure occasion. Let us recall the one judgment against Moses that is recorded in Scripture: "Die on the mountain which you go up, and be
gathered to your people, as Aaron your brother died in Mount Hor and was
gathered to his people, because
you broke faith with Me in the midst of the people of Israel at the
waters of Meribah-kadesh, in the wilderness of Zin, and because you did
not treat Me as holy in the midst of the people of Israel. For you shall see the land before you, but you shall not go there, into the land that I am giving to the people of Israel" (Deuteronomy 32:50-52). Do you recall the original event (Numbers 20:2-13)? The people of Israel were journeying through the Wilderness, a desert country, and needed water. God told Moses to command the water to come out of the rock. However, Moses rapped on the rock with his staff. This is often identified as the reason for God's judgment against him, but Scripture never indicates that. Rather, this is what the Scriptures say: "It went ill with Moses on their account" (Psalm 106:32). While it may have been a sin for Moses to rap the rock, rather than merely commanding it, that is not the reason for God's severe punishment against him. Rather, God punishes him as the covenant representative of Israel! This is the way that Moses was a type of the mediatorial role of Jesus. Just as Moses is judged as the covenant head of Israel, Jesus on the cross was judged as the covenant head of all believers (John 6:37-40, Romans 5:15, Ephesians 5:25). As rich as this truth is, one application that comes immediately to mind is the condemnation of the atomistic view of salvation which is predominant among modern evangelicals. Don't they run around telling everyone, "Jesus loves you; Jesus died for you"? But that isn't the biblical gospel. According to Scripture, Jesus knew His bride, and was sacrificed, not for random millions, but explicitly for her (note especially Ephesians 5:25). Jesus knew His bride from all eternity, loved her and her alone, and knowingly gave Himself for her.
Have you ever had one of those moments when two things you have known forever just seem to come together in a way that seems so obvious now? I just had that experience with two portions of Scripture.
The first is the account of the original Passover (Exodus 12). I am thinking especially of Exodus 12:7: "Then they shall take some of the blood and put it on the two doorposts and the lintel of the houses in which they eat it." An elementary aspect of that verse is the typology of the redeeming sacrificial blood of Jesus, applied to the elect, that the judgment of the Father would pass us by. However, that is not the only thing taught in that sentence. Notice first what it does not say. Nowhere does Moses tell the people to apply the blood to themselves, as if they would be saved from death one by one. Rather, it was applied to the entrance to the house, so that everyone inside was preserved.
Making that connection made me think of some of the words of Peter in the New Testament: "The promise is for you and for your children" (Acts 2:39). We also have the words of Paul to the Philippian jailer: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household" (Acts 16:31). This is not the atomistic view of evangelism that we see in our baptistic society, with one convert here and another there. God's evangelism is directed toward the conversion of whole families. And that shouldn't be news, considering the Exodus account above, and God's promise: "All your children shall be taught by the LORD, and great shall be the peace of your children" (Isaiah 53:13).
This is the basis of Paul's encouraging words to Christian parents: "The unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the
unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your
children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy" (I Corinthians 7:14). God isn't primarily concerned about individuals, but rather about families!
"How long will the land mourn and the grass of every field wither? For the evil of those who dwell in it the beasts and the birds are swept away, because they said, 'He will not see our latter end.' They have made it a desolation; desolate, it mourns to Me. The whole land is made desolate, but no man lays it to heart. Upon all the bare heights in the desert destroyers have come, for the sword of the Lord devours from one end of the land to the other; no flesh has peace. They have sown wheat and have reaped thorns; they have tired themselves out but profit nothing. They shall be ashamed of their harvests because of the fierce anger of the Lord." - Jeremiah 12:4, 11-13 These verses describe the curse on the land of Israel for the apostasy of the people that lived in it (see also Isaiah 26:5-6 and Hosea 4:3). But notice the parallels to other portions of Scripture. For example, the original curse resulting from the sin of Adam: "Cursed is the ground because of you;in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life;thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field" (Genesis 3:17-18, compare 5:29). Part of the curse applies to the agricultural efforts of the people. Instead of productive crops, the land would produce thorns. Jeremiah also contains a theme that is picked up by the Apostle Paul in the New Testament: "The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that
the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and
obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now" (Romans 8:19-22). The Apostle personifies the physical creation as longing for the full conversion of the sons of God, be then, and not until then, the creation will be released from that curse of futility that was brought upon it by the sin of its head, Adam.
We have Christians who seek to help less-developed countries improve their agriculture, as populations grow and need increasing amounts of quality food. And I am grateful that God has called people to that ministry. However, improved agriculture is not the ultimate answer to the problem. Rather, spreading the Gospel and teaching the nations to obey everything God commands rolls back the effect of sin, and the creation is progressively freed to be the rich and productive thing it was created to be.
My name is Chris Cole. I have lived in the Charlotte, NC, area for over thirty years, and have been an active Presbyterian during most of that time. I love the Westminster Confession of Faith as a beautiful expression of my own personal beliefs.
You can email me at email@example.com.
I prefer the English Standard Version of the Bible, and all quotations are from the ESV, unless otherwise stated.
I have a number of reviews of Reformed books on Amazon. There is a link to them in the Reformed links below.
"Seeing [that] the Lord of lords, the Lord Jesus, is so ready (never was there king so ready to hear a subject as Jesus is), [even] if thou wert the vilest body that goes, a thief, a harlot, etc., yet if thou wilt say this, 'Lord, remember on me, and give me a part of thy kingdom'; - if thou prayest to him from a penitent heart, with confidence and assurance, I promise unto thee, heaven and earth shall go [fall] together ere thou wantest [lack] thine asking. Seeing [that] our Lord Jesus is so liberal [free-giving], then seek more than enough, more than a kingdom, and thou shalt get more. The only cause why we want [lack] is in us: we have no hearts to seek it." - Rev. Robert Rollock, Scottish Presbyterian minister, about 1590, in a commentary on Luke 23:42-43