john dunn

Sanctification and To Do Lists

 

There is no “law list” for sanctification.

 

What was the Old Covenant Law of Moses? Why was it given?

The Mosaic Legislation (the Law) was massive body of legal code given to regulate the outward worship and civic life of the community of Israel.  In addition, it served to count sin and enslave the nation under the captivity of condemnation and death.  And who was Israel?  Israel was a tribal clan of fallen sons of Adam through whom God had chosen to display his redemptive purpose.   And what was that purpose?  It was to bring about the full redemption from sin through the grand display of His Son, Jesus Christ, to Israel and the entire world beyond.

The apostolic witness shows us in countless ways that the entirety of Israel and the Law was an imperfect type, a fleeting shadow, which pointed toward the final display of Jesus Christ, the true Israel, and His new community that would be created in Him.  (See: Hos 11:1 + Matt 2:15, Ex 4:22 + Col 1:15-18, Isa 5:1-7 + John 15:1-11)

The same apostolic scriptures show us in hundreds of ways that the entirety of the old order is now completely abolished: the old Israel, the old covenant, the old Law code, the old circumcision, the old Temple, the old priesthood, the old sacrifices, the old creation, the old land, etc, etc.  In Christ, the Old Testament’s shadowy pictures gave way to the grand New Covenant fulfillments. Fleshly type gave way to heavenly antitype, and earthly shadow gave way to eschatological reality. In short, all of the old redemptive paradigms were recapitulated in glory as they achieved their fullest expression and culmination in Christ’s person and work.

And yet, despite all this, there never fails to be an abundance of believers today who continue to search for the elusive ‘Holy Grail’ of Law code – that specific list of regulations that supposedly remains eternally binding on the saints as a rule of life and a means of sanctification.

But such a discovery will remain forever futile for those who strive after the letter. 

The apostolic revelation shows us that the New Covenant community is not beholden to written Law, letter, code, or regulation any more.   All of that passed away with the establishment of the New Covenant in Jesus Christ and the pouring out of his Spirit upon them from heaven.  The saints’ transformation into Christ’s glory does not come by way of letter or code, but from life-giving Spirit.

And yet, despite the Scripture’s very clear witness to this fact, there remains a whole army of Indiana Jones types who stubbornly persist in trying to discover the ‘Holy Grail’ of eternally binding Law code.   But if the apostles had wanted us to walk in accordance with very specific legal regulations they would have matter-of-factly and very scrupulously copied them out for us.   But such a formulation does not appear anywhere in the entire body of the New Testament canon.

Nevertheless, the list-chasers want a defined list to follow.  So, my desire is to give them a list, but not a Law-list that they would readily expect.  This is a new type of list.  It is a living list.  A list that eats, breathes, sleeps, wakes, thinks, moves, speaks, feels, interacts, and emotes.  This list is delivered from Jesus Christ himself:

So, for those sanctification through Law advocates who are always looking to identify a list to follow, I offer the following:  “And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts “  (2 Cor 3:3).  The Spirit is clearly identified here as the covenantal writing of the New Covenant, written upon believers’ hearts.  Further in the same passage Paul clearly tells us that the 10 Commandments was a killing-ministry of death and condemnation that has been brought to an end.  Its faded glory has come to have no glory at all because of the surpassing glory of the Spirit that has now come.

The new law list that the apostle Paul identifies here is not some derivative or reformulation of the 10 Commandments.

It is far more profound than that . . . it is the believing, Spirit-filled community of Jesus!    The New Covenant community, in communion with one another in the fullness of the Spirit, IS the new letter by which we live and grow and receive our sanctification.  The new list is literally the local address book of fellow Spirit-filled believers in your life!  The old letter, the 10 Commandments, could only kill its adherents (2 Cor 3:6).  But the new “letter from Christ” or “law of Christ” is truly life-giving.  The substance of this letter is not code but Christ’s redeemed people, whose hearts are sealed and filled with his Spirit, ministering to each other with his Love!    We are now his divine letter.

Paul shows us that the fulfilment of the law of Christ is not a function of obedience to code, but a matter of serving one another in Christ’s love.  “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal 6:2).

Similarly, the apostle John tells us that the new commandment is not a code, but a living reality that is in Christ and simultaneously in us.   “At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you” (1 John 2:8).

The Law regime, in all of its hoary greatness, could never make anything perfect (Heb 10:1). 

In fact, the writer of Hebrews declared that the Law didn’t possess one drop of power to sanctify anyone beyond an outward purification of the flesh (Heb 9:13).  So much for the insistence that the Law is a continuing rule of life and a means of our sanctification.

But the Spirit-filled community, walking in fellowship, in worship, in mission, in the apostles’ teaching, and in the exercising all of its variegated spiritual gifts for the mutual up-building of one another, is precisely what Jesus provided as the primary means of the saints’ sanctification.  There is no more need for the saints to toddle after written codes like little children when they possess unique gifts of the Spirit to minister to each other’s spiritual needs.  No list, code, or regulation could ever create a living community like this, where Christ’s love is freely ministered to each other and to the world.

This New Covenant community of Spirit-filled saints, loving one another, is the fulfillment of what the Old Covenant community only foreshadowed and pictured.  Thus, the apostles affirm numerous times that love is the fulfillment of the Law.  The Law regime, and its born-of-the-flesh community, was but a very imperfect and transitory picture of what Christ ultimately came to accomplish through his death, resurrection, ascension, and pouring out of his Spirit upon the world.

Yet, some will misinterpret this and claim that I am saying that the written Word is now irrelevant.  On the contrary, the written Word of God is our ultimate authority and instruction for walking in the new way of the Spirit.  The Word is our very life.  It is the revelation of Christ to which our faith clings and the Spirit quickens, to bring us into the full maturity of everything we already possess in Him.   And yet it must be affirmed that the Word no longer functions as an enslaving legal code that binds the saints to captivity under the Law’s ministry of sin-counting, condemnation, and death.

The written Word is no longer regulation, but revelation

law nailed to the crossThe veil has now been lifted.   The secret mystery, hidden for ages and generations, has now been revealed.   Death and enslavement have given way to life and liberty as sons.  Forgiveness of all sins has been accomplished and declared.  The New Testament shows that Jesus Christ is the full eschatological display of God’s righteousness now revealed, apart from the Law.  As such, the Word now serves to teach, reprove, correct, train, and equip us in all things pertaining to our new life in Jesus.  His is a new life that requires a brand new way of service.  It’s what the apostle Paul meant when he exclaimed, “But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code” (Rom 7:6).  The new way of the Spirit is now the modus operandi of the New Covenant saints who are in Christ.

In conclusion, I would like to leave the reader with the testimony of Scripture itself.  Observe the deliberate absence of code in the apostolic instruction.  And witness how the apostles beautifully engage the reader to embrace the sanctifying ministry of the Spirit in the Body, as He works through each individual member to minister to each other in love.

Ephesians 4:11-16
11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

1 Corinthians 12:4-26
Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; 5 and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; 6 and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who empowers them all in everyone. 7 To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given through the Spirit the utterance of wisdom, and to another the utterance of knowledge according to the same Spirit, 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 to another the working of miracles, to another prophecy, to another the ability to distinguish between spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 All these are empowered by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.

21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.

Romans 12:10
Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honor.

Romans 13:8
Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.

Romans 13:10
Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.

Galatians 5:13-14
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Galatians 5:18
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:22
But the fruit of the Spirit is love . . .

Galatians 6:2
Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.

James 2:8
If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.

John 13:34
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.

1 Corinthians 13:7
Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

2 Corinthians 13:11
Finally, brothers, rejoice. Aim for restoration, comfort one another, agree with one another, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you.

Ephesians 3:16-19
That according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 4:1-3
I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

Ephesians 4:32
Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

1 Thessalonians 3:12
May the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.

1 Thessalonians 4:9
Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.

2 Thessalonians 1:3
We ought always to give thanks to God for you, brothers, as is right, because your faith is growing abundantly, and the love of every one of you for one another is increasing.

Hebrews 10:24
And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works.

1 Peter 1:22
Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart.

1 Peter 4:8
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.

1 John 3:11
For this is the message that you have heard from the beginning, that we should love one another.

1 John 3:23
And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.

1 John 4:7
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.

1 John 4:11-13
Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God abides in us and his love is perfected in us. By this we know that we abide in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit.

2 John 1:5
And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another.

~ John Dunn

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