On Law and Liberty - Part 2
In the first part of my essay on God and Liberty, I explained how we are never under more than one law at times in God's economy. Before we go further in examining the nature of our new Law under Christ, it’s important to understand that the law it replaces is a single entity in scripture.
The Indivisible Law
Contrary to what you may have been taught, the Bible never divides the Law of Moses into separate parts. In truth, there are not “parts” or divisions to the Law of Moses, nor do some of the Mosaic Laws remain in effect today while others have disappeared. The Law was given to the Israelites as a single unit consisting of 613 commandments, and Scripture always refers to the Law as an indivisible whole.
Perhaps the clearest explanation of this principle comes from Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum of Ariel Ministries when he teaches:
It is the principle of the unity of the Law of Moses that lies behind the statement found in James 2:10: “For whosoever shall keep the whole law; and yet stumble in one point, he is become guilty of all.” The point is clear: a person needs only to break one of the 613 commandments to be guilty of breaking all of the Law of Moses. This can only be true if the Mosaic Law is a unit...To bring the point closer to home, if a person eats ham, according to the Law of Moses he is guilty of breaking the Ten Commandments, although none of them says anything about eating ham.” - Excerpt from MBS006
A Christian can’t pick a few elements from the Law (e.g., the Ten Commandments) and place them in a special category apart from the rest of the Mosaic Law, especially if our purpose in doing so is an attempt to preserve them alongside the Law of Christ. Rather, the Mosaic Law is an all or nothing proposition: either a man lives under the Law of Moses and keeps all 613 laws, or he lives by faith and dispenses with the Mosaic Law entirely in favor of the newer, better law of Christ.
Despite this clear teaching of scripture, Christians are too often drawn toward combining the two laws in practice, if not in theology. Generally, these combinations are subtle, especially at first, and they usually begin with improper teaching on the purpose of the Mosaic law itself.
For example, a man might one day hear his pastor teaching that Christians should observe a Sabbath by avoiding all work on Sundays. Since the idea seems sensible (and without proper teaching concerning the purpose of the Mosaic Law and the Sabbath), the man may be persuaded to put what he heard into action.
The next week, he refuses to work any future Sunday shift at his factory job. Though he may feel good for his decision (and though it might be sensible for other reasons), the man has instituted a needless restriction for himself based on a false premise (i.e., God’s word obligates the believer to avoid work on Sundays). In reality, the Sabbath restriction was instituted for the Jewish nation under the Law of Moses while the Christian who has God and liberty has no such restriction given in Scripture.
Later the man learns from his Sunday school teacher that Jewish culture observed the Sabbath on the last day of their week (Saturday) and not on Sundays. After further consideration the man decides to change his day of rest from Sunday to Saturday: he begins attending Saturday night worship services and refuses to work Saturday shifts at his job. Through it all, he grows increasingly self-satisfied that his strict adherence to God’s word has pleased God.
Assuming this man's decisions were not prompted by the leading of the Holy Spirit, he has merely performed a work of his flesh (i.e., following his own plan to obtain or display righteousness), and therefore he has pleased no one but himself.
Under the Law of Christ, it doesn’t concern God what day we attend worship services or if we cease working on one day of the week (Col 2:16). On the other hand, the reasons we choose to do such things do matter to God.
If our actions are based on a mistaken belief that God requires us to adhere to the Mosaic Law, then we are acting like the unbelieving Jews of Paul’s day who displayed a zeal for God but not in accordance with knowledge (Rom 10:2). We are repeating the sin of the Galatian church who desired to return to a yoke of slavery (Gal 4:9-10; 5:1; 5:4).
Since that Law no longer exists for a Christian, we cannot look to it for a defense of our actions. God cannot approve our behavior according to a standard that He Himself has removed for us (Rom 8:3-4). Rather, we are to be led by the Spirit, and must take our direction from Him (Gal 5:18).
The real danger for any Christian's misguided attempts to "keep" the Law is in its subtle and inevitable progression toward legalism, a lifestyle that views righteousness in terms of strict rules and limitations on freedom. Left unchecked by the counsel of Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit, living the Law often leads to neo-Pharisaical thinking and a life burdened with rules and restrictions designed to please God by works of our flesh. Sadly, works of the flesh neither please God nor make us holy.
Paul points out the fruitlessness of attempting to become holy through restrictions on living in his letter to the Colossian church, when he writes:
These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body but are of no value against fleshly indulgence. - Col 2:23
Paul condemns legalistic restrictions again in his letter to the Galatian church, when he insists that those Christians who have acquired a desire to live by the Mosaic Law (and to be circumcised as well) were “boasting in their flesh” (Gal 6:12-13).
Paul reminded the Galatians that they were saved by God’s Spirit, not by their own efforts, yet their flesh still desired to take credit for God’s work. The Galatians were attempting to stack their good works on top of grace in a futile attempt to increase their righteousness before God and, if it were possible, participate in their own justification or define their own path to sanctification.
Today, I believe many Christians are unwittingly following in the Galatians’ footsteps, seeking to please God through works of the flesh, so that they might boast in their own righteousness.
A Better Law
Righteousness before God is so much more than simply keeping the Ten Commandments or even the entire Law of Moses. Paul himself said that righteousness was manifested apart from the Law and that no one will be justified by working the works of the Law (a statement he repeats in Galatians). Not only does this mean we can't be saved by working the Law, but neither can we manifest holiness in our lives as Christians by pursuing the Law.
Both our justification and our sanctification are found only in Christ's life and Spirit living in us, since if we have broken one commandment, we have broken them all. Therefore, everyday we break all the Law, but thankfully God provided a better way to pleasing him: faith in Christ and reliance on the Holy Spirit means through faith in Him we have established or upheld the Law (Rom 3:31).
The principle reason that the New Covenant is called “good news” is because of how it addresses all the weaknesses and deficiencies of the Old Covenant. Among its many improvements, the New Covenant we have in Christ provides a means of living a holy life, where before the Law was powerless to accomplish the same (Heb 7:18-19).
Rather than attempting to keep a set of laws written on stone, which neither adjust nor grow to address our changing circumstances, Christians are to be guided by the Spirit indwelling us (Gal 5:13-18). As the Spirit convicts us of wrong behavior and instructs us concerning the ways of righteousness, we grow more Christ-like (e.g., 1Cor 2:16; Col 2:6-7).
In submitting to the Spirit, we are living according to the Law of Christ (e.g., Rom 8:4; 12:1; Col 1:10; 2John 4-6). Walking according to the Spirit is now the law guiding all believers, and it’s the only law we need.