Over the past year, I have been forced to think more about the clarity of the Gospel and the Law.
I have a lot to do, so I will keep this short and casual. A year ago, I thought quite simply that Christ came to complete the law, so that we no longer have to do it. In my mind, there were no such categories as civil, moral, and ceremonial laws. I thought that Christ fulfilled all of the law and all we had to do was work on growing fruits of the Spirit.
So much has changed in my head in the past year, that I sometimes have trouble finding things up there. I will walk into the pantry in the kitchen thinking its the powder room. Because, at one point, it was the powder room. I am fine with the changes, because it never really did make sense to have a powder room there. But, I still have to re-orient myself.
First, I did not hire the builders. They came into my head about a year ago and decided to tear down walls and bring in furniture (nice furniture) and roll out oriental carpets and tear off the plastic siding for stones. Second, they worked when I was sleeping. I never saw them and sometimes I wonder if they were invisible. Third, I never actually saw anything change. This is the most difficult doctrine to describe, but maybe it is the result of my own imperception. Even though the builders worked in my head for an entire year, I felt like no time passed at all. And one day, I wake up a year later like it was just one big dream and find that the powder room is now a pantry.
Maybe construction is happening at all times and I just cannot see it. Maybe every year or so, I take a step back and look. Maybe I made up the idea of years and chapters of life, just so that I could have the impression that life offers me a break, an oasis from the constant construction. There are cycles, I believe, and seasons of life. But life is not a train with separate cars. It does not have its boxes. We make the boxes, we perceive straight edges. The changes that most deeply move us are the ones we cannot see. And I think we know this and it scares us, so we say things like “our college years”, when really who we were then spills over to the years before and after that four-year span.
Maybe I am wrong. Because there are a lot of external forces working on us at all times, trying to place some temporal structure on our lives. You could get the news that you have cancer, for example, and right after that point, you really are a different person. You think differently about people and about death. You could get a promotion, for example, and you have to move your whole life to another state. And the geography in that new place will shift the geography in your mind and maybe in your body. Is the air good for your lungs?
Maybe I am confusing how we change with what changes us. Because while it is nearly impossible to pinpoint when change occurs or what it looks like, it is not impossible to say what caused the change. The world is in love with straight edges, clean lines, and sharp appeal. Marketing. All you have to do to be a good marketer is ensure your possible customers with straight lines. If you can promise them (the deliveries iffy) some sort of security – that’s really what we are talking about – then you are proof that marketing is rooted in religious craving. People thirst for safety. Safety comes from authorities. In some way, you want to present your product as a possible authority in the life of the person.
But this is all off-topic. I thought we were going to talk about the Law and the Gospel.
All I am saying is that my understanding of the Law and the Gospel has fundamentally changed and this change has been marked by my reading of Romans. I read Romans 10-15 and for the first time in my life, I realized that Paul is interpreting the Mosaic Law under the reality of Christ. He is interpreting Christ for me. I never understood how essential it is for the Gentiles to be grafted into the tree of Israel. I never knew how obvious Paul is about the Gentiles now being Israel. This is not a heresy, as one of my friends said it was. It is a new covenant truth. Understood within his ecclesiastical context, it is also quite obvious – the text speaks for itself – that the “end of the age” is really one that was quite soon for him. This is why, for example, he lists prophecy. That used to cause me all sorts of trouble! This is also why he speaks of the Jews having time still, but that their time is running out. I think of the narrow door that Christ speaks about. I think of the end of the age closing soon for them. The passage roughly between Romans 10-15 is all connected and it all explains itself. Paul is the most difficult to understand when he is speaking abstractly, but he has a number of beautiful metaphors in there, too. The metaphor about the branches is the most essential picture for understanding how the Gentiles are now Israel and how all Israel, is therefore saved. Salvation comes through Israel, because it comes from the root of Israel. Because it comes from the root of Israel, all of the branches from that root are Israel also. As he says, all Israel will be saved. Christ, the root of Jesse, was the last Israelite. Paul organizes his thoughts so beautifully, unlike me. I had a number of nice paragraphs above, but this one is long and difficult and almost entirely unrelated from my discussion of change. He begins with the church’s relationship with itself, how it is now made of the Jews and Gentiles. Then, in Romans 12 and 13, he talks about the church’s relationship with the world. Then, he talks again about the church’s relationship with itself. But this is not a chiasm. It is organized much more fruitfully than a chiasm. It begins, first, with a picture of the Jew-Gentile church. After that, Paul then shows how that church is to interpret the law. The Jews bring the prophets and the law to the table, while the Gentiles bring the hope of salvation in Christ. Both of these things are given by God and both of them determine what the church looks like. This is why Paul sequentially goes through the civil, moral, and ceremonial laws. Romans 13 is civil. Romans 12 and around (the moral law is summed up in this; love your neighbor as yourself) is moral. Romans 14 and 15 is ceremonial. The new covenant church still recognizes the perfection of the Mosaic law, it simply keeps the law differently, not as the people of Ancient Israel, but as the tree which has grown from the root of Jesse.
Israel sacrificed animals. We offer ourselves up as living sacrifices.