Jesus Christ and the Law of God

Education for Exultation

Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5 For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit. 7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10 The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

Bethlehem has not built any new educational space (except the nurseries of this building downstairs) for almost fifty years. In the last twenty years the church has grown from a worshiping congregation of about three hundred older adults with a youth group of eight kids, to a worshiping congregation pushing 2500 with hundreds of families bringing eight hundred children to Sunday School and hundreds of teenagers to the youth ministry to supplement what parents are teaching at home. It is astonishing that we are able to manage with what was built in 1955 (along with the rental of The Underground across Eighth Street and the nurseries downstairs).

The reality of growth, along with a vision of raising up a certain kind of generation, brought into being the vision called "Education for Exultation." We began the last decade of the twentieth century by building a room for exultation (worship). We believe we should begin the first decade of the twenty-first century by building for education, not as an end in itself – because mere knowledge puffs up – but as a means to more exultation. And not just for ourselves, but for the nations. Our aim is a kind of education that enflames solid, deeply rooted, thoughtful passion for the supremacy of God, through Jesus Christ, in all things.

I would like to sum up for you the meaning of Education for Exultation:

  1.   As it relates to buildings;
  2.   As it relates to funding;
  3.   As it relates to process; and
  4.   As it relates to Jesus Christ and the Law of God.

1. What does Education for Exultation mean for building expansion?

It means that the elders recommended, and the church approved, over a year ago now, that the old sanctuary building on Eighth Street (which the church bought in 1885 when our first building burned down over on the nearby Douglas property) be torn down and replaced with a four-story educational building on that footprint. In addition, we recommended that next to it on the west and connected to it, using some of the parking lot, we build a large multipurpose building with an underground level for youth, and a ground level designed for use as a gym, a community room, a dining facility, and supplementary worship space.

This building configuration was linked with a simultaneous vision for what we called "Growing without Growing" – meaning that to stop winning people to Christ and to stop folding new people into his nurturing body is not an option, but not doing it all here on this campus is an option, and a good one. So we set ourselves to "grow without growing" – that is, without building a new sanctuary and without multiplying more services. The thought is that the multipurpose room could be an incubator where new churches would form, worship together, build a staff and a people from among us, and then move to new sites. In this way we hope to grow without growing. Our timing was off, and we have had to go to three services as a temporary measure.

2. What does Education for Exultation mean for funding?

The cost of those two buildings, as presently conceived, is estimated at $9 million – a figure that all agreed was beyond our ordinary means. So we called it "The Gideon Venture" – a venture against such odds (Gideon's army of 300 up against 120,000) that would happen only by an extraordinary work of God.

The debt on this building was paid in 1996. We have no debt as a church. The elders believe that God is leading us to build the next buildings without going into debt. The plan has been this: call for pledges, not cash, in pursuit of $9 million in pledges, half to be paid before the building starts and the rest to be paid at its completion. The commitment was made not to move ahead with the buildings until all the $9 million is pledged. No money would be asked for until we had the pledges to pay for all of it. Any change in that plan would have to be approved by the congregation. The first goal was to have all the pledges by last October. The second goal was to have them by today. We have $6.55 million in cash and pledges (since some people have given cash even though not asked to).

Our hope and our prayer (including four hours together on Friday night) was that today God would take us to $9 million today as new pledges come in.

3. What is the process forward at this point in Education for Exultation?

We will count up the new pledges this week and the elders will meet on Monday, May 7, to seek the Lord about how to proceed. We will report back to you as soon as we can what we will be recommending. We will call the church to fast and pray earnestly on Monday, the 7th, as we seek the mind of the Lord in these things. Any significant changes in the plan will be voted on by the church. We are aware that the financial commitments and sacrifices some of you have promised to make are so huge that you must own this and be excited about the future of education for exultation.

4. Finally, what is the meaning of Education for Exultation as it relates to Jesus Christ and the Law of God?

This brings us to our text in Romans 7:7-12. Paul is defending the Law. Verse 7: "What shall we say then? Is the Law sin? May it never be!" The reason he is defending the Law is that he has said some things about the Law that would shock some of his readers. In essence he has said: If we make the Law the decisive means of justification or sanctification (being declared righteous, or becoming righteous) we find that its effect is exactly the opposite.

  • It does not justify from sin; it reveals sin. Romans 3:20, "By the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight; for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin." If we try to make it a means of justification, it becomes a means of condemnation.
  • Neither does it sanctify; it stirs up more sin. Romans 7:8, "But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead."

The Law reveals sin and stirs up more sin. Therefore, the holy, just, and good Law of God is not the decisive means of justification or sanctification. It is not the first and decisive way to get right with God, and it is not the first and decisive way to bear fruit for God.

Instead, Paul says – shockingly – that, if we are going to bear fruit for God, we must die to the Law. Romans 7:4, "Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God." If you are going to bear fruit for God, you must die to the Law and be united to the living Christ. Again, Romans 7:6, "But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter."

In other words, Paul is saying that getting right with God in the first place as an undeserving sinner, and then learning to serve him and bear fruit for him as a justified sinner, must be pursued in an entirely new way having to do with the Spirit of the risen Jesus Christ, not in the old way, having to do with the letter – the writings, the Law written on stone. Becoming a Christian and becoming Christlike (justification and sanctification – declaration and transformation) must be pursued in a way that does not make Law the decisive means or agent.

How then is it to be pursued? Paul answers at two levels. He says pursue justification and sanctification by faith alone apart from works of the Law. That's one level. And he says pursue justification and sanctification in the newness of the Spirit, not the oldness of the letter. That's the other level. Die to the Law for justification and die to the Law for sanctification. And in the place of the Law as a means of justification and sanctification, put faith in Jesus Christ and the Spirit of Jesus Christ.

Newness of the Spirit

Someone will ask, "How is this new? What is the newness of the Spirit? Wasn't the Spirit active in the Old Testament, helping them and bringing them to faith? Yes, he was (Psalm 51:11; Isaiah 63:10f). But here's the difference: He was not known or experienced as the Spirit of Jesus Christ the incarnate God-Man, crucified and risen as the Substitute and Mediator and Redeemer and Lord. And the reason this is important is that God's purpose is to save his people in a way that glorifies the incarnate, perfect, sin-bearing, Savior – Jesus Christ.

Therefore the function of the Law was not to preempt the work of Christ or the glory of Christ in justification and sanctification, before he came onto the scene of history, but to point to the work of Christ and the glory of Christ in justification and sanctification when he comes on the scene of history. "If righteousness comes through the Law," Paul says in Galatians 2:21, "then Christ died needlessly." But that was not the aim of the Law. What was the aim of the Law? Paul tells us in Romans 10:4, "The goal of the Law was Christ for righteousness to everyone who believes" (my literal translation). Or as Paul says in Galatians 3:21-22, "If a law had been given which was able to impart life, then righteousness would indeed have been based on law. But the Scripture has shut up everyone under sin, so that the promise (of righteousness) by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe."

Glorifying Jesus Christ

God's purpose is that Jesus Christ, the incarnate, perfect, crucified, sin-bearing substitute, risen, and glorified, be the focus of and get the glory for our justification and sanctification.

So yes, the Spirit of God was at work in the Old Testament. But he was not known or experienced as the Spirit of Jesus Christ. And God's purpose is that Jesus Christ be honored as the foundation and the focus of justification and sanctification. Not Jesus Christ, incognito in the Old Testament, but Jesus Christ crucified and risen and known and trusted and treasured.

When Paul speaks of serving now "in the newness of the Spirit," not the "oldness of the letter," he means in the newness of having the Spirit as the Spirit of Christ. Consider one closing passage to demonstrate what I am saying, 2 Corinthians 3:17-18: "Now the Lord is the Spirit [!], and where the Spirit of the Lord [!] is, there is liberty. But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit [!]."

This was the aim of the Law: that we might come to see the glory of Jesus Christ the Lord as the foundation and the focus of our justification and sanctification. And not only the foundation – providing a perfect righteousness and sacrifice – and not only the focus – providing an all-satisfying object of faith – but also the veil-lifting means of seeing and savoring himself – this is "from the Lord, the Spirit." Seeing the Lord is from the Lord.

This is the aim of the Law and this is the aim and essence of the gospel and this is the aim of Education for Exultation: generations of children and youth and adults who study the Word not for its own sake, and not as the primary and decisive means of bearing fruit for God, but as a reflection of a living person, Jesus Christ, whom to know – not just know about, but know – is life eternal.

If this is not what you live for and give for, we don't want a penny of your money. But if it is, we will work with all the energy that Christ inspires within us to be worthy of your trust and your children. Amen.