The Grace that Changes and The God who Commands

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The Grace that Changes and The God who Commands (Lesson 4.7)

August 24, 2018

 

1. The FRUIT of the Covenant of Grace:  We learn about the heart of the Christian life

 

Let's turn back to Genesis 6:9. We looked at this passage before and saw that Noah wasn't chosen because he was righteous—but rather Noah was righteous because he was chosen. That is, Noah was changed into a righteous man only because God had first chosen him and saved him by grace. So earlier, we basically focused on what verse 9 doesn't mean; now we're going to focus in on what it does mean. And we read in verse 9, “. . .Noah was a righteous man, blameless in his time; Noah walked with God.” Now, the first thing we need to understand is that when Scripture says that Noah was righteous and blameless, it doesn't mean that he was perfect. When you read through the Psalms and constantly see the contrast between “the righteous” and “the wicked,” it's not contrasting perfect people and sinners—there are no perfect people. It's talking about those who know and love and follow God and those who don't. And it's the same thing here. When Scripture says that Noah was righteous and blameless, it's saying that he was a man of character; a man of integrity; a man who feared and loved and followed God—and his life proved it. Noah's life backed up his profession.

 

So, one the one hand, Noah wasn't a hypocrite. He lived out what he preached to others. He was a holy man. But also, on the other hand, Noah's righteousness wasn't just an outward righteousness. A lot of people thought the Pharisees of Jesus' day were a pretty righteous group of people, but the Savior called them “sons of hell” because their righteousness was nothing more than an external shell done for the applause of others. But Noah's righteousness wasn't like that—it was a true righteousness that went much deeper than just outward behavior. We're told that he was a man who walked with God (6:9). Noah was a righteous man because he was a man who lived in communion with God.

 

And this is the essence of the Christian life; walking with God. Now, remember, Noah was a preacher; Peter 2:5 tells us that Noah was “a preacher of righteousness.” But that's not what characterized his life. What characterized his life was that he was a man who walked with God. It wasn't what Noah did—it wasn't his occupation or job title or even daily activities that God was concerned about—it wasn't what Noah did but who he was that God cared about. God cares about who we are. The goal of the Christian life isn't to do more and more stuff for God, or even to know more and more about God—it's to know God more and more: “This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent” (John 17:3). So, knowing God is what eternal life is all about. Not knowing about God, but knowing God. And not doing a lot of stuff for God. That's what Martha tried to do, remember, in Luke 10? Martha was so busy doing things for Jesus that she missed the whole point. We're told she was “distracted with all her preparations” (Luke 10:40); and the word used there is actually one of the words Scripture uses for ministry (in Acts 6:4 and 2 Timothy 4:5).1 Martha was distracted with ministry. Doing a lot of stuff for Jesus, but her heart had become distant. Mary had chosen the good portion. The Christian life isn't about knowing about God—and it's not about doing things for God—it's about knowing and loving and walking with God. This is what God desires of us. This is the heart of the Christian life.

 

2. The REQUIREMENTS of the Covenant of Grace:  We learn how grace and obedience fit together

 

So, walking with God is the essence of the Christian life. God wants us to be a holy people who worship Him in spirit and truth; who seek Him and love Him and know Him more and more. But how is it exactly that our obedience as believers fits together with God's grace? How is it exactly, for believers, that the law fits together with the gospel? How are we to think about the role of our obedience as those under God's grace? Well, let's read together what Scripture says in Genesis 9:3-7:

 

Genesis 9:3-7: Every moving thing that is alive shall be food for you; I give all to you, as I gave the green plant.  Only you shall not eat flesh with its life, that is, its blood.  Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every beast I will require it. And from every man, from every man's brother I will require the life of man.  Whoever sheds man's blood, by man his blood shall be shed, for in the image of God He made man.  As for you, be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply on it.

 

This passages helps to show us a few ways that our Christian obedience fits together with God's grace:

 

A) In the Covenant of Grace, obedience is COMMANDED.  In verse 3, God tells Noah and his sons that He has given every animal to them as food.2 Then in verse 4, the Lord forbids Noah and his sons to eat flesh with its blood.3 So here in verse 4 we have a command; God is giving Noah and his sons a command. Then, in verse 7, the Lord essentially repeats what He had said in verse 1: “As for you; be fruitful and multiply; populate the earth abundantly and multiply on it.” This is another command that the Lord is giving to Noah and his sons. And these commands are right in the middle of the covenant He's making with them; and as we've seen, this covenant is part of the Covenant of Grace. So what this means is that there are commands in the Covenant of Grace—God gives His people commands to obey. And if we love Him, we will keep His commands (John 14:15). Not perfectly, of course, as we even see later with Noah. But our lives will be characterized by obedience.

 

B) In the Covenant of Grace, obedience is LIBERATED.  Notice that God does not make His covenant with Noah and his sons contingent on their obedience. God gives them a command in verse 4, and again, in verses 1 and 7 there are more commands: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” So God gives believers commands. But none of these commands are what merits God's blessing. God had already blessed Noah and his sons—they had already entered into His blessing. God does not say in verse 4, “If you keep My command about the animals and their blood, then I will confirm My covenant with you.” God's covenant isn't based on their obedience at all. God's commands to Noah and his sons are radically and entirely different than His command to Adam in the garden. In the garden, Adam's continuance in God's blessing was based entirely on his obedience to God's command. But in the Covenant of Grace it doesn't work that way. In the Covenant of Grace, we obey God's commands—not in order to be accepted by God—but because we've already been accepted by God in Christ. We obey our heavenly father, not in order to sustain His favor, but because Christ has already and entirely secured His favor through His finished work on the cross. We obey, not as a Covenant of Works but as a rule of life; we obey not for life but rather from life.

 

C) In the Covenant of Grace, obedience is CRUCIAL.  In Genesis 9:5-6, we see that there are consequences for sin. Here in verses 5-6, God is actually establishing the ordinance of capital punishment; the one who intentionally and unlawfully sheds the blood of another is to have his blood shed in return.4 Paul referenced the same truth when he said in Romans 13:4 that the state does not bear the sworn for nothing, “for it is a minister of God to you for good.” God has given to human governments the power of enforcing capital punishment. The death penalty in cases of murder is not contrary to Scripture—but actually commanded in Scripture. So, we see that there are consequences for sin. And the same principle is true for us as believers.5 Being a Christian doesn't mean that there's no longer going to be earthly consequences for your sin. King David didn't lose his salvation when committed adultery with Bathsheba and indirectly murdered her husband. But he sure plunged himself into an ocean of misery. So being in the Covenant of Grace doesn't mean there won't be very real consequences for our sin in this life. We ought to greatly fear our sin as Christians.

 

 

 

1 The Greek word is diakonia, from which we get the English word “deacon.”

2 One thing that is important to see here is that this included both clean and unclean animals. Scripture had been distinguishing between clean and unclean animals throughout the account of Noah (Genesis 7:2,8-9; 8:20). So, when God tells Noah and his sons here in Genesis 9:3 that every animal has been given to them for food, we are to understand that as meaning both the clean and unclean animals. Under the Covenant of Grace, all food is clean. So, when Jesus declared all foods to be clean (Mark 7:19), this wasn't a completely new teaching. At the beginning, all food was clean. God would later give stipulations about what was clean and unclean under the Law—but it wasn't because certain foods are inherently bad. Old Testament ceremonial laws were never intended to be taken merely at face value (compare Deuteronomy 23:1-3 with Isaiah 56:3-7 regarding eunuchs and foreigners). God gave the food regulations in the Law as a temporary arrangement to teach us about holiness—to be a tangible reminder that God's people are to be a holy people—a people set apart from the world.

3 In some parts of Asia, an important question that arises here is if New Testament believers are hereby forbidden from consuming the blood of animals. The sense of the command seems to be aimed at respecting the sacredness of life rather than forbidding the consumption of the blood of animals. Ainsworth writes: “With the soul: Or, 'in the soul,' that is, 'the life;' for so the soul often signifies: Job 2:6; John 10:15,17. The blood: This declares what the former meant; 'in the soul,' that is, 'the blood;' . . . So this law against eating 'flesh with the life or blood,' seems to be against cruelty, not to eat any part while the creature is alive, or the flesh not orderly mortified and cleansed of the blood; 1 Sam. 14:32-34, and this the reason following does confirm. Also the Hebrew Doctors. . .understand to forbid the eating of any member, or of the flesh of a beast taken from it alive.” (Genesis 9:4). Waltke says: “By forbidding the eating of blood, this regulation instills a respect for the sacredness of life and protects against wanton abuse. . .Adding meat to the human diet is 'not a license for savagery.'” (p144).

4 See Ainsworth, Calvin (a bit modified), O Palmer Robertson, etc. Ligon Duncan says: “Here see a direct command for capital punishment. . .So you see a nice little Hebrew parallelism here. He who sheds man’s blood, by man his blood shall be shed, in that first phrase of Genesis 9:6.  So this is not a statement of what will just inevitably happen, that when people kill, other people will kill them. This verse is explaining how God will demand an accounting for the manslayer, whether he is human or beast.. . .like so many other principles, capital punishment existed prior to the Mosaic legislation as we see in Genesis chapter 9.” (Covenant Theology course). Waltke says: “The instruction about capital punishment (Gen. 9:5-6) is set within the frame of the Lord's promise (8:20-22) and covenant (9:8-17), which is given to all humanity, to preserve all human life. In that context, the legislation to execute capital punishment pertains to all people (9:5-6). Capital punishment is founded upon the truth that all human beings bear the image of God, setting them apart from the rest of the living creatures. . .The legislation, 'whoever sheds the blood of man by man shall his blood be shed,' gives evidence that the civil authority as God's minister now has the responsibility to execute capital punishment for a capital offense.” (Waltke, pp157-58).

5 Not only is this very principle of a life for a life reiterated in the Law, which was given as God's rule for the church, but the very giving of the principle is in the context of God's covenant in Genesis 9, which again, is part of the Covenant of Grace. Another example of this principle is the familiar refrain through the book of Deuteronomy: “that it may be well with you. . .”

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©2018 by Jay Todd.                        Getting the best of Covenant Theology into the hands of God's people.                        ruinandredemption@generalmail.com