What Christians Can Learn From Game of Thrones (Shorter Version)

Many years ago, being a fan of fantasy, I saw Game of Thrones grow popular, and its advertisement drew my interest. I decided to give the show a try, when one of its seasons promoted itself by offering the first episode free to watch. It was an excellent promotion strategy that I’m sure worked on most. It didn’t work for me for the simple reason that I cannot stomach the amount of pornographic imagery rampant in the show, let alone the seemingly senseless violence throughout. As a result, I had to turn down watching the show, despite it nevertheless being very interesting.

However, I did keep what I call a “distant interest” in the show. For some reason, YouTube would constantly recommend me clips of the show as it progressed through its seasons, and I watched some of them. I’m one of those kinds of people who can take some information over here, some information over there, and begin to fill in the gaps myself, and that’s what I did. I essentially reconstructed the basic plot line while avoiding some of the most twisted scenes of the show.

Make no mistake, despite the graphic nature of the show, it is very well-written. You don’t have to like the way the show unravels to appreciate the complexity of the story and the characters themselves. There is much to learn in writing good dialogue on many of the scenes in the show, as well as plot progression elements.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there is this big problem that I would sum up in a single question: Is there a point to all of this? By ‘this’ I mean, the pornography, the seemingly senseless violence, the disgusting love affair between a brother and his sister (who have violent sex in the show), consistent, sexual-based cruelty throughout, and down-right debauchery.

An Epic With No Resolution

Even with the antagonists of the show, like Ramsey Bolton, who was a complete nutcase, the writers put so much time into telling the audience that he was a psychopath that at some point, any rational person ought to begin to wonder why keep showing us this? Sure, the audience needs to hate Ramsey, to want him dead, and to do that, perhaps we need to suffer through maybe one or two scenes of him being a sadistic maniac. But why keeping hitting home his insane cruelty over and over and over again? There is a strange and honestly disturbing fascination with the sadism portrayed in the show.

No one in this show seems to have tremendous virtues about them, even Daenerys, who progressively becomes more evil and power-hungry as the show runs. But that’s not entirely wrong. After all, good story has flawed characters; people who demonstrate virtue in one area, and incredible inconsistency and weakness in others. But especially when the show ends, what does each character ultimately learn and what great problems are resolved? Think about that for a moment as you go back to the very end and watch Arya sail the seas, as you watch Daenerys’ body be flown away, Tyrion gathering with special interests to begin rebuilding King’s Landing, and Jon Snow setting off to God-knows-where. What did each character ultimately learn that changed them in the end, and for the good of the show?

The takeaway that I get is that this show offered next to nothing for a resolution in the end. What it offered was literally in the title, a game of thrones, where to get that Iron Throne, which represents absolute power over the realm, you had to fight for it, you had to kill for it, you had to murder, slander, cheat, steal, and prostitute yourself or anyone else into getting it–which make no mistake, is and was a reality. In the monarchical periods of Europe, there was indeed a great game of thrones that was far more complex that Game of Thrones made it, and even today in the United States, there is a kind of game of thrones for power and control of the most influential country in the world.

Fallen Man and Nihilism

The problem is that while this show may depict with, sometimes unnecessary graphic novelty, the reality of what fighting for absolute power does to people, it doesn’t offer you any resolution for what we all would agree is twisted human nature. And the reason it doesn’t is because it can’t. The worldview behind Game of Thrones has nothing to offer you to solve what it so well demonstrates as the human condition of corruption that goes deep into the heart, which then causes that twisted human to lust, and to covet, and to hate.

Ned Stark was obviously the most virtuous of everyone who sat on the Throne, and that’s exactly why they had to kill him in the very beginning. You can’t have a hero in a world like this, because in the worldview of creators of this show, there are no heroes. There’s just cruel mankind. Ultimately, the show is pagan in its roots, closes you off from any ultimate redemption, and pits you in an endless cycle of nihilism.

That’s why the best example of true leadership after Ned Stark, Jon Snow, has to leave (we can’t really have an honest man on the Throne), and the entire band of good guys simply splinters off, or in Tyrion’s case, helps rebuild the same institution that led to this entire twisted drama. No one’s asking questions about the condition of mankind. No one ultimately learns anything about even the Mad Queen, Daenerys; someone so innocent, so gentle, yet still having fallen in the end.

What do we learn then? What we learn from Game of Thrones is that man can be virtuous, but man has an inherent darkness within himself that desires power. The Iron Throne represents absolute power and dominance, just like the Ring of Power in the Lord of the Rings does. The power of the Throne is too great for any mortal man to hold. Let’s presume for a moment that there was a mortal even better than Ned Stark, who what full of virtue and justice and fairness. One day, he will die, and who knows who will take his place? Obviously then, it is not simply good virtue that man needs, but man needs to be immortal.

The Christian Answer: King of Righteousness

Could we find such a man? What if there was a man who was incorruptible, untainted by the sin that infests the rest of mankind? What if this man was also immortal? Could not be killed, and could reign upon the throne forever? He was incorruptible and could bear the power of the throne; he was immortal and so could reign forever. Can we have such a man?

In the Old Testament, God gives David a promise through Nathan in 2 Samuel 7:8-17. That promise was to establish David’s house forever. David’s line would not perish, hence. Israel would have a king that would never be removed. Ever since, Israel has been looking forward to that great promise, for that wonderful king who would fulfill the promise of God to David.

But how can anyone fulfill this promise? As Game of Thrones shows us, everyone dies, even the king. In the Bible, and in reality, it is no different. Old covenant Israel is replete with kings who lived and then died, and however good they may have been, their dynasty and legacy died with them. Generations to come would soon forget all the good deeds they may have done for Israel. Surely, then, God’s promise to David had to go beyond mere mortality. If in the end, death always wins over a great king, how can anyone truly fulfill God’s promise?

In the psalms, we have particular “royalty psalms” that speak specifically to this picture of a great king over Israel. Psalm 2 is one of these, and it speaks of a mighty king, who is almost a kind of divine figure; holding a very close relationship to God. In fact, in verse 6-8, the king in this picture is said to have been “begotten” by God. This king therefore bears a very unique relationship to Him, and to him, God gives the nations, indicating this king is sovereign over the world under the authority of God.

In Psalm 72, another picture of a great and wonderful king is given. He is a righteous king, who is merciful to the oppressed, and absolutely righteous and just against all evil-doers. In the midst of the psalm, in verse 5, one might almost say that this king’s rule is eternal. Psalm 102 may perhaps be the most telling of all our examples here of the character of this king. It begins with a mysterious saying, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies your footstool.‘”

The construction of the words are strange. “The Lord says to my Lord” is what we find most peculiar. There seems to be some form of conflation going on. Two Lords are in view here. If we connect all of this with Psalms 2 and 72, we might say here that Yahweh says to David’s Lord (since in each psalm, Yahweh appears to exalt a king, and particularly in 72, one whom He calls a son) to sit at His right hand. The first Lord is capitalized in the text, which is the translator’s way of telling you that you are reading the tetragrammaton for Yahweh (YHVH), the covenant name of the God of Israel.

The use of the phrase “sit at My right hand” is to show absolute power and honor in the Bible. It signifies that the King of Israel is the ruler on behalf of Yahweh.

In Psalm 110, another fascinating statement is made, where Yahweh again speaks to David’s Lord, saying He will make him a “priest forever after the order of Melchizedek”. He will be a priest, forever. He sits at the right hand of Yahweh. What do we make of this? Three things. (1) He is a king; (2) He is a priest; and (3) He is eternal.

That great King, the Bible says, came over two-thousand years ago, and told the world that he was the King of the Jews, descended from the line of David, and fulfilled the promise of God to establish that throne forever. That King was Jesus Christ. The New Testament connects Jesus to the line of David (Matthew 1:17, Romans 1:3). Jesus is also declared to be divine and eternal in his nature (John 1:1-4, John 8:58, Hebrews 1:3, Hebrews 1:8-12).

Jesus then is that great King that Israel had been waiting for, who would fulfill the promises of an eternal King. He is King because He is man, and He is eternal because He is God. As we have said earlier, corrupt, mortal men cannot truly rule the throne of the world. What about someone who is immortal, incorruptible, and is more than a man, and by his very nature alone has the right to rule the world? All of this, Jesus Christ is. Corruption cannot take hold of him, as it is shown in the gospels, such as Matthew 8:1-3. Leprosy was a form of extreme, physical disfigurement that infected anyone it touched. When Jesus touches the leper, rather than Jesus becoming unclean, the leper is cleansed. The power of Jesus and his divine origin is demonstrated here. He has the power over sin, death, and corruption.

The Gospel of the Kingdom

The Old Testament was looking forward to a pivotal moment in the future for a figure to appear by divine appointment who was going to bring an end to Israel’s great suffering. That moment came in the person of Jesus Christ. If you read Matthew’s gospel, Matthew’s great desire is to show a Jewish audience that Jesus is the fulfillment of these prophecies. The Messianic figure of Isaiah 7:14, 8:8, 9:6-7 is fulfilled in Christ (Matthew 1:23).

Jesus’s ministry and message was summed up into one phrase. He went about telling people, “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand”. The call was a call to turn away from sin, because the kingdom of God was in their midst. God had come, and He “tabernacled” among His people (John 1:14). The King had finally arrived, and hence proclaims a warning to surrender to His reign and rule, or perish (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:14, Mark 3:2).

After Jesus had lived, died and been raised from the dead, He gives the great commission to his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20. He says that all authority had been given to him, and to therefore make disciples of the nations. The kingdom of God was here, and now the message of the gospel, of the risen King, who will rule with righteousness and justice commands us all to come to him in repentance and faith and service to his Lordship, bringing all nations into his subjection.

As we have said, it is the Gospel of the Kingdom. So far what we have given was the gospel of the King, however. He is the most central figure of that role, but there is good news for us as well. As I had mentioned before, we have a great sin problem, and how can a holy God allow sin to dwell in His kingdom? He cannot. What then must the just King do with us? He must destroy us. All corruption must end. But God has done something wonderful to answer this problem.

The Gospel of Redemption

First let’s remember what happened in the garden. Adam had not sinned yet, and hence he had no corruption. But once he committed the sin, he forever doomed his seed. Romans 5 is a great descriptor of what we call in theology the Federal Headship of Adam. All born under Adam’s seed inherit the sin nature at birth (Psalm 51:5). After Adam had sinned, God had the tree of life guarded by cherubim (Genesis 3:24) so that no one may enter paradise (Eden) again.

As the book of Hebrews shows us, all the constructions of the old covenant artifacts were a picture of the real ones, the heavenly ones (Hebrews 7:4-5). The symbolism was the return to Eden, to remove the angels guarding the way by a sacrifice. No one could do this, which we will see why as we explain how God redeems us in Jesus Christ.

Here is where Jesus fulfills the role of the High Priest. As Hebrews 10:1-4 sums up so well, the sacrifices of bulls and goats could never truly take away the sins of people. Man owed the debt. Only man could pay it. But for me to pay my debt means for me to die and perish. Then my salvation is hopeless in me. There is only doom.

Now we read on into Hebrews 10, in verse 5, where the Son speaks to the Father and says that a body had been prepared for Him. Now the Son, as a man, can pay the debt man owed, and He could pay the debt eternally because His life was of eternal value. In verse 11, the author again elaborates that the ordinary high priest could not truly fulfill all righteousness, being a sinner himself. Christ, who lives forever as High Priest, with an everlasting sacrifice in His own blood, offers one sacrifice, once for all who believe, purging their sins in eternity, becoming their Priest and King, and saving them fully and completely for the coming kingdom.

As Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Jesus our Savior was made sin for us, so that we might be made the righteousness of God in him. The idea here is a transaction. When I trust in Christ, all of my sin he bears, and I get in exchange all of his righteousness imputed to my account. Not to my present body, but my account, much like an actual bank account. God justifies me on the basis of what Christ did, not on the basis of what I have done. Hence it is through Jesus Christ, the Bridge, the Doorway that I may enter Eden again. As Jesus himself says, no one comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6). All of my sin, therefore, has been dealt with on the cross. Does this mean I no longer sin? Not so. John says in 1 John 1:8 that if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. How do we make sense of this, then?

From Death to Life

In the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:31-34, the Lord will make a new covenant with Israel, and in this new covenant, God will put His law in their hearts and remember their sins no more. This the author of Hebrews declares is fulfilled in Christ in Hebrews 10:17.

In a similar prophecy, Ezekiel in chapter 36:25, Yahweh says that He will cleanse His people of all their idols. In verse 26, He declares that He will remove our hearts of stone and give us a heart of flesh that He will cause to obey Him. He will give us a new heart. This we call regeneration. A dead man comes to life (Ephesians 2). The point here is that something takes place when my sins are forgiven. The Spirit of God dwells in me. To put this all together, once I am saved, God begins to work life in me. Sin dwells in my current body, but as Scripture tells us, we are to be killing this flesh daily.

In Romans 6, after explaining the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Paul asks a rhetorical question, which is that if I have been forgiven of all sin, doesn’t that mean we can just live our lives in sin and continually say we are forgiven since all our sin is forgiven? Not so. Paul’s answer is that if you have been truly born again, something has happened to you. What is that? That you were buried and raised with Christ. Your sin is killed with him. Hence sin here means more than just bad actions–your corrupt state under Adam’s headship has been dealt with, though it still lives in this world. Now begins the new creation in the New Adam, born from eternity, that shows forth into this world.

This is what baptism represents. Notice what Paul says in Romans 6:5-8. He speaks of dying with Christ and being raised with him. Baptism symbolizes the going down under (the grave), and coming up alive, anew, and washed of sin. Hence the story of redemption, if we can sum it all up, is a story of how God conquers death through it. Through dying in Christ, we shall live (John 11:25-26). He says that he who believes in him [the Christ] and that he has been sent by the Father, has eternal life; they will not face the judgment but have “passed from death to life” (John 5:24).

An Eternal Hope

Thus in the gospel of Jesus Christ we have that great hope, that great redemption that was fulfilled in Christ when he came over two-thousand years ago, and will one day, at the end of time, be fully consummated in a new heaven and new earth, and for us who hold onto him, follow him in faith and repentance, restoration unto a new, pure and sinless life.

He is all that man was supposed to be, but couldn’t be and more. Like Game of Thrones, the Bible tells us of a great story. In the story is great evil, great pain, destruction, sacrifice, betrayal and loyalty. There are epic battles, and history-defining moments. But unlike Game of Thrones, the God who has written this story, who is telling this story always has a divine purpose; He is telling not simply a story of the reality of where we are now, but of a coming reality beyond this, where He will redeem all the evil, and all the pain, in something far greater than what we have.

There will be no sin that corrupts, corrodes and destroys. There will be no factions, no need to take sides. For all there are neighbors, all there are reconciled children of a great and merciful God. And they will serve a King whose reign never ends, whose glory is their light in the day, whose justice will never, ever fade away.

A Sacrifice of Thanksgiving

This is not a late, nor early devotion to the American tradition of Thanksgiving, rather something I was inspired to write while I was listening/reading the Bible on the way to work yesterday morning. Sometimes I don’t have the time to sit and read my Bible, so I have my Bible app audibly read it to me while I do my morning commute. This morning, something struck me as I was in Psalm 50 and 51 that I wanted to take time this morning to unpack and deliver in an article that I hope and pray is helpful to you, whether you are already a believer in Christ, or are struggling with understanding the core Christian faith, or something of both.

The question I want to ask to set this up is, what is it that God wants from us? What was the purpose of God setting up the entire Old Testament sacrificial and ceremonial system? These are questions any seasoned Christian ought to know the answer to, but ask yourself, how do you know the answer? Can you show me in Scripture that these were types and shadows of what God was going to do in Christ? I don’t think many Christians can, and because of that, I think that is why so many of us struggle between grace and law.

Lots of commentaries out there give some good explanations for the tough passages that seem to be God telling us to abide in law to remain in His grace, but often times it’s with Christianese, which doesn’t really explain anything. It doesn’t solve my struggle with why on the one hand I am saved by grace alone and on the other hand, why God demands a sacrifice from me. I will use one commentary from the ESV Study Bible to demonstrate this here, as well as one other from another place.

The Dilemma of Sacrifices

In Psalm 50, the Lord is rebuking Israel for its unfaithfulness to Him (Psalm 50:7). Once again, see the dilemma here. On the one hand, we’re supposed to be seeing God as being gracious to us in spite of our failings, and yet are we not seeing here God turning away from people because of their failings? To solve this, you must read on to verse 8-13. Here God tells Israel that there is nothing they can offer God that would aid Him in anything, since everything is already His. The sacrifices offered to God are therefore worthless.

But this then presents us with another dilemma: Why, then God, do you give us the ordinances of the sacrifices if they are ultimately fruitless? Why have us give you something you don’t really need? The answer to this question requires us to once again, read further into verse 14-15. The sacrifices are to be offered as thanksgiving, not as something that actually propitiates God’s wrath against sin.

This is a truth that is sprinkled all over the Old Testament, hidden in plain sight, often right in the midst of a passage on the importance of sacrifices to God (such as right here). For example, we go on right into the next Psalm, Psalm 51:16 where David, confessing his sin with Bathsheba, picks up on the exact same theme. Psalm 40:6 also mentions this; in Micah 6:6-8, once more, we have a reference to this. In 1 Samuel 15:22, the prophet Samuel rebukes Saul for his abuse of the sacrificial system. Notice what Saul is doing, he is treating the sacrificial system as some kind of bribery of God, as if the sacrifices fuel God’s engine for His power with Israel, like steam to a steam engine and so on.

This is utterly pagan to its core; it is pagan idolatry that demands human beings offer sacrifices to provoke the gods to act on their behalf. Pagans in ancient Israel times, as well as pagans to this very day still do these kinds of things (in our modern context, in less bloody manner). Even in subset of Christianity, such as the Roman Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodoxy, the LDS Church, or any legalistic church, what do they all have in common? To provoke God to move, you must first do these things; you must first set yourself right with God. This is the paganism that Saul fell for, and that frankly anyone who thinks like this has fallen for.

Christianese That Complicates the Matter

There are many places in the Old Testament where this is expressed, but I hope that the few that we have provided suffices to demonstrate that there is a paradox of some kind here. On the one hand, God ordains and commands the sacrifices. On the other hand, He seems to despise them. How then do we understand what is happening here? If we are thinking Christians, we are going to be honest and see that we have a dilemma. Let me quote some commentaries from my study material that helps expose some of the “Christianese” that we are susceptible to:

The Psalmist does not specify what God delights in, but OT passages demonstrate God does not appreciate sacrifices made as outward expressions of religion (e.g., 1 Sam 15:22). The prophets proclaim that God prefers justice and mercy over sacrifice and other outward expressions of religion (Isa 1:11-17; Mic 6:6-8). Wisdom literature likewise emphasizes the importance of righteousness, justice, and obedience over sacrifice (Prov 15:8; 21:3; Eccl 5:1).

Logos, Faithlife Study Bible; Commentary on Psalm 40:6

I’ve underlined some of the parts I want to emphasize I think express a kind of Christianese (unintentionally, I do not disparage the writers of this, I enjoy these commentaries very much!). God does not appreciate sacrifices made as outward expressions of religion, correct–but how do we know we’re not doing that in a New Testament church context? How do I know I’m not given over to empty religion to satisfy a vengeful God?

The prophets proclaim that God prefers justice and mercy over sacrifice, but doesn’t that mean any pagan who is an idolater can still do justice and perform mercy and therefore legalistically work his way into heaven?

Righteousness, justice and obedience are greater than sacrifice as Samuel said, but once again, can not pagans perform righteous and just acts? And isn’t obedience to God’s command performing sacrifices? How then can God demand obedience, ergo do the sacrifices, and then on the other side of His mouth say sacrifices are not necessary?

Now again, I am not asking questions to criticize Revelation, God forbid! What I am trying to expose here is what I think is often glossing over what Scripture is actually telling us. And let me please emphasize that I am not saying the people who put these commentaries together did a disservice to God, I am certainly not. But I know I struggled with these for quite some time, and I don’t think I’m the only one. Let me give one more example below from the ESV Study Bible on this subject:

The oracle then turns to the right use of sacrifices (cf. note on 40:6-8), focusing on the sacrifice of thanksgiving and vows (50:14). These were both kinds of peace offerings (Lev. 7:11-12, 16), which was the only kind of sacrifice in which the worshiper ate some of the sacrificial animal; its primary function was to eat a meal, in company with the sacrificer’s family and the needy, with God as the host. (1 Corinthians 10:16-18 shows that this is the basic meaning of the Christian Lord’s Supper.) Membership in God’s people is about being welcome in his presence (Ps. 50:14), depending on him (v. 15), and dealing justly with others (vv.19-20, 23); thus it engages the heart.

ESV Study Bible, Commentary on Psalm 50:7-15.

Now again, let me emphasize that I think this is extraordinarily helpful to anyone using this, most notably myself. I love my ESV Study Bible. But, did this really hit at the dilemma we have set forth? Most assuredly, it stresses that the Christian faith must be more than outward religion, it must deal with the heart. But again, if we are serious Christians, do we not ask: how do I know that my heart is in this? How do I know that I am not deceiving myself in religion to satisfy God’s wrath against me, rather than Christ’s offering for me?

The Covenants of God as Clues

With that set forth, I want to offer what I think is the solution, and to do this, we must go all the way back to the Fall itself. What does God do when Adam and Eve fall? Firstly, let’s discuss what happens when they disobey. Plainly stated, their grace with God is broken, severed and killed. Doesn’t this mean disobedience means death? Doesn’t this imply that we must do things to remain in God’s blessings? That may have been so before the Fall, but we are in post-Fall now. Look what God says in Genesis 3:14-15, before He turns to Adam and Eve. The Lord Himself is going to destroy what the Serpent did. He didn’t tell Adam nor Eve they had to do this.

Now follow the great covenants God made with Israel and see what the common theme with all of them is. Look at the covenant God makes with Abram in Genesis 15. Who is the one doing the actions necessary to uphold the covenant? Who is making the grand promises? God is. He is the one who is Abram’s shield, He is the one who is going to give Abram the offspring by which the covenant lives. Abram is a recipient of it. This does not mean Abram is not required to commit to rituals on his part, but we will get to that at the right time.

Furthermore, in Genesis 15:12-21, after Abraham had done what the Lord commanded, which was to setup a pagan-like covenant ritual for Abraham’s benefit; using Abraham’s own cultural familiarities to show Abraham what God was doing, who passes through the pieces to enact the covenant? God does through the “smoking fire pot” (the theophany of fire). So who is holding who accountable to this covenant God was making with Abraham? God was. God held Himself to fulfill the covenant, not Abraham. And when you read onward, God is the one who is going to do everything needed to keep the covenant. Obviously thousands of years later, with the advent of Christ, Paul reveals to us the fullest fulfillment of that covenant God made with Abraham, which was redemption and restoration to the promise land through Christ (Romans 4, Galatians 3:14, 3:29).

When Abraham is going to offer Isaac to the altar, as we all believe, he uttered divine-originated prophecy in Genesis 22:8 when he said that God Himself was going to provide the lamb. See how God is the one doing these things? And who ultimately fulfills this? Christ does of course. Christ was the true sacrifice, the Lamb of God (John 1:29, Revelation 5:6, Hebrews 10:12).

What about the Mosaic Covenant we ask? There seems to be a clear-cut example of God doing the opposite of what He did with Abraham and what we will soon see is David. The Mosaic Covenant is somewhat different, yet still related to our subject. How so? It’s important to recognize that the Mosaic Covenant takes place within a preexisting covenantal context, the covenants God made with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (in each case, you see the same theme that God was going to fulfill the covenant).

Sinai exists in light of that, having fulfilled that. So what we see, therefore, is God calling Israel to do because of what? Because of what God has already done. In fact, when you see Moses give the Ten Commandments, what does God preface them with? Declaring to Israel what God has done. Furthermore, when God is giving the ordinances of the covenant, He continually reminds Israel who is giving it, “I am the Lord” (the Tetragrammaton for YHVH, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob), meaning, because of who He is and what He has done, therefore this. This will be important to remember later on, but ultimately, let’s not forget what we read all of this in light of, the sprinkled passages that we discussed before about how God ultimately does not want Israel to view the sacrifices as if they actually propitiate His wrath against sin. There is another reason for why Israel is to be doing this.

Lastly, in the Davidic Covenant, when God establishes David’s throne forever, once more, who was the one who was going to accomplish this? God was. David was a recipient.

What God Promised He Would Do

With this brief overview of the covenants God made throughout the Old Testament, we have the context to go into the New Testament and see how all of this fits. Let us first, once more, ask the questions in the opening of the article (as we have raced across so many texts of Scripture to scramble our brains somewhat, and lose sight of the purpose of the article) to remind us of our dilemma so as to solve it: What is it that God wants from us? Why the sacrifices if God condemns us for doing them? How do we do them in a right manner?

As we have seen, notice how in each of the great covenants God made with His elect, while He ordains particular practices for His people to perform in light of them, He never told any of them (nor us by extension) that they were to fulfill the covenant ultimately. Never did God say to anyone that it was upon their shoulders to return to the Promise Land. The opposite is stated; God is the one who is going to do it, He is the one who will bring Israel back to the Promised Land, out of the land of death, through shadow and despair.

For the sake of time and brevity I cannot dive into this extensively, but what I hope I have done at least is help setup for us the way to go into the New Testament and see how God has kept each of these promises in Christ. We see how Christ is the fulfillment of the Abrahamic Covenant in Romans 4, when Paul brings up how Abraham was justified before God. It was not by what Abraham did, but by what he believed God was going to do (and then you see that Abraham circumcises himself as a sign of that covenant, not in fulfillment of it). The implication here is that God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 and in 22 extended far beyond what Abraham had imagined, yet nevertheless, it was Abraham’s looking forward to that promise that gave him the strength to push on.

Hopefully by now you are anticipating where I am going with all of this, the passage I like to call The Grand Hall of Faith, where we see the history of the great men of faith in Scripture, Hebrews 11. After the author of the Hebrews gives his great and remarkable argument of how Christ fulfills all things, all the types and shadows, how he embodies God’s actions to fulfill every covenant, himself being God (Hebrews 1:8-12), the author now exhorts his audience to grab hold of that one man, Jesus Christ, the fulfillment of God’s promises through the ages, and in that press forward to the kingdom of God.

You see then, with Hebrews as our lens to understand what motivated the great men of God in the Old Testament, they were not moved by a need to keep their end of the bargain. Abraham was not moved by the requirements to maintain God’s grace; Paul rebukes that in Romans 4 and in Galatians 3. It was because Abraham looked forward to what God was going to do (Hebrews 11:8-10) that he circumcised himself, that he offered sacrifices to God and so forth. This is the faith that carried them all, and that is the kind of mindset by which God commanded His people of the Old Testament to perform the sacrifices. It was not to actually satisfy God’s wrath, it was to give thanks and glory, looking forward to when God Himself was going to end this.

And now, as the church, we do not look ahead to the promise as God gave to the Israelites of old, we look back to what God has done for us in Christ, and in doing so, we push forward, struggling with our sin, conquering it with Christ as our Light, as the author of Hebrews says in chapter 12 (which of course follows 11), after he had proclaimed the entire patriarchy had been moved by faith in God, not work towards God, he tells us to now, having these promises, put off all sin that inhibits our ability to grab hold of the promise.

This is exactly the same kind of thing we see God telling Israel at Sinai. Because God has brought them out of slavery, now do this, do this in thanks to God. Now we of course know today that that was not the end; the ultimate fulfillment is Christ. What God is really saying then in the Mosaic Covenant, and indeed through Moses himself (Deuteronomy 18:15) was that God was going to guide Israel through all of this. What He asks of Israel is to obey in a spirit of thanksgiving for what God was going to do, not in a spirit of needing to keep God’s favor.

For what are we really saying when we believe our works keep God’s favor towards us? We are proclaiming we do not believe God when He says that He Himself is going to redeem us, and that lack of faith is damnable to the soul, for it is not faith in God that drives the individual, but faith in their own ability to act in God’s place in the covenant.

A Sacrifice Then of Thanksgiving

This is the thanksgiving we have being discussed in Psalm 50, this is what the psalmist means by sacrifices of thanksgiving. What is the mindset that we are to have in our offerings to God? It is not the mindset that we are the ones to uphold the covenant with God, it is the mindset rather of thanksgiving to God that He will do it, He is our shield, our Protector, our Shepherd, our King who will not let us be lost. So when we have well-minded Christians say what we have expressed is that God desires us to be just and merciful, we say amen, but what is simply stated is that God wants us to see the sacrificial system of the Old Testament as a shadow of what God was going to do, and just like Abraham, eagerly await when He is going to do it.

This is why Jesus says in John 6:29 that the work of God for us is to believe in him whom God has sent, Christ Jesus, and furthermore, in verse 40 that “all who look on the Son and believe in him shall have eternal life”. This, the apostle in Hebrews 11 says is what all the men of old were doing, from Abraham to the Apostles themselves, and this is how we can know we have eternal life. Why do you do what you do? Are you doing it to keep God’s wrath at bay just a little longer and longer and longer? Or are you doing it, knowing you have boldly approached the throne of grace with Christ as your advocate–not propitiating your sins with your own works, but by looking to him and trusting he has done it all, and thereby not being a just and merciful person to prove to God that you are a good person, but knowing that it is God who works such tenderness in you by His Spirit in you? By this we know that we are His.

This is why as Christians we proclaim the gospel, the wonderful good news to the world around us, to tell them to give up the pagan practices of trying to return to the Promised Land lost on their own strength, and instead, realize that God has done it for you, you need only to see the Christ in whom He has done it! And when you grab hold of that, it is there, and only there, that your life changes, not from the outside in, but from the inside out, to the praise and honor of His glorious grace, and His steadfast faith to do all that He said He was going to do.