Sanctification from A Preterite Perspective
For my text I will be using the book written by Gordon H. Clark aptly entitled, Sanctification (Trinity Foundation, 1992). Clark died in April of 1985, authored over forty books and was the former chairman of the Department of Philosophy at Butler University. Within Reformed theology, he is still regarded as one of the foremost of twentieth century theologians and philosophers. Many have credited his work in the forties and fifties as anticipatory of post-Modernist philosophy in that he was one of few Christian philosophers critiquing the works of A. J. Ayer, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Rudolph Carnap, and Bertrand Russell.
Clark was a thoroughgoing Calvinist and his abilities in the field of logic were recognized as one of the best, having authored a book and workbook on logic proper. I use his book because it is to the point, clear in its logical order and without the nonsense found in most of the pop-devotional books having to deal with our subject which I have read or perused (Purpose Driven Life comes to mind).
Most of these books are “how to” guides to “better” Christian living. Titles like, “How to Have a Healthy Marriage”, “Seven Keys to Success,” “Can You Pray for One Hour A Day?”, “Practicing the Presence of Christ,” “Good Morning, Holy Spirit”, and on and on gives one the idea that Christian living can be broken down into “spiritual laws”, “rules”, “ways of life”, and “keys for success.”
This is not all bad. After all, Clark wrote, “Sanctification is the Christian life” (with an emphasis on “is” – 1). However, he also noticed the problem in this approach: “Since the external conditions of the individuals, and even more their mentality and psychological quirks, differ enormously, any descriptive account of the Christian life would bog down into multitudinous details. Nor can biography be normative.” What he means here in this last sentence is that the life of some great Christian cannot be the normative for every other Christian. Continuing with Clark, “Scripture, however, gives some general principles. No matter how different Chinese Christians may be from American Christians, no matter how different two Christians of the same nationality are, we are all still tempted, we all sin, we all grow in grace, and we all persevere, though by multiple methods, at various velocities, and to different degrees” (2). So much for practical Christianity.
What Clark was getting at is that all of these practical affairs of Christian living are based on theology. “A condition preceding faith is an understanding of the propositions to be believed. No one can believe that of which he knows nothing…Faith is believing what one understands” (4). What lies at the bottom of any concern for Christian living, which is just a nicer way of saying “obedience to the commands of Christ”, but we do not like terms like “obedience” and “commands”, is Bible study. Bible study is often seen as some “part” of Christian living, but for Clark it has everything to do with it. “No doubt,” he wrote, “the Christian who wants to be a better Christian should pay his debts promptly and do an errand for his sick neighbor, but he learns such duties and others more important only by studying the Bible. Ezekiel 25 and Revelation 16 may not tell anyone what to do this afternoon, but eighteen months from now, or seven years from now, they will be precisely what is needed….Theology is the road to holiness” (6).
Now, I like the sound of that. Allow me to break down further what he means by this. To want a more “vibrant” life with Christ, a more “powerful relationship” with a “personal Lord and savior” that is not so much “head knowledge” as it is “heart knowledge” is to assume that you know what you are talking about when you ask for these things. Each term must be defined. Have you heard the distinction some make between “knowing about” Jesus and “really knowing Jesus?” It’s a false distinction, logically speaking, but quite popular. Or have you heard the idea of an “intimate relationship with God?” Sounds more like a romance novel title. Are some Christians “closer” to God? Are they “nearer” to God than, say, you are? Can you “get closer” to God, say, close enough to say that you are “in the presence of God?” These are all phrases that our found within the conversation of sanctification and what it is. When one begins to question them, a reaction is likely to occur that you have not yet “arrived” or that you merely know about Jesus, but you don’t really know him – or worse, you don’t know him at all.
When one talks about sanctification, however, the good Bible student should remind the speaker that “regeneration”, “justification” and “glorification” are also included. What is sanctification? One could do a word-study, of course, and show the contexts of the words in Hebrew and Greek and come up with a definition. “Sanctification means to be set-apart, to be holy.” What does that require? Under the Mosaic covenant it required 613 things for Israel as a whole to do in order to “be” holy and to “stay” holy. In fact, even the restroom doings of a person had to be concealed and buried because the Lord was holy, and his people should be holy as well. This was a high calling, wouldn’t you say? I mean, to be holy as the Lord God of Israel himself was holy? Was that possible?
Now, with holiness we have to be aware of sin. After all, sanctification assumes that we need to be “sanctified” or “set apart” from something in order to be of use to something, namely, God. From what are we sanctified? Here, we must have a definition of “sin”. This, of course, will involve us with the doctrine of the Fall of Adam and the fact that human beings are sinful. They need to be “saved” and this involves “regeneration.” Clark related a story of a Salvation Army worker in London that asked a man on the street if he was saved. The worker did not know that the gentleman was an Anglican bishop. He answered with another question, “Do you mean sesouenos, sezomenos, or sothesomenos?” Of course, the worker had no idea what the good bishop meant. What is introduced in this the doctrine of progressive sanctification and the Greek verbs mean, “have I been saved, am I being saved, or will I be saved?” The same threefold perspective of time can be said of regeneration, justification and transformation. It is widely recognized within Christian doctrine that sanctification in the Bible was progressive. From one standpoint, one was accounted as “saved”, and from another as “being saved” and still another, as “will be saved.” It is the last phrase that brings us to another subject: eschatology, since it is a future verb that looks towards the end.
It does not take long to see that when we talk about sanctification we are inevitably going to head towards eschatology. These things overlap one another, rightly so, so that when we talk about any general doctrine of the Bible we will talk about every doctrine of the Bible. This is because the Bible, in all of its seemingly disarray, is systematically arranged in our God-given logical minds. When something does not make “sense” (that is, when it is illogical), we go back to the source, the Bible, and find our where we went wrong. What invalid inference did we draw? What definition did we get wrong?
There have been a few attempts at defining sanctification throughout church history that may be of some importance in order to contrast where we want to arrive in the truth of the matter. One of the first problems is Adam. How can God make a perfect being in righteousness that not only could sin, but did sin? Pelagius (400 A.D.) held that Adam was morally neutral, without sin and without righteousness. He also taught that his physical body was naturally mortal and physical death was not a punishment for his sin. This is something a preterist might want to revisit. For a Reformed theologian like Clark, such a view is anathema. I don’t believe that it is, though. Now, Pelagius taught that sin is simply a voluntary act of freewill, and no one is more or less compelled to sin than was Adam. There is no “original sin” and there is no curse of being from the loins of Adam. At this the point, the preterist might recoil and join the Reformed! See how this can go back and forth according to one’s framework and theological assumptions? Now, this would mean that every person born is born with a clean slate, morally neutral, without sin and without righteousness. But, this involves all sorts of problems that I do not care to get into at this point. Being to the point, Pelagius held that by freewill a man is justified or condemned. He can chose by his own voluntary actions and power God, or evil. It is entirely up to the human ability.
The Roman Catholic Church, notably in the Council of Trent, defined Christian living as living according to “graces” that were dispensed through the ministry of its priests. Canon XII and XIII states that the whole guilt of a sin is not taken away through faith in the satisfaction of Christ’s work, but must be worked out through further satisfaction in various undertakings like fasting, prayers, alms-deeds, works of piety, etc. The Christian life gets tough. Who can be saved?
This is over and against the Lutheran proclamation of faith alone in Christ alone. Augustus Toplady wrote in a hymn, But not for works which we have done, Or shall hereafter do, Hath God decreed on sinful man Salvation to bestow. This was a different approach to salvation and sanctification out of the 16th century with which the 21st century is still struggling. It brings us up to date, and I hope my painfully brief history of this doctrine has not bored you too much.
From this idea of Luther, Clark could write, “Any true Christian, even while at a deplorably low degree of sanctification, can say truly that God has redeemed him from all his iniquities. He has been bought by the blood of Christ and is redeemed” (25). This has been seen, or criticized, as lowering the bar, and such a message of grace would lead to a shabby Christian experience, would it not? I mean, if a Christian can use grace for a license to sin, then isn’t he more likely to do so?
Wesley proposed another solution: Methodism. He also proposed the possibility of what is called “sinless perfection.” That is, that a Christian can so live his life in his minute to minute day as to practice Christianity without sin. That is the goal, anyhow, and if he cannot reach such a goal, his life should at least be spent in conditioning his freewill to attain to such a life. The more he sins less, the more he draws closer to God, and the easier it becomes because the more one draws closer to God the more power one receives to live without sin. Now, Wesley never claimed to be perfect, but that one could be. Clarks argument against this is eschatology. Death is a result of sin and therefore is not perfect since all will die. Death is destroyed in the end, and when we receive glorified bodies in the resurrection, then we shall be made perfect, lacking nothing, holy (sanctified, remember) and without wrinkle. Sinless perfection is impossible in this “present age” Clark wrote. See, once again, eschatology comes to play.
The Catechism of the Westminster divines wrote that sanctification is the work of God and enables us more and more to die to sin and live unto righteousness. Note, here, that there is a problem in the wording. “Dying to sin” is obviously a metaphor and cannot mean a physical dying. It means a daily moving away from sin, or “dying to” sin. The same can be said of “living” to righteousness. “Living” and “dying” are active words, so it defined, rooted in what a man does after he has been truly regenerated. The phrase “more and more” imply a gradation of life in which, as in Wesleyanism and Roman Catholicism, some are more holy, or more sanctified, than others. In the Charismatic churches we often here of “really anointed men of God” who “really hear God’s heart”. What am I, chopped liver?
This is the one thing all of these historical attempts of Christian living have in common: right living means closer to God, loose living means away from God. I propose a third alternative based upon my following remarks of criticism: loose living or right living doesn’t move a Christian closer to God or away from God at all in the slightest. Rather, all of God’s people are equally sanctified. No one is any closer to God than the worse Christian or the righteous saint. The problem that these views have is one that has been remarked upon in passing: eschatology. Since they have no “end” yet, then they cannot have any “perfection” yet, and since they have no “perfection” yet, they must have, nonetheless, some type of compass point to let them know how “close” they are to God, and this usually involves the “how tos” of Christian living: “don’t watch TV,” “Don’t listen to Led Zeppelin,” “don’t be drug addict,” “don’t have an abortion,” “don’t have sex,” “say your prayers at night and avoid beaches,” “don’t support Democrats,” and on and on it goes. The “how to” books thrive on one thing: how to be a better person so that God really likes you. This, in turn, is driven by one thing: unless you do certain things, God really can’t like you as much as he could like you. This, also, is driven by one character defect we all have in common: fear of being a failure, a loser, a nobody. We must strive to be “better” and “more holy.” And, when some of us do not live up to that standard, we drown ourselves even more in self-pity and guilt. There is good news, though. Jesus has returned a Second Time and has brought salvation to those who love him, and he has delivered up to God all things, and is all things to all men, including your sanctification.
For much of the counsel and practical Christian living to be what it is, there must be a fulfilled eschatology. One cannot have a serene Christian life without having the knowledge of the fulfillment. Yet, one can have the serene life that fulfillment gives, and many Christians do, but do not see the inconsistency of having a non-fulfilled eschatology.
For example, Clark wrote of the pitifully poor Christian in a deplorable state of sanctification who is yet a redeemed soul in Christ. I will argue that this cannot be unless Christ has truly, fully redeemed his soul. Clark defined regeneration as initiating “the Christian life, resurrecting the dry bones and clothing them with flesh.” He further wrote, “Dead bones cannot believe; but when clothed with flesh they live, and they live a life of faith” (2,3). Amen, Mr. Clark. It is obvious, if you are a student of the Bible, where Clark got his imagery from to define regeneration. Can anyone tell me?
Eschatology is not just about Matthew 24 and Revelation 11. It is about salvation, mainly. It is about a new creation in Christ. It is about a soul becoming clothed with flesh, new flesh, in order to serve in a new way the Living God. This new way must be preached to the world in such a style as to bring about another wave of revival and renewal to God’s people.
Tomorrow I will relate in a more personal fashion how I now view my life and the changes that have come about in my life, and hopefully by sharing something personal, you may see yourself, God willing. Thank you for your time.
Sanctification From A Preterite Perspective – Part 2
Several questions arose from our last presentation that I hopefully will address in this one. The issue of sanctification must be rooted in the Hebrew Scriptures as far as the concept goes. There was coming a time in Israel’s history that God would make them “holy” and “careful to follow all my decrees.” Preterist theology maintains that this was accomplished through the high priestly work of Christ from His Incarnation to His Parousia, or coming out of the holy of holies of the heavenly tabernacle to present to “his people” the atonement for sins once and for all (unlike the high priest of the old covenant that had to do this yearly). I cover this in my lectures on Hebrews.
It is within this framework of covenant eschatology that I intend to do much of my work here. Paul did not invent the idea that a coming Deliverer would come “from Zion” (heavenly Zion) and “forgive” the sins of Israel. This would be God’s new “covenant with them.” The entire understanding of the new covenant, the eternal covenant, involves the fulfilling of the conditions required so that Israel, and mankind through Israel, would be saved. For Paul, Israel’s salvation meant “riches for the world” and her soon to come “fullness” (pleroma) would be “life from the dead” (all of this material is found in Romans 11, and I cover this, too, in my lectures on Romans). Israel’s “fullness” would coincide with the salvific “fullness (pleroma) of the Gentiles.” These are not two fullnesses, but one and the same fullness or perfection of the new creation sanctification of God’s people unto Himself so that He Himself could dwell on the Land in His people. God does not dwell with an unclean people and cannot dwell in an unclean people. God is holy, and in order for him to dwell in a people, they too must be holy as He is holy.
The Law of Moses, an extension of the Law given to Adam, was “added” (to what?) so that Israel, and in turn the world, would understand that “all men” are under Adam’s curse. The new covenant is God’s eternal and final covenant that would supercede all previous covenants and fulfill them. The new covenant was given in order to restore ha’adam. This would be done through the new Adam or the “eschatos” Adam, the last Adam. We have a thread, then:
Adam -> Israel -> Last Adam
Last Adam -> Israel -> Adam.
What Adam did was made manifest in the Law of Moses and Israel. The Last Adam came to save Israel and in turn, all men. Israel must be saved in order to save “Adam” from which “all nations” came. The new nation that comes from the Last Adam is made up of saved Israel and spreads to the First Adam (all nations). This represents Paul’s thought world in Romans where he begins with the Law of Moses (ch. 1-3), heads to Abraham (ch. 4), then goes to Adam (5.12-ff) working in reverse of the Genesis narrative that has Adam, then Abraham, then Moses. His “time line” from “Adam to the time of Moses” works up to the “but now Christ….” This is the framework of Paul’s theology and any foreign material that intrudes into it, or, in Christian traditional theology, works outside of it, will go awry.
For sanctification it goes awry because the “progressive” aspect of “Christian living” is lifted out of Paul’s Judaistic framework (Paul, after all, is merely doing what is now called in the seminary “Old Testament Theology”), and placed into the time after the parousia of Christ, the “age to come.” Now, from the standpoint of traditional thinking, this would be like taking progressive sanctification and placing it in “heaven” after we have been redeemed and glorified at the end of the world at the Second Coming! Christian theology is absolutely correct when it insists that progressive sanctification ends at the second coming. Heavenly bliss at the end of the world for eternity fulfills the matter of “being saved”. There is no “more and more” progression.
The preterist, however, runs smack dab into a problem at this point because he has the Second Coming as already fulfilled. He is, then, in the “age to come” and it follows that he cannot place “progressive sanctification” after the parousia of Christ. At this point it needs to be stressed that I follow the sequence of traditional Christian theology: the Second Coming and glorification of the “body” ends the need to be transformed “more and more” from “glory to glory.” We need not re-invent the wheel here, as some preterists are wont to do.
This would mean, then, that preterists would have to argue that the “body” and those added to it are immediately sanctified. Progressive sanctification was only a temporary bridge from the old to the new covenant (a 40 year bridge, or “generation”). It was never meant to be a permanent feature of Christian living, and even Evangelical theology does not have it as a permanent feature because it stops when the world ends and God raises the dead. Some preterists have labeled this bridge the “transition period” from the making obsolete of the old covenant to its disappearing (which the Fall of Jerusalem signaled) to the full establishment of the new covenant in the age to come. This is my framework. If this be true, then, Christian theology has erred in that it has taken the view of progression and transplanted it into the Christian age (the last 2,000 years). We have been beating each other up over “who is more holy” ever since.
Basically, Christian denominations and Catholic ministry have existed to make their point: who is more correct, and who has more truth, and therefore who are closer to God and more sanctified. That, in a nutshell, has been Christianity. Preterists cannot be lumped into this category for the very simple reason that they must assert that none of them are any closer to God than all of them are.
Let me read John’s vision about those who dwell in the New Jerusalem, which I take to be the Church, the Wife of the Lamb, who lives to bring healing to the nations and submission to the kingdom of Christ in the age to come, our age. John saw that, “the glory and the honor of the nations will be brought into it. And anything unclean will by no means (ou me) enter into it…” “Unclean” is the opposite of “clean” or “sanctified.” Peter was rebuked for thinking that the nations who had faith were “unclean”, but God declared that they were “clean” (Acts 10.28). That’s what the righteousness of Christ does, and what Paul expounds upon in Romans is the righteousness of Christ in the gospel that was then “being revealed” in that generation.
See, the traditional theology understands that the New Jerusalem is still a future thing and sanctification (being made clean) is a process until we have glorified bodies (when God finally “cleans” our physical bodies). We cannot be in the New Jerusalem yet because we still sin and sin is unclean is it not? We still sin, true. So, how can we still sin and yet remain “clean”?
First, let’s keep with John’s vision. John sees this New Jerusalem coming down out of heaven and dwelling with men on earth. That is the new covenant: “I will be their God and they shall be my people” that we find from Abraham to Jeremiah. We find this covenantal phrase in Revelation 21.3. We find it in Ezekiel and most of the prophets. It is a time when God has made his people sanctified and holy. However, this new nation of clean people is set smack dab in the midst of those “on the outside” who are quite sinful (Rev 22.15). After all, how can unclean nations “enter in” through its “gates” if in fact they are already clean? They need to be clean in order to enter in! If that is the case, then logically while “outside” they are unclean! This fits nicely with the temple cult of Israel because no unclean thing entered into God’s courts. It was “washed” and “made clean” first. Even the high priest had to “wash” and be made holy before he could enter.
John’s imagery is nothing more than Isaiah’s imagery, for Isaiah prophesied what John saw in chapters 21 and 22. In Isa 60.1-ff the prophet sees the nations coming into Zion and sharing in her glory. This is the time of “favor” and “compassion” (60.10b) and its gates will never be shut (60.11) so that nations could come in. Then the prophet, speaking of the “age to come” glory of Israel and the nations that join with her, says this, “For the nation or kingdom that WILL NOT serve you will PERISH; it will be utterly ruined.” I could show this same thing in Ezekiel and Zechariah. What it means is that the age to come will have two types of people on earth: the clean and the unclean, the sanctified and the un-sanctified. The un-sanctified are those who can be “sanctified” if they “drink” of the cleaning waters. The age to come is still seen as very much this worldly. Why should we think that God would have it any different? The new covenant reality would be rooted in the old covenant type and shadow, and in that type and shadow there were two types of people on earth: Israel, God’s people, and “the nations” that were “in darkness.” The light shines in the New Jerusalem. It does not shine outside the New Jerusalem. The living waters flow inside, not outside. One has to come inside to have the light and drink the waters, and in order to come inside one has to be made “clean” and “sanctified” through the blood of the Lamb that sits in the midst of the New Jerusalem. The Light can be seen from the outside – and it’s the party inside that attracts those on the outside!
Now, I have touched upon something previously that stated that we still sin. How can that be? The thing that I wish to elaborate on now is how that can be. In order to do this I must remain within the new covenant framework and compare it to the old covenant framework. I cannot begin with my experience of sin (since experience gives no knowledge anyhow), but must begin with the Scriptures and its definitions. We so often try to read our experiences into the Bible or modern thinking into the Bible as if the Bible has become something sort of akin to old time superstitions that less sophisticated eras like our own have outgrown. I mean, do you really believe that a donkey talked to Balaam? Yes, I do. Can I still be redeemed fully and yet sin? Yes, I can. The new covenant teaches that I can.
For Paul, “forgiveness of sin” is covenantally rooted in Israel’s temple worship and cultus. Forgiveness of sin is not something that is to be defined as “saying your sorry so that the other person can say he is sorry, too.” Sin is rooted in Adam and forgiveness is rooted in redemption. Sin is defined as “any want of conformity to the Law” of God. Lawlessness is sin. This is not general lawlessness. This is specifically breaking the Law of Moses. Jesus was explicit: any jot and tittle of the Law that is broken is sin. Paul is even more explicit: “those who hear the Law only will not be justified, but those who do the Law will be justified….as my gospel declares” (Romans 2.13-16). Sacré bleu!
Jesus came to “fulfill the righteous-ordinances of the Law (of Moses) in us who walk not according to the flesh (old covenant) but according to the Spirit (new covenant)” (Romans 8.4). The Law of Moses would be “written in the heart” according to Jeremiah 31.31-ff and would not “be like the former covenant I made with Israel.” Paul used this very phrase in Rom 2.15: the works of the Law of Moses were being shown as having been written on the hearts of his Gentile converts. In order to do this some justice, let us turn to Romans 2.
Let’s try to follow Paul’s argument. The Gentiles are regenerated, having the Law written on their hearts according to the new covenant stipulation given by the prophet Jeremiah. They “do” the “works of the Law” as Paul explicitly states. The “conscience” (2.15) bears witness by the fact that the Law in their hearts is acting also as their moral compass between good and evil. Then Paul turns to the Jew under the old covenant “according to the flesh” code and asks him a series of questions (2.17-ff). After this, he makes an astounding series of statements (vv. 25-29): “Circumcision is useful if you practice Torah, but if you break Torah your circumcision has become uncircumcision. If, therefore, the Uncircumcised keep the righteous-ordinance (same word in 8.4 that we read before) of the Torah, will they not be accounted as Circumcised? The one who is not circumcised by nature (since by nature he does not have the Torah – 2.14) and yet obeys the Torah will judge you even though you (Jew) have (by nature) the written code and are a lawbreaker. For it is not the one who is in the open a Jew, neither the one who is in the open circumcised in flesh. Rather, the one in secret is a Jew, and circumcision of heart in Spirit, not written code…” If you were not a Jew under the Torah and did not have the training Paul had, this would make no sense to you. It still baffles people, but some Evangelicals have seen a solution that works right into our preterist hands.
Paul has apparently, so some think, contradicted himself. How can a Gentile “do the Law” when the Law commands fleshly circumcision? How could an uncircumcised Gentile be a doer of the Law when the Law, going back to Abraham’s covenant, explicitly commands that Gentiles be circumcised? How can the Gentile “obey the Law” when the Law commands circumcision?
Key phrases: “flesh”, “heart,” “written code”, “Spirit” and “righteous-commandment.” Let me add another contradiction, too. Paul, in 3.19 concludes that no man will be “justified by works of the Law.” Paul had written previously that “those who do the law will be justified.” Now he concludes that no man will be justified who does the law. What in the world is going on here?
The solution, having everything to do with our original question of how an unclean person can be made clean, or sanctified, yet sin, is relatively simple. Paul has quoted Jeremiah 31 and this is the new covenant. The new covenant stipulates that the Torah will be written in the “heart.” This is done, of course, by the Spirit. The “flesh” and “written code” is the old covenant “doing” of Torah, or the old, former way of doing Torah. No man will be justified by doing Torah the old way according to the written code. However, in the new covenant, every man who believes will be justified for doing the Torah because the Torah is now written in the heart.
Let me restate this: the old covenant Torah, by being written in the heart by the Spirit, has been transformed into the new covenant Torah. The old way of doing circumcision was by flesh. Circumcision is still required of God’s people and the Torah commands it. However, since the new covenant will “not be like the former covenant”, then we can expect a change in how circumcision will be done. Those who obey the new covenant gospel and are filled with the Spirit fully obey the new covenant Torah. If there is a new covenant, the former covenant is set aside. Those who remain loyal to the old covenant will stand condemned by the old covenant, for no man can be justified by the old covenant Torah, therefore, the one who has circumcision according to the old covenant and rejects the new covenant circumcision is indeed a lawbreaker since he is breaking the new covenant Torah that is now in place. The Gentile, who does not have old covenant circumcision can be regarded as one who is circumcised because he has new covenant circumcision and the Jew who rejects new covenant circumcision does not. The Gentile stands justified for obedience to the new covenant Torah and will be justified by his works of Torah fulfilled in the new covenant salvation in Christ at the “day of the Lord” (2.16). We do not stand before God without works. We stand before God full of works – the works of New Covenant redemption fulfilled in us by the working of the Father, Son, and Spirit.
For Paul, Jesus came to “fulfill the righteous-ordinance” of the Law in us. Since no one can be justified by the old, we must be justified by doing the new, which is the old spiritualized. When you think of “washing”, “purification,” “sanctification” “offering,” “sacrifice”, “blood”, “lamb,” “service,” “priests,” “high priests,” “temple,” “altar,” “mercy seat,” “atonement,” “garments,” “Jerusalem,” “gates,” “circumcision,” “holy of holies,” “candlestands,” “sprinkled water,” “clean”, “unclean,” “outside the camp”, “glory of the Lord,” “intercessor”, “vessels,” “hymns, psalms and songs” what do you think about in the Bible? What particular book in the Bible commands all of these things? Rather, what first five books of the Law commands these things? The New Testament scriptures mentions all of these things as well. All of these things are now spiritual (to use Paul’s term). But, they are rooted in OT imagery and definitions.
The cross of Christ put an end to the “written code” way of doing these things and introduced to us a spiritual way of doing these things according to the Spirit who applies these things to us in the Torah written on our hearts. These things sanctified old covenant Israel, but that was according to the flesh and could not ultimately justify anyone because of Adam’s condemnation. However, in order to be righteous, in order to be sanctified, in order to be holy, these things must be met by the worshipper and they must be done by the worshipper. The Spirit, because of the Cross of Christ, applies these things in their fullest meaning, their real meaning as opposed to their temporal and fleshly meaning. The fleshly meaning was but a type and shadow, an analogy, to prepare God’s people to understand the invisible and the spiritual world when the invisible came. The fact of the matter is that we must understand ourselves in these terms in order to understand what it is that we have applied to us through the cross of Christ. I have been circumcised, and I am a priest who has been washed once and for all time in the blood of the sacrificial lamb; my garments have been washed and I have been atoned for under the mercy seat that resides in the Temple of Jerusalem where, also, my High Priest lives to ever make intercession on my behalf. I worship God with spiritual sacrifices on the altar in the holy of holies which I have boldly entered into, having been made clean and purified through the sprinkling of pure water; I have entered into the gates of the city and am counted as among the candle stands; I am a pure and holy vessel singing psalms and hymns in my heart to the God of Israel. I celebrate the Day of Atonement, the Feast of Tabernacles, and Passover and have all of my debts cancelled. I honor the Sabbath-Rest and keep it holy. I eat the showbread, and am filled with anointed oil. I have the love of God poured into my heart so that “all the law” concerning my neighbors and my family are fulfilled in one command: love thy neighbor. That is a Christian. That is a doer of the Torah.
Now, about this thing called sin. The new covenant states that God would “no longer remember sins”. Contrasted with the old covenant, remembering sins was a daily affair! Every day animals would be offered when the worshipper remembered his sin, and every year Israel’s sins would be remembered since the Day of Atonement had to be performed. God remembered sins under the old covenant. In the new covenant he does not require a remembrance of sins, which is saying that he does not require anything as it regards their need for atonement. You walk in atonement 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Notice, though, that he will not remember sins. If we didn’t “sin” or do wrong, then why the need for not remembering them?
Israel’s sins under the old covenant meant exile and removal from his presence and glory cloud until such sins were atoned for. It would only be a matter of time when this atonement “ran out” and a need for yet more “atonement” would come. Not so under the new covenant. You are atoned for eternally. No more need stands. If you sin, it’s automatically atoned for. You’re covered. If not, then God’s Spirit could not possibly dwell in men. If men were still “unclean” then the Spirit cannot reside. Does not the Bible teach us that God cannot dwell in an unclean temple? Besides this, the righteous requirements of the Law have been fulfilled in you. You can’t take a step without obeying the Law! We walk in obedience to Torah with every step we take. God’s Spirit is in us and we obey his commands and ordinances at every breath. This is what the cross of Christ accomplished in us – and this is the purpose of the death of Jesus – to bring God’s people into a holy unbroken union – a union that cannot ever be broken. Under the old covenant (Adam) your sins broke or separated you from God. No other blood than the Incarnate One could remedy this situation. God is the Just One and the Justifier alone.
Sanctification is usually centered around moral issues like drinking, smoking, lust, pornography, paying off debts or helping little old ladies across the street. This is all fine and dandy. But, having said the above, morality as defined within its covenantal-torah based setting INCLUDES ALL THE LAW. We never say to one another, “hey, did you offer morning sacrifices today?” Or, “hey, did you touch your wife while she is in that time of month? If you did, you need to see Rabbi Eliezer and sit outside the camp for seven days in order to be sanctified.” Sanctification has been loosed from its Torah based definition and made into a moral-based institution of Christians who vote Republican, shun tobacco, and listen only to the Hosanna or Maranatha Singers!
These morals are indeed important. But they cannot be made as more important than the fact that the WHOLE LAW has been applied to us. Under the old covenant, a sin was punished and a detailed list of things had to be accomplished in order to be sanctified. How has that changed under the new covenant? It is still a sin to steal. What happens when I do steal? I am atoned for immediately – automatically. That does not justify stealing, but it does justify you! Just because you are justified all the time does not mean that what you do is justified. Mike asked about chastisement. Sure. Our Father has a big belt. Steal enough times and find out. But, he does this because he loves us in the new covenant love. The fact of the matter is that Father can whip us without condemning us and exiling us and this was not the case under the old covenant.
The justification that is applied to the believer does not justify what the believer does. Stealing is never said to “be okay” in the New Covenant. This is just stupid and bad logic. Heavy drinking promotes unhealthy living, and, can even embarrass a person at times when they have had too much. These are chastisements. God’s belt is saying, “hey, see your liver – I am about to take it from you if you don’t slow down!” But, never, never, ever does God say, “If you don’t quit, I am taking away the new covenant from you!” Never. One can NEVER lose the salvation given to them in Christ and it is an insult to the work of the Cross of Christ to say that my mere freewill has power over God’s redemption in His Son! An insult!
Understanding this grace, then, does not promote licentiousness. Listen to this from the Westminster Confession of Faith: “True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it; by falling into some special sin, which woundeth the conscience, and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation; by God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet they are never utterly destitute of that Seed of God and life of Faith, that love of Christ and the brethren….” (20.IV).
This magnificent statement of theology does not promote “special sin” does it? No. It is a description of the reality of the Christian. There is no justifying of the situation that may land a person here in “darkness.” I have been through darkness in my Christian walk. I have prayed the psalms of David where my sins have ever been before me and have weighed me down into the depths of fear and anxiety. That is the human condition. It happens. Who wants to promote sinful living that with a heart of God knows it will only bring about chastisement, pain and misery? No one promotes it. And it is a lie from our opponents that think that we do.
The Westminster Confession states that while in that darkness, one can know that Jesus is holding you up and leading you through; that he WILL NOT abandon you; that, in fact, such things and afflictions and addictions and sicknesses and evil events are part of the plan of God. Oh the depths of His knowledge!
However, the Westminster Confession cannot say this without acknowledging a Perfect Salvation in Christ – an ACCOMPLISHED SALVATION. See, as Chrsitians, we want the blood of Christ to mean this for us. We preach that it does. But, when we look at our eschatology, we always say, “well, not yet.” See, it’s the not yet part that has damaged Christianity throughout the centuries. It is the error of Papias and Irenaeus and the errors of Apocalypticism that carried over from the first century to the second century. It was the error of uninspired, fallible men who, with one hand grasped the significance of the Cross and its fulfillment in terms of spirituality – but on the other hand erected a religion of works that must be performed before the Coming of the Lord – and if you don’t look like this, or worship like that, then you are out (according to whatever sect within Christendom you may belong).
God’s word teaches us plainly that Jesus came, died, was raised, ascended, and returned within one generation – accomplishing “all things” and bringing to “all men” the salvation outlined above. The “traditions” and “errors” of mere men have crept into this message of the Bible and have distorted it. But, God’s grace is even alive here – forgiving our errors and faith in traditions by still filling us with the knowledge of salvation – regardless of our eschatology.
I’ll leave you with this: our eschatology is going to catch up historically with our knowledge of the Grace of God contained in the Gospel of Jesus. We have so wanted grace, and when Mr. Luther preached it, it exploded in the hearts of men everywhere because that is what men everywhere wanted and yearned for – it was in their hearts and when someone preached justification by faith the world changed. I believe that this is the single reason for the growth of Preterism – it’s in the hearts of God’s people. A justification by faith without an eschatology of doom! Now, that’s full Preterism!