Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Where's the Logic In It?

In America Atheism seems to be on the rise. A recent Pew poll found that about 3% of Americans describe themselves as Atheists.  Another 4% describe themselves as agnostic. Those would be folk who believe that there is no God or who believe it is not possible to know.  I would call them intellectually lazy because the logic is greatly on the side of there being a Mind behind the universe. 

               We’ve all heard the debates. If you poke around Internet sites like YouTube or read the comments following any semi-religious topic on news websites, you know that there are a lot of vocal opponents of religion or belief in God.  Most of the talk is simply mindless trash talk. Though occasionally someone puts forth a reasonable argument. But often the argumenters are simply debating the details. Few get to the core of the issue.

               The core of the issue is this: Either a Mind exists behind the universe or there is only mindless matter/energy. And that Mind or mindless matter/energy must be eternal. There does not seem to be any other alternative.  What is the logic? 

There has to be something that is eternal for there to be anything.

               Some years ago I was conversing on the topic of God and science with several guys on a New York Times website. I brought up the simple observation that nothing comes from nothing. That reminded them of Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music, and they all had a big laugh.  But the observation is not funny. It has been around for a good long time, at least since Parmenides in the fifth century B.C.. And it is still valid.

               Some today argue differently, of course. What fun would we have if we all agreed? Physicist Lawrence Krauss, for instance, argued in a recent book that the universe might have come from quantum fluctuations in empty space. But as mathematical physicist Amir D. Axcel counters in his book Why Science doers Not Disprove God, space is something. Space is not empty, and quantum fluctuations are energy waves. They are something. Anything that comes from quantum fluctuations comes from something.

               Others have been suggesting that this present  universe came from a prior universe and perhaps that universe from an even more distant prior universe. But anyone of any sense can see that only leads to an infinite regression of universes. And that still supports, if it were true,  the proposition that something, be it matter or energy, is eternal. 

               Or the Mind we call God is eternal. 

Where Did God Comes From?

               I sometimes hear people say if God made the universe, where did God come from. Let's put that to rest. Something must be eternal for there to be anything.  Where did God come from is as unanswerable as where did matter/energy come from. 

               Those are the two choices.  

               Which is the more reasonable? 

               The Atheist must say that it is more reasonable that matter/energy is the ultimate reality. And logically we must admit that is a possibility. But is it reasonable given the evidence? 

               The universe we know is an amazingly complex interactive thing.  It operates on consistent principles we call laws. It is described by complex but entirely logical mathematics. It is predictable and understandable.  That is what makes science possible.

               Is it reasonable to conclude that the universe is the product of mindless matter and energy? Okay, that is still possible, but it does stretch the boundaries of the possible. How could such complexity be the natural product of what is essentially the most non-complex thing we know of - in the science of the universe that would be the singularity where all matter and energy was concentrated in a single very small point?

               But there is more. The earth we live on is even more complex, bound by laws, predictable and understandable than the universe beyond.  

               Is it reasonable to conclude that the world we live on, with its complex and interactive systems and with the life that teems upon it, is the product of mindless matter and energy? 

              There have been many debates about that, about whether the sun’s energy could drive the evolution of life and reverse the process of entropy. That is true. But evolution is only a small component of the system that is our earth. We know now that not only is energy essential but the placement of our earth in the solar system, the placement of our solar system in the galaxy, as well as innumerable other conditions must pertain before the energy of the sun could possibly have any influence on the product that is our world and all the living things upon it. Is it reasonable? That stretches the definition of possible to the breaking point. 

               There is still more. We ourselves are at the apex of complexity. The DNA in every cell of our bodies is the most complex thing in the universe, and yet it is readable by our science and understandable by our minds.  Is it possible that we, the earth on which we live, and the universe that contains it all are the product of mindless matter and energy? At this point logic leads us to the conclusion that such is fantastically impossible.  

               The evidence for a Mind behind the universe, on the other hand, is an irresistibly compelling and exceedingly simple answer.  Only a mind can put together such complexity.  It would be irrational to conclude otherwise.

               At this point someone always brings up Occam's Razor and complains that we are adding entities unnecessarily. I like that. It makes sense. But in this case the operational word is unnecessarily. An eternal, mindless matter/energy entity is not sufficient to explain the universe. But a Mind is sufficient, and we can stop right there. No other entity is required.

               The greater puzzle is that minds that can think logically would choose to believe in the irrational.  It would seem to make more sense to use the power of the mind to discover the nature of the Mind that must be behind it all. Perhaps theology really is the Queen of the Sciences after all. And Wisdom her sister.

Saturday, February 27, 2016

The Guards-at-the-Tomb Lie

Matthew records that on the day after Preparation Day, which was the day on which Jesus was crucified and buried, the chief priests and Pharisees went to Pilate to ask to be allowed to set a guard to secure the tomb and prevent the body of Jesus from being stolen by his disciples. It is the most puzzling story in the book of Matthew and the target of critics who say the whole story is a lie.

            Let’s see. 

            There is one part of the story on which that all parties agree: There was a report that the disciples had stolen the body, and that report had spread among the Jews and was current at the time Matthew wrote the Gospel.  If that had not been true Matthew’s Gospel would have been immediately discredited among Matthew’s Jewish readers. They would have known of any explanation of the resurrection put forth by the Jewish religious leaders.  And they would have known if there was no such explanation.  For Matthew to have  lied about that would make no sense. 

            But the factuality of other parts of the story is not so easily determined.  The first puzzle is that the priests and Pharisees knew about Jesus’ prophecy that he would rise in three days. The argument is that even the disciples did not understand Jesus to say that he would rise from the dead in three days. They certainly did not act like they did. They were not at the tomb on the third day awaiting the resurrection. Even the women who were there at the tomb were there to anoint the dead body.  They were not expecting a resurrection.  If the disciples did not understand Jesus would rise from the dead, how was it the Pharisees  knew about the prediction? 

            The answer is probably in the difference between believing that Jesus would rise from the dead and knowing that he had predicted his resurrection.  It seems clear from the gospel stories that the disciples did not fully come to grips with the idea that Jesus would die much less rise from the dead. He had told them, of course. That too is clear in the gospels, but knowing and believing are different things. 

            For that reason when Jesus was arrested and crucified the trauma for the disciples was incredible. Their world had come to an end. Their belief in Jesus as the Messiah was shattered. They ran and hid. 

            The priests and Pharisees, of course, did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. As far as they were concerned, he was a man and nothing more. They did not believe he would rise from the grave. The guards, even in this story,  were not at the tomb to prevent his resurrection; they were there to keep the disciples from taking his body and claiming he had risen. But did they know that he had made that prediction? It is possible.

            Jesus and his disciples were not isolated from the crowds. In fact, they were constantly surrounded by crowds of the curious. And the Pharisees and others of the religious leaders were among them. Both Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, who had gone to Pilate to get permission to bury Jesus and who were secret disciples, were part of the council of elders. All these men talked. What Jesus had been saying was common knowledge among the priests and Pharisees.  In one interaction with the Pharisees Jesus had spoken to them about the final miraculous sign he would perform. It was the sign of Jonah, who had been swallowed by a fish and come back after three days when the fish spewed him out on the beach. The Pharisees were not totally clueless. They could easily have put that prediction together with other clues and rumors to figure out that it was a prediction of a resurrection.
            The priests, of course, did not believe Jesus would rise from the dead, but they were aware that he had spoken of rising. And they understood that if a rumor were to get started that he had risen from the dead, the end as they said would have been just as bad.  It is plausible that they would think it wise to take precautions.
            The second puzzle is that Pilate would get involved. The common story is that Pilate had nothing but contempt for these Jewish leaders. Why would he agree to their request?  The answer is that this simple description is not the entire truth.  In a recent book by historian Charles Freeman, A New History of Early Christianity, Freeman describes the relationship between Pilate and the Jews as strained. Pilate lived not in Jerusalem but in Caesarea miles away and isolated from the world of Jerusalem. He traveled to Jerusalem only occasionally, one of those visits was at the annual festival of Passover.  But his stay was brief.  He did not like the Jews. His only concern was to keep the Jerusalem scene peaceful during a time when it would have been packed with visitors there to celebrate Passover. When that was over he would return to Caesarea. 

            That is probably why Pilate was willing to  concede to the demand that Jesus be executed.   The Jews threatened to tell Caesar that Jesus was a rebel and aspired to be a king. That would have made executing Jesus imperative, despite Pilate’s resistance to anything the Jews wanted, despite Pilate’s own conviction that the charges were trumped up out of jealousy and had no substance. He could not afford for Caesar to hear that he had not acted summarily to any such threat to the peace of Judea.  It was also why Pilate just wanted this all to go away. The best way was to humor these crazy Jews – for the time being.  He would find opportunity in time to flex his muscle as the Roman governor as he had done before. But this was not the time. 
            It is plausible under those circumstances that Pilate would humor them one more time. It was crazy to put a guard on a tomb. But this whole place was crazy. 
            The third puzzle was how Matthew got the story – if he didn’t just make it up. How did he know that the priests and Pharisees had gone to Pilate to secure a guard for the tomb? How did he know about the report those guards brought back of the empty tomb? The answer was that Matthew himself had connections with the Jewish religious elite. He was a Levite and probably grew up among the people who were now part of the inner circle of the priests.
            But even if Matthew didn’t have a hotline to the inner circle, there were others. Many of the priests became followers of Jesus in the months after the resurrection. They would have known what the priests had done. And that does not even account for the loose lips of the soldiers.  Soldiers talk.

            A final puzzle is how the priests were able to bribe the guards into telling the story that they had fallen asleep and that the disciples had stolen the body of Jesus. If these were Roman soldiers, falling asleep on guard duty would have been a capital offense.  And allowing a rag tag bunch of disciples to steal the body without having stood their ground to the last man would have had similar consequences.  It seems unlikely that Roman soldiers would have agreed to the priests’ fabricated story.  But the actual story that they brought to the priests about a violent earthquake and an angel who had rolled away the stone while the guards had become so frightened that they fell prostrate on the ground would have been no easier to tell.  And it would be reasonable to expect that Roman soldiers would have to give a report to their superiors. No report that they could give, not to speak of the one the priests fabricated, would have satisfied a Roman superior. It would have meant serious trouble for them. In a similar story of a guard who failed in his duty – Paul’s imprisonment in Philippi – the guard was prepared to kill himself rather than face the consequences. 

            However, if these were temple guards from the priests, the situation would have been different.  They would not have had to report to a military superior; the priests were their superiors.  They would have had every reason to agree with the priests’ plan, money or no money. The money was simply added security.  They would have had little expectation that Pilate would learn of the affair. Even the reply of the priests phrased as it was in a second class conditional clause – “if it comes to the hearing of Pilate” -  suggests that it would be unlikely.  Pilate was not going to be in Jerusalem long.  Perhaps he had already gone back to Caesarea , and he had little interest in temple intrigue anyway. 

            And their story about the disciples stealing the body would not be questioned. It was the official story.  It was, of course, a patently implausible story.  The disciples had no motive for stealing the body.  The only possible motive for taking the body from the tomb was that some from Jesus’ family might have wanted to rebury Jesus’ body in a more appropriate tomb, though where that might have been is a question. They were many miles from their homes in Galilee. Burying Jesus there would have been impossible.  But that they would have been able to retrieve Jesus’ body with guards present in any event is not plausible.  

            Not only is it implausible that they would have retrieved the body, but it is even more implausible that they would have then ended up as central figures in the early Jerusalem church which was founded wholly upon the belief that Jesus rose from the dead. And that is what happened.

            There is one remaining puzzle. Why did the priests have to get Pilate’s permission to set a guard?  Could they not have simply put some of their men around the tomb? They sent the temple guard to arrest Jesus without any permission from Pilate.  The answer is likely that once Pilate and Rome got involved, the whole affair became a Roman issue.  They owned it.   Joseph had to get Pilate’s permission to bury Jesus. 

            What priests got, however, was not a Roman guard but Pilate’s agreement that they set a guard.  Literally, Pilate said, “You have custodians (guards). Go and make it as secure as you can.” The guard was not a Roman guard.

            The bottom line is that the story as it is found in the Gospel of Matthew is more plausibly true than any alternative explanation.  

Monday, January 4, 2016

Reality and Fiction and God

For a few years in my youth I traveled the universe, explored distant worlds, encountered strange alien civilizations, and struggled with dangers unimagined. It was exciting, and I have men like Robert Heinlein, Arthur C. Clark, and Isaac Asimov to thank for the journeys.

Some of the universes I visited called me back again and again; they were that intriguing. Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy was one of those.  Thank you, Dr. Asimov. 

     Since then I have visited many new worlds. Some of them even resemble the world of reality. My current favorite novelist Lee Child creates worlds that almost sound real, like Steinbeck’s Joads and the American west during the Dust Bowl decade. Other novels are peopled by characters that have no counterpart in our reality. C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia are like that.  But I loved the characters.

     Over the years as  I’ve thought about reality and fiction and God, I’ve wondered if the creativity of an author is not the closest analogy to what God does in creating our “real” world.

     In Colossians 1 Paul describes the work of Christ in creation this way: “For by Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities-- all things have been created through Him and for Him.” The writer of Hebrews adds that Christ sustains all things by his powerful word.   That sounds a lot like what an author does. 

     An author creates the narrative of a novel in his mind. He creates the setting in which the action of the plot will take place. He creates a backstory, and he peoples this fictional place with characters with individual characteristics that many times are so real we can actually come to know them as friends. And more important, those characters interact with others in the story as though they were real and as though the world of the novel is real  reality.  

     But they really only exist in the author’s mind and on the pages of the novel he writes.  Yes. Sometimes an author may tell us that his characters take on a life of their own, but that is only a way of saying the characters are bound to act as their personalities dictate.  If they did not the story would seem fake and that phoniness would destroy the verisimilitude of the narrative.  The fact is, however, they are totally dependent upon the author who can at any time write a character out of the story just as Will Gardner was written out of the Good Wife TV series. 
     That all is eerily similar to what we read in the pages of the Bible. 

      But some reply that “real” reality is far different from fictional reality. Reality is, well, real and substantial and exists independently. The reality of fiction is only in your head. In real reality if you walk out in front of a truck, as a recent poster on a discussion site said, “your head will exist all over the truck’s front grill.”  

     But is that true? Maybe it is only true because the author determines the parameters of the reality he created. 

     Even from a purely scientific point of view, how substantial is reality? I lit a fire in my fireplace this last weekend. The log I placed on the fire was gradually consumed in the fire, and only a few ashes remained in the morning. What happened to the log that seemed so substantial the night before? A high school physics student can tell me that it was converted to energy – in other words, heat – and the energy was dissipated into the room and the outside. 

     None of the matter that was converted to energy remains.  None of the dispersed energy will be reconverted to matter. It will remain insubstantial (2nd law of thermal dynamics).   If that is the case, this “substantial’ reality is more a fiction than a reality. 

     Not only so, but the reality which we assume is so absolutely substantial is really mostly empty space. Every atom is made of a few very small particles and immense space. And even that description may be overstating reality.  We may find that those particles are more energy than matter. Recently there has been speculation that the origin of the universe was quantum fluctuations, waves of energy, in other words. How insubstantial would that be?  Whether that turns out to be so or not, it is certain that our idea of a substantial reality is less accurate than we have imagined.

     It is entirely possible that this reality is no more substantial or made of what we call matter than a digital picture stored on a camera card.  That changes things dramatically. 

     It makes the idea of a God who created the universe out of nothing and sustains that universe by simply his word and his will, seem more and more reasonable and understandable.  And it makes the idea that God is like an author a more and more powerful analogy. 

     But there is more.  The Bible also describes the author God as having eternal plans for his characters. There is a sequel, same characters but a different setting with different conditions.  And he intends to enter the story as a character - something that authors actually sometimes do in their novels. In fact, the Bible declares that God has entered the story. That is what happened when the Son of God was born into the story as the man Jesus. In the sequel the author will write himself into the narrative as the King forever. 

     Exciting, isn’t it?

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Fourth Commandment: The Sabbath

Some years ago I was teaching an adult Sunday school class on Ephesians. When we came to the sixth chapter and to the verse that says, "Children, obey your parents in the Lord," one of the ladies in the class raised her hand. 

            Her question was “When do I not need to obey my parents?”

            Her parents, she explained, had been abusive and and her childhood had been awful. Quite a few in the class sympathized with her, I among them. But when the dust settled we were still left wondering - "When do I not need to obey." None of of us, including myself recognized the problem with the question. 

            The problem is that WHAT MUST I do is an Old Covenant question. It is the question that the Pharisees asked – and answered in great detail. But despite their attention to details, they failed to achieve righteousness. 

            HOW MAY I?   is the question that arises from the heart of those who live under the New Covenant.  How may I obey/honor my parents - despite the fact that they might be less than ideal parents - is the question.

            In the catechism we have been learning about the law - the Ten Commandments. The catechism asks: what are we required to do.

That is an Old Covenant question. 

(Strictly speaking, it is a question that might be asked of one who is not yet included by faith in the New Covenant, for the law is intended to expose sin and to lead us to Christ. It is not intended to regulate the life of someone under the New Covenant.)     

I’d like to suggest that the question really ought to be: HOW MAY I KEEP THE SABBATH? 
That would be the New Covenant question.

How we understand the Law and the Sabbath depends upon the context of the Covenant, Old or New.

             In Hebrews the author explains the New Covenant in contrast to the first Covenant.  (We often refer to the first covenant as the Old Covenant.) He says of the first Covenant that it was inadequate to achieve what God desired. The faults were that the law was not internal and that the sacrifices were insufficient.

            The solution to those faults was for God to write the law (the rule of God) upon the heart and to provide a sacrifice that was sufficient forever.  That is the New Covenant.

What was the Old Covenant?

            Strictly speaking, the first Covenant was an agreement with Israel that promised God’s protection of Israel in the land he was giving them. It provided Israel with laws to govern their lives and a provision of forgiveness when those laws were broken. That provision was in the sacrificial system of the tabernacle and temple. 

            The Old Covenant was both the laws and the sacrificial system.  
 One would not make sense without the other. 

            The Old Covenant pertained first to national salvation. If Israel kept the covenant, they would enjoy the protection and provision of God in the land.

            Gentiles were not included in the Old Covenant unless they became Israelites by adopting the faith of Israel. They would then be partakers in the covenant. That did happen at times. 

            As pertains to personal salvation, the law revealed in the Torah, exposed sin. And the provision of forgiveness in the sacrifices were the means, through faith in God’s mercy, of salvation. Personal salvation never depended upon keeping the law. Paul says that in Romans:
For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20).
 Personal salvation was always based on God’s mercy.

            In the New Testament a New Covenant is established. 

           Jesus speaks of that New Covenant as being sealed by his blood (Matthew 26:28). 

           It continued to be a covenant only with the people of God, Israel, which is called by Paul in Romans 11:16  “the root,”  and Gentiles who are joined to Israel. It was not a covenant with all mankind.

            In the New Testament Gentiles who turn to the Messiah Jesus are grafted into the family of God (Romans 10,11 esp. 11:17). They partake in the promises and the blessing of the New Covenant

            This New Covenant is both presently in force, confirmed in the sacrifice of Jesus, and a future full reality at the “days coming.” At that time all Israel will be gathered to a renewed faith with Jesus the Messiah at the center. The writer of Hebrews implies this in 8:13 when he writes that what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.”
               We are still in that transition time between the old and the new as far as the nation of Israel is concerned. (It was to the nation Israel that Jeremiah addressed his message about the New Covenant.)

            But for those who are grafted into Israel by faith in Jesus the Messiah and those Jews who are the people of God by faith, that New Covenant is active. 


How is the New Covenant New?

Hebrews 8

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said[b]:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.

It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.

11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
    or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.”

            The New Covenant is new in that all those who trust in Jesus, who appeal in faith to the blood of Jesus the Messiah,  will have forgiveness through the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus. No further sacrifice will ever be necessary. 

            The New Covenant  is also new in that it does something the Old Covenant could not do; It radically changes our lives.                                                                                                                          
            It is the promise that the law, which under the Old Covenant was external, would be written on our hearts and minds (Hebrews 8:10).  

            It makes us eagerly and willingly subject to the rule of God at a heart level. That is what Hebrews means when it says the law will be written on their minds and hearts. This is so radically transforming that Paul could say that we are new creatures. The old things have passed away, and the new has come (2 Corinthians 5:17). 

            We do not live under the Old Covenant.

Living in both Covenants

            The promises and provisions of the New Covenant are wonderful and transforming and are available now  to every believer. But few live in the full reality of the New Covenant. 

            We are convinced, of course, that in Jesus we have forgiveness of sin. But we often have difficulty really living in that reality. We live under a cloud of guilt or a sense of failure that cripples us spiritually.  It is not that we feel insufficient.  (It is true that we are insufficient.)  Rather it is that we do not appreciate fully the sufficiency of the sacrifice of Christ Jesus for our sin. We do not fully appreciate that sin – sin of the past, of the present and of the future – is forgiven now and forever because of his eternally sufficient sacrifice. 

             Failing to appreciate the extent of our salvation, we feel that we must plead for his forgiveness or that we must somehow atone for our sin by our contrition when we fail to live as God desires.

 That is living under the Old Covenant.
The reality of the New Covenant is that we are already forgiven. We need only renew our trust in that forgiveness, for
“He is faithful [to the covenant] and just [based on the sacrifice of Christ Jesus, God could do no other] to forgive us our sin and cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). 
            We may feel stupid and humbled to have allowed sin by a lapse of faith and by our failure to have walked in the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4 esp. 4).  But we need not feel that we are estranged from God or have to earn back his favor. His favor is guaranteed to us in Christ forever because of the eternal sufficiency of his sacrifice. 

            But there is a second failure.  Many Christians fail to live with the law of God written on our hearts. Rather, we too often live in the Old Covenant feeling that we are in some way under the Law, meaning the Ten Commandments. We ask, “what must we do to please God,” and we mean by that “what do the commandments require.” When we do that, we act as though the law is external, as though it is something we must obey in order to please God and something which we feel difficult to obey or feel we are unable to obey. We find ourselves caught in this “we sin daily in word or deed” cycle of defeat that Paul describes in Romans 7 where he writes: 
 9 "For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing.What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?”
That state of constant defeat is not what God has designed for us in the New Covenant.

            The idea that we sin daily and are doomed to sin daily in word and deed is a remnant of Old Covenant thinking. WE NEED NOT DO SO. If the law of God is written on our hearts and minds we need not do so.
If we “walk in the spirit’ Paul writes, “we will not fulfill the desires of the sinful nature” (Romans 8:1-4).
And we may walk in the Spirit – always.

          That is a transforming truth. Yet there is extreme reluctance by many Christians to believe that. We look at ourselves and declare ourselves “sinners” and cannot escape that fate.
That is biblically untrue. 

          Numerous passages tell us that we need not sin. First John 2:1 says,
My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin.”
(John does go on to agree that we do sometimes sin, and reminds us there is the provision of forgiveness when we do sin,  but that sinning is not our fate.) Living lives that please God is always the goal and the possibility in Christ. 

            Paul writes in Galatians 5:16 that
“if we walk in the Spirit we will not fulfill the desires of the sinful nature.”
            Not living chained to our dead old nature and its desires is not only possible but is the purpose of the Spirit in us. “Thanks be to God,  who delivers me,” Paul writes.   

            We may serve God in freedom and in the Spirit.
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. (Romans 7:6)
            To fail to understand that is to live with one foot in the Old Covenant and one foot in the New. And it is seriously to fall short of all God has provided for us in Christ Jesus. 

How Does One Live in the New Covenant?

            Since life under the New Covenant is a life of faith, we must believe (trust and act in faith) upon the promises of God. It is a life in which we cease from our own work and rest in God’s work. Simply put, life under the New Covenant is wholly the life of the Spirit lived out in us. 

            But how difficult it is to commit ourselves to the Spirit! It is so much a part of the thinking of the natural man to believe that progress is made by sweat and effort.  But that is not God’s way. 

            How then may we begin? The simple answer is to ask that God do that work in us. Ask, and surrender to the work of the Spirit. He will do it. He will cause us genuinely to love those things he loves and to abhor those things that displease him. Genuinely. Deeply. Truly. 

       (And what does please God? We find that in the Word of God as it is illuminated by the Spirit.)

            As we do that, we will find a wonderful transformation taking place. Where once we asked what must I do to please God we will find ourselves asking what HOW MAY I please him. We will find ourselves eager to do what the Spirit reveals to us as his will. We will begin to rejoice in the Spirit’s rule in our hearts and lives. We will begin to sense the burden of the law that led only to sin and death lifted from our shoulders and the birth in us of a delight in doing those things that please God. We will find freedom.   

Applied to the Sabbath

            This new life of the law written upon our hearts and minds does not make us lawless. It brings to the fore the spirit of the law that lies underneath the written law; it looks to the spirit of the law as the true desire of God for us.  Jesus said the Law requires that we do not murder. But what God desires is that we are not so much as angry with our brothers and sisters (Matthew 5:22) that we not only do not commit adultery but do not so much as look at another with desire that is inappropriate (Matthew 5:28). 

            Most of us understand that. And we seek as we immerse ourselves in the Word and attend to the Spirit’s illumination to understand what truly pleases God.  The is New Covenant thinking. 

But what about the Sabbath? Is it different? Is it the only letter or is there a spirit level as well?

            We can get to the spirit level by understanding the biblical instructions and reasons for the Sabbath.

 First, the Sabbath is intended to be a blessing.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work.
Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. (Genesis 2:2,3)

          Jesus said the same - that man was not made for the Sabbath but that the Sabbath was made   for man (Mk. 2:27). 

          The Sabbath was not simply an arbitrary rule or test of obedience. (It was not even a law until the Ten Commandments were given to Israel.) Though that was how the Pharisees saw it. Rather it was to be a blessing. God made us to need rest, and he invites us to make rest a part of the pattern of our lives.  

So rest is at the heart of the commandment.

            But the Sabbath is also described as holy (Genesis 2:3). It was a day to be set aside unto the Lord. It was a day to focus on God as the God of all creation and the God of our lives. And how much we need such a day in our lives! In our hurry and seeking after the things this world offers, in our occupation with the things that will one day pass away, we so often fail to really give God time – or give ourselves time with God. 

            God gave us such a day as a blessing and invites us to rest and focus on him. 

So rest and focus on God is at the heart of the commandment. 

            The Sabbath did become a commandment later for Israel. The fourth of the Ten Commandments. But it is somewhat different from the rest.  

            The Bible calls the Sabbath  a sign of a true God follower.
And the Lord said to Moses, “You are to speak to the people of Israel and say, ‘Above all you shall keep my Sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you. You shall keep the Sabbath, because it is holy for you. (Exodus 31 12-14)
            It was uniquely and directly connected to the Law which was part of the Old Covenant (the Old Covenant was both the laws and the sacrifices), the agreement between Israel and God. It was not a commandment given to any who were not part of the Nation of Israel.  Keeping the Sabbath was a sign of that relationship under the Old Covenant.
So under the New Covenant when the rule of God is written on our hearts,
The focus is upon is the eager and willing identification with God as a true worshiper. 

But there is one more thing.The Sabbath was a picture of Salvation rest.  (Hebrews 4)
 Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news [the gospel of God’s mercy] came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened. For we who have believed enter that rest, (Hebrews 4:1-3)
And later the writer of Hebrews adds:

There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his. Let us, therefore, make every effort to enter that rest, so that no one will perish by following their example of disobedience. (Hebrews 4:9-11)
So the one thing most needful is to rest in God’s work by faith.

Are you resting in God’s work of Salvation provided for you in Jesus Christ? 


That may may leave us feeling unsatisfied. The question of how to keep hasn't been specifically answered.

So how shall I observe the Sabbath?
Should I keep the traditional Sabbath, the seventh day as required in the Old Covenant?
Should I observe Sunday, the Lord's Day, as the first century church began to do and as Christians have done since?
            Paul writes this:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. (Romans 14:5,6)
Whatever you do,
whatever the Spirit writes on your heart to do,

God invites us to a place of great blessing and rest.