The Canadian Red Ensign

The Canadian Red Ensign

Friday, March 30, 2012

The Grace of God

For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast – Eph. 2:8-9

God, Who is our Creator and Sovereign Lord, expects and requires many things of us. It is His just right, as our Creator and Sovereign Lord, to expect and require these things of us. First and foremost, He expects us to have faith in Him, to believe what He tells us and to trust Him. It is reasonable and right, that He who is true and does not lie, should expect this of us. Secondly, He expects us to love Him with all of our hearts. This is how He loves us, and it is to His love that we owe every blessing we have ever enjoyed in our lives, those lives, and our very existence. That we should love Him in return is only right. Thirdly, He expects us to obey His commandments. He created us and the world in which we live, He owns us, He is the Master, it is His right to be obeyed. The commandments He gives us are not like the laws of a human tyrant who uses his power for his own gain at the expense of those he rules. The commandments He gives us are few and simple, and are necessary for our own good. He commands us not to murder each other, not to steal each other’s property, not to cheat on our own spouses or with other people’s spouses, not to tell lies about each other, and not to sit around wishing we had what our neighbor has.

Do we meet God’s expectations and requirements?

Sadly, we do not. We have difficulty taking Him at His word, we disbelieve what He says and do not trust Him to take care of us, thinking that we must look out for ourselves rather than rely upon Him. We do evil to each other and then we blame Him for the pain and suffering we have inflicted upon ourselves. We do not love Him wholeheartedly but neglect Him, ignore Him, and think evil of Him. We break His commandments in our hearts and minds, and all too often in our words and deeds as well. In short, we sin.

As sinners, rebels who have rejected His authority and flaunted His laws, God rightly demands that we repent, i.e., that we abandon our bad attitudes, change our mind, turn from our sins to God, bend our knees and necks in submission to His authority, mend our evil ways, making restitution where we have harmed others, humble ourselves, confessing rather than hiding our sins, and meekly ask Him for forgiveness. The repentance God demands from us is a complete repentance, repentance from all our sins not just the ones we consider to be big, serious, or major, repentance from our entire attitude of sinful rebellion. The repentance God requires of us is sincere and true repentance in our hearts, not just a public show of tears. It is to be a repentance of contrition, sorrow for our sinfulness, and not just a repentance of attrition, sorrow for its consequences.

Do we repent completely in this wholehearted and sincere manner?

Alas, our repentance too falls far short of that which the God we have offended is perfectly just in demanding from us who crave His pardon and forgiveness.

If we do not trust God the way we should, if we do not love Him with the love He deserves, if we break His laws rather than obey His commandments and then offer Him what is at best a partial repentance, is there any hope for us who stand under His judgement all our lives and will one day be called before Him to give a final account of everything we have ever thought, said or done?

If we had to depend upon our own efforts to please God then clearly there would be no hope for us. Thankfully, we do not have to depend upon our own efforts. God, the Gospel message declares, has given us a gift, the gift of His Son Jesus Christ. God gave His Son to be our Saviour.

A savior is a person who rescues someone else from a difficulty, hardship, or peril from which they cannot extricate themselves. Imagine you are out on a river in a boat and the boat flips over. You are unable to swim, have neglected to put on your life-saving apparatus, and before you think to grab a hold of it the boat is carried away by the current. Your situation looks hopeless but a man on the bank of the river had seen all this happen and jumps in and swims towards you. He grabs a hold of you, swims to shore, and pulls you out of the water. Had it not been for this man you would have drowned and so he could be rightly called your saviour.

God gave us Jesus to be our Saviour from a peril far worse than drowning. He gave us Jesus to save us from the worst peril possible, our own sinfulness which separates us from God and places us under His condemnation now and for all eternity. It was not by His teachings that Jesus saved us, although He was also our Teacher, because even the best of us falls short of the righteousness contained in His teachings. It was not by His example that Jesus saved us, for none of us lives up to His example. It is by His death that He saved us. Christ’s death was an event could have been our ultimate condemnation. Human beings, blessed with the presence of God’s Son come down from heaven and incarnate as a man, took Him and murdered Him in a brutally cruel manner, by nailing Him to a wooden cross. God, however, used Christ’s crucifixion to accomplish our salvation. It was to die on the cross, that Jesus had come down from heaven in the first place. God placed the sins of the whole world upon Jesus as He hung upon the cross, and Jesus willingly bore those sins for our sake. By doing so, He became the one true sacrifice, the sacrifice which effectively took away the sins of the world. God raised Jesus from the dead, and He ascended into heaven where He is our High Priest, continually pleading the merits of His once-and-for-all sacrifice on our behalf, effectively securing for us pardon for sins, reconciliation with God, justification in the eyes of God, and everlasting life. All of these things are promised to all who believe in Jesus Christ, i.e., who trust Him as the Saviour God has given.

It is in Jesus that we are to trust and it is in Jesus that our hope is to be found.

The New Testament makes it absolutely clear that the salvation which Christ obtained for us by dying for us on the cross is a gift. It comes to us freely in Christ and not in return for our feeble efforts to please God. Our efforts to please God are to be a response of love to the God who has given us this great salvation, not an attempt to pay Him back or earn it. There is a word that is used in the New Testament to express the manner in which God freely gives us salvation. That word is “grace”.

Grace is one of the most important words in the New Testament. St. Paul repeatedly writes that salvation is by grace. What does this word grace mean?

The word that is translated “grace” in the New Testament is the Greek word charis. This is the word from which our English word “charismatic” is derived. The idea of giving or a gift is very much present in this word as in its Greek root. Charismatic, when the word is used in a theological context, points to the concept of spiritual gifts such as those mentioned by St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 12. In everyday English when we speak of a leader as being “charismatic” or possessing “charisma” we mean that he has the gift of being able to persuade people to follow him.

A dictionary entry for the word charis in Greek would be very similar to an entry for grace in English. The range of meanings of the two words is very similar and they have been used for synonyms for a very long time because our word grace comes from the Latin word which was used as the equivalent of charis. We often use the word grace in English, to refer to the way a ballet dancer or figure skater seems to generate visual beauty through her movements. One of the meanings of charis was very similar to this. It had the meaning of “that which causes pleasure or delight”, which was its primary meaning in the earliest Greek literature that has come down to us. Thus Homer frequently used the word charis to depict beauty, charm, strength and similar traits which made Achilles and his other heroes attractive. (1)

This is obviously not the meaning that St. Paul intended to convey in the New Testament when he used the word charis to describe the way in which we are saved. Another meaning of charis, as old as the first and which came to be the more usual meaning in later Greek literature, was that of “a kindly disposition towards others” or “favour”, particularly when that favour was expressed in the giving of gifts. A person upon whom a ruler looked kindly and granted permission to be in his presence would be said to be in the ruler’s grace or favour, and it was the word charis that would be used to express this. Charis could refer to the disposition of favour itself, and it could also refer to the gifts given out of that favour, and to the attitude of gratitude or thankfulness on the part of the person who received the gift. (2)

This is the way in which charis is used in passages about salvation in the New Testament. St. Paul uses it, however, in a more limited sense than in earlier Greek literature. Charis, in the sense of the favour of the gods or of human rulers, was a familiar concept to the Greeks but it was not necessarily connected with the idea of being unmerited or undeserved. In fact if one of the Olympian gods or a human king bestowed his charis upon someone, it was usually because that person possessed a quality such as beauty or courage which the god or king admired, i.e., the other kind of charis.

St. Paul and the other New Testament writers limited the meaning of charis to favour which is undeserved or unmerited in his epistles by creating a contrast between charis on the one hand and law and works on the other and by connecting charis with the ideas of love and mercy.

In several epistles St. Paul writes about the contrast between “law” and “grace”, but it is in his epistle to the Church in Rome that he sets forth the contrast in a systematic manner. “Law” refers both to the Mosaic Law, the Covenant God made with Israel at Mt. Sinai and especially the commandments contained in that covenant, and the principle of law. The principle of law is that the law-giving authority issues the rules which those under the law are expected to obey and are held accountable to, that those who obey the rules are considered to be righteous, and those who disobey are judged to be unrighteous and are punished for their trespasses. Works are the efforts of those under a law to meet its requirements.

St. Paul made it clear in his epistle to the Roman church, that law and works cannot make a person righteous in the eyes of God. In the second chapter of Romans, he demonstrated that no one lives up to the standard by which God holds him accountable. The Jews, who received the Law from God, did not live up to it, the Gentiles who did not receive the Law from God, but are held accountable by the law of their conscience, fall short of that law as well. Thus, both Jew and Gentile alike, can only be condemned by the law which is over them and by their works. This indictment of Jew and Gentile proceeds into the third chapter of Romans where it culminates in the declaration that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God” (v. 23)

St. Paul then went on immediately to say “Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus”. The word translated “freely” is the word dorean, an adverb formed from the Greek word for gift. By using this word with charis in this verse, St. Paul places emphasis upon the fact that the favour of God, by which He has given Christ to redeem us, is freely given and comes from the goodness of God’s heart and not in response to any merit in us.

A few verses after this, in the fourth chapter of Romans, the incompatibility of works and grace is declared:

Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. (vv. 4-5)

In other words, if the state of being justified, of being righteous in the eyes of God, is something which we receive as the result of our works, it is a reward for our behaviour. Grace would have nothing to do with it, because our justification would be our just due under the law. God would owe it to us. Justification in the eyes of God does not come to us in this way. It is freely given in Jesus Christ to all who believe in Him as their Savior.

The other way in which the fact that God’s grace or favour is given freely and not merited or deserved can be seen in the New Testament is in the way the idea of grace is connected with the ideas of love and mercy.

St. John writes frequently about God’s love. In his Gospel he records Jesus saying “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. In this most famous of Biblical verses, God’s love is identified as the reason that God gave us His Son. This means that God’s love is the source of His grace. Now the word love can often mean a feeling of affection that arises in one’s heart because of the attractive qualities of the object of one’s love. This is not the case with the love of God. In his first epistle, St. John wrote that “God is love”, i.e., that love is the very essence of His nature. God’s love arises out of His own good nature and not out of some love-worthy quality in us. The word St. John uses for love in the verses cited is agape, a word which was already distinct from other loves such as philia and eros, but which took on a special meaning in the teachings of Jesus, the writings of the New Testament, and the early church. It refers to a kind of goodness of heart in which one is concerned for the well-being of others and willing to give of oneself to see to their well-being.

To Titus, St. Paul wrote “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Tit. 3:5). Mercy or pity, refers to compassion for those who are in need and suffering, and acts taken out of that compassion to alleviate the suffering and meet the need.

God’s grace, love, and mercy are three different aspects of the goodness of God, which compels Him to bestow good gifts upon sinners who do not deserve it, including the gift of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Who took our sins upon Himself, that we might be reconciled to God and justified in His sight.

God’s grace is not an excuse for us to forget about pleasing God by trusting Him, loving Him, obeying Him, and repenting of our sins. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid.” (Rom. 6:1-2) Our hope and our faith are not to rest, however, in our efforts to please God (3), but in God Himself, in His grace, and in the gift of a Saviour He has given us in His grace, our Lord Jesus Christ.

(1) In Greek mythology, there was a trio of goddesses who were calles the Charites – the Graces. Each of these was a personification of something which was the cause of pleasure or delight. Thalia personified abundance, Euphrosyne personified joy, and Aglaea personified beauty. Note however, that the things they personified were also considered to be divine gifts. The ideas of charis/grace as “that which causes delight or pleasure” and charis/grace as “gift-giving favour” were never entirely separate from each other.

(2) When we refer to the act of thanking God before a meal as “saying grace” we are echoing the use of charis as gratitude.

(3) The word grace, as I explained in the text of this essay, can refer both to the act of giving and to the gift given. The gift of God that saves us in the sense of reconciling us to God, pardoning our sins, and making us righteous in His eyes, is Jesus Christ our Saviour. God has also given, to those who believe in Jesus Christ, the gift of the Holy Spirit by Whom we are united with Christ, partaking through our baptismal union with Him in His death and resurrection life, and with other believers in the body of Christ. The Holy Spirit indwells our hearts and empowers us to live the new life. All of this is part of grace as well. Our faith and our hope of everlasting life and justification must rest in Jesus Christ, what He has done for us on the cross, and His gospel promises. It is Christ and His sacrifice that made it possible for the transforming and sanctifying grace of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

Monday, March 19, 2012

The Repentance God Requires

God requires or demand certain things from man. This does not fit with an idea of God that is very popular today. In that concept all God ever does is love and give. Now, God as He has revealed Himself to us in Christ is certainly a God of love and of grace. He is also, however, a God Who requires much of us. Nobody made that clearer than Christ Himself, Who in His Sermon on the Mount explained that formal, outward, conformity to the letter of God’s Law is not enough to meet God’s requirements – He demands that we obey Him internally, in our hearts as well as in our outward actions. God then, loves us and freely gives us His blessings out of His love, but He also requires and demands things from us. There are two possible errors to fall into here. One is to think that God’s love and grace depend upon our meeting His requirements. The other is to think that God’s love and grace negate our obligation to meet His requirements.

What does God require of man?

His first requirement, before all others, is faith, that is that we believe in Him and in His goodness to us. The author of the book of Hebrews tells us “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” If we do not start with faith, we can never please God, we can never meet any of His requirements. In the book of Genesis, the beginning of man’s fall was when the serpent persuaded Eve to disbelieve what God had told her. Unbelief is the first step in sin and disobedience, likewise faith is the first step in obeying God.

Faith is also the means whereby we receive God’s love and grace. It is vitally important that we understand that this is a separate function of faith from faith’s being the first of God’s requirements. God’s love and grace are given to us in Christ. Christ is presented to us, in the preaching of the Gospel and in the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, as the Saviour God has freely given us out of the love of His heart. (1) We are promised that whoever believes in Him is cleansed from all sin and justified by His propitiatory sacrifice and possesses in Him everlasting life. When we receive the gift of love and grace God has given us in Christ through faith, we do not receive it because by believing we have met one of God’s requirements. We receive it because that is the only way this freely given gift can be received.

Faith is the only means whereby we can receive God’s gift of love and grace in Jesus Christ. It is not the only thing God requires or demands of us. (2) After faith, God requires that we love and obey Him. Love arises out of faith, and obedience, true obedience, flows out of love.

None of us meets any of these requirements perfectly, or even comes close to it, because we are fallen, sinful creatures. If our salvation were not a free gift, given to us in Christ, and received through faith, but were something we had to obtain by meeting God’s requirements, none of us would ever make it.

There is another requirement God has for man. This is a requirement which takes man’s fallen condition into consideration. Faith, love, and obedience were all required of man before man fell, before man needed the salvation which is freely given him in Christ. The next requirement is one which is there because man has sinned and rebelled against God. It is a requirement that is only ever placed upon sinners, as the proper thing to do once one has sinned.

That requirement is repentance.

What is repentance?

The primary Greek word translated “repentance” in the New Testament is the word metanoia. This word is a compound formed by adding the prefix meta, which in this case means “after”, and the noun nous which refers to the intellect, the faculty of thought. The main verb for “repent” is a virtually identical word, using the verb form of nous, which means to think. The resulting concept is that of “thinking again” or an “after thought”. Metanoia is often defined as a “change of mind”. (3)

Just as the words “salvation” and “save” do not automatically refer to God’s actions to rescue us from sin and condemnation, but can be used with reference to any kind of rescue, such as a fireman who saves a child from a burning house, so the Greek words for repentance and repent can be used in any situation in which someone changes their mind and do not have to refer to the repentance of a sinner.

When these words are used to describe the act God requires from someone who has sinned, they refer to a more specific kind of change of mind - the act of thinking over something you have done, coming to the realization that you should not have done it and that it is has offended God and perhaps other people, asking forgiveness of God and other people, and determining not to repeat this act in the future.

Other Scriptural concepts which are closely connected with the idea of repentance are the concepts of sorrow, confession, brokenness, contrition, and humility.

We often think of repentance in terms of “being sorry”. The emotion of sorrow is related to repentance but it falls short of being repentance. We all know how much easier it is to be sorry over something we have done than to commit ourselves to not doing it again. St. Paul, in his second epistle to the Church in Corinth wrote:

For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death. (2 Cor. 7:8-10, bold represents italics in Authorized Version)

In this cunning play on words, St. Paul acknowledges that his previous epistle had made the Corinthians sorry, but he did not repent of that, because their sorrow brought about repentance. Sorrow and repentance are not the same thing, but the right kind of sorrow, godly sorrow, leads to repentance, to a mending of ways. There is both a right and a wrong kind of sorrow.

Dr. Johnson wrote:

The completion and sum of repentance is a change of life. That sorrow which dictates no caution, that fear which does not quicken our escape, that austerity which fails to rectify our affections, are vain and unavailing. But sorrow and tenor must naturally precede reformation: for what other cause can produce it? He, therefore, that feels himself alarmed by his conscience, anxious for the attainment of a better state, and afflicted by the memory of his past faults, may justly conclude that the great work of repentance is begun, and hope by retirement and prayer, the natural and religious means of strengthening his conviction, to impress upon his mind such a sense of the divine presence as may overpower the blandishments of secular delights, and enable him to advance from one degree of holiness to another, till death shall set him free from doubt and contest, misery and temptation. (4)

The idea of confession is the idea of owning up to and acknowledging our sins, rather than trying to hide them and cover them up. The latter comes much easier to us. Note that in Genesis Adam and Eve’s first thought, after sinning, was to cover up their nakedness and to hide from God. Fallen human nature has not changed since.

St. John tells us:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 Jn. 1:8-9)

Confession here, is placed in opposition to denial and self-deception. The word translated “confess” is another compound word, which combines the word for “same” with the word for “speak”. Its primary meaning is to verbally agree with another person. These verses occur in a context in which St. John is contrasting light and truth with darkness and deception. We walk in the darkness of self-deception when we deny our sinfulness, but if we confess our sins, i.e., if we do not hide from what the light of God’s truth reveals about our sinfulness but openly acknowledge it, God faithfully forgives us. This confession of our sin before God is a key element of repentance.

In Psalm 51, which King David wrote to express his repentance before God over his sin with Bathsheba, he wrote:

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit: a broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise. (v. 17)

In the Scriptures, as in everyday language, “broken” seldom describes a desirable or good thing. The opposite of broken, i.e., being whole is usually connected with that which is desirable and good. This verse is an exception, because it is talking about the state of someone who has already been broken by sin. Before there can be healing, there must be further brokenness. It is human pride which leads us to cover up and hide our sins, rather than to confess them, or worse, to harden our hearts, stiffen our necks, and justify our actions. What is needed is for the sinner’s heart and spirit to be broken in repentance and humility, rather than hardened in pride. This is what David is referring to here.

God demands repentance from all men everywhere (Acts. 17:30) because we have all sinned. In both Testaments, however, it is primarily God’s own people who are called to repentance.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. (2. Chron. 7:14)

In the Old Testament, there is a cyclical pattern where God’s people turn away from Him to idols and wickedness, God in judgement sends their enemies against them as a scourge, they repent, and then God forgives and restores them.

When Christ came, the message which John the Baptist preached, then Jesus, and then His Apostles when He commissioned and sent them out, was “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”. This message was addressed to those who were God’s people under the Old Covenant. The kingdom of heaven promised by God through the prophets was at hand, in the person of Christ the promised Messiah. This call to repentance was a call for God’s Covenant people to repent of their sins and receive their Messiah.

Through His death and resurrection, Christ took away our sins, and established the New Covenant in which all who believe the Gospel, all who trust Jesus Christ as Saviour, become God’s Covenant people, His Church. All people everywhere are still called to repent, and this call is especially addressed to God’s Church.

The call to repentance is reflected in the liturgy of the Church. The Book of Common Prayer includes the following General Confession in the order for Morning and Evening Prayer:

ALMIGHTY and most merciful Father, We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep, We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts, We have offended against thy holy laws, We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, And we have done those things which we ought not to have done; And there is no health in us. But thou, O Lord, have mercy upon us, miserable offenders. Spare thou them, O God, which confess their faults. Restore thou them that are penitent; According to thy promises declared unto mankind in Christ Jesu our Lord. And grant, O most merciful Father, for his sake, That we may hereafter live a godly, righteous, and sober life, To the glory of thy holy Name. Amen.

The need for a humble, repentant attitude is also stressed in the order for Holy Communion. The Book of Common Prayer is the official order of services for the Anglican Church but it draws on and reflects the historical, traditional, liturgy of the broader Christian Church as well.

We must remember, however, that God’s demand that we repent, calls us to do more than just say the words of Confession in services of public worship. In calling Israel to repent, the prophet Joel called upon them to “rend your heart, and not your garments”. It is in our hearts that true repentance must take place.

As with all other things God demands of us, we will not perfectly meet His requirements in this life. We do not trust Him fully, we do not love Him with our whole hearts, We do not obey Him completely, and alas, our repentance, in contrast to that spoken of by St. Paul, often needs to be repented of. Our sinfulness keeps us from meeting God’s requirements in such a way that could bear up and be seen to be faultless under scrutiny. Thankfully, God has given us a perfect Saviour in Whom to trust, and we are to place our faith in Him rather than in our own efforts to meet God’s requirements.

(1) The sacraments are often called the “means of grace”. This can be misleading. They do not share the role of faith, which is the means of receiving the grace God gives us in Christ. They share the role of preaching, which role is to convey the grace of God in Christ in the Gospel, to those who receive it through faith. They are, indeed, another means of preaching the Gospel. St. Augustine describes the sacraments as the union of the Word and a physical element. The role of the physical element is as a vessel to convey the Word, which makes the Word more real to us, perhaps because it reaches the senses of sight and touch, as well as of hearing.
(2) This is how we must understand “sola fide” or “faith alone”. It does not mean that faith is the only thing God demands of us. It means that God’s saving grace in Christ comes to us through faith alone. Faith, as the means of receiving salvation, is not a requirement in the sense of a condition. A condition is something which you do in order to obtain something which you receive in exchange for your fulfilling the condition. Grace, by definition, is free, and can have no conditions. Faith is the empty hand that receives the gift. It is a requirement in the sense that it is something which God demands from us as His right. As a requirement in this sense it is the first of many requirements.

(3) Interestingly, the English word looks like it has a similar derivation, the addition of re meaning again, to the French penser meaning “to think”, but this is not in fact its actual etymology.

(4) Samuel Johnson, The Rambler, 110.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Obeying God

“He that honoureth his father shall have a long life; and he that is obedient unto the Lord shall be a comfort to his mother.” – Ecclesiasticus 3:6

“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” – John H. Sammis

Obedience is a character trait which does not come easily to human beings. As children we have to be trained to obey our parents, our teachers, and other authority figures, and we resist that training every step of the way. We have a strong inclination to rebel against authority and break the rules. This inclination is what theologians call “Original Sin”. The Holy Scriptures just call it “sin” and St. John defines it as lawlessness, i.e., the rejection of all authority and law over oneself.

The institutions of traditional society stressed the importance of obedience. In the family, children were to obey parents, in the classroom they were to obey their teachers. All members of society were expected to obey the laws of the land as enforced by the Queen’s police. Most importantly, the Church taught obedience to the commandments of God Himself.

Today, however, these institutions are finding it more and more difficult to instill obedience to traditional authorities. Indeed, various popular educational and psychological theories seem designed to discourage parents and teachers from even attempting to do so. Child protection agencies and governments seem determined to strip parents of their authority and their right to back that authority up with discipline.

Behind all of this there is a philosophy which has gradually permeated Western societies over the last few centuries. This philosophy asserts that people as individuals own their own selves and that therefore the only legitimate authority over them is that which they have voluntarily consented to. The name of this philosophy is liberalism.

Where traditional social institutions sought to contain the ill effects of that human condition known as sin and to cultivate the obedience to lawful authority necessary for human societies to thrive, liberalism encourages the sinful attitude of rebellion and undermines traditional authority. While liberalism, as a social and political philosophy, is only a few centuries old, the attitude behind it is much older. Indeed, Samuel Johnson, the 18th Century lexicographer and moralist, correctly identified the source of that attitude when he said “The first Whig was the devil”. The devil rebelled against God, in his pride asserting his own will against that of his Creator and Sovereign.

Sadly, the devil’s liberal attitude has permeated even the Church of Jesus Christ. It is now common, even in Churches which profess doctrinal orthodoxy, for people to respond to a Scriptural command by saying “Yes, but I think…”

This is the exact opposite of the attitude the Holy Scriptures enjoin upon us. A search of the Scriptures for the words “obey” and “obedience” reveals that God expects and requires obedience from all people, but especially from the people He has identified as His own and called by His name. This was true under the Old Covenant and it is true under the New Covenant, although there is a major difference in how God commands obedience in the two Covenants.

The New Testament also commands Christians to obey all the traditional social authorities. Children are told to obey their parents (Eph. 6:1, Col. 3:20), servants are told to obey their masters wholeheartedly out of fear of God (Eph. 6:5-6,Col. 3:22), wives are told to submit to their husbands (Ephesians 5:22-23, 1 Peter 3:1), and all believers are told in several places to obey the civil authorities who are identified as God’s ministers (Rom. 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, Hebrews 13:17). Submission to and obedience to these authorities is treated consistently, in the New Testament, as part of the obedience we owe God. There is not the slightest sympathy with Whiggish thought anywhere in the Apostolic writings. Of course there are also commands to those entrusted with authority not to abuse it – fathers are told not to provoke their children (Eph. 6:4), Husbands are told to love their wives as Christ loves His Church (Eph. 5:25-28), masters are reminded that they too have a Master and are told not to threaten their servants (Eph. 6:9).

The Whig concept of self-ownership was thought out by John Locke in the 18th Century. It was the foundation of his theory of natural rights. Locke conceived of rights as claims or title deeds to property, with the right to one’s own property as the basis of all other rights. Property ownership, however, is not universal and Locke was looking for universal natural rights which belong to each person. Thus, he argued, individuals who have no other property, have at least their own selves as their own, their lives and their liberty.

The Holy Scriptures declare, however, that the earth and everything in it, belongs to God. The Psalmist says “The earth is the LORD's, and the fulness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1) “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine”, God declares, in Ezekiel 18:4. He then goes on to say “the soul that sinneth, it shall die”, an assertion of His right as the owners of all souls to punish the soul that disobeys.

Rather than belonging to ourselves, therefore, we belong to God. This is true of all human beings by virtue of the fact that He is the Creator and Ruler of all things. It is true of Christian believers in a special way, however. In addition to being His by right of Creation we are also His by right of purchase, for He purchased us with the price of the blood of His Son Jesus Christ (Acts 20:28, 1 Cor. 6:19-20, 1 Pet. 1:18-19, Rev. 5:9). All people, as God’s creation, subjects, and property owe Him our obedience. He is entitled to our obedience, He has a right to it, and we do not have a right to withhold it. As Christians we owe Him our obedience because He has purchased us, redeemed us from the slave-market of sin, and brought us into servitude to His Son, which servitude is true freedom (Rom. 6:17-18).

Under the Old Covenant, God’s people Israel owed God obedience because He had redeemed them out of their slavery in the land of Egypt. After bringing them out of Egypt He made His covenant with them at Mt. Sinai. The terms of the Covenant were that He would give them the land He had promised to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and would be their God, and they would be His people. They were to obey the commandments He would give them, which terms they agreed to in the sacrifice that sealed the Covenant. They would be blessed in the land if they did so obey, they would be punished and even driven from the land if they disobeyed (Exod. 19:3-8, Deut. 11:27-28). When driven from the land, they were to remember their God, return to Him, and obey His commandments and He would restore them (Deut. 30:1-5).

Much of the Old Testament consists of the history of the Israelites under this covenant, their disobedience, their judgement, their repentance, and their restoration. Towards the end of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, when the Assyrians and Babylonians would take God’s people captive and remove them from the Promised Land, God sent prophets who prophesied the great judgement God was about to send upon His people, but promised that God would one day break this cycle, would send them a Savior, and make a new and better Covenant, in which He would write His laws upon the hearts of His people rather than upon tablets of stone (Jer. 31:31-34). That New Covenant was established by the blood of Jesus Christ, shed on the cross (Matt. 26:28, Mk. 14:24, Luke 22:20).

There are similarities and differences between the two Covenants. The Old Covenant was made with a particular nation, the entire world was to be invited to enter the New Covenant through the proclamation of the Gospel, and under the New Covenant the people of God are those who accept that invitation by believing in Jesus Christ. The Book of Hebrews tells us that the Old Covenant was a shadow image of the New Covenant. Just as a picture is inferior to the real thing it represents, so the Old Covenant was an inferior representation of the New. The Aaronic High Priesthood was an image of the High Priesthood of Christ. The Tabernacle and later the Temple, were pictures of the Tabernacle of God in heaven. The sacrifices of the Old Covenant, repeatedly offered on the altars of Israel for the sins of the people, could never take away those sins, but they pointed to the one sacrifice of Christ. That sacrifice, was Christ’s death on the Cross, and the Book of Hebrews tells us how that one sacrifice, the blood of which, Christ as High Priest brought into the heavenly Holy of Holies, once and for all effectively took away the sins of the world.

The New Covenant is also superior to the Old Covenant in the way it calls God’s people to obedience. The Old Covenant, was based upon the principle of Law – do and be blessed and live, do not and be cursed and die. Law demands obedience, but it cannot change the hearts of fallen people, whose sinful natures rebel against the Law. The Law, therefore, can only condemn and is a curse to those who are under it (2 Cor. 3:7-9, Gal. 3:10) The New Covenant, offers the blessings of God freely, as a gift to be received by faith, and calls upon believers to respond to God in obedience out of love. “If ye love Me”, Jesus said “Keep My commandments” (Jn. 14:15). With the everlasting life, pardon for sin, and justification, offered freely in the Gospel to believers on the basis of Christ’s effective sacrifice, God also promises the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to provide the power for believers to overcome sin and obey Christ’s commandments.

That the New Covenant promises the indwelling Holy Spirit and His power to help us obey Christ’s commandments is all the more important because the standard Christ calls us to is higher than that found in the Law. There are 613 commandments in the Mosaic Law. The best known of these are the Ten Commandments, which are the Law's basic commandments of which the others are largely just applications of the principles contained in the Ten to particular situations. Jesus, however, when asked which commandment was most important, condensed the entire Law even further into two commandments, Deuteronomy 6:5’s “And thou shalt love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy might”, and Leviticus 19:8’s “thou shalt love they neighbor as thyself”. “On these two commandments” Jesus said “hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40). Note that Jesus did not say that His message was contained in those two commandments, which is how these verses are often misread. He said that the Law and Prophets – the Old Testament – was summarized in these two commandments. Shortly before His crucifixion, Jesus gave His Church a new commandment, which is similar to these two in that it uses the verb love. It is found in the 13th chapter of St. John’s Gospel:

A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another. (34)

As with all other aspects of the New Covenant, this new commandment is superior to the two which Jesus said summarize the Old. The phrase “as I have loved you” has a double meaning here. The first meaning is “in the manner in which I loved you”. Later that same night, the night of the Last Supper, Jesus repeated the new commandment and immediately after said “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (Jn. 15:13). This is what Jesus was about to do for the world and especially for His believers and disciples. Jesus therefore, in giving this new commandment, was calling His disciples to a higher love than that demanded by the Law. Earlier, Jesus had challenged His followers by saying “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me” (Mk. 8:34).

The cross mentioned in that verse does not mean, as it is often interpreted as meaning today, any sort of burden a believer may have to bear. No one hearing Jesus speak would have understood Him that way. To “take up the cross” was to do what Jesus Himself did, when He bore His literal cross of wood down the Via Dolorosa to Calvary. In calling upon prospective disciples to take up their cross, Jesus was literally telling them they needed to be ready to die for Him.

The new commandment is a restatement of this call, which again displays how the New Covenant is superior to the Old. In the call to take up the cross, Jesus was speaking to people under the Old Covenant, under the Law, and the call is stated in terms of an absolute demand, a price that the prospective disciple must pay for the privilege of following Christ. In the new commandment, given on the eve of His crucifixion, it is restated in terms of grace, rather than law. The other meaning of “as I have loved you” is “because I have loved you”. Under the New Covenant, we are called to take up our cross, and be prepared to love each other the way Christ loved us, by laying down our lives for each other, not as a cost to be paid for discipleship, but as an expression of our love for Christ in response to His love for us.

This then, is the standard Christ calls us to, to love each other, with the same kind of love He showed for us when He died on the cross, a love that includes a willingness to lay down our own lives for each other. This is the commandment we are called to obey, a commandment which expresses a standard higher than all the commandments contained in the Law and the Prophets. We are to obey this commandment, not in order to obtain God’s blessing which is given to us freely by grace, but as an expression of our love for God in response to His love for us (1 Jn 4:19). In this life, in which we still have our sinful natures, we will not obey it perfectly, and by grace our standing before God does not depend upon our obedience, but in Christ we are given the power to obey, which the Law could never give to those who were under it.

Let us seek to avail ourselves of that power so as to give to God, out of love for Him, the obedience to which He is entitled.