Rabbits and Righteousness
Righteousness is not a set of rules, but a Person
By Richard L. Routh, Ph.D. with the help of Jeffrey W. B. Pettit, A.I.A.
Often times when something in Scripture seems boring or at best a bit high brow and suitable only for higher theological discussion, it is because we do not yet understand what it really intends tells us about the very exciting person of Jesus Christ. Then when the light bulb goes on and we get that flash of revelatory insight given by the Holy Spirit to properly understand another exhilarating truth of Scripture, we marvel once again in the magnificence of our Savior. The importance of that new insight becomes overwhelming to us. And, for a moment at least, it seems to us to be an indispensable truth that ignites new vistas of life within us that bring us to new heights in this abundant life. Such was for me the insight that I will try to communicate here—when the light bulb went on for me about the meaning of the Mosaic covenant to us in the post resurrection era of the Church.
This new insight began when my friend Jeff challenged us to consider several questions he had concerning the covenants. He identified several covenants God made with Abram/Abraham. Then there was the Mosaic covenant. Then there was the “New” covenant that Jesus proclaimed: the new covenant in His blood. What interested Jeff was the perception that there seemed to be several independent covenants. It seemed to be a central theme in the way God chose to deal with His people. I think he was looking for some principle that would tie them all together and, in so doing, gain new insight into God and why He has chosen to use covenants.
Part of the light bulb experience for Jeff came in the midst of this several month study when he said one day, “Truth is not a concept, but a person.” This was pretty exciting, but for many it might not be all that new an insight. A lot of people already accept the fact that Jesus had said He was “the Way, the Truth, and the Life (no one comes to the Father but by me).” They also understand that Jesus is the Logos, which means “the personification of the Word of God.” So it is a logical extension to realize that Jesus is the personification of truth. Beyond that, it is interesting to consider that there might be no truth apart from the person of Jesus Christ. This too seems to conform to Colossians 1:16-17 when it says that all things were created by Christ and are held together in Christ. So they really cannot exist apart from Christ and therefore can only have any truth as they relate to the person of Jesus Christ.
What was really neat here, for me at least, was that Jeff was able to express this entire theological concept as a sound bite: “Truth is not a concept, but a person.” Our modern society has learned just how powerful sound bites are in this modern world of mega-communication; mastering the art of sound bites often means the difference between success and failure. For example, no one seems to be able to get elected to any high political office without at least being proficient in the art of sound bites. And how can one launch a successful marketing campaign without a sound bite that captures the essence of the market position of the product or service being sold? I do not digress to suggest that God’s communications be brought down to the level of modern marketing jingoism, but I do suggest there is something very powerful about being able to communicate this way because there appears to be something fundamental in the way it stimulates human cognition. The sound bite can serve as a springboard or even a cornerstone upon which to build new thoughts. So it was in my case.
The powerful concept that was underscored by Jeff’s sound bite was the concept of: “the personification of Jesus shows up in lots of ways.” With this new realization in place, I was now able to tackle a question we had raised: “Where does the Law (Mosaic covenant: 10 commandments, etc.) fit into the flow between the initial Abramic covenant and the ‘New’ covenant in Jesus blood?”
Based on the arguments presented in Galatians chapter three, my thinking on covenants had begun to take the following form: There has really only ever been one covenant between God and man. That is the covenant of Grace whereby God sovereignly reaches down and does amazing things (looking forward to, or backward to, Christ shedding His blood at Calvary) to rescue His people from the deadly clutches of sin. This covenant of Grace was first revealed to Abram/Abraham in an unfolding revelation of a succession of covenants. God continued to progressively unfold His revelation through these covenants until the final chapter of this revelation was written in the Blood of the Lamb at the cross of Calvary. In this progressive unfolding, not only did we come to understand new aspects of our Savior, the Messiah, but we also came to a deeper involvement with God as each new page was turned in this progression. So that there really is something “new” about the “New” covenant: among other things, the fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:34 through the very indwelling of the Holy Spirit of God within each believer. But in another sense, this can also be seen as the next step in the progressive revelation of the Abrahamic covenant as I believe is one of the points made in the third chapter of the letter to the Colossians.
Jeff and I could see the commonality of the Abrahamic covenants and the “New” covenant as both primarily Grace covenants. But we struggled with where the Mosaic covenant fit into this flow. It seemed to run counter to the theme of Grace because the Mosaic Law had hundreds of rules that all must be kept or a curse would be earned (Deut 27:26 & 28:15). I recall, at one point in our discussions, making a comment something like, “What I think might be happening here is this: The Law is not the perfect picture of righteousness, but it is an earthly model (a projection) of the true righteousness which exists in heaven, but we can’t see the real thing in heaven, so God has given us the Law to see it as best we can here on earth.”
After much consideration, I believe I was on to something here. But I was only close, not exactly on target with my comment. I now think that I can do a better job on this one. So what I will try to do here is lay out the general argument for understanding the role of the Law. Once this is laid out, I think it becomes clear what the role of the Law is as a covenant and why it is a parenthetical note to the Abrahamic covenant, but a necessary one; and why it is necessary precursor to the New Covenant in Christ’s Blood.
To begin with, I need to review one of the definitions of the word “projection.” My friend Jeff is an architect. The word “projection” is sometimes used by architects to describe the mathematical concept of representing an 3-dimensional object on a 2-dimensional piece of paper. Because it is not possible to show everything about a 3-dimensional object in only two dimensions, what you end up with is a view of that object from a perspective that highlights certain portions of the object, but does not accurately represent the entire image. This concept is used frequently in architectural drawings when a 3-dimensional object, such as a building, is drawn so that the projection of the building is represented in each of three orthogonal planes. Usually we call these by their common names: top view, front view, and side view. Each of these views is a “projection” of the 3-D object onto that plane, and is accurate as far as that plane is able to represent the object, but it does not represent the complete object because the perspective is only a 2-dimensional one.
Well, by using this concept of “projection,” and by considering the notion that heaven contains more (or different) dimensions than does the 3-D physical world, if we are to “project” a heavenly concept into the physical world, we could have a projection (picture) of that concept that is as perfect as possible in the physical world, but limited because the physical world is not completely able to fully represent the original concept.
Now let’s start with the concept of righteousness. I believe that there is an original model of perfect righteousness in heaven. (By the words “original model” I mean: the one and only true and complete REAL righteousness.) So there is this RIGHTEOUSNESS in heaven that God chose to project into the physical non-spiritual world. This projection shows up as the Law given through Moses.
Well, so far, all I’ve done is elaborate on my original, but incomplete, thought. As I have already said, this thought was a little off target. It needs to be fine tuned. Jeff’s sound bite helped me to fine tune this statement to more fully represent what I think God wants us to realize. The thought that “Truth is not a concept, but a Person” forces one to personify a concept into the person of Jesus Christ. Then I realized that we should do the exact same thing with the concept of righteousness: “Righteousness is not a concept, it is a Person.” Or stated in a more vernacular way: “Righteousness is not a set of rules, but a Person.”
Aha!!! Now a lot of things start to fall into place!
The REAL righteousness that exists in heaven, of which the Law is only a projection, is not a thing or a concept, IT IS A PERSON. Specifically, of course, the Person Jesus Christ. So what we see in the Law is a projection of Jesus Christ into a non-spiritual physical world. You want to know what Jesus would look like to a non-spiritual person who only exists in the physical world and is not able to perceive spiritual things? He would look exactly like the Law given by Moses.
Now hold on, because from here it starts to really get exciting.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father but by Me.” The “way” is the righteous way, or righteousness. So from this statement we see that Jesus confirms the notion that the right way (righteousness) is not a concept but a Person (Himself). He also confirms here Jeff’s statement that: “Truth is not a concept, but a Person.” The third part of this, which is also VERY exciting, is the “life” part of His statement. Life is not a concept (or a thing, or a state of being), but a Person. This third concept, although also VERY exciting, is something that we will have to deal with later. This essay is supposed to focus on the “way” portion of His statement.
Jesus also said, “You search the Law and the prophets, … but they speak of Me.” Now we can begin to see the fuller ramifications of this statement. We always knew that Jesus was pictured for us in the portions of the Pentateuch that talk about the temple and the sacrifices. We have been taught that the temple was just an analogical picture of Jesus and so were the sacrifices. But it’s really a more complete picture than that. These weren’t just LIKE Jesus, they were all we could understand about Jesus if we only were able to view Him from a non-spiritual physical perspective. But here is the REALLY exciting and new part of this (at least new for me, but a rereading of Galatians and Romans reveals that these ideas were there all the time). Not only were the temple and the sacrifices a picture of Jesus, but so were all the “thou shalts” and the “thou shalt nots.”
In trying to explain the concept of “projection” to my children, I had to resort to something they could understand, so I had to think of something that they would relate to that would convey the concept of “projection.” I settled on the following:
Imagine that you have a rabbit. It’s a real rabbit. You want to show it to your friends who have, by the way, never seen a rabbit or even a picture of a rabbit. Unfortunately, they are all on the other side of a sheet and for some reason can’t look through it to see the rabbit. So you think about how you’re going do this and you say, “Hey, I’ve got it. I’ll use a flashlight and project an image of this rabbit onto the sheet. My friends will see the shadow on the sheet and will know what my rabbit is like.
Now imagine that instead of me having the rabbit, it’s God who has the rabbit. And instead of “my” friends, they are God’s friends (the Israelites). Also pretend for a moment that the rabbit represents Jesus and that the sheet represents the veil that covers our non-spiritual eyes so we cannot see into heaven. So God, wanting to show the Israelites what Jesus is really like (a deeper view into the Abrahamic covenant), shines his flashlight on the rabbit so that the rabbit’s shadow is projected onto the sheet. Now the Israelites on the other side see the rabbit’s shadow and God says, “See that’s the way, the truth, and the life.”
So what do these friends of God do? They start to try to look like a rabbit’s shadow. This is, of course, a preposterous proposition because grown men can no more look like a rabbit than a non-spiritual man can become like Jesus. But instead of realizing the preposterousness of the proposition and become driven to the foot of the cross by their inadequacy (instead of allowing the Law to become a schoolmaster to them to teach them of their need for a savior), they choose to be blinded by pride and ACTUALLY TRY TO LOOK LIKE THE RABBIT’S SHADOW (obey the Law). (And the angel’s are thinking: “CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS!?! LOOK AT WHAT THEY’RE DOING!!! THEY ARE ACTUALLY TRYING TO BECOME RIGHTEOUS BY OBEYING THE LAW! WHAT FOOLS!!!”)
Well, anyway, back to my analogy.
So the Jews start trying to best each other in this game of looking like a rabbit. They start to do things like cutting out cardboard in the shape of the rabbit ears shadow and then glue them onto their heads. They fall off sometimes, but they get pretty good at just picking them up quickly so no one will notice and gluing them back in place. They also experiment with different sorts of material to strap on the back of their belts so they can have something that looks like the shadow of the fluffy rabbit’s tail. They get into lots of arguments about who has the best fluffy rabbit’s tail. The really advanced students of this new art get pretty good at hobbling themselves by crouching down low to the ground so it will look kind of like the shadow of the rabbit sitting on his haunches (if rabbits have haunches).
Well this goes on for generations, and finally God says, “It’s time to send my Son down there.” So now the real rabbit shows up. Guess what happens? A few people recognize the real thing and say things like, “Where would we go Lord? You are the only one who has the real words of truth.” But the experts at looking like a rabbit’s shadow start making fun of Him because He doesn’t look like the rabbit’s shadow. Of course not! He looks better than the shadow. He’s the REAL rabbit! They say things like, “Your ears aren’t made of cardboard. You’re a fake. He responds with, “But these are my real ears and you’ve just been looking at a shadow of my ears.” They say things like, “You don’t walk in a hobbled way like the best of us, you hop around too freely!” And so on and so forth.
Well they finally get so perturbed with Him, that they kill Him, which as it turns out, is just what God had intended all along so that the REAL rabbit could end up being a blessing to everyone who got drops of the rabbit’s blood on their heads. For you see, there was REAL power in those drops of blood and anyone who had a drop of blood spilled on his head, started to become just like a real rabbit without even trying! (And boy, did this really irk those rabbit shadow experts that killed the REAL rabbit.) For you see, their pride could not allow them to understand that righteousness is not a concept, it is a Person; righteousness is not a set of rules, it is a Person; you can’t become righteous by trying to obey the 10 commandments, you can only become righteous when you put on Christ through faith in what He is and what He has done for us at the cross.
So in conclusion:
It is not that Jesus Christ is the Law personified, but that the Law is Jesus Christ un-personified. That is, Jesus was not a picture of the Law in human form, but the Law is a picture of Jesus Christ when He is viewed from a purely physical & worldly perspective. Jesus Christ came first (before the Law) both chronologically and logically.
Now for the practical application: Scripture tells us that we are “in Christ” and that we “put on Christ.” When we have Christ (when we are in Christ), we are complete fulfillers of the Law because we do not obey the Law in order to achieve “putting on Christ,” but we put on Christ and are therefore are achievers of all the Law was given to represent!
Just as an exercise in this new realization, I have been praying through Psalm 119, verse by verse. Every time the word “law” or “commandment” or “statute” or “precept” or “ordinance” or “commandment” appears (which occurs in every single one of the 176 verses—except for one), substitute Jesus Christ and you know what? It all fits! And it fits in such a way that you say with a resounding joyful shout (at least in your spirit), YES!!!
So, the next time you feel like you have to do something to make God like you better, remember it won’t work because righteousness is not a set of rules, but it is the person of Jesus Christ. We cannot improve our righteousness by following a set of rules, but by trusting God that Jesus is that complete righteousness for us. (As a matter of fact, we really deny Christ and what he has done for us when we start thinking that God would approve of us more if only we did a better job of following His rules.)
There are some corollary thoughts that have arisen from early reviewers of the first part of this article. It will be helpful to some readers to address those here.