Sometimes we need to be contradicted. For instance, we assume that if we are going to take the issue of sin seriously, then we need to give some significant attention to it. Perhaps by implementing some self-controlled, self-disciplined approach to sin control in our lives.
On the contrary.
Hang on, am I suggesting that we shouldn’t take sin seriously? Am I suggesting that we should go and sin freely? Of course not! Why do some people automatically assume that a turn from focusing on virtue is to turn in pursuit of vice? The opposite of moral effort may not be immoral action.
I would suggest that the New Covenant takes sin more seriously than we do or think we do. God takes sin seriously, which is why He promised the New Covenant. Jesus Christ takes sin seriously, which is why He inaugurated the New Covenant with his own blood. The writers of the New Testament took sin seriously, which is why they pushed the New Covenant so strongly.
And we need to take sin more seriously. We need to stop thinking it is something we can handle by our own effort, our own discipline, our own practices. This is true for the not-yet-saved, and it is true for the believer. The foundation of the New Covenant is sin forgiven.
Sometimes it is hard to realize just how much we don’t grasp something we think we’ve known for so long. Take grace, for instance. At the core of God’s dealings with us is this issue of grace – His character, His glory, His self-giving. Yet we turn grace into a commodity and preach grace-plus, or grace-but, or grace-however. We don’t need to preach some sort of grace-balanced message. We need to present to people, believers or not, the wonderful glorious extravagant imbalanced grace of a God who gives himself to deal with our sin.
If our listeners think that grace means license to sin, then we haven’t preached grace clearly enough. Maybe we’ve offered a halfway house kind of grace, a grace that addresses guilt but doesn’t capture the heart. A grace-as-thing that pays for guilt, but not a grace-as-person that captivates our hearts.
The solution to a license type of response is not to balance grace with guilt, pressure, codes and laws. The solution is to do a better job of preaching grace.
At the foundation of the New Covenant is this wonderful truth that God has promised to remember sins no more, and that truth is presented like a vivid 3-d billboard to our hearts in the death of His Son on the cross. It is there, in shocking shame and agony that we see God’s glorious grace made manifest to us.
Tomorrow let’s push this deeper and recognize the heart of the New Covenant.
6 thoughts on “Preaching, New Covenant and Sin”
Amen and Amen!
Personally, I think God finds all our talking of sin very boring. It was an issue between Him and us but He dealt with it, once and for all, not so that we could go on and on about it but so that we could get on with the thing we should have been getting on with all along: Loving God and being loved by Him!
So often we preach that God forgives sins. Well, amen, He does that too. But that is not the whole story. He also dealt with Sin, the whole thing, including its power over us. But again, He didn’t do that so that we could spend all of our time looking for sins in our lives and “dealing with them”, He did it so that nothing could stop the life He has given us being lived.
There is a common crossword clue: Subject of a sermon (3); answer: Sin. How sad a commentary on our preaching is that!
There is no doubt that grace means forgiveness. But isn’t everything God gives His children gracious in some sense, even the precepts, principles, and rules? Certainly we must keep an eye to both, because God has given them. We can’t use God’s instruction to earn his favor, but can’t we follow Him in loving obedience? We can use the promises too in a self-serving way. Whether it is the promises or precepts of the Word, the real issue is our motivation. The non-saved Jew only had external rules because their hearts were dead. As Paul says, in Romans 7, the problem wasn’t mere rules, but the nature of the heart. I just can’t imagine Paul telling God not to give him any loving direction or rules because it wouldn’t be grace.
God’s Word is all given by His grace, indeed. Thanks for your comment, Christian. If I could just offer two comments. 1) If you look at the promises of the New Covenant in Ezekiel 11, 36, Jeremiah 31, Isaiah, Joel, etc., you will see that they were made to Jews who had the Law, not to non-saved Jews with external rules (they are considered to be without Law). 2) The issue is the focus of our gaze, not the desire to lovingly obey God. That is, we love God and the Law written on the heart means that by loving God and loving others we will fulfill the Law. But that is different than looking to the Law in order to live well. Looking to the Law is like looking at a mirror – it shows dirt, but it doesn’t clean it off. We need to be looking to Christ, not to ourselves.
Thank you for the response. My statement on the OT people’s was a bit broad. More specifically, the promises were to the faithful remnant who had God’s law in their heart, and promised that someday all in the covenant would be like them. The typical Israelite “had the law,” but could only use it to try and justify themselves. The Old Covenant has been abolished, but the commandments of Christ and his apostles, and of course the moral principles given by the Spirit through the entire Bible continue.
Love certainly fulfills the law, but what does love look like? The modern world says same-sex marriage is loving. But God has defined it and commanded otherwise. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians believers to love one another then gave them specific principles to show it (1 Thess 4). And then he urged them to “follow these rules” in 2Thess 3. I totally agree, “We need to be looking to Christ and not ourselves.” But looking to Christ also means lovingly obeying what he has told us to do. For otherwise, in the name of grace we will end up looking to ourselves. And in this sense, for the believer, with God’s law in his or her heart, the law (in a general sense referring to all God’s principles) is “clean”: The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple (part of what it means to “live well” IMO), the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart, the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether (Ps 19). To believe that is stil true, looking through the perspective of the New Covenant (the law of Christ), is not legalism. I whole heatedly agree, the focus is the cross and resurrection, but Christ is truly savior and Lord, and both aspects are lovely to the redeemed.
Thanks Christian, I am just looking at Ezekiel 36 and not seeing any sense of this being to the faithful remnant about the rest of Israel. It is to the House of Israel and is a promise of something God has not done already to some of them. Whether or not the typical Israelite tried to justify themselves by the Law, I think it is important to recognise how the Bible defines the purpose of the Law. Switching to the New Testament, for instance, we can see that there is a good use of the Law … To show sinfulness and need. But the Law was not intended to have a positive function in the sense of bringing about godliness, only to show their need of a work of God in the person of Christ.
I think we get into trouble if we turn a negative command into a positive instruction. Do not commit adultery does not teach me how to be a good husband, only a way not to be a particularly bad one. So yes, of course we need the whole revelation of God’s Word to help us to know what is pleasing to our God, we could not know without it. But to focus on myself by measuring myself against the Law is not the way to pursue righteousness, any more than it is a way to justify myself. As I read Galatians, for instance, it is clear that Paul is strongly critiquing those who propose the use of the Law, not only for justification, but also for living and pursuing maturity. The alternative he proposes is very much in line with the distinction between the New Covenant and the Old. To try to hold both doesn’t fit with Paul’s argument there, and that is just one NT book we could take as an example.
Thanks for engaging with these posts, I hope that our interaction will cause us all to look carefully at the Bible and prayerfully pursue what it is saying.
Peter, thanks again. “So yes, of course we need the whole revelation of God’s Word to help us to know what is pleasing to our God, we could not know without it.” I agree, and I think that is what Paul is saying in 2 Tim 3:16, 17. But I have to disagree with you that “we get into trouble if we turn a negative command into positive instruction.” Certainly we do if this is our primary or exclusive focus.
But from my reading of the NT, as well as the OT passages dealing with the heart of the saints, that is what grace does, it enables us to benefit from both the do’s and don’ts. Jesus gives us both in the NT. He says, “don’t commit adultery” and “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” Both are his commands and come from his loving hand — written by the Spirit ultimately.