Which Side of the Cross are You On?

Because we can never get enough of ’80s alt rock bands, here’s something from R.E.M. (and please go watch the video, because if I knew something that goofy passed for dancing I’d have been really impressive at parties in back college!):

Stand in the place where you live
Now face north
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven’t before

(Stand, lyrics by Michael Stipe, performed by R.E.M.)

Goofy dancing aside, this isn’t bad advice. Wherever people live and work, wherever they learn or play, they’re standing either on one side of the cross or the other.

Old Covenant/New Covenant

Here’s what I mean. Jesus’ cousin John is often described as the last of the Old Covenant prophets, yet Jesus said of him:

I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John; yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he. (Luke 7:28.)

That seems like an odd thing for Jesus to say. Take a look at the sermon John preached before Jesus took up his own ministry:

In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the wilderness of Judea and saying, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 3:2.)

Then, after Herod arrested John:

From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.” (Matthew 4:17.)

They’re preaching the exact same message, so why would Jesus say that those in the kingdom of God are greater than John? Because the sermon both of them preached was an Old Covenant sermon. Jesus himself explained that he came first to the people of the Old Covenant.

Of course, much of Jesus’ teaching revealed the coming New Covenant, but you know when that covenant came into place, right? With his death and resurrection, as he plainly told his friends.

Stepping out from where you stand

What does this have to do with standing on one side of the cross or the other? Those who belonged to God under the Old Covenant stood on one side of the cross and consequently had a set of rules to follow, from the Ten Commandments through the Levitical Code and on to the urgings of God’s prophets throughout Israel’s history. For those of us under the New Covenant, we stand on the other side of the cross, which means that our duty to obey those rules is non-existent: Jesus has perfectly fulfilled each of them for us.

For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14.)

I know that some people see the law as a guide, though, one that we should do our best to follow in order to be more Christ-like. Yet James, Jesus’ own brother, warned us against this. Paul goes on at length about this in Galatians as well: no rules confine us in our relationship with Jesus. And in Romans 8:1 he assures us that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”

The Good News of “No”

Do you know what the Greek word translated “no” in Romans 8:1 means? It means “no”. In fact, it is also translated many times in the New Testament as “nothing”, so when Paul said “no” he meant “no”!

This is good news indeed, at least for me because I know how much I blow it. I am so glad that no matter what I do or don’t do, there is no heavenly hammer about to fall on me, punish me, condemn me. I stand uncondemned for eternity.

No Laws?

Some people argue that there are still some laws that apply to us, like tithing. I’d refute that at length, but Tim Challies did a much better job than I ever could (nothing new there!) in a recent post. I recommend the entire short article for you to read, but these lines really go to the main point I would make on tithing:

Those who demand tithing today usually fail to understand the Old Testament context … . Since we are no longer a theocracy, the tithe is no longer operational. It may be a helpful bit of information to include in a discussion but it’s not the place to begin.

Hebrews 7:18 supports Challies’s conclusion that this is not even a “place to begin” when it pronounces that “The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless”. The phrases “set aside” and “weak and useless” are strong: the law – the “former regulation” – does not apply under the New Covenant.  (And if you’d like to see one pastor’s extremely misguided take on tithing, just read this restaurant bill fiasco.) Whether tithing, Sabbath keeping, or any other practice (like Quiet Times), the New Testament nowhere teaches law-keeping.

In fact, the sole purpose of the law now is in regard to those who do not belong to Jesus, those who are still on the other side of the cross:

We … know that the law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious. (1 Timothy 1:9.)

For those of us who belong to Christ, we are “the righteous” Paul is talking about here because we have Christ’s righteousness:

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:22.)

We are the ones the law is not made for.

Every Rule Has An Exception

Yes, there is an exception to the rule that we have no law.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8.)

For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Galatians 5:14.)

If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right. (James 2:8.)

Because the Spirit of Christ is in us, the same Christ who perfectly fulfilled the law for us, the fulfillment of that law is found in loving as he loves. And as he told his friends the New Covenant has a new commandment:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:34-35.)

That’s the side of the cross we are on, the side of love.

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19 Responses to Which Side of the Cross are You On?

  1. Jeannie says:

    Thanks for this post, Tim. One thing I like about your blog is that when I visit it in the morning I always feel like I’ve had a short “quiet time” (to use a cliche) — it gives me something encouraging and helpful from the Bible to start my day with (as well as often a good laugh like the REM video!). Thanks for this reminder of “no condemnation”: that’s something we often need to be reminded of.

    • Tim says:

      Jeannie, you almost make it sound as if I send people off in the morning with a kindly pat on the head and a cheery “Go with God!” I guess that’s not so bad, huh?

      And on that REM video, I’m still working on those dance moves. Almost got’ em down!

    • Adriana @ Classical Quest says:

      Tim, I feel the same way. This is usually the first blog I read in the morning with my coffee. There is a strong feeling of community growing here and I enjoy being part of it.

      I often keep your post up and refresh it periodically throughout the day to see what others are saying. I love the fact that this blog attracts people from many different backgrounds who have different points of view.

      You moderate discussions with discernment, tact, and grace. (This keeps me on my best behavior!)

      • Tim says:

        Thanks, Adriana. I am so glad to have you and others taking the time to be a part of what’s going on here. You don’t know how much of a blessing it is to me to read what everyone shares in the comments.

  2. Nick says:

    Hmm….Hmm…I’ll need to chew on this one. I think I disagree with Tim Challies’ take on the tithe and perhaps the whole idea that the law doesn’t apply to Christians. It’s certainly true that we do not operate according to the old covenant. It’s also true that we’ve given up being justified by the law (to James’s point). But there are three aspects to the old law: political, governmental and moral. The only time Paul condemns the use of the law is when the Judaizers attempt to impose ceremonial law (like circumcision) on Gentile Christians – this is the situation in Galatia. But the moral law never dies, but the other two are fulfilled in Jesus. I’m not sure I can say the “tithe” was fulfilled in Jesus. I do think the New Testament raises the bar on tithing; after all, the only “percentages” we see in the NT are anywhere from 50-110%! My fear is that if we throw out the moral portion of the law in the OT, we’re throwing out the baby with the bathwater. I’d see OT moral law like a seed of a moral standard that explodes with Jesus, rather than something that was erased by his life, death and ministry. Just my opinion.

    • Tim says:

      I think one finds all the moral law necessary in the instruction to love others as Jesus loves us, Nick. As Jesus, Paul, James and John say, that instruction sums up everything. Tithe or don’t tithe, it’s not breaking the law either way.

      As for Jesus fulfilling the tithe, all sacrifice and offering is fulfilled in him. There is no further offering or sacrifice to make according to the writer of Hebrews. Same thing with fulfillment of the rest of the law according to the same source.

      • Nick says:

        I think you’re right, Tim – all the law is summed up in Jesus’ two great commandments. But that took a lot of fleshing out in his ministry and Paul’s, didn’t it? Anyway, I’m not 100% convinced I’m right on this one, just a hunch. I’ll let you know the REAL answer after my Old Testament class where I get the answers to every OT question known to man.

        • Tim says:

          It’s interesting too that Paul and James do not mention the first of the two great commandments. They say the law is fulfilled in the second one alone. I think we can look to the finished work of Jesus in that regard too. Either that or James and Paul were writing in shorthand, but I think that unlikely.

  3. unkleE says:

    Hi Nick, I thought I’d comment on this:

    ” there are three aspects to the old law: political, governmental and moral”

    I wonder where you get this idea from? I don’t see it in the Bible. Rather I see that the Bible says the law is one:

    “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” (Duet 27:26)

    “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matt 5:18)

    Further, how do we identify which parts are the “moral” law that “never dies”? Would you say these are moral law that we should keep today?

    “If any of your fellow Israelites become poor and are unable to support themselves among you, help them … Do not take interest or any profit from them …. You must not lend them money at interest or sell them food at a profit.” (Lev 25:35-37)

    “Your male and female slaves are to come from the nations around you; from them you may buy slaves.” (Lev 25:44)

    Lev 14:33-53 on moulds in houses, or Lev 25:23-28 on returning land to the original owners every 50 years.

    I conclude that there is one Law, and we have the choice of trying to live under it, or not (and since the temple was destroyed, there is no choice). Jesus said (Luke 16:16):

    “The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John. Since that time, the good news of the kingdom of God is being preached, and everyone is forcing their way into it.”

    • Nick says:

      Hi UnkleE – your point is well taken that those actual words aren’t in the Bible. But neither is the word “trinity”; it’s a helpful way of explaining a true biblical concept. I think it’s self evident in the way the New Testament sorts through OT law which are political, which are moral, and which are symbolic.

      • unkleE says:

        But I am suggesting the concepts are not there either. Where do you find that political-moral-symbolic division in the NT? (BTW, I note your previous comment said political-governmental-moral, and most people include ceremonial. Perhaps you would clarify which divisions of the Law you see, and where yo see them in the NT please.)

        • Tim says:

          Thanks for making those points here and above, unkleE. I’d add another verse, Ephesians 2:10 – “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” Breaking any part of the law, whether it is subdivided into parts or not, means breaking the whole thing.

          Happily, Jesus fulfilled the law perfectly for us, and his past work in that regard is all we need for eternity.


        • Nick says:

          You’re right, I meant ceremonial/symbolic rather than political. Alright, here are some examples – the 10 commandments. Are these out of date? Is it okay to commit adultery now that Jesus fulfilled the law? Is it a good idea to steal from our neighbor now that Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice? Is it acceptable to worship idols? No – these laws are always God’s standards, and they’re repeated in the NT over and again. Jesus raises the bar on them, and tells us that we can’t be JUSTIFIED by the law. At the same time, Jesus no longer requires blood-sacrifices, because He IS the blood sacrifice (ceremonial). He no longer tells us to refrain from certain foods or to stone people who break the sabbath (governmental). Hope that clarifies.

  4. Hey Tim! I’m finally getting to read your post! 🙂

    Thanks for highlighting it in response to my post. It’s so good to be reminded, and it’s one of those things that I “know,” but the perfectionist/overachiever in me wants to be like everyone else — the ones that are doing everything I’m doing and then 100% more. I get stuck in the, “How do they DO it,” and, “Why am I not like THEM?” mentality.

    But Jesus gives me freedom. And like you said — who am I serving? Who am I following? When I say, “no” to all the other extra things, right now I am actually saying, “yes” in obedience to God. Someday, that might change — and I’ll say, “yes” to more outside-ministry things. But right now, it’s a “no” as I focus on my family.

    • Tim says:

      When I say, “no” to all the other extra things, right now I am actually saying, “yes” in obedience to God.

      Every yes to God is all the yes we need, too, even if it sounds like a no to other people, Rachel!

  5. unkleE says:

    “the 10 commandments. Are these out of date?”

    Hi Nick, I’m going to have to say, on the basis of the New Testament, yes they are. Consider ….

    1. In Matthew 5:21-30 Jesus updates two of the commands (murder and adultery). That doesn’t make them wrong exactly, but certainly “out of date”, or updated to a new requirement.

    2. In Romans 7:6-7, Paul says “we have been released from the law, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code”. He then goes on to illustrate this point with one of the Ten Commandments (coveting).

    3. In Mark 2:23-27 Jesus disobeys one of the Ten Commandments (Sabbath) and explains that he has authority over that commandment too. Paul makes the same point in Colossians 2:16-17, saying that Sabbath laws are “a shadow of the things to come”. It is also notable that very few christians keep the Sabbath.

    So there’s 4 out of 10 clearly superseded in the New Testament. The Romans 7:6 passage explains why, as does 2 Corinthians 3:6: “He has made us competent as ministers of a new covenant – not of the letter, but of the Spirit; for the letter kills , but the Spirit gives life.” Both passages contrast the old covenant of written rules with the new covenant of the Spirit.

    “I meant ceremonial/symbolic rather than political.”

    You give examples of how you can fit some New Testament passages into your categories, but that wasn’t what I asked. Can you give me any New Testament (or Old) justification for those categories? I have suggested that the Bible regards the Law as one, and I’m interested to see if you have any Biblical justification for a different view.

    “Is it okay to commit adultery now that Jesus fulfilled the law?”

    Of course not, but the reason is not because it is in the 10 Commandmants (they are part of a covenant we have never entered into), but because Jesus teaches against them, and the Spirit will show us what is right and wrong. I realise this may be a difficult teaching, but the NT is quite clear on it. I hope you can consider the NT passages as they stand.

    Best wishes.

    • Tim says:

      Excellent, and I would add, unkleE, that our life now is one of bearing fruit produced by the true Vine (John 15), not following commands, and it is the Spirit that produces this for us and in us under this New Covenant of Christ. (Galatians 5.)

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