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The Christian and the Mosaic Law

May 11, 2012

What is the relationship between today’s Christian and the Mosaic Law? This question arises often, and, it seems to me, is rarely answered clearly. So, I thought I would challenge myself to address the question briefly and clearly here.

There are 613 laws contained in the Mosaic Law, and these laws cover matters ranging from the appropriate reverence one should show for God to the sort of clothing one should wear. The sheer number of these commandments can become bewildering for Christians reading and studying the Old Testament, and we struggle with our responsibility or non-responsibility to keep them. This seems particularly true as we read and pray the words of the Psalms (i.e. “Oh, that my ways were directed To keep Your statutes! Then I would not be ashamed, When I look into all Your commandments.” Psalm 119:5-6). And what of the Ten Commandments? Isn’t it obvious that we Christians are required, at least, to obey these commandments?

To address this topic, I would like to make five assertions that I believe are foundational to understanding the Mosaic Law and its place in the life of the Christian:

  • First, the Mosaic Law is, ultimately, a covenantal treaty between a king and his subjects. It was an agreement made between Almighty God, as King, and Israel, an ethnic people group, as the vassal people. The stipulations of the Law were the ‘rules’ by which the subjects (the citizens of Israel) agreed to conduct themselves. In addition, the people accepted the ‘blessings of obedience’ and the ‘cursings of disobedience’ outlined within that covenant.
  • Second, the Church is not ethnic Israel.
  • Third, acceptance of the universal truth or principle underlying a specific law does not necessarily mean that a person is ‘under’ that particular law. Let me explain that idea. Suppose a law was written and proclaimed by the French government that said, “It is illegal to kill your neighbor in a fit of rage.” I, as an American citizen can look at such a law, and I can affirm the essential moral justice of it. I recognize that it expresses a universal and timeless truth, and this is a truth that, I too, affirm and uphold. Still, living here in the United States as an American citizen, I am not ‘under’ that law. If I kill my neighbor in a fit of rage, I am not tried under French law and prosecuted by French courts. I am tried and judged under the laws of that nation of my citizenship, the United States of America.
  • Fourth, the division of the Mosaic Law into ‘moral’ and ‘legal’ or ‘ritual’ stipulations is arbitrary. I can find no justification, in my reading of the Mosaic Law, to pick and choose parts that Christians are ‘under’ and others they are not. Either we’re under it, or we are not.
  • Fifth, Christ Jesus is the fulfillment, the completion of the Mosaic Law. Only in Him and from Him is true righteousness found. He is the righteousness to which all the Mosaic Law points. In other words, the Mosaic Law was a pedagogue designed to reveal to ethnic Israel (and all humanity) the impossibility of achieving righteousness through works, an object lesson designed to demonstrate the need for a righteousness from God, and a model depicting a picture of what truly righteous lives lived by faith would look like.

So, with those assertions stated, here are my conclusions, in brief:

  • Christians are not ‘under’ the Mosaic Law, in part or in whole. (So, no, I do not believe Christians are ‘under’ the Ten Commandments.)
  • Christians should study the Mosaic Law to discern the underlying truths it teaches (i.e. the character of Holy God, the need for Righteousness, and God’s provision for Righteousness in the coming Messiah).
  • Christians should look to the “Law of Love,” the Person and Words of Christ, as their ultimate standard. We live and act within the principle of Grace, not Law. And the standards of Grace always exceed the standards of Law. The standards of Grace ask, “How much can I do?”, while the standards of Law ask, “What is the least I must do?”

There are many practical implications from the position stated above, but we don’t have time or space to investigate them here. But I would like to add that I am not arguing for lawlessness or licentiousness. Our freedom in Christ from the Law does not free us to sin. Rather, it frees us to serve Him with wholehearted devotion and utter liberty.

[Incidentally, did you notice I repeatedly referred to the “Mosaic Law,” rather than “the Law”? We must be careful to distinguish between the Law, that is, the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), and the “Mosaic Law” (recorded primarily in Exodus and Deuteronomy). They are not the same. And that may be part of the answer, raised in the second paragraph above, to the Christian’s use of the Psalms.]

Let me know your thoughts on this subject. I’d love to hear them.


NEWS YOU CAN USE

  • Archaeologists prove Hebrew Bible. This is a short, encouraging article, even if the title overstates its case. The reporter summarizes the discovery of ancient objects that reveal how religion was organized in Judah before the reign of King Solomon. This discovery offers one more evidence to be offered to those who argue against the existence of King David, the nature of his reign, and (ultimately) the veracity of the Old Testament. Read the article at: http://www.worthynews.com/11467-archaeologists-prove-hebrew-bible.
  • What Maurice Sendak Can Teach the Church. I, like most folks, have greatly enjoyed Maurcie Sendak’s books, and I was saddened to hear of his death this week. I was even sadder when I learned that he was an atheist with a cynical outlook and a foul mouth. Still, as the author of this article observes, Sendak articulated some basic spiritual truths that we Christians affirm, truths that can serve as tutors to bring others to Christ. Find the article at: http://www.christianpost.com/news/what-maurice-sendak-can-teach-the-church-74631/.
  • 10 Ways ‘The Avengers’ Are an Example for the Church. Yes, finally, after a long (and multi-episode) buildup, “The Avengers” has arrived on the silver screen! And the author of this article sees several ways that ‘the Avengers’ can serve as examples to the Church. This is a clever article and includes a scripture reference for each point. Read it at:  http://www.christianpost.com/news/10-ways-the-avengers-are-an-example-for-the-church-74543/.
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