Friday, March 30, 2007

Grace and Faith in the Old Testament

Several weeks ago, I had a couple of posts centering on the Old Testament. Bobby Valentine who co-authored Kingdom Come: Embracing the Spiritual Legacy of David Lipscomb and James Harding with John Mark Hicks emailed me to recommend a book from which he'd benefited greatly. The book is currently out-of-print -- I found it on, an online site that specializes in rare and out-of-print books. The book is entitled Grace and Faith in the Old Testament by Ronald M.Hals.

In the brief book of just 95 pages, Hals makes the case that our common characterization of God in the Old Testament (wrath and justice) as dissimilar with God in the New Testament (grace and mercy) is incongruous. Hals takes great effort to show that the salvation of God that is by grace through faith (see Ephesians 2.1-10) that proliferates the New Testament does the Old Testament as well, even if the vocabulary of God's grace and mankind's response of faith is often different.

Hals builds his case around the exodus where God demonstrates his saving grace to the children of Israel and leads them to Sinai where the commandments call the people of God to respond to his activity with obedience to his commands, trusting and faithful to his call on their lives.

I thought these words summarized well the position of Hals:

"The Old Testament message of God's gracious, saving acts is, like that of the Gospel message of the Easter victory, an affirmation of God's grace. In this the central aspect of each Testament is alike.

Isaiah's call to trust in God rather than alliances, important though it is, is not as central to Israel's faith as was the message of the exodus. The saving act of God is the foundational center, while the call to trust only in that God is a secondary step -- virtually essential to be sure, and even implicit in the confession of the deliverance from Egypt, but still a second step, only possible after the first and foundational affirmation.

Similarly, the Pauline message of justification by grace through faith, important though it is, is not as central to the Christian faith as is the message of Jesus's resurrection. That God raised Jesus from the dead is the foundational center of New Testament faith, while the call to put our trust solely in that God, rather than any (meritorious) works of our own, is again a second step. Certainly this second step is essential and genuinely implicit in the Easter message, but it is still a second step, only possible on the basis of the first and foundational affirmation" (32-33).

What I appreciated most about Hals's book is the reminder that faith begins and is founded upon God's gracious deliverance of his children. Before God ever lays down the law at Sinai, he first tells Moses to remind the children of the deliverance he provided (see Exodus 19.3-6). In the same way, it is the story of Jesus Christ dead, buried and resurrected (see 1 Corinthians 15.1-8) that provides the firm foundation of the gospel -- the historical fact that in Jesus, God graciously acts to provide eternal deliverance for those who trust and obey.