Archive for December, 2011

31
Dec
11

Justification and Sanctification

There is perhaps nothing that has caused more confusion and controversy regarding the doctrine of salvation as the failure to understand the differences and similarities between justification and sanctification. Over forty years ago, I first read Holiness by J. C. Ryle. The distinctions he makes in that book have helped me immeasurably. Though I have not reproduced his comments verbatim, I am indebted to him for what follows.

How are justification and sanctification alike?

There are several ways in which justification and sanctification are alike:

A. Both are the work of God’s free grace. That God should grant either justification or sanctification to anyone is a work of his free grace. There is a gentleman [consider this my effort to be kind to others] whose mission in life seems to be to trash every Christian on the globe who does fit into his narrow, and one might say greatly distorted theological mold. Unfortunately, he is not alone. He recently wrote about those who have come to be known as “New Calvinists” and their belief that we are sanctified by the same grace that justified us, “I love those New Calvinist guys that just come right [out] and say sanctification is by the same grace that saved us, which is monergistic, . . . .” In stating his proposition in this way, he betrays his belief that sanctification is not part of salvation. Sure, he believes that when we do our part by obeying and working etc., God gives us help, but that is not the biblical teaching on sanctification. To those who think theologically and biblically, “The grace that saved us” encompasses all God’s salvific activity from eternity to eternity, including sanctification. The entire work, from first to last, is by the same sovereign grace of God.

In reality, the position he is talking about is not a NEW Calvinism position at all, or at least not exclusively so.

J. C. Ryle, wrote,

Let us hear what the Bible says: “For their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified.”–-“Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for it, that He might sanctify and cleanse it.”—“Christ gave Himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto Himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.”—“Christ bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness.”—“Christ hath reconciled (you) in the body of His flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in His sight..” (John xvii. 19; Ephes. V. 25; Titus ii. 14; 1 Peter ii. 24; Coloss. I. 22.) Let the meaning of these five texts be carefully considered. If words mean anything, they teach that Christ undertakes the sanctification, no less than the justification of His believing people. Both are alike provided for in that “everlasting covenant that is ordered in all things and sure,” of which the Mediator is Christ.

B. Both flow from the redeeming work of Christ. Neither justification nor sanctification could have occurred apart from Jesus death on the cross.

John Murray expressed this truth well when he wrote,

We may not think of the Spirit as operative in us apart from the risen and glorified Christ. The sanctifying process is not only dependent upon the death and resurrection of Christ in its initiation; it is also dependent upon the death and resurrection of Christ in its continuance. It is by the efficacy and virtue which proceed from the exalted Lord that sanctification is carried on, and such virtue belongs to the exalted Lord by reason of his death and resurrection. It is by the Spirit that this virtue is communicated.

C. Both require faith in God’s revelation relative to Christ’s accomplished redemptive work. Reckoning ourselves to be truly dead to sin and alive to God is an act of faith in God’s revealed truth.

D. Both begin at the same time. Sinners are justified at the point of initial faith in God’s gospel promises. At that point, God begins the life-long process of sanctification.

E. Both occur in the lives of the same people. A person does not exist who has been justified who is not also being sanctified.

F. Both are necessary for salvation. Believers must be both legally qualified and righteously suited for salvation. “Without holiness, no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12: 14).

2. How do justification and sanctification differ?

A. Justification is a judicial act in which God has declared believers righteousness when in reality we have no righteousness of our own. Sanctification is a remedial work by which God works in us a righteousness that is our own.

B. Justification is perfect and complete immediately. We will never be more righteous in God’s sight than we are the moment we believe the gospel. Sanctification will never be complete in this life. It is an ongoing process that may even retrogress at times.

C. Justification is received by faith alone. Sanctification, although accomplished only through faith, nevertheless employs the believer’s activity. We are exhorted to work out our own salvation through fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12-13). In sanctification, it is not Christ who obeys, but the believer.

D. Justification concerns our legal standing [righteousness] before God; sanctification concerns our state [holiness] in the world.

E. Only God can know the reality of our justification. It cannot be seen by others. No one else can know whether our faith is real or not. Our progress in sanctification can be witnessed by others.

F. There is nothing believers can do to be more pleasing to God, the judge. There are many kinds of behavior that may either please or displease God our Father

17
Dec
11

Review of “The Truth About New Calvinism” By Paul Dohse

I just finished reading The Truth About New Calvinism by Paul M. Dohse Sr. The author was kind enough to send it to me for review. Given his kindness, I would be delighted to be able to say very nice things about what he has written. Unfortunately, the best comments I can make are that the book is well written, easy to read, and provides interesting information about the history of Jon Zen’s association with Brinsmead, Westminster Seminary etc.

In the interest of full disclosure, I was reared in a Fundamentalist Baptist home. I studied Church History under the Fundamentalist, Dr. George W. Dollar and his sidekick Dr. Robert Delney. Dr. Dollar used to claim he and Dr. Charles Woodbridge were the only two real Fundamentalist left. He was clearly struck with the same club that Elijah had encountered. I never was sure where that left his friend and colleague Dr. Delney. At the time, the enemy of God and truth was a new movement called, “neo-evangelicalism.” We were taught certain catch phrases to look for. Anyone who used these phrases was to be castigated and avoided as an enemy of the truth. We were able to pigeon hole most anyone we met just by listening to the phrases they used. It didn’t actually matter if they really didn’t believe what we had detected. We knew they must be guilty if for no other reason than that they associated with people who, had some sort of nebulous relationship with someone who had eaten breakfast with someone who was associated with anti-fundamentalism. I cannot shake the feeling that the spirit of George Dollar’s Fundamentalism has risen from the grave and inhabited the body of Paul Dohse.

When I first began to post on Paul’s blog, he learned that I believed in New Covenant Theology. From that point on, Paul began to tell me what I believed. It did not matter that I didn’t believe what he though I believed. I had to believe what he thought I believed because it was the only thing that would fit his preconceived model.

Paul views everything from his narrow understanding of Theology and his preconceived notions about New Covenant Theology and its supposed relationship with New Calvinism. The reality is that though the two may have some doctrines in common, they are neither dependant on one another nor synonymous with one another. In Paul’s world, if they use any of the same vocabulary, they must be the same.

He is convinced that the Greek word “anomia” refers to antinominism. He brands anyone who understands that God’s eternal and universal law has been given different expressions under different divine covenants as an antinomian. Somehow he has convinced himself that when the New Testament writers spoke about lawlessness, they were speaking about antinomianism. There is a difference between anomia and antinomia [n]. One is a doctrine that may or may not manifest itself in lawless behavior , the other is a lawless attitude that manifests itself in rebellious acts against God. In order for one to be truly an antinomian in the theological sense, he would have to declare that a believer has no duty to obey God’s eternal and universal righteous standard. The apostle Paul makes it clear that the Mosaic expression of that Law was neither universal nor eternal. Otherwise, he could not have spoken of the Gentiles who “do not have the Law,” and who “have sinned without the Law” and “will be judged without the Law.” It seems to me, that leaves us with two exegetical choices: 1. The Gentiles were without God’s law altogether, or 2. The Gentiles were without the Mosaic codified expression of that Law. Since the apostle also tells us the Law entered at a specific point (“the Law came in alongside so that the offense might overflow” Rom 5 “It [the Mosaic Law] was added for the sake of transgressions” Gal. 3) and was given “til the Seed [Christ] came to whom the promises were made.” Gal 3), it could not have been eternal.

If a person argues that that covenantal expression of God’s eternal and universal righteous standard has been replaced by a new expression of the same standard, that does not mean he is against God’s Law or will encourage people to break God’s Law. Thus, the charge of antinomianism is an unfounded charge unless it is made against a person who argues that we are absolutely without obligation to obey God’s revealed will.

Let me be clear. I do not consider myself a New Calvinist. In fact, were it not for what I believe the Scriptures teach I would not consider myself a Calvinist at all. There are probably as many areas of the Reformed Faith with which I find disagreement as there are areas in which I find agreement. I am not even an advocate for New Calvinism. Frankly, all I know about New Calvinism is what I have read in magazine articles. What I do know is that the evidence Paul Dohse has compiled is not convincing. His book is woefully deficient in the area of documentation. He offers many end notes, but his references usually do not say what he claims they say. He regularly confuses justification and sanctification. Somehow, he has the idea that justification is salvation. It is something that happens to us, and then we get beyond it. Anyone who has the most casual acquaintance with theology understands that justification is only one part of God’s salvation.

For him, sanctification is simply a matter of obedience. In his view, we are given the equipment in regeneration and the rest is up to us. Once we are underway, God will help us, but the idea that any desire for obedience or ability to obey comes from God seems foreign to his concept of sanctification. He regularly confuses the idea that we are motivated by God’s love in justifying us with the idea that there is now no need for us to obey God since Jesus obeys for us. We are justified because Jesus obeyed for us. That does not mean we are not expected to obey him.

For some strange reason, Paul has a problem with the rectitude by which we are declared righteous in God’s sight being an alien righteousness, a righteousness that is totally outside of us–an objective righteousness. The truth is, this is simply the gospel. If we believe we are justified by our improvement of an infused righteousness that flows to us as a result of Jesus’ death, we don’t understand the gospel at all. Additionally, Paul has a problem with the idea that our sanctification is accomplished by the redemptive work of Christ as much as our justification was accomplished by his redemptive work. He talks about people fusing justification and sanctification because he doesn’t seem to understand the biblical teaching about either justification or sanctification.

Paul is muddled in this thinking. He spins statements to make them say what he wants them to say. He totally misrepresents New Covenant Theology and insists that anyone who subscribes to it must be a New Calvinist. He gives a great deal of interesting history, but fails to accurately connect the dots. There are at least three ridiculous statements in the book. One has to do with Ernest Reisinger’s supposed fusion of justification and sanctification. p. 157 “The Lordship teaching puts the order of salvation as follows: 1) Regeneration, 2) Faith (which includes repentance), 3) Justification, 4). Sanctification (distinct from but always joined to justification), and 5) Glorification.”

How does that “fuse” justification and sanctification. (It states that sanctification is distinct from justification). There can be no question at all that both justification and sanctification result from Christ’s redemptive work. A person who is not being sanctified has never been justified. This is neither a New Calvinist position nor a New Covenant Theology position. It is a biblical position. I doubt there was a single old Calvinist who didn’t believe this truth. Additionally, I knew Ernest Reisinger, and he was neither a New Calvinist nor a New Covenant Theologian.

The second concerns a resolution that was offered by Tom Ascol to the Southern Baptist Convention in 2008. It urges the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention to repent of the failure among us to live up to our professed commitment to regenerate church membership. . . . p. 160. Granted, the statement would have been clearer if Ascol had inserted an “a” before regenerate church membership, i. e. a regenerate church membership. Baptist have always believed not in a sacral society but in a regenerate membership. Paul, wrongly interprets this statement to mean that church discipline regenerates. In other words he understands the word “regenerate” as a verb rather than as an adjective. Ascol was talking about the kind of church membership to which Baptist have always been committed, not to what regenerates the church membership. A man with any understanding of Baptist beliefs and of theology in general would have known this. Instead, Paul wrote, “Notice the implication that church discipline regenerates.” It is just ignorance on fire. I pointed this out to him before he went to press, but he published it anyway.

The third is the claim that Piper encourages meditation on pictures of Jesus. p. 99. From that statement, one would conclude that Piper might be advocating some sort of veneration of or at least contemplation of icons. What a horrible thing, right? Such would be a clear violation of God’s commandments. “My little children, keep yourself from icons.” What Piper was actually talking about was literary portraits of Jesus given us by the four biblical evangelists. I confronted Paul about this prior to publication, but he insisted on publishing this nonsense anyway.

Paul continues to interpret the following statements improperly: (see p. 97).

1. “This meant the reversal of the relationship of sanctification to justification. Infused grace, beginning with baptismal regeneration, internalized the Gospel and made sanctification the basis of justification. This is an upside down Gospel.” John Piper

2. “When the ground of justification moves from Christ outside of us to the work of Christ inside of us, the gospel (and the human soul) is imperiled. It is an upside down gospel.”
John Piper

Anyone who understands theology, even marginally, would understand that Piper is talking about the basis of our justification. Paul claims Piper is, by these statements, denying the necessity and reality of regeneration.

These statements have nothing whatsoever to do with regeneration. This is the kind of misrepresentation that characterizes the entire book.

There may be many problems with New Calvinism, but Paul has lost all credibility by his prodigious misrepresentations. I know this personally since he has misrepresented my views on many occasions. For all I know, New Calvinism may be fraught with problems. If so, someone needs to write a book that exposes them. Actual quotations in context would be very helpful. If someone is telling us we do not have to be obedient to Christ, we must reject them. If someone is telling us we may do what we like contrary to the will of God because he is obeying for us, we may safely reject their message. If someone is teaching that believers continue to be totally depraved, they need to be corrected. If someone is abusing their authority in church discipline, they need to stop abusing the sheep and return to a bibilical pattern. Still, we must not “throw the baby out with the bath water.” We need to accept the truth the New Calvinists are teaching and reject whatever we cannot find substantiated in the Bible. “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” Unless you need a good laugh, don’t waste you money on this book.

12
Dec
11

The Assurance of Salvation

The issue of the believer’s assurance has caused a great deal of controversy through the centuries. The Roman Catholic “church” has flatly denied that an infallible assurance it possible.
Gregory the Great, a seventh Century Pope wrote, “The greater our sins, the more we must do to make up for them …whether we have done enough to atone for them we cannot know until after death … We can never be sure of success … assurance of salvation, and the feeling of safety engendered by it is dangerous for anybody and would not be desirable even if possible.”

On the other extreme is the fundamentalist who suggests that we drive a stake in the back yard with the date of our decision on it so that if we ever have doubts, we can look at the stake and retrieve our assurance. If I have ever “prayed the prayer” then I must never doubt that I am a Christian because that would be calling God a liar.

The Word of God leaves no doubt that it is possible for us to be assured that we are right with God. If such an assurance were not possible, the biblical writers would not have exhorted us to be sure of our salvation. In his second epistle, the apostle Peter wrote, “be diligent to make sure for yourselves your calling and election.” The writer of the Epistle to the Hebrews expressed his desire that each of his readers “show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope to the end.”

There are many questions that surround the issue of the assurance of salvation. The following are some of them: 1. Are faith and assurance the same? 2. Is it possible to loose one’s assurance and still be a Christian? 3. Is assurance based on anything we do or is it based totally on what Christ has done for us? 4. Is it possible to have a false assurance?

The answer to these and other questions may well depend on what kind of assurance we are talking about. The New Testament Scriptures use the term “full assurance” three different times. Each time the term refers to a different type of assurance.

In Colossians 2:2, the apostle Paul sets as a goal for believers the attainment of the “full assurance of understanding.” By this term he seems to mean the full assurance that through the Holy Spirit’s work of illumination and through diligent study we have come to understand God’s special revelation of himself and his purposes for us. Clearly, such understanding does not come to us because we sleep with the Bible under our pillow at night. The only thing that will do is give us a stiff neck in the morning. Such an understanding will only come to us as we diligently study the Scriptures.

The other two occurrences of this phrase are in the Epistle to the Hebrews. One time the writer speaks of the full assurance of hope. The other time, he speaks of the full assurance of faith. Is there a difference between these two expressions or is the writer simply using different terms for the sake of variety? I would answer that these terms differ just as the words “faith” and “hope” differ in meaning. Perhaps, it will be helpful, first of all, to distinguish between faith and hope. Clearly, these terms are closely related but must be distinguished from one another.

They differ in these ways. Faith looks at and rests on God’s promise. Hope looks at and longs for the blessing (the object) God has promised. Often, faith looks at what God has done; hope longs for what God is going to do in the future. Faith accounts God to be faithful to do whatever he has promised whether it is positive or negative; the object of hope is always positive. For example, one would not properly speak about the hope of eternal punishment. Faith is accounting God faithful to do what he has promised; hope is the favorable and confident assurance that we will enjoy what God has promised though the object of that promise is as yet unseen.

Related to assurance, the difference is this–the “assurance of faith” relates to God’s faithfulness. The believer is assured that if his faith is genuine, he has been so cleansed from his sins by Christ’s blood that he may now approach God with a clear conscience. His acceptance in God’s presence has nothing to do with his performance or his obedience. It has only to do with Christ’s performance. He enjoys the full assurance that God has accepted him in the beloved. The “full assurance of faith” (Heb.10:19-22) is our settled confidence that if we are in Christ, his work and his work alone cleanses our consciences before God. It rests on God’s unchangeable promise and oath and cannot be lost if we are true believers. This depends on Christ’s sacrifice alone, and our obedience has nothing to do with it.

The “full assurance of hope” (Heb. 6:11) requires our diligence. It has nothing to do with whether God is faithful. That is a given. It is the assurance that we are truly united to Christ and will certainly enjoy the inheritance God has promised us. This assurance can be lost if we are walking in disobedience or neglecting the things of God. It does not question that all who are in Christ are made spotless in God’s presence by his work alone; it questions the reality of our attachment to Christ.

If we are habitually slothful in spiritual things or if we are continuously disobedient to Christ’s commandments, we have every reason to believe our assurance may be a false assurance. There are certain virtues that will invariably accompany true and saving faith. The writer to the Hebrews penned these words,

9But, beloved, we are confident of better things concerning you, yes, things that accompany salvation, though we speak in this manner. 10For God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward His name, in that you have ministered to the saints, and do minister. 11And we desire that each one of you show the same diligence to the full assurance of hope until the end, 12that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.

It is important that we understand that the text doesn’t say “just do it.” It would be enough if it did, but it does more. There is nothing wrong with duty, but it is clearly a lower motive than gratitude for love and acceptance. The reality is that we are to be diligent in obedience and as a result will enjoy the full assurance of hope because we have been granted the full assurance of faith. This is what we read in Hebrews,

8Now where there is remission of these, there is no longer an offering for sin.
19Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, 20by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, 21and having a High Priest over the house of God, 22let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works (Heb. 10: 18-24).

We strive to be faithful to the confession of our hope because He who promised is faithful.

11
Dec
11

Assumptions

It has been brought home to me with force lately how dangerous it is to assume people in the religious community have a working understanding of biblical truth.  I have been engaged in an online discussion with a group of people who continue to talk about having been saved and now moving on to something else, in this case what they would call sanctification.  Part of their position is that we are not sanctified by the same grace and gospel that “saved” us.  Apparently, in their view, there is no need for faith in Christ in the sanctification process.  We just sort of roll up our sleeves and get on with the task of obedience now that the work of “salvation” has been completed.  We have believed; now we simply move on to obedience and one thing has nothing to do with the other.

It occurred to me that part of the problem is that for better than a century now, evangelicals have taught us that faith is a decision we make in an evangelistic meeting or in response to a personal appeal in which we are asked to pray the “sinner’s prayer” as if this formula is a “one size fits all” potion that only needs to be repeated and presto, we magically become the children of God.  In this scheme, faith is like a snapshot.  It is as if they are saying, “I believed the gospel 40 years ago.  It happened, then I moved on to the next stage and left faith in Christ behind.”

In reality, true faith is like a video.  By that I mean that true faith in Christ is not something I had, but something I have.  The question we should ask is not “Have you trusted in Christ?” but “Are you trusting in Christ.”  True faith perseveres.

Robert Traill wrote,

And simple as the old remedy for thirst may appear, it is the root of the inward life of all God’s greatest servants in all ages. What have the saints and martyrs been in every era of Church history, but men who came to Christ daily by faith, and found “His flesh meat indeed and His blood drink indeed?” (John vi. 55.) What have they all been but men who lived the life of faith in the Son of God, and drank daily out of the fulness there is in Him? (Gal. ii. 20.) Here, at all events, the truest and best Christians, who have made a mark on the world, have been of one mind. Holy Fathers and Reformers, holy Anglican divines and Puritans, holy Episcopalians and Nonconformists, have all in their best moments borne uniform testimony to the value of the Fountain of life. Separated and contentious as they may sometimes have been in their lives, in their deaths they have not been divided. In their last struggle with the king of terrors they have simply clung to the cross of Christ, . . . .

Robert Traill, Robert Traill’sWorks Vol.I, 1696, (London: Banner of Truth Trust), reprint edition. pp. 266-269.

In other words, in the last moments of his life, the true believer will be found by faith still clinging to Christ, his Savior and great lover of his soul.

The second matter that struck me was the apparent assumption that not only is this initial decision thought of as faith, something we have to do and get it over with, but that the salvation we receive upon making this decision is it. That is all there is to salvation. Now we have been saved; it is time to move on to obedience which apparently we have to muster up on our own. Of course, once we get under way God will get involved and help us, but in its initiatory stages it is our responsibility, and whether we like it or not, we have to do it.

The reality is, our reconciliation with God and our justification before him are simply initiatory steps in the long process of restoring God’s image in us. How often have I heard someone say, “God hasn’t predestined or chosen us to salvation, he has predestined us to be holy and conformed to the image of his Son.” What do they think salvation is? Being saved from the penalty of sin is only one step toward our ultimate conformity to the image of Christ. God’s work of salvation stretches from eternity to eternity. It begins with his plan and purpose in eternity past. It is accomplished by Jesus’ obedience even to the death of the cross. It is applied by the Holy Spirit to the hearts of sinful rebels against God whom he makes willing in the day of his power. It reaches its grand climax in the work of glorification in which believers from all ages will be completely conformed to Christ’s image. The work from start to finish is salvation. It is all accomplished by Christ’s death; every facet of it calls for a complete reliance on Christ. The same cross that justified us also sanctifies and glorifies us.

An old writer named Octavious Winslow penned the following words:

From every tongue in glory, and through the high arches of heaven, the anthem shall peal, “Worthy is the Lamb!” Believer in Christ! pants not your soul to join that song? and exults not your spirit in the truth that salvation, from first to last, is of God? Oh, how precious is the truth in the consciousness of our many failures and defects! Our salvation is all in Christ–our righteousness is all in Christ–our merit is all in Christ–our completeness is all in Christ–in Christ our Covenant Head, our Surety and Mediator; and no flaw in our obedience, no defect in our love, no failure in our service, should so cast us down as to shut our eye to our acceptance in the Beloved. Imperfections we would not overlook, sin we would not allow, disobedience we would not indulge, temptation we would not encourage; nevertheless, we would ever remember, for our encouragement, that, in default of perfection in the most perfect of our doings, we are fully and eternally, complete in Jesus.

Octavius Winslow, The Sympathy of Christ With Man, (New York: Robert Carter and Brothers, 1863) pp. 83-84.

02
Dec
11

The Permanence of the Ten Commandments

There are many who have though it edifying to label those who believe in New Covenant Theology as Antinomians, Neo-Antinomian, or Neo-nomians.  Some have given the impression that we are intent on attacking the Decalogue, since they have felt it necessary to defend it from us.  The reality is, if we truly believed the Scriptures taught that law, as a covenant, continues, we would, by God’s grace, proclaim it and seek to obey it.

Regarding the issue of the perpetuity of the Ten Commandments, I think it would first be beneficial to state some of what I believe are biblically based presuppositions on which I have based my conclusions.  They are as follows:

1.  The term “law” in Scriptures has many and varied meanings.  It may mean the Pentateuch or Torah, The Old Testament Scriptures, a principle, e.g. “I find then a law. . . .” (Rom. 7), so-called natural law, the law of Christ, God’s eternal, universal law and the Sinaitic or Mosaic Covenant.

2.  Related to number one, we must distinguish between the Mosaic Covenant or“The Old Covenant,” and the Old Testament Scriptures.  Though one has been fulfilled and replaced by the New Covenant, the other continues to have abiding validity for the New Covenant believer.

3.  When the biblical writers speak of “Law” related to the Mosaic Covenant, they never make the theological distinction between Moral, Civil or Judicial, and Ceremonial Law.  In fact, the apostle Paul linked the rite of circumcision and submission to it to the responsiblity to keep the “whole law” Though the Mosaic code clearly contained some commandments that pertained to the governing of the civil society and others were ceremonial in nature and still others were more of a moral nature, there was an integrity between them that cannot be dissolved.  The Tables of Stone were the covenant and the other commandments describe either how to carry out the covenant or what was to be done if the covenant is broken.  In reality, all these commandments were “moral” since to break any of them demonstrated a total lack of love for God.

In 2 Corinthians 3:6-7, Paul states that he is a minister of the New Covenant.  Then, he makes a clear contrast between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant with the words “letter,” by which he refers to the Law, the Old Covenant, and “Spirit,” by which he refers to the gospel or the New Covenant.  He calls the law the “letter that kills,” “the ministry of death,” and
“the ministry of condemnation.”  He then identifies that covenant with that which was written and engraven on stone.  He tells us that, 1.  He is not a minister of that covenant but of the New Covenant (v.6),  2.  That covenant was eclipsed in glory by the brilliant light of the New Covenant (vv 8-10),   3.  That covenant was passing away (v.  11).

If we contend that the covenant continues, then we must acknowledge that all 613 commandments continue as well.  This was one of the issues between the Reformers and the Baptists.  The Reformers, perpetuating the error of Rome, continued to believe the Church and the State formed a monolithic society, as was the case with Israel.  The Baptist believed in the separation of church and state.

4.  The commandments written on tables of stone were the covenant God made with Israel (Exo 34:28), are not the eternal, moral law of God as such.  God’s eternal righteous standard never changes.  It existed prior to the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai and continues after the coming of Christ.  God has expressed that law in many ways.  It was written on the human heart by virtue of the fact that, in Adam, God created us upright and in his own image.  It was written by God’s finger on tables of Stone at Mt. Sinai, it is now written on the fleshly tables of the believer’s heart in fulfillment of the New Covenant promise.  The Sabbath commandment served as a ceremonial sign of the Old Covenant (Exo. 31:17).  It continued as long as the covenant continued.  It was to be  observed for two reasons: 1.  Because God finished his creation activity and rested on the seventh day, and   2.  Because God delivered the children of Israel from their Egyptian bondage.  Both these reasons point forward to the redemptive activity of Christ.  He has become the believer’s “Sabbath rest.”  He was raised on the first day of the week, signaling the completion of the New Creation, and he has delivered us once and for all from the bondage of sin of which Egyptian bondage was a type or foreshadowing.  The communion cup is the sign of the New Covenant.  Every time we celebrate the Lord’s table, we are to  remember his establishment of the New Covenant of which we are a part by grace.

The only difference, in substance, between the decalogue and the law of Christ, both being expressions of God’s eternal law, is that the signs of the covenants are different.  The principal difference between the requirements of these two covenants, is that by God’s indwelling Spirit, New Covenant believers are enabled to obey what the Old Covenant could only demand.

5.  The Old Covenant was a covenant of promise.  In fact, all the covenants of the Old Testament Scriptures were only promissory in nature as far as the spiritual promises were concerned.  The law made nothing complete. Those promises along with the spiritual inheritance they were to grant would not become a reality until the seed should come with reference to whom the promises were made.

6.  The theme of union with Christ, is the central theme of the New Testament Scriptures.  In fact, Christ is the primary subject matter of both Testaments.  He said, “They are they that testify of me. . . .”  The theme of the book is not law, but Christ.

7.  We must understand the Scriptures from the perspective of the history of redemption, i.e., that which God has accomplished in Christ,  rather than from the perspective of the order of the application of redemption, that which God is doing in us.

I am sure there will be other presuppositions that we will discover as the discussion continues, but these should be sufficient to occupy us for some good time.  Based on these presuppositions,  there are just two questions I would like to propose to kick start our discussion.

1.  Assuming the Old Covenant was written on tables of stone and that those commandments written on tables of stone were what we know as the Ten Commandments, how can that covenant be said to be “passing away” if those 10 commandments are the eternal law of God?  How can Paul say, the Law was given until the Seed should come to whom the promises were made?

2.  If Paul states that there are those who have “sinned without law” (Romans 2:12), “do not have the law,” (Romans 2:14), and are “without law,” how can the law (in this case referring to the Decalogue) be considered universal?

He cannot be referring to the law written in every person’s heart, since no one is without that law.  It is impossible to sin without that law.   He cannot be referring merely to ceremonial or civil law since we are told they show “the works of the law written on their hearts.”  It seems highly unlikely that people worldwide understand that one must avoid shellfish or that if a woman sits on the bed while she is menstruating she will make the bed unclean.

If the Law, (Ten Commandments), is universal, how can anyone be “without it?”