The Cross of Jesus Divides Everything in Two

[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.)

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 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.


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17 Responses to The Cross of Jesus Divides Everything in Two

  1. Pingback: Mega-Pastor Wrongly Teaches That Jesus Is “God’s Tithe” | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  2. Pingback: Pastor Says God Curses People Who Don’t Give Money To Church | Tim's Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another

  3. The irony is that the Religious Right so often teach tithing but oppose social welfare, while the tithe, along with gleaning laws, Sabbath year and Jubilee were all part of God social welfare system for the nation of Israel, to care for the poor and immigrants.

  4. Don Johnson says:

    I find that many talks on tithing make a mishmash of Scripture. I can find six different types of tithing in Scripture, so I like to ask which one they are talking about. Later mentions of tithing then refer to one of these six types, but if you do not distinguish among them, things get all mixed up.

  5. Wow this is really good. I always thought (and was taught) that the tithe was pre-law since we see Abraham and Jacob tithing before it became part of the law. But now I can see how when imposed, the tithe could become bondage to some and an easy way out to others. I guess the religious, raised in church, rule following side of me wants to be like let’s just stick to the 10% Tim!! But tithing can become almost robotic and kind of removes that intentional connection of purposeful giving from your heart. Great article!

    • Tim says:

      Thanks, Marie. When I read of Abraham giving 10% it looks like a one time deal, not something he did as a matter of course with his possessions. In any case, the New Testament way is not based on percentages but on our hearts.

  6. Dudley Ray Foster says:

    tim, I am doing a study now on tithe vs giving what you purposed in your heart. For years I was giving tithes, not from my heart, but I did not want to be singled out or put out. Thank God for Jesus Christ setting us free to give with a cheerful heart, it really make life more joy for me to give.

  7. Vashra Araeshkigal says:

    So…if no portion of the Law remains to be followed, why did the Apostles have that big discussion in Acts 15, where they decided (and the Holy Spirit agreed) which portions of the Law should still apply … as *requirements* … even to new converts?

    Was that entire account some sort of interpolation?

    • Tim says:

      Was that about following the law or building fellowship with those born under the law?

    • I think it was both items being the case that Tim mentions and I follow Richard Bauckham on this.

      The basic puzzle of Acts 15 is why THOSE 4 things? It is easy to think of some things that seem more important like no murder or no theft.

      Recently RB proposed a solution that I think is spot on. He points out that in the official letter, these 4 things are stated in Lev 17-18 in the exact same order. These are laws that are required IN ADDITION for those gentiles living in Israel as sojourners, besides the so-called Noachide laws that are required for gentiles living outside Israel that include the no murder and no theft prohibitions. So a believer is required to follow the Noachide laws (this was a given and obvious to all in Acts 5) and if they want to be in table fellowship with Jewish believers, they need to practice the laws relating to being a Sojourner in Israel. This is actually important as this answers the question about what is the most that Messianic Jews today can require of believing gentiles before they will be able to have table fellowship with them, and not some arbitrary requirements.

      • Tim says:

        The clarification of it being table fellowship is helpful, because sharing a meal has much deeper meaning than merely deciding who to invite out to lunch.

  8. Nadine Bent-Russell says:

    I have noticed that many love the law because they don’t have to get to know God intimately. They don’t have to look into the mirror (the Bible) to measure themselves. The law is the seeming easy way out and a way that does not require what Jesus came to teach us. We say “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus” but want law, law, law. Instead of allowing God to show us how to swim in the depths, we would rather hold on to the side of the pool or as Jesus taught in walking on water, rather stay in the boat – and we wonder why we have not progressed further faster.

  9. Nadine Bent-Russell says:

    Oh, also, I sometimes wonder if lea da es are unwilling to teach this because they are afraid people won’t give liberally. Maybe they know deep down inside that they haven’t taught Jesus well enough for people to love enough to do that. We really can’t stay here and get where Jesus wants us to be…

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