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Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Lies that I used to believe in #1

Someone once said, "Everything You've Heard is Wrong". Actually, it was Tony Campolo, one of my favorite mentors. I call him my 'mentor' because I have learned quite a few things from him over the years, and continue to do so, both personally as well as through his books, talks and articles. And the saying is actually the title of one of his books. In the spirit of "Everything... wrong" I decided to run through some of the things that I used to believe in, but have since discovered that the truth is somewhat different than what the "official received version" that was handed down by the church(es) I have attended, or by the teachings in Christianity I have received:

Lie #1: Salvation in the Old Testament is through works of the Law while in the New Testament it is through faith by grace... (Law Vs Grace, OT Vs NT, etc. etc.)

In a nutshell this lie causes a contrast between the nature and purpose of the law and the function and understanding of God's grace. On the one hand, we say that in the New Testament era we are under grace, and on the other hand, we say that the Old Testament law doesn't apply to us anymore. Yet, we still draw upon the Old Testament legalistic approach and some decidedly Old Testament practices as the norm in our spiritual commitments. For instance, most Christians and churches encourage the practice of tithing and we do appeal to the OT from time to time to support our Christian beliefs, customs and practices.

One thing we do not carry over from the Old Testament is its alleged emphasis on Law. And, for sound biblical reasons too. After all, didn't Paul say in Romans that we are not under law, but under grace? From verses like these we have too quickly extrapolated to believe that in OT times the nation of Israel was under law but now in NT times, the church is under grace. We also get this from John 1: 17: "For law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ." From these passages, we somehow extrapolated that in OT times, God was standing by ranking his people by their obedience to the law, and accepting those who by their dedication and superhuman powers were able to keep the whole law. Based on Romans 7, I doubt anyone qualified! That means, no one in the Old Testament would have met God's standards. So, no one was "saved" (although according to my OT professor at college, salvation in the OT is decidedly a very different concept from our post-NT understanding - but I shall leave that for another post), or no one had right relationship with God in the OT, at least not in the period since the introduction of the law of Moses.

Yet, we do know that there were people who found favor in God's eyes and that they were those who we anticipate one day meeting as part of the roll of the saints. So, what gives? Did God deal with people differently in the OT? Did He change the way He relates to His people? What about the concept of "Jesus the same, today, yesterday and forever?" Oh, His essence does not change, but the way He deals with His people has changed! Is that so?

I rather doubt it!

The Old Testament law is a grand testimony to the grace of God! And I learned this from a Moody Bible Institute class many years ago! Yep! That institution which champions dispensationalism, and the rightly dividing the word of truth, of understanding the contrast between the dispensation of grace against the dispensation of law, etc! While taking an Old Testament course from MBI, I came upon the lesson of Leviticus 16: the day of atonement. The lecture was on the centrality of the Day of Atonement. Every year the High Priest must offer a sin offering and a burnt for himself and his family. And then he must offer a sin offering for the people in the form of a goat. The elaborate ritual culminates with the High Priest laying hands on the head of a live goat and confessing over it "all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites-all their sins" and then release of the scapegoat- the goat that shall "carry on itself all their sins"-into the desert. Finally, all of the remains of the bull and the goat that were the sin and burnt offerings were to be all carried outside the camp and everything to be burned up.

This is a solemn ritual and a critical part of the Old Testament religion. The Day of Atonement is the quintessential expression of grace in Old Testament law. It points to Final Day of Atonement when Christ is offered up as the ultimate sacrifice. But each year that the Day of Atonement was celebrated in Old Testament times, it is another year of reminder of God's grace and His acceptance of his people who chose to walk according to His ways. So, works of the law did not achieve peace with God for the OT faithful, but keeping the law did! For keeping the law includes the Day of Atonement when ALL their sins were confessed and taken outside the camp as a symbolism that God has removed their sins from them as far as the east is from the west... Did you get that? Keeping the OT Law actually 'saves'! Not through the works of the law, but through the grace of God! And the grace of God was revealed through the Law of Moses

The point is the God of Moses is the same God revealed through Jesus Christ. A God full of grace and mercy. A God who does not count our sins against us because He is gracious to give to us a way out and restores us to Himself, and a God who does not deliver us our just deserts because He has offered a Substitute for us to receive At-one-ment - peace - with Himself.

What a God! The same, yesterday, today and forever!