Monday, February 10, 2014

Old Testament Salvation

What is the difference between an Old Testament saint and a New Testament saint? How does the Gospel of the New Testament differ from the Gospel of the Old? These are worthwhile questions, and we wouldn't want to overlook them. Here are a few of my [incomplete] thoughts, based on Scripture:

Old Testament saints were justified by faith alone. This is the doctrine established in Romans 4, based on Genesis 15. This is essentially the main point of Romans 4:1–5, that justification by faith alone is not a new doctrine. And so the chapter begins with an appeal to the Old Testament record of Abraham, "What shall we say then that Abraham our father according to flesh has found?" (Romans 4:1). God has never justified anyone on the basis of anything other than faith.

Old Testament saints had forgiveness of sins. This, too, is the plain teaching of Romans 4, based on an appeal to Psalm 32. Romans 4:6–8 establish that David was a man "to whom God shall not at all reckon sin" (v. 8). This is an interesting statement, because in many ways Christendom has actually fallen lower than the Old Testament saints. Where David said that God would "not at all reckon sin" to him, Christians today seem to believe that sins they have have not confessed are reckoned to them. Of course this essentially means that God forgives based on works: confession becomes meritorious in this twisted theology.

This comes from confusing God as Father with God as Judge. We can (and do!) confess our sins to our Father (1 John 1:9), but we don't confuse that with our standing before God as Judge. Acting inconsistently with my place as a son of God might strain our relationship: it might make it difficult for me to enjoy Him and His company... but it doesn't in any way change the fact that God is my Father. A disobedient son is still a son. The Old Testament saints were children, but they weren't sons.

Old Testament saints were born again. I think a lot of people miss this, but it is what the Lord Jesus specifically taught. Consider His words to Nicodemus: "Except any one be born of water and of Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God" (John 3:5). No one can get into the Kingdom of God without being born again; but "Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob" (Matthew 8:11) will be in the Kingdom, along with "all the prophets" (Luke 13:28–29). So we can be sure they were born again, can't we?

To take it even further, the Lord Jesus told Nicodemus he ought to have known about new birth, because he was a "ruler of Israel" (John 3:10). So the need for new birth was a truth the Lord Jesus expected a "ruler of Israel" to know, presumably based on the Old Testament. Johnny D. suggests this is an allusion to Ezekiel 36:25–31. Perhaps this is the portion the Lord Jesus was thinking of, but regardless: it's clear He considered the new birth to be Old Testament truth.

So if the Old Testament saints were born again, if they were forgiven of their sins, if they were justified by faith alone; what is the difference between the Old Testament saints and the New Testament saints?

The Holy Spirit wasn't given in the Old Testament. John 7:38–39 explicitly state that "the Spirit was not yet, because Jesus had not yet been glorified." Of course we don't understand that to mean the Holy Spirit did not yet exist! That is clearly untrue, because He was there at the creation (Genesis 1:2). Of course the Holy Spirit existed, but He was not yet given. The giving of the Spirit was dependent on the exaltation of Christ, and Peter used the manifestations of the Spirit on earth to prove the exaltation of Christ in Heaven (Acts 2:33–36).

The New Testament saints have "no more conscience of sins." Hebrews 10:1–5 contrasts believers in the New Testament with the Old Testament saints under the Law. The first point of contrast is that the Old Testament saints did not have a once-for-all sacrifice for sins. Instead, they had repeated sacrifices. Those sacrifices reminded the people over and over that they had sinned. But our High Priest has offered One Sacrifice forever for sins, and so we should have "no more conscience of sins" (v. 2). Of course, I don't think this is very clearly taught or very clearly believed in Christendom as a whole: but the truth of the New Testament is that we have "no more conscience of sins".

Old Testament saints were justified looking forward to a future work: we are justified looking back on a completed work. This is the teaching of Romans 3:21–26. In the Old Testament, God justified men and women who believed Him, looking forward to the payment He knew He'd receive from Christ. But now that Christ has actually died, been buried, been raised from the dead, and ascended into Heaven; God justifies us based on historical fact. That doesn't mean we're any more justified, but it does mean that we are conscious of what the Old Testament saints couldn't know. And this is what Romans 3:21 says: what the Law and the prophets bore witness to, we now have manifested. There is, in a sense, an advantage to us, because we have the privilege of seeing what God foreknew. We have, in this sense, a more complete view into the heart of God than they did.

The Old Testament saints did not have the adoption of sons. This is the whole point of Galatians 4:1–7. The Old Testament saints were children of God (cf. John 11:52), but they weren't sons. Sonship is different from childhood. A child, Galatians tells us, differs not at all from a slave (v. 1), but the Lord Jesus came so that "we" could receive sonship (vv. 4–5). Sonship is characterized by a close relationship with the Father. It implies familial rights, it implies a claim on the Father. The Old Testament saints didn't cry "Abba, Father" that requires the "Spirit of His Son" (v. 6). Galatians 4:1–4 agrees with John 7:38–39, the Spirit of God couldn't have come here until the Lord Jesus' death, burial, resurrection, and ascension (1 Corinthians 15:3–8).

I'm flagrantly ripping off Johnny D. here, but this is a huge point. The spirit of adoption is characterized by a confidence in God as Father. Servants don't have confidence in God as Father: they might love and respect God as Master, but they don't have the confidence in the Father's love. This is a new thing: this began in Acts 2 when the Holy Spirit descended.

The Old Testament saints were not united to Christ. The New Testament saint has been united to Christ in His death (Romans 6:3; Colossians 3:3), His burial (Romans 6:4), and His resurrection (Colossians 3:1). The Old Testament saints we not. The Lord Jesus said that there could be no union with Him until He died (John 12:24). We feed on Christ as dead (John 6:53–57), we eat His flesh and drink His blood: you can't do that unless He has died.

Now, this isn't a complete list. But it's something I've been thinking about recently, and discussing with friends. I thought it would be worthwhile to post a few of those thoughts here.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Salvation and Separation

A friend sent me this excellent article by Johnny D., entitled "Salvation and Separation". It's available on STEM Publishing:

Here's a small sample:

Before God, can you mend the first Adam? Will you educate him, and get any good out of him? You will not. God tried it, and it ended in the death of His Son. The very world we are living in is the world that had God in it, but it turned Him out. The flesh that I have got in me has had that Christ presented to it, and it rejected Him - morally, that is. We cannot now, of course, kill Him outwardly.

But people put this flesh under law, and they fancy they can school it. Do you think they would insist so upon law, if they were sure and certain that the only thing it can do is to damn them?

It's in Notes and Jottings, starting on page 46.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

In Christ

Ephesians 1:6; Philippians 3:9–11

There is exactly one way for a person to be accepted by God, and that is in Christ. We are justified freely from all things when we believe (Acts 13:39), but being justified and being accepted aren't exactly the same thing.

Philippians 3:9 makes this clear: if we are found in Him, then we don't have our own righteousness. "[M]y own righteousness" necessarily brings in law (Philippians 3:9). Law is a statement of what I ought to be: there is no righteousness of my own, except by law. But Galatians 2:16 assures us, no one is justified by the works of law. There is no way I can achieve righteousness of my own.

We sometimes describe being "in Christ" like this: when God looks at me, He doesn't see me, He sees Christ. When God looks at me, He doesn't see my sins, He sees Christ. I think that's exactly what Ephesians 1 is talking about. But there is another side to that: when God looks at me, He doesn't see my righteousnesses, He sees Christ. See? This is a two-edged sword, and it cuts both ways. On the one hand, my sin is invisible to God, because He sees me in Christ. On the other hand, all of my righteousness is hidden from sight– just as hidden as my sin– because I am in Christ.

That's Philippians 3:9, isn't it? "that I may be found in Him, not having my own righteousness". You can't be "in Christ" when it comes to sin, but on your own when it comes to righteousness. If I am "in Christ", then all that I am– the good as well as the bad– is gone from God's sight.

Now, sometimes we're not content with that. And so we try and establish a righteousness of our own. But we really can't claim righteousness without (as it were) stepping out of Christ. As long as we're "in Christ", God doesn't see my righteousness. Now we can't really step out of Christ, but it's what we're effectively trying to do when we try and establish ourselves as righteous before God. And when we do that, we end up right back in Romans 7.

Accepting that I am in Christ means accepting that I am past trying to establish a righteousness before God. In fact, it means accepting that God's really done with me. He's not trying to improve me, He's not trying to salvage anything of me. That's really the teaching of Galatians 2:20, "yet not I".

I think this is the real difference between Romans 7, "when we were in the flesh" (Romans 7:5 & 6), and Romans 8, "ye are... in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9). In Romans 7, a man is trying to establish righteousness. He's not content with the righteousness of Christ, but wants his own. That must lead him to law (Philippians 3:9). But in Romans 8, we have a man for whom there is "no condemnation" (Romans 8:1), a man who is content with the righteousness of Christ.

This is so simple, but it's hard for us to get a handle on it. We refuse to believe that God is not trying to salvage the flesh. We must– we must– accept what God says about us. We need to be like Paul in Philippians 3, content to be "found in Him, not having my own righteousness".

This obviously doesn't mean Paul is content to continue to live as a sinner, hiding (as it were) in Christ. No, there is a human responsibility there. I am in Christ, this is God's sovereignty. Human responsibility comes in the next verse: "to know Him" (Philippians 3:10).

God's giving up on the flesh is not an excuse simply to indulge its passions and its lusts. We are to walk as He walked (1 John 2:6). There is to be a reality in our lives, and an integrity that's visible to people around us.

But the power to live the Christian life is really only for those "in the Spirit" (Romans 8:9), who "by the Spirit mortify the deeds of the body" (Romans 8:13). The Christian life (practically speaking) rests on accepting our place "in Christ", not attempting to add anything to that, and not accepting anything less.

Saturday, February 1, 2014


We recently moved, and I've started riding the bus to work again. Notwithstanding a woman who brings her small and friendly kids on the bus every morning, I get quite a bit of time to read. So this last fall, I re-read The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. It's online too:

I read it about twenty years ago, and I thought it would be worthwhile to read it again.

I used to recommend that book, with the caveat that the last couple chapters are suspect. But I was wrong. Now I'll recommend it without reservation. It's an excellent book: far, far better than I realized the first time I read it.