Here is another reason I was driven to rethink how I understood the OT: Romans 4.13- “For the promise to Abraham and his descendants, that he would be heir of the world, did not come through the Law but through the righteousness of faith.” This was perhaps the key verse for my understanding of all these issues.
Just trying to understand the “righteousness of faith” in this verse already should cause you to see that the gospel of justification by faith alone is much more a part of the OT story than most people realize. But did you catch the first part of the verse? Abraham and his seed were promised to be “heir of the world.” Read Genesis 12-17 and it is clear that one of the central promises to Abraham was that he would be heir of Canaan. Abraham and his offspring were to inherit the land, but Paul translates and interprets that as inheriting the world.
This helps us to piece together Jesus saying things like “the meek shall inherit the earth” and the promise of the “new heavens and new earth” in Revelation. God’s plan from the book of Genesis was not for an ethnic people to have one piece of land, but for a spiritual people to have the whole world through/because of Christ.
Romans 3.31- “Do we then overthrow the Law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” This is one of many verses in the NT that has helped me to reinterpret what was perhaps my shallow understanding of the OT. The reason Paul might pose this hypothetical question that a Jewish Christian might have is because of how clear he is being about justification by faith alone. He is highlighting that central gospel truth to the point where it sounds like the Law of Moses is being abolished.
But Paul’s response is “NO!” By putting our faith in Christ we are not abolishing or overthrowing the Law– we are actually upholding it! In other words, you should have understood that the Law back in Exodus-Deuteronomy was pointing to a Messiah who you needed to trust in to fulfill the Law for you. If you understood that you would have been understanding the Law rightly. By putting your faith in Jesus Christ, you are upholding the intent of the Law! It has never been about ethnicity, it has always been about personal faith in the Messiah.
In all this, know that there is not a single impulse in me that is anti-Semitic or anti-Jewish-lover. I love the Jews like I love all my neighbors. This is simply trying to understand the Bible on its own terms.
Another reason from Romans that compels me to see that God has always had one plan for one people: Romans 2.28-29 says “For no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical, but a Jew is one inwardly, and circumcision is a matter of the heart by the Spirit, not by the letter. His praise is not from man but from God.”
Paul begins to explicitly use the word “Jew” in more than one way. All the references to “Jew first, then Greek” are clearly earthly, fleshly, ethnic references. But v28-29 are references to “spiritual” Jews. It would be easy to read the OT and never see this, but Paul says we should have known that the Jews we observe throughout OT history are not all necessarily Jews. And in fact he indicates that Gentiles could be considered “Jews” in Rom 2.26. Did human beings create the idea of a “spiritual Israel” or did the Holy Spirit?
Biblical theology is understanding God’s plan for His people and how it unfolds from Genesis to Revelation. I am sure that sounds like a good thing to most Christians, but I am amazed at how radically different our understandings of that plan can be. The issue I have been wrestling with over the last two years (way more than I ever wrestled with it in seminary) is: does God have a distinct plan for the nation of Israel today (or in the future) according to the Scriptures?
A dear sister of mine just passed away a couple months ago, and she had a hunch that the 144,000 in Revelation 7 were Jews, whether they believed in Jesus or not. That is an extreme case (and she does not have that hunch anymore– she can answer that better than me now), but you can see some of the spectrum of beliefs on this issue.
I have been meditating on the book of Romans the last couple years, and here are some reasons why I believe it is most biblically faithful to say that God has always had just one plan for one people, namely, the Church/Christians/the Elect:
Today I start with the first reason from Romans 1.1-3: “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an Apostle, set apart for the gospel of God, which He promised beforehand through His prophets in the Holy Scriptures, concerning His Son…” There are so many verses like this in the NT that tell us the OT was mainly about the gospel, and mainly about Jesus. Though a shallow reading of the OT will not help you see Jesus and the gospel, that is what Paul said was promised throughout.
So many Bible teachers in America see current events “fulfilling” certain prophecies in Isaiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. But Paul says the prophets were promising Christ and the gospel. At the very least I ask: does your understanding of the OT Prophets reflect the understanding of the NT writers?
I have grown in my appreciation for history ever since becoming a pastor. There are many reasons for that, but I am not going to share those right now. What I want to share is one of the results of that: I have come to love Presbyterians more and more.
I disagree wholeheartedly with Presbyterians on the issue of infant baptism. But I still love them and am thankful for them. The main confession that most Presbyterians would find their roots in is the Westminster Confession of Faith from the 17th century. The main confession that most Baptists will find their roots in is the London Baptist Confession, also from the 17th century (unknown to many, the first Baptist Confession came before Westminster, though the London Confession was a little bit after Westminster).
If you are not familiar, you would be amazed at how similar the Westminster Confession of Faith and the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith are. In fact, they are basically the same except for two articles, namely, the church and baptism. Again, I disagree wholeheartedly with Presbyterians on the definition of the church and baptism. And those are obviously important, important, important issues. But my Presbyterian pastor friend would agree with 30 of 32 articles from the 1689 Confession! 30 of 32! I cannot find remotely that much camaraderie with any denomination that baptizes believers. Presbyterians would not find that much camaraderie with any denomination that baptizes infants.
We believe the same gospel, preach it the same way, believe the Holy Spirit works the same way, believe the Lord’s Supper is administered the same way, believe so many things the same way. Our disagreements are the reason we cannot be a part of the same church, but o how glad I am to know that there are churches that are confessing so many of the exact same things in the exact same way to the exact same degree.
Actually, He gives everyone countless “chances” to worship Him. It is strange that anyone would wonder whether people get a second chance to become a Christian after they die. Two lines of reasoning make this strange:
- Romans 1.20 says “for His invisible attributes, namely His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, to the things that have been made, so they are without excuse.” No single human being has any excuse on any given day for failing to worship God. From the moment mankind has any knowledge of their Creator, they sin against Him by not worshiping Him rightly, and therefore, they are without excuse. Every second that goes by that they fall short of His glory, they are storing up wrath for themselves. They do not deserve another breath, yet God is merciful upon all mankind. God gives them a chance to worship Him every day, but they all fail. He gives them a second chance, and a third chance, countless chances throughout their life, but they all fail apart from Christ. Any idea of “second chances” after death really misses it on that point.
- Another thought is that these debates often miss the point of the new birth in the Bible. So what if every single human being who dies in their sin got another “chance” after death? Bodily death is not regeneration! No one can come to worship the One, True, and Living God through Christ apart from the gracious work of the Holy Spirit to draw and open up hearts. Why would that not also apply after death? It does not matter how many “chances” human beings get; we all need the gracious work of the Holy Spirit to help us understand and believe the gospel. That is why everything we do must start with prayer.