[Updated from the archives.]
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 (and please go watch the video, because if I knew something that goofy passed for dancing I’d have been really impressive at college parties back in the 80s).
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: my cousin John’s great, but he’s not that great. It’s especially odd when you consider that Jesus was preaching the same message John had been preaching.
Take a look at what John told people 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 Herod arrested John, and what does Jesus do? He preaches John’s sermon:
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?
It’s 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. (Mark 7:24-30.)
Of course, much of Jesus’ teaching revealed the coming New Covenant (John 13:1-16:33), but you know when that covenant came into place, right? With his death and resurrection, as he plainly told his friends. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26.)
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 to the Levitical Code and on through the teachings of God’s prophets.
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, 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. (James 2:10.) And as Paul wrote, if you try to keep one part of the law you are required to try to keep it all – no exceptions. (Galatians 5:1-12.)
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 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”. Those are strong phrases: “set aside” and “weak and useless”. 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 supposedly required practice, 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.)
Who are “the righteous” Paul is talking about here? Those who belong to Jesus and have been given his righteousness:
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:22.)
That means without a doubt that we are the ones the law is not made for.
Every Rule Has An Exception
There is an exception to the rule about having no law to follow.
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.)
All of those passages are based on what Jesus 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.