New Testament LawIntroduction
The ethical instruction of the New Testament is built upon Old Testament Law. Jesus, in particular, takes Old Testament moral law and "fulfills" it, ie. he completes its task of defining goodness in such a way as to remove any doubt of the sinfulness of lost humanity. The "exceeding" righteousness of Jesus exposes our need for a saviour. So the ethic of Jesus does not easily translate into practical ethical behaviour. None-the-less, principles, or more rightly ethical ideals, can be discerned toward which a believer may press. On the other hand, the epistles outline the ethical consequences of a life lived in the power of the indwelling Spirit of Christ. They are not so much the road to sanctification as the consequence of sanctification. The renewing Spirit of Christ will produce this ethic in our lives, and if we find ourselves lacking in such "love", then we need only look in faith to the Lord of love and to his inward compelling. The prayer of faith will move the mountain of the hardened heart.
Ethical instruction in the gospels does not take the character of a written law-code. Unlike the epistles, which contain clear practical advice, eg. Rom.10:12-18, the gospels contain instruction of an elusive character, Lk.14:12-13, Matt.5:39-42. Ethical instruction in the gospels is not easy to apply.
C.H. Dodd has classified three characteristics of the ethical teachings of Jesus:
i] They have a distinctive poetic and imaginative quality;
ii] There is a strong note of realism encapsulated in pictures;
iii] They have a dramatic quality by which Jesus expresses the idea of an action concretely.
So the ethical teachings of the gospels are of another order, rather than straightforward ethical instruction. They disclose absolutes, appealing to the conscience by way of the imagination.
The gospel itself controls the ethic of Jesus. The preaching of the good news of salvation through the forgiveness of sins, moulds the ethic. The ethical teachings of the gospels serve as an objective standard of self criticism. In other words, they bring home God's judgement upon us. They force us to realize our own sinfulness, and thus force us to seek God's mercy and forgiveness. The primary purpose of gospel ethic is to promote repentance rather than give moral instruction.
Although the ethical instruction of the epistles echoes that of the gospels (Col.3:13, Matt.18:21-25, 6:12. Rom.14:14, Mk.7:14-19. Rom.14:13, Matt.7:1, 18:6-7) it is more capable of being literally applied. It tends to be presented as a consequence which must inevitably follow salvation. In this sense it is very much like the approach of the gospel of Matthew.
It seems that by the time Paul wrote his letters there was an accepted ethical tradition commonly taught in the New Testament church. This "tradition" or "pattern of teaching" was simply restated by Paul as he exhorted his new churches to "adopt" and "hold fast" the accepted "standard" of behaviour, cf. Rom.6:17-18, 1Thes.4:1-12, 2Thes.2:15, 3:6-15, Heb.13:13, 1Pet.3:1-9.
The content of the tradition was as follows:
i] The demand that certain undesirable sins be abandoned, despite the fact that they might be condoned by society, Col.3:5-17, Eph. 4:5.
ii] The emphasizing of virtues expressive of a new life in Christ, e.g. purity, gentleness, hospitality, patience, forgiveness.
iii] The maintenance of social relationships.
iv] Family relationships - husband to wife, parent to child, and master to household servant.
v] Christian fellowship - Attitudes towards elders, recognition of ministries and the acceptance of individual responsibility toward ones Christian brother and sister, Col.3:18, Eph.5,6, 1Peter 2, 3, and 5.
vi] Society - The need for prudence, peacefulness, kindness and obedience, 1 Pet.2-4, Rom.13.
vii] Employment - Justice and diligence, Col.4:1, Eph.4:28, 6:9, 2Thes.3:10.
The motives of New Testament ethics
1. The second coming
The New Testament is alive with the realization that Christ will soon return, and it is this truth which is so often used as a motive for right behaviour, Rom.13:11-14, 1Cor.7:25-40, 1Thes.5:1-11, Phil.3:17-21, Col.3:1-4f, 1Jn.3:2-3.
2. Members of Christ's body
Our integral link to each other through our commitment to Jesus, is used in the New Testament as a motive for right action. We are not islands of self-interest, but a community of cooperation. We are a new creation, a building, a body, bound to each other as the parts of the human body are similarly bound together. Our desire to "abide in Christ" prompts mutual love, 1 Cor.12:5-6, Eph.4:1-13.
3. The imitation of Christ
In the New Testament, Christ is the pattern for Christian conduct, Jn.13:15. Thus Paul (1Cor.11:1, 1Thes.1:6) and also Peter (1Pet.2:21, 3:17) exhorts us to follow Christ. To imitate Christ is to imitate God, Eph.5:2.
A major motive for right action is the knowledge of God's love for us. Our religion is based on the unmerited salvation of mankind which stems from the love of God. We are therefore exhorted to love as He loves us, Jn.13:34-35, 15:12-13, Rom.5:5-8, 1Jn.4:9-11. This love is for us both a command, Jn.15:12f, and a gift, Rom.5:5, Gal.5:22. Love fulfills the Law, Rom.13:8-10, Gal.5:14.
5. Preparation for eternity
The application of Biblical truth to the circumstances of life, serves to prepare us for our reign with Christ in eternity, 1Cor.6:3. cf. Luke 19:11-27. A knowledge of the training value of applied Biblical ethics serves to motivate the continued application of that ethic.
6. The indwelling Christ
The presence of the indwelling Spirit of Christ in the life of a believer serves as a subconscious motivator to godly living. Christ's indwelling character of love compels us to live as Christ would live, 2Cor.5:14-15.
7. Union with Christ
The desire of a believer to unite in fellowship with Christ prompts behaviour worthy of that relationship, Phil.3:8-15.
A knowledge of the practical (utilitarian) worth of New Testament ethics prompts a desire to apply that ethic in daily living, 2Tim.3:16, Heb.4:12.
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