Friday, May 1, 2015

Should Christians follow the Law of Moses?

One of the first and most surprising debates in the early church to arise was "should Christians follow the law of Moses?" The reason it was surprising is because it seemed unfathomable to Jews that such a debate would ever happen. The law of Moses was considered to be something that was forever to be followed as best as one could in order to attain righteous status in God's eyes. I want to begin by saying that the question in view is not "is the Law of Moses obsolete?" The question in view is "how does the Law of Moses apply to our lives as New Covenant Christians?"

Let me start off by saying that the Law of Moses is good. It represents the Holy standards of God as it relates to human conduct and morality, it also represents signifying ceremonial and dietary laws that were meant to make the Jewish people (who were chosen by God) distinct from all other nations. It is important to understand that the ceremonial and dietary laws were part of a specific covenant that God struck with Israel, and not any other nation. It was never intended for Gentiles (other nations) to follow these distinct ordinances, but when it comes to the moral laws of the Old Covenant God expected everyone everywhere to obey them, as they are written in our consciences (see Romans chapter 2). The moral laws are better known as the 10 Commandments. These laws could never be perfectly followed so both Jews and Gentiles in the Old Testament still needed the mercy of God.

God constructed the Mosaic Law to express the fullness of what His righteous requirements called for if a human being was to be considered righteous in His sight, it teaches us that we cannot attain righteousness in and of ourselves, and the ceremonial aspects including the Sabbath days were "types and shadows" of the coming Savior Jesus Christ. God's standards in the Law of Moses are so high that no human being can fully follow them without sinning, because of this God knew that it would make us aware of our fallen nature, and our sin, so as to realize our need for His mercy.

Romans 7:13- "Did that which is good (the law of Moses), then, become death to me? By no means! Nevertheless, in order that sin might be recognized as sin, it (the Law of Moses) used what is good to bring about my death, so that through the commandment sin might become utterly sinful."

In this passage the Apostle Paul explains that the Law of Moses makes us aware of our sin and our sinful nature. He echoes this same sentiment in Galatians 3:24:

"Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith."

So we see again that God teaches us that through the law we are  made aware of our sinfulness and can only be justified of our sin through faith in Jesus Christ who lived out the law perfectly and died for our sins. So the question becomes, "now that we have believed in Chrsit which parts of the Law of Moses do we follow?" The answer is simple, Love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus tells us that all of the Old Testament hangs on those two commandments. But the real question is, "how do we love God and our neighbor if we are sinful by nature?" The Apostle John answers this question for us: 

1 John 4:19- "We love, because He first loved us."

Through meditating on the great love that God demonstrated to us through dying the death that we deserved in our place on the cross, letting the Holy Spirit pour out His love in our hearts, and relying on His grace for all that we do, we are able to love God and love our neighbor. It is important to understand that the moral laws for human conduct are still applicable to us as Christians, this includes: Murder, envy, coveting, strife, homosexual behavior, fornication, bestiality, lying, stealing, cheating, slandering, sorcery, witchcraft, blasphemy, unbelief, unforgivness, hypocrisy, jealousy, gossip, dishonoring your parents, and much more. Many of these are inferred, many others are explicit, all of these are consistently condemned throughout the Old and New Testament. For a full list CLICK HERE. Paul calls all of these things "works of the flesh" and He admonishes us to "live by the Spirit." This means that we express our love for God by living a life surrendered to His power which causes us to avoid sin (see Galatians 5).  

So now that we understand that through faith we are to love God by living by the Spirit and avoiding moral sins (the works of the flesh) as defined in the Old and New Testament, what do we do about the ceremonial laws and the Sabbath of the Old Testament? Thankfully the Apostle Paul addresses this for us also: 

Colossians 2:16-17- "So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. For these rules are only shadows of the reality yet to come. And Christ himself is that reality."

So basically Paul points out that Old Testament ceremonial law including the Sabbath were shadows of the reality of Christ. If you follow a person's shadow it will eventually lead you to them. For example the Old Testament Sabbath was something that pointed to Christ as the "ultimate rest" of God's people. Jesus declared this by saying, "come to me all who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest."  However, it is important to understand that the principle of taking a regular day of rest each week is still something we should be considerate of. God desires us to set aside time to focus on Him and refuel for the week ahead. Paul helps us to understand that it is not a "specific day" that is important by rather the principle  and typification of Christ behind the command that is truly important for Christians:

Romans 14:5- "One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind."

Dr. Michael Brown, a Jewish believer and teacher of the Bible makes some very insightful comments about whether or not Christians should follow the Old Testament Ceremonies:

Celebrating the biblical holy days is a good way to recover the Jewish roots of the Christian faith. It is absolutely clear that everything that God does is summed up in His Son Jesus, that our Messiah and King is to have centrality in every way, and that our fullness is found in Him rather than in celebrating holy days or observing special seasons. That being said, the Church has become so Gentilized, so detached from its biblical, Jewish origins, that an appreciation for the biblical, Jewish calendar-the calendar of Yeshua and the apostles-is certainly helpful. To give one example, think of the positive benefits of calling churches to fast and pray for the salvation of Jewish people worldwide on the Day of Atonement, a day when millions of Jews are fasting and asking God to forgive their sins. What’s wrong with doing that?

Having said all this, it is important to emphasize that many believers do get caught up in unhealthy practices associated with the celebration of the feasts, and there are some direct warnings in the New Testament. In light of this, it is important to remember that: (1) Celebration of the biblical feasts is not a means for a Gentile believer to “become Jewish.” Jews and Gentiles have equal standing in the Lord, and Jews are not called to become Gentiles nor are Gentiles called to become Jews. (2) Jesus must be central in everything we do (this cannot be overemphasized.) (3) Celebration of the feasts is not commanded in the New Testament and should not be practiced in a binding or legalistic way.

Explaining the symbolic nature of each Old Testament ceremony is beyond the scope of this article, for good information on this topic CLICK HERE. The last question that I want to look at in this post is, "should we still follow Old Testament dietary laws?" As I mentioned earlier the dietary laws were something specifically given to Israel as a way to make them distinct from other nations. Although many of the dietary laws have health benefits associated with them, abstaining from certain foods is not something God is requiring of His chosen people in Christ. We are free to eat anything in moderation as long as we give thanks for it:

1 Timothy 4:3-4- "They will say it is wrong to be married and wrong to eat certain foods. But God created those foods to be eaten with thanks by faithful people who know the truth. Since everything God created is good, we should not reject any of it but receive it with thanks."

and again..

Colossians 2:16-"So don’t let anyone condemn you for what you eat or drink, or for not celebrating certain holy days or new moon ceremonies or Sabbaths. 

In an essay by Paul Gunderson on a compilation of writings by various Jewish Christian authors he says this of the Jewish dietary restrictions in the Old Testament:

"Christians are perfectly free to adhere to the dietary laws, be they Jewish or Gentile believers, but believers today are not required to keep dietary laws, and it is wrong to try to bring God's people into a sense of bondage to the dietary laws."

So we can see that in the transition from the Old Covenant (the Law of Moses) and the New Covenant (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) we are no longer called to abstain from certain foods in order to create a distinction among us from the pagans. Moreover, the distinction that Jesus said we would be marked by is our love for one another (see John 13:35). Arguing over physical things such as food will only create unnecessary divisions in the church, and divisions are deemed to be a work of the flesh in the Bible (see Galatians 5:19-21). 

So should Christians follow the Law of Moses? No. Christians are called to fulfill the Law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 says, " Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ."  In loving God and loving others we will certainly see obedience given to the moral laws of the entire Bible including the Law of Moses, but that does not mean we are to follow the Law of Moses in the way that Old Testament Jews did. As we discussed in this article the moral laws are upheld in following the Spirit, the ceremonial laws are fulfilled in Christ, and the dietary restrictions were fulfilled in the Jews prior covenant with God coming to a completion in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. For more information on how Christians should relate to the Law of Moses CLICK HERE and have a blessed day!

Written by: Kyle Bailey, M.Th.

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