Christian Advantage? (3)
In the battle against sinning we feel sure that the Christian has an advantage over everyone else. Taking that to be true, how are we to explain it?
It’s commonplace to read that God gave the Torah as covenant law to Israel and they weren’t able to keep it but that in the prophets God promised a time when he would send the Spirit (via the Messiah) and that would transform them so that they could/would keep it. [Ezekiel 36:26-27 illustrates the point made.] We hear that Moses was sent with law without grace and Jesus brought grace. The difference, many writers have assured us, is the presence and absence of the Spirit. Israel didn’t have it and the Christians do. [Click here for another view.]
If that were true then not only would Israel be incapable of keeping God’s covenant, the Christians would (not just could) keep it by the presence of the indwelling Spirit of Jesus Christ.
But for numerous reasons that view won’t work—won’t work at all.
The Hebrew writer was speaking of pre-Christ Jews when he extolled their lives of courage and devotion to God by faith (Hebrews 11). He didn’t see the ancient people as unable to live gloriously before God and he said he didn’t have the time to list the names of those he could have listed who did live gloriously before God. When it came to living out lives of faith, the Jesus-believing Jews he was writing to were no better than their ancient and worthy predecessors. In fact, the Jesus-believing Jews who had the Holy Spirit (see Hebrews 2:1-4 and 6:4-5) were being called to renew their faith and loyalty to God in light of the example of ancient Jews who, many people tell us, didn’t have the Holy Spirit. How do we account for that?
It’s true of course that the Hebrew writer pointed out Israel’s consistent and persistent failures but we’re not to deny the reality of tens of thousands down those years who were devout lovers of God and who remained faithful to him. But more to the point, the Hebrew writer doesn’t suggest that Israel as a nation was unable to live by God’s covenant Torah—they weren’t unable, they were unwilling. It wasn’t that God gave them an “unkeepable” Torah and then condemned and punished them for not keeping it. Their crime as a national unit was that they refused to give God what they could and should have given him—loving loyalty! Click here. We’re not to think the failure of Israel as a nation meant that every individual Jew was a wicked apostate. The Lord God aided the ancient Israelites by his Spirit and as a nation they could have lived faithfully before him as a long line of glorious individuals did, and they wouldn’t do it.
Nor are we to think that the names listed in Hebrews 11 were some special group, given a sort of “second blessing,” an extra “charge of divine power” to enable them to be faithful—an extra charge that God didn’t give to the rest of the nation. That won’t work!
If the people he was writing to in Hebrews had that extra divine charge they wouldn’t have been in the process of apostasy; they’d have been as faithful as the ancient worthies the writer lists. If they didn’t have an extra divine charge then he was using the divinely charged list in a devious way. “Look at all these ancient worthies; they’re your examples; they’re just like you and yet they remained faithful”—when all the while they were not like his readers.
None of this makes sense.
Whatever advantage Christians have in the area of moral capacity and strengthening, it’s nothing like some “spiritual magic,” some “Holy Spirit energizing”—an electrical charge for the “spiritual muscles”. There is no divine wand-waving, no mystical infusion of direct spiritual/moral power, no ceaseless miracle-working that makes the Christian impervious to temptation.
And whatever advantage they have, masses of them aren't convinced they have it as they will tell you themselves. Whatever advantage they have makes them no better than ancient pre-Jesus worthies. Whatever advantage they have at the simple "moral" level, a host of them compare unfavorably with many of the non-Christians they live among.
Write me and explain that to me.