Yesterday evening I listened to a friend preaching very effectively on the subject of greed. I join him in feeling convicted about the desire to always have the newest computer, the latest mobile phone, the most up-to-date technology. It is so easy to be rich toward fashion, but not to be rich toward God.
Then there’s the impulse to delight in all things old – some obsess about older music, others about old cars, some delight in old TV shows, still others simply about the good ole’ days.
Ron and I are preaching through Galatians this month. It is such a powerful book. Paul is deeply troubled by the turn taken among the churches there. It’s a turn he describes not only as a turning to another gospel, but a turn from the One who called them. The shocking thing about that is they were not turning from God in rebellious worldliness, or turning in betrayal to join another religion, but in pursuing a more religious approach to the Bible-based faith they had already embraced, they were actually turning away from God!
Is it possible to “take the Old Testament more seriously” and apply it more diligently and in the process actually be turning away from God? Galatians convinces me that it is possible. Why? Because in this case, a passionate pursuit of the old amounts to a rejection of the new.
The Galatians were caught up in a legalistic spirituality that put the focus on the Law of the Old Covenant. This included, but was not restricted to the issue of circumcision. There were other lifestyle elements being emphasised too. The Law was being taught as the key to proper Christian birth, and as the key to full Christian living. But Paul was as strong as could be in renouncing this turn.
They were turning from a trust in the Man of the promise, in the Spirit given to us, in the powerful grace of the gospel. As Ron helpfully put it yesterday, they were trusting in a mirror to help them grow in righteousness. Looking toward the Law, which always functioned as a mirror to reveal sin, is no path to gaining or growing in righteousness.
I’ve wrestled with this tension a bit recently. The concern that comes out when grace is strongly emphasised is that if we aren’t careful people will rush headlong into licentious sin. There’s always the danger of abusing grace, but is the solution to bring back an emphasis on Law, or to do a better job of preaching grace? Isn’t a move toward the Old Covenant just an admission that the New Covenant is not fully trustworthy? If the old could solve the problem, why would we need a new one?
Over lunch yesterday I was chatting through Ron’s message with my children. They were telling me the difference between a trusting gaze on Christ and a staring into a mirror. In the conversation we noticed how looking at the mirror of the Old Covenant is incompatible with the features of the New Covenant.
Instead of the Law being written on stone (external), now the Law is written in our hearts. Instead of having stony hearts, now God has given us hearts of flesh. Instead of living under the imprisonment of the Law, now Christ has come and we have our sins fully forgiven. This doesn’t make us want to sin, it makes us want to please the One we love (with hearts now alive, and from hearts now alive). In the New Covenant we know the Lord. In the New Covenant we have the Holy Spirit given to us and living in us. When we ponder the New Covenant, why would we want to go back to the Old one?
I suppose it comes back to the flesh versus spirit tension that we live with in this life. It is attractive to my flesh to think that I can handle life in my own strength. It is attractive to my flesh to turn the gaze back onto myself and live in a spiritual version of independence from God. I suspect the fruit of such a move might not be too wonderful, but we haven’t arrived at Galatians 5 yet!
So back to last night’s message on greed. What does it mean to be rich towards God instead of curving in on my own greedy selfish desires? Surely it means seeing clearly just how richly God has given to me, not just in financial provision, but in the fullness of the New Covenant. His gift of intimacy, of life, of forgiveness, of His Son, of His Spirit, of His grace – what a wonderful New Covenant we have been brought into: the self-ward gaze is surely a dead end, let’s keep our eyes on Him!