I’ve posted a few reviews so far of books from the NSBT series [here, here, and here]. So far they haven’t let me down, and the newest contribution from Bradley Green didn’t disappoint. Covenant and Commandment is the 33rd book in the NSBT series, and it focuses on the nature of works, obedience, and faithfulness in the Christian life.
Christians are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and we are justified by God. But while man agree that believers enter into a covenant with God by His grace apart from works, there is still much debate on the ongoing works and obedience that are supposed to be found in the lives of those same believers.
Green’s argument is that: “in the new covenant, works are a God-elicited and necessary part of the life of a converted person, a constant theme in the New Testament…” (p 17, emphasis original).
Part of the newness of the new covenant is that there is “actual, grace-induced and grace-elicited obedience by true members of the new covenant” as promised in Jer 31.31-34 (cf. Ezek 11.19; 18.31; 36.22-29). Obedience is promised in the new covenant. If we are justified by faith, in what way does works play a part? We say that Jesus paid it all, but then say we must do something.
Yet what we are fighting for is the New Testament’s “expectation of actual obedience” (p 18). We truly do act, work, and obey, and this obedience also comes from God (Phil 2.12-13). Obedience flows from the cross, from the gospel, and from our union with Christ Himself.
In chapter one Green outlines fourteen key groups of texts that speak of obedience under the new covenant in Christ:
- Loving or knowing God is linked with obedience.
- The ‘conditional’ nature of our future salvation.
- Christians must ‘overcome’ if they are ultimately to be saved.
- The necessity of a great righteousness.
- The requirement of the law being met ‘in us.’
- God will efficaciously work ‘in’ us, moving us to obey Him.
- The necessity of putting to death the old man, by the power of the Spirit.
- ‘Faith’ and ‘obedience/works’ used as virtual synonyms.
- We are truly judged, or justified, by our works.
- The ‘obedience of faith.’
- We were created and redeemed for good works.
- Faith working through love.
- The law affirmed; the law of Christ.
- Persons do the work of their Father.
At a mere 208 pages, it would be impossible for Green to cover every verse, let alone explain the ones he has mentioned, yet he does explain each of the fourteen concepts he mentions and how they point to obedience in holiness in the life of a believer.
Chapter two takes obedience, works, and faith and moves from OT texts (Ezekiel and Jeremiah) and moves to NT texts (Hebrews, 2 Corinthians 3, Rom 2, etc). God’s law is internalized in the hearts of those who are His people.
Chapter three discusses continuity and discontinuity in the Old and New Testaments. Some who were in the old covenant were truly saved (‘the remnant’), but all in the new covenant are saved. Green looks to insights from Blocher, Gaffin, and Vos on the relationship between law and gospel, with a final excursus on John Own (and a.
Chapters four to six discuss the cross, union with Christ, and the end-time Judgment. In chapter four we look at texts such as Rom 8, Eph 5, and 2 Cor 4 which show that as Christ died so we are to die to our flesh and resist sin. His life is to be reproduced in our lives. Chapter five shows that as we have died with Christ, so we rise with Him. He is the firstfruits of the resurrection, the same one which all believers will partake in. Looking at Gaffic, “Sanctification…is God’s work,” and Christ is being formed in us. Chapter six shows that there will be a future judgment (Rom 2; 5; 1 Cor 4; 2 Cor 5; Jam 2; Rev 20). We see a discussion from important historical figures such as Calvin, Owen, Edwards, and Vos, along with contemporary scholars like Gaffin, Gathercole, and Beale. there is a final excursis on N.T. Wright’s view of justification and the final judgment, which is very interesting.
In the final chapter (seven) Green covers the reality and necessity of works, obedience and faithfulness. Three themes are found here: the headship of Adam and his obedience, the headship of the obedient Christ to transform His people, and already-not yet inaugurated eschatology. Just as the OT saints were saved by the death of Christ (which, in their time, still remained future), so believers who are under the new covenant are seeing the beginning fulfillment of the promised new creation (which also still remains to be completed in the future).
The Chocolate Milk
If you want a book that shows how works and obedience are needed under the new covenant because they show that we are, indeed, under the new covenant, this book is for you. There are plenty of good points and equally fantastic quotes (many of which I am using for my 2 Corinthians class this spring semester).
I really enjoyed Green’s discussions with contemporary scholars, although I found the conversations with the historical scholars quite boring and difficult to read. But, that’s merely a matter of personal taste. Regardless, that’s really my only complaint with the book. I would have enjoyed seeing more exegesis on biblical texts rather than with the old scholars, but what Green does he does well.
The Spoiled Milk
The book is a bit short. But perhaps I’m spoiled on some of the longer books in the series (Paul and the Law, 249 pgs; A Mouthful of Fire, 321 pgs, and The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 458 pgs), because many other books in this series are around 200 pages. However, I can’t fault the book on being short because Green’s argument holds up all along the way. He doesn’t need more space to present his argument. In fact, he even states that he “desire[s] to be particularly unoriginal in ‘doing theology’ – at least most of the time.” It’s here in chapter four where Green suggests “that our continued obedience and growth in Christ is something that flows form the cross.” And he doesn’t see himself being “original here in the least” (all quotes from p77).
If you know someone who is struggling with how one should construe living by grace with works in the Christian life, this is the book for them. One would wonder how this could be a problem (it certainly is, just read Mark Jones’ Antinomianism; review), but one must know that this is an issue found among believers. It’s battled in the mind by believers who want to follow God, but are afraid that while they began “by the Spirit,” they might end up living to be “perfected by the flesh” (Galatians 3.3).
- Series: New Studies in Biblical Theology
- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: IVP Academic (November 12, 2014)
- Amazon: US // UK
[Special thanks to Christine at Think IVP for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book.]