Sunday, January 18, 2015

S4. God used Israel to prepare the way for Christ.

This is the fourth post in a unit on salvation in my ongoing series, theology in bullet points. The first section had to do with God and Creation, and I have also finished units on Christology and Atonement.
God used Israel to prepare the way for Christ.

1. It is possible to be reconciled to God as a lone individual apart from any community of the reconciled. These are the Jobs of the patriarchal period. These are the random Ninevites in the time of Israel.

However, God has designed humanity to live together in groups, and communities of faith are the norm. It is no surprise to hear that "Salvation is of the Jews" (John 4:22), and that "there is no salvation outside the Church." [1] It is not that you cannot be reconciled to God outside these groups. It is rather that the default is for salvation to come in the context of a reconciled community.

We will explore the Church more extensively in a later section. We only mention it here because it is too easy in a Western context to think of salvation in purely individual terms. There is a tendency in our modern, Western, individualistic world to remove salvation from its roots in history and think of it as a one-on-one affair between each individual human and God. There is some truth to this pattern, but it is not the way salvation unfolded in history.

Before Christ, there was Abraham and Israel. After Christ, there was the Church. Christ came in the context of a people. Scripture came within the context of a people. Salvation came within the context of a people.

2. Salvation is also a matter of a story in history. Although God walked with Adam and Enoch and Noah as individuals, the story of God's walking with a people begins in Scripture with Abraham. For Paul in the New Testament, Abraham is both the father of those non-Jews who become God's children by faith and those who have faith in Israel, Abraham's blood descendants (Rom. 4:11-12).

By blood, Abraham gave birth to Isaac and Isaac to Jacob, who was renamed Israel. God gave the Jewish Law to Moses. The Law in part told Israel what right and wrong was (Rom. 7:7). [2] But it also served in many respects to insulate Israel from its surrounding peoples. The New Testament begins to separate out these two aspects of the Jewish Law, where Paul tells his Gentile churches that God does not expect them to keep those aspects of the Law that put a hedge around Israel as a race (Gal. 5:2-6). [3]

Paul's rhetoric had much to do with the arguments he was having with fellow Jewish Christians. What is clear is that he saw God's walk with Israel as a preparation for the coming of Christ. With Israel, God was preparing for the coming of Jesus. The exodus showed how God saves his people from slavery and bondage. God gave them a country, just as God will give his people a heavenly city and country (Heb. 11:16). In Judges, we see the pattern of God letting Israel be enslaved because of their faithlessness and then rescuing them when they repented. In the Babylonian Captivity of 586BC, God allowed Israel to be taken captive to Babylon for almost a century, but then later restored Israel after the exile.

So God showed in his dealings with Israel not only his fundamental moral expectations of humanity, but he showed the rewards of faithfulness and the consequences of unfaithfulness. In hindsight, the sacrificial system was seen to foreshadow the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of the whole world (cf. Heb. 10:2-3, 14). In the Scriptures he gave to Israel, Christianity would find both knowledge of God, and God would use the Scriptures to transform us into his people.

God used Israel to prepare the way for Christ.

S5. God justifies us in response to our repentance and faith.

[1] Cyprian (ca. 200-258).

[2] Lutheran and Reformed traditions debate over three uses of the Law, particularly the third. Although they sometimes order them differently, the first and second have to do with 1) restraining criminals (e.g., 1 Tim. 1:9) and 2) showing us that we are sinful (Rom. 7:13). Lutherans, however, generally question the value of noting a third use, namely, to show a believer how to live rightly. Fearing that we will boast in our own righteousness, Lutherans see this function collapsing into number 2.

[3] Christians throughout history have generally called those universal aspects of the Jewish Law the "moral law," which in the New Testament reduces to love (e.g., Rom. 13:10). John Calvin, following the precedents of church history, divided the Jewish Law into three different components: 1) the moral law, 2) the ceremonial law, 3) the civil law.


Martin LaBar said...

So it was Calvin who did that? Thanks!

Ken Schenck said...

it wasn't something particularly new with him.