The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness

Romans 4:1-12
The great Romans commentator Robert Haldane once said that without the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to the believer, there would be no salvation. This doctrine is absolutely central to the doctrine of justification by faith alone, and is therefore central to the Gospel. This doctrine is also under attack these days from various quarters. Some people think that because the righteousness belongs to God, that therefore it cannot belong to a child of God when that person comes to faith. They say that God’s righteousness is not some kind of gas that can be passed from one person to another. Some people thereby limit justification to the doctrine of the church. They say that it is not so much about how you come into relationship with God, as it is about how you tell who is part of the people of God. But what does our passage say?

In chapter three, Paul has been showing us that there is no one righteous. The Gentile is not righteous, and is without excuse. The Jew is not righteous, even though they have the law. God is righteous, because He is the One who justifies the ungodly through the redemption in Christ’s blood. Paul is arguing against legalism in the latter part of chapter 3, especially in verse 28, which says, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.” There has been considerable discussion concerning the phrase “works of the law.” Does this phrase mean that all works of the law are excluded from justification, or does it refer primarily to “boundary markers,” those ceremonial Jewish customs that marked Jews out as Jews? The NPP has argued that it refers primarily to boundary markers, to circumcision, dietary laws, anything particularly Jewish. They appeal to verse 29, which says, “Or is God the God of Jews only?” the idea being that God the boundary markers would have separated Jew from Gentile in justification. The problem with their appeal to this verse is that it doesn’t settle the matter at all. Paul could just as well say that if he was referring to all works of the law or to some of the works of the law. In the OT prophets, the Israelites were condemned for keeping the whole law to themselves, when they were supposed to be a light to the Gentiles. Since the Jews were hoarding up the law for themselves and not letting the Gentiles have it, Paul could well say, “Or is God the God of Jews only?” Paul is temporarily granting that justification by works is possible, only to crash it around their heads later on. The Jews were the only ones to have access to the law. If justification were by works, then Jews would be the only people to even have a prayer of being justified. Paul says that that is not the case. Now all people of the world can be justified. It is not limited to Jews.

The authors of the NPP also appeal to a Qumran document called 4QMMT to support their position. The phrase “works of the law” in 4QMMT, they say, clearly refer to the boundary markers of Judaism. However, the phrase in 4QMMT is NOT “works of the law” but “SOME of the works of the law.” N.T. Wright, for instance, has argued throughout his Romans commentary on this passage that the word “law” refers to the Torah, the OT law. How is it then, that “works of the law” could only refer to the ceremonial aspects of the law? So Paul is therefore arguing against legalism in Judaism.

Paul has finished saying that justification is by faith, and not by works. The Jew would immediately answer, “But what about Abraham? Wasn’t he justified by how good a life he led?” The Jews appealed to the example of Abraham to prove that they could be right with God by what they did. Paul answers with an emphatic “no.” Obviously, if even Abraham, who is undoubtedly a righteous man, had to be justified by faith, and not by works, then surely everyone else who wants to be right with God has to justified in the same way that Abraham was. The early church father Chrysostom puts like this: “For someone to be justified by faith if he had no works was unusual. But for one who had plenty of good works to delight in being justified not by works but by faith-that was something to cause amazement.” The premier example of righteousness for the Jew was Abraham. Therefore, Paul uses that very person as a counter-example. He takes the rug out from under the Jewish objector.

Paul starts out with an argument that takes the form of a modus tollens. If Abraham was justified by works, then there is something or him to boast about before God. Abraham has nothing about which he can boast before God. Therefore, Abraham was not justified by works. Instead, Abraham had faith.

Now we must understand how verse 3 functions in the context if we are to understand the passage at all. It says, “Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness. We might ask the question, “What is it that was counted as righteousness?” The Arminians say that it was faith. Faith was counted as righteousness. However, this cannot be, since faith is a receiving and resting on Christ for Christ’s righteousness. It might better be translated “It was counted to him for righteousness.” The reason for this is that “for righteousness” is a phrase that has some things left out of it. It really means, “God credited righteousness to Abraham by the instrumentality of faith.” It is not faith itself that is the ground of our righteousness before God. Faith is like two empty hands reaching out to receive something. Faith is not the ground but the instrument of justification. The real ground of our faith is Christ’s righteousness.

That is what Paul goes on to show in verses 4-5, where he introduces a bookkeeping metaphor. Paul says that grace and debt are mutually exclusive. If you earn it, then it can’t be given to you. This alone proves that it is not faith that imputed for righteousness. If it were, then faith would turned into a kind of work. Even the end of verse 5 does not shake us in this reading of the text, when it says, “his faith is counted as righteousness.” On the principle of Scripture interpreting Scripture, we must realize the nature of faith. Faith is not a thing. It doesn’t have a substance of its own. Faith is a dependence on God. Faith is trust. That is exactly what Paul says when he says “Trusts him who justifies the ungodly.” That is one of the most remarkable statements in all of Scripture. Scripture constantly tells us that it is utterly wrong to justify the ungodly, to acquit the wicked. That is what happens when the judge lets the guilty person go free. Proverbs 24:24 says, “Whoever says to the wicked, ‘You are in the right,’ will be cursed by peoples, abhorred by nations.” Proverbs 17:15 says, “He who justifies the wicked and he who condemns the righteous are both alike an abomination to the Lord.” Exodus 23:7 says (the Lord is speaking!), “Keep far from a false charge, and do not kill the innocent and righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked.” Last but not least, is Isaiah 5:22-23: “Woe to those who are heroes at drinking wine, and valiant men in mixing strong drink, who acquit the guilty for a bribe, and deprive the innocent of his right.” Well, God is obviously doing something new and different to be able to justify the ungodly. That new thing is the crucifixion, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Our faith in Christ means that God can justify the ungodly while still remaining just and holy. Notice that in saying “the ungodly,” Paul is including Abraham in that category. What? Righteous Abraham ungodly? Yes. Paul has proved that in the first three chapters. There is no one who is righteous, no, not one. In case we didn’t get the fifth time, He says it about ten times more. And no, righteousness is not basically about the status of being a covenant member, as N.T. Wright says. Righteousness is about keeping God’s law. We haven’t kept it, and so we need to trust in someone who has. The righteousness of Jesus Christ is the only righteousness available to us. We need a perfect righteousness, not merely a fairly good kind of righteousness, because God’s law is holy, just, and good.

Paul goes on to speak about the forgiveness of sins. How are justification and forgiveness related? Well, Paul says that they are two sides of the same coin. Notice how Paul interprets David: the forgiveness of sins described by David is called “the imputation of righteousness apart from works” by Paul. They are not exactly the same thing. What Paul is saying is that you cannot have the one without the other. F.F. Bruce puts it this way: “the non-imputation of sin, in which the psalmist rejoices, amounts to the positive imputation of righeousness…for there is no verdict of ‘Not proven’ in God’s court.” Another writer puts it this way, “Sins are not forgiven except in such a way that Christ’s righteousness is imputed.” In other words, you are either condemned or vindicated. If you are acquitted, then you have the status of righteousness. There is no such status as “merely forgiven.” If we are forgiven, then we are sons. If we have escaped hell, it is because we have been given heaven. The same act of God does both simultaneously.

Paul goes on to talk about circumcision. Is it possible to say that Abraham was justified because he was circumcised? Paul says no. Paul argues that Abraham was justified long before he was circumcised. The Jew would then ask, “Why did Abraham get circumcised at all?” The answer is so that Abraham would be the father of all who believe. Since Abraham was justified before he was cirucmcised, then Abraham was just like a Gentile who comes to faith and then becomes circumcised. Abraham wa cirucumcised so that he would be the father of the Jews who believe. So we can see that Abraham is the father of all who believe.

This has important implications for the debates swirling around us today. We believe, as good Reformed people, that baptism takes the place of circumcision. If that is true, then what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. Justification does not happen at the time point of baptism. And faith may or not come at the time-point of baptism. Again, going back to Chrysostom, “Circumcision is meaningless if there is no faith within. It is a sign of righteousness, but if there is no righteousness, then there is no sign either.” Indeed, it is quite possible to have faith, never be baptized, and still have assurance of faith. When it comes to assurance, there we really see the payoff of the correct doctrine of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness. Whence comes our assurance? Chapter 18 of the WCF talks about assurance of faith. It does not mention baptism once. It says that “such as truly believe in the Lord Jesus (there is faith which justifies), and love Him in sincerity, endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him, may, in this life, be certainly assured that they are in the state of grace, and may rejoice in the hope of the glory of God, which hope shall never make them ashamed.” It goes on to say that the ground of assurance is founded upon the divine truth of the promises of salvation, the inward evidence of those graces unto which these promises are made, and the testimony of the Holy Spirit. Does that mean that our baptisms mean nothing when it comes to assurance? No, it is one of the means of grace. However, since baptized people fall away from the faith, baptism is not a certain means of assurance. When we ask, “How can I know that I am saved?” the answer lies in the righteousness of Christ imputed to us. It is because we do not earn it as wages due to us. It is because Christ has earned it for us. Augustine says it this way, “For Abraham was justified not by his own merit, as if by works, but by the grace of God through faith.”

The Missouri Presbytery Report on the Federal Vision

In general, I was favorably impressed with this report. Many of the statements in the report were exceptionally clear and helpful. These are some of my thoughts, which will ramble a bit. According to the motion (pg. 1), the presbytery was supposed “to form a study committee to address and establish the parameters of orthodoxy with reference to the following issues: the federalist vision, the new perspective, new thinking on the sacraments, and any other related issues deemed germane by the committee.” The committee dealt with all these concerns, but not by name. I was somewhat disappointed by the lack of footnotes. The Murray quotation on page 10-11 is presumably from his article in volume 2 of his works, pp. 167-202, but it would be nice to know that. Maybe a footnoted version will be forthcoming, like the one the Mississippi Valley put out.

Their concerns are fairly obviously the peace and purity of the church. In lines 33ff, they give both sides the benefit of the doubt with regard to their intentions. Throughout the report, there was an admirable concern with retaining the definition of terms as they appeared in the WCF, and there is a good warning to all members of the PCA not to change these definitions, as that would introduce confusion into the minds of the people (lines 18-23 on page 6). I might add my two cents worth at this point and say that as these definitions deal with the most important aspects of the Christian faith, this is a vital point.

I had a small problem with page 2, lines 1-6. Systematic theology is indeed alwas to be informed by exegesis. However, the balance is that ST must also provide guards around exegesis. This is one my biggest problems with what some people are doing today with this relationship: BT becomes so independent of ST that ST is in the doghouse. ST needs to come out of the doghouse.

They take care to preserve the distinction between visible and invisible church, contra Wilson’s ridiculous distinction without a difference in pages 263-269 in Federal Vision. This is not to say that the report is a wholesale rejection of all of the Federal Vision’s concerns. The corporate aspects of salvation are affirmed, recognizing that general evangelicalism has lost sight of this. The question is: has the corporate eclipsed the individual. In this report, the answer is definitely “no.” On lines 29ff of page 3, I was a little disappointed in their allowance of non-CoW views. The wording of affirmation 4 on page 4 is not clear enough or close enough to the WCF to suit me. However, in affirmation 6 on the same page, Christ’s merit is clearly affirmed, as it is in the discussion on justification. Affirmation 7 on page 5 disturbed me a bit. It is certainly true that the Mosaic covenant was one of grace. But I think that WCF 7.5 indicates a law-gospel distinction in epoch from the old to the new. This was not sufficiently affirmed in the report.

The section on justification was the best section, in my opinion. Imputation of Christ’s righteousness (the righteousness that includes His whole life, not just His death (see affirmation 7 on page 7, cf. Hodge ST, vol 3, pp. 142-3). Affirmation 9 on page 7 could have been worded better. Justification is an eschatological event that happens at the time-point of faith. The future aspect in no way conflicts or undermines the much more basic already aspect. It is the denial which should have been worded differently.

In the section on union with Christ, I thought that affirmation 2 on page 9 was exceptionally helpful. One must make distinctions and be careful about that terminology lest people in the pews either lose any basis for assurance, or become too cocky about their standing. This has profound pastoral implications. Affirmation 8 on page 9 is also exceptionally helpful and clear. The section on baptism guarded against what it needed to guard against. All in all, a successful report that could be made even better by these clarifications.

Jesus, Resurrection and Life

John 11:17-27
It is pretty amazing what children will say. Some children were asked about death, and these were some of their answers: Alan, age7, “God doesn’t tell you when you are going to die because He wants it to be a big suprise;” Raymond, age 10, “A good doctor can help you so you won’t die. A bad doctor sends you to heaven;” Marsha, age 9, “When you die, you don’t have to do homework in heaven unless your teacher is there too;” and here is a very cynical Stephanie, age 9, “Doctors help so you won’t die until you pay all their bills.” What people all over the world say about death is that it is unavoidable. They say that there are two things certain in life: death and taxes. The only thing is that death doesn’t get worse every time congress meets. But if you look everywhere around you, people are saying that death is the end. The Grim Reaper. You could even say that those people who believe that there is a Resurrection think that it is far off, and not of much help in the present time.

The fact is that death is an intruder. Death does not belong in the created realm. God did not create the world with death in mind. Death is a punishment for sin, the sin of all humanity. Sin brings forth death, as the apostle James has it. So often, we look around at the world and say, “Why did death have to come to this person, or that person? Why didn’t God stop it?” The question we should really ask ourselves is, “Why did we sin?” If we want to know who is responsible for bringing sin into the world, we have to place the blame squarely on our own shoulders. We can’t blame God for punishing sin. If He didn’t punish sin, then He wouldn’t be God. God is not the author of sin. Humanity is. Oh sure, we had a little help from Satan. But the blame rests with us. Satan didn’t fall in the garden; Adam and Eve did. The old saying goes like this: In Adam’s fall, we sinned all. Adam was a respresentative for the human race.

Now that is bad news for humanity. Well, it isn’t exactly news. We should have known it for a long time. But we are extremely prone to forgetting the fact that death exists because of sin. What we have to realize now, though, and what our passage today teaches us is that death is a defeated enemy for those who believe in Jesus Christ. Let’s take a close look at our passage, focusing on verses 17-27, but starting with the first part of the chapter.
The NIV has a horrible mistranslation in verse 6. In verse 5, we see that Jesus loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus. The NIV says in verse 6 that, despite this fact that Jesus loved them, He stayed an extra two days where He was. This gives us the impression that we don’t know why Jesus delayed. But this is not what the text says. The text actually says, “Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus. Therefore he stayed where He was for two more days.” It is because He loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, that He let Lazarus die! This sounds very strange to our ears. But Jesus explains Himself in verses 14-15: “Lazarus is dead, and for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe.” It is plain that Jesus already knew that Lazarus was going to be resurrected from the dead. His purpose, then, in staying where He was for two more days, was so that His disciples, and Mary and Martha, would believe, and have their faith confirmed by a mighty miracle.

That leads us to verse 17. Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days by the time that Jesus got there. This is significant. Four days in the tomb meant that death was completely irreversible. Jewish thought at the time said that the soul hovers over the body for three days, but on the fourth, the soul doesn’t recognize the body anymore, and so leaves it. John doesn’t necessarily believe that, but his point is that Lazarus was completely dead, and was starting to decompose.

Martha hears that Jesus is near, and she runs out to meet him. She says to him what she and Mary must have said many times to each other during the three days they had waited for Jesus, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” It is important to realize that Martha is not reprimanding Jesus for His delay. Even if Jesus had started right away, Lazarus would still have been dead by the time He got there. She does not say, “Lord if only you had gotten here sooner.” Instead, she says, “Lord if only you had been here.” It is regret, not reproach.

Then Martha shows that she has at least some faith. She asks Jesus implicitly to petition the Father for the resurrection of Lazarus. Now, some doubt that that is what Martha means, especially in the light of verse 39, where Martha objects to opening the tomb, because of the smell, plainly indicating (it is thought) that Jesus cannot resurrect Lazarus from the dead. However, what is happening here is that Martha wavers in her faith from hope to grief. She oscillates between the two. It is quite probable that she thought that Jesus might be able to do something about Lazarus even now, though she has nagging doubts.

In verse 23, we see Jesus giving us a wonderfully ambiguous statement. Jesus wants to draw out Martha’s heart, and so He gives a statement that mentions the general resurrection at the end of time. Does Jesus mean to include the resurrection that He is about to perform? Whatever the case, Martha obviously does not understand where Jesus is going with this. She must have heard from the Jewish people about the general resurrection, which is something that Pharisees believed. Martha is a little disappointed, when she replies in verse 24, “I know already about the general resurrection.” It is as if she is saying, “Lord, have you come to tell me what I already know?”

An then comes the real shocker. You see, Martha thought, and so often do we, that the resurrection is a long way off. We think that it is more difficult for God to do a miracle here and now, than it is for God to resurrect people on the final day of judgment. Martha had her thoughts on the present time, thinking that Jesus was not powerful enough to resurrect Lazarus right now, even though she thought He might be able to ask His Heavenly Father for that favor. So what Jesus says is a real shock: the Resurrection is a person, not so much an event! Now, of course, Jesus has just affirmed that the future resurrection is an event that will surely come to pass. However, what He is saying here is that Resurrection power resides in Jesus! The Resurrection is a person! What Jesus is saying is that resurrection power belongs only to Jesus as God. Now, one needs to be resurrected in order to have life, which is why Jesus says immediately afterward, that He is the Life. Resurrection leads to life. Where Christ is not present, there is death. Where Christ is, there is resurrection and life, a fact that Jesus is about to demonstrate in a dramatic fashion.

Here is where the unbeliever stumbles. The unbeliever cannot believe that death could be defeated. Death is the end, according to them. Only by faith can anyone accept that Jesus is the Resurrection and the Life. There are two ideas that Jesus explains here. The first is resurrection. “He who believes in me will live, even though he dies.” That refers to the physical time-point of death, and then the time-point of physical resurrection. Physical death is no longer the end of the story. There is resurrection, brought to light by Jesus Himself. The second idea is life, spiritual life. That is what verse 26 is talking about: “whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” That is talking about th person who lives spiritually, and thus that person will never die spiritually. So, verse 25 is talking about physical death and resurrection, and verse 26 is talking about spiritual life and the immortality of the Christian soul.

And now comes the question: “Do you believe this?” Do you, here and now, facing death all our lives, believe Jesus’ words? Do you believe that Jesus is your only comfort in life and in death? Do you believe that you must be born again spiritually? Do you trust in Jesus? If you do not, there is no hope for you. There is no hope that there is anything beyond death that is good. No unbeliever has any hope. That is why Paul says that the Christian’s grief is not like the unbeliever’s grief. An unbeliever grieves without hope. The Christian grieves, knowing that it is not the end of their relationship with that person. It bears repeating: it is true to say that so-and-so is in a better place. That is true. But it is not the most helpful thing to know. It is the physical presence of that person that we miss. Therefore it is more helpful to say that if you believe in Jesus, then you will see that person again, touch his hand again, hug him again. See, if you believe what Jesus is saying here, then what you really believe is that that person is not dead! His soul is very much alive, thank you, and his body is merely waiting on the resurrection that will come at the final day, in order to be reunited with his soul. But he is not dead. He passed from death to life, as Jesus says in John chapter 5. I want to read this passage to you, as it is extremely relevant to our passage here in John 11. This is John 5:19-29: “Jesus gave them this answer: “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does. For the Father loves the Son and shows him all he does. Yes, to your amazement he will show him even greater things than these. For just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, even so the Son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it. Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son, that all may honor the Son just as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father, who sent him. I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man. Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out– those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.” Jesus is talking about Lazarus here, and about all Christians. The resurrection that Lazarus experiences is symbolic of the spiritual resurrection that all Christians experience when they come to faith. Have you experienced this resurrection? If so, then you have only one death, and that death is a defeated enemy. Christ Himself has defeated death by being raised from the dead. You only have one death, but two resurrections: the resurrection of the soul, which guarantees the second resurrection, that of the body. If you do not believe, then you have only one resurrection to look forward to. And it will be such that you will wish you hadn’t been resurrected. You will prefer annihilation to being resurrected to eternal punishment for sin. Do not delay in coming to Christ. You do not know whether you will be alive tomorrow. You can shrug all this off as hogwash, and go back to your wicked ways, or you can sit up and listen to God speaking. He says, “Let the Christian come forth from his tomb of sin.” It is then that you take off your sinful grave clothes, and put on the spotless white robe that has been washed in the blood of the Lamb. The dead shall hear the voice of the living God. It does not matter what your past life has been. It does not matter what bad choices you have made. Everyone is dead in their trespasses and sins, as Paul makes so abundantly clear in Ephesians 2. But if God can conquer death, if He can call out to Lazarus, and the dead man hears and obeys the voice of the living God, then God can change you. Now is definitely not too late. But take care, this may be your only opportunity. “Sinner, come forth!”

Jubilee

Leviticus 25: 8-22
Picture yourself a child at school. The teacher is about to ask you a question. You already know what the question is, and you haven’t the foggiest idea how to answer it. You might even have studied the issue. You just couldn’t quite wrap your head around the answer so as to be able to give a decent answer. The person two chairs ahead of you answers a different question correctly. The person one chair ahead of you is asked a question, and you start to really sweat. The person answers it correctly. And now it time. The teacher calls your name, but as you rise to answer the question, the bell rings, telling you that class is over, and you won’t have to answer the question. “Saved by the bell” you were.

Now imagine yourself an ancient Israelite. You have had to sell your land, your goods, and now even yourself, since you had a whole string of bad farming years. You must think by now that God hates you, since He has unleashed so much bad luck against you. Just as you are about to give up everything as a loss, the horn sounds in all Judea. Jubilee! The year of redemption is here, and you are saved by the ram’s horn. You are set free from your slavery, and given your land back. The slate is wiped clean, and you have a completely fresh start. That is the idea of Jubilee.

The idea of the Jubilee year is based on the telescoping pattern of sevens that we find in Holy Scripture. The most basic pattern of seven is the Sabbath, where one day in seven is sacred to the Lord. The Sabbath was based on creation and salvation, if you look at the two different accounts of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. In Exodus, the reason is that God created the world in six days and rested the seventh day. In Deuteronomy, the reason is that God brought the people of Israel out of Egypt, and so they wouldn’t have to work as hard as they did for Pharaoh. Because the Israelites have been redeemed, therefore they should obey the Sabbath.

The next element in this telescope of sevens is the Sabbatical year. Every seven years, the land was supposed to have a rest. This was so that the land would not get worn out. The Lord promised that He would provide for the people of Israel during the year before the Sabbatical year, the year of the Sabbatical year, and the year after. The Lord promised three years’ worth of farming to carry the Israelites through the lean time when there were no crops growing. The Lord had regard not only to the people of Israel, but also to the land, you see. Even the land was to follow the work patterns of the Lord God in creation.

That brings us to the final segment of seven: Jubilee. The name Jubilee refers to the ram’s horn that was blown at the beginning of the Jubilee year. The purpose o the Jubilee year was to ensure that no one Israelite would become so impoverished that he could never get out of the hole into which he had dug himself. There was always to be a light at the end of the tunnel. It was plain, however, that this command of the OT was not always obeyed. In fact, there is no record that it was ever obeyed. The Israelites became greedy for land and gain. And so they would make deals that got around this law. The words of this law, you see, were such that no land in Israel was ever regarded as permanently sold. Instead, it was a calculation of the number of crops, as it says in verse 16: “it is the number of the crops that he is selling to you.” Land was never to be permanently sold to someone, since the land belonged the Lord. It was the Lord, you see, who had apportioned the land to the twelve tribes, when they came into the land of promise. It was not land that belonged ultimately to the Israelites. The same promise that was made for the Sabbatical year was also made by God for the Jubilee year. The Lord would honor the keeping of the Jubilee year by a very good harvest the year before the Jubilee started. It was definitely a move of trust on the part of the people of Israel to actually do this. There was no human tangible guarantee that the Lord would do this. There was only the Word of the Lord. That is all they had.

Notice then, that the three patterns of seven that we have seen telescope into each other. It’s like those nesting dolls, which fit one inside another, inside another. The Sabbath points to the Sabbatical year, which in turn points to the year of Jubilee. But there is more. The year of Jubilee points to a time when there shall be no more slavery to sin. Just as God freed the Israelites from the oppression of slavery to Pharaoh, so also the Lord delivers His people from their slavery to sin and death. The real Year of Jubilee starts with the incarnation, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. We were in slavery to our own sin, and willingly so. We loved it, contrary to the Israelites loving their oppression. But Satan and our flesh blinded us to the fact that we were slaves. It is only when the Lord opens our eyes to see what was unclear before, that we come to realize that there is no way out of this slavery, except through Jesus. We have bet set free from the law of sin and death, if we are of Jesus Christ. That is, we must have faith in Him as Lord and Savior.

It is quite common to have New Year’s resolutions. The very best resolution that we can have is that we will live like free people. That means that we live as people free from sin and death. We cannot do this on our own strength, of course. However, the Lord wants us to press on toward this goal. In this New Year, will we live as children of the King, heirs to the entire kingdom?

You see, the problem is that we like to live our old lives over again. We love going back to Egypt, just like the Israelites did. We love to revel in our old life of sin. Instead of doing that, we should break free from that.
This applies especially well to those old sinful habits that we hate to give up. There are probably one or two sins in our lives that seem to have us in their grip. We seem enslaved to it, unable to break free. We have to understand that the Lord allows us to struggle with sins so that we will rely more completely on the Lord’s strength in the Holy Spirit. But the Lord will break us of those old sins. We should not give up the struggle. Many people come to the conclusion that those sins cannot be gotten rid of, so therefore they should give up trying to get rid of them. That is the path of despair, which Paul explodes in Romans 7. After describing the struggle that he goes through all the time, he says, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory.” Victory? What victory? Struggle doesn’t sound like victory to me. But that is exactly what Paul is saying. The struggle does avail. The very fact that you have a struggle inside you is proof positive that the Holy Spirit is working. Unbelievers have no such struggle. They have an easy time with sin: they just give right in, as the father says in “My Fair Lady”: “When temptation comes, I’ll step right in.” But when believers are faced with temptation, there is a struggle. What we must remember in that time of temptation is that we have been set free from sin and death. So therefore, that slavery is supposed to be a thing of the past. We should not live in it any longer, therefore. That is the ultimate meaning of the Jubilee year. It makes a much better New Year’s resolution than is normally the case. Happy New Year.

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