Why Do I Follow Tribal Codes from 1400 B.C.?
The lovely Elizabeth Schmitz has challenged me yet again:
[Y]ou write, “What Elizabeth is doing is taking a modern relationship and reading it back into a culture where it never existed.” I will grant you that. If contextualism is such a concern of yours, perhaps you would refrain from taking the ancient/tribal mores and applying them to modern life… (source)
The issue here is the relevance of social mores that were written between 1450 and 1410 b.c. by Moses, who would have never had so much as a glimpse of modern life. Therefore, why would what he wrote for a group of people, wandering in the desert, be relevant to someone living, stationary, in the Midwestern United States in a.d. 2007?
In many ways, I admit what my critics assert. Tribal codes, as Elizabeth calls them, written between 1450 and 1410 b.c. have no relevance to modern life. So I would contend that I don’t follow them. I follow a higher moral standard that we all know exists, but cannot achieve regardless of how mightily we try. It is all there in our hearts. The Bible does back me up on this:
- “I delight to do your will, O God; your law is within my heart” (Ps 40:8).
- “Listen to me, you who know righteousness, the people in whose heart is my law; fear not the reproach of man, nor be dismayed at their revilings” (Is 51:7)
- “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).
The last of these verses is actually a prophecy. God is stating that He will write His law on the hearts of His people, the elect discussed in the New Testament, so that we will know it instinctively. This way, we will be His people. As one of the elect, I know God’s law instinctively, for the day Jeremiah spoke of has come to pass, the law was fulfilled in Jesus (Mat 5:17).
As a side note, so that I don’t seem to sound so high and mighty, I claim to follow a higher moral standard. I believe that it was God who wrote it on my heart, so that I could be His and He could be my God. I do not, however, claim to ever hit the mark set by this moral standard. I fail in my walk every day. Each day, I also ask God for forgiveness, and try to make amends where I can to the people I hurt.
So that no one can say that the verses in Jeremiah don’t apply to me since I am a Gentile by birth, let me put a few verses out there. First, Romans 4:9-12:
Is this blessing then only for the circumcised, or also for the uncircumcised? We say that faith was counted to Abraham as righteousness. How then was it counted to him? Was it before or after he had been circumcised? It was not after, but before he was circumcised. He received the sign of circumcision as a seal of the righteousness that he had by faith while he was still uncircumcised. The purpose was to make him the father of all who believe without being circumcised, so that righteousness would be counted to them as well, and to make him the father of the circumcised who are not merely circumcised but who also walk in the footsteps of the faith that our father Abraham had before he was circumcised.
This means that all who believe are the descendants of Abraham, not just the physical descendants of Abraham. The apostle continues:
That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, “So shall your offspring be.” He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. That is why his faith was “counted to him as righteousness.” (Rom 4:16-22)
Finally, Paul wrote this to the Galatians: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (3:28). The distinctions have passed away under the New Covenant, what once applied to the Jews now applies to the Gentiles.
The moral code is written not just in the Bible, but on our hearts. The trouble is, no one recognizes it or follows it (Rom 3:23). This is the first of the five-part Reformed TULIP doctrine: Total depravity. Mankind is dead in sin (Eph 2:1-3).
God offered a solution: Jesus died in our place. But Jesus conquered the enemy of death by rising again in fulfillment of the Scriptures. Now, confess Him our Lord, and have faith that God raised Him from the dead and whoever does so will be saved (Rom 10:9).
What about the law? Paul says this:
Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. (Gal 3:23-27)
Even then, the apostle anticipated the objection that everyone is thinking right now. I am now free to behave however I choose, and that all I must do is confess my sin to God and I’m fine. This is what Paul says to that:
What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. who have been baptized buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.
For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. For one who has died has been set free from sin. Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Rom 6:1-11)
And the writer of Hebrews says this:
For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt. For land that has drunk the rain that often falls on it, and produces a crop useful to those for whose sake it is cultivated, receives a blessing from God. But if it bears thorns and thistles, it is worthless and near to being cursed, and its end is to be burned. (Heb 6:4-8)
The apostle John says that we who love God will keep His commandments (1 Jn 5:2). And James says it the best: “So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (Jms 2:17).
Therefore, contrary to what most critics of Christianity assert, and contrary to how many Christians act, we are called not only to live by faith, but also live our faith out. J.P. Holding has a discussion of the same topic here, which I highly recommend. Because of mankind’s complete depravity, we will usually sin in a given moral situation. But Christ Jesus sets us free from sin, and in Him we can do the good that we intrinsically know.