In Progression of Revelation in the Bible Part 1, I made the point that the Old Testament Scriptures anticipate and point toward Jesus. Jesus said he was the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. The thrust of the Scriptures from the Old Testament to the New Testament also progresses from physical to spiritual, from law to grace. I will pick up on those themes and get into the progression from law to grace in this piece.
Before doing that, though, I am taking a short sidetrack to recall an observation I made years ago as a college freshman in a world religion class. As I as I studied (and read) the Bible for the first time in my life I realized that the fabric of the Scripture, from beginning to end, is an intricately woven tapestry. I wasn’t a believer then, but I could see (as a budding English Literature major) the incredible, unlikely harmony of the Scriptures.
I say unlikely, because the Old Testament and New Testament are a combination of writings that were penned by dozens of people and collected over a period of many centuries. All of them wrote down the revelation each one of them received from God. The “book” of the Bible would be, perhaps, the finest masterpiece of cohesive literature ever written if it were written by a single author, but it’s cohesiveness and internal integrity is all the more noteworthy by the fact that it was written by dozens of authors across a large expanse of time.
People who understand the Bible only on a surface level claim it is full of contradictions. We should hardly find it surprising if it was full of contradictions, having been written by so many people over such a long time, but the thing is: a deeper reading of the Bible reveals an uncanny, transcendent, incredibly subtle and nuanced consistency and harmony.
The intricacy and harmony of the Bible is quite stunning given its authorship: the fact that it was written by people, and not by the hand of God Himself.
And this fact led me to another thought when I first read the Bible in its sweep from beginning to end: if God is God, 1) He could reveal Himself in a way that creatures made by Him could understand His communication; and 2) He could preserve the integrity of that communication. Why? Because He is God.
I didn’t become a believer immediately at that point in my life, but I could not deny the uncanny tapestry of the Scriptures.
I recall these things as I consider the Qur’an, and the progressive nature of the two religions’ Scriptures. In the Qur’an, statements in the later sura expressly contradict and abrogate (negate) earlier sura. The later sura are also the problematic ones in which we see statements about killing infidels, etc.
In the Bible, by contrast, we see the earlier Scriptures affirmed, explained and extended in the person of Jesus. We see a progression from Law to the spirit of the law, and from law to grace, and the seeds of that progression are there in the very beginning.
We still look to Abraham as the father of faith. Significantly, Abraham did not receive the law, but he was considered righteous by God because of his faith. That faith was evident in his willingness to hear and listen to the voice of God and to trust it, and that faith was credited to him as righteousness. (Romans 4:13-25)
Abraham didn’t achieve a form of moral superiority; rather, God justified (deemed him righteous) because of his faith. Justification by faith is what Christianity comes back to, and it comes back to that very beginning place through the law – not in spite of it, not because of it, but through t.
The Law is not abrogated. Jesus says not one bit of the law is to be abolished (or abrogated); rather Jesus, himself, fulfilled the law. And just as importantly, the Law helps us to understand Jesus and our relationship to God.
The Law is a placeholder, an instructor. (See Galatians 3:15-29) When Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”, he knew full well that none of us are perfect and none of us even can be perfect. In fact, that is exactly the point!
No one is perfect (righteous) (Romans 3:10); we have all fallen short of perfection. Perfection is only found in God (Romans 3:23), demonstrated for us in the person of Jesus.
But, the fact that we aren’t perfect doesn’t let us off the hook. The Law does its job precisely by showing us how we have fallen short. The Law shows us that we don’t measure up to God, and it leads us back to our utter need for dependence on God and the grace He extends to us – not because we have earned it, but simply because He loves us.
Again, Jesus didn’t abolish the law. In fact, because people didn’t understand the point of the law (which is that we don’t measure up), he turned up the heat! Jesus said, it’s not enough to refrain from committing murder: when you are angry with each other, you have committed murder in your hearts! It’s not enough to refrain from committing adultery: when you lust after a woman with your eyes, you have committed adultery in your heart!
The point isn’t that we should measure up; the point is that we don’t measure up.
And we never will measure up!
The Law is intended to bring us to the end of ourselves – to the point where we are willing to let go of our own prideful striving after perfection and let God be God in us.
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
We can’t understand grace until we understand justice. This is the progression of the revelation in the Bible.
Perfect justice requires that we suffer the consequence of our failings. The Law sets the standard. God is perfectly just, and that is a problem for us. If we are to be judged, we would not make the cut with God – none of us would survive justice.
Justice demands that we pay the price for our failure to live by the perfect standard of God. If we fail even in one part of the Law, we are guilty of breaking the whole. (James 2:10) Thus, no one is justified by the Law (Romans 3:20; Galatians 2:16 & 3:11) because we have all failed.
But this isn’t cause for us to despair and mourn our condition. The reality brings us to the foot of the cross where Jesus died. Jesus, who was God in the flesh, having emptied Himself of all the glory, position and privilege He inherently enjoyed, endeavored to be obedient to the perfection the Law demands and, thereby, perfectly fulfilled the Law.
As a human being, one of us, He also willingly took on Himself all that justice demanded of us – condemnation and death. But, being God, death could not contain him in its grip. He rose from the dead – demonstrating for us the hope we have in Him when we abandon our own attempts at perfection and righteousness and, by faith (like Abraham) receive the grace God gives us.
None of us can boast in this. It is freely given and freely received. It will only cost us our selves. We only need to give ourselves to God to receive what God has ordained and extended to us.
The Law brings us to the point of recognizing our condition before God. The Law is meant to bring us to the end of ourselves. Without the Law and justice, we could not know faith and grace.
Everything from the beginning was intended to bring us to this point. This is the progression of revelation in the Bible. Not that any of the law is abrogated or negated; rather it is fulfilled only in the person of Jesus, and it is meant to lead us to the perfect grace and mercy God intends for us in Christ.
(The Book of Romans is perhaps the fullest treatment of the progressive revelation of the Scriptures, but it is also the key for understanding every verse and passage in the New Testament.)