It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery. Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope (Gal. 5:1-5).
What is Paul saying here? Is this merely about circumcision or is there a deeper principle in what Paul is saying? I believe there is a deeper principle, which is this. Pick your covenant. Live by the old covenant of the law, which is slavery, or live fully in the new covenant of the Spirit, which is freedom. You can’t have it both ways. To choose to take one part of the old covenant is to reject Christ and at that point you are required to obey the whole old covenant of the law.
Now that we Christians have twenty centuries under our belts I believe we need to ask that question again. Which covenant are we going to live in? Specifically, are we going to have an integrated faith which revolves around Jesus as Lord and living in a new covenant arrangement with Him or are we going to live like we are in the old covenant? If we are going to live in the new covenant then everything we do, say, believe and practice should be an integral whole. Let me state this as a question. Is your theology (what we believe about God), ecclesiology (the way we live the gathering of believers), missiology (the way we do Kingdom ministry), and praxis (the way we live life) seamlessly focused on the centrality of Jesus the Lord and His new covenant relationship with us, or does it go back to old covenant practice? If it does, it will not only reflect the theology of the Bible, it will reflect the practice of Jesus, his disciples and the early Church as reflected in Acts and the Epistles.
Before you answer that question let me contrast these issues in the old covenant and the new covenant.
Theology: in the old covenant believers stuck to the letter of the law as it was written. In their own power they tried to follow the rules. In the new covenant our behavior is based on the law that is written in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (see. Heb. 8:7-13, specifically vs. 10). This will reflect God’s written word, but it is initiated by the Spirit, not human will.
Ecclesiology: in the old covenant the gathering of God’s people was focused on the temple (a building). All worship and ministry was directed by men (the Aaronic priesthood). In the new covenant no ministry in specific buildings is mentioned or prescribed because the temple of the Holy Spirit is the human body and heart. Therefore when God’s people gather (anywhere) they can allow Jesus the Lord himself to lead them. While there is human participation, leadership belongs to Jesus the Lord. There is no special building and no clergy class.
Missiology: In the old covenant all ministry was done by men and led by men. The beauty of Israel was intended to draw the nations to God who resided in the temple. It was a “bring them in” mentality. In the new covenant Jesus said go. All of us have the Holy Spirit leading us from inside of our hearts and minds (Heb. 8:10 again). So Jesus the Lord leads us individually and corporately outward. Men do not coordinate this but they do cooperate through obedience.
Praxis: In the old covenant the leading of the Holy Spirit was rare (occasionally through some prophets and kings) and inconsistent. The Spirit came and left. Consequently it was up to men to follow the letter of the law in their own power, by their own will. In the new covenant the Spirit resides in our hearts and minds. Our bodies therefore become the new temple and the Christian leads a holy life by His power and direction. And this will reflect the behavior of godly people in the New Testament.
Both old covenant and new covenant life were integrated and consistent. In the old covenant godly people tried their best to follow the letter of the law in what they believed about God (theology), how they gathered in the temple (ecclesiology), how they did ministry (missiology), and how they lived. This was human led and human powered, but done to please God.
In the new covenant the Holy Spirit resides in us and leads from within. Jesus leads humans to cooperate and obey Him. If this leading is truly from Him it will never negate His written word. So our theology is first and foremost led by the Spirit but discerned by the written word (they won’t conflict). New covenant ecclesiology needs no building, it just needs Spirit filled believers to gather. It also needs no special leader because when they gather Jesus the Lord leads. Ministry is led by the Spirit of Jesus and reflects the missionary behavior we see in the Bible which was also led by the Spirit of Jesus. Our behavior (praxis) is led by the Spirit from within, not laws, rules or even Scriptural principles, as good as they are (read Rom. 7). In fact the written word of God itself says, the letter kills but the Spirit gives life (2 Cor. 3:6).
So old covenant life was integrated in every way. It was human led but trying desperately to please God. It needed a written code to follow by human effort. It needed a special building where men could worship God in their own effort. It needed special human leaders who would spiritually lead others (priests) by their own effort. Ministry was based on humans, in their own effort, behaving according to the written code which would draw people in. Behavior that pleased God was strictly an act of the human will. In the same way, new covenant behavior is all about following the Spirit of Jesus the Lord who lives in our bodies and speaks to our hearts and minds. So theology, ecclesiology, missiology and praxis are all led by the Spirit of Jesus from within. That’s why “Jesus is Lord” is not just a doctrine of theology, it is a way of life. Jesus leads everything. For that reason we don’t need a special building, special rules, special leadership, great human developed strategies and a life of trying hard to follow the principles of the Bible. All of this is lead by Jesus from within. We just cooperate and obey.
Pick a question and respond:
- Is your theology, ecclesiology, missiology and praxis old covenant, new covenant or a mixed bag?
- Have you ever seen a Christian building (commonly but erroneously called a church) named something like “Temple” Baptist? Does that seem as incongruous to you as it does to me?
- What’s the practical difference between an old covenant priest and a Christian priest, minister or pastor? How does that square with the new covenant?
- What happens when our theology, ecclesiology, missiology, and praxis are a mixed bag of old covenant and new? Does it make sense to say we follow the Spirit (new covenant) and then talk about our goals and objectives we’ve developed? Does it make sense to say our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit yet meet in temple like buildings and have a Christian priesthood? Does it really make sense to say “I live by biblical principles,” and then say Jesus is Lord?