Continuity of Righteous Standard–an excerpt from The Cross: the heart of New Covenant Theology

I believe the following is the section Stuart Brogden was referring to in his e-mail response to my question. This post should be read in conjunction with my earlier post “Baptist Covenant Theology.”

God has only one standard of righteousness. The principles of righteousness that provide the foundation for every administration of God’s sovereign purpose arise from the character of the law-giver Himself, not from the epochal, cultural, and geographical situations in which those principles are articulated. The law-giver demands that His creatures love Him supremely and reflect that love in their love for and just treatment of their neighbors. New Covenant believers are no longer expected to obey, in meticulous detail, all of the laws of the Old Covenant. Does this suggest that the character of the law-giver has changed in some way? Of course not! Such a thing is impossible.

Not every commandment of the Old Covenant was “moral” in the sense that it reflected the holy character of God. Some were ceremonial in nature; others were civil laws. Yet, there is a sense in which every commandment of that covenant was “moral.” These injunctions were “moral” simply by virtue of the fact that it was God who gave them. In this sense, they were not merely cultural and national mandates; they were the commandments of the Holy One. Failure to obey these commandments reflected a lack of love for the law-giver.

The Old Covenant measured holiness in terms of law-keeping. Prior to the advent of the Messiah, the Israelite’s love for God and neighbor was expressed in his obedience to every point of the law, not just the Decalogue. It was unholy to commit adultery. It was unholy to gather sticks on the Sabbath (Num 15:32-36). It was unholy to reap an entire field (Lev 19:9-10). It was unholy to eat certain kinds of food (Deut 14:7-8). It was not possible to omit any duty prescribed by the law or commit any transgression forbidden by the law and still be considered holy. How, then, can it be that New Covenant believers can walk in holiness and yet be free from all obligation to obey many of the commandments of the Old Covenant? Because they are under a New Covenant. Under the New Covenant, every truly “moral” principle (I would prefer to call them righteous principles) of the Old Covenant is repeated and becomes the “binding authority”, under the Lord Christ, for the believer. Through the ministry of the indwelling Spirit, the “righteous requirements of the law are fully met in us” (Rom 8:4). Though the character of the law-giver does not change, the specific requirements of the Old and New Covenants are different. God demands that all his creatures love Him. Yet, He does not command people under different covenants to demonstrate that love in the same ways.

Under the Old Covenant, Sabbath-breakers were to be put to death. Why was the punishment for this sin so severe? What was so horrible about picking up sticks on the Sabbath? Was this an immoral act? Was the Sabbath rest a reflection of the holy character of God, so that Sabbath breaking rendered one ungodly (unlike God)? No! The fact that God rests from His labor does not tell us what God is; it tells us what God does. It was an immoral act, however, in the sense that it disregarded a commandment that God had given. In fact, it disregarded the entire covenant. Sabbath-breaking was treated so harshly under the Old Covenant because the sabbath was the sign of that covenant (Exo 31:13-17). To break the Sabbath was to break covenant with God. It was not only an insult to God; it was a clear demonstration of the perpetrator’s lack of love for God.

There is discontinuity in standards of behavior between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. Yet, the standard of righteousness remains the same. Daniel and his companions refused to eat food from a pagan king’s table (Dan 1:8), because to have eaten such fare, under the Old Covenant, would have been an act of unfaithfulness to God. A New Covenant believer may now eat such a meal without fear of “being defiled” (Rom 14:3,17). What has changed? Does God expect less from believers under the New Covenant than He did from Israel? Of course not! In fact, the standard of behavior for New Covenant believers is higher than the standard imposed on Israel under the Old Covenant. The standard of behavior has changed because the covenant under which God demanded such behavior has been abrogated. God’s standard of righteousness is summarily comprehended in Jesus’ words, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt 22:37-40). This is the standard of righteousness required under every covenant. The way in which love to God and neighbor is to be exhibited (the standard of behavior) depends on the demands of the particular covenant that is in force at the time. It is the New Testament Scriptures that define sanctified behavior for the New Covenant believer (1 Thess 4:1-3), not the Old Covenant written in tables of stone (the Ten Commandments). The New Covenant believer is under the covenantal authority of the New, not the Old Covenant.

I urge you to comment on these issues.


3 Responses to “Continuity of Righteous Standard–an excerpt from The Cross: the heart of New Covenant Theology”

  1. 1 Jordan Hartley
    May 2, 2016 at 9:37 am

    Fantastic! Thanks for posting.

  2. 2 Jordan Hartley
    May 2, 2016 at 9:47 am

    I can’t seem to find a good link to the original article from “the cross”

    • May 2, 2016 at 2:04 pm

      Jordon, Thanks for stopping by and commenting. There is no working link now. It was posted on newcovenanttheology.org but that is no longer a functioning page. If you would like a copy, I will be happy to send it to your email.

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