DO CHRISTIANS NEED TO KEEP THE LAW?

A debate that still divides the Church today is whether Christians still have to keep the Law.  I would like to share a perspective that they do since the Law is written on the hearts of every believer (Heb. 8:8).

Jesus states that there are no other commandments greater than these: “Love the Lord with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind… and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matt. 22:37-40, NKJV).[1]  If these commandments, which are anchored in the Law and spoken of by the Prophets, tell us to love, one must ask, “what constitutes the commandments of love?  The foundational answer to this question is written in the Old Testament, for Jesus said He did not come to destroy the Law, but to fulfill it (Matt 5:17).

Most Christians today view the Law as negative or void.  However, if we substituted the word “Law” for  “Torah,” our perspective would change from “legalism” to that of God’s teaching of how to rightly love God and others.[2]  Romans 7:12 declares, “The Law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.”  If the Law is holy, that means there is nothing that God established in His Law that is bad or evil.  God said it was good, which were the same words He used in creating the world.

Romans 7:14 also tells us that the Law is spiritual.  This means that it applies in heaven and not just at Mount Sinai since the Law serves as a copy and shadow of the heavenly things (Heb. 8:5).  Since the Bible states that God is Spirit, we surmise that His Law is first established in the Spirit (John 4:24).  We who are “sons of God” are then born of His Spirit, and the same Law is written on our hearts, a Law that is good.  Romans 7:22 also shares that our spirit delights in the Law.  “For I delight in the Law of God according to the inward man.”

However, the Word points out that it is the flesh that wars against the Spirit, and this is when our sin is found out because it is warring against the Law of God.  “So then, with the mind, I myself serve the Law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25).  We don’t need to try to follow the Law IF we are abiding in the heart of the Father, which Jesus gave us access to through His sacrifice and gift of the Holy Spirit.  In response to our love for Him, we abide in the Law out of our obedience to be “Christ-like.”

Jesus did, however, pay the penalty of us breaking the Law, which even believers do, so we don’t come “under the penalty of the Law.”  The Old Testament Covenant had within its blueprint ordinances of divine service and earthly sanctuary (Heb. 9:1).  Christ came as our High Priest and offered Himself up as our Mediator and sacrifice which abolished the need for priestly services and earthly sacrifices required for reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18).  The rituals that God’s people had to perform in the Old Testament in order to be sanctified and set free form the penalty of sin were called, “ordinances.”  Ephesians 2:14 confirms this by saying, “having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances.”

The Ten Commandments have not gone away with even though we are in the New Covenant, which is why it is still a sin (works of the flesh) to murder, lie, and steal (Gal. 5:19-21).  The Law will be made known until Jesus deals with death in the earth, which is the wages of sin.  (Rom. 6:23).   Afterward, when sin is no longer in the earth, we who are abiding in Him will abide in the Law effortlessly and flawlessly.  “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law” (Gal. 5:18).

The Reformation movement came against “legalism” that had invaded the church, much like the traditions of men the Pharisees had created in Jesus’ day (Matt 15:6-9).[3]  The Reformation perspective of the “righteousness of God” aligns with Paul’s message that we are saved by grace, having been “justified by faith” and not by good deeds earned by following the Law (Rom. 5:1).[4] This perspective, led by Martin Luther, also believed that “identity markers” known to Judaism were “legalistic,” based on works leading to salvation.[5]  The burden of earning salvation through the Law (Torah) was rightly exposed, yet turned many to cut-off abiding in the heart of Law which the “Law of Christ” springs forth from (Gal. 6:2).

The New Perspective movement that followed the Reformation movement agreed with the “saved by grace” message as well but rightly concluded that the value of the identity markers had nothing to do with “legalism.”[6]  They understood God’s identity marks held by the Early Church were a sign God designed to be a witness of a people “set apart” unto Him, and a mark of the Jews.[7]  However, the Law continued to be associated with legalism rather than foundational teaching of love.

Unfortunately, the lasting effects of the Reformation and New Perspective movement of the Law being “bad” permeated into Christianity today, imparting a mindset that cuts off the value of the Old Testament Law. Christians, for the most part, understand that salvation is not a work of the Law, but by the grace of God alone.  However, as we abide in God, who is love, we walk out His Law effortlessly by His Spirit leading and guiding us.  “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh” (Gal. 5:16).  We benefit from the teaching of the “Torah,” as a guideline to understand the constitution of Christ’s teaching when believers are told to obey the Golden Commandments.

 

 

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New King James Version Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 1992).

[2] Michael F. Bird, Four Views on the Apostle Paul (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2012), 169.

[3] Bruce W. Longenecker and Todd D. Still, Thinking Through Paul:  A Survey of His Life, Letters, and Theology (Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 2014), 174.

[4] Longenecker and Still, Thinking Through Paul, 174.

[5] Robert Wayne Stacy, “New Perspective of Paul,” Course Video.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s