Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Mosaic Law: Its Life and its Death

Does the Mosaic Law (ML) kill or does it give life? Is it “against us” (Col. 2:14) or is it for us? Dr. Daniel Botkin argues that the law is good and, therefore, there is no need for its repeal:

·       According to this misinterpretation, God’s Law was “against us,” and “contrary to us” because it was a heavy yoke of bondage. It was an impediment, a hindrance to man’s attempt to be reconciled to God. Therefore, God had to “take it out of the way” and get rid of it. He did this by nailing it to the Cross… This view is flawed for a few different reasons. First, it contradicts the biblical truth that God’s Law, properly understood, is neither “against us” nor “contrary to us.” According to the Bible, God’s unadulterated Law is a blessing, not a burden. (See, e.g., Deut. 4:5-9; Psalm 19, Psalm 119, Romans 7:22, 1 Tim. 1:8, and many other passages.) (Gates of Eden)

Botkin is correct to point out that the ML is good. Paul says as much:

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

However, right before this, Paul declares that the ML also produces sin, deception, and death:

·       What shall we say, then? Is the law sinful? Certainly not! Nevertheless, I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. (Romans 7:7-11)

How then is it possible that the “law is holy… righteous and good,” and yet its effects are so damning? Paul explained that the ML made Israel aware of its sin (death) and, consequently, their need for the mercy and forgiveness of God (life):

·       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 God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin. (Romans 3:19-20)

The ML humbles and silences our arrogance. It shows us what we are really all about, and it’s not pretty. Instead of directly imparting life, the law shows us our damning sin (Rom. 6:23) and our need for God’s mercy, where we find life.

The Temple symbolized Israel’s need for mercy. Every day, sacrifices were made for the sins of Israel. This communicated that their level of obedience would never be good enough. Instead, any one sin would place them under a course:

·       “Cursed is anyone who does not uphold the words of this law by carrying them out.” Then all the people shall say, “Amen!” (Deut. 27:26)

However damning this truth is, it is also life-giving:

·       For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, as it is written: “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law.” Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God, because “the righteous will live by faith.” The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.” (Galatians 3:10-13)

The curse of the law can bring us to Christ. Paul argued that the ultimate goodness of the ML was found in its ability to lead us to the mercy of God through the Messiah:

·       So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian [the law]. (Gal. 3:24-25)

However, Botkin seems to deny that the ML kills in order to lead us to grace:

·       God’s unadulterated Law does not put people in bondage; it liberates. “So shall I keep Thy Law continually forever and ever. And I will walk at liberty” (Psalm 119:44f). God wants us to keep His commandments.

In a limited sense, Botkin is correct. The law does “liberate,” but it only gave Israel a taste of the coming liberation to which the law pointed – Christ! While there was a type of “forgiveness” under the law, it never was able to open the door to the Presence of God. The Holy Place remained guarded, the blood offerings were a daily reminder that Israel was still in their sins, and their conscience remained uncleansed. Fullness could only come with the Cross:

·       How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God! For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant. (Hebrews 9:14-15)

A true forgiveness and cleansing could only come from the Messiah. Nevertheless, Israel had experienced a foretaste of the promised grace through the Temple. However, they could not come boldly before God with a pure conscience. Consequently, Boykin overstates the “liberty” experienced under the law.

Botkin would agree with much of this. However, he would still maintain that even though we are saved through the mercy of God at the Cross, we are still under the ML. Boykin therefore denies that Jesus had fulfilled the ML on the Cross:

·       Jesus said we are not to even think that He came to abolish the Law. (See Matthew 5:17-19.)

However, Boykin leaves much out of his equation. Jesus had taught:

·       “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.  For truly I tell you, 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. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands [before they are fulfilled] and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:17-19)

Admittedly, this teaching is cryptic. Jesus didn’t explicitly teach, “I am bringing in a New Covenant that will replace the Mosaic.” Why not? Israel wasn’t ready to hear this. In their minds, such teaching was a capital offense, which would have brought immediate stoning.

In fact, Jesus never explicitly taught against the ML. However, He hadn’t been explicit about many other things – His Deity, His Messiah-ship, the New Covenant, or His Atonement. It was only at the end that He taught more explicitly about His mission. About His being the Messiah, Quoting two Messianic passages, He only revealed Himself to the leadership at the end in order to help them put Him to death:

·       “Tell us if you are the Christ…” Jesus said to him, "It is as you said. Nevertheless, I say to you, hereafter you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven." (Matthew 26:63-64)

Although He had been cryptic, Jesus was nevertheless preparing His followers for the coming New Covenant, which would replace the Old. He radically proclaimed that He was greater than the Temple and the Sabbath (Mat. 12:6-8). Loving God was no longer a matter of keeping the ML but His commandments (John 14:15; 21-24). The way to the Father was no longer though Moses but through Him (John 14:6). Israel’s faith would now have to be placed in Jesus (John 8:24) as the only way to the Father. They were no longer to be cleansed by the offering of animals but through His Word (John 15:3).

He set the stage for the passing of the ML in other ways. Under, the ML, Israel was defiled by coming in contact with external pollutants. However, Jesus cryptically contradicted this:

·       "Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. Nothing outside a man can make him 'unclean' by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him 'unclean’...Don't you see that nothing that enters a man from the outside can make him 'unclean'? For it doesn't go into his heart but into his stomach, and then out of his body." (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods "clean") (Mark 7:14-19; NIV).    

It was Mark who brought out the fact that Jesus, in effect, had “declared all foods ‘clean.’" Only in the end did Jesus make mention of the New Covenant, which His blood would bring (Mat. 26:28; Mark 14:24).

Although He didn’t explicitly mention that this New Covenant would replace the Mosaic, this was clearly His meaning. When He sent out His disciples (the Great Commission), He didn’t mention a word about their spreading the teachings of Moses. Instead:

·       “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Mat. 28:19-20).

Jesus left it to His Apostles to teach about the complete fulfillment and replacement of the Mosaic Covenant by the New, which they did with all clarity:

·       Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter [of the law]. (Romans 7:4-6)

There is no suggestion in any of these replacement verses that Christ had only fulfilled part of the Old Covenant. Instead, when we died to the Law, we died to it entirely. According to Paul, only complete freedom from the Old would enable us to be exclusively under Christ.

While I am quite certain that Boykin would not have us reconstruct the Temple in order to return to the animal sacrificial system, he nevertheless claims that we are under the law of Moses. Would he claim that we are only under part of this covenant because Christ only fulfilled part and not all? If so, such a distinction is not scripturally supportable. If Christ fulfilled the covenant of the law, He fulfilled it entirely or not at all. This is the message of Scripture.

Jeremiah tells us that the New Covenant would be distinct from the failed Old Covenant:

·       "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah-- not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, 'Know the LORD,' for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

The Old Covenant is no longer in sight (Jer. 3:14-16), consistent with Apostolic revelation:

·       By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13)

·       First he said, “Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them”—though they were offered in accordance with the law. Then he said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.” He sets aside the first to establish the second. (Hebrews 10:8-9)

Scripture gives no hint that Christ only fulfilled part of the ML and covenant. However, does this mean that the ML is no longer instructive or valid for Christian living? Not at all! Instead, Paul declared that we have to uphold the requirements of the law (Romans 3:31)!

Murder is still murder; adultery is still a sin. The moral essence of the law is affirmed by the New Testament and therefore mandatory. However, much of the law is not a matter of substance but of the shadows cast by the Messiah. Therefore, now we embrace the Messiah and not the shadows He had cast:

·       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. (Colossians 2:16-17)

Although we are no longer under the law, the law still conveys the vital truths of God. However, how do we distinguish substance from shadow? By understanding the Bible Christo-centrically!

Botkin is unclear whether he thinks that the Old Covenant applies only to Jewish believers in Christ. The Jerusalem Council had decided conclusively that the Gentile believer did not have to become circumcised to become a Jew and to follow the ML (Acts 15). Sadly, some Jewish believers erroneously believe that the Jews are still under the law.

This creates the kind of division within the Body of Christ that Paul had taught against. He openly criticized Peter for drawing back from fellowship with Gentile believers when the Jewish believers arrived. Why? Because Peter had betrayed “the truth of the Gospel” (Galatians 2:14)! Instead, the Gospel requires unity of all believers:

·       Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;  one Lord, one faith, one baptism;  one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. (Ephesians 4:3-5)

Without unity, we will not be able to impact this world as Jesus had prayed:

·       “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—  I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
Let us therefore pray for unity as Jesus had!             

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