I've been traveling for work, so I've been a little distanced from the blog. We got back safe and sound, so I'm trying to get back to "real life."
Scripture tells us that God's purpose is to head up all things "in Christ" (Ephesians 1:10). While that includes individuals who are saved and brought into eternal blessing, it also includes groups of individuals. When we examine individual salvation in the Old Testament (Romans 4:1–8), we find that David and Abraham were both justified by faith without works. Abraham was a man before the Law (Galatians 3:15–18), David was a man under the Law. But both were justified the same way, and both are held up as models for us. God only justifies on the principle of faith without works. God has only ever justified sinners one way: by grace through faith. There is no difference between a man without Law and a man with Law. There is no difference between Gentiles and Jewish people, between men and women, between wicked sinners and respectable members of society. All need God's righteousness, and He only gives it to those who do not work, but believe (Romans 4:5).
But God is at work not only with individuals, but with the world as a whole. So while David and Abraham were justified the same way, they were under different earthly responsibilities. David was a sinner who needed God's righteous. Abraham was a sinner who needed God's righteousness. On the individual level, there is no difference. But from a dispensational perspective (if I can use that expression), there is tremendous difference. David was a member of the nation of Israel, given the Mosaic (Old) Covenant. There is responsibility there that the patriarchs just did not have.
And don't let's forget that David had a much more complete revelation from God than Abraham had.
There is now a different responsibility than even David had: there is now the assembly on earth. In Abraham's time, there was no house of God on earth. The house of God is mentioned first by Jacob (Genesis 28:17), then by Moses (Exodus 15:17). This isn't something Abraham had, but it's something David had (1 Chronicles 6:31), and it's something we now have (Ephesians 2:19–22).
As an aside, it's worth reading Darby's commentary on Exodus 15 with respect to the dwelling of God on earth.
Now the assembly is the "habitation of God in the Spirit" (Ephesians 2:22). And this carries earthly (dispensational) responsibility. We are individually justified by God freely through faith, but as a group, there is responsibility for the assembly of God on earth. This is precisely the point of Revelation 2 and 3. We have two chapters of the Lord's assessment of that responsibility, and it's clear, complete, and scathing. To put it bluntly, the assembly of God has failed just as completely as Israel did before us.
Let me pause here for a moment... I am sure that when the Lord judges the seven churches in Revelation 2 and 3, He's not limiting His judgment to those who are born again. There are false professors, as well as genuine children of God in those churches. But He treats them all as "the church" in the context of dispensational responsibility. We see the same thing in Jude 1:4, there are certain men who have crept in "unnoticed" – they blend in with the real believers, but they're not real believers. 2 Peter 2:1–3 says the same thing: they're among us. And the Lord doesn't give the true believers a pass when He judges the seven churches in Asia, He judges the church because they have false teachers there (Revelation 2:14–15, 2:20).
So judgment begins in the house of God (1 Peter 4:17), and we as the assembly aren't an exception. The house of God is a very real responsibility on the earth. This isn't an eternal thing, and it's not an individual thing: it's the corporate responsibility of the church of God on earth.
Again, let's try and be clear that we're not talking about individual salvation: that's not what the house of God is about. This is about God's having a place on this earth that is His. His name is there, His reputation is tied to it. In the Old Testament, that was in Israel. It was first in Shiloh, then in Jerusalem (Psalm 78:60–72). And I have no doubt that Psalm 132:14–18 looks forward to a time when the house of God will be established in Jerusalem again, then the Lord Himself is there. But that hasn't happened yet.
Now here's where we get back to the New Covenant: the New Covenant promises "their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more" (Jeremiah 31:34, Hebrews 8:6–12). On an individual level, that has always been true – God does not at all reckon sin to the one who is justified by faith without works (Psalm 32:1–2, Romans 4:6–8). But on a corporate level, that is not true even in the church! Revelation 2 and 3 make it very clear that the Lord sees our [corporate] failures, and He even holds them against us (Revelation 2:4, etc.) 1 Peter 4:17 isn't a meaningless side note: judgment begins in the house of God. Paul says the same thing with regard to the assembly, "let each see how he builds upon it" (1 Corinthians 3:10).
So there is at least one sense in which the New Covenant is better than the present state of the church.
Now, it's very true that the New Testament speaks of the assembly in more than one sense. There is the sense that the assembly is the house of God – and there is responsibility and judgment associated with that – there is also the sense that the assembly is the body of Christ, which is a different thing. The house of God may include false professors, but the body of Christ cannot. Still, the body of Christ is a temporal, earthly thing. When we look outside of our time on this earth, we see not the body of Christ, but the bride of Christ. That is an eternal thing, and certainly no false professor has a part in that.
So to bring this all back: God's saving individuals by grace through faith without works is universal: from Adam until the last day, God only ever saves individuals one way. The Law added nothing to that, and takes nothing away from it. God only saves sinners one way.
But when it comes to responsibility before God in the earthly responsibility that He has given us, that has changed many times. Abraham and David – both justified by faith without works – had very different responsibilities before God on earth. And our responsibilities are different even from theirs. But I am convinced that the Mosaic (Old) and New Covenants are given in that context: the context of corporate responsibility, not individual walk.
I didn't mean to go on like that. Maybe it's best to end this here and we can go on with the New Covenant next time.