The Mediocrity of the New Covenant?
According to Reformed Theology, even the “good works” which Christians are called to do are “tainted by sin”. And on top of that, Reformed theology says these “good works” are only pleasing to God in so far as they are “covered by the blood and righteousness of Christ”. But if you stop and think about what this is saying, no Christian should be comfortable with such teaching. Why would God give us a new heart and give us the Indwelling of the Holy Spirit if at the end of the day our “good works” are still as inadequate in God’s sight as before our conversion? Something isn’t right.
Such an understanding ultimately makes a mockery out of not only the new life which Christians are called to, but also the plain wording of the Scriptures which speak of “good works” without any qualification that they’re actually woefully imperfect works that are merely (graciously) imputed to be good. What happened to God’s unwavering standards of perfection that Reformed individuals like to brag about? Why is God all of the sudden fine with turning a blind eye to sin?
Jesus used the analogy of how a good tree produces good fruit and how a bad tree produces bad fruit, but this makes no sense if the good tree really doesn’t have the sufficient goodness within it to produce truly good fruit. Reformed theology would have us believe that the “good fruit” from the “good tree” is actually infested with at least a maggot or two (if not more), but that God is still pleased to impute goodness to the fruit.
It seems that Reformed Theology is operating from some flawed assumptions, and these assumptions are being projected onto the Scriptures, which in turn are “tainting” their reading of the Bible.
In the book of Hebrews, Chapters 8 and 10, we see the Old Testament prophecy from Jeremiah 31 about the “New Covenant” which Jesus would usher in. The prophecy says: “This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, andwrite them on their hearts … and I will remember their sins no more.” Ezekiel says the same thing: “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses … And I will give you a new heart … And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes andbe careful to obey my rules.” (36:25ff)
Based on these two clear passages, the New Covenant will be characterized by two marks: (1) the forgiveness of sins and (2) the renewal of the heart and gift of the Spirit so that we can keep God’s commandments. And these two marks are precisely what we see spelled out over and over in the New Testament, especially in Romans and Galatians.
Interestingly, these Old Testament prophecies make no mention of Christ’s Imputed Righteousness. No mention of the Messiah keeping the Commandments in our place because we’re unable to do so. In fact, it suggests just the opposite: God wants us to keep the Commandments, which is expressly why He renewed our hearts and gave us the Holy Spirit. How outrageous would it be to suggest God did these things so that we could be enabled to only half-heartedly keep His Commandments? God forbid!
In fact, Paul says explicitly that Christians are called to “fulfill the law” by loving God and neighbor, and he gives no qualifications suggesting either that Christ did this for us or that we aren’t really able to love. In Galatians 5:13f we read: “For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” And in Romans 13:8ff we also read: “Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” Paul is giving practical commands to his listeners and is in no way suggesting they are incapable of this (and surely Paul is not suggesting mediocre love fulfills the law). And on top of this, in these very contexts Paul is speaking about Christians battling sin in their life, indicating that the struggle against sin doesn’t in any way disqualify a Christian from loving as God wants and us fulfilling the law.
It should be apparent that the only acceptable answer to all this is that Christians are capable of performing good works, truly capable of fulfilling the law, truly capable of following the beatitudes (Matthew 5:2ff), etc., in some true sense. Anything short of affirming this practically forces one to say God is pleased with mediocrity and that the Bible doesn’t really mean what it says when speaking of the Christian duty to perform good works.