Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “law

Why the new covenant is better

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Because the old covenant is partially obsolete and the Sabbath is obsolete

moroccan-water-sellers-2-400pxMoroccan water sellers carry water in goat skins. This reminds me of the illustration of wine skins. Jesus said, “no one puts new wine into old (inelastic) wineskins. For the old skins would burst from the (fermentation) pressure, spilling the wine and ruining the skins. New wine is stored in new (elastic) wineskins so that both are preserved” (Mt. 9:17NLT). Jesus’ ministry was not a revitalization of Judaism but a new entity – “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn, 1:17NIV). Mixing Judaism (the old) and the ministry of Jesus (the new) is like putting new wine into old wineskins. So Jesus taught that the Old Testament laws are not a part of Christianity.

In a previous post I stated that the law of Moses (or the old covenant) is now obsolete and has been replaced because Christians have been “released from the law” (Rom. 7:6NIV). As a commentator disagreed with this viewpoint, I have decided to investigate the relationship between the old covenant and the new covenant in this post.

The law (Exodus to Deuteronomy) was given to the Israelites before they entered the promised land (Ex. 31:13), while the new covenant was promised to them before they were expelled from Judah and it was initially implemented by Jesus Christ (Jer. 31:31-34; 1 Cor. 11:25). The new covenant is an unconditional agreement which God will make with the people of Israel when the Lord Jesus sets up His kingdom on earth. Believers today enjoy some of its blessings, but its complete fulfillment will occur when Israel is restored and redeemed nationally.

What Paul says

When Paul was criticized by men in Corinth who mixed law with grace by teaching Christians that they must observe certain portions of the law of Moses in order to be fully accepted by God, he responded by comparing and contrasting the old and new covenants.

He (God) has made us (apostles) competent as ministers of a new covenant—not of the letter (the law of Moses) but of the Spirit (the gospel); for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone (the law of Moses), came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was transitory came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!” (2 Cor. 3:6-11).

Paul says that the old (first) covenant (the law) brought:
– Condemnation because of our sin (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:10). Under this covenant, blessing was conditional on people’s obedience (with curses and death for disobedience). It was a covenant of works. But because it depended on humanity, and no one could perfectly keep the law, condemnation (and punishment) was inevitable.
– Death (v.6-7) was the penalty for disobedience and all humanity are guilty lawbreakers.
– And it was transitory (v.11), “The letter” (v.6) (the law of Moses), and that which was “engraved in letters on stone” (v. 7) (the ten commandments) was superseded by the new covenant. It was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. Note that this isn’t just the ceremonial laws, but it includes the Sabbath day requirement, which was “engraved in letters on stone”.

This is contrasted with the new covenant (the gospel) which brings:
– Freedom from the condemnation because of our sin (Jn. 8:35, 2 Cor. 3:17). Under this covenant, God promises to bless people through Christ’s sacrificial death. Because it depends on God, the new covenant is able to deliver its promised blessing to those who accept the good news of salvation. It’s a development of the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants, which were both unconditional (Gen. 15:9-21; 2 Sam. 7:5-16).
– Spiritual life (v.6).
– Righteousness (an inward transformation, v.9; 2 Cor. 3:18).
– More glory (v.7-11).
– And it is eternal; “it lasts” (v.11).

Clearly the new covenant is superior to the old one. Only by trusting in Jesus Christ can the condemnation and the sentence of death pronounced by the law on the lawbreaker be annulled and be replaced by the life-giving grace of the new covenant (2 Cor. 3:6, 16-17).

What Hebrews says

After the writer of Hebrews says that Jesus is greater than a Jewish high priest, he writes,

6… the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs (Jewish high priests) as the covenant of which He is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.
For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:
“The days are coming, declares the Lord,
when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbor,
or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’
because they will all know me,
from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.”
13 By calling this covenant “new,” He has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:6-13).

This message is similar to Paul’s. The new covenant is a “better/superior covenant” (Heb. 7:22; 8:6) because of:
– Better promises (v.6).
– Its unconditional nature (Jer. 31:31-34). It depends on God’s faithfulness.

And the old covenant is inferior because in the first century:
– It was replaced by the new one (v.7).
– It was “obsolete and outdated” (v.13).
– It “will soon disappear (v.13).
– It was conditional. It depended on people’s faithfulness, but they were unfaithful (v.8-9).

Hagar and Sarah

In his letter to the church in Galatia, Paul illustrates the difference between legalism and grace with the story of Hagar and Sarah. See Genesis 16 and 21 for the original account.

21 Tell me, you who want to be under the law, are you not aware of what the law says? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by the slave woman and the other by the free woman. 23 His son by the slave woman was born according to the flesh, but his son by the free woman was born as the result of a divine promise.
24 These things are being taken figuratively: The women represent two covenants. One covenant is from Mount Sinai and bears children who are to be slaves: This is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written:
“Be glad, barren woman,
you who never bore a child;
shout for joy and cry aloud,
you who were never in labor;
because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.”
28 Now you, brothers and sisters, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 At that time the son born according to the flesh persecuted the son born by the power of the Spirit. It is the same now. 30 But what does Scripture say? “Get rid of the slave woman and her son, for the slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with the free woman’s son.” 31 Therefore, brothers and sisters, we are not children of the slave woman, but of the free woman.
1It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 4:21 – 5:1),

The story had a symbolic application where Hagar represents the old covenant (the law, or legalism) and Sarah the new covenant (the gospel). Paul uses it because he said that legalizers threatened “the freedom we (Christians) have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves” (Gal. 2:4). He saw a similarity between the freedom of Christianity (the new covenant) compared to the slavery of legalism (introducing parts of the old covenant); and the freedom of Sarah/Isaac compared to the slavery of Hagar/Ishmael.

This passage teaches that the old covenant:
– Enslaves (Gal. 2:4; 4:1, 22), because sinners are slaves to sin (Jn. 8:34; Rom. 6:16).
– Its followers persecute those following the gospel (v.29).

But the new covenant:
– Liberates and brings freedom (4:22; 5:1). This is freedom from sin being the dominant power in our lives (Rom. 6:15-18) and from the penalty of sin.
– Will be followed by more people that the old one (v.27).
– Its followers shouldn’t go back to the slavery of legalism (5:1).
– Its followers should separate from legalism and not tolerate it in the local church (v.30).

Discussion

It’s obvious from these passages of Scripture that the new covenant is superior to the old one. But is the law of Moses (or the old covenant) now obsolete and has it been replaced? The answer seems to be yes (for Christians) and no (for non-Christians).

For Christians, the old covenant (including the Sabbath day) is obsolete and has been superseded by the new one because it was fulfilled in Jesus Christ. So the teaching that believers must keep the Sabbath day is contrary to Scripture, which is consistent with “do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). So the Sabbath day symbolized the type of eternal rest to be enjoyed by all who would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ (Heb. 4:3a, 9). But now that Jesus has come, the symbol is obsolete because it has been fulfilled.

However, the ministry of the law to unsaved people hasn’t ended: “the law is good if one uses it properly” (1 Tim. 1:8). The proper use of the law of Moses is to produce the knowledge of sin and so lead to repentance – the law was designed to show people their sinfulness (Rom. 3:20b; 5:50; 7:7). But as the Sabbath day law isn’t to be practiced by believers today, it can’t produce the knowledge of sin in unbelievers and so lead to repentance – “the law is made not for the righteous” (1 Tim. 1:9). In this respect, it is unique in the ten commandments. This is a consequence of the Sabbath day command not being repeated in the portion of the New Testament that’s addressed to the church.

old-new-400pxConclusion

The new covenant is superior to the old one. For believers, the old covenant (including the Sabbath day) is obsolete and has been superseded by the new one.  But for non-believers, the old covenant (except the Sabbath day) can produce the knowledge of sin and so lead to repentance. So in both cases, the Sabbath day is now obsolete.

Written, November 2016

Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses.  Is this true?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What dos the Bible say on this topic?


The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul

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sabbath-400pxSomeone has commented on keeping the Sabbath day. The comment is given below in italics and my reply in normal type. Here is a link to the post commented on: “I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What does the Bible say about this topic?

Hermeneutics

Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles of interpretation of the Bible. Here’s a link to a post on this topic: Understanding the Bible.
The steps involved in understanding a passage in the Bible are as follows:
– What was the meaning when it was written? This is the original meaning.
– What were the original principles behind this meaning?
– What has changed since then?
– What are the universal principles for us today? Here we update the principles.
– What is the meaning for us today? How should we apply these universal principles?

In “What has changed since then?” we compare between then and now by considering the culture, situation, and time in history. Were God’s people living under a different covenant? Was their situation unique? We also look at all the scriptures written after the passage because God’s revelation is progressive. In the case of Jesus and Paul, we will see that they lived under different covenants.

Jesus and the Mosaic covenant

When interpreting a passage of Scripture, it’s important to understand the era being addressed. There are at least four eras in the Bible:
– The time before the Mosaic covenant.
– The Mosaic covenant (the law), from the time of Moses to the day of Pentecost.
– The church era (grace), from the day of Pentecost to the Rapture.
– The end times, after the Rapture.

The fact that our Bibles are divided into Old and New Testaments indicates that Jesus caused a major division in how God deals with humanity. John wrote, “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17NIV). Paul told Christians, “you are not under the law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). The era of the law applied before Christ’s death and the era of God’s grace applied afterward (specifically after the Holy Spirit was given 50 days later, on the day of Pentecost). This explains why Christians are not required to offer animal sacrifices.

A major difference between Jesus and Paul (besides Christ’s divinity), was that they lived in different eras. Jesus lived under the Mosaic covenant, while Paul lived in the church era. This means that Jesus advocated keeping the Mosaic law which includes animal sacrifices at the temple, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath; while Paul didn’t advocate animal sacrifices at the temple, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath.

The tabernacle/temple together with the offerings and priesthood were an essential part of God’s Mosaic covenant with the Israelites (see Exodus – Deuteronomy). Jesus lived under this religious system. But when He died, God tore the curtain inside the temple from the top to the bottom and the temple was subsequently destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans invaded Jerusalem. The torn curtain, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the fact that the temple has not been rebuilt for a period of over 1,900 years indicates a significant change in God’s relationship with humanity.

Consequently, I have divided the comments according to whether they related to Scriptures dealing with events before or after the day of Pentecost.

Summary

The commentator advocates keeping the Sabbath today as it was kept when Jesus was on earth about 2,000 years ago.

But the Sabbath day is a sign of the Mosaic covenant given to the Israelites about 3,450 years ago (Ex. 31:13-17). They were to keep it until it was fulfilled when Jesus died. Jesus was a Jew who kept the Mosaic law (which included animal sacrifices, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath) and taught Jews who were living under the Mosaic law. This period under the law of Moses covers Exodus to John (inclusive) in the Bible.

Also, according to the law of Moses, disobedience of the Sabbath day was punishable by death. “Whoever does any work on the Sabbath day is to be put to death” (Ex. 31:15; 35:2). For example, a man found gathering wood on the Sabbath day was publicly stoned to death (Num. 15:32-36). But I haven’t seen this mentioned by those who advocate keeping the Jewish Sabbath today!

After the day of Pentecost, there was a new way to approach God. This doesn’t involve Jewish laws like male circumcision (or animal sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath) because Paul wrote against this in Galatians. However, 9 of the ten commandments are repeated in this section of the Bible. But the 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath is not repeated. This significant fact is ignored by those that want to impose Sabbath keeping today.

Unfortunately, the commentator uses 1 Corinthians 11:1 to claim that Paul followed Jesus in all respects, including keeping the Sabbath day. Besides ignoring the different eras (covenants), this is an example of failure to use the context when interpreting a passage from the Bible. This context should be deduced from the surrounding Scriptures and not imposed by the reader.

Jesus kept the Sabbath day because He lived under the law of Moses, whereas Paul preached to Jews on the Sabbath day in his early ministry until he was rejected by the Jews, and seemed to worship God on Sunday (Acts 20:6-7).

APPENDIX
The time-period before the day of Pentecost

This time-period is addressed in the biblical books before the book of Acts when the Israelites and Jews were God’s people on earth, they were required to follow the Mosaic law and offer sacrifices at the temple. As Jesus was a Jew, He followed these laws.

This is for those of you who thinks the Old Testament is obsolete and we are no longer under the law but grace… and of course the one who wrote the initial post that everyone is responding to here.
Who are you worshipping or serving? Who are you following, Christ; the Messiah or the Christian church of today and their teachings?

Christians should follow the inspired scripture that was written to the church in the first century (Acts to Revelation) and the principles within the rest of scripture that are consistent with this. This includes recognizing Christ as the Savior of humanity.

With that being said, IT IS MISLEADING TO TELL ANYONE THAT THE OLD TESTAMENT (FIRST TESTAMENT) AND THE LAWS ARE OBSOLETE. It is therefore false preaching and interpretation of the word of the Most High and the Messiah (the one you call Jesus).

The Old Testament was written to Jews living under the Mosaic covenant, not to Christians.

Hear me now those of you who are seeking the truth, let heaven and earth be my witness as you will not hear this from your pastor or the christian church of this age – THE TRUTH. And tell you the truth so tomorrow you’ll be without excuse – saying that you didn’t know.
I don’t need to run through hundreds of scripture to explain this, those who have ears will hear and those who don’t will not hear, but continue in the same way they have always been – worshipping idols.

The source of truth is proper exegesis of the Bible. I would be concerned about an interpretation that wasn’t taught by any pastor or Christian church.

They will also have you believe that it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Jew or Gentile, that Christ came for us all. But let hear what Christ and Paul have to say about this. Christ as was foretold by the angel came to save his people (not the whole world).
Matthew 1:21 (He shall save his people) In case you’re wondering who are his people then – the Israelite or Hebrews or Jews are.
Mathew 10:5 – 6 (These twelve Jesus sent forth, and commanded them, saying, Go not into the way of the Gentiles, and into any city of the Samaritans enter ye not:
But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel).
Christ came only for his people – The Israelites or Hebrews or Jews. Also for who the Israelites or Hebrews or Jews are today that’s a whole different conversation. But I tell you this, some of you are wise enough to already know who they are, the sign is upon their heads and all their doings. But this I tell you, certainly not the current occupants of Israel.
Now, am I saying that the gentiles will not enter the kingdom of Heaven, no, that’s not what I’m saying but there are stipulations they will have to follow in order to enter the kingdom of Heaven – to share in the salvation of the Israelites or Hebrews who are the chosen children of God.

These scriptures are about events before the day of Pentecost, so they apply to Judaism, not Christianity.

It’s true that Christ’s ministry was to the Jews. But after the Jews rejected this, put Jesus to death and rejected the preaching by the apostles, the gospel went to the Gentiles. That’s why there are more Gentiles than Jews in the Christian church today. After His death and resurrection, Jesus commanded the gospel message be taken to all nations. He told His disciples, “go and make disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19). Also, today only Christians are children of God (Gal. 3:26). So a Jew isn’t a child of God unless they are a Christian.

To crown it all up, let us bring the Master himself (Christ; the Messiah – the one you call Jesus) on the stand. Lets hear if he said the OLD TESTAMENT AND LAWS ARE OBSOLETE.
Matthew 5:17-19 This is Christ himself speaking (Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.
For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.
Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven).
Go to your Bible and read it so you don’t think I making things up.
What did Christ come to fulfill – the sacrificial Laws.
Christ himself observed the sabbath. Luke 4:16
If the Messiah (Jesus) himself tells you that the laws and prophets are not done away with, who would you rather believe?
If you are following Christ, then why would you not follow his words but instead go about lying to the people that the old testament is obsolete? Has heaven and earth passed away, don’t you wake up in the morning and stand on the earth and see the heaven above?
John 14:15 – Christ (the one you call Jesus) is saying if you love me then keep my commandments. Here is the Messiah himself speaking to you.
Matthew 5:17 – 19 (keep the commandments of which the Sabbath is one of them)

These scriptures are about events before the day of Pentecost, so they apply to Judaism, not Christianity. At this time, the law of Moses was still operative.

Jesus said that He came to fulfil the law (Mt. 5:17). He did this by taking our penalty of death (as a substitute). Jesus’ death fulfilled all the demands of the Law (Rom. 8:1-3) Because we all sin, we face the penalty of death (Rom. 3:23; 6:23; Gal. 3:10; Jas. 2:10). So those who trust in Jesus are no longer under the law as He has paid the penalty.

The time-period after the day of Pentecost

This time-period is addressed in the biblical books from Acts to Revelation. Because there is no Jewish temple (with altars for sacrifices) or priesthood, today it is impossible to practice the Mosaic covenant as it was followed in the Old Testament.

Lets start with Revelation 12:9 – (And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceives the whole world: he was cast out into the earth, and his angels were cast out with him).
The deceiver of the whole world was cast into the earth and brethren I tell you this, he has been at work while you sleep and go about your smooth day.

The context of Revelation 12 is as follows:
– the birth and resurrection of Jesus (v.5)
– the church age (between v.5 and v.6)
– the coming tribulation (v.6-17)
So Revelation 12:9 describes events that are still future.

Now I will not be able to go through all the scriptures but I will list few so you can read. All what the writer of this blog has pointed out here, for this same reason, the apostle Paul (the apostle sent to the gentiles) was put on trial in the book of Acts.
This is Paul on trial for the same accusation that he was teaching people not to obey the laws of Moses or as the church of today so eloquently put it, old testament is obsolete. Read the Bible yourself, don’t be lazy.
Acts 21:20 – 29
Acts 24:1 – 14
Acts 25:1 – 12

I can’t see any mention of Sabbath keeping in these passages. And I’d rather agree with Paul than his accusers.

Paul was attacked by some Jews who caused a riot and tried to kill him. The Romans responded by arresting Paul (Acts 21:27-36). The Jewish religious leaders said that Paul was a trouble maker who desecrated the temple (Acts 24:5-8). Paul explained that this occurred because he preached about Jesus (Acts 26:19-23).

And Romans 11:1 – 22 will explain some of these stipulations. If you are a gentile (basically those who are not Hebrews or Jews or Israelite), hear this now, don’t boast against the natural branches who are the chosen children of the Most High. Don’t go about saying it doesn’t matter whether you’re a Jew or Gentiles. You are being boastful, if the Father can cast out his own children, what makes you think He will not cast you out in the next second you start misbehaving? And Paul the apostle sent to the gentiles made this crystal clear as I expect you to read in Romans the 11th chapter.

Romans 11:1-22 says that although God rejected the Jews (v.15), those who became Christians like Paul weren’t rejected (v.1). Such Gentiles were chosen by grace and not by works (keeping the Jewish law) (v.5-6). Because the Jews rejected the gospel, the nation was set aside and the gospel went out to the Gentiles (v.1-12). Verses 13-24 are addressed to the Gentile nations, and not to Gentile Christians.

God’s children were those who trusted God in the Old Testaments times, and those who trusted in Jesus Christ in New Testament times. Here’s what Paul says about the church era:
“So in Christ Jesus you (Christians) are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:26-28).

God doesn’t “cast out His own children”. He only casts out unbelievers. It’s our faith that counts, not our day to day behavior – the former determines our destiny and the later our fellowship with God.

This is the major mistake the church of this age continue to make, if you don’t understand what has been written in the FIRST TESTAMENT (OLD TESTAMENT), if you have no foundation in the writings of the FIRST TESTAMENT, don’t mess with the Letters of Paul. You are only leading yourself to destruction. But then, some of you know the truth but you are simply a deceiver. You choose to deceive rather than preach the true integrity of the Gospel to the people.
2 Peter 3:16 explains why you should not mess with the letters of Paul. The writings of Paul are stumbling blocks for those pagan worshippers who claims they are following Christ but remain in the same old mindset from their pagan worshipping days. They simply don’t want to obey any laws which is why when it comes to the old testament, they’re quick to tell you that it is obsolete – the laws are done away with.
Elohim our Father is constantly testing us to know where are heart is. And if you are familiar with your Bible then you should know this, from the garden of Eden, even Joseph (the dreamer) did the same to his brothers, the 40 years the Israelites spent in the wilderness, even when they conquer Canaan, the Most High left 4 nations to prove or test Israel. And all of these was just for Him to know whether they will obey his commandments. Same thing you will find in the letters of Paul. It is all to prove you to see whether you will obey his commandments or follow the desire of your flesh. The head apostle Peter already warned you about this in 2 Peter 3:16.
Proverb 4:7 – says wisdom is the principal thing, so therefore get wisdom. And I tell you, this age lacks wisdom.
You may be asking why are we going through this whole other discussions when this is supposed to be about the Sabbath. But if people are quoting from the letters of Paul then don’t you thing we should bring him on the stand so he can testify to this accusation? But as you have already read in Acts, Paul did not permit any of the things this brother is saying here on his page or what the Christian church is saying. It is simply misinterpretation of the letters of Paul.

2 Peter 3:16 says, “He (Paul) writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction”. Peter is saying that some Biblical truths are hard to understand. He’s not criticizing Paul’s style of writing. This verse has nothing to do with following commands in the Old Testament. Instead it’s warning against distortions such as saying that the law is a way of salvation rather than a revealer of sin.

It is true that God tests people in all eras. But today God is now testing people under grace rather than under the law of Moses.

Even after Christ’s dead and resurrection, his disciple continue to observe the Sabbath.
Acts 17
Acts 13:42 (unlike the gentiles of today, the gentiles then understood the Sabbath commandment and worshipped on the Sabbath)

When Paul visited Psidian Antioch he preached about Jesus in the synagogue for two Sabbath days (Acts 13:13-52). After a large crowd gathered to hear the word of God, the Jewish religious leaders stirred up persecution that caused Paul to leave the city. In this case Paul went to the synagogue to preach to Jews, not to observe the Sabbath.

When Paul visited Thessalonica, he preached to them about Jesus (reasoning from the Old Testament) in the synagogue for three Sabbath days (Acts 17:1-8). Some believed that Jesus was the Messiah and others started a riot that caused Paul to leave the city. In this case Paul went to the synagogue to preach to Jews, not to observe the Sabbath.

Furthermore, Paul preached in the Jewish synagogues at Salamis (Acts 13:5). He also preached to the Jewish women (they “began to speak to the women”) at Philippi on the Sabbath because that was when they gathered together (Acts 16:13). And Paul preached at the synagogue in Corinth on the Sabbath until he was opposed by the Jews (Acts 18:1-6).

So during Paul’s first two missionary journeys, it seems that whenever possible he preached to Jews on the Sabbath day whenever (because that was the day they gathered together to worship God). On these occasions, he was preaching about Jesus, not observing the Sabbath. This is evident because he was usually rejected by the Jews soon afterward. Also, it only happened during his first visit because the Jews would have continued to reject him.

If you don’t understand what Paul is talking don’t going around lying, just leave it along, just leave it along.
Now, use these two scriptures when you don’t understand what the Paul is talking in his letters. And this is because the christian church is founded upon the letters of Paul and not the teaching of the Messiah; Christ the one you call Jesus.
1 Corinthians 11:1 – Here Paul is saying “Be ye followers of me, even as I also am of Christ”. Paul is pointing out to you that he himself is just a follower.

Paul wrote, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). This verse probably goes better with chapter 10. So the context is being unselfish (v.24, 33), doing everything for the glory of God (v.31), and not causing anyone to stumble (v.32). There is no mention of keeping the Sabbath or the Old Testament laws near this verse. After he became a Christian, Paul didn’t attend the animal sacrifices at the temple like Jesus did.

Likewise, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in His steps” (1 Pt. 2:21) has the context of unjust suffering and not keeping the Sabbath or the Old Testament laws.

HE WHO HAS EARS LET HIM HEAR.

The full quotation is, “Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Rev. 2:7). This is the conclusion to each letter to the seven churches in Asia Minor (now Turkey) in Revelation 2-3. As the church originated on the day of Pentecost, the most relevant message to them is in Acts to Revelation. Likewise, today Acts to Revelation is more relevant to Christians than the rest of the Bible.

Written, November 2016

Also see: I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What does the Bible say about this topic?
What about keeping the Sabbath day?
What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses.  Is this true?
Why the new covenant is better


What about keeping the Sabbath day?

torn curtain 1

torn curtain 1Someone has commented on keeping the Sabbath day. The comment is given below in italics and my reply in normal type. Here is a link to the post commented on: “I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What does the Bible say about this topic?

The temple and the Mosaic covenant

The tabernacle/temple together with the offerings and priesthood were an essential part of God’s Mosaic covenant with the Israelites (see Exodus – Deuteronomy). At that time God lived on earth in a building and people could only approach Him via an offering made by a priest. God left the first temple because of their gross sinfulness (Ezek. 8-10). This temple was subsequently destroyed by the Babylonians when the Israelites were driven from their homeland. But a new one was built after the Jewish exile in Babylon (Ezra 3-6). And after this fell into disrepair, a new one was built by King Herod.

Why was the inner curtain of Herod’s temple torn in two when Jesus died (Mt. 27:51; Mk. 15:38; Lk. 23:45)? This would have shocked the Jews – their most holy place was no longer hidden by the curtain. They would have repaired or replaced the curtain as soon as possible. The writer of Hebrews says that the curtain was a symbol of Christ’s body (Heb. 10:19-20). Because of Christ’s death and because of His High Priestly role, we can “enter the most Holy Place”. We can approach God without the need of a human priest. Soon after this on the day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came to live in God’s people. So God left the temple and His presence on earth was taken by the Holy Spirit. This temple was subsequently destroyed in AD 70 when the Romans invaded Jerusalem. The torn curtain, the coming of the Holy Spirit and the fact that the temple has not been rebuilt for a period of over 1,900 years indicates a significant change in God’s relationship with mankind.

Consequently, I have divided the comments according to whether they related to Scriptures dealing with events before or after the day of Pentecost.

Summary

The commentator advocates keeping the Sabbath today as it was kept when Jesus was on earth about 2,000 years ago.

But the Sabbath day is a sign of the Mosaic covenant given to the Israelites about 3,450 years ago (Ex. 31:13-17). They were to keep it until it was fulfilled when Jesus died. Jesus was a Jew who kept the Mosaic law (which included animal sacrifices, male circumcision and keeping the Sabbath) and taught Jews who were living under the Mosaic law. This period under the law of Moses covers Exodus to John (inclusive) in the Bible.

After the day of Pentecost, there was a new way to approach God. This doesn’t involve Jewish laws like male circumcision (or animal sacrifices and keeping the Sabbath) because Paul wrote against this in Galatians. However, 9 of the ten commandments are repeated in this section of the Bible. But the 4th commandment to keep the Sabbath is not repeated. This significant fact is ignored by those that want to impose Sabbath keeping today.

Unfortunately the commentator doesn’t seem to recognise that the Greek word for “law” (nomos) has several meanings, including God’s teaching for the church in the New Testament. Instead he seems to assume it always means the Torah or God’s teaching in the Pentateuch. Also, he fails to use the context when interpreting a passage from the Bible. This context should be deduced from the surrounding Scriptures and not imposed by the reader by selecting verses elsewhere in Scripture (i.e. “cherry picking”).

Overall, the comment seems to be an example of eisegesis (an interpretation that is imposed on the biblical text by the reader – it comes from the reader’s preconceived ideas) rather than exegesis (an interpretation that is obtained/derived from the biblical text).

Appendix – Click for more


I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What does the Bible say about this topic?

Today the people of God comprise the church, which is made up of all true Christians. As the church commenced on the day of Pentecost, the part of the Bible that is specifically addressed to the church are the books from Acts to Revelation. Prior to this time (Genesis 12 to John); the Jews were God’s people on earth. Therefore, the answer to this question must be found between Acts and Revelation of the Bible.

The first mention in the Bible of a day of rest is when God rested at the end of the six days of creation (Gen. 2:2-3). But on this occasion God rested and there is no mention of humanity resting. The first mention of people resting on the seventh day occurs in the days of Moses, which is after people had been on earth for about 2,500 years (Ex. 12:16; 16:22-30). So there is no evidence that this practice was given at the creation of the world.

The distinctive day of the week for the Jews was Saturday, the Sabbath, the last day of the week. It was given to them when God provided manna in the desert and was an important requirement being included in the ten commandments (Ex. 16:22-30; 20:8-11). The Sabbath was given to the Jewish nation only and no Gentile was ever commanded to keep it (Ex. 31:13). It provided an opportunity to rest and focus on God (Mk. 2:27). In the Pentateuch (the first five books of the Bible), the Sabbath is associated with the annual Jewish festivals (Ex. 23; Lev. 27; Num. 28-29). The penalty for breaking the Sabbath was death (Ex.31:14-15; 35:2; Num. 15:32-36).

The Sabbath day was given to the Israelites as a sign to remind them of their special relationship with God (Ex. 31:13, 17). God called them “my treasured possession” (Ex. 19:5). The Sabbath day is a symbol of the covenant given to the nation of Israel at Mt Sinai. It distinguished them from other nations. The original form of the Mosaic covenant is Exodus 20-23, which was written on a scroll (Ex. 24:7-8). Then more laws were progressively added to the covenant. In Exodus 25-30, regulations are added about the building and ceremonies of the tabernacle. After this, God repeats the fourth commandment before He hands Moses the tablets of the covenant law (Ex. 31:12-18). The reason given is that the Sabbath day was a sign for the Israelites who left Egypt and their descendants. It symbolised God’s covenant with them. This covenant, described in Exodus to Deuteronomy (along with the circumcision law of Genesis), was for the Israelites and their descendants (Dt. 29:12-15).

As Jesus lived under this Jewish covenant, He kept the Sabbath day. But He implied that things would change in future; the kingdom of God would be taken away from the Jews and “given to a people who will produce its fruit” (Mt. 21:43). These people would worship in spirit and truth instead of at the temple (Jn. 4:21-24). They are Christians who live under a different covenant. This new covenant included Gentiles (Acts 10:9-15) and excluded the law of Moses (Acts 15:1-35). It didn’t even include a single old covenant law such as circumcision or the Sabbath day, because then one is “obligated to obey the whole law” (Gal. 5:3).

As the old covenant of the Israelite law is now obsolete, its practices are also now obsolete (2 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 8:13). Instead Christians follow the instructions given to the church in the New Testament. The sign of the spiritual blessings that Christians have under the new covenant is the Lord’s Supper (Lk. 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). However, the Sabbath day will be re-established as a symbol of the Jews special relationship with the Lord when they are revived as God’s people in the millennium (Is. 56:4-6; 66:23; Ezek. 46:1, 3).

On the Sabbath the Jews were commemorating the end of God’s work of creation (Ex. 20:11) and the end of their deliverance from slavery in Egypt (Dt. 5:15) and they offered animal sacrifices (Num. 28:9-10). There is no instruction addressed to the church in Scripture for believers to continue this practice today. However, in the Lord’s Supper they commemorate their deliverance from being slaves to sin.

The distinctive day of the week for Christians was Sunday (the first day of the week):

  • On Sunday, Christ rose from the dead, which proved that His work of redemption was completed (Jn. 20:1)
  • On Sunday, Christ met with the disciples between the resurrection and ascension (Jn. 20:19, 26)
  • On Sunday, the church commenced when the Holy Spirit was given on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1; Lev. 23:15,16).
  • On Sunday, the early Christians met to celebrate the Lord’s Supper – Paul seems to have waited in Troas for seven days so he could be there for the Lord’s Supper (breaking of bread) on the first day of the week (Acts 20:6-7). Although there were missionary visits to Jewish synagogues (Acts 13:14-48; 16:13-15; 17:1-4; 18:4), there is no example in Scripture of a church meeting on the Sabbath.
  • The early Christians were told to set aside money for the Lord’s work on Sunday; presumably via a collection at a church meeting (1 Cor. 16:1-2).

Christians are not under the Old Testament law, which includes the ten commandments, but under God’s grace (Rom. 6:14-15) – see separate post on this topic. We have been “released from the law” (Rom. 7:6). The law of Moses has been replaced by the law of Christ (1 Cor. 9:21; 2 Cor. 3:7-11). Therefore, the Bible places no limits on when Christians can meet together. They can praise and celebrate the Lord’s Supper any day of week (1 Cor. 11:26). Although some early Jewish believers wanted to keep the Sabbath, this was not considered to be a matter of importance, but one of the individual conscience (Rom. 14:5-6).

As Christians have been released from the Old Testament law, they are not bound by regulations such as those saying that a person must keep the Sabbath in order to please God. When the Galatians were trying to earn God’s favor by observing certain days like the Sabbath and by promoting circumcision, Paul said that they had been freed from being subject to such laws (Gal. 4:4-11; 5:1-2). Paul also prohibits Christians being condemned for not following particular food or drink regulations and for not observing particular religious activities that are held on an annual, monthly or weekly basis: “Do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col 2:16-17NIV). In this passage, the religious festivals were the annual Jewish festivals and the Sabbath day was the weekly Jewish Sabbath.

It should be noted that the “Sabbath-rest” in Hebrews 4:1-11, is different to the Sabbath day. This rest is entered by faith in Christ (Heb. 11:2-3). The old covenant laws are now symbols and metaphors for us. As God rested after His work of creation, Christians rest in the completed work of Christ (Mt. 11:28-30). In this sense, the physical Sabbath-rest is likened to our spiritual rest of salvation. The weekly Sabbath pictured our final salvation. Just as Moses was appointed by God to lead the Israelites from slavery in Egypt to the promised land of Canaan, Christ was appointed by God to lead people from bondage to sin to the eternal Sabbath-rest of heaven. As most of the Jews died before reaching the “rest” of the promised land because of unbelief, so unbelief excludes people from God’s gift of salvation.

So the teaching that Christians should worship God collectively on Saturday is contrary to Scripture.

Written, October 2011; Revised February 2014

Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?
I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses.  Is this true?
The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul
Why the new covenant is better


I’ve been told that Christians should keep the ten commandments as they were God’s law and not the law of Moses. Is this true?

Based on their interpretation of the Bible, some people believe that the ‘ten commandments’ and the ‘law of Moses’ are two completely separate laws; the latter being no longer applying today as it was temporary, but the former being God’s law that is eternal. One of the passages used to support this belief is part of Daniel’s prayer: “We have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws He gave us through His servants the prophets. All Israel has transgressed Your law and turned away, refusing to obey You. Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against You” (Dan. 9:10-11NIV). Daniel says that God gave the Jews laws, including the ten commandments, through prophets such as Moses. Clearly, in this passage, “the laws He gave us through His servants the prophets”, “Your law” and the Law of Moses” are synonymous. The sins that Daniel was confessing included, “We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets” (Dan. 9:5b-6a). I can see no justification in claiming that “Your law” is restricted to the ten commandments and “the Law of Moses” does not include the ten commandments.

Because the people were terrified when God gave them the ten commandments at Mt Sinai, they asked if they could receive future messages via Moses (Dt. 5:23-31). As God granted this request, the other commandments were given to Moses and he taught them to the Israelites. So, all the commandments in the Pentateuch came from God.

Before the Israelites entered Canaan, Moses reminded them to “keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you” (Dt. 4:2). They were especially instructed to remember the giving of the ten commandments (Dt. 4:9-13). Then in between two references to the ten commandments (Dt. 4:10-13; 5:1-22), the Bible says “This is the law Moses set before the Israelites” (Dt. 4:44). So the ten commandments are part of the law of Moses: Moses communicated the ten commandments to the Israelites (Dt. 5:4-5) and he recorded them in the Pentateuch.

When Jesus was asked which was the greatest commandment, He said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments” (Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18; Mt. 22:37-40). This statement seems to be a summary of the ten commandments as duties towards God (Deut. 6:5 and the first 4 commandments) and towards people (Lev. 19:18 and the other 6 commandments). The ten commandments give the basic principles of Jewish law whereas their application to particular situations is given in the detailed laws in the Pentateuch.

Today the people of God comprise the church, which is made up of all true Christians. As the church commenced on the day of Pentecost, the part of the Bible that is specifically addressed to the church are the books from Acts to Revelation. Prior to this time (Genesis 12 to John); the Jews were God’s people on earth. What does Acts to Revelation of the Bible say about Christians keeping the ten commandments?

Christians are no longer under the Jewish law and are freed from its condemnation because Christ has fulfilled the law by paying the penalty of death (Mt. 5:17; Rom. 6:14-15; 7:1-6; Gal. 3:19, 24-25). The Mosaic Covenant under which the law was given is now obsolete (Heb. 8:13). Instead, God’s commandment to us is “to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another” (1 Jn 3:23). Our love for Christ will result in obeying His commands (Jn. 14:15; 1 Jn. 5:1-3; 2 Jn. 6)

Christians seek to live holy lives, not by following the ten commandments, but by allowing Christ to live through them (Gal. 2:19-20). They seek to please the Lord Jesus by following His teachings and those of the apostles (1 Cor. 9:21).

Paul doesn’t distinguish between the ten commandments and the other laws that were given to Moses: he says that the ten commandments, “which was engraved in letters on stone”, were transitory like the other laws (2 Cor. 3:7-11). They were not permanent, whereas the gospel is permanent. Since Christ’s death, the Jewish law has been replaced with the Christian faith and the Jews have been replaced by the church as God’s people on earth (Gal. 3:23-25).

Nine of the ten commandments are given between Acts to Revelation as God’s principles for holy living for Christians:

  1. Don’t worship any other god except the one true God (1 Cor. 8:4-6)
  2. Don’t worship idols (1 Cor. 10:7,14; 1 Jn. 5:21)
  3. Don’t misuse God’s name (Jas. 2:7)
  4. Keep the Sabbath day – This instruction is not mentioned in Acts to Revelation, and Christians shouldn’t  be condemned for failing to keep it (Col. 2:16) – see separate post on this topic
  5. Honor your parents (Eph. 6:1-3)
  6. Don’t murder (Jas. 2:11)
  7. Don’t commit adultery (Jas. 2:11)
  8. Don’t steal (Eph.4:8)
  9. Don’t give false testimony (Col. 3:10)
  10. Don’t covet (Eph. 5:3)

The last six commandments have been summarized as “love your neighbour as yourself” (Rom. 13:8-10).

So, because Christians relate to God via Jesus Christ and not via keeping Jewish laws, they are under no obligation to keep the ten commandments. Instead, they seek to please the Lord by obeying the teachings of Christ and the apostles.

Written, October 2011

Also see: What about keeping the Sabbath day?
What does the New Testament say about the Sabbath?
I went to a church service that was held on Saturday instead of Sunday and was told that was when we should worship God. What does the Bible say about this topic?

The Sabbath day difference between Jesus and Paul

Why the new covenant is better

 


The New Covenant

At the start of a new year, people often reflect on the past and look ahead to the future. In this article we look at the promise of the “new covenant”, which was given in the past and looks ahead to the future.

The Promise

A covenant is an agreement or a promise between individuals or groups of people. The first covenant, or the old covenant, was the law that was given to the Children of Israel via Moses at Mt Sinai. It promised blessing for obedience but threatened death for disobedience. The law was a covenant of works. But because it depended on people’s obedience, it could not produce righteousness. The new covenant was given so that people would become conscious of their sin (Rom. 3:20; 7:7). It showed them they could not keep it, so they would then be ready to receive a Savior.

The phrase “new covenant” is mentioned first in Jeremiah 31:31-34, which is quoted in Hebrews 8:8-13.

This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more” (Heb. 8:10-12NIV).

This covenant was “new” (the Greek word commonly used meant “unique”) because:

  • It depends on God, not people (“I will”, v. 10, 12); being unconditional, whereas the law was conditional on people’s obedience (v.9); and emphasises what God will do, not what people must do.
  • God’s laws will be in their minds and on their hearts (v.10a), so that everyone will know the Lord and have a close relationship with Him (v.10b, 11).
  • People receive forgiveness of sins and an eternal inheritance (v.12; Heb. 9:15).

The new covenant was announced at a low time of Israel’s history; the nation had largely turned from God to idolatry. At this time God used prophets to announce that the Jewish people would be captured by the Babylonians and scattered amongst other nations but afterwards they would be restored to their land of Canaan. The new covenant is characterised by everlasting peace and prosperity (Is. 54:9-10; 55:3-13; 59:20-21; 61:1-8; Jer. 50:4-5; Ezek. 16:60-63; 34:25-31; 37:15-28; Hos. 2:14-23). At this time the Jewish people will prosper in their own land under Christ’s rule.

When we look at the Old Testament references, we see that the blessings of the new covenant are both physical and spiritual. They are “better promises” than the old covenant (Heb. 8:6).

The Fulfilment

The promise of the new covenant was given to the Jews (Heb. 8:8) and will be fulfilled when the Lord comes to set up the Millennial kingdom (Rev. 20:2,4). “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers and sisters, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in, and in this way all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:25-26a). The mystery (a new revelation) is that the largely Gentile church must first be gathered in the rapture, before the spiritual hardness of Israel is healed when a Jewish remnant will be saved out of the coming great tribulation to live in God’s kingdom on earth.

Lessons for us

What has this promise, given to the Jews, got to do with us today? Because the Jews rejected the Messiah, the gospel was offered to the Gentiles. The Gentile church was another mystery that was revealed to Paul and he used the term “new covenant” to describe the gospel of God’s grace (2 Cor. 3:6).

In the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said that the cup of wine represented “the new covenant in my blood” (1 Cor. 11:25). The death of Christ forms the basis of spiritual blessings for the Church as well as the covenantal physical and spiritual blessings promised to the nation of Israel. Christ was a mediator for both Old Testament and New Testament believers and for those who will believe and enter the Millennial kingdom. In the meantime, some of the blessings of the new covenant are enjoyed by all believers— the spiritual blessings, not the physical ones. For example, we have forgiveness of sins, a close relationship with the Lord and the indwelling Holy Spirit

In the future Israel will be blessed under the rule of the Lord in the Millennium (Hos. 3:5); while believers will reign with Him over the universe (Eph. 1:22-23). What wonderful promises!

Written, January 2009


The sin of legalism

It’s futile to try and earn God’s favor

Life is like a journey. The Bible says that Christians are people who follow the road that leads to eternal life, which is much narrower than the broad road that leads to destruction (Mt. 7:13-14). As a road has boundaries for safe travel, Christians do not thrive outside God’s boundaries for living. Two ways of going off the road or out of bounds are to either add to or take away from what God has revealed to us in the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). Legalism involves adding to the Bible and liberalism taking away from it. These are mindsets that come from the sinful nature; not from the Bible or the divine nature.

Law And Liberty

The law given to the Jews in Old Testament times, found in Exodus 20-31, Leviticus and Deuteronomy, is summarised in the ten commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). It showed people their sinfulness, since to break one command meant being guilty of breaking all of it (Rom. 3:20; 7:7; Jas. 2:10). As everyone has broken the law, they are under the curse of death (Ro. 6:23; Gal. 3:10). Jesus came to pay this penalty for humanity and in this way He fulfilled the requirements of the law (Mt. 5:17). As their penalty has been paid, Christians are no longer under the law; they have been released from the law (Rom. 6:14 7:6; Gal. 3:13, 24-25). As this is a free gift from God, His acceptance doesn’t depend on our character or conduct.

Believers are to live by faith, not the law (Gal. 3:11-12). This new way of the Spirit brings liberty and freedom and is motivated by love, not fear (Rom. 7:7; 2 Cor. 3:17). Our speech and conduct are to be judged by the “law that gives freedom” (Jas 2:12TNIV), which has taken the place of the ancient law. In regard to things not expressly commanded or forbidden, Christian liberty must be granted, allowing for the exercise of individual judgement and Christian conscience before God (1 Cor. 10:29-31). This must be limited by considerations of love and care not to stumble those with a sensitive conscience (1 Cor. 8:9).

Legalism is an attitude regarding our approach to God. It imposes law on the believer’s conscience so that it comes between them and God. It also includes an effort to merit God’s favor. Legalism is just as dangerous whether your convictions are biblically accurate or not.

Legalism exalts “law” above “grace” and replaces “faith” with “works”. The word does not occur in New Testament Greek, but “righteousness in the law” is translated as “righteousness based on the law” (Phil. 3:6). It began when Eve added “you must not touch it” to God’s instruction (Gen. 2:17; 3:3).

Hypocritical Pharisees

The Pharisees were religious leaders amongst the Jews. They wore distinguished clothes to be easily recognised. Their objective was to live in strict accordance with the Old Testament law and the tradition of interpretation they had established and to train other Jews to live this way.

They pledged to obey all the facets of the traditions to the minutest detail, were proud of their traditions and law and felt superior to other nations and people such as the Samaritans (Jn. 4:9). They were usually recognised as examples to follow and were honoured. But God had a much higher standard: “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 5:20). Their religious ceremonies, without inner faith, were not acceptable to God.

Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites because they put traditions above the word of God (Mt. 15:3, 6-7). Their teachings were human rules that were not from God (Mt. 5:9). Instead Christ taught that purity came from the mind, not from external behaviour (Mt. 15:17-20).

The Pharisees actually relaxed the divine standards. For example, the Corban regulation enabled people to ignore the fifth commandment (Mk. 15:4-6). In one sense their extra laws made it easier to obey the Old Testament law; they took into account the weakness of human nature. The rich young man believed that he had kept all the commandments (Mt. 19:20). As the Pharisees believed they could keep the law, they defined them to enable this!

By following their traditions they were in danger of concluding that they pleased God. For example, Paul was extremely zealous for the traditions of his fathers and faultless in following the law (Gal 1:14; Phil. 3:5-6). This could give a false sense of spiritual security. The need to depend on God’s mercy was diminished: they “were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else” (Lk. 18:9).

The Pharisees were obsessed with following man-made rules and Jesus criticised them strongly for their religious practices (Mt. 23). Jesus said they were hypocrites who oppressed the people and were concerned about appearances and recognition but lacked sincerity and were greedy and self-indulgent. They were meticulous with minor matters but neglected the major matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness.

When they felt their position and customs were threatened, the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders persecuted Christ and the early church. They bitterly opposed Jesus and His teachings. Because the early church was largely comprised of Jews, legalism arose within their congregations. We will now look at some instances of legalism in the early church.

Jewish Laws

Before Peter visited Cornelius when the gospel went to the Gentiles, his attitudes had to be retrained. God caused him to see a vision of a large sheet that came down from heaven containing animals and birds, many of which were impure and unclean under the Jewish food regulations. When he was told to kill and eat them, Peter refused because he always followed these regulations. Then he was told “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15). This happened three times to teach him that the Jewish laws no longer applied and that Gentiles were going to receive the Holy Spirit without needing to become Israelites.

When Peter broke the Jewish law of not associating with Gentiles he said “God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean” (Acts 10:28) and “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear Him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). He knew that the Jewish law no longer applied and all nationalities were to be accepted in the church because God had accepted them (Rom. 15:7).

When Peter was criticized for socialising with Gentiles he described what happened and they were satisfied (Acts 11:1-18). However, some Jewish believers insisted male circumcision was essential for salvation (Acts 15:1, 5). This was a common example of legalism in the early church; being salvation by good works. Paul opposed such legalism and said, “we did not give in to them for a moment” (Gal. 2:5). After Paul and Barnabas spoke up against this and Peter and James agreed with them, the church decided that Gentiles did not need to be circumcised in order to be saved (Acts 15:1-31).

Paul taught that Christians should not be required to follow Jewish regulations, which had been fulfilled by Christ (Col. 2:16-17). To enforce such regulations on others involves deception (Col. 2:8). Christians shouldn’t submit to the rules of human tradition like “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” as “These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence” (Col. 2:8, 20-23). Strict religious rules and regulations do not have power over the sinful nature. Although they may appear good externally, such rules do not address sinful attitudes. In fact they lead to pride.

The Circumcision Group

Jews who insisted that male circumcision was essential for salvation and that the Old Testament law had to be followed to please God were referred to as “the circumcision group” (Gal. 2:12; Ti. 1:10). In Crete they were “rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception”. Paul said that they “must be silenced” because of their false teaching. Furthermore, the congregation should be rebuked sharply to “pay no attention to Jewish myths or to the merely human commands of those who reject the truth” (Ti. 1:11, 13). Paul opposed legalism because it was destroying the message of justification by faith. Salvation was by God’s grace alone, through the death of Christ and not involving any human works.

“Quarrels about the law” in Paul’s day such as disputes over clean and unclean foods, Sabbath regulations and observance of holy days, were “unprofitable and useless” (Rom. 14; Ti. 3:9). They diverted believers from a balanced life.

As the churches in Galatia were turning to the “different gospel” of legalism, Paul said that the false teachers of this message would be under God’s curse (Gal. 1:6-9). Even the apostle Peter and Barnabas were influenced by the circumcision group to stop socialising with Gentiles. Paul confronted Peter publicly for this hypocritical behavior: “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?” (Gal. 2:14). He emphasised that believers are justified by faith in Christ alone and not by observing the law.

They were observing special days and months and seasons and years (Gal. 4:10). Paul said that they were enslaved to Jewish regulations (Gal. 4:1-3). Such legalism was wrong because believers were now children of God and not slaves under the law, “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law” (Gal. 5:18).

Paul described the perils of legalism in Galatians 5:1-12. It is like going backwards to living in Old Testament times and under slavery that is intolerable to bear (Acts 15:10). Instead of Christ being the only means of salvation, it involved a system of salvation by good works. However, if a person attempts to please God by being circumcised, then they should keep the whole law. Those who were trying to be saved by keeping the law were rejecting that Christ was the only Savior. The believer receives righteousness through the Spirit, whereas the legalist hopes in vain to earn righteousness. Circumcision doesn’t make a believer any better and uncircumcision doesn’t make them any worse, it is irrelevant as far as God is concerned. Legalism is disobeying the truth of Scripture. The belief that circumcision and law-keeping should be added to faith in Christ does not come from God but from Satan. Legalism spreads through a congregation like yeast spreads through dough (Mt. 16:6). False legalistic teachers will be judged by God. The message of Christ’s finished work on the cross is offensive to legalists because it implies that people are incapable of doing anything to merit salvation. Paul wished that the legalists would be cut off from the congregations in Galatia.

Paul called legalists: dogs, evildoers and mutilators of the flesh (Phil. 3:2). Dogs were unclean animals and the term was used by Jews to describe Gentiles. Here Paul was using it for legalistic false teachers. It may also imply their aggression and destructive impact and the fact that legalism leads to criticism and quarrelling (Gal. 5:15).

Summary

Legalism is a mindset regarding our approach to God that comes from the sinful nature and adds to the Bible. It places rules and regulations between us and God and puts law above grace and works above faith and includes an effort to merit God’s favor. Legalism involves salvation by good works and not Christ alone. It is selfish and imposes rigid control on others. Legalism is dangerous because it involves sinful thinking and sinful behaviour.

The risk of legalism is greatest for believers with a weak or strict conscience who tend to impose it on others. Any congregation that has existed for some time tends to become legalistic as its customs and traditions get set and confused with scriptural truths. For example, there is usually resistance to changes of a method or practice as some confuse this with liberalism.

Christians can avoid legalism by recognizing the freedoms inherent in God’s word. Both Christ and Paul identified legalism as a serious sin that can destroy a congregation. This was true for the early church and is also true today. In the next article in this series we will look at how to recognise and respond to legalism.

Written, December 2007

Also see:
Recognizing and responding to legalism
The sin of liberalism