So in the bible study I've been going to on Wednesday nights, we've started going over a brief overview of all the books of the bible, highlighting key chapters/verses, and discussing the details about each book. Obviously we've started at the beginning and have now gone over the first 5 books of the Bible, the Pentateuch. I've been very interested in the Law that God had laid out for the Jews, and particularly how that applies to Christianity today. It seems that Christians have decided to pick and choose the Laws laid out in Leviticus-Deuteronomy as to which ones we are still bound to or should follow, some saying all of it, some saying all the "moral" laws, some saying we must keep the Sabbath, etc. Going into this I knew we are saved by grace, and are not under the law anymore to earn righteousness, but I have never really reasoned out why so many Christians still point to the Law in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, including the 10 commandments and say we must follow these as Christians to obey God.
Below I plan on writing up my thoughts, Scriptures, and information I've come across, and this is just for my own benefit so I can get my thoughts down in writing, so if you've even read this far don't feel like you have to read any further as this will provide no updates whatsoever on what I've been up to lately, and this is probably going to be super long. You also may not fully agree with me and comments are welcome and I'm always open to discussion, but like I said this is mainly just to help me organize my thoughts!
I might as well begin with where my thought process started because these verses first popped into my head as we started talking about the Law, and became a large mental hurdle for me to try and combine grace with following the law. In Matthew 5:17-19 Jesus says on the sermon at the mount:
"17Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.18I 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.19Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same 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."
Now, it seems that reading this at face value, and it just popping into my head, Jesus is making a case that followers of Christ still need to follow all of the 613 commandments of the Law in Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, that practicing and teaching these commands will win me favor in heaven, and that this Law isn't going anywhere till heaven and earth disappear! And in my research I found many people taking this verse and blowing it out of context saying the same thing that Christ wants us as Christians even after the cross to still follow the Law. But as I have learned before, CONTEXT IS KEY!!! Christians many times do NOT understand this, will take bits and pieces of scripture and the Truth, and form false doctrines out of them, which downright ticks me off, but I don't want to rant. So hitting the "see full chapter" at biblegateway.com, I expand this and see that this comes from the sermon on the mount. The beattitudes precede these verses, and right after this Jesus describes the Law and how it needs to be taken even FURTHER. He explains how it becomes a condition of the heart to fully follow the Law! For example, not only are you not supposed to murder, you aren't even supposed to have any anger towards your brother! Another key to context is who Jesus was talking to….Jews, and the time frame…..pre-cross when the Jews are still bound by the Law. The Jews would understand exactly what the Law says, and with Christ taking it even further and more extreme, each one of them would be wondering, "well freak, I've already blown it, I've already had anger and bitterness towards somebody, I've lusted after someone, I've wanted to get revenge, I've had hatred towards our enemy the Romans who occupy us…" And THAT'S EXACTLY THE POINT CHRIST WAS TRYING TO MAKE in this statement! They have all already blown it and have sinned! Another passage with Christs teaching comes to mind that follows this logic and includes the discussion of the Law:
16Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"17"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments." 18"Which ones?" the man inquired. Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, 19honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself.'" 20"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?" 21Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."22When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth. 23Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. 24Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." 25When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" 26Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."
With man, it is impossible to follow all of the commandments, but with God and his salvation, all things are possible!! So, taking this thought of Jesus was painting a picture that all have broken the law and have sinned, and applying it to Matthew 5:17-19 now, Jesus statement that whoever breaks one of the least of the commandments will be considered least makes perfect sense when put into the context of his revealing plan of salvation to the Jews that they need a Savior. He was speaking pre-cross, and revealing what he would conquer and overcome on the cross since none of them could follow the Law and gain salvation!
But let us not forget that Christ tells us that "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." It seems there have been many arguments over the word "fulfill" as to how it pertains to what Christ did with the Law and where it stands now. But I am under a whole different thought process by having the benefit of looking back in time to what Christ did. He was predicting himself to fufill the Law and the Prophets by fulfilling all of the prophetic scripture about the coming Messiah and by being that fufillment of the Law by being sinless under the Law and being that unblemished sacrifice by dying on the cross for us.
Does this mean that the Law of the Old Testament completely goes away then after the cross? That is the underlying question that kept bugging me, and here is my rationalization of an answer. For those who don't accept Christ dying on the Cross, the Law still applies to them and will be used to judge them!
It is very important to make a side note here that Gentiles did not have the Law. The Law was given specifically for the Jews. So a question has to be asked since most everyone I know isn't Jewish. If we don't have the law and weren't expected to follow the law, how can we be judged by what God laid out for the Jews? It is interesting to note that the Jewish culture documented in the Talmud would say that Gentiles are still bound by the seven Noahide laws, given to Noah before the Law was given to Moses, and that it applies to both Gentile and Jew, or all mankind. These moral laws that were binding are: Do not worship false gods. Do not murder . Do not steal (or kidnap). Do not be sexually immoral (forbidden sexual acts are traditionally interpreted to include incest, bestiality, male homosexual sex acts, i.e. sodomy, and adultry.) Do not "bless God" euphemistically referring to blasphemy. Do not eat any flesh that was torn from the body of a living animal (given to Noah and traditionally interpreted as a prohibition of cruelty towards animals) Set up a system of honest, effective courts, police and laws. So even Jews would say there are still morally-binding laws on Gentiles.
But not wanting to base my reason on what the Jewish traditions would say, I turn to the Bible to answer this very question!
Romans 2:14-15 For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another.
You see our very moral consciousness that is inside of man is enough for God to judge us by! Man's moral consciousness is also a great evidence for a Creator and a thorn in the side of evolution, but that is another debate altogether. The very fact that man can discern right from wrong by their conscience shows that the work of the law is written on every man's heart, and even demonstrate how cultures can set up any type of judicial system that discerns right from wrong to accuse or excuse one another! While this difference of right and wrong may vary from culture to culture, the pertinent point here is that our moral conscience is a law unto ourselves and what we can be judged by.
You see the whole purpose of the Law and even our moral conscience God gave us was to show that we have done wrong or broken the law, to show what it took to be holy, what sin is to God, and to show that no one could perfectly obtain that! The Law also shows one's need for restoration and forgiveness with God through Christ and that it would take a unblemished sacrifice to do it. Hence justifying Jesus statement that "18I 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."
So the law will still be around to judge those who don't know Christ until heaven and earth disappear! Therefore when non-Christians stand before the judgement seat, they will still be judged by the law, that is, how they have broken it and what has made them sinners.
James 2:9-10 9But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. 10For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
Ephesians 2:1-3 1As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. 3All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath.
Colossians2:13-15 13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
For us who have asked for forgiveness because we know we have sinned and not followed all of the Law, and have accepted that Christ has died for those sins, the Law does NOT apply to us, it was nailed to the Cross!!! For those that don't accept Christ the Law still stands against them and stands opposed them! But Thank God for sending his Son to die for us on the Cross!
Ephesians 2:14-16 14For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
Romans 10:4 4Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
THE LAW doesn't apply to us anymore as Christians!!! That is….Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, no longer as Christians do we have to try and keep all the laws to be holy in God's sight! The Bible says that if we still try to be holy by the works we do, then we negate the need for what Christ did on the Cross! But then the obvious question that has to be asked is, then how do we know what sin is or how to live as Christians if we don't have to follow the Law or it's regulations? The answer? By the Spirit of God that enters our hearts once we accept Christ!!!
Romans 7:4-6 4So, 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.5For 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. 6But 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.
And the best passage of scripture I can think of that highlights this point:
Galatians 5:16-25 16So I say, live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature. 17For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. 18But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law. 19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. 24Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. 25Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.
To be as straightforward as possible, we as Christians do not have to follow the letter of the Law to become holy, but instead we should live by the Spirit. It's amazing how much Paul had to fight this in the first century when everyone wanted to go back and follow all the laws and commandments to become holy! Circumsision? Don't have to! Keep the Sabbath? We have rest in Christ Jesus now! Burnt offerings and Sacrifices? Christ was the sacrifical Lamb. Eat shrimp, pork, etc.? Chow down!
Well those are easy ones right because those are the "sacrificial" and "purification" laws only the Jews had to keep…...
But what about those other Laws in the Old Testament that seem to be moral laws that we as Christians can see as obvious that we should still follow? Shouldn't we follow those that talk about sexual immorality, stealing, lying, things that we know are sin? The answer is certainly, but it is now the Spirit of God that prompts you to do right! And it just so happens that a lot of the things that the Spirit will prompt you with are the same things that the moral part of the law addresses. You see the things that God determines as moral sin before the cross don't automatically not become morally sinful after the cross! I turn to the words of Paul quoted above, "19The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
If you are truly have the Holy Spirit living inside of you, he will be prompting you and discerning for you what sin is, and it should be obvious to you! Paul goes and lists some of those that are obvious moral sins, not a complete list of the only ones, but ones that we should KNOW we should not do to live holy lives like Christ! Now we have a Helper under the grace of Christ that will help us war against the sinful nature defined by the Law. For Christ broke it all down to us in two simple commands: Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself. You won't be able to commit these sins and truly love God or your neighbor.
There is an interesting part of the scripture in Acts that I never really paid attention to, until now. It is Acts 15 and it pertains to the Christian leaders of the day determining what they should do about all these Gentiles coming to Christ and receiving the Holy Spirit, for some Jews still wanted them to follow all the Law even though they were considered holy by God through their faith in Christ.
5Then some of the believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees stood up and said, "The Gentiles must be circumcised and required to obey the law of Moses." 6The apostles and elders met to consider this question. 7After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: "Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. 8God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. 9He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. 10Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? 11No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are."
The Jewish Christians sent a letter to the Gentiles stating:
"28It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements: 29You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things. Farewell."
Key words that I never paid attention to before: "It seemed good to the Holy Spirit". So there it is, the Holy Spirit was leading and guiding these leaders as to what is right and wrong for the Christian to do!
Now all I have to do is learn how to be led by the Spirit and listen to the Holy Spirit's voice and discern it from my sinful nature and selfishness…..not an easy task and one I'll be continually working on!