One of the challenges of traveling, especially internationally, is lugging the luggage. Packing to leave is an arduous task. So many questions? What to take? How much to take? How many bags? How much weight? Etc. I sometimes fantasied about what it would be like to travel without lugging any luggage.
When I was active in the Rotary Club, I remember listening to a fellow Rotarian talk about a trip to Europe he and his wife were about to take. He had instructed his wife that she could only carry what would fit in a backpack. My unspoken wonder was, “Will his wife put up with his demand?” As it turned out, she complied, and they toured Europe lugging what would fit into their backpacks!
Feeling the necessity to be a “moral cop” to those around us encumbers us with unnecessary weight. The author of Hebrews was motivated to live an unencumbered life so that he could finish his assigned life race:
“Therefore we also, since so great a cloud of witnesses surrounds us, let us lay aside every weight and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us,” (Hebrews 12:1)
The first time I made this statement during a sermon, it was not premeditated. This phenomenon is not unusual in preaching. The foundation of a good sermon is a prophetic word inspired by the Holy Spirit. The message is constructed in a way to embellish that word to give it fuller understanding. Sometimes the Holy Spirit waits to downloads that revelation during the proclamation. I cannot recall when I made the statement. I remember that I said it. Suddenly I was making a declaration and asking myself at the same moment, “Is that true?” The declaration was this, “I am not a moral cop!” The context of the comment had to do with our role as Christians in the world.
Further study and reflection assured me of the truth of this statement. The theological foundation for this statement is the New Covenant. The New Covenant offers a follower of Jesus Christ an identity and a purpose.
Under the Old Covenant, The Prophets were the “moral cops” for the Israeli society. Ezekiel received the most explicit job description. God gave Ezekiel the official title of Watchman for the House of Israel.
“Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand. Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul. “Again, when a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, and I lay a stumbling block before him, he shall die; because you did not give him a warning, he shall die in his sin, and his righteousness which he has done shall not be remembered; but his blood I will require at your hand. Nevertheless, if you warn the righteous man that the righteous should not sin, and he does not sin, he shall surely live because he took warning; also, you will have delivered your soul.” (Ezekiel 3:17–21 There is a similar charge to watchmen in 33:3-9)
God could also call an Old Covenant Prophet as His oracle to other nations. For example, God declared to Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you; Before you were born, I sanctified you; I ordained you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5) Jeremiah’s directed most of the prophecies recorded in the book bearing his name to Judah. He delivered some of his prophecies to surrounding nations. The book of Jeremiah chapter 25 lists those nations.
“Some prophets had messages that focused more specifically on nations other than Israel, such as Obadiah’s words for Edom and the ministry of Jonah and Nahum to Nineveh (Assyria). Other prophets, such as Haggai and Ezekiel, spoke primarily to the Israelites and less to the Gentile nations. But all of the prophets had words that could be applied both to Israel and to the other nations.”
During the Old Covenant era, God was sovereignly steering history toward the coming of the Messiah. One of the vehicles God relied upon was the prophetic word. Prophetic declarations shape the future. That is one reason why the penalty for false prophets was so harsh. False Prophets were attempting to steer history in the wrong direction with their declarations. God directed prophetic declarations at other nations to keep those nations from standing in the way of His plan to send the Messiah to earth. Surrounding nations were also used by God to discipline Judah. He needed to keep that society on track and prepared to receive the Messiah.
As God had ordained, the Messiah came. “The Word became Flesh.” This Messiah, Jesus, fulfilled the Law and the Prophets and established a New Covenant. The New Covenant is about building and enlarging Jesus’ Kingdom on earth.
There are several significant changes between the Old and New Covenants. Here are three:
In the New Covenant:
The Law and the fear of God are internalized.
“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
“And I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from doing them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts so that they will not depart from Me.” (Jeremiah 32:40)
NB This prophecy of Jeremiah also applies to Gentile believers since they are grafted into Isreal (Romans 11:17–24)
The Holy Spirit is poured out on all flesh.
“And it shall come to pass afterward That I will pour out My Spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, Your old men shall dream dreams, Your young men shall see visions. And also on My menservants and on My maidservants, I will pour out My Spirit in those days.” (Joel 2:28–29)
The Holy Spirit is the “moral cop.”
Cultural norms and civil laws govern the relationships between members of society. While these norms and laws attempt to regulate external behavior for the common good, they are ineffective in themselves to change the internal moral bend of community members. From Mt. Sinai, God instituted a different society based on His revealed laws. How did that work? That Law could not regulate the hearts of the people. Repeatedly throughout their history, the Israelites strayed from their Shepherd. In the end, the members that society unjustly executed God’s son. Paul has much to say about that Law in the book of Romans.
Jesus had this to say about the ministry of the Holy Spirit:
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you. And when He has come, He will convict the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they do not believe in Me; of righteousness, because I go to My Father and you see Me no more; of judgment because the ruler of this world is judged.”
Within the church community, there exists voluntary mutual submission and accountability. There are specific directives for exercising discipline when a fellow community member sins. (Matthew 18:15-20; 1 Corinthians 5:1-8)
To the world outside the church, disciples of Jesus Christ are influencers. Jesus calls His disciples the salt, light, land leaven in the world. As new creatures, the identity of disciples also becomes new. Disciples of Jesus Christ are ministers of reconciliation and ambassadors for Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:17–20)
As ministers of reconciliation, disciples of Jesus Christ imitate the pattern of Jesus’ earthly ministry. Jesus’ focus was not on sin. His focus was on his passion for relationships with all humanity. As ambassadors, disciples of Jesus Christ re-present heart and message of Jesus. Jesus’ heart is for connection, and His word is, “Be reconciled to God.”
Our mission is to influence others to have a relationship with Jesus. Those that do will begin to experience the effects of an internalized law of God and fear of God. They will be filled with the Holy Spirit and begin to walk out His moral mission for their belief system and lifestyle.