Preached on 10/1/17. You can listen at cfctaylor.com/resources.
Text: Galatians 3:10-14
Last week I started talking about the old and new covenant, about law and promise, and we are going to continue with that today. We talked about the purpose of the law and the sacrificial system, how it was temporary by design, and never meant to give us righteousness just like going to school isn’t meant to give you a brain. It was meant to position us for redemption and salvation in part by magnifying our sinfulness compared to Holy God. We are going to pick back up where we left off with at little review, then we will look briefly at Martin Luther and some historical build-up to the reformation (that we will be talking more about in the coming weeks). And then we will finish up by coming back around to the glorious wonder of the good news of the new covenant—the good news of better hope.
In Hebrews 8:6-7, the author says, “better promises” and mentions that the first covenant was not faultless. So the questions is, where did the fault lie? The law in and of itself was not flawed or evil, as Paul makes clear in Romans 7:7, “What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means!”
Looking at the very next verse (Heb. 8:8) gives us our answer. “For he finds fault with them when he says…”The fault is ours as would-be law-keepers, or more accurately, as the law-breakers. The law or the Old Covenant is not flawed or evil. We are. And the law, by nature, could not remedy that—it could not give us life and make us righteous. We were dead in sin and the law cannot make us alive to God.
The new covenant is better because the promises are better. The promises are better because they actually deal with us! The new covenant, unlike the old, goes to the heart of the issue—the heart.
This was the purpose of the law, to reveal our depravity, to reveal our desperate condition and to position us for redemption and salvation through Christ and not even for one moment, was it supposed to bring us salvation through our own attempts at righteousness and holiness.
When Jesus came and began His ministry, He said things like, if you hate in your heart, you have committed murder. If you lust in your heart you have committed adultery. There has to be a heart change. James Jordan says this,
Galatians 4:1 says that the people in the Old Covenant were like children, and Galatians 3:24 says that the law was like a tutor for children. The law, then, was a “simplified accommodation” for children. We expect more from adults than from children. Adults have greater responsibilities and are more accountable than children. Thus, the New Covenant law is actually much tougher to obey, because it makes so many demands on our inward attitudes.
Notice this though, when Jesus was asked what the greatest commandment was, He referenced back to the Law of Moses. Now remember what we said last week, the New Covenant is the true and Heavenly covenant and is what the Old Covenant is copying and shadowing and so the New Covenant was operative long before the Law came into play. So Jesus, answering what the greatest commandment (of the law) was, He points to the reality (evident in the law) that inward attitudes must be dealt with!
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart…” (Deuteronomy 6:4-6)
“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)
Even the Law God was letting us know exactly what Jeremiah would later repeat, that our heart is what must be transformed—written on.
In Hebrews 8:8-9, the prophet Jeremiah is quoted to expound on the better promises.
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant…In those days I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts…(c.f. Jeremiah 31:31-34)
READ: Exodus 32:15-19
God gave Moses the rules written on stone and he comes down the mountain and he finds that the people were sinning with the golden calf. They have already broken the Word of God they had just promised to keep. And what does Moses do? In his righteous anger, he throws the divine commandments from his hands and breaks the Law of God.
These are the commands that in Exodus 24 the people promised to keep. Moses took the blood of oxen and threw half against the alter the the other half and threw it on the people and said, “Behold the blood of the covenant that the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words.”
Do you see how very elementary and external this all is, how it is shadowing and copying the original? God conveys a message and the people hear it with their ears and do it with their hands. This is reiterated in Hebrews he says, “[God] took them by the hand and led them out of Egypt.”
The old covenant is in our hands. It is, in a sense, hinging on our obedience—our holiness. And this temporary, shadow covenant, is sealed by the blood of animals.
But we would not and could not keep our word. We didn’t want to obey, and we could not sufficiently, even if we did, and the prescribed animal blood under the Old Covenant, was never going to heal our sin-sick, rebellious hearts.
And yet this did not catch God off guard, He knew this about us and so in His divine forbearance, as it says in Romans 3:25, He passed over former sins. He patiently accepted the blood of animals as a means to temporarily stay mankind’s just and lethal sentence of death as we anticipated the perfect blood of the true Lamb that was yet to come.
In fact, God’s grace is evidenced at the very beginning of mankind’s fall when God promised Adam he would die if he disobeyed (Gen. 2:17). And yet, after Adam and Eve sin, when God finds His children cowering in fear, hiding from their Holy Creator God, attempting to cover their sin and shame with leaves, what does their Heavenly Father do? He sheds the blood of an animal and drives them out of the land in our first glimpse of the passover/exodus motif. Father God sacrifices an animal to temporarily cover them until their conquering Lamb would come to utterly save them.
Everything about this old covenant magnified the infinite separation between a holy, righteous, and just God, and a sinful, depraved, and desperate people and yet it also pointed to the necessity and inevitability of a merciful and perfect Redeemer.
In constant repetition God’s people had to rely on the blood of animals every time they failed at keeping even one of God’s just decrees (rules/laws). You heard it in our text (Galatians 3:10), “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.”
Do you see how when we see our sinfulness in the light of God’s holiness, we are left utterly undone? And therefore how devastatingly hopeless our self-salvation projects really are? We can never be good enough. This was the situation of many in the church at the time of the reformation—hopelessly chasing salvation by their own strength and merit. This was the situation of Martin Luther the German reformer.
It was in July of 1505 that Luther found himself caught in a terrible thunder storm. Lightning struck nearby and knocked him to the ground and in a state of terror, he cried out to the patron saint of miners (because his father was a copper miner), “Help me, St. Anna, and I will become a monk.”
Two weeks after that life altering storm, Luther made good on his promise and entered an Augustinian Monastery and it was here that he began wrestling with God. He said,
When I was a monk, I wearied myself greatly for almost fifteen years with the daily sacrifice, tortured myself with fastings, vigils, prayers, and other very rigorous works. I earnestly thought to acquire righteousness by my works.
At this point, Luther was not much different then the corrupt church he would soon be protesting. Both were on a mission of self-justification—self-salvation—missing the gospel of God’s sovereign grace found throughout the scriptures.
In 1512 Martin Luther received his doctor of theology degree and was appointed professor of Bible. It is interesting to note, that in the medieval church, to become a professor at a university you had to take an oath and almost all of them included a promise to obey the pope and bishops. But this was not the case for professors of the Bible. Their oath was taken to God directly, promising to teach His word faithfully.
After the reformation was well on it’s way and Luther had been awarded the reputation of rebel in the Roman Catholic Church, at one point, he responded to his critics by reminding them of his oath to be faithful to the Word of God alone, and in his famously sarcastic way, reminded them that he only did what the church asked him to do.
Some of the specific circumstances that set Luther off on his protest against Rome were issues surrounding the Roman Catholic teaching of penance and the practice of selling indulgences. If you were in Sunday School a few weeks ago you would have heard Robert Godfrey teach us the following regarding Roman Catholic doctrine.
1. [T]o be forgiven for sins committed after the cleansing of baptism…a person must first experience genuine…remorse for sins. 2. The contrite sinner would then confess his or her sins to a priest, who would grant instruction and absolution. 3. Finally, a person would be expected to perform a specific task [penance] to demonstrate repentance and to pay the temporal penalties of his or her sin.
It was also the case that leading up to the time of the reformation, the buying and selling of indulgences had become common place. Again, Robert Godfrey enlightens us:
1. Through the purchase of an indulgence, a person was believed to be exempt from the duties associated with penance. 2. [M]any people came to understand indulgences as a church-sanctioned means of purchasing forgiveness for one’s sins. [Even though technically, that was not the teaching of the church.] 3. Eventually, indulgences came to be sold as an alleged means of releasing a deceased person’s soul from purgatory into heaven.
Another interesting example from the period is butter. In “Butter: A Rich History” the author points out that Rome had forbidden the eating of meat, eggs, milk, butter, and cheese for what totaled something like half the year. They did this because they believed these foods (unlike fish and oil) lead to a “great incentive to lust (Thomas Aquinas)”.
At first this was only for monks but eventually the prohibition was passed on to the whole church. This was easy enough for Rome and other Mediterranean regions where fish and oil were abundant, but for dairy rich countries like Germany it was a different story.
To the wealthy, the church granted “dispensations” and allowed them to pay money in order to “indulge” in butter and such. But for poor partitioners in Martin Luther’s country, who relied heavily on these “lust-inducing” foods for basic sustenance, this prohibition was a great burden.
As the church ramped up the selling of plenary indulgences (which supposedly secured pardon for past and future sins) to help the pope pay for St. Peter’s Basilica back in Rome, this became a way for poor partitioners to “buy forgiveness”, taking comfort in a piece of paper that told them they were ok with God now that they had paid up.
On October 31, 1517, enraged and disgusted by the church-sanctioned abuse, Martin Luther was determined that there must be public debate on the matter and as he nailed his 95 theses to the door at Wittenberg, he unknowingly began the Protestant Reformation.
Now, according to what Luther later wrote, at this point in time, he hadn’t experienced conversion, and doesn’t until 1519. However, regardless of the exact timing of Luther’s conversion, it is clear that by this point he is, at least, well on the way. And what is more important (than specific timing) is what he came to see and understand as he wrestled with God and His Word, specifically this phrase, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
Listen to Martin Luther talk about his wrestling and realization.
Though I lived as a monk without reproach, I felt that I was a sinner before God with an extremely disturbed conscience. I could not believe that he was placated by my satisfaction [acts of penance]. I did not love, yes, I hated the righteous God who punishes sinners…I was angry with God, and said, “As if, indeed, it is not enough, that miserable sinners, eternally lost through original sin, are crushed by every kind of calamity by the law of the Decalogue [Ten Commandments], without having God add pain to pain…by the gospel threatening us with his righteousness and wrath!” Thus I raged with a fierce and troubled conscience. Nevertheless, I beat importunately upon Paul at that place, most ardently desiring to know what St. Paul wanted.
At last, by the mercy of God, meditating day and night, I gave heed to the context of the words, namely, “In it the righteousness of God is revealed, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.’” There I began to understand that the righteousness of God is that by which the righteous lives by a gift of God, namely by faith. And this is the meaning: the righteousness of God is revealed by the gospel, namely, the passive righteousness with which merciful God justifies us by faith, as it is written, “He who through faith is righteous shall live.” Here I felt that I was altogether born again and had entered paradise itself through open gates. There a totally other face of the entire Scripture showed itself to me.
Luther’s new understanding of free justification by faith alone became one of the central tenets of the Reformation. It contradicted Rome’s teaching that justification was by faith and works so naturally he was condemned for preaching what the pope himself labeled “dangerous doctrines”.
Part of the confusion of the church at the time regarding the doctrine of justification, stemmed from the unfortunate fact that in early centuries, doctrine was not being studied and developed from the original languages of scripture, the hebrew and greek, but rather from the Latin translation of those texts.
However, it is no coincidence that one year before Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door, in 1516, for the first time ever, a New Testament was published that had the greek and latin translations side by side.
As Luther got his hands on a copy and was studying the call of Christ to repent in Matthew 4:17 which says, “Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Luther noticed that the latin translation of “repent” was “do penance”. “Do penance for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”
When Luther looked over to the greek word for repent he rightly recognized that it had absolutely nothing at all to do with penance and he eventually came to understand that the tradition and doctrine of penance was completely absent from the teaching of scriptures.
In fact, repentance, in the scriptures, is granted by God (Acts 11:18), which is to say, exactly what we talked about last week, that is, we are saved by grace through faith and this is not of our own doing it is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8).
Repentance is a change of mind, a new set of eyes, a new heart to believe. Repentance is when a slave is translated from darkness to become a son in the light. Repentance and belief occur when a sinner is given a new heart, but even more fundamentally, when a sinner is given a new Father and a new name.
Thus, Martin Luther’s first theses of his famous 95 was this, “When our Lord and Master, Christ Jesus, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.” And the second theses, “This word cannot be understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, that is, confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.”
This is one of those crucial rediscoveries of the reformation, a return and re-articulation of the biblical doctrine that we are justified by faith alone, and not by the works of the law, not by our own doing. Luther’s self-salvation project was over and now, he and other reformers would go on to lead people away from the traditions and doctrines of men, back to the Word of God—back to the teachings of the scriptures, that indeed, a new covenant has been enacted on better promises and a better hope has been introduced!
Remember, under the old covenant, when one sinned, intentionally or unintentionally, there must be an offering of blood, and what would happen is that the offender would put his hand on the head of the offering (Lev. 1:4) and the offering would be killed while the sinner simply goes free.
It was the freeness of God’s grace that seemed scandalously impossible to the church of Martin Luther’s day, and yet every price that men pay through works of the law fall totally short of covering the debt that God demands. God’s holy standard of justice must be met and neither animal blood nor our good works could possibly ever meet that perfect standard.
This is the dilemma that the Gospel—the New Covenant—solves. Before Jesus came, God was patient with His people and in His divine forbearance He passed over former sins until He imputed them all to Christ. So God could be just for not ignoring sin, and the merciful justifier of the one who trusts in the blood of the Lamb of God (Rom. 3:25-26).
In the New Covenant, we don’t only impute our sin onto the sacrifice. By the blood of the New Covenant, our sin is imputed to the Lamb of God (Gal. 3:13; 2 Cor. 5:21), but it doesn’t stop there.
Because this Lamb, our Head (Eph. 4:15), has the power of an indestructible life (Heb. 7:16), and so when we touch Him, not only is our sin imputed to Him, but His perfect righteousness is imputed to us and we are actually cleansed and given a new life and transformed once and for all time. He becomes our sin (2 Cor. 5:21)—cursed in our place, and yet, as 1 Cor. 1:30 says, He becomes our righteousness and sanctification.
Jesus, the perfect sacrifice, died so we could die. And because our great Hight Priest has the power of an indestructible life, death could not hold Him, and so because He lives again, in Him, we too live again with the power of His indestructible life. Do you see that?
This is why Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously said, “When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.” This is the Gospel, the better promise, you, sinner, must die. But because of the mercy of the Father in sending His only begotten Son, you do not die alone. You die with Christ. We die with Christ. We only ever follow our big Brother and we are never alone. We never make our own way.
Paul says (Gal. 2:20), “I have been crucified with Christ.” And (Rom. 6:3), “all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death.” And it doesn’t stop at death. In John 14:19-20 Jesus says, “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” So let it be know today, if you die with Christ, you live eternally with Him.
Being a Christian, believing in Jesus, being a child of God, and an heir of the promise of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, means that the Law of God has been internalized. It has been written on our heart, it has been put into our minds. Which means that now we love and delight in the Law of God (Ps. 119). This is what Jesus is talking about when He says (Mt. 11:28-30), “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Righteousness has a name, Jesus. True righteousness is not found in the things we do or don’t do. True righteousness is credited to your account as you are yoked up with Jesus, your righteousness who does all of the heavy lifting, and in whom we rest, in death and in life.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.