We’re working through Covenant: God’s Purpose, God’s Plan. by John H. Walton.
Walton suggests several conclusions from his work. To begin with, the Old Testament is largely not about the salvation history of the Jews. The Law of Moses is not “soteric,” that is, not about how to be saved in the New Testament sense.
After all, only a handful of Old Testament people received the Spirit, which is an essential element of New Testament salvation. That’s not to say that God didn’t save the faithful of Israel but that salvation in the New Testament sense is simply not the point of the Law of Moses.
Many First Century Jews made that mistake, arguing that salvation (in the Christian sense) comes from obedience to the Law, but that simply was never true. The Law was, rather, God’s election of Israel to be the people through whom he revealed himself to the world.
This is the reason that faith in Jesus saves without regard to works of the Law. It’s why faith is sufficient, as faith brings about the Spirit, regeneration, and changed hearts and lives. Faith is what allows us to see Jesus for who he really is and so to be shaped into the image of Christ.
Paul, therefore, argues not so much against the Law as against those who seek salvation in the Law, as though Jesus himself might be insufficient.
Another conclusion is that our Old Testament studies should be less about the heroes of the faith — Abraham, David, etc. — and more about what God reveals about himself in his dealing with these heroes.
Whatever the nature of the relationship to God that these individuals enjoyed, their stories are not recorded to offer models of what our relationship to God should or should not be. Rather, the Old Testament accounts seek to reveal what God is like so we may enter into relationship with him. Knowing Abraham, Moses, or David does not provide the key to a successful relationship with God—knowing God provides the key to a successful relationship with God.
(Kindle Locations 2578-2581).
Ultimately, of course, Walton’s conclusions course throughout all of Scripture. We study Genesis 1 more to learn about God than about the creation. We study the life of Abraham to learn about the covenant-making, self-revealing God more than Abraham as hero. We study the Gospel of John more to learn about the character and motivations of Jesus than his commands.
John makes a particularly good example, because Jesus utters so very few commands — other than, most notably, to love one another, wash each other’s feet, and to be unified. And we learn so much about Jesus in that Gospel that we find ourselves transformed and moved just from having experienced the presence of Jesus.
It’s obviously no book of law. It’s hardly a typical biography. Indeed, it reads best as a revelation of the nature of God through Jesus. And when we realized that we’ve been called to be like God by being like Jesus, suddenly John is no longer a cool book to debate regarding Calvinism vs. Arminianism. Rather, John becomes a window into the very heart of God.
Take the same view as to Matthew — which we desperately want to read as the Second Law of Moses — and the book is transformed. It’s not that the Sermon on the Mount doesn’t raise serious ethical challenges that God truly means for us to meet. Rather, it’s that the Sermon on the Mount speaks in terms of who God is and Jesus’ call that we pattern our choices after God. That dramatically changes the reading.
Again, in reading Romans or Galatians, the faith vs. works debate is about two differing views of God. Is God the God revealed in Jesus, who culminates and fulfills the Law? Does Jesus radically redefine the Torah by being a truer, richer, deeper revelation of God? Or does the Torah limit Jesus?
When we apply these books to contemporary problems, we really have to sort through a re-learning, re-thinking process of sorts, because — as is our nature — we really just want some simple rules to live by, whereas God wants us transformed to think and see and feel and be entirely differently. And he does that by showing himself to us through the Messiah and asking us to follow Jesus.
And this is both easier and harder. But it’s better. Because we are called thereby to something beyond Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. It’s not about me and my self-image. It’s about God and his mission and purpose and his invitation that I join him in the greatest adventure imaginable — to work beside God in redeeming the world.