Completed by the Spirit Part 14: The Very Stuff of New Covenant Ethics

This is the 14th part of a series of posts adapted from a paper I pre­sented at a New Covenant The­ol­ogy think tank in upstate New York in July 2010.

In our last install­ment in this series, we noted that love is a God-given, Spirit-provided qual­ity that impels actions in the believer and that it is that same Spirit-provided love that forms the out­work­ing of the New Covenant ethic.

We’ll con­tinue and wrap up our look at love with a rather long quo­ta­tion from D. A. Car­son, in which he sum­ma­rizes Paul’s view on love as it relates to those two loves – God and neigh­bor – which have their expo­si­tion in the two tables of the Old Covenant:

Sim­i­larly, Paul insists that what is ful­filled in one word, viz. Leviti­cus 19:18, the com­mand to love one’s neigh­bor as one­self, is the entire sec­ond table of the Deca­logue: love is the ful­fill­ment of the law (Rom. 13:8– 10). Despite argu­ments to the con­trary, the dou­ble com­mand to love is not some sort of deep prin­ci­ple from which all the other com­mand­ments of Scrip­ture can be deduced; nor is it a hermeneu­ti­cal grid to weed out the laws of the old covenant that no longer have to be obeyed while bless­ing those that are still oper­a­tive; nor is it offered as a kind of reduc­tion­is­tic sub­sti­tute for all the Old Tes­ta­ment laws. In some ways, the twin laws of love, love for God and love for neigh­bor, inte­grate all the other laws. They estab­lish the proper motives for all the other imper­a­tives, viz. lov­ing God and lov­ing one’s neighbor.

But the “ful­fill­ment” lan­guage sug­gests some­thing more. All the laws of the old rev­e­la­tion, indeed all the old covenant Scrip­tures, con­spire to antic­i­pate some­thing more, to point to some­thing beyond them­selves. They point to the com­ing of the king­dom, the gospel of the king­dom; they point to a time when life prop­erly lived in God’s uni­verse can be summed up by obe­di­ence to the com­mand­ment to love God with heart and soul and mind and strength and by the com­mand­ment to love your neigh­bor as your­self.[1]

Car­son goes on to describe the prophetic and pre­dic­tive ele­ments in cer­e­mo­nial laws – the types and shad­ows, the pic­tures and promises ful­filled in Christ – that most Chris­tians will rec­og­nize in the Sav­ior: the Passover lamb, the ulti­mate sac­ri­fice, the ulti­mate high priest. But Car­son also reminds us of the pre­dic­tive nature of all of the Old Testament:

The argu­ment here is that some­thing sim­i­lar can be said, in gen­eral terms, of all the law and the prophets. For exam­ple, in the con­sum­mated king­dom we will no longer need a com­mand to pro­hibit mur­der. This is not because mur­der will be tol­er­ated, but because mur­der will be unthink­able (quite apart from the chal­lenge of mur­der­ing some­one with a res­ur­rec­tion body!); hate will be unthink­able; instead, we will love one another. Thus it is not as if the con­sum­mated king­dom abol­ishes the com­mand to mur­der; rather, it ful­fills it. The king­dom brings to pass the true direc­tion in which the pro­hi­bi­tion of mur­der points.[2]

This is a key point, and one we will return to. The fully-glorified believer – the one in whom sanc­ti­fi­ca­tion is com­plete – will, like our God, not require laws, rules and statutes to exter­nally deter­mine his ethic. We will be like Christ: intrin­si­cally, onto­log­i­cally and eter­nally made spot­less. Our new nature, still clothed in the old body, has that now. It is the cul­ti­va­tion of our new nature that Paul seeks in his exhor­ta­tions to the churches and to us, as we will see. As noted above, and by Car­son, there is an already/not yet ten­sion in the interim:

More­over, although the con­sum­mated king­dom has not yet arrived, there is a sense in which the king­dom is already inau­gu­rated; it has already begun; it is already partly real­ized. That leaves us with some ter­ri­ble ten­sions, of course. The king­dom has come, but it is still com­ing; we have been trans­formed by the new birth, but we do not yet have res­ur­rec­tion bod­ies; we have been regen­er­ated, but we have not yet expe­ri­enced that per­fect trans­for­ma­tion that means we no longer sin; we hear the king­dom imper­a­tives, but we rec­og­nize that this is still a cruel and bro­ken world where the con­flict between good and evil stag­gers on. That is the very stuff of New Tes­ta­ment escha­tol­ogy, of New Tes­ta­ment ethics.[3]

It is indeed “the very stuff” also of Paul’s escha­tol­ogy and ethics. We have been given the love of Christ by His Spirit, but we are not yet what we shall be as we strain toward the goal of glory.

Next: Com­pleted by the Spirit Part 15: Pro­duc­ing Fruit, Not Inspect­ing Fruit

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[1] D. A. Car­son, Love in Hard Places (Wheaton, IL: Cross­way, 2002), 28–29.
[2] Ibid., 29.
[3] Ibid, 29–30.