Pictures and diagrams can be helpful in teaching theological concepts. These are two pictures I used a few weeks ago in preaching through Romans 2; some of you guys have asked to see them again so you can process them more fully. Unfortunately I’m booked up right now with lots of art and design projects, so I won’t be able to answer requests for additional graphics that mirror the sublime excellence of these ones. I mean, we artists need time to devote to our craft. You can’t make art like this overnight. Well, actually, you can. These diagrams are blatantly stolen from Dr. Richard Pratt of Reformed Theological Seminary. And to his credit, I think he was using Powerpoint 97 or something back when he made them, so he’s probably a better artist than they suggest.
The point is to show that we commonly think in only two categories: believer and unbeliever, saved and unsaved, Christian and non-Christian. But actually, the Bible knows 3 categories of people: those outside of God’s covenant; the visible covenant community (those who profess to follow Christ); and the true covenant community (those who are actually regenerate). Covenant is the grid that ties together Old Testament and New and makes sense of the entire Bible.
This distinction between the visible and invisible church is simply the only way to make sense of Jesus’ teaching that the kingdom of heaven is like a field that grows both wheat and tares (Matt. 13:24-30), or of Paul’s contention that “they are not all Israel who are descended from Israel” (Rom 9:6), or of John’s statement that anti-Christian people “went out from us, but they were not really of us; for if they had been of us, they would have remained with us” (1 John 2:19). Read your Bible carefully and you’ll start seeing these three categories everywhere. Not all who profess faith actually possess it. (This should be intuitively obvious to most of you.)
The most common question is: what is the difference between the people in the yellow box and the people in the red box? And it’s a good question. From the outside, they look very much the same. They both attend church. They both profess faith in Jesus. They both engage in various religious exercises. The difference is that the people in the red box have truly experienced the internal transformation wrought by the Spirit of God, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:33: “I will put my law within them, and on their heart I will write it.” For truly regenerate people, obedience to Jesus and love for Jesus and service to Jesus are internally driven, motivated by the Spirit of God who indwells them. For the people in the yellow box, obedience and love and service are externally driven, motivated by tradition or peer pressure or religious guilt.
This is the heart of the contrast mentioned by Paul in Romans 7:6: “But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.” If you are still serving Jesus in the “oldness of the letter” (i.e. driven by external pressure and not by the internal propulsion of the Spirit), you might be in the yellow box. May God use this discussion, by His grace, to grab your heart and move you into the red box.
I am sure questions will be forthcoming. Don’t be shy, ask away. I’ll do my best.