“Christianity in 12 Words – New Testament Christianity” Series
standard of authority did Moses make the tabernacle and all the furnishings of
it? Did he just make things up on his own as he went along? Or did he ask the
people for their opinions and suggestions? The inspired writer of Hebrews said
concerning the things of the Old Testament law including its priests and
sacrifices, “Who serve the copy and shadow of the heavenly things, as Moses was
divinely instructed when he was about to make the tabernacle. For He said, ‘See
that you make all things according to the pattern shown you on the mountain’”
(Hebrews 8:5). Moses had a standard of authority for building the tabernacle
that came directly from God.
In studying the Bible, the subject of authority is one of the first things that must be resolved. We all recognize the need for some standard of authority in various areas of our physical lives. How can we determine the measurement of a line? Is one guess as good as another? No, we use a ruler, yardstick, or tape measure. How do we know the meaning of a word? Does each person get to make up his own definition? No, we appeal to a dictionary. Thus, everyone understands the importance of having a standard of authority in regards to weight, volume, time, etc.
The same thing is true, or at least it should be true, in the realm of religion. When are Christians commanded to assemble for worship? Some say that Christians should assemble for worship on the Sabbath Day, which is the seventh day of the week or Saturday. Others teach that Christians should assemble for worship on the Lord’s day, which is the first day of the week or Sunday. Which is correct? Both cannot be true. But how can we determine what is right? Is there some standard of authority, like a yardstick or dictionary, to which we can go to learn God’s will in spiritual matters today? The purpose of this article is to examine these questions and see if we can find an answer. To accomplish this goal, there are four considerations to keep in mind.
Has God Revealed His Will?
In the first place, either God has revealed His will, or He has not. The Bible affirms that He has. How can we know about God? “The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament shows His handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). This is God’s general revelation of His existence in nature. However, nature does not reveal God’s will. So, how can we know the will of God, what He wants us to do? “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die’” (Genesis 2:16-17). God spoke to Adam and told him what He wished. This is God’s special revelation of His will by His word.
Yet, God does not speak to people today in the same way that He spoke directly to Adam in the Garden of Eden. “God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds’ (Hebrews 1:1-2). There was a time when God spoke directly to the patriarchs. There was a time when He spoke to Israel through the law of Moses and the prophets. But today, He speaks to us by His Son, Jesus Christ. This brings us to our second consideration.
How Does God Speak to Us by His Son?
In other words, what is our source of authority from God through Christ? To answer this question, we must define authority. A Roman centurion once told Jesus, “For I also am a man under authority, having soldiers under me. And I say to this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and to another, ‘Come,’ and he comes; and to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it” (Matthew 8:9). “Authority” may be defined as the right to command and expect obedience. This centurion himself was under authority and had to obey the commands of his superiors, but he also had soldiers under his authority who had to obey his commands. So, who has authority, the right to command us and expect obedience, in religion? “And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth’” (Matthew 28:18). To say that Jesus has all authority simply leaves none whatever for any man or group of men.
How then is this authority from Christ transmitted to us? Jesus is not alive here on earth to tell us what to do, nor does He speak directly from heaven to any individuals today. However, He promised to send the Holy Spirit to the apostles to guide them into all truth. “However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come” (John 16:13). The Spirit revealed to the apostles and others known as prophets Christ’s will, which they then wrote down so that we can read and understand. “How that by revelation He made known to me the mystery (as I have briefly written already, by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets” (Ephesians 3:3-5). Thus, that which is written, or the Scriptures, provides the authority that we need to be equipped for every good work. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
Now that we know what God intends our standard of authority is to be, this information helps us to answer the question, what then is authorized in religion? “If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God. If anyone ministers, let him do it as with the ability which God supplies, that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belong the glory and the dominion forever and ever. Amen” (1 Peter 4:11). In secular Greek, the word “oracle” referred to the utterances of a deity. What God has spoken to us through His Son is recorded in the Scripture. When we follow this, we know that we are doing what is authorized. And this is what Paul had in mind when he wrote, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17).
What does it mean to do something in the name of the Lord? “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). Acting “in the name of the Lord” is not just doing whatever we wish and saying, “This is in the name of Jesus.” Acting “in the name of the Lord” means actually doing the will of the Father in heaven which, as we have seen, is revealed in His written word. To do anything else is “lawlessness” or “iniquity.”
What Scripture Is Authoritative?
As we have noticed, Paul said that all Scripture is profitable, but not all Scripture is necessarily authoritative today. For example, in Genesis 6:14, God gave a command, “Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch.” Yet no one in his right mind concludes that this is a command which applies to us in this time. The fact is that Christ fulfilled the entire Old Testament. “Then He said to them, ‘These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me’” (Luke 24:44). Everything in the Old Testament pointed forward to Christ; therefore, Paul wrote, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). The word translated “end” means the goal or purpose and thus the completion of something. Hence, Christ completed the function of the Old Testament.
Having fulfilled and completed the Old Testament, Jesus took it out of the way. In Colossians 2:14-17, Paul wrote that Christ “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.” What was this “handwriting of ordinances? Paul identified exactly what it included as he continued, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” It was the law which contained commandments regarding food, drink, festivals, new moons, and Sabbaths. The fact is that the Old Testament law was given for a specific purpose to a particular group of people for a limited period of time.
With the old law out of the way, He gave us a new covenant, just as the old covenant itself predicted. “But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then no place would have been sought for a second. Because finding fault with them, He says: ‘Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah—not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they did not continue in My covenant, and I disregarded them, says the Lord’” (Hebrews 8:6-9; cf. Hebrews 10:8-10).
Thus, we are not to regard Moses or the prophets as our standard of authority. When Moses, who gave the Old Testament law, and Elijah, a prophet of the Old Testament law, appeared at the transfiguration of Jesus, and Peter suggested building tabernacles or tents for them to stay and teach, God the Father Himself spoke out of heaven regarding Jesus and said, “This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased. Hear Him!” rather than following Moses or Elijah (Matthew 17:3-5). If our authority does not come from the Old Testament, then what is the purpose of the Old Testament scriptures? “For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope” (Romans 15:4). In studying the Old Testament, we find many examples that help us to learn about God, His nature, and His attitude towards sin, as well as many evidences leading us to faith in Christ. However, it is not God’s law and authority for us today.
Where Is Our Authority Found?
Therefore, to summarize, we see from the Scriptures that we do not live in an age when God speaks directly to people, through Moses, or by the prophets, but makes His will known through the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. This is why Jesus said to His apostles, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). And this is why Paul wrote, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek” (Romans 1:16)
How do we know that the gospel of Christ is God’s word for us today? “Having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever, because ‘All flesh is as grass, and all the glory of man as the flower of the grass. The grass withers, and its flower falls away, but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ Now this is the word which by the gospel was preached to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25). The gospel of Christ is what we generally identify as the New Testament. Hence, the New Testament must be our only standard of authority in all matters of religion.
Christianity In Twelve Words is the next Expository Files Book, to be available later this year.By Wayne S. Walker From Expository Files 21.8; August 2014