The Christian and the Law

Recently I taught on Colossians 2:16-17 and we talked about the relationship between the Christian and the law. What I wanted to do was to point out that the issue of the Sabbath is important and is handled in different ways by Bible believing Christians. For me that opened the question of how we understand the relationship between the Christian and the Law.  I decided to do some broad overviews. Here’s what I presented.

The law is for Israel not the Church. Israel and the Church are two different entities in God’s program. Israel is under the Law, the Church is under the grace. If something from the Old Testament is not repeated in the New Testament, it is not part of the New Covenant. When Israel rejected Jesus, God turned to the Gentiles to make the Jews jealous. God is not done with Israel; the Church age is a pause or parenthesis in God’s work with Israel after which he will once again deal with Israel. When revival comes to the Jewish people, they will return to the Law but in many ways it will be ceremonial. When Dispensationalism reads Colossians 2:16-17, they see a vindication of their system. The Sabbath is part of the Law and should not be observed by Gentiles.

New Covenant Theology (NCT) isn’t a new version of Covenant Theology, it is a theology that focuses most strongly on the New Covenant. Stresses the supremacy of the New Covenant. The Law was fulfilled in Jesus and we are now under the Law of Christ. Jesus articulated the supersession of the Old Covenant law in the Sermon on the Mount. The Ten Commandments passed away with the Old Covenant. Like Dispensationalism, if a command is not repeated it is not binding so NCT sees Colossians 2:16-17 as an affirmation that the Sabbath is not part of the New Covenant.

Covenant Theology (CT) recognizes that God relates to mankind in covenants. In the garden, Adam and Eve were in covenant with God and they broke it. After the fall, God instituted a new covenant, the Covenant of Grace whereby he promised a savior to humanity. All of the covenants after that were administrations of that Covenant of Grace therefore there is unity between the covenants. What is not repealed or fulfilled in the Law is still binding. The Ten Commandments are part of God’s moral law, the law written on people’s hearts and is therefore applicable always. When CT reason Colossians 2:16-17, they see the Sabbath here not as the weekly Sabbath instituted at creation but in conjunction with the feasts and New Moons. In the ceremonial part of the law, there were additional Sabbaths that went with specific days. Those were a shadow of Christ.

What I said in the end was that whatever comes to us by way of rule or law comes to us through Jesus. So we don’t simply pick up the Sabbath rules from the law of Moses and directly apply them in the New Covenant. There is a Sabbath for God’s people but that doesn’t mean it looks just like it did in all the other covenants.

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  • Tim, this is great!!!

  • I also can’t help but notice that your “covenant theology” diagram looks a lot like the name of your blog, “By Farther Steps.” :)

  • Thanks for the reassurance Tom. I was nervous of oversimplifying these positions.

    So you caught the steps, huh? :) I did Dispy and NCT first and then I got kind of stuck on how to represent CT. I’ve had sketches in my head for a while but couldn’t reproduce them in PowerPoint. They just didn’t look right.

    So yea, I’ll probably use that when I write By Farther Steps. Some day. Eventually.

    BTW, feel free to use the pictures if you need them. I don’t know if you noticed but if you click on the graphic it brings up a bigger version.

  • I think your overview gets at the things that are unique to each position.

    If you’re going to write a book on the unfolding of the covenant of grace “By Father Steps,” in redemptive history, then I want to write a book on the theological covenants: CoG and CoW, Lord willing. You do the biblical theology, and I’ll do the systematic theology (I know we can’t really separate them), and we can check each other’s work. :) What do you say?

    Today, I’m reading Keach’s, A Medium Betwixt Two Extremes. He’s arguing for a happy medium between the eternal justification before faith (of men like Tobias Crisp) and eschatological justification by works (of men like Richard Baxter). Covenant theology decides the question.

    Keach is arguing that those “in Adam” are condemned (including the unregenerate elect), but only actually “in Christ” are justified, thus avoiding eternal justification.

    However, the Baxterians argued the same thing and insisted that we get “in Christ” by faith and faith and faithfulness keep us in Christ as well. Thus, possession of Christ’s righteousness and justification is really by works.

    Keach argued against the Baxterians and their notions of justification by works by saying that Christ’s alien righteousness alone (in the covenant of redemption/grace) is the sufficient cause of our justification. God doesn’t consider any of our works in the verdict, and Christ alone merited our justification by his perfect law keeping in history.

    The Baxterians then insisted that there is no way to avoid justification before faith, since if Christ fulfills the whole legal requirement of justification, then there is no real need for faith (or faithfulness) at all.

    Keach responded by saying that there is a two-fold way of being in Christ. All of the elect, even the unregenerate elect, are eternally “federally” in Christ, while only the regenerate elect are “actually” in Christ in time. Thus, the unregenerate elect are actually condemned, even though Christ has fulfilled all righteousness for them in the covenant of grace and even though they are “in Christ” federally. The result is that the unregenerate elect are simultaneously “federally” in Christ from eternity, but “actually” condemned in Adam until the Spirit regenerates them.

    Federal union with Christ makes actual union with Christ a legal necessity.

    Lord willing, I’d like to streamline my thoughts on this subject and then present a Reformed Baptist Covenant Theology from the perspective of systematic theology (showing how all of systematic theology ought to be cast in a covenantal framework). I’m not sure I agree with Keach, but he’s making his arguments from Scripture and reason.


  • I love Benjamin Keach. I agree with him on this too. Good stuff.

    What we should do is each write our own book. Endorse each others book. Swap blog tours to promote our books. Rave on our blogs about how great each others books are. Then we could have a conference consisting of you and I and our wives and talk glowingly about each other during it. Wouldn’t that be great! We’ll make our own success. :)

    Kidding aside, it would be a delight to work on a book with you, brother. And I too would love to present a thorough Baptistic covenant theology that relies on our Particular Baptist forefathers as well as the other sources. I found Wistus and A’Brakel both to be excellent. RBAP is doing a lot with Owen and Coxe but I think we need something that addresses contemporary charges and challenges in contemporary language.

    That’s pretty much what By Farther Steps: The Progress of the Gospel in God’s Covenants would be about.>/p>

  • Hey man, I’m into mutual back slapping. :)

    I like the subtitle!

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