The Law and the Christian
I need to wrap up our introduction to the Law, so that beginning next Sunday, Lord willing, we can move into Exodus 19. So in the next few minutes, I need to summarize the relationship between the Law and the Christian. This is a topic about which many entire books have been written, and I have 35 minutes. So please be gracious with me. Frankly, this is more like a lesson than a sermon.
But first, I have to say, tongue in cheek, that it’s hard for me to be gracious with you, because you all are a bunch of lawbreakers.
- I can see that you have failed to put tassels with a blue cord on your garments (Num 15:38)
- I can see that you have not placed the phylacteries on your heads. (Deut. 6:8)
- I have been to many of your homes, and I did not see any mezuzot to your doorposts. (Deut. 6:9)
- Many of you are sitting right here in front of me with a Gentile spouse. (Deut. 7:3)
- You don’t set aside the new moon as holy.
- You ignore the three major God-appointed festivals.
- Some of you ate pig this morning.
- Some of you enjoy shrimp and lobster.
- You don’t even keep track of the Sabbatical year.
- Some of you have sown multiple types of seed in the same flower bed.
- Most of you this morning are wearing garments of mixed fabric.
- Most of you do not have a wall or railing around your roof.
Each one of you has broken scores of commandments in the Law of God, hundreds - even thousands - of times. And then you have the nerve to say that you are one of those Christians who loves every word of the Bible!
“Well,” you say, “I certainly try to keep the ten commandments.” Really? Do you actually stay inside your house for the entire Sabbath?
And why the ten commandments? Why not the other commandments?
After all, what Jesus declared to be the two greatest commandments are not found in the ten commandments.
Some people say “Christians are supposed keep the moral law, but not the ceremonial or civil law.” Well, the command to love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18) is immediately followed by the command not to sow your field with two kinds of seed. Is it really so simple to just divide the law into three categories? Like every verse in the Law gets sorted into one of three buckets, and then you keep one bucket and ignore the other two?
Obviously I’m being facetious, but I’m hoping to spur your thinking so that we will realize we have much to learn in these areas.
Let’s back up now, and try to bring a little bit of clarity to these things.
First of all, look at your list of our 13 principles, and look at #6.
1. Jesus said: I am the fulfillment of the Law
2. Jesus said: The ultimate standard of righteousness is God, not the Mosaic Law
3. Jesus said: I am Lord of the Law
4. Jesus said: The Law’s foundation is love for God and others
5. The Law + Grace ≠ Justification
6. Christians did not need to obey the Law of Moses (yet they should consider carefully their Jewish brethren).
7. The principles of the Law must be applied by all believers
8. There is a Law of Christ: Christians are under authority
9. Christ bore the curse of the Law for us and gave the righteousness of the Law to us.
10. The Law exposes our spiritual bankruptcy and prepares us to cast ourselves upon Christ alone by faith.
11. The Law guarantees that Christ alone gets the glory.
12. The giving of the Law did not change the essential nature of salvation.
13. The Law’s system of priests and sacrifices was not a permanent way to have fellowship with God: it was a temporary illustration (picture prophecy) of the true way.
This was the conclusion of the Jerusalem council: Christians do not need to obey the Law of Moses. It has been fulfilled and replaced as a covenant agreement.
Follow quickly as we look at several passages that emphasize this point:
- Acts 10:9-16 The animals that the Law had declared to be unholy have now been cleansed by God, so that they may be eaten. The dietary restrictions of the Law are no longer in effect.
- Acts 15:5, 9-11, 19-20, 28-29 They concluded that it was no longer necessary to direct Christians to observe the Law of Moses.
- Romans 14:5-6
- Everyone understand that when Paul spoke of “regarding one day above another,” his audience would immediately understand that he was speaking of Jewish fasts and festivals and Sabbath.
- So here you have both those who were following certain dietary regulations and those who were observing certain days indicated in the Law. And in verse 10 Paul says don’t judge one another on these things, and in 15:7 he says therefore accept one another. Don’t fight over the observance of the Law, because it is not binding on Christians today.
- Colossians 2:16-17
- You may not be familiar with the phrase “new moon” but that was a monthly Jewish observance that God ordained in Num. 28. It was Law. You’re familiar with the Jewish festivals and Sabbaths. So Paul says dietary restrictions, festivals, new moons, Sabbaths – these things were just a shadow, and the reality has come in Christ. So these are matters of individual conscience and preference, and don’t judge one another on these issues of the Mosaic Law.
- I Timothy 4:3 is most likely a reference to Jewish dietary laws.
- Titus 3:9
- Seems to indicate that it was very easy for Christians to argue about the applications of the Law of Moses. Paul tells Titus, “You avoid these unprofitable and worthless” arguments about following the Law.
That is not all of the passages that teach this, but a sampling including some we have not considered before this. So this is a consistent theme in the NT: obedience to the specifics of the Law of Moses is a matter of personal conscience and liberty, not obligation.
Let me tell you two simple reasons why that is true. First, because the Law of Moses was a covenant God made with Israel. Most or all of you are not members of the nation of Israel. Second, it was a temporary covenant. Hebrews 7-9 says it is obsolete because it has been replaced. It is not longer a functional, valid covenant.
Even if you are a Jew, God no longer makes the covenant of Moses with you, because God no longer makes the covenant of Moses with anyone.
It was a covenant with the nation of Israel, and it was a temporary covenant.
Because of this, the specifics of the Law of Moses are not binding upon Christians today. That is the clear teaching of Scripture.
The Law of Moses is alive and authoritative as the Word of God for Christians today.
Now, look back at your list of principles, and look at principle #7: the principles of the Law must be applied by all believers. The Law of Moses is dead as a covenant agreement, but it is alive and authoritative as the Word of God.
Why do I say that? Because of the passages we looked at three weeks: Hebrews 9, which tells us that through the tabernacle the Holy Spirit was signifying some things for us. I Corinthians 10, which speaks of Israel’s history and says that “these things were written for our instruction.” Romans 4:24, which says that Genesis 15:6 was written for our sake. I Corinthians 9, which takes an obscure law of Moses and says that “God was speaking for our sake” and “for our sake it was written.” The Law of Moses is alive and authoritative as the Word of God for us. It is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness. It is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword.
Now, that may sound like an absolute contradiction. Don’t obey it – but obey it. How does a Christian interpret and apply the Law? How can you read a command, not obey it (as I showed earlier you all do all the time), and yet treat it as the authoritative word of God for you?
Actually, this isn’t as difficult as it sounds. You are probably already used to thinking this was as you read some part of the Word of God. You are already familiar with one of the basic principles of biblical interpretation: we interpret historically. So suppose you were reading in II Samuel 24, where God tells David to go build an altar at the threshing floor of the Jebusite. Well there it is – a biblical command. So you immediately get up and go build an altar at the threshing floor of our nearest Jebusite? No? Then you tear that page out of your Bible because it’s not for you – it’s for David? No.
Take another example? You read Ezekiel 5, and God tells Ezekiel to take a sharp sword and shave his head. So you immediately take a sharp sword and shave off your head? No? Well then you rip that page out of your Bible because it’s not for you? That’s silly, you say.
When you read those passages, you almost instinctively do a couple of things: you interpret historically and recognize that command wasn’t spoken to you. But you also interpret principially. Even though that command wasn’t spoken to you, you don’t just ignore the whole story. You think through the principles: what can you learn about God; what can you learn about yourself; what can you learn about how God works and how to please God?
And as you think those things through, you apply those things as God’s authoritative Word to you. You must obey it.
Now see, you’re used to doing that, and it’s actually very similar when we come to the Law of Moses.
You’re not Israel; God doesn’t make the Mosaic covenant with you; it is obsolete and has been replaced; but you take the principles of the law and apply them as the authoritative word of God that you must obey.
We must obey the principle in all of the law.
Sounds easy – but practically, how do you tell the difference between a command you have to obey – like “love your neighbor” – and a command you don’t have to obey – like “don’t eat swine?”
In some parts of the law, the principle is right on the surface; in other parts of the law, it’s buried more deeply.
Let’s use the example of the dietary restrictions. The NT says the dietary restrictions are no longer valid. Period. So I come to Leviticus 11, and I see it’s a chapter of dietary restrictions, and I know those specifics commands aren’t valid – yet I know this is the authoritative word of God for me. So I ask: what are the principles? What are the underlying principles behind the dietary laws? We’ll talk about this more when we get to the dietary restrictions, there may be multiple principles, but for the sake of our illustration now let’s just say that the principle is uniqueness. God’s people were to live in a way that was distinct from the other nations, and the dietary restrictions were part of that. How do I apply that? I ask “How does God want His people today to live as a unique people, set apart for Him?” And I go search the New Testament for anything it says about that.
You see how that works: on the surface the law says “don’t eat pig.” But if you dig down to the principle, it is the authoritative word of God for you. You must live as the unique people of God.
But sometimes in the law, the principle floats right up to the surface. And when that happens, the command in the law is essentially a statement of the principle. And so you obey that command just as it stands, because it really is a statement of the principle. So the law says: “you shall have no other gods before me.” Loving God with all your heart.soul.mind.strength obviously means not loving other things more. So this is basically a statement of the principle, it’s right there on the surface. Have no other gods before Him! Obey it.
I still haven’t answered the question: how do you know if it’s principle or not? How do you know if the principle has floated right up to the surface?
The principles will be clearly reflected and supported elsewhere in Scripture, including the New Testament.
Let’s take two final examples: the Law has commands about not shaving your beard, or at least shaving your beard certain ways – do we find that clearly reflected and supported elsewhere in Scripture, including the NT? No. So that’s not principle. In that case, we need to dig down to the principle. We need to ask “Why did God tell them that? What did that mean for them, in their setting? How did that reflect love for God or others?”
But think of another example: the Law has commands against homosexuality. Are those clearly supported and reflected elsewhere in Scripture. Absolutely. That is principle. That must be obeyed.
We saw two major truths:
- Christians do not need to obey the Law of Moses. It has been fulfilled and replaced as a covenant agreement.
- The Law of Moses is alive and authoritative as the Word of God for Christians today.
In light of those two things, how do we interpret it and apply it?
- We must obey the principle in all of the Law. Sometimes the principle floats right up to the surface, so that we just directly obey exactly what the Law says. Sometimes the principle is buried more deeply beneath layers of application for Israel. But the principles are always there, and we must apply the principles in all of the Law.
How do you know what is principle?
- The principles will be clearly reflected and supported elsewhere in Scripture, including the New Testament.
Lord-willing, next Sunday we will begin our journey into the Law itself. We will come to each section, each paragraph, each sentence, each word with three convictions: first, here we will find Christ. These things were written about Him, and we will learn about our redeemer and glory in our redeemer in the Law. Second, these things were written for us, and Paul says so clearly. We must hear; we must obey. Third, are closely related, here in these sections, paragraphs, sentences, words we will meet God Himself. These are the words of the Creator; this is His revelation of Himself. Here we will find ourselves face to face with Him. Nothing could be more important – nothing could be better.
Questions for Application and Discussion
Consider the following general types of material that are found in the Law of Moses. How would you go about interpreting and applying sections like these?
The laws directly related to the sacrificial system: the tabernacle, the priesthood, the sacrifices, etc. Example: Exodus 27:31-35
You have broken those laws thousands of times, and that’s fine because the fulfillment came. The NT calls these things types or shadows. God never intended for the animal sacrifices and human priesthood to be permanent. So we should handle those sections in two ways:
· Learn about the fulfillment from the picture prophesy. I.e., Let those things teach us more about Christ.
· Look for the underlying principles about God and ourselves.
In Exodus 27, That big heavy curtain protecting the holy of holies – what does that tell you about yourself and about God?
The laws related to Israel’s worship. Example: Leviticus 23:9-14
This would include all three major festivals. I think a major question to ask in these sections is “What does God deserve?” Because worship is ascribing to God the worth that He deserves. So here in Lev. 23 you can see that God deserves the first fruits of the blessings he gives us. Other festivals also teach us about ourselves – for example, our need to be constantly reminded of what God has done for us.
The laws related to the governing of the nation of Israel. Example: Numbers 35:9-34
They are civil laws: dealing with land rights, the economy, and handling criminals. We can pretty easily agree that we are not bound by those commands either – we are under a different government now, we are not part of national Israel. We should handle those sections like this:
· Learn about the righteous character of God.
· Learn about the applications of the law of love for our neighbor. Think about them in their setting applying those laws – how did those laws help them love their neighbor as themselves. From these governmental laws, we can learn about how to love others.
The laws regarding how Israel should live as a holy nation, set apart for God. Example: Leviticus 19:26-28 Not wearing certain types of fabric; and not eating certain foods; and putting tassels on your clothes; putting the word of God around your head and on the doorposts of your house.
How do we handle these?
· Look for the underlying principle. Why were they supposed to bind the word of God on their forehead?
· Consider what the particular law meant to the original audience. Sometimes it takes come historical and cultural understanding to figure out what is going on.
· Look for the expression of love for God or others. How does that command express love for God and others, and what do I need to do in my life to express love for God or others like that?
Outside quotes and ideas:
- “The Theology of the Old Testament” from ESV Study Bible by John Collins, Covenant Theological Seminary: “It is possible for the NT authors both to say that the Sinai covenant is done away with, because it was focused on the theocracy, which had an end in mind from the beginning (when the Gentiles would receive the light in large measure) – and at the same time to affirm that this covenant has embedded in it principles that cannot pass away, because they are part of the larger story of which the Sinai covenant is one chapter.”
- Mt. Calvary SS: “The Mosaic Covenant is not a promissory covenant like the others but rather a temporary, preparatory arrangement that governed Israel as God’s covenant nation…. For our purposes, the important point is that through this covenant God was not dealing with Israel alone. Rather, the nation was to serve as a kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6) – a visible manifestation of God’s rule that mediated a knowledge of Him to the rest of the world. Specifically, Israel’s experience of God and her obedience to His righteous laws were designed to impress the nations and attract them to Yahweh (Deut. 4:5-8). Sadly, however, the nation never consistently fulfilled its calling. The covenant did not have the power to change them and only manifested their own inability to obey (cf. Gal. 3:21-24).”
- Hays (BibSac) gives 5 steps:
- Identify what the particular law meant to the initial audience
- Determine the differences between the initial audience and believers today
- Develop universal principles from the text
- Correlate the principle with New Testament teaching
- Apply the modified universal principle to life today
- Busenitz gives these suggestions:
1) First, believers must recognize that the Mosaic Law is not binding for Christians. This includes all of the individual precepts that make up that Law. These commands, whether deemed moral, ceremonial, or civil, were part of God’s covenant with Israel. They are not part of His covenant with the Church. Thus, the Mosaic Law must be interpreted in the same grammatical-historical method as the rest of the Old Testament. Those who seek to understand it must begin by putting themselves in the shoes of an ancient Hebrew. After all, this is the audience to whom the Mosaic Law was originally intended.
2) Second, the interpreter must determine the original meaning, purpose, and significance of the individual command. Within the original historical context, why did God give the commands that He did? What were the apparent reasons or motives behind His various expectations?
3) Third, Christians must determine the theological significance of the individual command. In other words, what does this specific law reveal about the moral character, essence, and being of God (the Lawgiver). Dorsey explains:
What does this law reflect about God’s mind, his personality, his qualities, attitudes, priorities, values, concerns, likes and dislikes, his teaching methodologies, the kinds of attitudes and moral and ethical standards he wants to see in those who love him? In spite of the fact that these 613 laws were issued to another people who lived at another time under very different circumstances than ours (again, like the prophetic oracles of Jeremiah), they come from the God whom we too serve, and they represent a vast reservoir of knowledge about him and his ways. (p. 333)
4) Finally, New Testament believers must determine the practical implications (application) of the theological insights found in the individual Old Testament command. Granted, the New Testament application is often quite different than the Old Testament application. Nevertheless, the theological truth behind the command is applicable in any age because it reflects the moral essence of the immutable God.