What about when we get to the New Testament? How should we approach distinctions as believers in Jesus?
Well, it’s a little trickier than under the Old Covenant. There are quite a few walls that got torn down by our Savior. First and foremost was the literal tearing down of the curtain that separated the high priest from the rest of the world, torn in two from top to bottom. This is an incredibly poignant symbol of the fact that with his death, Jesus caused the main barrier between us and God (sin) to be torn asunder.
And there’s no more barrier between Jew and Gentile, at least as far as salvation is concerned. As Paul put it:
Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
So that’s a huge barrier--or distinction if you will--which no longer exists, and which we can ignore.
In Christ all national boundaries are superseded by our essential unity as members of his Body. I have more in common with fellow believers in Russia, Brazil, Kenya, or China than I have with fellow Americans who don’t know Jesus, at least from a spiritual perspective. Much of the book of Acts is a record of God hammering into his Church’s head that he doesn’t “show favoritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right.” That doesn’t meant that we completely give up our identities as citizens of different nations or backgrounds, but it does mean that it’s all overshadowed by who I am--and who we are--in Christ. The Great Commission tells us to “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded [us].” Our ultimate goal is to see all people united in trusting in and submitting to the Lord Jesus.
For this next point I need to give credit to Dennis McCallum, author of The Summons. Biblical Christianity, alone among all the world religions, does not have sacred vs. non-sacred days, places, or people. We’re commanded by Paul to not let anyone “judge [us] by what [we] eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.” We don’t have some holy place we have to make a pilgrimage to. Christ is the only high priest we have or need, and each of us has equal access to the Father through him. In fact, we’re all part of a nation of royal priests.
And of course one of Jesus’ main points in his Sermon on the Mount is a broadening of our definition of “sin” to match God’s. For example, we tend to think of “murder” as the physical act of killing someone, but he expands that to holding hatred in your heart. Those are heavy distinctions we made which he didn’t like. And our definition of “neighbor” might need to be adjusted to fit his definition of “neighbor.”
But. . . there are still distinctions that Scripture makes:
saved vs. lost
sheep vs. goats
the narrow path to life vs. the broad highway to destruction
true vs. false prophets
the house on the rock vs. the house on the sand
Jesus plainly said that he didn’t come to bring peace on earth but a sword, setting family members against one another. Of course, he’s not in favor of breaking up families, but if one member of a household follows Christ and the rest don’t, well, that’ll naturally result in strife. Without his coming, the world would be completely united in rebellion and all of us heading into destruction. Better some saved than none.
The writings of John (his Gospel, his epistles, and Revelation) are especially filled with this motif of contrast. See how many times in his writings he talks about light vs. darkness, this world vs. Heaven, life vs. death, truth vs. lies, those who really belong to Jesus vs. the fakers, etc.
Furthermore, in regards to the Law as N.T. believers we need to make a proper distinction (there’s that word again) between principles and applications. The specific applications of the Law are time-bound: There’s no such thing anymore as unclean food, farmers can glean their harvests, and we don’t make animal sacrifices anymore. But the principles behind the laws and regulations are eternal and don’t change any more than God does: Take care of the poor, stay away from sin, offer yourself as a living sacrifice, etc. I thoroughly believe that the Law is still valuable as a New Covenant believer, not just to show me my need for a Savior, but to understand what’s important to him. For more on this, see here, here, and here.
And at the end of human history, there’s a final and permanent separation that the Lord makes between those who are reconciled to himself through the blood of his Son and those who. . . aren’t.
So what’s the verdict? More on the next posting.