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Please read parts 1-5 before continuing…

Scripture gives us a choice: keep the law or live by the us in Christ/Christ in us relationship.  The former is the old covenant, the latter the new covenant.  “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear” (Heb. 8:13). We cannot mix these covenants, not even a little: “Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.  You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).

Circumcision isn’t the issue it once was.  But we can fill in the blank with any law we wish.  For instance, Saturday, not Sunday, is the seventh day of the week and is the Sabbath referred to in the law.  Some teach if we do not assemble on Saturday we are displeasing the Lord.  But Paul says we cannot keep parts of the law and disregard others.  To their credit, some who observe the Sabbath follow dietary laws such as not eating pork.  But do they sacrifice twice a day in a temple in Jerusalem?[1][2]  Do they practice stoning?[3]  If the answer to these questions is “No” (and it most certainly is), then they are law-breakers and are violating the covenant they have chosen.  “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10).  Moreover, their choice to mix the old and new covenants may alienate them from the grace of Christ  (Gal. 5:4).

Others grant that we are free from ceremonial laws like the Sabbath but emphasize the moral law or the Ten Commandments.  As we have said, these laws are fulfilled by Christ in us.  But if I believe the Ten Commandments are fulfilled by me and not by Christ in me, then I must observe circumcision, the feast of trumpets, and every other Old Testament law (Gen. 17:12; Lev. 23:23-25).  “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” (Gal. 310; Deut. 27:26).

Believers also struggle with making the New Testament into a new law.  Sometimes, Christianity is just an old covenant based on the last 27 books of the Bible.  Accordingly, some say head coverings for women (mentioned in 1 Corinthians 11:5) are required to please God.  Others conclude that instruments shouldn’t be played in church because they aren’t mentioned in New Testament worship instructions  (i.e. 1 Cor. 14:26-40).  More commonly, Christians burden themselves with Jesus’s command to disciple all nations.  Daily Bible study and prayer quickly turn into laws.  And holiness is a responsibility that many take on themselves with morbid obsessiveness.

We need to ask ourselves (as we did with the Old Testament) what God intends for us to understand from the New Testament.  Are we to draw from the New Testament commands about behavior and religious practice?  If our answer was no regarding the law of Moses, it must emphatically be no regarding the New Testament.  If the object of the law is to present Christ and help us live in divine relationship, then much more is this the objective of the New Testament.  Certainly, New Testament authors give instruction and bring correction in light of Christ.  But there is no longer any relationship with God based on correct behavior or religious practice.  We relate to God in Christ or we do not relate.

            Regardless of how the law smuggles itself in, it has no place in the church.  As Paul said of those wanting the Galatians to accept a mixed gospel, “But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel other than the one we preached to you, let him be eternally condemned!” (Gal. 1:9).  We are fond of quoting John 14:6 to unbelievers about other religions: “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’”  Perhaps we need to quote this verse to ourselves as a commentary on Christian religion and the reinventions of the old covenant that supplant Christ as our preferred way to God.

Excerpted from my booklet, “Wonderful Thing in Your Law


[1] Numbers 28:3-8.

[2] Deuteronomy 12:4-6; 2 Kings 21:4.

[3] Numbers 15:32-36.

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