Believe, Receive, and Do

An area of contrast between the old covenant of law and the new covenant of grace is the order of events in the believer’s life.  Under the old covenant, life was “do and receive”.  If you do X, then you will receive Y from God.

But this old arrangement of “do and receive” is no longer in effect after the cross.  The writer to the Hebrews calls the old covenant arrangement “obsolete, growing old, and ready to disappear” (Hebrews 8:13).  Paul proclaims that “it is being brought to an end” (II Corinthians 3:10).  But we really hate to give it up.  Why?

The do and receive just sounds so right to our human ears.  Our parents, our teachers, our coaches, other authority figures in our lives drilled this into our heads.  You behave in a certain way – good or bad – and you will receive the reward or the punishment.  It is ingrained into our old nature.

But this order is completely flipped on its head in the new covenant of grace.  The first order of business is “to believe”.  “Therefore they said to Him, ‘What shall we do, so that we may work the works of God?’  Jesus answered and said to them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He has sent.’ ” (John 6:28-29).  Or said another way, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life” (John 5:24).

So the first move is for us to believe something.  First, we must believe “in the One that God has sent”.  We must believe that Jesus Christ was the substitute for us when He died on a cross in our place.

When we first believe, we immediately go to step two, and I mean immediately!  In step two, “we receive”.  We receive forgiveness for our sins, we receive the gift of eternal life, we receive a new identity that comes with all kinds of new; a new nature, a new Spirit, a new heart, a new purity, a new self, a new disposition, a new life, and a new power over sin.  That is a lot of receiving.  And it has nothing to do with our behavior, nothing to do with our “do”.  Any change in behavior has not even happened yet.  It is all a free gift of grace.

Now after we “believe” and “receive”, then and only then does the “do” come into play.  This is the new covenant.  We “believe, receive, and do” in that order.  We live inside out.  We live out of the righteousness that Christ has put in us.  We live out of the new self, “a self created in the likeness of God, a self created in righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24).

Here is the explanation that permeates the New Testament letters, “This is what Christ has done for you and to you.  He has saved you and He has made you into a new creation with His divine nature inside you.  You now have a power to “do” that was not available to the Old Testament followers of God.”

Our “believe” is not just the one time belief for salvation.  The Christian walk is also informed by “believe”.  That is why faith is such an integral part of the apostles’ discussion of the Christian life.  Faith is required because I will experience the indwelling Christ living His life through me only if I believe His promises to do so are true.  Believing He will, and does, live in me empowers me to live like Christ.  Our “believe and receive” energizes our “do”.

This distinction is so important to understand.  You are not working, like God’s people of the old covenant, to earn God’s approval, acceptance, and blessing.  You are no longer under the “do and receive”.  You are under a new arrangement.  And it is an arrangement that is so FREEING.  The pressure is off.  The death of Jesus worked, it accomplished the Father’s plan to restore you into a right relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.  It is a relationship based purely on God’s gift of grace.

The pressure to live up to something in off.  Rather than “live up”, you are now free to “live out” of the righteousness of Christ placed in you at your new birth.  It’s in there!  Allow it to shine forth as you “believe, receive, and do”.

Prosperity or Presence?

We wrote last time about the success and prosperity promises under the old covenant.  Remember, the old covenant, the old arrangement between God and man was behavior focused and consequence based.  If you do X, God will do Y.  If you obey the law, you will be blessed.  If you fall short, you will be cursed.

The gist of this arrangement is recorded for us in the Old Testament over and over.  “So keep the words of this covenant to do them, that you may prosper in all that you do” (Deuteronomy 29:9).  Or “But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night … and in whatever he does he prospers” (Psalm 1:2-3).  And of course our verse from last time, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success” (Joshua 1:8).

Because we like the promise of success and because we like to think that what we do will open up the blessings of heaven, we often bring these concepts into our new covenant thinking.  It is a dangerous, mixed-covenant message.  It looks like this, “Yes, let’s leave the ‘law’ behind.  Let’s focus on Jesus and His commands (new covenant) and we will receive the blessing and prosperity God promised (old covenant).”  What exactly did God promise regarding our life circumstances in the new covenant?

The ultimate promise of Jesus is His presence, not success and prosperity.  First off, Jesus promised to come live inside us.  Talk about presence!  “In that day you will know that I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you” (John 14:20).  Just like Christ is in the Father, we are in Christ and Christ is in us.  How much closer can we get?  This is over-the-top presence.

This presence is experienced by us as Christ is literally living His life through us.  “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20).

Here is another beautiful promise of Christ’s presence.  “For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory” (Colossians 3:3-4).  Again, this is presence at its best, “hidden with Christ in God”.  And it will never end.  “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20).

Here is a verse about prosperity and presence together.  “Keep your life free from the love of money, and be content with what you have, for He has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5).  In the realm of money’s hold on our lives, we are to be content rather than grasping for more.  I don’t see any promise here of, “Be content because more money is coming your way.”  No, the promise is, “Be content because I will never leave you.”  Christ’s presence in your life is assured FOREVER!  And, I might add, Christ’s presence in your life is more valuable than earthly prosperity.

There are many more verses we could add about Christ’s promise of His presence when we go through suffering and the trials we face in this life.  Let us summarize with one more verse, “These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

This really sums up the idea that the circumstances of this world will be troublesome.  Smooth sailing is never the promise for the child of God.  But in the midst of it all, the incredible presence of Jesus; in us, around us, alongside us, is a promise that will never fail.

The Death of Joshua 1:8 and His Brothers

I was recently visiting with a friend when her phone dinged.  “Oh, it is today’s verse from my Bible reading app.”  The verse was Joshua 1:8, “This book of the law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it; for then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have success.”

My friend read the verse out loud and then looked at me with a questioning grin.  We had been discussing our identity in Christ and all that became new at our salvation including the end of the law in our lives.  She continued, “I don’t think this verse fits our new covenant identity.”  I agreed.

Friends, let me say this as carefully and humbly and respectfully as I can.  We are inundated in our Christian sermons, devotionals, memes, and books with a mixed covenant message that, quite frankly, is unsettling.  Please hear me carefully.  This is in no way meant to minimalize the proper role of the Old Testament as the home of the old covenant and a foreshadowing of the coming Christ.  And verses like Joshua 1:8 are a prototypical summary of the old covenant.

“Speak the law.  Meditate on the law day and night.  Be careful to obey the law.  If you do all of this, your path will be prosperous, and you will have success.”  This is the old covenant, God’s old arrangement between Himself and His people.  It was behavior focused and consequence based.  If you do all the Lord commands, you will be blessed.  If you fall short, a curse will follow.  And it is an arrangement that died at the cross of Jesus Christ.

The apostle Paul explains it this way, “A married woman is bound by law to her husband while he is living; but if her husband dies, she is released from the law concerning her husband.  So then, if while her husband is living she is joined to another man, she shall be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from the law, so that she is not an adulteress though she is joined to another man.  Therefore, my brothers, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, so that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God” (Romans 7:2-4).

The word picture is clear.  Just as a married woman is free from her marital vows upon the death of her husband, you have been freed from the Law by a separation as severe as death.  This freedom from the Law was made available by the death of Christ and became yours when you believed the gospel.

You are literally separated from the Law by its death.  And you are free to marry another.  And you did marry another; “Jesus Christ who was raised from the dead.”  You have a new marriage partner.  Your former spouse, the Law, is dead.  You have a new husband.  You are the bride of Christ.

Now on a theological level, it is easy to agree that we “died to the Law”.  But, in practice, we just don’t want to give up on these verses that appear to make such great promises to us.  So we say, “Jay, don’t get so caught up with the word ‘law’ in these kinds of verses.  Let’s just put ‘God’s word’ in place of law.  Let’s meditate on that in its place.  How can that not lead to success?”

When we do this, I believe we miss two very important points.  First, let’s let the Bible speak for itself.  If it says law, it means law.  Second, is prosperity and success what Christ promised to us as new covenant believers?  We will talk about it next time.