Thursday, January 11, 2007

Works, Assurance, and Bad Eschatology

Contrary to the opinion some theologians, I would argue that the inclusion of the syllogismus practicus (that's "practical syllogism" for all you monolinguists out there) in the assurance equation, far from being an example of inchoate legalism, is exactly the opposite.

Under the Old Covenant administration the Israelite's relationship to the law of God was different than that of the Christian under the New. This is seen in two respects. First, during the Mosaic epoch the law was written on tables of stone, whereas under the present dispensation it is engraved upon the fleshy tables of the hearts of men. According to the prophetic witness, this internal inscription of God's will is the direct result of the gift of the Spirit, facilitating our obedience and sanctification.

It is precisely this pneumatic pledge and foretaste of the heavenly regeneration that enables the new covenant saint to derive comfort from his sanctification rather than fear.

Furthermore, the Decalogue, being the very core of the Mosaic covenant, carried with it a works principle that demanded perfect and entire obedience upon threat of judgment and death (Lev. 18:5). While it is true that the Levitical priesthood provided a shadowy and obscure picture of an atonement for sin that would eventually be provided, the fact remains that the Mosaic law, strictly considered, administered death and condemnation to those who labored under its yoke.

On this side of the cross, however, the will of God for his covenant people comes not from the fire and blackness of an earthly Sinai, but from the nail-pierced hand of the risen Lamb who ministers from the heavenly Zion. The works principle that was part and parcel of the law of Moses is altogether absent from the law of Christ, for the Seed of the woman has abolished the law's curse and drunk its threatened cup of divine fury in our stead. His burden, therefore, is not unbearable (Acts 15:10) but easy (Matt. 11:28-30), not because God's demands have been lessened or his law changed, but because we now labor as full-grown sons, "upon whom the fulfillment of the ages has come" (I Cor. 10:11; cf. Gal. 4:1ff).

My point, then, is that a refusal (or fear) of considering our sanctification as a means to deducing our justification betrays an under-realized eschatology that assumes, first, that the law is still written in stone rather than flesh, and second, that Jesus is still dead in the tomb.