Monday, June 29, 2015

Merit and Jesus: From Slaves to Sons

Simeon's exclamation has intrigued me ever since I looked at the Greek - he addresses God as Lord, but using δέσποτα, despot.  He calls himself a servant, using δοῦλόν, slave.  Simeon's words always rang harsh in my ears - is it right to call God a despot?  Knowing that Simeon was a devout man, waiting for the consolation of Israel, would you call him a slave?

But last evening at church, I thought about Galatians.  Paul declares in 4:1:     I mean that the heir, as long as he is a child, is no different from a slave, though he is the owner of everything, but he is under guardians and managers until the date set by his father.
Paul speaks of the heir of the covenant (Israel) as no different than a slave - a δούλος - until the date set by his father.  Simeon seems to have realized this dynamic, knowing far better than the Pharisees ("we are Abraham's children and have never been slaves to anyone!") what the condition of Israel truly was.  They were slaves, held under the Mosaic law, slaves to sin, which seized opportunity through the righteous law to kill them. 

Paul does not address only the law-slavery in Galatians 4 - he goes on to discuss the pagan slavery to those which are not gods, under which slavery died all from Adam to Moses, and all those outside the reach of the Mosaic law.  You are a slave to whom you serve.  The nations were enslaved in serving sin, idols, pleasure, debauchery, power, etc. (I'm still reading Plutarch's Lives, if you want any examples).  The Jews, however, were enslaved under the law.  They served YHWH!  They were forbidden from serving other masters, but God constituted them as his own spoil when he led them out of Egypt with an upheld arm.  God was to be king over them, and they were to be his people, his prized possession.  This is a glorious thing - redemption always is - but it is a shadow of the glory that would be revealed in Christ.  

In Christ, we have received the adoption as sons.  We have received the inheritance, the promised Holy Spirit as earnest, and the promise of the New Jerusalem.  The slaves have departed in peace, and the Father now welcomes his children, made such by his Son, Jesus.  All this because of Christ's obedience to the tutor, the law, which he kept on behalf of his Israel.  If the Mosaic Law did not create a works-based system (subservient to the greater scheme of grace, promised to Adam, Abraham, etc.), what is Paul worried about in Galatians?  Why worry about fulfilling various cultural-now-if-formerly-cultic practices like circumcision?  Clearly, Paul was OK with that sort of thing, vis-a-vis his shaved head and vows in Jerusalem and elsewhere. 

But Paul did those things with no idea of associating them with righteousness. 

The Galatians were associating the practice of Jewish ceremony with legal righteousness.

Paul says they are going backwards

Therefore, they were rightly interpreting the law - but abandoning the gospel!

Now, I must immediately qualify my assertion that they were rightly interpreting the law by asking you to engage in an exercise.  Imagine yourself a Hebrew just after Sinai, having seen all the plagues (both on Egypt and on the rebellious Israelites).  Would you think that you had to keep the law given by Moses?  I hope so!  Would you think you could perfectly keep it?  I hope not!  That chasm is bridged by grace.  Maybe you would comfort yourself with thoughts of Abraham and the promise - God is going to make us a people, OK, that's good, but I suppose it will happen in spite of ourselves...

This personal consideration should resonate with us - must we be holy as our Father in heaven is holy?  Yes!  Can we?  No!  But Christ has redeemed us, so we can walk with God in Him, not of ourselves.  Only, the church has no Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerazim.  The church has no promised land in which she reigns, but from which she may be vomited out if she is found in violation of the terms of the covenant.  The church does not lack for sanctions, to be sure, she is called to be governed by Christ, through His under-shepherds.  Individuals may be cast out, churches may have their lamp removed from the stand, but: Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
(1 Peter 1:3-5)

Israels' inheritance was the land.  So much of the OT revolves around keeping the inheritance in the family, keeping the line going to possess the inheritance, etc.  But this was a type of heaven.  It could be (and was/is) lost to them.  Can heaven be lost to the believer?  Praise God no!  So, we are not under law, but under grace.  The law, which promised life for obedience, proved to be death because of our failings.  But the grace of Christ, which has been paid for in His obedience, blood and death, delivers life, making us sons.  Praise Jesus!

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