I fear that I belong to a legalistic group and it is becoming more and more evident to me. Jesus made a covenant with us, the new covenant, and gave His life. Is the covenant a one way thing? Here we are being taught that we still have to earn the New Covenant, we are still taught strict obedience to the law; is something wrong? I strongly believe that it is. Can you help?
UK Apologetics Reply:
Okay let me explain this. Jesus saved us while were still sinners (Colossians 2:13-15). We were steeped in sin but He came to us, laid down His life for us. Under the old covenant there were duties and obligations, in fact over 600 laws but Jesus said,
28. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:28-30).
In the face of the ritualism and legalism of groups like the Pharisees, Jesus' comment must have seemed strange at the time; here was a vastly different approach. We do not have here a cold-hearted demand for obedience, over even the smallest trifles (as with the Pharisees), but here we have a God who wishes to give us something, Who is open-hearted and generous in spirit; here God wants us to freely go to Him, He has something fine and beneficial to offer us - no catches!
Today a Christian is not faced with over 600 laws which must be kept (as under the old covenant), rather, we come under a covenant of grace; we find a different attitude, heart and spirit:
1. Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2. because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. 3. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, 4. in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4).
So the law did indeed have a "righteous requirement," but that is now fully met in Christ. It's not that there are no responsibilities at all for us now, there are, but we now live in accordance with the law of Christ; we obey the law in the spirit, rather than in the letter. We are also covered by grace because Christ died for us which means that the law no longer stands over us waiting to exact its toll the moment we sin and, of course, we all sin, we did not suddenly become perfect, but after coming to our Lord, our life direction changed and we now remain under His grace in this new life. Look at this:
17. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new here! 18. All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19. that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting peoples sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. 20. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. 21. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Cor. 5: 17-21).
So we are saved by Christ, He gave His life for our forgiveness, He gave His life so that we - you and I - may be restored to God, we are now covered by His grace, sin not being imputed to us. So we are not saved by our own "righteousness" (which would be impossible), but by the righteousness of Christ our Lord. But how and why? because He already took the responsibility for our sins upon Himself at the cross. How much clearer does Scripture need to make this? Despite this, I find that many professing Christians still don't seem to understand this point and continually worry and fret whether over they will be "good enough" to be saved. I'm afraid that much of it is due to poor teaching within the churches.
It would not be entirely accurate to say that the New Covenant is entirely one-way although we could no nothing without the Lord Jesus Christ, but the greater part comes from God to us, so we can now be confident in the grace of Christ, not continually having to struggle to "keep" laws and being continually fearful of slipping up in some detail or other. If we have committed our lives to Christ and He is in the centre of our lives, we no longer have to "earn" anything at all, we should consider ourselves as already in His eternal kingdom (Romans 8:29-39).
What Place Now For The Ten Commandments?
I once entered a reformed (Calvinist) place of worship; as one went in, right above the doorway, was written something like, "the Ten Commandments are the whole duty of man." That, of course, is entirely incorrect; the Jewish religious authorities which Jesus clashed with, would have agreed with that, but it is plain wrong. Nevertheless, the question could be asked: what place now for the Ten Commandments? It was a fine law, but Jesus shows us it does not go far enough (through much of Matthew 5), neither can one become "righteous" simply by obeying ten points of law (the Pharisees were already doing that!), rather, a change must occur in the human heart; this is facilitated by grace and faith; again, this is all due to the work of Christ! But obviously it is still wrong to lie, steal and to cheat but that is only 'starters,' but there is also mercy and forgiveness for those who stumble here. Moreover, all believers now have direct access to God, something only granted to the priests under the old covenant.
8. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - 9. not by works, so that no one can boast. 10. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10).
...a man is not justified by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we believed on Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by the works of the law: because by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Galatians 2:16b, ASV).
And that's it! This is the way that your church - and all churches - should be teaching this matter.
Robin A. Brace. January 10th, 2017.