Commentary on "Jew and Gentile"
Day 2: Sunday, July 4, 2010 - Better Promises
The lesson begins by asking what the message of Hebrews 8:6 is, and how we understand its “better promises”. It goes on to say that the greatest difference between the Old and New Testaments is that the New was introduced by the coming of the Messiah. It then says that the question of the New Testament is this: will people “accept Jesus of Nazareth, whom God had sent as the Messiah, their Savior? Then the lesson says this:
“If they believe in Him—that is, if they accepted Him for who He truly was and committed themselves to Him—they would be saved through the righteousness that He offers them freely.”
The next point is that the moral requirements are unchanged from the Old to the New Testaments, and obedience to the moral law is just as much a part of the new as of the old covenant.
The lesson next introduces Matthew 19:17; Revelation 12:17; 14:12; and James 2:10, 11 and ask, “What do these texts tell us about the moral law in the New Testament?”
The lesson concludes that the ritual and ceremonial laws “that were distinctly Israelite” and “tied to the Old Covenant” were discontinued.
Finally, as a recapitulation of the title, “Better Promises”, the lesson ends with these questions: “What are some of your favorite Bible promises? How often do you claim them? What choices are you making that can stand in the way of having these promises fulfilled in your life?”
The lesson begins with one of the most powerful texts explaining the new covenant found in the Bible, and it fails to discuss it. Hebrews 8:6 says, “But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises.”
These promises are not nebulous; they are explicitly stated in the following verses in which the author of Hebrews quotes God’s unconditional promises for the new covenant originally stated in Jeremiah 31:31-34. These better promises explicitly state that the new covenant will be made with Israel and Judah. It would not be like the Mosaic covenant made as He led them out of Egypt. This new covenant will be different because God would put His laws into their minds and would write them on their hearts. He would be there God, and they would be His people. The would not teach each other, saying “Know the Lord,” for they would all know Him, from the least to the greatest of them. Moreover, He would be merciful toward their iniquities, and He would never remember their sins again.
These are the “better promises”. The questions at the end of the lesson are red herrings and off-topic. The general promises found in the Bible are not the better promises Hebrews 8:6 references. Moreover, the better promises are direct, unilateral promises of God. They are completely unconditional—they do not depend on human obedience or response. They will happen because God said they would happen. Human obedience or disobedience does not determine whether or not God keeps His promises. The new covenant is absolutely a given fact.
What does it mean to accept Jesus?
Moreover, the lesson does not articulate the essence of the question people face in the New Testament era. The issue is not whether or not they would accept “him for who He truly was,” commit themselves to Him, and be saved through the righteousness that He offers them freely.
The issue we all face is whether we will bow before the Lord Jesus who died for our sins according to Scripture, who was buried, and who rose on the third day, according to Scripture. (1 Cor. 15:3-4). We are not saved by the righteousness of Christ which He offers freely. We are justified only by His blood which He poured out on the cross. Jesus’ righteous life does not save us in any sense. His personal righteousness does not save us. His blood shed for our sin pays the price of our sin and justifies us (Romans 3:21-26). His blood was a propitiation for our sins, and God was satisfied with His sacrifice and raised Him to life on the third day.
We are justified by His blood—nothing more and nothing less, and we are saved by His life—His resurrection life with which He killed death (Romans 5:10). Not only this, but we have received reconciliation through our Lord Jesus Christ (Romans 5:11).
The question we all face in New Testament times is not whether or not we will accept Jesus for who He is and commit ourselves to Him. No! We are saved by accepting His blood as payment for our fatal sin and being sealed by His Spirit (Eph 1:13-14)—born again of the Spirit (Jn. 3:3-5). We receive the Holy Spirit because God gave Jesus the authority to pour out the Spirit on new covenant believers after He ascended and sat at the Father’s right hand (Acts 2:32-33). His death had paid the price for the sin of the whole world, and the Father gave Him the power and authority to pour out the Spirit and give believers a new birth.
The better promises of Hebrews 8 and Jeremiah 31 are divine certainties, and we enter them through Jesus’ blood covering our sin. When we bow before the Lord Jesus as Lord and Savior, we are washed by His blood and born again. When we are made alive by the Holy Spirit, our lives are then hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). We are not saved by Christ’s righteousness; rather, His righteousness is credited to us in full after we are saved. When we are in Him, God sees Jesus before He sees us. We are hidden in Him, and His personal righteousness is credited to us in full. It dos not become our righteousness; it is always His.
We still live in sinful, mortal flesh; we will always have a battle between flesh and living by the Spirit (Romans 6-8), but our spirits are now alive because of the Holy Spirit giving birth to our new life. We are counted fully righteous when we are born again—because God credits us with Jesus’ own self.
What about moral law?
Of course morality is not different now from any time in the past. All law and morality flows from God Himself. Morality existed and was stamped on the consciences of mankind long before there was a law (Romans 1 and 2). The law was not given to show Israel how to live; it was given to bring them to the awareness of sin (Romans 3:19-20; 4:13-15; 5:13).
Moreover, Jesus intensified the moral requirements many fold when He delivered the Sermon on the Mount. Morality is not merely keeping God’s law; it is never having a fleshly or impure thought, desire, fantasy, or impulse. Morality is utterly and completely impossible for humans.
That is, it is impossible for natural humans who are by nature objects of wrath (Eph 2:3). Morality is impossible because we are born spiritually dead (Eph 2:1-3), citizens of the domain of darkness (Col 1:13). We are born with spirits separated from God. When God transfers us to the kingdom of His beloved Son (Col 1:13) when we place our faith in Jesus blood and are sealed by His Spirit who brings our dead spirits to life, we are born again (Jn 3:3-5). Then, with the literal presence of God Himself dwelling in our spirits, we are reconnected to God through the new, living way opened through Christ’s body (Heb. 10:19-20), we are finally able to put to death the deeds of the flesh by the power of the Spirit living in us (Romans 8:9-17). We finally have a real choice: we can either give in to the pull of our still-mortal flesh, or we can yield to the Holy Spirit and surrender to Him the moment of temptation. Instead of struggling with sin, we can finally surrender to the Spirit and allow Him to have His way in our minds and desires and flesh. Through surrender to Him we can give up our rights and receive His will for us at that moment.
This ongoing surrender to the Holy Spirit and to truth is the moral obedience which the New Testament teaches. Because we have Jesus, we have His righteousness living in us, and we can surrender to Him and allow Him to have His way when we are tempted. (Read Romans 8.)
What about the commandments?
Next the lesson introduces Matthew 19:17, Revelation 12:17; 14:12; and James 2:10-11. These texts are used out of context. Matthew 19:17 is lifted from the story of the rich young ruler who asked Jesus, “Good teacher, what must I do to have eternal life?” Verse 17 gives Jesus’ partial answer: “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.”
Adventism has historically stopped right there in identifying the key to salvation: keep the commandments. The story, however, shows a very different conclusion. The man asked which commandments, and Jesus answered that a person is not to murder, commit adultery, steal, or bear false witness. Moreover, he is to honor father and mother and love his neighbor as himself. The man said he had been doing all these, and he wondered what he still lacked. Jesus told him.
He was to sell all he had and follow Jesus. The man went away sorrowful, because he was very rich.
Jesus told this man, in essence, that the commandments are not enough to save him. What is required if one wants eternal life is to give up what he loves the most and follow Jesus. In other words, we must surrender whatever identifies us and fills our heart and let Jesus be all we have. We must surrender to Him.
This story does not teach that the commandments are necessary for salvation. Yes, God expects morality of us—but we cannot have morality unless we surrender to Jesus and give up the things we most love—even if that loved thing is our Adventism or our intellectual pride or our money.
The texts in Revelation are also taken out of context. First, whenever John wrote the word “commandments” in any of his five books, he always used the Greek word “entole”, which means teachings or sayings. Whenever John referred to “law”, he used the word “nomos”, which means law. The word commandments in these Revelation texts are “entole”, and they are not referring to the Decalogue or the Torah in any sense. They refer to the law of Christ.
Moreover, John defines “commandments” in 1 John 3:23-24 where he says, “And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.” Further, in John 13:34 he quotes Jesus saying, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.”
In other words, the new commandments of the new covenant are to love one another as Jesus love us—something totally impossible without being born again. Jesus loved to the point of death for the sake of another’s salvation. We cannot love others that way without His Spirit making us alive with His own life. The written commandments are not for the new covenant.
Jesus fulfilled the law—and that doesn’t mean we are also supposed to fulfill the law. Jesus embodied all the shadows of the written law, including the Decalogue. He filled it full of meaning with His own righteousness, and when we have Jesus in us, He fulfills the law in us and we are credited with righteousness because Jesus has covered us and filled us with Himself. His perfection is imputed to us, and we get the “credit” for Jesus fulfillment of the law.
Finally, the James passage is written to the scattered Jews who were the first converts to Christianity. Al they knew was the law—and now they had Jesus. In context, James is telling them they have to live godly lives because now they are born again. They have to live by the “royal law”, that one should love the Lord with all his heart, mind, and strength, and his neighbor as himself. He must be godly toward others and live by the law of liberty by which they will be judged.
The law of liberty, in context, is not the 10 Commandments. James is calling them to a new “law”—the royal law of Christ’s love. The 10 Commandments contained a curse; those who broke it would die. The Decalogue is not the law of liberty; it is the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-3). James is challenging his fellow Jewish believers to live by a new standard: the law of Christ’s love that is now possible for them because they are born again. He is not instructing them in how to be saved; He is addressing them as already saved. They are born again; he now challenges them to live by the power of the Spirit instead of by the desires of the flesh.
Finally, the final questions are completely off topic. The better promises promised to us are God’s own unconditional promises to give us new hearts, to put the Law, in the person of the Holy Spirit, in our hearts, to be our God and make us His people. We will not have to teach each other, when we are born again, begging each other to know the Lord, because when we are born of the Spirit, we KNOW Him, and His Spirit testifies with our spirit that we are children of God (Romans 8:16).
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