Commandments and Our New Identity, Part I

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In my dialogues with others about grace, forgiveness, and our new identity in Christ, the question is often raised, “What about the commandments? Don’t we have to keep the commandments?” Let’s look at the Ten Commandments for a moment:

1. You shall have no other gods before Me.

2. You shall not make any carved images to bow down to.

3. You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.

4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

5. Honor your father and mother.

6. You shall not murder.

7. You shall not commit adultery.

8. You shall not steal

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

10. You shall not covet what belongs to another.

A fairly daunting list, but that’s only ten, and in very simplified, easy form. Jesus came along and said that to hate someone in our heart is the same as murder, and to look upon someone with intent to sexually desire them is the same as adultery. Then the Apostle Paul comes along and says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the Church, and gave Himself for her.” That makes “Don’t commit adultery” look like child’s play. Husbands, love your wives sacrificially, patiently, lovingly, never giving in for a moment to selfishness or being a tyrant or passivity or a harsh word. Likewise, “Do not steal” in the New Covenant becomes “give, give, give,” the opposite of stealing.

The Law as given in the Old Covenant is actually a condescension on the part of God. He makes a lot of concessions. He doesn’t say that ruminating on a thing like sexual desire for someone not our spouse or hatred of another human being is wrong. He deals largely with actions at that point, except for a few key points – coveting (ruminating on desire for what others have), and having no other gods before God (inner atittude).

Note that none of these commands say, “Try not to commit adultery” or “Husbands, try to love your wives…” They clearly and absolutely give the imperative.

If you are one of those who has tried to be good, giving it your all, either you have not reached your saturation point, completely crumbled, and given up on your own effort, or you have hit that wall. If you haven’t, it is likely you won’t fully hear what I am saying here. But it may become relevant later when trying to “Be perfect, as your Father in Heaven is perfect” has done its full work. If you have hit that wall and been broken of thinking you can be good by your own effort, then what I have to say is for you.

Jesus Christ fulfilled the Law perfectly. He lived out each one of these commandments, the living embodiment of God’s Law – God’s living Word, the Logos. Now, Jesus makes a lot of statements in the Gospels, saying odd things like, “I can do nothing of Myself” and “The Father in Me does the works” and “If you’ve seen Me, you seen the Father.” Paul echoes these statements in his epistles, saying equally strange things like, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me, and the life I now live, I live by the faith of the Son of God…” and “All the fullness of the Godhead lives in Christ in bodily form, and you are filled full in Him.”

Romans 6 says we died in Christ on the Cross – we were put in Him, and we died to the old life; the old man literally died. We resurrected in Christ, and the new man became operational. The old man was a union between the false spirit in Eph 2:2, and the new man a union between the one true God and man, a gift from God to anyone and everyone who will take it.

So what does this mean, as new creations? For us, the old has gone, the new has come. What does it mean?

It means that now we have a new inner Source – God Himself.

The Word of God is God-breathed. Therefore only God can unlock and reveal its mysteries.

Likewise, the goodness, the righteousness stated in the Bible’s commandments is really a statement of who God is. Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church. That kind of love. Where does that kind of love come from? It comes from God alone, for God is love. Wives, respect your husbands. Where does that respect come from? It comes from the Spirit of the Son, who respects the Father.

So as a new creation being, we have the indwelling Spirit of the Father, Son, and Spirit. That Trinity is the core of our new identity, the God who has come to us to live in a co-operative union with us, a unity.

But unless I know I am completely weak, unable to do any eternal good in and of my human effort, I cannot know God as my Source. God’s power is perfected in weakness; in order for God to flow from us, we have to come to the end of thinking we’re independent selves who can be good like Christ if we just try harder.

So what are the commandments? They now become promises God makes to us. I will have no other gods before Him. How is this possible? By putting my faith in Christ within me to make that unseen Fact a temporal reality. To not only refrain from stealing, ever, but to give, give, give? How? By relying on Christ as my provider and sustainer, the Source of everything I need for life and godliness. If I trust Him, I won’t have any need of stealing; in fact, I’ll be able to give and give, because His resources are limitless. Who needs the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” when he is trusting Christ within himself to love his wife as Christ loved the Church, to cause him to give himself for her? So “Do not commit adultery” is superseded by something which goes beyond the mere behavioral command.

Christians should read the Old Testament, but in a new mindset – the mindset of a new creation man. The commands tell you who you really are, even if your behavior does not always show it. Ask and trust the Lord of your behavior to change you in that area, and persevere in faith, and He will always be faithful to do it. The Spirit of God intends to take us far beyond commandments in loving God and others.

Winner of 147 Grammys (or so), Ron Block is the banjo-ninja portion of Alison Kraus and Union Station. When he’s not laying down a bluegrass-style martial-arts whoopin’ on audiences around the world, he’s taking care of his donkey named “Trash” and keeping himself busy by being one of the most well-read and thoughtful people we know.


19 Comments

  1. Tom Murphy

    Amen, Ron! Thanks for posting regarding our new identity in Christ and the effect of the indwelling Holy Spirit.

    I would add two caveats to the discussion at well. 1) Obedience to the standard of God’s law has been accomplished by Christ. 2) The covenant that the Lord has given is one that is kept from one party in the agreement, namely, Himself. At the Cross, Christ not only takes our sin from us, but gives us His righteousness and His holiness. Many theologians call this “The Great Exchange”.

    Now, our new identity is Christ! (Col 1:27, Col 3:3-4, Rom 5:2)

    However, this doesn’t negate our responsibility to action. It is just the nature of our “action” that is in question. I would submit to the Rabbit Room, for conversation, challenging, and correction (if need be), that the “work” of the Gospel is resting/abiding in Christ as He abides in us. He has prepared for us good works in advance for us, however they are to be accomplished from the strength of His rest.

    Christ’s statement, “If you love me, keep my commands” (John 14:15-17) has made known that our obedience is no longer for our justification, but is a means of rightful worship as we rest/abide in Christ (John 15). The call in Psalm 46:10 to “Be still and know that I am God” is, in context of Psalm 46, an offensive military command. In essence, the way we fight is by abiding in Christ, calling upon Him and allowing Him to go before us in battle.

    According to Psalm 51, the people that God gives this understanding to are the broken (those with broken spirits and contrite hearts). David wrote this deep truth in the full throes of his falling in 2 Samuel 11-12.

    David, following his failings of actually (not merely thinking about) committing adultery with Bathsheba, murdering her husband Uriah (a willing servant that chose to sleep outside than sleep with his wife while his fellow troops were in the field) by executive order, lying to a prophet (Nathan), and then watching his child die (2 Sam 11 – 12:25) pens Psalm 51.

    The lesson that came from those failings: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise” (Psalm 51:16-17).

    The means by which, we Christians, experience the complete fullness of the rest that Christ has secured for us in His accomplishments (in our Justification), what He is accomplishing (in our Sanctification), and what He will accomplish (in our Glorfication and redemption of all things) is through meditation on Christ – on His character, nature, and His ways.

    If Paul be a rightful guide in Colossians 3:1-17, a means to help meditate on Christ (“Set your minds on things that are above…” v 1), putting to death those aspects of the old man (v 5-12), and putting on Christ (v 13-15) is by letting the Word of Christ (the Scriptures) to dwell in us richly, teaching and admonishing (counseling) one another WITH, BY MEANS OF, and THROUGH psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs (v 16).

    Meditation on Christ through Biblical song (psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs) is a critical, practical aspect of our resting in Christ!

    Thank you for contributing your work to that effort!

    “My Love Follows You Where You Go” – by Alison and the boys has been a source of much comfort lately. Many others from the Rabbit Room have poured God’s Grace into my heart through their song. I don’t list for fear of leaving anyone out…

  2. W. Ryker Wilson

    It is always refreshing to read these kind of devotionals. We do live by the life of another! Thanks for posting a great answer to a question that traditionalists find hard to reconcile. It is only by yielding to Christ’s indwelling life that we can accomplish anything of any eternal value. The law is fulfilled naturally through those who walk according to the Spirit and NOT the flesh (Romans 8:4).

  3. Jim Lenn

    How revitalizing to know that to even look to Christ is a sign of His presence in you. And to realize that “hitting the wall” is just the place where you can turn to a different path….

    Nice Ron !!

  4. Nick and Susan

    I really liked where you wrote ‘Who needs the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” when he is trusting Christ within himself to love his wife as Christ loved the Church”. That makes so much sense to me – it still amazes me how blind I was to not realise that truth.

    One thing I’m often asked though is “How can you tell the difference between your strength and God’s?” For example if two people refrain from stealing, one does it in their own strength because the Bible says “Don’t steal” so because it’s a commandment and they want to please God they don’t steal. The other person doesn’t steal because they are relying on Christ. To an onlooker it ‘looks’ the same, but how does the person themself know whose strength they’re relying on at any given moment?

    Susan

  5. amy

    praise god! so well put, ron! so thankful that my spirit is covered and sealed with his blood. i am counting on that last paragraph you shared.=) thanks again.

  6. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Susan: I think we can tell, within ourselves. Operating from a false sense of an independent “I”, rather than knowing Christ within us is our righteousness and abiding, usually if not always results in a sense of self-commendation or self-condemnation.

    We have to remember that terminology is not the all-important thing. There’s an “IS” behind these things we attempt to use words to describe. So a backwoods grandmother who trusts Christ doesn’t have to be able to explain it fully.

    The thing is, there will be a Day when all this is sorted out. What we did from “Me trying to be like Jesus” will be sorted from reliance on Christ. Our own righteousness is as filthy rags, because if it springs from a false independent “me” that has to perform good or evil, it is really springing from the prince of the power of the air. That’s his game; that’s his lie; that’s his modus operandi, no matter how good or religious it looks. That’s why Jesus lambasted the Pharisees; they were operating as if they could be separate, independent “me” people who choose good and reject evil. Essentially, “We don’t need God. We can do it ourselves.” Self-commendation. Secret self-condemnation, which leads to condemnation of others selves. It’s all rooted in this present world system rather than eternity, God’s ways, God’s thoughts.

    When we are abiding, and do good, we may get a feeling of pleasure from it. That is natural, and beautiful. But self-congratulation isn’t part of the picture. “The love of Christ compels us” and we know that as a rock-bottom fact of our existence. Good has one source only – God. Love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, humility, faith – all of it comes from one single Person in the universe. If we manifest it, in spirit and in truth, and not from thinking “I must strive to be like Jesus by my effort,” then the love of God is revealed and manifested in these earthen vessels.

  7. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Paul, I think it starts with the questions, “Who is myself?” and “Who is God?” and “How do these two things fit together?”

    According to Paul, when we sin it is no longer “I”. That “myself” is a false self, a lie.

    Also, according to Paul, when we “righteous” it is no longer “I” but Christ living in me, through me, as if it were me living. It’s me, but it isn’t. The Source of the righteousness comes through the branch.

    Our problem is in seeing a separate me with a separate God instead of seeing God in me, and myself in him, as a unity of being. Like a marriage, where two are one flesh, one organism, only at a much deeper level which is all-encompassing.

    Your old self is already out of the way. Your new self is already operational. But we need to see that, see our union with Christ, see him as our Life, and faithe in the operating of God in us, for it to become more consistently manifested.

  8. Tom Murphy

    Amen Ron!

    Paul, the clearest picture of our responsibility with regard to our living in a “rebirthed” condition is seen in Colossians 3:1-17.

    In verses 1-4, we see that we have been raised with Christ if we have been born again by the Spirit. We are told to “seek the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.” Two significant thing about are seeking 1) we are raised with Him positionally 2) He is seated at the RIGHT HAND of God. In essence, this is saying we have a direct line of communication with one who “has been given all authority” (Mat 28:18-20) and He is with us (Mat 28:20).

  9. Tom Murphy

    Whoops, I wasn’t finished with that post…Here’s the continuation…

    In verse 2, we have been told to “set our minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth”. This goes to the object of our meditations. Psalm 77 gives a really clear picture of the consequences of meditation on our own hearts, remembering our song in the night (Psalm 77:1-9) vis-a-vis meditating on who God is, appealing to the years of the RIGHT HAND of the Most High (Psalm 77:10-20).

    Verse 3 tells us of our new nature, we have died and we are hidden in Christ, who is hidden in the Father. The verbal picture here is that we are in the hand of Christ, as Christ is in the hand of God. In order for Satan, his brood, or ourselves to break the covenant He gives to us, they (or we) have to break through the grip of the Trinity. The picture is to convey that we WILL BE sanctified. A heartening (and somewhat scary) truth, but gives light to the next set of verses.

    Verse 4, we are promised our eventual glorification in Heaven.

    However, verses 5-17 is the stuff of sanctification. In other words, how God plans to accomplish our sanctification.

    In verses 5-10, the imagery is putting to death (or more literally in the Greek – being unclothed). The imagery here is of a Bride being prepared for the consummation of a marriage. If that was too cryptic of a message, it is showing the close intimate relationship of Christ with His Bride in overtly provocative language. The putting to death of verses 5-10, is a picture of being unclothed before God. By the way, you are not going to hear this from your Sunday school teacher.

    Likewise, God doesn’t leave us hanging out naked, but He desires us to be clothed with Himself (the English versions translate this as “put on”). The Puritans, although great for Theology, tended to obscure the graphicness of our relationship with God our of a sense of Piety. Verses 12-15 gives a picture of “putting on” (being clothed) with His character as He dwells within. The picture is graphic in the original text.

    In verse 16, Paul gives us practical advise in what “to do”, but again this is all from the position that we are in Christ and He is accomplishing this through us. He will change the heart, He must change the heart. The heart is changed by the indwelling Spirit compelling us to unclothe and clothe. We get to take part in that.

    The essence of verse 16 is dwelling (abiding, resting, “laying around”) with Christ by the mutual teaching and admonishing (counseling) WITH, BY MEANS OF, THROUGH Biblical song (psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs). Step in: Ron and the rest of our friends of the Rabbit Room persuasion with their gift in displaying God through song.

    They, Christian artists in the Body (read – everyone), are the ones commissioned by God to equip His Bride (read – us) to see God most clearly, in all graphic detail. Seeing ourselves rightly before God and how much bigger He is still.

    The growing Christian life is that of us reducing in size in our own eyes as we “put to death” (unclothe) self and “put on” Christ (clothing ourselves with Him, in Him, and by Him). Again, we are One, as with a Bride and Groom – two hearts becoming one.

    If that weren’t enough, Paul refers to himself three times in Scripture chronologically:

    1) least among the apostles (1 Cor 15:9) – hardly a humble statement, but intended to be
    2) least among the disciples (Eph 3:8) – Christ becoming clearer
    3) Chief of sinners (1 Tim 1:15) – Ah, yes, seeing rightly

    It was not the reverse. In fact, Paul, like us all eventually, came to see himself diminishing as he knew God more rightly, only to be clothed by the one who loves us more than we love Him.

  10. Laura W.

    “The Word of God is God-breathed. Therefore only God can unlock and reveal its mysteries.”

    How I appreciate this quote, Mr. Block.

    Additionally, it is very unusual to find others who recognize that the ability to live the “Christian Life” comes from laying down our own strengths and allowing God to bring forth His Life in us.

    He is the Source, which is more difficult say, than telling Moses to go up and speak with God and get the list of things we need to do and we’ll do them. Which, of course, we can’t. It’s much more “difficult” to walk in relationship and get our information and our instructions from the Lord for ourselves. Our daily bread…

  11. Cory

    Ron,
    Thank you for this essay.

    I have a question about the Sabbath day, though. What part of Jesus’ teaching supersedes this Commandment? Is there one? Certainly He spoke of the Sabbath: that it was made for man, not man for it. In my church experience, Sabbath rest is not taught in any real way, making the implication that this Commandment no longer has any power.

    Speaking of Torah and Jesus’ “not a jot or tittle” fulfillment of it reminds me of a sentiment I heard quoted from a Jewish rabbi. When you read Torah, it is natural to think that it was created so that we would know how to act in this world. If you see an ox in a ditch on the Sabbath, this is how you should act. However, perhaps the ox and the ditch and the Sabbath were created so that we could more fully experience God’s Torah, His Way, or Truth or Life. This is a beautiful thought to me and feeds right into Messiah’s teachings and how you described that they build on Torah.

  12. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Cory,

    We are meant to live in rest – the rest that remains for the people of God. This rest of Christ is meant to be a continual feeding on him, eating his flesh (manna), drinking his blood, being energized by his life in us. Jesus purchased this abundant life for us, but we fail to recognize it, though we have already received it. Living from the power of Christ in us to be love for one’s wife, transcends and fulfills the commandment “Thou shalt not commit adultery” by going way beyond it. Likewise, living from Christ, our eternal Sabbath, transcends and fulfills the commandment to rest on the Sabbath. In abiding, trusting, relying, we live from rest continually, even while active. There is a sense of sufficiency and ease, and not strain and burden, even in normally stressful situations.

    Rest is not a lifestyle of inactivity. But it is a lifestyle of restful activity, acting from rest and not from strain.

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