In the short YouTube segment, Are There Two Different Gods in the Old and New Testaments? (Part Two), Gareth Black does a good job describing why God appears differently in the Old Testament than in the New Testament. There is one God, but He relates differently to people.
I have explored this dichotomy before, but I don’t want to focus on it here, other than to set the stage for what I really want to lay out. The difference in the way God related to people at different times might just become a guide for Christians doing politics.
First, we know the orthodox view: that the God of the Old Testament is the same God revealed in the New Testament through Jesus. While, heretics abound, this is the accepted view. Still, it sometimes seems like a tough pill to swallow.
God in the Old Testament focuses on commandments. He seems full of judgment and anger. The Ten Commandments God gave Moses became legion with all the ceremonial laws, food laws, cleansing laws, and dozens of other laws people were commanded to follow.
In the New Testament, it may seem like Jesus paid “lip service” to the laws (saying he didn’t come to abolish the Law), because he simplified them into just two commandments: love God and love your neighbor. Easy, right?
At the same time, Jesus seemed to turn up the heat. In the same discourse in which he said he didn’t come to abolish the law, he told his audience the following:
- It’s not enough to refrain from murdering people; harboring disdain in your heart is like committing murder;
- It’s not enough to refrain from committing adultery; lusting after a person in your heart is like committing adultery.
He said more than that, but you get the point. So, it’s as simple as loving God and neighbor. At the same time, it’s as difficult as controlling what is in your heart!
To say that Jesus went easier on people is to ignore these things that he said. At the same time, Jesus confronted the men who wanted to stone the woman caught in adultery and saved her. He said he didn’t condemn her (though he also told her, “Go and sin no more.”)
What in the world is going on? If it seems difficult to sort out what is going on here, join the club.
Black offers one explanation in the video. He says God relates to people differently at different times, just as a parent relates differently to their children at different times. Parents tend to be strict with little children, imposing lots of rules about bedtimes, eating, watching TV, playing video games, doing homework and doing chores and so on.
That relationship can get contentious at times, especially as children get older and become more difficult. After children move out of the house, though, the relationship changes. It’s not that parents think the rules were bad; rather the children become adults, and become responsible for setting their own rules.
The analogy isn’t exactly the same with God, but similar. Paul says the Law was given to us as a guardian (tutor, schoolmaster, instructor, etc.). (Galatians 3:24) The Law was given to teach us something, to lay a certain foundation of understanding. The idea that Paul probably had in mind was a stern, taskmaster, training the children up with discipline.
The taskmaster’s relationship to the children is different than a parent’s relationship. A tutor only trains the children for a time when they are young. The instructor’s job is to make sure the children learn their lessons, and that is the only focus.
A parent is always a parent and never ceases to be a parent who loves and wants the best for the children. A taskmaster doesn’t love the children like a parent does.
But, it’s more complicated than that, and this is the key. The prophet Jeremiah talked about it in the context of a new covenant this way:
“I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.” (Jer. 31:33)
This is God’s ultimate goal: that we would be receptive, willing and able to receive God’s law in us, written on our hearts.
God isn’t looking for law followers, but for children who desire to be like their father. He wants us to internalize His values and be like Him – not because we must, but because we want to!
Until Christ came, men were under the Law, but Christ came to earth in the form of a human and fulfilled the Law. He died to take the penalty for our transgression; he rose from the dead to demonstrate his authority and power over death; and he ascended to heaven, leaving the Holy Spirit as a guide and comforter for us.
The Holy Spirit is how God now writes his Law in us, on our hearts. The Law is set aside, now, with its commands and regulations. (Eph. 2:15) God is looking for people willing to receive is Spirit and internalize His character in themselves as His children.
But what does this have to do with politics?
I am speaking to the Church, to Christians who should recognize the principals I have described, principals that are in the Gospels and the Epistles. We are saved by the grace that we receive by faith. This is not our own doing, lest any of us might boast about it. It is the free gift of God.
That is how we receive God’s grace: as a gift. That is how all people receive it.
Having received the gift of God’s grace, God changes us from the inside out by His Holy Spirit, who works in us to will and to do according to His purpose. (Phil. 2:13) This is God writing his law on our hearts, as the prophet foretold.
This is God’s goal, to make as many as receive Him children of God. (John 1:12) Many, of course, didn’t receive Him then, and many don’t receive Him now, but Jesus came to the world nevertheless.
If we are going to be counted among his followers, we should have the same mindset as Jesus. (Phil. 2:5 NIV) ) Jesus did not come in power. Though he was God, he didn’t cling to it or use that power, authority and position to his own advantage. (Phil. 2:6) Rather, He emptied himself, made Himself nothing and became a servant. (Phil. 2:7) God humbled Himself by being obedient to the point of dying on the cross for the world. (Phil. 2:8)
He died for a world of sinners. He didn’t wait for them to achieve some level of morality first; he came and died for the world – all people – while we were sinners full of sin. (Romans 5:8)
It didn’t matter that many would not receive Him. Even his own people to whom He gave His covenant promises and protected with miracles as He led them by His presence out of Egypt, out of the wilderness and into the Promised Land didn’t receive Him. He came for them, nevertheless.
How does this truth affect how Christians should do politics?
We should have the same mindset as Jesus. He didn’t come in power to ascend a political throne and compel people by the force of law into right behavior. He came to those who would receive Him, to change their hearts, to make them His children and to write His laws on their hearts.
I believe that most people who get political “for Jesus” do so with sincere and well-meaning hearts. I believe that some people may have selfish ambition to attain position, power and influence. Others may merely be trying to protect their way of life, comfort and security.
We miss the mark, though, unless we have the same mindset as Jesus. If the Law could save us, we wouldn’t need Jesus. The Law could not save the Hebrews, though, and it can’t save us.
Fighting for righteous laws is not a bad thing in itself, but it can’t be out ultimate goal. People would generally be better off if our laws reflected the righteousness, justice and character of God, but most of the world (broad is the path that leads to destruction), do not and will not receive God.
It was true in Jesus’s day, and it is true in our day. Jesus said, “The world hates me, and the world will hate you.” Yet, Jesus did not come to condemn the world; he came to save it!
That was his mindset, and that should be our mindset until Jesus comes back to introduce the new heavens and the new earth.
If we spend out lives fighting to make America Christian, we will miss the mark. First of all, it won’t happen: broad is the way that leads to destruction, and the many will will not follow us on the narrow way.
Second, nations and, indeed, whole civilizations will come and go. People, however, are eternal. (God put eternity in the hearts of people. (Ecc. 3:11) Jesus instructed us to work in the fields that are ripe for harvest – not nations or civilizations, but people are the harvest God seeks – the people who will receive Him.
If we focus on one nation, even many nations, or civilization, itself, we have set our sights too low. God seeks people who have eternity in their hearts who will receive Him. Nations come and go, but people live forever.
Laws don’t change peoples’ hearts; Jesus does. If we introduce people to Jesus, God will write His law on their hearts. We won’t need to lobby for new laws, God’s law written on peoples’ hearts will change the world.
Law’s are of secondary value. Not that they have no value: they are valuable, though, only in pointing us to the Lawgiver. If we believe that Jesus has fulfilled the Law and has introduced a better covenant to the world, our efforts should be primarily focused on introducing people to Jesus!