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Sat, Jul 25, 1998

12 - Change of Dispensations

Galatians 2:14 by Robert Dean
Series:Galatians (1998)
Duration:1 hr 9 mins 19 secs

Change of Dispensations; Gal. 2:14

 

As there have been changes in the secular classroom, the same thing has happened in the Christian classroom and has affected Christian curriculum. What is seen in a lot of the broad-range Christian curriculum packages that churches buy is that they are doing the same thing. There is no doctrine being taught. If there is application it is more an application towards morality than it is spirituality. If all we teach people is how to live—that is morality in some sense—without teaching the biblical precepts for living the spiritual life which underlies the action then what we get is a lot of Christians who run around who are looking good on the outside, like the Pharisees, but on the inside they have no appreciation for the dynamics of the spiritual life and they have no understanding of the difference between spirituality and good old-fashioned morality. They think, therefore, that they have a close relationship with God because they seem to follow these external guidelines and are fairly moral people.      

 

Galatians 2:14 NASB "But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, "If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how {is it that} you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?"

 

The doctrine of the Mosaic Law and spirituality

 

  1. Christ fulfilled the Law. The Mosaic Law is not just the Ten Commandments. All of the Law foreshadowed the person and work of Jesus Christ. When Christ came He fulfilled the Law.
  2. Therefore Christ is the end of the Law for believers. Romans 10:4 NASB "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." The Law cannot produce righteousness.
  3. But as believers in the church age, just because we are not under the Mosaic Law does not mean that we are lawless. Lawlessness is antinomianism. Romans 8:2-4 NASB "For the law of the Spirit of life [it is a law related to the Holy Spirit] in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God {did:} sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and {as an offering} for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit." So the spiritual life of the believer is based on the Holy Spirit, not the Mosaic Law.
  4. The new law is accompanied by a new commandment: Ephesians 5:18 NASB "… but be filled with the Spirit." This is the first power option in the Christian life; the second is the Word of God/Bible doctrine. The Holy Spirit and the Word function in tandem, you can't have one without the other. Bible doctrine without the Holy Spirit is nothing more than legalism. There has to be the two working together in the unique spiritual life of the church age. What does the Holy Spirit fill us with? He fills us with Bible doctrine.
  5. The purpose of this new law is to glorify Christ and to produce His character in believers by means of the Holy Spirit. There is a process here. The process is not the end result; it is how you get to the end result. The bottom line is not just the assimilation of doctrine, it is epignosis [e)pignwsij] doctrine that we can apply on a daily basis which produces spiritual growth, and this is turn produces a transformed character reflecting the character of Christ which in turn glorifies God. That is the process. Galatians 4:19 NASB "My children, with whom I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you."
  6. The Holy Spirit is the one who glorifies Christ in the spiritual life. John 16:14 NASB "He [the Holy Spirit] will glorify Me, for He will take of Mine and will disclose {it} to you."
  7. The glorification of God takes place inside the believer first—internal first, then external. The problem with most Christianity is that the focus is on some external procedure, outside production—get involved with the church, Sunday school, give, pray, get involved in some kind of program, etc., where the issue is on external production rather than internal growth. 1 Corinthians 3:16 NASB "Do you not know that you are a temple of God and {that} the Spirit of God dwells in you?" The emphasis there is on the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who sets up a temple in the soul for the indwelling of Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 6:20 NASB "For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body."

 

With that as background we understand that a major shift is taking place. In the Old Testament the Mosaic Law was the issue exclusively in the life of Israel. But now the Mosaic Law is nullified; it has been fulfilled in Christ who is the end of the Law. What has happened here? Obviously something has changed, a difference of struggle that is taking place in these believers in the early church age in what is called a dispensational change. So in order to understand the background of this, which is so every important for an understanding of the New Testament, we will survey the doctrine of dispensations.

 

The doctrine of dispensations

 

1.  Acts 1:7 NASB "He said to them, "It is not for you to know times or epochs which the Father has fixed by His own authority." The word for "times" in the Greek is chronos [xronoj]; epoch is kairos [xairoj]. The first word refers to a succession of events, one following the other, the order of those events. The second relates to the breakdown within those time frames, the relationship of events one to another. What this tells us is that in terms of God's plan for human history He has certain chronological distinctions. There are different ages related to different purposes. Jesus is saying that the Father is not going to give that revelation at this point in time. Some years later when Paul wrote his first epistle to the Thessalonians he says to them (5:1): NASB "Now as to the times and the epochs, brethren, you have no need of anything to be written to you." Implication: I gave you complete instructions about times and epochs when I was with you. So information about these chronological distinctions in history were revealed by the apostle Paul. Jesus didn't tell the apostles before the day of Pentecost because the timing wasn't right. He had reserved that information to be revealed through the apostle Paul a few decades later.

2.  Ephesians 1:9, 10 NASB "He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in Him with a view to an administration suitable to the fullness of the times, {that is,} the summing up of all things in Christ, things in the heavens and things on the earth." The phrase, "with a view to an administration," contains the Greek word oikonomos [o)ikoomoj]. The first part, oikos, is the standard word for "house"; the second is nomos, the standard word for "law" or "rule." The basic etymological meaning is house law or house rule. It came to refer to the steward or administrator in a large household, or what we would call the manager. In the KJV this word was translated "dispensation" with a view to the dispensations suitable to the fullness of times. The second word we need to notice here is the word "fullness." In the Greek it is the word pleroma [plhrwma]. This is a very critical word for understanding the role of Christ as the precedent for the spiritual life of the church age. Colossians 2:9 NASB "For in Him all the fullness [plhrwma] of Deity dwells in bodily form." Then in Ephesians 3:19 NASB "and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the fullness [plhrwma] of God." So what this relates to is that we have the fullness of God in Christ and this same fullness is to be displayed in the life of the believer. Therefore pleroma becomes a technical term to the spiritually mature believer. To get there we have to do it through the unique spiritual life of the church age which is based on God the Holy Spirit. The role of the Holy Spirit makes this a unique age, a unique dispensation, so that this same word is used to relate to that; it is the dispensation of pleroma. It is the dispensation of pleroma because the believers are going to be able to achieve completion in the spiritual life and maturity, which means that they participate in the pleroma of God in terms of the full character of Christ. What the Holy Spirit produces in our life reflects the character of Christ.

3.  Our basic word meaning of oikonomos is steward or administrator, which refers to a house. A house has a certain set of rules and regulations. House laws and administrations change. Sometimes a corporation will be bought out by another corporation and the management changes. Certain rules stay the same; other rules change. The house law shifts as you go from one administration to another administration. A dispensation refers to God's management of human history through various periods of time. In these periods of time some things stay the same—salvation is always the same, faith alone in Christ alone; but some things are different. In the Old Testament, especially in the age of Israel, there is an emphasis on ritual. The emphasis was on what the priesthood was teaching externally. In the New Testament we have a different priesthood; it is not based upon one's tribal heritage but upon regeneration. If you are a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ then you are a royal priest to God.

4.  Definition: A dispensation is a period of human history expressed in terms of divine revelation. That means that God demarcates the beginning and the ending of that time period by revelation. There is going to be some word from God to indicate the beginning and the end; that something has changed. History is a sequence of divine administration divided into eras or ages, each having a unique characteristic, as well as certain functions in common with other ages. These consecutive eras reflect the unfolding of God's plan for mankind and constitute the divine viewpoint of human history and the theological interpretation of history. So if we do not have an understanding of dispensations to that degree we will misunderstand and misinterpret all of human history.

5.  What is it that demarcates these dispensational shifts? This brings in another important concept throughout the Bible and that is the entire subject of covenants. What is a covenant? A covenant, very simply put, is a contract between two parties. There are two kinds of contracts/covenants. There are unconditional covenants and there are conditional covenants. In an unconditional covenant God who is the party of the first part makes a sovereign decision to obligate Himself in grace to man, who the party of the second part, and nothing is dependent upon the party of the second part. It is a free gift, in other words. A conditional covenant is a covenant wherein God as party of the first part promises to bless the party of the second part on the basis of certain conditions fulfilled by the party of the second part. There is only one conditional covenant in the Bible: the Mosaic covenant. And the Mosaic covenant was only temporal. It was given for a specified period of time from Mount Sinai down through the death of Christ.