The Fork in the Road: Moral vs. Positive Law: Created to be Like God

Argument 4

(Eph 4:22-24) You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

We were saved for a purpose — to be like God. In particular, we were saved to do good works, which God wants us to do because they are also his works –

(Eph 2:10) For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Now, here we see that we are supposed to be like God in God’s righteousness — covenant faithfulness — which means we are to be penitent, but penitent in a very particular way. We are to be more and more like God. And this means we have to understand the character and purposes of God.

Of course, the Spirit is in us working toward this very end — and who knows God’s character and purposes better? — and so it’s not like we have to do this all by ourselves. But this language does not refer to singing a cappella, because God doesn’t sing a cappella. I mean, I’ve read the Revelation.

Rather, Paul’s point is much like a point Jesus makes —

(Mat 5:43-48)  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

To be “perfect” like God is to love those who don’t love us. (It keeps coming back to faith and love, doesn’t it?)

Of course, there’s much more.

(Deu 10:17-19)  For the LORD your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. 18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the alien, giving him food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are aliens, for you yourselves were aliens in Egypt.

God begins the giving of the Law in Deuteronomy by describing his own passions and telling his people to emulate him. God’s passions haven’t changed. Indeed, we begin to understand —

(James 1:27)  Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

We, of course, like to quote this passage, but we do so by pushing it into a much longer list of commands, subordinating pure and faultless religion to the 5 acts of worship and such like. I mean, we’ll damn an instrumental church for the price of a magazine, but we won’t bleat a word of protest about a church that ignores widows and orphans. But James understands God much better than we do. James says our religion is “pure and faultless” when we share and act on God’s passions. You see, James has read Deuteronomy.

Moral purity and caring for those in need. Sounds like Jesus, too. Sounds a lot like love.

(1 John 4:16)  And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him.

It’s a shame that John and James died too soon to learn from Benjamin Franklin. Surely they would have agreed that the highest, best form of obedience is obedience to positive laws. And yet, when the New Testament writers tell us how to live as Christians, they issue not a single positive command beyond faith and love.

And so we have a decision to make: Do we honor the words of the New Testament or the traditions of the late 19th Century? They are not the same. And I’ve seen what our 19th Century theology did to us in the 20th Century. I think we might want to try something else.

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9 Responses

  1. The word created in Eph. 2:10 I have been told means there is something in you that wasn’t there before.

    Could that be the Holy Spirit that helps in our transformation into a person able to perform the works of the Spirit?

    If so, we desperately need help both as babes and mature Christians.

    Bob

  2. The word ‘created’ doesn’t mean that there is something in you that wasn’t there before. However, the context clearly means this: Ephesians 4:24 “And that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” He is clearly saying that the new man is something newly created.

  3. I can’t believe I just got my own email address wrong. Now I have to post a new comment just to subscribe to the comments. 😦

  4. “And yet, when the New Testament writers tell us how to live as Christians, they issue not a single positive command beyond faith and love.”

    Paul may say “all the law is summed up among you in one word: love your neighbor as yourself” (Gal 5:14) but he still does list positive commands. These can be seen as explanatory in nature, but they are still positive commands.

  5. Rey

    When was put on Christ we receive the holy Spirit. He was not there before. The former Dr. Gene Scott used to preach much about being created anew in Eph. 2:10

    Bob

  6. Sadly, I haven’t been able to find time to follow this series as I would have liked, but hope to return to it.

    So forgive me if you, Jay, or someone else has already cited John Mark Hicks’ post at http://johnmarkhicks.wordpress.com/2008/05/31/stone-campbell-hermeneutics-v-moral-and-positive-law/ , but it’s relevant and really good. And pretty concise, given the subject!

  7. Bob,

    Yes. That’s exactly what the Spirit does (part of it).

  8. Rey,

    Commands explaining the meaning of “love your neighbor” are moral commands, not positive commands.

  9. Keith,

    As always, John Mark Hicks’ post is excellent. If I didn’t cite it early in the series, it’s my mistake.

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