Wednesday, February 07, 2007

The New Covenant and the Law of Christ

The moral will of God was not only expressed in the law of creation and then covenantally formulated for God’s old covenant people at Sinai, it is also given to the church by means of the new covenant, and its law, the law of Christ. It would be a grave mistake, however, to insist that, since God’s moral will is immutable, therefore the law of Christ is no different from the moral law expressed in the Decalogue (which, according to WLC 98, is where the moral will of God is "summarily comprehended").

While it is certainly true that the moral commands of the Decalogue are of perpetual validity (as Paul’s numerous quotations of them demonstrate), it must not be forgotten that it has been a while since Israel was led out of Egypt, and some significant things have transpired in the meantime. As Paul’s indicative/imperative paradigm suggests, the entrance into redemptive history of new indicatives opens the door for the entrance of new imperatives as well. For this reason we ought not think it strange that the moral will of God should undergo certain nuances that reflect the unique post-Pentecostal period of fulfillment in which we are now living (the shift of the church's worship from the last to the first day of the week comes immediately to mind).

For a further example consider I John 2:7-8. Concerning the command to love one another the apostle writes:
Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning. Again, a new commandment I write to you, which thing is true in Him and in you, because the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining.

Here we see that a command that John's readers had had "from the beginning"—and therefore an old command—is called new because "the darkness is passing away, and the true light is already shining" (or, because the kingdom has been inaugurated and the last days have begun). What we have here is not "eternal moral law," nor is it "the third use of the law." Both of these formulations tend to flatten salvation-history by lifting principles from one redemptive epoch and placing them in another, as though the Bible were a collection of "timeless truths" that fell from the sky, leather-bound and thumb-indexed for easy use. Rather, what is exemplified in I John 2:7-8 is an application of the law of Christ, which consists of an old command repeated with new spin, grounded upon the indicative of Christ's love for his sheep expressed in his death, resurrection, and ascension to glory.