A New Creation
I think that a lot of the controversies in Christianity, such as legalism, Hebrew Roots, hierarchy, etc., arise from a misunderstanding of what it means to be in Christ. Did Jesus come just to pay for sins and nothing else, or is there more to our place in Christ and history than meets the eye? I propose the following three points as an argument for the latter, with important implications for how we view all of scripture.
1. We were unexpected
Was the ekklesia or Body of Christ (I’ll abbreviate as BoC) ever mentioned in the OT? Some people think so, but that’s easy enough to read into the text from our perspective. The real question is whether anyone before Jesus understood that there would be any other entity considered the people of God, and I don’t believe this is the case at all. References to the softening of hearts (e.g. Ezekiel 36:26) are often cited as prophecies the BoC fulfilled, but a careful reading of the context there shows a very clear focus on the nation of Israel and its repentance from profaning God’s name among the other nations.
Now of course there are scattered references to the Gentiles, such as Amos 9:11,12 (quoted by James in Acts 15:14-18). But they were identified as Gentiles, and no hints were given that the two would not continue to be two. They retained their separate identities though they would share the same faith in God. And no one would dispute the fact that Gentiles always had the option to become Jews at any time. Even in this statement by James in Acts, early in the life of the BoC, we see only a tiny glimpse of what Paul would later reveal; the Jews who accepted Jesus as Messiah were still living as Jews, but were now recognizing that believing Gentiles were not to be made Jews. Yet before Jesus came, I know of no one stating that there would ever be a BoC that is neither Jew nor Gentile. The Amos reference, for example, though quoted by James, certainly meant nothing but Jews to anyone in OT times.
Of course there are many references in the OT to the Messiah, some as a suffering servant and others as a conquering king. In our hindsight we can see that this indicated He would come twice, but as many do today with NT prophecy, people of OT times wrote off the seeming contradictions as mysteries or allegories. Yet even if they had understood this, they still had no idea of a coming BoC where the distinction between Jew and Gentile would be erased. In fact, this failure to see it coming was deliberate. Paul says this expressly in 1 Cor. 2:8, and he often stated that his mission was to reveal what had been hidden (Rom. 11:25, 16:25, 1 Cor. 2:7, Eph. 1:9, 3:3-9, 5:32, Col. 1:26-27, 2:2, 4:3, 1 Tim. 3:16). So if it had been known or knowable in the OT, there would have been no mystery to reveal.
2. We are unique
Ephesians 2 is a good place to start when examining the unique nature of the BoC. Though many read the passage and see only the uniting of Jew and Gentile, they tend to overlook the last part of vs. 15: “He made peace by voiding the law of decreed commands so that the two would be created in him as one new person.” A new entity, not simply a melding of two existing entities. Paul said it also in Gal. 3:28: “And in him there is no Jew or Greek, no slave or free, no male and female, for you are all one in Anointed Jesus.” When Paul expressly states “there is no Jew or Greek”, he means exactly and literally that. There are no “hyphenated” Christians.
And in that passage we see more uniqueness: we are children of God by adoption. Each of us individually, unlike anyone before Jesus came, are actually given the Holy Spirit as a guarantee and deposit of inheritance (2 Cor. 1:22, 5:5, Eph. 1:13-14). Individuals in the OT had the Spirit for limited times, but never the whole nation of Israel and never as a guarantee; there was always an “if”, a required performance, an escape clause. I listed the many changes that take place when someone is saved here (under “what happens the moment we are saved”).
Paul spent a lot of time and effort combating the relentless efforts of “Judaizers” to put Christians under Jewish law, the very law James already stated was a burden too heavy to bear. The whole letter to the Galatians, much of Colossians, and many other passages are a direct and emphatic response to any attempt to nullify the uniqueness of the BoC. And the reason we are free from the law (remembering that only Jews were ever under it in the first place) is because Jesus did much more than pay for sins. As the writer of Hebrews explains in great detail, Jesus came in a new order of priesthood, and if the priesthood changes so also does the law. And as I’ve said before, one does not need to specifically name every detail in a fulfilled contract as ended, but only the contract as a whole. It all stands or falls together, not as disjointed fragments we can pick through to decide which parts must still be enforced.
Everything changed in Christ. Most understand and agree that we are reconciled to God, our sins are forgiven, and we are adopted as God’s children. But we cannot ignore what else changed: we are not under the old Jewish law at all, we are no longer either Jews or Gentiles (or slave or free, or male and female) but “a new creation”, we are the Temple instead of go to a temple, we are the Body of Christ and He is our Brother in His humanity, we are not mere slaves but heirs of promise, we are truly free. We who know this share Paul’s great exasperation with those who subject themselves (and anger at those who teach this) to be shackled to Jewish law or its deformed “churchian” cousins. Because we are “in Christ” by faith alone, we inherit His fulfillment of all laws, His righteousness, His security, His mind (ref. 1 Cor. 2:16), His Spirit, His “baptism”, His authority, and His protection. We are God’s children, God’s priesthood, God’s temple, God’s kingdom.
Everything else, as Paul said, was a mere shadow or custodian to bring us to the point of reality in Christ. So to turn back to what he called “the worthless things” is to either be ignorant of all these unique and priceless things, or to deliberately defy them and insult the sacrifice Jesus made on our behalf. What Jesus said about new wine in old wineskins has no loopholes or escape clauses, so any attempt to circumvent all that He did for us is against Him and against His people. Some may (nay, will) take offense at these words, but I will continue to boldly proclaim our freedom in Christ.
3. We will always be the Body of Christ
Many believe that in eternity, all who are in heaven are lumped into one homogenized entity, as if the various epochs of human history amounted to nothing and the uniqueness of being in Christ was only for this life. But we are told in passages such as Acts 17:30 and Heb. 1:1-2 that God’s dealings with mankind do change, and we know from Revelation that the residents are not all described the same but are identified by the time or group they were in on earth. We have already established that God has separated humanity into three distinct groups: Jews, Gentiles, and Christians. According to prophecy teacher Jack Kelley,
So there are three components of humanity and they all have different destinies. New Jerusalem is for the Church, Israel is for the Jews, and the rest of the world is for Gentile believers who will re-populate the Earth after the 2nd Coming. All surviving non-believers, whether Jew or Gentile, will be taken away at the time of the 2nd Coming to await the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the Millennium with unbelievers of all ages.
If, as most would agree, we retain our personal identities in eternity, why not also our identities as one of the three distinct groups? If we as individuals are given rewards that are not identical with everyone else’s rewards (otherwise, what would be the point?), and this is not seen as a violation of what heaven is all about, then there is no reason to reject out of hand the concept of distinctions in people groups. So I believe that we as Christians will have a unique eternal destiny.
We who are in Christ are not Judaism 2.0 (or 1.0); we didn’t become Jews and they didn’t become Gentiles. We were unexpected, are unique, and will forever be the Body of Christ. Our destiny is our own; though the righteous of all time will be with God eternally as well, each of the three groups will have its own general destiny and place. That being the case, then, we cannot make the great mistake of trying to force-fit every passage of scripture onto all people of all time. Jesus rebuked people of His day for not recognizing “the signs of the times”, and Paul (see Gal. 4) explained that Jesus had to come at a particular time. So times, seasons, epochs, ages, or whatever we would call them, are very important to God and form an indispensable part of the context we must consider in interpreting any given passage. How salvation is accomplished for Gentiles without the law, Jews with the law, and Christians, are not all the same even though all involve faith.
What all this means is that when we study our faith and preach the gospel, we must know better than to appeal to the OT for either how to be saved or how to live after being saved. We must not forget where prophecies still to be fulfilled fit in the timeline of God and the great motivation this gives to us now to convince as many as possible to be in Christ. It may be that the coming Tribulation is the extreme measure required to get many to be saved, but at a very great price. If we care about people we will work all the harder to get the gospel to them now, so they don’t have to go through that. And besides, who would rather be a bridesmaid than the bride? Who would rather be a servant than a child? Who would rather be a friend than family?
We must stand against the teaching and practice of divisions within the Body of Christ, and prove our love for the lost by spreading the gospel instead of turning inward and trying to make other parts of this Body answer to us. Any teaching that focuses on differences instead of this one Spirit (1 Cor. 12:4ff) is false and harmful to the one Body modeled in the NT. Any teaching that rearranges the parts of the Body into a hierarchy makes it sick and weak. Any teaching that forgets love and humility of every part to every other part is like a transplanted organ the “natural” body rejects. Any teaching that would put us under laws we were never meant to carry is slavery and hard labor, in contrast to the light burden of Jesus.
It is our great hope and this priceless gift of adoption as children of God which should be our focus, not who should rule over whom, or putting people under Jewish laws and rituals, or building our own little kingdoms out of straw and sticks. The churches make great clubs, but I’ll party when I get to heaven. For now, I’ll stand on principle and Promise and do the work of the kingdom made of gemstones and pure gold. Remember the saying from the 1960s, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” How about, “What if they made up a religious rule book and nobody accepted it?” Jesus opened the prison doors a long time ago; lets all walk out for good.