How Old Testament Saints Related to God: Faith

In the car lately I’ve been listening to a series of lectures by Paul House on the theology of the Old Testament. Here are some of the things that I’ve been learning:

What does it mean to be a covenant keeper?

For a long time, I’ve thought that Israel was meant to keep the law perfectly. I suppose the reason I thought this was because people often talk about Jesus fulfilling the law perfectly, and especially “doing what Israel could never do.” That part about Jesus is true (he did do that). The first part about Israel is not (they weren’t called to be perfect). House makes a compelling case from one simple fact: the presence of the sacrificial system in OT law.

The presence of the sacrificial system as part of the law ought to eliminate any notion of Israelite-law-perfection. The sacrificial system is there, it exists, to deal with sin. It assumes the presence of sin. You could put it this way: in order to keep the law perfectly, you have to observe laws that God himself wrote about what to do when you stray from the covenant. If you’re going to keep the law perfectly, you have to observe sacrifices for your own sin. Unless you’re Jesus, who simply doesn’t sin, and therefore does not need to make any provision for sin (since it’s not there, and since his fellowship with his Father is never broken).

The OT’s sacrificial laws, take the annual day of atonement for example, are based on the continual (at least annual) presence of sin. It assumes that restoration between covenant partners (God and Israel) must be made. You do not have to keep the law perfectly to be a covenant keeper. You don’t. What then does it mean to be a covenant keeper?

Seeking forgiveness in God’s way

In order to live a life pleasing to God, Israel was called to seek forgiveness in the way God prescribed. This call rests on the assumption that Israel will, in fact, recognize that it has sin in the first place. And then, once people realize that, they seek God’s means.

Obviously, a reading of just about any OT book proves that Israel was not aware of this — let alone the need to pursue it in God’s way. But this is, nonetheless, what God wants: for his redeemed but still sinful people to seek forgiveness in the way he prescribes. This is what it means to be a covenant keeper.

“Seeking forgiveness in God’s way” is language that prepares us for one of the most important New Testament words: faith.

Pointing forward to faith

This idea, that you can be a covenant keeper (even though you sin) as long as you are seeking forgiveness in God’s way, is in line with New Testament teaching that justification is always by faith.

Paul makes a big deal in Romans 4 about Abraham being justified by faith. In essence, Abraham trusted. That is what faith is — trusting (and it’s always faith in something, faith always has an object). This faith – trust that God can and will do what he promises – is how Abraham stood justified before God. Paul says it was credited to him as righteousness. And it is also how Israel, later, was justified. Individual Israelites had faith, as they laid hands on that animal before the altar, that what God said was true. Imagine a worshipper saying this to the priest who was helping him, “God says that if I seek forgiveness for my sins by doing [this sacrifical act], then I’ll be restored to fellowship with him. I have faith that God is true to his word. I trust that this act, accompanied by belief in God’s word, is what he desires.” The animal is sacrificed. And person has sought forgiveness in God’s way. They are a covenant keeper.

Why this matters

I had always thought that there was a tectonic shift, from OT to NT, in how God related to his people. And there are, to be sure, huge changes from OT to NT. But this is not one of them. The people of God have always have always had one answer to the question: what do I do, now that I’ve broken covenant with God? How can I be reconciled to him? The one answer to that question, for covenant keepers, is this: seek forgiveness in the way God prescribes.

For whatever reason, I would have answered the OT version of this question with: “well, observe the law. In the OT, you are a covenant keeper if you keep the law.” And that is simply backwards: OT saints kept the law because they were already in a covenant bond with God. They knew that their sins were dealt with through the sacrificial system, and that they could, therefore, draw near to God in love and with obedience.

But what about the law’s relation to covenant breakers? That’s a topic for another blog post I think.

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How to Keep Going in Christian Ministry

I got this blog post in my email inbox this morning. It’s from “Practical Shepherding,” one of the most useful and, well, practical ministry blogs I follow. Well worth the (short) read:

One of my pastoral teachers and heroes, Bill Hughes, said goodbye to his beloved wife of over 60 years this past week who met her Savior in glory and is no longer suffering.  Bill spent most of his long and faithful ministry serving in Scotland.  Thinking about and praying for Bill this week reminded me of a simple, but profound truth I learned from him about how to endure through the constant struggles of pastoral ministry.  In an exposition of 2 Corinthians 4 I once heard Bill Hughes preach, he made this observation to answer the nagging question, “How do I endure through the difficulties of pastoral ministry?”

“Never forget the debt to mercy we owe.”

See what I mean?  Simple.  Stunningly true.  Yet, when measured against anything we might face as pastors, it produces endurance in every trial, struggle, and difficulty.  Bill instructed that when we remember who we once were and the amazing debt to mercy we owe to our Savior, we will be more patient, gracious, and merciful to even the most stubborn and petty of conflicts and complaints we experience in the church.  Likewise, if we forget who we once were  and presume upon this debt to mercy in the gospel, those same petty people and issues will eat us up and will destroy us and our ministry.

Dear brothers, if you find yourself discouraged, angry, wondering why some of your people do and say what they do and you can’t take it any more…do not forget the debt to mercy you owe.  It is a debt greater than you and I could ever payback.  It is a debt that should weigh heavier on our joyful hearts than the most difficult person in our church.  Apply this truth that I was so powerfully taught to me by this sweet and faithful man and see if you then find the hope and perspective you need for that struggling person or circumstance you face in your ministry.

What Is Forgiveness, Really?

Russel Moore’s answer (from Adopted For Life p. 213):

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you feel that what’s been done to you is okay. It doesn’t mean you have warm feelings toward the persons forgiven. It means you relinquish the right to exercise vengeance. You rest in the fact that God’s justice is carried out by God, either at Judgement Day or at the cross.

I think this is modeled in Jesus, as Peter writes,

[23] When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. [24] He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
(1 Peter 2:23-24 ESV)

Are You Intellectually Humble? 13 Searching Questions

13 questions that aim to answer, “Are you intellectually humble?” Here are some of the more searching ones for me:

  • Even when you feel strongly about something, are you still aware that you could be wrong?
  • Do you trust that truth has nothing to fear from investigation?
  • When someone disagrees with your beliefs, do you view it as a personal attack? If so, why?
  • Is it difficult to respect people whose beliefs differ from your own?
  • What is a specific step you can take to better understand someone who disagrees with you on an important issue?
  • Do you feel insecure when others disagree with you?
  • Do you approach others with the idea that you might have something to learn from them?

HT Tim Challies.

Who Would Have Dreamed: Sovereign Grace Christmas Music

The lyrics, the melody, the instrumentation, the singing… It’s all so well done. Another fantastic song from Sovereign Grace’s upcoming Christmas album Prepare Him Room. Lyrics are posted below the video.

Lyrics

On a starlit hillside, shepherds watched their sheep
Slowly, David’s city drifted off to sleep
But to this little town of no great renown
The Lord had a promise to keep

Prophets had foretold it, a mighty King would come
Long-awaited Ruler, God’s anointed one
But the Sovereign of all looked helpless and small
As God gave the world His own Son

And who would have dreamed or ever foreseen
That we could hold God in our hands?
The Giver of Life is born in the night
Revealing God’s glorious plan
To save the world

Wondrous gift of heaven: the Father sends the Son
Planned from time eternal, moved by holy love
He will carry our curse and death He’ll reverse
So we can be daughters and sons

Too Good To Wait: Christmas music from Sovereign Grace

From the upcoming album Prepare Him Room.

Lyrics

O behold, the mystery now unfolds
See the star shine on the virgin foretold
Angels sing and light up the sky
Hope rings out in a newborn’s cry
Swing wide, you ancient gates
For Christ is born today!

Prepare Him room
Prepare Him room
Let the King of glory enter in

God with us, the promise has come to be
This, the one the prophets were longing to see
In the darkness a blazing light
To the hungry the words of life
His kingdom now is near
For those with ears to hear

Oh, our hearts, as busy as Bethlehem
Hear Him knock, don’t say there’s no room in the inn
Through the cradle, cross, and grave
See the love of God displayed
Now He’s risen and He reigns
Praise the Name above all names!
© 2014 Sovereign Grace Praise

What’s the main thing you need to be a pastor?

This both encourages and challenges me: the main qualifier for ministry is steady growth in love for God and others. Paul Woodson writes,

There is no one style of ministry that is productive and no one type of personality that represents good pastoral ministry. The sheer diversity of personality types among ministers is surely a sign that any particular personality type has little to do with the building of the Church. But the pastors whose ministries I particularly applaud (whether successful in the eyes of the world or not) are those whose love for the Lord Jesus is transparent and growing, whose ability to expound the Scriptures with devotion, clarity, practical application, and real unction is increasing, and whose love for people is not artificial or sentimental but self-denying and perceptive (this is essential to what is often called “pastoral care”), and whose desire to proclaim the gospel and work out its implications dictates the focus and priorities of their lives.

You can download this book, “Letters Along the Way” by D.A. Carson and Paul Woodson for free as a pdf by clicking here.

The Glories of Calvary – Sovereign Grace Music

This beautiful song played this morning while I was working and encouraged me. Some lyrics:

Lord, You’re calling me to come
And behold the wondrous cross
To explore the depths of grace
That came to me at such a cost
Where Your boundless love
Conquered my boundless sin
And Mercy’s arms were opened wide