Jesus, the New Law in Town, Part 2

    Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levitical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchizedek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest comes in the likeness of Melchizedek, who has become a priest not on the basis of a legal requirement concerning bodily descent, but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, 'You are a priest forever, after the order of Melchizedek.” On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. Hebrews 7:11-19

 
    Jesus shows us that nothing we do externally makes us righteous before Him.

The author of Hebrews takes up this theme and shows us that Jesus' qualifications for being our High Priest and our sacrifice did not depend upon His human ancestry, but depended upon His spiritual character. And now that I have beaten this theme into the ground, let me pose a question: Why is it that so many of us have once again picked up the Old Testament regulations and applied them to our lives as a proof of our 'holiness” before God? That system of worship was set aside. How are we 'so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—not that there is another one” (Galatians 1:6, 7)? Who has 'bewitched” us (see Galatians 3:1)? Are we so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are we now trying to attain our goal of salvation through human effort (see Galatians 3:3, 4)?

    What do I mean by this? Let me illustrate. Because people are more visual and experiential than spiritual in their comprehension and understanding of the world, the Church throughout the centuries has added special days—Lent, feast days, holy week, 'Good Friday.” At first these were instituted in order to help the people focus their attention upon certain aspects of God's love and care for them, but they quickly disintegrated into something less 'holy” in nature. For reasons that only God knows, the Church went from worshipping God in 'spirit and in truth” to worshipping Him most especially on set days, in set seasons, with set prayers. At first these set prayers and days helped the mostly illiterate masses to gain a better understanding of their faith. But after a time the simple people of God were made to feel guilty by their ministerial leaders if they did not observe these special days, making the observance of certain days an obligation if one wanted to remain in good standing with the 'Church,” which was now held up as one's only source of salvation. At this point the people, if not in theory then certainly in practice, found themselves serving the priests and the days instead of the days and the priests serving them. We now consecrate certain dress codes as correct, particular worship styles as appropriate, even certain foods and beverages as 'clean and unclean.” As a pig returns to the mud, so many parts of the Church have returned to the bondage of the Old Testament law. By 'adding” to God's Word behaviors that are now 'acceptable” and others that are 'unacceptable,” we have replaced the freedom of God's grace moving in our lives with the trappings of a law that can never bring us into His presence. We must meditate upon our current passage and understand just how complete was the break from the Levitical priesthood that occurred when Jesus became our sacrifice and our High Priest. Without that knowledge we will continue to make the mistake of trying to work our way into the presence of God.

    Since man's heart tends toward outward rules, many have turned God's gift of grace into a personal possession, and must now 'see” in order to believe.

I have had people walk into my place of worship and bemoan the fact that there were no tapestries, or stained glass windows, or some sort of artwork, or even a cross over the baptistery. They said, 'This place does not bring me into a spirit of worship.” And I was silly enough to believe Jesus when He said, 'God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24). Many of us now observe a ritual form of worship to the extent that if another person does not observe these things as we do, we find great difficulty relating to them, much less worshipping God with them. When we cannot have fellowship with a person because their 'style” of worshipping the One True God is different from our own, then we can be sure that we are serving the structure of God, and not the God of the structure. Our willing capacity to serve the structure at the expense of our fellow saints shows just how far many of us have regressed in our practice of serving God.

    When I was in Bible college, there was a saying that we used to laugh at, 'I will not drink or smoke or chew or hang around with those who do.” We knew the silliness of these man-made regulations, but the tragedy was that it was followed VERY closely. I always thought those regulations only produced healthy sinners. No matter how old a person was at this college, if you were caught doing any one of those things you could anticipate expulsion. Now, I am not saying that everyone should go out and take up smoking and drinking. What I am trying to point out is how easily we add regulations to the Word, cutting off anyone who does not follow our 'new” rules of behavior. I believe that these types of rules, when held over our heads with excommunication as the result of breaking them are, from God's point of view, something 'which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind” (Jeremiah 7:31). Somewhere down the line we forgot that grace is actually a harder taskmaster than the Law. The Law makes us all the same; grace allows for various gifts to be available to God's Church. The Law makes people conform to the Law; grace points our conformity toward Christ. The Law necessitates a change of behavior; grace changes the heart.

    While I was a celibate brother with the Brothers and Sisters of Charity, I had a conversation with one of the sisters who is an African-American. The conversation centered on the fact that the Bible never specifically condemned slavery. Our conclusion was that the Bible does condemn all types of sins, as do our civil laws, but then, what good is a law if people refuse to follow it? There are laws today against rape and murder, but those crimes are still committed. Making a change in the law does not make a change in the heart. One reason for slavery's demise in this country was that people saw the immorality of treating one human being as the property of another. A heart change made the way for a change of behavior. And so it goes with the Church. If we will teach people about the love and grace and mercy of Christ; if we will show them how our own lives have been changed by allowing Christ to work His way into our spirits and set us apart for His holy purposes; if we will teach people how to set their eyes upon God and His standards versus a particular denomination and their personal standards, then the incidental items of our American Christianity—dancing, drinking alcohol, going to movies, abstaining from meat on Fridays, playing cards, smoking tobacco, fasting at set seasons, women not wearing make-up, men wearing a beard but no mustache—these things will find their proper place in or out of each person's life. Jesus will become the law in the person's life, and Jesus always seems to find a way to change us without conforming us to the set standards of the 'established” religious community.

    I learned long ago that there was a big difference between the kingdom of God and the Assemblies of God, and that on some VERY rare occasions my obedience to God would mean I would have to disobey the Assemblies of God. (However, even on these rare occasions I never did anything that was in opposition to my immediate spiritual authorities, closest advisors and best friends. People who say they follow no man but only the Spirit will soon find themselves following any spirit who will lead them. I said I found myself in opposition with the organization, not with my pastor and best godly friends). We need to give God's people back to God and allow Him to deal with their personal habits and needs. If we will focus upon Christ and preach Him in His fullness, we may be surprised just how much change of behavior will begin to take place as the actions of the body follow the convictions of the heart.

    Jesus has now brought us to the perfect, complete, acceptable condition where men and women can find themselves in a relationship to God.

Prior to the advent of Jesus, no way of relating to God was completely acceptable in the sight of God or in the heart of man. But Jesus provides for us a 'new” (Hebrews 9:15), 'once for all” (7:27; 9:12,26; 10:2,10), 'in spirit and truth” (John 4:24), in 'confidence” (4:16) and 'grace” (4:16) 'way” (John 14:6), introducing us to a 'better hope . . . through which we draw near to God” (7:19). How can we add to this 'perfection”? We cannot, even though every group, organization and denomination tries. I heard one man tell me, in justification for their myriad rules and restrictions, that his group simply went 'beyond” the gospel in an effort to show their devotion to it. I said that if I were driving to his house and went 'beyond” his street, that I had simply missed his house and I wouldn't boast about it. Still, we now add baptismal formulas, catechisms, theological schisms, dress codes, behaviors, works, speech, reading only certain Bible translations and abstaining from all Disney movies to our growing list of what it means to get saved, stay saved, and look saved. Even when the only people we will associate with are the same type from our own group, we still feel compelled to conform our lives to an image of Christ that is to be found nowhere in Scripture so that the 'world” may know that we are 'different.” If that is the way we are living then believe me, they know.  

    But the reasons that we stand out from our world and the reasons that Jesus stood out from His world seem to be at odds.

His world said, 'Don't drink or associate with those type of people because they are unclean.” But Jesus became known as a drinker and a friend of sinners because those were the people He came to save. Today, most Christians would feel horrified if they had the same reputation Jesus had. In fact, we seem to do everything we can to avoid being known as one who goes to parties and associates with known 'sinners.” And then on Sundays we call ourselves 'Christians.” Did I miss something here? Today many of us live by a denominational standard which repels sinners (and explains why so many denominations are losing members by the thousands) and attracts only people of the same kind. As opposed to Christ, we maintain a reputation of only having 'Christian” friends, which limits our witnessing capacity to the few dollars we contribute to the missions. This is not the 'perfection” Jesus gave His life for us to obtain. Somewhere down the line we have slowly, imperceptibly, but truly exchanged the truth of God for a lie. God gave to us the life of His only Son in order to set aside the external rules which mandated acceptability before himself. He no longer wants to see us live a life based on the 'commandment” (7:18) passed down to us in our feeble attempts to categorize and systematize our lives before Him. Rather, 'His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence” (2 Peter 1:3). God has endowed us to live as Jesus did, 'by the power of an indestructible life” (7:16). 

    We can see by verses 18-19 the inevitability of replacing the Old Testament system of laws and priests. For all its impressive pomp and endless sacrifices, in the end it brought no lasting peace, and certainly no real access to God. In fact, the whole system was calculated to keep man from God, not bring man into His presence. God was unapproachable throughout the year, except upon the one day of the year when the high priest entered into the Most Holy Place behind the veil and offered blood to God as an atonement for the people's sins. While the high priest was in God's presence, the rest of the community waited outside the courtyard for the priest to reappear. In the Old Testament God was extremely separated from His people. But now our hope in Jesus takes us into the 'inner place behind the curtain” (6:19) where we can all draw close to God. This is the new order of the world, and it is a new world order that will be executed by the control of God, not by world governments. A new order has been supplied for us by God through His Son Jesus, who has done for us what the Old Testament law never could—achieved the perfection of our relationship with God while we are still on the earth. Now every person in the world has the same God-given ability to turn to Jesus, the new law in God's economy, and find true righteousness, peace, and eternal life in the presence of the one true God.