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by Jacob Ninan
God established a covenant with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai through Moses which we now refer to as the old covenant because Jesus came later and introduced a new covenant with His blood. However, these two covenants were two phases of a larger plan by which God was bringing about His work of salvation for man. We cannot understand either of these covenants properly unless we see them as parts of the bigger picture. Even though the old covenant has now become obsolete after the new covenant came into force (Heb.8:13), the spadework done through the old covenant was very much necessary in order to bring a proper platform for the new covenant.
The Law given through Moses was the mainstay of the old covenant. God promised Israel great blessings on condition that they obeyed Him in everything, along with warnings about severe curses that would come upon them if they disobeyed Him. In other words, as we see clearly in Deuteronomy 28, the fulfilment of God’s part was conditional, based on whether the people obeyed or disobeyed Him. Beginning almost immediately after receiving the Ten Commandments from God, Israel’s history through the centuries sadly showed them straying away from Him continuously and suffering the consequences of their sins. However, it was not as if something was especially wrong with Israel because of which they were not able to obey Him. But God was demonstrating through the example of Israel that all mankind was born in sin, with a strong proclivity towards sin, and that no one was able to keep the Law entirely.
It was to people in this helpless and hopeless condition that God brought the new covenant. In contrast to the old covenant, here God’s blessings are being offered purely as undeserved gifts to people who can receive them freely when they acknowledge their sin and turn to trust in God’s grace.
If it was the righteousness and justice of God that were shown through the old covenant, it is the love of God that comes forth through the new covenant. But God had to first deal with sin by punishing it thoroughly and meet the requirements of His righteousness and justice before He could afford to show grace to helpless people. As we know, He did this through putting His Son Jesus to death in our place, when we actually deserved it. The Gospel (good news) which Jesus brought is that because He has taken our punishment we can now experience the love that God has towards us even though we do not deserve it.
If we do not realise, first of all, that what we deserve for all our sins is the sentence of death—in the eternal torment of hell away from the presence of God—we are in no position to appreciate what grace really means for us. It was to set us free from the curse of the Law that Jesus became a curse in our place. Without a recognition and acknowledgement of what we really deserve, we cannot come to the place where God can give us this grace. Unless we know this deep in our heart, we would not get motivated to live the rest of our life to please God (2Cor.5:14,15). It is only for those who see their desperate position because of their sins and their helplessness to deal with it that the Gospel becomes good news.This is all part of the great story of God’s holiness and His love towards us.
But the sad thing that we mostly see around us nowadays is that the Gospel has been divided. What we hear from the majority of preachers is only a part of it, that God loves us and is willing to forgive us our sins. Without hearing about how our sins deserve the highest punishment and what God had to undergo in order to be able to forgive us, we get a very watered-down version of this news. On the other hand, some who preach the other side of God’s story tend to give a frightening picture of God who can never be made happy, no matter what we do.
Preaching only grace without any reference to the righteousness and justice of God has led many to end up with ‘hyper grace’ which is an exaggerated form of grace. The practical result of this has several different aspects. On one side there is an emphasis on ‘freedom from the law’ and ‘acceptance just as we are’ to such an extent that it tends to lead people to convert the grace of God into licentiousness (Jude.4). Some of these preachers say that when Jesus died, all our sins (the past, the present and the future) have been forgiven, and so there is no need for us to confess our sins any more. Instead of addressing our daily battle with the flesh and teaching us how to overcome, some of these teachers tell us only to praise God and rejoice in what He has done for us. Some people see any recognition or acknowledgement of practical difficulties that we face only as a lack of faith and would suggest confessing what we hope for, as if it is already true.
It is not fashionable nowadays to talk about sin or hell, but only about God’s love and grace. Preachers and authors who mention these ‘forbidden’ words are becoming very few. They are mocked at as being old fashioned and unable to keep up with the times. We hardly hear how we need to deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Jesus every day of our life (Lk.9:23). We are told only to learn how to worship God through singing, clapping, raising hands and dancing. Bible studies are moving away from trying to learn what God is saying to discussing what people think about different passages.
The story of how God looked at man from eternity’s point of view and devised an ingenious plan for saving him, making righteousness and mercy kiss each other, seems to be fading away from the preaching of the Gospel. The focus seems to be changing to how we can have a good time while we are on the earth, lacking nothing but glowing with health and prosperity. We can wonder about the words of the apostle Paul, “I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel” (Gal.1:6).
God is one whole Person, and He cannot be divided into different attributes which can be addressed separately and independently of each other. His creation of man and His plan for man’s salvation form one big, great story. His righteousness and His love for us are part of the same story. We need to know the whole story, because our worldview and our practical life will depend on what we know or do not know but assume about God. Let us read and preach from the whole Bible and not present a caricatured picture of God to the world.
-- Editorial in the Light of Life magazine, October 2014
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