Archive for the ‘2. A Brief History of Unity’ Category

If Christ perfectly shows the holiness of God to the world, what then is to become of Israel? Has God rejected the nation of Israel? Paul addresses these questions in Romans 11, where he speaks about the place of Israel in the present age.

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
(Romans 11:1-6 ESV)

Pointing out the obvious Paul reminds his readers that he (an apostle of Christ) is a decedent of Abraham (Israelite). God has not forgotten about the people he chose for himself before the foundation of the world. Paul recounts the Old Testament story of Elijah, who, being frustrated by the wickedness of Israel declared to God that he was the only faithful Israelite left. God answers Elijah, revealing that even in the face of such rampant disobedience God has still kept a remnant of 7,000 men who have not worshipped Baal. In the same way God has kept a remnant for himself in Israel today.

Even though Israel was God’s chosen people, not all who share in the flesh of Abraham (Israel) are saved. Those who were unfaithful were not included in the remnant God set aside for himself. This is to show that salvation has always been about faith not flesh. This is the same for all who share in the flesh of Adam.

I ask, then, has God rejected his people? By no means! For I myself am an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin. God has not rejected his people whom he foreknew. Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.
What then? Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking. The elect obtained it, but the rest were hardened, as it is written,
“God gave them a spirit of stupor,
eyes that would not see
and ears that would not hear,
down to this very day.”
And David says,
“Let their table become a snare and a trap,
a stumbling block and a retribution for them;
let their eyes be darkened so that they cannot see,
and bend their backs forever.”

(Romans 11:1-10 ESV)

What then of Israel’s strong opposition to the Gospel of Jesus Christ? By choosing Israel to be obedient to his law God showed the nations to be disobedient, because through their obedience they would reflect God holiness in unity. In this way the remnant in Israel were saved. However when the holiness of God was revealed in Jesus Christ Israel became enemies of the Gospel, this so that the Gospel would spread amongst the nations and that mercy might be shown to them. It was by the persecution of the Church at the hands of Israel (as Paul is painfully aware) that the Gospel spread to the nations (Acts 8:1). Therefore Israel was hardened for a time so that the nations might be shown mercy.

Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers: a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,
“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
“and this will be my covenant with them
when I take away their sins.”
As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers. For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now receive mercy. For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

(Romans 11:25-35 ESV)

After the time of this hardening passed God uses the elect from the nations of the earth to show mercy to Israel. Mercy is shown to the nations and to Israel because of their disobedience, just as it says “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.” (vs35) From God’s perspective (under his compete sovereignty) all (the elect past, present and future) were first given over to disobedience so that God could show mercy to them in Jesus Christ. In understanding the mercy that he has bestowed upon the elect they grow to understand the great love that God has for them. So today, just as God keeps some from all nations as a remnant for himself he also keeps some from amongst the Jews, because he has not forgotten the faithfulness of Abraham.

God has done this so that we might know that he is all in all (he is the head of all things), the only true and living God. Therefore he is worthy of all glory and honour as he works all things in himself to that end. So that through creation he first declared his headship and in the salvation of Christ he declares it again, so that all things would either unite in him or be removed.

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.
(Romans 11:36 ESV)

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It is in Jesus that God makes himself known in unity, perfectly. Despite the fact that he was in human form Jesus was still able to perfectly represent the holiness (exclusiveness) of God to the world, something which Israel was never able to do. It is only through Jesus that the world finally sees exactly what the “goodness” of God involves and how he is different from fallen humanity (creation).

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.
(Hebrews 1:3)

It is because of his union with God that Jesus is aptly described as “the word” in John 1. Unlike Israel Jesus perfectly reflected the “goodness” of God in unity. This is why it can be consistently said to know Christ is to know his father who sent him.

While in human form Jesus is said to be God at the same time. Colossians 1 sheds some light on the interaction between human unity and the trinity that exists in Christ.

He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.
(Colossians 1:15-23 ESV)

It is no small thing to say that Jesus created and sustains the universe, and that all authority comes from him. This attributes the same authority to Jesus which demands the worship of God alone (creator). Paul also explains that Jesus did not only reflect the image of God in human form, but the fullness of God was in Christ. In short Jesus is God, the interaction of the union of God and the union of man in Christ will be discussed in more detail later.

The existence of law is evidence that mankind is not only in conflict with God and creation, but also in conflict with their own nature. Meaning that there is disunity between humans and within each human (in two minds).

The history of fallen man has shown that even without the love of God (in them) the desire to live in community is still strong (i.e. live together in unity). This reveals an inherent conflict within each human, a conflict between the desire and ideal of living perfectly in community and the actual ability to carry it out. On the one hand mankind seeks to unite and live together, yet on the other hand true unity is impossible given their evil/divisive natures. In an attempt to overcome their own evil natures mankind seek to command a higher standard of relating (unity) in the form of law. The existence of law means that mankind feels the need to command behaviour that they are not naturally capable of. Therefore the sinful nature of man is at war with his purpose and desire to live in unity (community).

Paul describes this conflict in Romans 7. He refers to it as a war between two types of laws, that of sin and death and the law of righteousness. The law of sin and death has become the birth right of every human because they are born into the flesh of Adam. The law of righteousness is the desire to do what is right to live in unity as reflected in the law of God. However because of man’s sinful nature he will never be able to meet the requirements of God’s law, though he may be able to fulfil the requirements of the law of man. It is the law of God the reveals this conflict most acutely because it perfectly reflects God’s standard for living in unity, which is unattainable by merely human means.

What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin. For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me.
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.

(Romans 7:7-23 ESV)

This conflict exists in all humans, Christians and non-Christians. It is everywhere, for example:
• The university graduate who starts their new job full of ideas wanting to do what is right and good, yet eventually has their ideals are crushed by the weight of the reality of their sinfulness and the hopelessness of human life, or
• The unending number of self-help books that inspire people to take hold of our lives and make themselves the success that “they know they can be”. Yet the reality of their inability to carry out their desires reveals the conflict that exists within them, or
• Whenever someone says “I know I should, but…” they reveal the conflict between knowing what is right and the ability to carry it out.

Paul recognises just how hopelessness the disunity of humanity is. Mankind is completely hopeless to do anything to overcome their own sinful natures. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? (vs24). It is only through Jesus, saviour and head (Lord) of a new perfect human union, that mankind is finally able to overcome itself.

However Paul acknowledges that Christians will not overcome their sinful nature completely in the present age/in this life (in the flesh of Adam). Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin. (vs25). In short the reason why this conflict still exists in Christians is because they will not become capable of fulfilling the requirements of the law naturally until their union in Christ is fully realised. Only once all Christians have shed their bodies of flesh (the mark of their membership in Adam) in death and taken possession of their spiritual bodies (in the form of Christ) in their resurrection will the union of Christ be fully realised.

If you need reminding then…
The law is a reminder to mankind that they are incapable of naturally relating to God in unity. This is why in Deuteronomy 6:4-9 Moses commands Israel to remind itself of the requirements of the law constantly.

And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
(Deuteronomy 6:6-9)

The fact that the reminder must be so constant merely highlights how foreign unity (in God) is to fallen mankind. However God does not compromise himself by depending on Israel to uphold his unity. God is still able to demonstrate his unity with his law by upholding and enforcing it. The fact that Israel can’t keep it is Israel’s failing. However this ultimately appears to be a lesson in cruelty by God, commanding unity that would be impossible for Israel to acheive. The law does nothing to fulfil his promise to Abraham of renewed unity, through his offspring.

Prophets, the most faithful
Thankfully the law is not God’s final word or judgement. God used the prophets of the Old Testament to be his mouthpiece in Israel and the nations (mostly Israel). He used them to be examples of faithfulness (the most faithful in God’s household), exmaples that the vast majority of Israel could not or would not be. Their very existence is a loving call to repentance in light of God’s judgement, always promising hope for forgiveness and renewed unity for those who did. An example of this is seen in Ezekiel 36 where God demonstrates his unity with his law by judging Israel, while at the same time promising renewed unity between God and man (hope).

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations and gather you from all the countries and bring you into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules. You shall dwell in the land that I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God. And I will deliver you from all your uncleannesses. And I will summon the grain and make it abundant and lay no famine upon you. I will make the fruit of the tree and the increase of the field abundant, that you may never again suffer the disgrace of famine among the nations. Then you will remember your evil ways, and your deeds that were not good, and you will loathe yourselves for your iniquities and your abominations. It is not for your sake that I will act, declares the Lord God; let that be known to you. Be ashamed and confounded for your ways, O house of Israel.
(Ezekiel 36:16-38)

The law was never capable of affecting true unity because it was unable to address the underlying break in unity caused by Adam. Instead it highlights the disunity in creation even more, highlighting the need for a solution appart from itself. Disunity has always been an issue of access to God, more specifically access to the nature of God (love) in relationship. This is why God clearly states that the solution to the disunity of humanity is a new heart. Where he proposes to remove the old contrary nature of Adam (not love, dead/stone heart) and transplant a new (loving) nature consistent with his law (living, heart of flesh).

The purpose of this post is to use the ten commandments to show how the behaviour the law demands is consistent with being union with God, while addressing actual behaviours inherent in fallen humanity (inherent in disunity). Therefore the Ten Commandments dictate the terms of God’s relationship with Israel.

Firstly, God states who he is and his claim over Israel. He declares “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”(Exodus 20:vs2) God identifies himself to Israel as their God, the one who through many signs and wonders liberated them from Egypt. He is claiming his right to command loyalty and dictate the terms of their relationship (unity). God liberated Israel for a purpose, to be in relationship (union) with him, no one else. Mankind was created to be in a union with God, the terms of which were rightly set out by him as creator. Now God has redeemed Israel for himself, to live in union with him. Therefore God gives them the Ten Commandments as his binding covenant with them.

The first three commandments require Israel to put God first in everything, in recognition of his headship. This is the same requirement that was placed on Adam and Eve, implicitly, in the order of creation. In any union the head is due all honour and respect from all members of that union, in turn it is his role to provide all good things for those who are under his authority.

1. You shall have no other gods before me.

The second commandment is specifically targeted at maintaining the order of creation. The sin of Adam and Eve was that they subjected themselves to a lower creature, holding it in greater esteem than God. To ensure that this “worship” or submission to creation does not continue God explicitly forbids the manufacture and worship of idols resembling anything in creation.

2. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.

The third commandment is like the first two. If God is head of this union then it is under his name that all Israel is to be unified. To take his name in vain is to show contempt for the entire union, expressing disunity.

3. You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.

The forth command is a throwback to God’s act of creation, where he rested on the seventh day, making it a pattern in creation. This is a union under the God who created all things and as such he is head of all things. This is not a new command, the fact that it is explicit is. To be in union with God is to live in a way that is consistent with how he originally created all things (in union).

4. Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The remaining 6 commandments are concerned with the union of mankind (human relationships). In light of God’s headship the requirements he places on human relationships are again consistent with the way he originally created man (in union), while also addressing specific behaviours inherent in human disunity.

To obey your parents is a sign of a working family union, which is the basis of human unity.

5. Honour your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the LORD your God is giving you.

Murder is one member of a union destroying another, making it one of the strongest acts of disunity imaginable. The hatred that produces murder is in direct opposition to the love of God in unity. This is why Cain was cast into exile when he murdered his brother Abel (Genesis 4). This is also why God demands blood for blood (Genesis 9:6). Murder cannot exist at the same time as love in unity. Cain’s sin represented the first of many abhorrent acts of disunity (Genesis 4:23-24). Similar things can be said for theft, adultery, false witness and covetous desire, they are disunity “made flesh”.

6. You shall not murder.

Adultery is destruction of the marriage union established by God for the good of all mankind. Adultery not only weakens a marriage union but the entire union of mankind (community).

7. You shall not commit adultery.

Theft would not even make sense in a perfect union. In the order of unity all things are given by the head for the good of all so that all things are common, with each person seeking the good of other members and the entire union. Where the concept of personal ownership becomes ridiculous and the idea of amassing personal fortunes, to lord over others, is counterproductive to a healthy community.

8. You shall not steal.

Bearing false witness (lying) against another member of the same union is destructive, where one member seeks to destroy another using the human “justice” system. It may even lead to murder, using others to carry it out.

9. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

Covetous desire is very often the evil motivation behind commands 6-9. Much like theft it does not make any sense in unity when all things are given by God for the common good.

10. You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbour’s.”
(Exodus 20:1-21 ESV)

The Ten Commandments reveal that living a righteous life means keeping the minimum requirements of being united in God. While these set out the requirements of living in union with God the story of the Old Testament proves that the law was unable to affect real change in Israel, let alone the world.

The command to unite in the image of God is explicit in the bible, especially in verses such as:

For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”
(Leviticus 11:45 ESV)

And also:

You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
(Matthew 5:48)

However it is in Deuteronomy 6 where the link between the oneness (unity) of God and the requirement to unite in him is clearest. Deuteronomy is Moses’ retelling the law of God to Israel before they go to take the Promised Land. Moses begins his recounting of the law by stating that God is one. This is simultaneously a statement of God’s unity and headship (supremacy). Setting out the context and purpose of the law, a command for Israel to unite under his headship (reflect his image in unity). This is why the statement of God’s oneness is accompanied by the command to obey the law in everything they do, including accurately teaching the law to their children. In this way the image of God would be consistently transmitted from person to person through time (in theory).

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
(Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

It should be noted that Moses is talking to all of Israel, not just part, making it a command for human unity in God (and Abraham) while acknowledging the place of the individual (e.g. bind them on your hand).

As previously discussed, the basis of human unity is the family. In family each new child (member) is born into relationship as either a son or daughter and possibly brother or sister. However as a family grows the number of relationships multiply. One man could be a father, son, brother, uncle and cousin at the same time, or a woman could be mother, daughter, sister, aunt and cousin (depending on who they are relating to). Therefore the role and responsibility of a person in any given circumstance is determined by who they are relating to. In any union there is a right and wrong way of relating, depending on the distinctive roles fulfilled by each member at any given time. Acting in the wrong way (e.g. disobeying parents) is indicative of no unity at all (disunity).

Every nation on earth has a variety of laws that command and manage a range of relational situations, from murder to being too noisy late at night. Both human laws and the law of God seek to manage relationships and command consistent behaviour for good community. However human laws are incapable of commanding true (God like) unity because they are not based on any absolute standard of relating (God); often seeking to acheive competing goals. Only the law of God perfectly commands unity (good relationship). Therefore the law of God:
• Contains the requirements for the conduct of good relationship (unity) between God and man, within humanity and between humanity and the rest of creation.
• Perfectly reflects the absolute standard of relationship in unity that is God:
o It does not command behaviour that is contradictory and can therefore be thought of as a single unified law.
o Commanding perfect unity in a single head (God), (i.e. in his likeness).

While the requirements of the written law encompass the unwritten standard of unity that existed in the beginning, other requirements exist purely because mankind is not in union with God and need to relate to God in disunity. If unity/good relationships (in God’s image) existed then the written law of God (especially human law) would not be necessary. Instead people would naturally reflect God’s image in relationship (unity) all the time, perfectly relating to one another, God and creation.

Israel and the Law
In the beginning creation reflected the goodness of God, which made knowing him easy. However since the fall creation no longer accurately reflects the goodness of God in unity. This makes knowing him in any specific way, from creation, impossible. Because of this God chose Israel to possess his law, so that by keeping it the world would once again be able to know him in unity.

Exodus 19:3-6 explicitly states that Israel was chosen as God’s treasured possession from all the nations of Earth.

…while Moses went up to God. The LORD called to him out of the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the people of Israel: You yourselves have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the people of Israel.”
(Exodus 19:3-6 ESV)

The exclusivity (holiness) of Israel shows that unity with God cannot be an unconditional acceptance of all people from all nations of the earth without discrimination. The unity that God seeks to re-establish with mankind is unity in his own image, the same type of unity that existed before the fall. God chooses Israel because he will not compromise himself to accommodate all nations and their “cultures” for the sake of a different type of unity (which isn’t unity at all). Therefore because God is exclusive (holy) in unity Israel must also be exclusive (holy).

And the LORD spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to all the congregation of the people of Israel and say to them, You shall be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy. Every one of you shall revere his mother and his father, and you shall keep my Sabbaths: I am the LORD your God. Do not turn to idols or make for yourselves any gods of cast metal: I am the LORD your God.
(Leviticus 19:1-4 ESV)

God is the definition of holiness (i.e. the specific way he is different from the world), to command the same holiness from Israel is to command unity from Israel. To achieve the holiness of God apart from unity with him is to rival God (impossible to actually achieve). Therefore this means that the law is a command to unity in God.

Israel and the Nations
God established Israel as a people for himself, on his own terms (customs, law, location, etc), so that the world might know him in unity. So that through their obedience to the law (God) Israel would show the exclusiveness of God, in relationship (unity), to the world.

God always intended to bless the nations of the earth by exclusively choosing Israel to be his people. In Genesis 22:15-19 God tells Abraham that it is because of his obedience that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through his offspring. This is echoed in Isaiah 49:6, where God explicitly states that he chose Israel to be a light to the nations to declare his holiness to them so that many would be saved.

And now the LORD says,
he who formed me from the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him;
and that Israel might be gathered to him—
for I am honoured in the eyes of the LORD,
and my God has become my strength—
he says:
“It is too light a thing that you should be my servant
to raise up the tribes of Jacob
and to bring back the preserved of Israel;
I will make you as a light for the nations,
that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”

(Isaiah 49:1-7 ESV)

At the revelation of his holiness (exclusiveness in unity), reflected through Israel, the sinfulness of the nations would become evident. Showing the world that he can be known and does not allow all things and all things are not a part of him.