Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Christians and the Law

سلام لكم في هذا اليوم
So I've been seeing quite a bit about this lately. I don't know if it's because of a blog I stumbled across (which is more likely, because it's what provoked this thought in the first place), or a Facebook friend I added, but there is a section of Christians that seem to think part of our lives should be the Old Testament Law - in other words, the Levitical law that was handed down to Moses as a guide for the Hebrew people.

Now, I understand the desire to do something great for God, I really do. The problem is that I don't think we see God calling gentile Christians to follow the Law anywhere in the Bible. Hebrew Christians may be another deal - you'll have to talk to a more knowledgeable authority on that one - but nowhere do we see Jesus or his disciples telling gentile Christians they are supposed to follow the Law.

There was much dispute about this issue even in the early church. In Acts 15, we find the church leaders in an uproar about whether or not gentiles, as Christians, are supposed to follow the law. Remember that, just a few chapters earlier, these same people were getting angry with Peter because he went and witnessed to the uncircumcised heathen. Of course, then Peter had to explain about how God had basically slapped him upside the head and told him what was going to happen: that what God had called clean (the gentiles) could not be called unclean (by Peter). Fast forward. Paul and Barnabas are having some troubles with these same men, the ones from Judea, who are still stubbornly holding on to that circumcision issue. There's this debate going on about it, and they all come together for the express purpose of further debate, and deciding what the answer is.

Peter pretty much sums it up:
And God, which knoweth the hearts, bare then witness, giving them the Holy Ghost, even as he did unto us; And put no difference between us and [the gentiles], purifying their hearts by faith. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they.
He looks around at all his friends and basically says- "Okay, what are we doing here? Didn't Jesus come to give us free salvation, by grace alone? So why are we trying to shackle these baby Christians with all the weight of four huge books that were written to Moses? Aren't they saved by grace?"

Now to those who say- "Then what is the point of the Levitical Law? Was it just some mean joke God was playing on his people?" Not quite. In Romans 3 and 7, Paul explains the purpose of the Law.

Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:19-20

What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. But sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence. For without the law sin was dead.
Romans 7:7-8

This, then, is the purpose of the law: to be a schoolmaster and show us our sin. The ten commandments tell us that lying, stealing, adultery (of the heart and the body), covetousness, and disobedience are wrong. Without them, we would not know that God disliked those things, that we are accountable to a mighty God.

Let's get some history of the Law real quick, just to know where this "schoolmaster" comes from. Much of what we call the law were specialized instructions - how to build the tabernacle, how the priests were to behave, etc. etc. Circumcision was reaffirmed as a sign of commitment to God from the Hebrews. There are over 600 items on the list in all - 350 things not to be done or partaken of, and 250 things they were required to do. When first given this law, the Jews emphatically declared their resolve to keep this law. Of course, reading the history that makes up much of the old testament, we see how well that worked out: failure after failure is recorded. Even the priests, the most important part of the Levitical law command chain, were unable to keep the law. There was no salvation to be won through the law, no goodie points to be had. It was simply impossible.

This was, of course, the point, as revealed in Romans. The law is a tool to be used to highlight how depraved mankind is, how they cannot make it on their own. The repeated failure by the Hebrew people was all to prepare them for the Messiah who would come and rescue them from that up-and-down cycle. In Hebrews 8, the author writes:

For if that first covenant [the law] had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith 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 when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the Land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord.

He goes on to talk to his Jewish readers about how the laws "would be written on their hearts," and how God would forgive their iniquities (that was, of course, a quotation by the author from Jeremiah 31). So even to the Jewish people, God made the promise that he would eventually remove from them the old covenant: that is, the entirety of the law.

Some people will take the part where he talks about the law being written on their hearts and say- "You see? There we go. The Levitical law is written on our hearts, sort of like a conscience, and we're supposed to follow it." If that's so, then each one of us should feel the pricking of our conscience, that little voice of the Holy Spirit, whenever we eat bacon or wear nylon. But none (or very few) of us do, unless we're constantly thinking about how we should feel bad about those things. So what then is this law? I'm not sure. I haven't finished studying it out yet. I may have to come back in a few weeks and say "Oops, I was wrong. I'm going to give up pork and my Saturday shopping," but we'll see. ;)

The point of all this is, I suppose, that we don't have to follow the law because we are under grace. Christ fulfilled the qualifications of the law. He satisfied the justice of God. You see this all throughout the Gospels, in the epistles of the New Testament. We are no longer under the law, we are under grace. The law of the Spirit of life has made us free from the law of sin and death. The law is an all-or-nothing proposition. You can't pick and choose which qualifications you want- "Oh, I'm going to go to church on Saturday and abstain from pork, but not stone my child who rebels, or a woman I suspect of being a witch, and I'm going to let my heater come on on Saturday, because I don't like getting frozen."

Either you follow the law, or you do not. Either you try to be justified under it, or you do not.

I'm glad I'm free from that. I'm glad that Christ so loved me that he was willing to come and die for me, to bring me a new covenant. He died for me! The Lord of the Universe gave his perfect, sinless life for me! Why do I need to follow the law, when I am freed and perfected in him?

Do I still sin? Of course. But I can rest and have peace knowing that I'm not under the law, that I don't have to follow an endless set of qualifications to win brownie points, or whatever it is we're supposed to do by following the law. I am free, thanks to Christ. Are you?

To read more about this subject, I'd suggest procuring a copy of Andrew Farley's "The Naked Gospel." It's an absolutely amazing book. It will change your life. For real.



Emily Shae said...

Great post. We're studding this in my Sunday school class. Very deep, but quiet spectacular. :)

Oh, how beautiful. :) The Colors are vibrant and very vivid.

Thanks for the comment(s) you've left. I feel horrible for not visiting and commenting more often. :(

Love & Blessings,

Liberty said...

Haha, it's okay Em. I usually don't get around to commenting on people's blogs much, either. It's a failing I'm trying to rectify, slowly by jerks. I follow so many blogs that I never visit. :D Thanks for your comment. :)))