Sunday, May 6, 2012

Are Christians Still Under the Law of Moses?

There is a lot of confusion about this subject. Should we still tithe? Eat kosher foods? Penalize blasphemers? Some would say “Yes!” arguing that the Word of God endures forever (Isaiah 40:8). They rightly argue:

·        The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous. (Psalm 19:7-9)

These are even sentiments reaffirmed by the Apostle Paul:

·        So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good. (Romans 7:12)

If these truths still apply, it might seem that we are still under the Law. However, Paul explained that although the law still has relevance, it is relevant in a different way:

·        So, my brothers, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit to God. For when we were controlled by the sinful nature, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in our bodies, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:4-6)

We still serve and obey God, but now “in the new way of the Spirit.” We have “died to the law.” Christ died in our place on the Cross, taking our sins upon Himself. This fulfilled the requirement of the law (Romans 8:3-4). We had deserved to die for our sins (Romans 6:23). However, the curse we deserved (Deut. 27:26; Josh. 8:33-35) fell upon Him, and because He fulfilled it, the curse or indictment of the law has been fulfilled. Therefore, the law can no longer bring a charge against us, because we have already – through Christ – paid the penalty. Therefore, we are freed from the law.

When we were under the law, sin abounded:

·        The law was added so that the trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. (Romans 5:20-21)

Although we are no longer under the law, we still serve God according to His truths or laws, but in a very different way, as specified by the New Covenant. Jeremiah specifies several features regarding life under this New Covenant:

·        "The time is coming," declares the Lord, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them," declares the Lord. "This is the covenant I will make with the house of Israel after that time," declares the Lord. "I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest," declares the Lord. "For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

Here are some of its specifications:

1.      This New Covenant (NC) “will not be like” the Mosaic Covenant.

2.      Even though God had written His laws on all human hearts (Romans 2:14-15), this NC will entail a far deeper and intimate writing. As a result of this, Jesus’ ways will become our ways. Following His laws will feel satisfying. His yoke will feel light - even a delight. However, it seems that this writing of the laws on our heart is a gradual process (2 Cor. 3; John 8:31-32) that occurs as we meditate on His Word (Psalm 1).

3.      It seems that some aspects of this NC have not yet been fulfilled. The “house of Israel and…Judah” have not yet received the NC. And perhaps it won’t be until His heavenly kingdom fully comes, when we will “all know” the Lord.

4.      He “remember[s] their sins no more." There will never be any more condemnation for those who are His (Romans 8:1).

Consequently, we now follow the law of God, but in a very different way. We realize that we don’t follow the law to be saved but instead, because we are saved. Doing good deeds isn’t the cause of salvation but the consequence of salvation. In fact, following the law never saved anyone:

·        Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God. Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

Instead of providing a means to attain righteousness and salvation, the law brought condemnation and showed us the truth about ourselves – that we are sinners who need the mercy of God.
Consequently, our only hope is that we are no longer under the law, but under grace:

·        For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace. (Romans 6:14)

This is because the New Covenant has replaced the Old:
·        By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13)

The Old disappeared entirely in 70 AD when the Romans destroyed the Temple. As a result of the Cross and this destruction, not even the Jews are under the Mosaic Covenant anymore. Instead, all are under the covenant that God has written on the hearts of men (Romans 2:14-15). Consequently, all are “without excuse” before God (Romans 1:20).

Even though we aren’t under the Old, but under Christ, the law still represents the holiness and righteousness of God. Consequently, we still have to “uphold” it:

·        Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)

I know that this sounds like a contradiction – not under the law but upholding the law! How can  both be true? Clearly, the covenant of the law has been fulfilled in its entirety as Jesus had indicated:

·        "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. (Matthew 5:17-18)

Jesus didn’t “abolish” the law; He fulfilled it on the Cross. He had “accomplished” everything that had been required of the law. However, the law remains “holy…righteous and good,” as Paul declared. This means that the law can still instruct us regarding God’s love, mercy, wisdom and our sin.

We have to ask the question, “How does the law guide us today?” Jesus often quoted from the law and expounded upon its deeper spiritual meaning. Murder wasn’t simply a matter of hitting someone over the head with a rock. We could also murder with our words and looks:

·        "You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Similarly, adultery wasn’t simply an external action. It also involved the heart and intentions. Love requires that our motives match our actions. We cannot love only in our actions, while we hate in our heart. If the two aren’t aligned, we are hypocrites. And when they aren’t aligned, we have to confess our sins. The law is about love in both our thinking and acting:

·        So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 7:12)

·        Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:10)

The law instructs us how to love. Consequently, we are commanded to uphold the law in this sense, although we are no longer under the law. We are also commanded to uphold the laws of the land - and this too is love (and wisdom) - even though we are not spiritually under these laws.

To put it another way, we are no longer under the specific commands (or the threats – Christ fulfilled the threats!) of the Mosaic Law, which only pertained to theocratic Israel:

·        Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you 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. (Col. 2:16-17)

How do we apply this truth? Although we are still supposed to keep the Sabbath – we want to honor the Lord in a special way at special times – we are even free to choose the day or even a set of times (Romans 14:5-6). This is one way that we love our Lord. The specifics of the law have changed but not the underlying principle, which we continue to uphold (or fulfill) in love.

This brings us back to the often-asked question about tithing. Does it still apply? The details might not, but the underlying principle, as illuminated by the New Testament, still applies:

·        Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (2 Cor. 9:6-7)

Although Paul mentions nothing about tithing, he does encourage liberal and joyous giving. All good things come from God. He therefore has a right to everything that we have, and He blesses us in our giving. Therefore, our prayer should be something like this:

·        Lord, everything I have is yours. Therefore, You direct my heart and mind to use my resources in a way that pleases You. Also Lord, let me find more joy in giving than in holding on to my resources. Also let me not be anxious about trying prove my love, which might result in hasty and un-wise giving.
Antinomians go to the opposite extreme. They dismiss the law entirely. However, Christ’s teachings are also “law.” Therefore, to dismiss the law is to dismiss the commands of Christ. However, if we love Christ, we will keep His commands:

·        This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome. (1 John 5:3)

We can’t love God if we refuse to obey His commands. On the contrary, if we obey Him, we are blessed by Him:

·        If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you...If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father's commands and remain in his love…My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you…You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15:7-14)

If we refuse to be obedient, we cannot be His friends. Nor can we use our so-called spiritual freedom for sin:

·        You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself." If you keep on biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other. So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. (Galatians 5:13-16)

How do we “live by the Spirit?” By following His teachings! However, beware of a great danger – that we might wrongly suppose that we are earning something from God through our obedience. Please banish this thought immediately. Instead, we need to realize that we cannot earn even a smile from God:

·        "Who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?" (Romans 11:35)

Our Lord will never be in the position where He owes us anything! It’s all by grace (Gal. 3:1-5). Therefore, we must regard ourselves as unworthy servants (Luke 17:10)! Paul affirmed this about himself:

·        But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them--yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. (1 Cor. 15:10)

We must also confess, “by the grace of God I am what I am,” but this truth should never interfere with our loving obedience to our God. Even though Paul credited God with everything, this never prevented him from “working harder.” However, he even credited God for his hard work. We do reap what we sow (Gal. 6:8-9), but we are only enabled to sow by the grace of God (Phil. 2:12-13).
I’m sure that this essay will provoke many questions. I certainly welcome them to help others in their pursuit of our Lord’s love, joy and peace.

No comments:

Post a Comment