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“Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace. What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Romans 6:13-15).

Emergent Church Members Get Tattoos of Jesus’ Death for Lent

I must say this one has me a bit baffled (see link above)…for an opinion, that is. But what about you?

I have no personal distaste for tattoos or suspicion of those who have them, even though I don’t personally have any “ink.” Many of the most devout followers of Christ that I know have some sort of body art, although most of those graphics appeared during a former way of life that was marked by rebellion and making corresponding social statements (ironically, having a tattoo used to be very counter-cultural, but with their rise in prominence it may now be more radical NOT to have a tattoo). But that isn’t the debate here. The question: Is this a viable medium for communicating one’s faith or just another trend in the contemporary Christian community’s efforts to mimic the world’s methods of communicating what we believe (the Christian culture is usually quite late to this kind of dance)? In other words, are we just blending in and thus watering down our faith or is this one more way in which followers of Jesus can engage and redeem our culture? Since I have no definitive opinion about the initiative described in the article (believing this may be more about motives than methods), I’ll let you ponder these questions.

The point I’d like to make is a theological, not necessarily a practical or spiritual, one. What do we do with many of these Levitical laws? A section of this article addresses the dilemma:

“According to Leviticus 19:28, “Ye shall not make any cuttings in your flesh for the dead, nor print or tattoo any marks upon you: I am the Lord.”

When asked how he and his fellow parishioners reconcile this verse with their planned art exhibit, Seay told CP that the context of the verse is important, noting that verse 27 states that a man should not cut the hair on the sides of his head or the edge of his beard.

“The problem was not with tattoos, but with the fact that getting a tattoo or cutting your hair/beard was a symbol that identified you with the worshipof pagan gods,” said Seay.”

Although I would probably not promote this kind of expression, Mr. Seay does have a point. There are many Old Covenant laws we aren’t held to today (animal sacrifice being a big one) and this particular book of the Bible is replete with such rules, as are other writings in the Pentateuch (the first 5 books of the Bible which is often call the “Torah” or “The Law”). Now we have correctly kept some (earlier in Leviticus 19 we see a partial restatement of the 10 Commandments found originally in Exodus 20), conveniently kept some of them we like (take tithing, for instance), and banished others. Seay makes reference to the rule against clipping our hair and beard that we certainly don’t practice today (Leviticus 19:27). My favorite is 19:32 which tells us to “rise is the presence of the aged,” yet I see no one standing when I enter a room!

So how do we determine which of these are rules to be adopted today or just principles that help us understand God, His character, and His ways? Clearly there doesn’t seem, at least to me, to be any real consistency in many circles as to how we conclude which of these “laws” remain and which are no longer in effect in the New Covenant.

So I’d like to share my opinion. It may ruffle some feathers or it may cause some reflection – but here it is:

  • First – did Jesus affirm such practices explicitly?
  • Second – did Jesus affirm these laws implicitly? (The implication must not be forced).
  • Third – did the writers of the New Testament affirm these rules either explicitly or implicitly (again, a clear reference) and thereby confirming or elaborating on the teaching of Christ and the New Covenant?

If not, in an extremely generalistic sense, I would suggest that these Old Covenant practices are lessons and principles to help us understand Father God and be guidelines for living. They are not meant to be practiced as “rules,” but, in some cases (like the dietary laws) can be employed as positive observances, object lessons, and spiritual/physical helps. But they are not to replace the sufficiency of Christ – who is He is, what He has done, and what He taught.

So what’s my recommendation? If you feel led by God and are pure in motive, go get a tattoo for the glory of God. But don’t expect me to be standing in line…I do have an aversion to needles. Nevertheless, this side of Calvary we are not bound by the law but have the freedom of grace. As long as it is for His glory, it reflects the precepts of the New Covenant framed by Christ Himself, and is not a compromise that bows down to our culture, then go for it! But leave me to my old-fashioned ways of caring for the temple of the Holy Spirit, which is my body.

If you are of a theological mindset, the link below might be of interest to you. As related to this post, pay particular attention to the section “Law/Gospel.” – New Covenant Theology – Theopedia, an encyclopedia of Biblical Christianity

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As Christians (and Americans) we have been taught since birth that there is a direct cause and effect that governs our lives. You know, if we “do” this then we will “get” that. It is kind of quid pro quo formula. For example, if I work hard, I will get ahead at my job. Or, if I lead a healthy lifestyle I will enjoy good health and a long life. Although I believe in the theory of cause and effect as a principle in the physical realm, I’m not convinced it works in the spiritual realm. I’m not even sure it works in life. This thinking was the basis for the Old Covenant but is not the basis of the New Covenant that Jesus has ushered in.

This A + B = C sequence is clearly defined in Deuteronomy 29:9: “Therefore keep the words of this covenant and do them, that you may [be prospered] in all that you do.” There we see that our efforts (A) plus the working of God (B) equals His blessing in this life (C). And, whether consciously or not, we believe this because we have subtly (and not so subtly, I’m afraid) been told this is true. This message has been echoed from church pulpits, Christian counselors, and the shelves of Christian books stores. But it is wrong. It is a system intended to make this life better but it doesn’t work. It didn’t work for the Israelites and it doesn’t work for us. Leviticus 26:14 and following tells us what happens when the covenant (or equation) is broken . This system worked only if they kept all the law perfectly and there was a dangerous downside if they didn’t. They didn’t and they couldn’t. We don’t and we can’t.

But we still try. It’s engrained in us (it’s called pride) and we are indoctrinated in this linear equation. We often continue to pursue the blessing of a better life by trying hard, asking God to give us what we want, and expecting to see the blessings unfold. We are a slave to this law that often doesn’t work, which leaves us exhausted and filled with doubt about ourselves, God, or both. So our worldview goes down the tubes when we try really hard, tust God, and crisis comes. We did our best to do “A” and we trusted God to do “B” but we don’t see the evidence of the “C” that is the blessing of a better life. We have but two options here; we didn’t try hard enough and do all the right things or God is not good and faithful to His promises. Neither one is a good conclusion.

And, if this system does seem to work, it inevitably leaves us empty because we have this “better life” but have missed the point. That’s because the formula is wrong. It is based upon the Old Covenant, not the New Covenant. It is the way of the law, a law of cause and effect that Jesus came to do away with. For Christ has introduced a radical shift from the pursuing the blessing of a better life to one where our passion is the beauty of His presence. Because relationship and intimacy with Him is the point. It is that, and that only, which truly fulfills us and is our great blessing. Everything else is a weak, useless idol without any substance or value (see Psalm 115). And this Old Covenant formula is often the very thing that keeps us from fully experiencing Him as we seek His hand and not His face, His “presents” instead of His presence.

The writer of Hebrews explains: “For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God” (7:18-19). Notice in particular that last phrase, “a better hope [of] nearness to God.” Actually, the writer of Hebrews said much about those who looked to God in faith not for His earthly blessing but for the hope found only in His presence (see Hebrews 11:1-12:3). For we, in the end, do not find real satisfaction in “success” but in our Savior. For it is He who had crucified this old law so that we might live in Him, He might fill us, and allow us to enter into the life of liberty He so gloriously purchased:

For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. In him also you were circumcised with a circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, having been buried with him in baptism, in which you were also raised with him through faith in the powerful working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross” (Colossians 2:9-14).

*I’m deeply indebted to Dr. Larry Crabb and his book The Pressure’s Off for a significant part of these ideas and content. I highly recommend this book!


*Section 2 – Kingdom Conduct

Eleven – The Source of Righteousness

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I  have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke  of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and  teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven,  but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the  kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the  kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:17-20).

When faced with the awesome and noble task of living as salt and light, I  can easily fall into the trap of thinking I’ve arrived. That I’m a better Christian than so-in-so. That I no longer need improvement. In truth, however,  I along with every other believer travel a journey towards perfection: we’ll not achieve it until we breathe our last. Anything good in me—anything good in any Christ-follower—comes not through our righteousness, but the Lord’s. Our best efforts, no matter how sincere, are always as “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

The unvarnished truth? No one is righteous. Nothing about us and nothing generated on our own merit is good (Romans 3:10-11). Though the Pharisees and
devout people of Christ’s day sought holiness through ritual and ceremony and adherence to laws, Christ taught that their efforts were worthless. “Unless
your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees,” He said, “you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” But since righteousness proves a foundational need in participating in God’s kingdom and honoring His kingship, we must understand how one achieves it. We must grasp that the righteousness of Christ provides our only hope in satisfying the demands of holy God.

The writer of Hebrews sheds light on Christ’s role:

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in Heaven” (Hebrews 1:1-3).

Before Christ came to earth in human form, mankind had only one avenue toward pleasing God: keeping the Old Covenant law given by God to the nation of
Israel. This set of rules, which included much more than the Ten Commandments, served as the yardstick by which God measured the love and obedience of His people. James 2:10 clarifies that in order to live as holy a life as God required people must keep all of the law. Not surprisingly, this standard proved too high and the people failed. No religious rituals could bring them acceptance before God who demanded perfect obedience; they desperately needed a Messiah, or a Savior from their sins (see Hebrews 10:1-9).

When Jesus gave His life on the cross, He completely fulfilled the perfect law that humans prove incapable of keeping. While God might have chosen to do away with His righteous demands regarding idol worship, lying, murdering, and committing adultery, He chose not to abolish them. Instead, He had Jesus fulfill the holy dictates; in doing so, God accomplished the obedience necessary to satisfy His own demands and plans. In a sense, God modified the original law, making it richer and deeper and giving it a new and enhanced meaning. In a real and profound sense, Jesus became the New Covenant law of God. Through the person, teaching, and finished work of Christ, we see the completion of all the Old Testament’s revealed teaching, ethical precepts, and prophecy. In Jesus we see the implementation of a New Covenant between God and humanity. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, all who believe in Him can embrace the good news. The unchanging law of God was fulfilled in Christ. Those who believe in and receive Him by faith are declared righteous. This is our salvation!

Unlike the showy ways that the Pharisees and teachers of the law chose to obey the Old Covenant, obedience from the heart proves a requirement in keeping
the new one. Living out kingdom principles projects a different kind of personal obedience. The outward and shallow form of righteousness found in ritualistic religion doesn’t work. God requires inwardly prompted righteousness of mind and motive compelled by a transformed heart. This kind of obedience surpasses the religion of the Pharisees and typifies those who belong to God’s kingdom. Astonishingly, the Old Testament prophets predicted this new type of obedience long before Christ’s birth: “This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33). And in Ezekiel 36:27, people were given a clue as to how this would happen, “[God] will put [his] Spirit in you and move you to follow [his] decrees and be careful to keep [his] laws.”

Jesus calls us not only to obedience but to a deeper heart-righteousness that has external manifestations. In John 3:3, Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” Truly, we cannot achieve true righteousness without first surrendering to Christ. After that, we receive indwelling power that comes through the Holy Spirit. Kingdom living necessitates a radical righteousness that comes only through the God Himself. In order to see the righteous demands of God’s kingdom fulfilled in us, we must look to Jesus and rely on His Holy Spirit.

Apply It.

Meditate on Second Corinthians 5:21 and John 1:29. Righteousness comes only from Christ. Consider why you obey God’s Word. Do you do so to justify yourself before God or to show loving and thankful acknowledgement that He is worthy of your submission? Ask God to reveal any self-righteousness and to give you an obedient heart.

*This is an excerpt from Captivated by the King and His Kingdom: A Personal Encounter with the Sermon on the Mount published by Crossbooks in 2010. The links for this book are:

Amazon in book form – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-Encounter/dp/1615073418/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-1    

Amazon Kindle – http://www.amazon.com/Captivated-King-His-Kingdom-ebook/dp/B004KAA9UC/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&m=AG56TWVU5XWC2&s=books&qid=1302820767&sr=8-2

Barnes and Noble in book form – http://search.barnesandnoble.com/Captivated-by-the-King-and-His-Kingdom/Linden-C-Wolfe/e/9781615073412/?itm=3&USRI=captivated+by+the+king

Other eReader formats – http://www.smashwords.com/books/view/33572

If you follow along with this category (albeit backwards) by the same name as the book, eventually, Lord willing, we will have walked through the Sermon on the Mount verse by verse in a devotional commentary approach. I pray that this series impacts you as much as it did me as I studied this passage and wrote this book. Grace to you!

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