Editorial – He ain’t heavy … He’s my Saviour
If you’re under the cosh, get under the Cross!
Ask anyone about the Ten Commandments and the phrase that most readily springs to mind is “Thou shalt not…”. Perhaps their unspoken idea should be called ‘The Ten Burdens’. Yet, if we take time to think rather than just feel about God’s list of prohibitions, the ‘burdens’ view makes no sense. Jesus perfectly obeyed and fulfilled the Law of God and this was His ‘delight’. If God’s Grace was going to render the law pointless, why would he take pleasure in keeping it? We sing Burdens are lifted at Calvary – and so they are. Hallelujah! So was Calvary God’s apology for Sinai? Did He repent of giving the Law – or are Moses and Jesus on the same team?
Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones defined true preaching as ‘logic on fire’. God’s Word is the most joined-up thinking in the universe. All of it either points to Calvary or flows from it in glorious consequence until the Last Adam heads up one new humanity (Ephesians 2:15) and even creation itself is redeemed from the effects of sin (Romans 8:21). Far from being full of contradictions as its critics love to claim, its powerful logic unfolds flawlessly from Genesis to Revelation. Let us see if what we know about God can help us end the (wholly imagined) conflict between the ‘Old’ and ‘New’ Testaments, law and grace, Moses and Jesus, Sinai and Calvary – and let’s trust God for the fire… As a death-row prisoner in Rome, Paul the apostle said, “all scripture is Godbreathed and profitable…”, referring to the Hebrew scriptures – our ‘Old Testament’ – of which he had expert knowledge. One of the subsequent proofs of this is that the ‘New Testament’ is generously sprinkled with quotes from and references to the Old Testament. In the Gospels alone, Jesus Himself quoted from all sections of the Hebrew scriptures over 80 times – even when he was dying on the cross. The church, Paul said, is “built on the foundation of the apostles and the prophets” (not just the apostles). No comfort here for those who set the Old and New, law and grace against each other !
The last time we meet Moses in the Bible is in the New Testament, not the Old. It’s just days before Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion when – to the jaw-dropping astonishment of Peter, James and John – Jesus’ appearance shines with indescribable heavenly glory while Moses and Elijah, converse with Him “about His departure”. So Moses the Law Giver finally made it into the Promised Land to strengthen the Saviour for His coming ordeal! How great is Our God!
Moses – justified by faith!
The core of our glorious Gospel message is that righteousness is not a human achievement but the gift of God. In fact, our righteousness is not just a thing, it’s a Person – Name of Jesus! Our scholarly Paul can’t even explain this righteousness which, he says is ‘apart from the Law’, without insisting that both the Law and the prophets testify to this miracle of grace. Here’s how he puts it: “…now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it” (Romans 3:21). He’s implying here that Moses wrote about justification by faith! How could this be?
John the apostle said, “The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn 1:17). He is not implying here that grace and truth are opposed to the Law – because all have their source in the God of grace. ‘Law’ also was a gift of grace, a mentor, not a means, of righteousness, until Messiah – the ultimate Teacher – should appear (Galatians 3:24). “By the law comes knowledge of sin”. The Law had the power to illuminate reality, but not to change it; to educate, but not to redeem; to expose the slavery of sin but not to free its slaves; to reveal righteousness, but not to impart it. The Law has always been the ally of the Grace that was to be revealed in Jesus Christ. Let’s be clear about what’s unfolding here: when John said “The law came through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ”, he was not praising grace and truth and denigrating the law, he was explaining that God’s Son had personally delivered the final part of God’s unfolding plan of which the law was the earlier part.
So how did Moses write about justification by faith – and how could he write about the Justifier? Moses is universally recognised as the inspired writer of the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures. Everything we know about Abraham, we learn from Moses. When Paul wanted to teach the church about justification by faith he had to draw from Moses’ writings to show that Abraham’s faith “was credited to him as righteousness” – 430 years before the Law was given!
It’s an old dictum that “the ‘New’ is in the ‘Old’ concealed, the ‘Old’ is in the ‘New’ revealed.” Paul asked for prayer that he might boldly “make known the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:19), meaning that what was formerly a mystery to ancient Israel’s prophets has now been fully illuminated by the coming of God’s Son. (Matthew 13:17; 1 Peter 1:10-12) This mystery / revelation principle alone is a powerful indicator of the agreement between the two testaments and the writings of prophets and apostles. There’s a point here not to be missed: If you want the whole truth, you need a whole Bible! The Old Testament is ‘Plan A’ – and so is the New! God has no ‘Plan B’. When Jesus and the apostles wanted to 4 prove that what they were saying was from God they quoted their proof from the writings of Moses, the Psalmists and the Prophets. When the Bereans needed to check out that Paul’s new teaching about Jesus and the resurrection was kosher, they searched the Old Testament scriptures for corroboration!
Powerful evidence that God did not lay ‘Ten Burdens’ on His people is in the little preamble which introduces the First Commandment. Before he commanded: “you shall have no other gods before me”, God reminded them: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) Did you notice that this God of amazing grace secured their salvation before He looked for their obedience? He had parted the Red Sea for their full and irreversible escape from slavery and then closed the sea so that the very means of their deliverance literally overwhelmed those who still laid claim to their slave labour. They were rescued, not by meeting God’s moral standards, but by God’s grace and mercy – the Law would come after their deliverance, not before. My friend Chuck Cohen who, with his wife Karen contributes regularly to this magazine, said recently: “The root is salvation by His election and His grace. The fruit is repentance – which lasts until the day one dies. The real formula is ‘Be saved and repent!’”
The freedom of obedience!
God saved His people and then commanded “Thou shalt not” – that is, ‘you need to unlearn everything Egypt taught you’. The unlearning would be the next part of the rescue – not ten burdens but ten words of counsel from their personal Life Coach. Had he not said: “I am YOUR God…”?
Nor did God demand blind obedience from an ignorant people whose idolatry might be excusable. His audience had just emerged from a crash education programme which, in short order, had trashed 400 years of ignorance. If ever a people were “without excuse” (Romans 1:20), it was those former slaves who, with their own eyes, had witnessed the futility and fakery of Egypt’s multiple gods – and their servants – in contrast to the awesome power of Yahweh and the 100% accuracy of His word through Moses. Education removed the burden of ignorance.
Yet again the New Testament flows with this insight and John the apostle declares; “Loving God means keeping his commandments, and his commandments are not burdensome.” (1 John 5:3) If we read on, we discover why obedience is the opposite of a burden: “For every child of God defeats this evil world, and we achieve this victory through our faith. And who can win this battle against the world? Only those who believe that Jesus is the Son of God.” (1 John 5:4-5) Since we live in a world that is in a constant state of rebellion against God, it is freedom indeed to live in obedience to His commands. ‘He ain’t heavy – he’s my Saviour!’
Now we need to tackle a point of deep misinterpretation – one which often lies at the root of supposed conflict between law and grace. How are we supposed to understand Paul when he says: “you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14) – is he encouraging Christians to ignore God’s law? That can’t possibly be the case because he himself will say in the next chapter: “the law is holy and the commandment is holy and righteous and good”. (Romans 7:12) Not only so, but love and respect for God’s moral law is central to the New Covenant promised through the prophet Jeremiah – the same New Covenant, Jesus declared would be inaugurated with the shedding of His blood (Luke 22:20), “For 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.” (Jeremiah 31:33) Paul means that the Law is no longer the basis of our acceptance before God. As my last editorial noted, “Law shows the need and grace meets it. In the business of sanctification, the Law gives us light for the walk (Psalm 119:105) and Grace keeps us free of condemnation throughout the walk”. (Romans 8:1).
Never at any point in His ministry, did Jesus oppose the Law (He had authored it!). His apostle James described it as “the perfect law that gives freedom” (James 1:25 – NIV)! What He consistently opposed and exposed were the wearisome traditions and regulations which religionists had overlaid on the perfect law: “The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. (Matthew 23:2-4) Listen to the legalists and you’ll end up with more than ‘Ten Burdens’!
If we Christians are to have a proper respect for the Ten Commandments, it will help to remember that “God is love”. When He commands “You shall have no other gods before me”, there is no self-interest in the prohibition. God is not enhanced by our exclusive worship, nor is He diminished by our disloyalty. Exclusive worship is for our benefit, not His. He gives this first command because there are no other gods, just DIY fakes behind which hide demonic beings who will use misplaced worship to enslave the former slaves over again! (1 Corinthians 10:20) Try separating amazing grace from the Ten Commandments – it can’t be done!