Things Into Which Angels Long to Look – Todd Braye

The Definite & Particular Atonement of Christ
1 Peter 1: 10-12
This is the first day of that week set aside to focus on the passion, or suffering, of Christ, I thought it fitting to address you concerning the atonement of Christ. The material will, as I have said, be familiar to you. But lest the things we assume become things we abandon and forget, we remind ourselves of that which is the fountainhead of hope. Hear then, the word of God as it reads in 1 Peter 1:10-12 (NASB95):

10 As to this salvation, the prophets who prophesied of the grace that would come to you made careful searches and inquiries, 11 seeking to know what person or time the Spirit of Christ within them was indicating as He predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories to follow. 12 It was revealed to them that they were not serving themselves, but you, in these things which now have been announced to you through those who preached the gospel to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven—things into which angels long to look. [1]

It has been said on more than one occasion that fools rush in where angels fear to tread. Though that may be the case, it is also the case that fools for Christ rush in where angels long to look. Such a place into which these celestial creatures desire to gaze is described in our text by the words ‘salvation [in verse 10],’ ‘grace [also in the 10th verse],’ ‘sufferings of Christ [verse 11],’ and ‘gospel [in the 12th verse].’ Upon a short but Biblical reflection upon these terms, it would be discovered that these words point towards & speak of the crux of Biblical Christianity, namely atonement. ‘Salvation’ points to, is founded upon, flows out of, and is secured by the atonement of Christ. ‘Grace,’ even sovereign grace, speaks of the unmerited, undeserving, saving favour by which the atonement of Christ is made. The ‘sufferings of Christ’ are essential to atonement.  And the gospel itself is the good news of atonement.  As that which effects the reconciliation of sinners to God, atonement is also that by which sinners are both justified & sanctified.  Furthermore, the people of God have always rejoiced in God with a joy inexpressible for His provision of atonement. Now, I need to preface what I am about to say by saying that the atonement of Christ is a ‘gi-normous’ doctrine. There is much to feed upon so much so that it will be impossible to treat the subject in its entirety in the time we have this morning. And so, what I simply hope to do, Lord willing, is to give you a broad outline of the doctrine and then spice it up with a question that addresses the heart of the one true gospel.
The Definition of Atonement
To answer first of all the question regarding to what atonement specifically refers is to embark upon a much needed if not much neglected quest.  If we were to look the word up in the Oxford Dictionary, we would find that atonement is “reparation (or the making of amends) for a wrong or injury.” While that is a helpful definition and even a good start, it is inadequate to describe the work of atonement accomplished by Christ. Biblically speaking, atonement is more than “making amends.” Biblically speaking, atonement is a sacrificial offering offered or a payment paid to bear the guilt of the people of God and thus avert, appease, turn away, placate or satisfy the wrath of God. To atone therefore is to bear guilt on account of sin and appease God.  Biblical atonement was always a priestly work. It was always for sins. It was always a necessary condition for pardon and forgiveness. There was always a cost involved. It always required the shedding of blood, i.e. death. And it was always God-ward; that is to say, the offering or payment was always to God.
The Old Testament sacrificial system, as bloody as it was, reveals much and illustrates much concerning the doctrine of atonement. Surely, it is the background against which we are to understand the work of Christ. For example, when, in Leviticus chapter 10, 16th verse Moses discovered that the priests, the sons of Aaron did not eat the sin offering according to God’s clear and precise instructions, he confronted the sons of Aaron in the 17th verse saying, with no small amount of displeasure, Why did you not eat the sin offering at the holy place? For it is most holy, and He gave it to you to bear away the guilt of the congregation, to make atonement for them before the Lord.” We may ask ourselves why Moses was so bent out of shape. That he was ought to alert us to the fact that eating the sin offering must have had great significance. Indeed it did. Listen to what John Gill writes on this verse. He says, “by eating the sin offering, or sin itself, as it is in the original text…they made the sins of the people, for whom the offering was, in some sense their own; and they bore them, and made … atonement for them…” Shoots us forward in our thinking, does it not? “He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Substitution is clear – the priest in place of the people just as Christ, our great high priest, took the place of His people [He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us]. And the imputation, or transfer, of sins is equally clear – as Gill pointed out to us that ‘by eating the sin offering, or sin itself…they made the sins of the people, for whom the offering was, in some sense their own; and they bore them…’ Even so, by imputation the sins of all of Christ’s people were laid on Him so that He was reckoned as sin, bearing all the sins of His people as he hung upon a tree.
Furthermore, to illustrate that atonement not only bears the guilt of God’s people but also averts God’s wrath, we need only to open our Bibles to the 16th chapter of the book of Numbers {Go there with me]. Remember Korah? Korah was the guy who made a bunch of phone calls, gathered around himself some 250 men who evidently had clout in the congregation, and proceeded to lead a rebellion against the leadership, namely Moses & Aaron. What ensued was a double outpouring of God’s wrath, the first episode of which included the earth opening up and swallowing all who belonged to rebellious Korah. The second episode came the following day. After the congregation accused Moses & Aaron for causing the death of the Lord’s people on the previous day [when in fact such death was the result of the direct unleashing of divine anger], God once again, and not unlike the day before, showed up. Verse 43 of Numbers chapter 16: “Then Moses and Aaron came to the front of the tent of meeting, and the Lord spoke to Moses saying, ‘Get away from this congregation, that I may consume them instantly.’” Now, remember the occasion. The sin for which God was unleashing His righteous wrath was none other than rebelliousness against God-ordained leadership. But notice what that leadership does next in the 46th verse: “And Moses said to Aaron, ‘Take your censer and put in it fire from the altar, and lay incense on it, then bring it quickly to the congregation and make atonement for them, for wrath has gone forth from the Lord, the plague has begun. 47Then Aaron took it as Moses had spoken, and ran into the midst of the assembly, for behold, the plague had begun among the people. So he put on the incense and made atonement for the people. And he took his stand between the dead and the living, that the plague was checked.””
He who is even remotely familiar with the history of the Jews will be reminded at this point of another plague that was checked. When, by the providence of God, the people of God were held in the hand of Pharaoh, a series of plagues ended with the Lord ‘going out into the midst of Egypt’ so as to strike down all the first-born. But God made a distinction between Israel and Egypt, between His people and those who were not His people. And that distinction was made via the blood of an unblemished, slaughtered lamb applied to the doorposts of every Hebrew house. When the Lord then passed through to smite the Egyptians, he passed over His people on account of the blood of the sacrificial lamb. God’s wrath unleashed that very night was turned away, propitiated because the blood supplied by the lamb was applied to the people. Again, shoots us forward in our thinking, right?  “The next day [John the Baptist] saw Jesus coming to him, and said, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood.”
Atonement is an offering that bears guilt. Atonement is also an offering that turns away wrath [i.e. it propitiates – propitiation is a crucial, Biblical term that you must have in your vocabulary]. And atonement is also, in its essence, is at least one more thing. Atonement is a payment paid or a price spent. Atonement is a purchase. Or, another term that is used to refer to this purchase is ‘ransom,’ a redemption price. Three sets of verses make this clear: First set is Exodus 30:11 – 15. “The Lord also spoke to Moses, saying, “When you take a census of the sons of Israel to number them, then each one of them shall give a ransom for himself to the Lord, when you number them, that there be no plague among them when you number them…14Everyone who is numbered, from twenty years old and older, shall give the contribution to the Lord. The rich shall not pay more, and the poor shall not pay less than the half shekel, when you give the contribution to the Lord to make atonement for yourselves.”  Second verse: 2 Samuel 21:3-4. “Thus David said to the Gibeonites, ‘What should I do for you? And how can I make atonement that you may bless the inheritance of the Lord?’ Then the Gibeonites said to him, ‘We have no concern of silver or gold with Saul or his house…” Third and final set is 1 Peter 1:18 – 19. “knowing that you were not redeemed [or ransomed] with perishable things like silver or gold, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ.”
The atonement of Christ as the sacrificial, substitutional, Lamb of God is then, the offering and payment of Christ Himself. It is Christ Himself that bears the guilt of sinners, propitiates the wrath of God against sin and sinners, and purchases both sinners and everything required for their salvation
The Definiteness of Atonement
But the $65,000,000.00 question is ‘For whom did Christ make atonement?’ Or, another way of phrasing the question is ‘For whom did Christ die?’ ‘On behalf of whom did Christ bear guilt, turn away and satisfy wrath, and purchase redemption from the penalty, power, and even presence of sin?’ Before you respond to what may seem to you to be a no-brainer, consider for a moment, that your answer will reveal whether or not you believe God actually and effectually saves all by Himself, or if he needs a little help. Your answer will also be telling of your estimation of the gospel and whether or not you embrace the gospel of the Holy Scriptures.
Listen to what J.I Packer has to say on the subject. In his introductory essay on John Owen’s The Death of Death in the Death of Christ, Packer writes:

“Without realizing it, we have during the past century bartered that gospel [i.e. the biblical gospel] for a substitute product which, though it looks similar enough in points of detail, is as a whole a decidedly different thing. Hence our troubles; for the substitute product does not answer the ends for which the authentic gospel has in past days proved itself so mighty. The new gospel conspicuously fails to produce deep reverence, deep repentance, deep humility, a spirit of worship, a concern for the church. Why? We would suggest that the reason lies in its own character and content. It fails to make men God-centered in their thoughts and God-fearing in their hearts because this is not primarily what it is trying to do. One way of stating the difference between it and the old gospel is to say that it is too exclusively concerned to be ‘helpful’ to man – to bring peace, comfort, happiness, satisfaction – and too little concerned to glorify God. The old gospel was ‘helpful’ too – more so, indeed, than the new- but (so to speak) incidentally, for its first concern was always to give glory to God. It was always and essentially and proclamation of divine sovereignty in mercy and judgment, a summons to bow down and worship the mighty Lord on whom man depends for all good, both in nature and in grace. Its centre of reference was unambiguously God. But in the new gospel the centre is man…Whereas the chief aim of the old was to teach men to worship God, the concern of the new seems limited to making them feel better. The subject of the old gospel was God and His ways with men; the subject of the new is man and the help God gives him…From this change of interest has sprung a change of content…”

In other words, what Packer seems to be saying, at least in part, is that in large part the professing church has replaced its eyeglasses. It has replaced the lenses of God-centeredness with man-centeredness as if the gospel was first and foremost about man. The gospel isn’t that. It isn’t about man. The gospel is about the splendour of God and the maximum display of the glory of God in all His sovereignty and holiness and righteousness and wisdom and wrath and justice and mercy and grace. And it’s about Christ in all His love for His Father and complete submission to His will even unto death. And it just so happens that in order to display these things, God had to decree a fall that He might display a ‘rising again.’ Which means that salvation and the gospel is a means to a further end; it is not the end in itself. God does not exist for our happiness. Neither does God exist for us; but we exist for Him. Flip that upside down, make man the center, and I would argue that a correct view of God becomes impossible and life will consequently be utterly joyless. All this to say that our answers to theological questions must be God-centred [and therefore joy producing] not man-centred [and therefore empty].
For whom then, did Christ make atonement?  Essentially, there are two answers, both of which contradict each other and diametrically oppose each other. One answer, simply put, is that Christ died and thus made atonement for all men without exception. In this view, the death of Christ makes possible the salvation of every man, woman, and child that has been or shall be born. Atonement is limited in this view; it is limited by the absence of faith. In other words, the effectiveness of Christ’s death hinges upon whether or not it is met by trust. In my observation, this view is the predominant view of evangelical churches, at least in this country and doubtlessly in the U.S. The other answer is that Christ died and thus made atonement for all men without distinction, but not without exception. In other words, Christ did not die for each and every man, woman, and child who ever lived, lives, or shall live. Christ died rather, only for those chosen in Him before the foundation of the world [before time began]. In this view, salvation isn’t possible for everyone. Salvation is, rather, purchased and made certain for the elect. Atonement is also limited in this view, not by a man’s faith, but rather by the design and intention of God.
Which position is the correct one? Before I draw your attention to three portions of Scripture, it is most beneficial for us to pause and reflect on the mission of Christ on earth. “It is a trustworthy statement: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.” “And she will bear a Son; and you will call His name Jesus; for it is He who will save His people from their sins.” “When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” [“Tetelestai” – ended, completed, executed, accomplished!] And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit.”  That that for which Christ came into the world was accomplished is indisputable. Christ fully accomplished the atoning work of redemption. Therefore, every soul for whom Christ died will never see the fires of hell. Christ bore their guilt in full. Christ completely propitiated God’s wrath as their substitute which means that the wrath of God due them was spent on Christ. For them there is no hell to pay. And Christ was and is their complete redemption price, their ransom. There is nothing left whatsoever to pay. Christ purchased those for whom He died. And those whom He purchased shall never be snatched from His hand. Christ alone atones. Faith does not atone. Faith connects us to the atonement, but it does not atone. Now, think it through. If one soul for whom Christ died was ever cast into the lake of fire, Christ would have indeed failed in His mission. He did not save His people from their sins. In fact, if that were the case, Christ did not finish anything thereby making Himself a liar. The inerrancy, infallibility and authority of God’s Word would no longer hold any water – at which point I’d be looking for a new job, you’d be wasting your time, and a countless number died a fiery death for no good reason. This ought to leave a burning question: What about those who do end up in hell? Faith is not the determining and decisive factor in one’s eternal destiny, God is. Translation: The decisive factor concerning those who end up in hell is not because they believed not, but because, in the sovereign purpose of God, they were not chosen in Christ before time and therefore were not atoned for in time. Three texts and then three points of application (namely justice, joy, and evangelism):
1. First text – 1st Timothy 2: 3 – 6, our focus being the 6th verse. “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator also between God and men, the man Jesus Christ, who gave Himself as a ransom for all.”  Question: In what sense are to understand that Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for all?” ‘All’ means all without distinction, not all without exception. In other words, the ‘all’ refers to all kinds of men, not each and every man. I get this from 1 Timothy 2: 2 where Paul equates all men with ‘kings and all who are in authority. Clearly, he does not mean each and every man, but only those in various positions of governance & rule. I get this also from the 7th verse of this chapter in which Paul says that he was appointed as a teacher to the Gentiles, or ‘nations.’ In other words, to all nations, not just the Jewish nation. I get this also from the broader context of scripture in which all does not always mean each and every. Case in point: Genesis chapter 6. Between the 13th and 17th verses of that chapter, God says that he will destroy all flesh. Verse 13: “Then God said to Noah, ‘The end of all flesh is before Me.’” A little later, same verse, same reference to all flesh, God says, “I am about to destroy them [i.e. all flesh] with the earth.” Verse 17: “I am bringing the flood of water upon the earth, to destroy all flesh in which is the breath of life, from under heaven; everything that is in the earth shall perish.” ALL flesh? Really? EVERYTHING? Really? If by ‘all flesh’ and ‘everything’ God meant ‘each and every,’ then why did Noah build an ark? Was Noah and his family, along with countless creatures, not rescued from the waters of judgment? Either God is a liar, or He simple means to say all flesh without distinction, not all flesh without exception. And here’s the clincher: Revelation 5, verse 9. “Worthy art thou to take the book, and to break its seals; for Thou wast slain [there’s the cross], and didst purchase for God with Thy blood [there’s ransom for atonement] men from [or out of] every tribe and tongue and people and nation.” Not each and every man from every tribe and tongue and nation, but simply men from every tribe and nation. In other words, Christ purchased certain men from the mass of humanity. In other words, when Paul says that Christ gave Himself as a ransom for all, he means that Christ purchased all men in the sense that He purchased certain men from all nations of men.
2. Second text – John 10: 11. There Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”  He repeats Himself in verse 15 just in case we missed it the first time: “I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Who are these sheep? Upon an honest reading the entire 10th chapter of John, one would discover that the sheep are actually those unconditionally elected, irresistibly called, and sovereignly kept. They are those of whom sovereign grace enables to rise from their spiritual death, hear the voice of the Son of God, and the follow the Son of God in affectionate obedience. Does this sound like every man to you? This isn’t every man though it is to be seen among all men in the sense that Christ has laid down His life for men of every nation, both Jews and Gentiles. “I have other sheep which are not of this fold; I must bring them also…and they shall become one flock with one shepherd.” [cf. Eph. 2:11-21 for the best commentary on the two becoming one flock- aside].
3. Third text – Matthew 20:28. Jesus says, “The Son of Man did come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom [i.e. a purchase price] for many.” Again, ‘many,’ if language means anything, is not all in the sense of ‘each’ and ‘every.’ If it be that angels long to look into such things, the prophets are said to make careful search of such matters. The 11th verse of the 53rd chapter of Isaiah agrees with Christ. It says “My Servant [that is Christ] will justify the many and He will bear their iniquities [i.e. the iniquities of many].” The next verse says, “He Himself bore the sin of many.”
There are other Scriptures to which we could turn (take John 11:51 – 52 which records the prophecy of Caiaphas, for instance) but that would get tedious. Three quick points of application.
1. The first point concerns justice and probably answers an objection – How is it fair that Christ should die for a select few when compared to the billions of people who have ever lived? I don’t think that’s the right question. It’s not the right question because it makes a man-centred, un-Biblical assumption, namely that we deserve to be rescued from hell. Beloved, listen. No one deserves to be rescued from wrath. No one has any claim or entitlement to grace. God would be entirely just if each and every man who was or shall be born, save One, would be left to bear his own sin and feel the crushing, unspeakable, indescribable, unknowable, full brunt of divine displeasure on account of his countless sins. Because the modern church has lost a keen sense of the holiness of God, we treat Him lightly. We approach Him all too often as if it were a thing of no consequence. We rush into His presence as if we were a kid in a candy store. And we live before Him, coram Deo, as if sins and sinfulness were far less offensive to Him and far less sinful than they actually are. If God were to punish each and every human, save Christ, by unleashing His eternal, fiery anger upon them, God would be absolutely righteous and just in doing so. So, the question ought not be “Why did Christ not die for everybody?” Rather, the question ought to be “Why did Christ die for anybody?”
2. Joy – How does this doctrine produce joy?  Well, joy comes from a least two truths. First, joy flows from the knowledge that atonement is certain, not merely possible. Joy comes from knowing that the atonement of Christ is a complete atonement and that nothing is required from me to make it more complete. Joy comes from knowing that it is Christ who in fact made complete atonement for sin, my faith does not atone. Nor does anything I do, including turn from sin. And so if my faith be small or weak, or sin seem greater than grace on any particular day, or repentance weak, the fact of atonement changes not. Nothing sinners do undoes what Christ did on their behalf.
Second, joy comes from God’s justice. Since Christ fully and actually accomplished my atonement, and thus that divine wrath which is due me was completely satisfied by Christ, being spent of Him, then what have I to fear?  Since God is just, He does not require double payment for my sins. Christ paid my ransom in full. It is as Spurgeon writes: “God must change his nature before one soul, for whom Jesus was a substitute, can ever by any possibility suffer the lash of the law. Therefore, Jesus having taken the place of the believer– having rendered a full equivalent to divine wrath for all that his people ought to have suffered as the result of sin, the believer can shout with glorious triumph, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Not God, for he hath justified; not Christ, for he hath died, “yea rather hath risen again.” My hope lives not because I am not a sinner, but because I am a sinner for whom Christ died; my trust is not that I am holy, but that being unholy, he is my righteousness. My faith rests not upon what I am, or shall be, or feel, or know, but in what Christ is, in what he has done, and in what he is now doing for me. On the lion of justice the fair maid of hope rides like a queen” (Morning & Evening, September 25).
3. Third point of application concerns evangelism. Since Christ died for the elect only, how then shall we evangelize? In a word, we evangelize faithfully. That is, we do not tell everybody that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. [God had a plan for Pharaoh, and it wasn’t wonderful, not to him.] But we do tell them that they must turn from their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has made an actual atonement for actual sinners, a definite redemption for definite sinners, and all who come to Him He will in no wise cast out.
Fools for Christ rush in where angels long to look and prophets have made careful search. So, I now exhort you, rush in. Be noble-minded and search the Scriptures for yourselves to see if these things are so. And as you do so by God’s grace, your affections for Christ will increase, your joy will become more and more inexpressible, you will be strengthened in your faith, and you will grow both in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

[1] New American Standard Bible : 1995 update. 1995 (1 Pe 1:10–12). LaHabra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.


Keep in Step with the Spirit (13)

“Glorying in the Cross” (2)
(Two Kinds of Men continued.)
Todd Braye

Galatians 6:11-16
Todd Braye
In verse 14 of our text, the apostle Paul passionately declares that he glories in nothing but the cross of Christ. He contrasts himself with those making much of law, almost shouting to his readers, and to us, that it be far from him “to boast [in anything] except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ.” When one takes this to heart and considers the fact that he himself once took pride in the law, and in keeping the law, being zealous for the traditions of his fathers, such a declaration ought to “kick” us in the pants.  Just think on it: Paul, once zealous for the Law, now a zealot for the cross. At one time, the apostle would have been on the same page with the kind of men he describes in the previous two verses, more or less. But now he labors to set himself completely apart from them.  As one noted, “Pride in the Law has been displaced by pride in the Cross; pride in righteousness as an achievement, by pride in that which empties him of pride.”[1] Furthermore, and moreover, it should not be missed: what the apostle has so obviously engaged in, needs to be the activity of the church in every generation, namely self-criticism.[2] It’s true. In writing against those dead earnest for law, he was pitting himself against the man he once was. Why he did this is before us, in verse 14. When one sees the cross in all its glory, when one sees the cross as the Great Divide of redemptive history, the end of the law and the beginning of covenantal grace[3] with all that Christ achieved for sinners there, then his posture will mimic the apostle’s. He will glory in the cross. Everything else will seem to be a thing shameful to him, as though nailed to a piece of wood.
In the 15th verse explanation is given. Paul tells us why he glories exclusively in the cross. He tells us that he so glories for three reasons. He so glories in the cross because by it (1) Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, (2) Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and (3) New Covenant promises are realized (or fulfilled).
(1) Old Covenant Distinctions Neutralized
Verse 15: “For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision…” This is an old covenant distinction. It is a distinction belonging to the time and era before Christ came. It is a distinction that marked the time before Christ died, was buried, rose to life, ascended, was enthroned on David’s throne, and sent His Spirit. Jews were circumcised. Other nations were uncircumcised. You need not go there. But in Genesis 17, Moses records the ‘why’ of the mark. He writes these words:

“And God said to Abraham, ‘As for you, you shall keep my covenant, you and your offspring after you throughout their generations. This is my covenant which you shall keep, between me and you and your offspring after you: every male among you shall be circumcised.’”[4]

Moses goes on to tell us this mark was a sign of this covenant God made with Abraham and his offspring. Every male, whether born a Jew or bought by a Jew, wore the mark. Every other nation did not wear the sign. God had sovereignly, for no reason outside Himself, made a distinction between the nation that would come from Abraham’s loins and every other nation (Gentiles).
The language of the first exodus illustrates this distinction, this ethnic, national distinction, enormously well. Even a quick reading of that book of law bears this out. You recall the burning bush. Moses was minding his own business, tending Jethro’s flock. And the Lord appeared to him in a flame and says to him, “I have surely seen the affliction of MY people who are in Egypt…”[5] God claims the sons of Abraham, the Hebrews, to be His people. He does not say this of any other nation, not the Egyptians or the Canaanites or the Hittites, or the Amorites or the Jebusites! God knew & cared for Israel in a way that He did not know any other ethnic group or family or tribe or tongue.[6] The God who is is a God who makes distinctions among men! And He does so sovereignly.
Then we fly over the plague sequence. To the king of Egypt, through Moses the prophet, the Lord repeatedly commands, “Let MY people go, that they may serve me.” “Let MY people go, that they may serve me.”  Not every people group was God’s people. There were the Hebrews, the Israelites, the sons of Israel, Abraham’s grandson…and there was everybody else. Israel was the object of divine favor; the Gentiles not so much.
The final plague bears this out even more explicitly. Let’s allow Moses to stir our memories. “At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of the livestock [The pain and economic hit Japan took pales in comparison]. And Pharaoh rose up in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians. And there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was not a house where someone was not dead.”[7]
Such was the divine judgment on all who lived in Egypt. It begs the question, does it not? What about the sons of Abraham? What about “MY people,” those marked in the flesh by the sign of the covenant, i.e. circumcision? Were they not in Egypt, amongst the Egyptians?      // When the Lord revealed what the final plague/judgment would be to Moses, he told Moses that…

“There shall be a great cry throughout all the land of Egypt…. But not a dog shall growl against any of the people of Israel, either man or beast, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between Egypt and Israel.”[8]

Israel was circumcised. It bore the sign of God’s promise to Abraham. Egypt did not. And so the Passover came to pass, the blood of lambs on Hebrew doorposts. And so the exodus, “God remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob. God saw the people of Israel – and God knew.” He knew them in a way that he did not know any other nation or people group.
To further establish this distinction, a quick look at the fifth book of the law is enough. In Deuteronomy 7 we find the circumcised ready to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land. Moses commands the nation to not marry anyone from another nation. And then he lists reasons for that command. Among them is the foundational reason stated in the sixth verse of that chapter.  He tells them that they “…are a people holy to the Lord [their] God. The Lord your God has chosen you to be a people for his treasured possession, out of all the peoples who are on the face of the earth.” Above all peoples and nations, the Lord had “set his heart in love”[9] on the nation called Israel, the so-called “covenant community.”
But here in Galatians, Paul unabashedly declares this distinction to be neutralized. Covenantally speaking, the playing field is now level. It doesn’t matter if one is circumcised or not. It matters not if one is a Jew or not. One’s family tree counts for nothing this side of the cross. “There is neither Jew nor Greek…for you are all one in Christ Jesus” Galatians 3:28. Distinctions based on who one’s parents are, of nationality, of genealogy, are no more.  No more is the question, “From what stock are you?” a question of any weight. God does not bless on the basis of flesh and blood. On the other hand, on the other side of the evangelical spectrum, it must be noted: Israel does not have a future simply because of its family tree.[10] The only thing that avails & counts is the cross. The cross neutralizes (nullifies) Old Covenant distinctions.
We know the cross divides. We know the cross places a wall between men. But here we see the cross making peace between men, bringing them together. The apostle makes this explicit in his epistle to the Ephesians chapter two. There he calls upon the Ephesian saints, “Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision,” to remember that at one time they were “separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants, having no hope and without God in the world.” “But now,” he writes, “in Christ Jesus you who were once far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one [i.e. circumcised and uncircumcised, Jews & Gentiles, Israel and non-Israel] & has broken down the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in the place of the two (i.e. Jews & Gentiles, Israel & non-Israel), so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross…”[11] The cross neutralizes Old Covenant distinctions! Ethnic Israel or not, it matters not. The cross nullifies the distinction. The cross creates one new body, the church, from two bodies that are not the church, namely the Old Covenant community of Israel & every other nation.
(2) Old Covenant Privileges Nullified
The cross neutralizes Old Covenant distinctions. And it also nullifies Old Covenant privileges. To be numbered amongst the circumcised was to be numbered amongst those with great advantages. “To begin with, Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God.”[12] God spoke to them directly, “at many times and in many ways.”[13] “To them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises.”[14] God cared for them, rescued them from their enemies, fed them, favored them, and imposed a covenant upon them. He gave them His law. Four hundred and thirty years after the covenant of circumcision, the circumcised nation met God at Sinai. Just listen to how Moses sums this covenant up. Listen now! This is beyond fascinating. It’s as striking as it is undeniable. Exodus 34.28

“So he [Moses] was there with the Lord 40 days and 40 nights. He neither ate bread nor drank water[15](!). And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant, the ten commandments.” Exodus 34.28

Why this is so striking is what Hebrews 8.13 states. It says this: “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete.” It was a great privilege to have special revelation from God. To be given that which is ‘holy, righteous and good,’ was of tremendous advantage. It was so for a number of reasons. But ultimately it was so because it spoke of Christ and His work, but only by way of shadow. “For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities…”[16] says the writer to the Hebrews. But now that Christ, “the true form,” has come, what need is there for a shadow? Do we love the shadow or the person? Do we love the shadow our spouses cast, or do we love our spouses themselves? “Far be it from me to boast except in the cross,” says Paul, “for neither circumcision nor uncircumcision [things Old Covenant] counts for anything.”
The point to grasp in context here is this: In light of the cross, the Old Covenant is a non-issue. Whether one was a Jew or a Gentile was beside the point. That is to say, whether one possessed the law or not, and therefore knew what the law demanded or not, was irrelevant. After all, Jews had the law. And the uncircumcised, not having the law, not blessed with that possession and advantage, were ‘lawless.’ They were not put under “the covenant, the ten commandments.” But these matters no longer matter. We’ll get to the heart of the matter in a moment. For now, Paul is telling us that Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized. The cross does this. Therefore, Old Covenant privileges are nullified as well. Nothing that we ourselves do, or have done to us, as adults or infants, counts before God. It has no saving merit. It does not put us into a privileged place before God. It matters not if our families are believers, or if they are flaming pagans, with not a Bible in sight. Incidentally, we can have bookshelves full of Bibles and even read them studiously. In and of itself, such activity doesn’t mean much. The Jewish scribes did this, and to no avail, right? We must be mindful to not think in ways Old Covenant. To think Old Covenant is to think like Nike Shoes and ‘Just do it.’ ‘Just do it’ and you’ll win. ‘Just do it’ and you’ll win the race. That’s what the false teachers were telling the Galatian believers. Just get circumcised. Just observe the special days. Just keep the law. Just do any number of things the Scriptures commend and command, and you’ll be saved. And so Paul says to them, “You were running well [i.e. apart from the Old Covenant). Who hindered you from obeying the truth?” Galatians 5:7.  ‘Who tripped you up, trying to sell you an old, worthless pair of running shoes?’
New Covenant Promises Realized
Paul glories in the cross because by it (1) Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, (2) Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and (3) New Covenant promises are realized (or fulfilled).  The only thing that counts in light of the cross is “a new creation.” It is claimed that Paul uses this phrase in two ways. Sometimes he uses it to mean the new age of the last days, the period of redemptive history brought about by the Christ event.[17] “If anyone is in Christ,” he writes elsewhere, “he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”[18] There may be a sense of that here.
However, it is best to take “a new creation” as the matter of the heart. The only thing that counts is the heart of the matter, which is the matter of the heart. Read the prophets. Read Ezekiel. Discover for yourself what God promised to do in the new age of the last days. See that He said He would give His people a new heart, that He would put His Spirit within His people, even the people of Israel.[19] What is “a new creation?” I love how John Brown puts it. He puts it like this: It is “the mind and heart transformed by divine truth regarding the cross of Christ, made effectual by divine influence.”[20] There is a change of character. The way a man thinks is altogether changed. The way he acts is altogether changed.  New affections are given. He loves God. His soul magnifies the Lord. His greatest joy is the exultation of Christ. And His greatest sorrow is to see Christ diminished. This IS something. This and nothing else! This IS something. And this is not something one can just do. This is God’s work. This is God by His Spirit radically changing hearts, even by the power of a creative act! It’s called a new CREATION for a purpose!
Lamentable is the fact there is a low view of what a Christian is, of what regeneration is. Any number of people can claim to be one. Anyone can call himself a Christian, believing himself to be one, and yet know nothing of this new creation. He may think that since he does this or that, since he keeps in good company and attends the right church, or since he engages in any number of religious exercises, wears the right clothes, and refrains from certain activities, that he is a believer. Beloved, think with me a moment. What kind of power did God have to exercise when creating the universe? What kind of power did God exert when forming Mount Norquay or Sulfur Mountain or even Mount Robson? What does it take for God to knit a baby in its mother’s womb? That is creative power! Creative power is the power that gives life where there is no life! And that is precisely the power involved in the new creation. It is divine. It’s real. And it’s unmistakable! This is a transforming power, one that changes a man in the core of his being. What makes one a Christian is not what one does; what makes a man a true Christian is what God does by His Spirit.  And when God transforms a life, giving a new heart, sending His Spirit, even the Spirit of His Son, into a man’s heart, faith works through love – love for God, for Christ, for His Word, for the church, for the lost. He seeks not, nor cares for, the smiles of those at the hockey arena, or wherever.
A Final Benediction
By the cross, Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and New Covenant promises are realized.
And finally, the apostle gives a final benediction. In verse 16, he says: “And as for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.” This is an enormously crucial verse. In it, Paul pronounces a blessing upon all who walk, or live in accordance to, or better, keep in step with, this rule, peace and mercy be upon them. Keep in step with what rule? What is this rule? “Rule” here is a standard or principle, a measuring rod. Here, it refers to the standard of true Christianity.[21] Now hear this, beloved. The apostolic standard of Christianity, the apostolic standard of the Gospel is what Paul writes in verses 14 and 15. The center and crux of it is the cross. By it, Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and New Covenant promises are realized. The essence of true Christianity is spiritual, of the heart, a new creation. Anything or anyone else, any theology, “Christian,’ “evangelical,” or otherwise, that does not keep in step with this standard, is false. It isn’t true to the Biblical standard. Paul isn’t blessing such ones.   He’s blessing those who keep in step with what he has set as the standard.
But who are they exactly? Are there two groups Paul blesses here, or what? It sounds like there might be two. Just look at it: “As for all who walk by this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, AND upon the Israel of God.” Sounds like there are two groups of men here: ‘all who walk by this rule,’ AND ‘the Israel of God.’ In fact, there is only one group of men here. Without getting too technical, context demands that the word rendered ’and’ be rendered ‘even.’ The effect is that the ‘all who walk by this rule IS the Israel of God,’ that is, the true, spiritual Israel, the church. Remember Paul’s statements defining who the son’s of Abraham are. Galatians 3.7. “Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham.” Galatians3:29. “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.”  Translation: All who are joined to Christ by faith are the Israel of God!  The church is the new and true Israel. The church is that now nation which is “a chose race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession.” All God promised Abraham, God now gives to the church. The church, Abraham’s spiritual sons and daughters, is the heir “according to promise.”
There are a thousand ways to conclude. And there are, no doubt, a thousand questions that each of us could ask ourselves in response, if only to engage in some self-criticism. Two of them might be: (1) Do I have a high view of the church, even as God sees the church? The church after all, as the Israel of God, is that for whom the Lord Jesus Christ died. He died that the blessings and promises of Abraham would be lavished upon and be fulfilled in the church. The church is not, as some would have us believe, a parenthesis in redemptive history. The church is at the apex of redemptive history! The church was God’s plan since before time began! (2) Am I keeping in step with the apostolic standard of Christianity? Is the cross front and center? Is the world crucified to me and I to the world? Do I boast in it to the degree that what is objectively true is personally true, that my life reflects the truth that Old Covenant distinctions are neutralized, Old Covenant privileges are nullified, and New Covenant promises are realized in my life, that I am a new creation? These are good and relevant questions. (3) A third question might be this: Where are the teachers I most admire in relation to all this? Do they hold to the standard of Christianity the apostle sets? Or do they resist the notion that the cross nullifies old covenant distinctions and privileges? These are important matters. I do not think it to be an overstatement to say that they are life and death issues. Surely, Paul himself thought so.  “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit … to a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

[1] C.H. Dodd, as quoted by Ronald Y. K. Fung. The Epistle to the Galatians, TNICNT (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), 306.
[2] Barrett, quoted by Fung, 306.
[3] By this I do not mean ‘covenant of grace’ as per covenant theology. I mean grace as in the New Covenant in opposition to the Law Covenant at Sinai.
[4] Genesis 17:9-10
[5] Ex. 3.7
[6] Amos 3.1.
[7] Ex. 12.29-30
[8] Ex. 11:7
[9] Deut. 10:15
[10] Rom. 11.28-29 teach that the grace of unconditional election is the ultimate cause of any number of ethnic Jews to be saved, not their ancestry. To understand the chapter, verse 1 must not be forgotten: Paul himself was a Jew. He was not rejected because of it, but was saved as any other man. Sovereign grace and mercy is to all men, not just the Gentiles!
[11] Eph. 2:12-16
[12] Rom. 3.1.
[13] Heb. 1:1
[14] Rom. 9.4
[15] cf. Matt. 4:1-2
[16] Heb. 10.1.
[17] John G. Reisinger. Studies in Galatians. (Frederick, MD: New Covenant Media, 2010),464. See also Ronald Y.K. Fung.
[18] 2 Cor. 5:17
[19] Ezek. 36:26-27.
[20] John Brown. Galatians. 380
[21] “In one passage alone (Gl. 6:16) is the word κανών used in the NT for the norm of true Christianity.” Beyer, TDNT, Logos edition.