From General Principles to Christ’s Fulfillment

When we read the Scriptures, particularly the Old Testament, we often find a general principle that we want to immediately apply. For example, the Bible says, “Don’t lie.” So we put down the Scripture and “apply” this passage by saying, “Ok. I won’t lie.” Then we pray, “God help me not lie today.”

This is only a partial way to apply the Bible. If we just say, “The law says I need to be just, so I’m going to be just,” then we neglect that Christ fulfills the Scriptures and we make the Bible first about us, rather than about Jesus. We must switch the order! We must do the prior work of understanding how Christ fulfills it first. Only then can we go on to applying general principles. 

Take Leviticus 19:9-10 for example:

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the LORD your God.

The general principle is obviously “don’t be greedy, be generous, etc.” (or something like that). This is right and God demands this of us. The New Testament reinforces it (Matt. 5:42; 1 Tim. 6:18). It would be a failure to apply this in a Christ-centered way for us to say, “Okay, I need to be generous, so I’ll go out and do that.”

We know that we must first understand how this testifies to Jesus (see John 5:39; Luke 24:24-27, 44). If not, then we simply make the passage about “what we must do” rather than first “what Christ has done.” This “gleaning” law in Leviticus is in the context of the Mosaic covenant. Israel failed to keep this law perfectly and, of course, the whole law perfectly. We have also failed to keep it. We have even failed our own personal and modern civil laws concerning generosity—no one is as generous as they should be. But not Jesus—he has fulfilled this individual rule, and the whole law, completely. Though Jesus did not have a literal field of his own to share with the poor, we know that Jesus, though he had the riches of heaven at his disposal, he left them and became poor that we might become rich (2 Cor. 8:9). As you may have heard before, “Jesus did not tithe his blood. He gave it all.”

Thus the principle (“be generous”) is seen most fully in Jesus who did not leave a little margin for the poor, but gave his whole life. He did not horde his harvest gleanings, but lost his inheritance on the cross so that we might be heirs with him. Only when we see Jesus doing this and worship him because of it, will we be generous people. Through the Spirit’s inner working, this fuels our desire and ability to become the generous people God wants us to be. 

So consider these questions to help move from general principles to Christ-centered application that fuels repentance, faith, and worship:

  • What’s the general principle?
  • What is the immediate context of this principle (time, location, covenant, etc.)?
  • How have I broken this too? What heart idol am I worshiping when I do this? (See last post.)
  • Does the New Testament reinforce or modify this principle?
  • How does Jesus uniquely fulfill this for me in a way I never could?
  • How does the Spirit empower me by grace to walk in obedience?

How would you phrase these questions? What ones would you add that have been helpful to you? 

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