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 college!):
Stand in the place where you live
Now face north
Think about direction
Wonder why you haven’t before
Now stand in the place where you work
Now face west
Think about the place where you live
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.
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.
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.