Thursday, November 29, 2012

Replacing the CoW

I have come to the conclusion that the Covenant of Works has to go. Instead of being systematic here I'll start with what kicked off my decision to leave the CoW behind, and work may way upward to a larger picture of what I think takes it's place.
This is a picture of my son helping me wash the car. If you want to be technical it's a picture of him and I working.

That, that right there is works in the NT. That's what God has in mind. A better word is grace. Understanding God as Father transforms works from a master/slave, Lord/vassal into something else entirely. You can't call it works, because it's a joy.
This is the only way to understand what Christ did. John 5:19 "So Jesus said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, that the Son does likewise."This isn't Jesus meriting salvation because He is fulfilling an eternal promise, this is Him doing what His Father does because that's who He is, and what a Son does. My son didn't wash the car because I told him that after we finish we can go out for ice cream, he washed it because that's what love does, and I took him out not because he earned it, but because that's what I like to do.
The same relationship Christ had in this is our portion (John 20:17), as it says in 1 John 5:3 "For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome."  
His commands, our obedience, is not a work, it's a relationship.
And that is my problem with the CoW: it would have you believe that this passage in John means the same thing as what Israel was told at Sinai; but what it really means is that obeying His commands is a partnership with Him, a delightful, joyous, magnificent experience. Works are the physical, outworking of a grace that so cannot be contained that it shoots out of your body. Works are the outward expression of the inward joy.
The CoW at worst takes this smile off of God the Father. At best it obfuscates it. Dead wrong.

Once I settled in my mind that this model is unsuitable to understanding the NT, I concluded that it had to be junked. Now with this in mind I went back and tried to make sense of the holes that were left. And here is what I think: there are two covenants, both have elements of works, both are built on, and sustained by grace.

The Old Covenant - A covenant of service, slavery, sorrow, marked by failure and human faithlessness. It's requirements must be met or there will be punishment. Grace is seen in it by God giving second chances, and third chances, and fourth and fifth chances, perhaps summed up by the word tolerance. Works are the commands that must be performed, which mainly amounts to sorrow for sins, sacrifices for wrong doing. It's signs are reminders of God's faithfulness, and reminders to be faithful, circumcision, Sabbath resting. Punishment is meted out. Adam stands as the perfect representative of this covenant because of his complete failure and betrayal of God. One word to describe it: do. Do or else, but man does not, man is only capable of failure.

The New Covenant - A covenant of Sonship of deep and abiding love, marked by an unbreakable salvation and faithfulness. It's requirements have already been met by Jesus. Grace is seen by exchanging His righteousness for ours and keeping us forever as His own treasured possession. Works are the delight of the sons and daughters as they play together with God. It's sign is baptism, a reminder that we have died to keeping the rules, as they have been kept. Fatherly discipline is meted out of love. Christ stands as the perfect representative of this covenant because of His complete and total success in keeping it, and being God's true, obedient Son. One word to describe it: done.

This model elegantly explains what Paul was talking about in the purpose of the law, to bring us to Christ. It's why he would say that Sinai is slavery, just like Hagar. It's purpose was to point us to Christ, to the one who would be the true Son we were meant to be. (Gal 3:22-23)
It tells us that Adam had absolutely everything he needed in the garden, but lost it, and that the story of the Bible is God restoring it. From son, to slave, to son again.
It explains, so much better than Federalism, why Christ sits as the second Adam, because of His sonship, not because He was going to fulfill a covenant of works righteousness requirements.
It explains why the Old Covenant is called, the Old Covenant, and why it's passing away as obsolete. (Heb 8:13)
It explains why Jesus said "No longer do I call you servants." (John 15:15a)
It explains why there are both works and grace in both covenants.
It exalts Christ Himself, placing Him at the center of the covenants structure, rather than abstracts like law and grace.

Just for good measure let's throw down a table. 

Old Covenant
New Covenant
A Covenant of
Marked by
Failure, sorrow, faithlessness
Completion, Joy, loyalty
Do it or else face the wrath
Washing the car together
You get another chance
All is forgiven

Yes, the whispers of the New Covenant blow through the times of the Old Covenant, particularly in Jeremiah 31, in this way I think the traditional understanding of the CoW and CoG makes a good point.
But ultimately the CoW falls apart, or upon examination, gives way to the notion not of works, but of relationship, of sonship. Which fits the Biblical data so much better.
One could argue that this looks a lot like the covenant of works, and the covenant of Grace, and I'm giving them a slightly different bend, and retooling their names. But I'm not, this is the Covenant of Sonship Broken, and the Covenant of Sonship Restored. And that seems to me to be the message of the Bible.

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