Monday, May 18, 2015

Covenant (10) Not Holiness Code

Martin Luther treated the old covenant as a holiness code, because he wanted to use it as a slogan for rhetorical purposes, but he did not understand it. It cannot be used as holiness code, because it does not contain a complete list of all sins. Pride, patience, kindness, gentleness are not mentioned; neither is presumption or gluttony. We should not be surprised at these omissions, because this is not the purpose of the law. It focuses on sins that would prevent people from living in harmony. It was not intended to be a list of all sins.

Moses understood this. Although humility is not one of the Ten Commandments, Moses was the most humble man on the earth. He was humble because he loved God, not because it was required by the law. He understood that the law was not given to define sin, but to provide a way for people to live in peace with each other.

The Pharisees had tried to turn the law into a holiness code by adding hundreds of minor regulations. They had to do this, because too much was missing. Jesus slammed them for laying an impossible burden on the people, because he understood the real purpose of the old covenant.

Jesus corrected the Pharisee’s error in the Sermon on the Mount, by giving a true standard of righteousness. He then explained that keeping the law was not sufficient for a holy life. There are plenty of people who have never committed adultery, murdered someone, stolen from their neighbour or perjured themselves before a court, but that does not make them holy. Jesus explained that anger and lust are sins, even though they are not forbidden by the law.

Our righteousness must surpass the standard required by the law (Matt 5:20).
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48).
Keeping the law makes us peaceful citizens, but it does not make us holy. God's holiness requires a much higher standard than the law.

Some Christians assume that Jesus was changing the law and setting a higher standard. This is not correct, either. Jesus was not changing the law (Matt 5:17-18). He was explaining the difference between the laws needed for a harmonious society and the standard of righteousness required for holiness. The law is sufficient for people to live in harmony, because that is its purpose. It is not a standard for holiness.

Paul, explains that trying to be righteous by human effort is foolish.

Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Gal 3:3).

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