Laws in the Gray Areas
The Scripture reading for today is from Jeremiah 31:33: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” This passage is quoted in Hebrews 8 in a discussion of the new and old covenant. God never changes but his covenants do.
Immutability of God is a theological constant. “I the LORD do not change” (Malachi 3:6). He is faithful, reliable, trustworthy. Thomas Chisholm penned the words: “Great is Thy faithfulness, O God my Father; There is no shadow of turning with Thee; Thou changest not, Thy compassions, they fail not; As Thou hast been, Thou forever will be.” And it is true…there is not even a hint of turning in him. While God does not change in who he is, he does change how he deals with his creation. His actions in history have changed based on covenants. Our Bible is divided into two very different sections about the very same God. It begins with the Old Testament (old covenant) and concludes with the New Testament (new covenant). If we are going to understand God (or try to understand God), understanding the idea of covenant is essential.
Covenant in ancient times was a contractual agreement between two parties that was initiated in blood and it was pledge of lifetime loyal, provision and protection. God’s story begins with a covenant that he made with one man Abraham, who became the father of a nation – Israel. What we call the Old Testament (old covenant) is a record of God’s agreement with Israel, but the New Testament (new covenant) is God’s agreement with the entire world both Jews and non-Jews. In the Old Covenant, God’s law was almost all external – written down in moral codes. In the New Covenant, God’s law is mostly internal – written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit. The New Covenant does contain written laws, much (but not all) of the moral law from the OT has been brought in the NT. Nevertheless, God’s primary way to lead us is by his Spirit.
This is really, really dangerous stuff. When people get the idea that they can pretty much make up their own moral truth based on how they “feel” the Spirit is leading them, the whole concept of Christian morality will go down the tubes. So before you saddle up on your moral relativism, let me give you a couple of the safeguards that God has built into this new covenant. Yes, God wants your moral center to be your spiritual center, but he has designed you to live first of all in community. When you are testing your heart on a moral issue and trying to discern which way God wants you to go, check out it with the other Christians you hang out with and better yet…check it out with older Christians who are wiser and smarter than you. The Holy Spirit will guide us, but sometimes we don’t listen so well. So before we get all puffed up, we need to be humble enough to run our ideas by others.
The other big safeguard in our spiritual discernment is God’s word….you know (sing it with me) “the B-I-B-L-E, that is the book for me, I stand alone on the word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.” The Bible is a written record of how God acted and what truth is. The Holy Spirit is not going to lead you in a way that is contrary to the book…so don’t come up with any kind of weirdo, left-field, “the Holy Spirit told me it’s ok” sort of ideas that may make you happy, but are a real violation of God’s word.
With this said, this does not deny the fact that in this new covenant God is going to led us by his Spirit. Our responsibility is to cultivate a culture of listening…with patience. (I hate the patience part, but it goes along with the listening.) Here is my prayer today: Father, make me patient—quiet—still. May I not rush to moral judgment until I have heard the voice of your Spirit. Write your laws on my heart by the Holy Spirit that my actions would flow from my spiritual core. Amen