Friday, August 26, 2011

Keeping The Law By Faith

Here is a long post for the weekend. There may be a series that looks more in depth into this topic, for much more could be said about Law and Faith.

"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:17-20 ESV)

Jesus declares that The Law still stands. That raises several questions, mostly related to why Christians don't keep one part or another of The Law in the Pentateuch. These problems are compounded by an apparent contradiction by Paul. In Galatians 5:18 he says, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law", and in Romans 10:4 says, "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." How can a person know whether or not they are subject to The Law, and which parts? Must you follow The Law, or are you free from its demands?

Jesus says that he came to "fulfill" the Law. This means several things:
  1. Christ is who the Law and Prophets pointed towards. His coming literally fulfills their promise.
  2. We are justified as Christ has kept the Law on our behalf (substitutionary atonement)
  3. Christ is the ultimate substitute for sacrifice (Heb 13:11-15, 9:11-10:14)
One way many have tried to understand the implications is to break The Law into three portions: the Moral Law, the Civil Law and the Ceremonial Law. I'm not convinced it's appropriate to split the Law into distinctions (it seems to be the strength of argument for those wishing to break one part of the Law to fit their lifestyle), but we'll loosely keep that framework here for analysis.

Moral Law

Practically everyone agrees that we all must keep the Moral Law. It is never okay to murder another person. There might be debate about what constitutes the Moral Law, but it practically doesn't matter, because it's summed up in two commands--"And he said to him, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets'" (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV). Love God, love others: that is the Moral Law.

Ceremonial Law

In the next portion we look at the Ceremonial Law. Hebrews strongly shows that Christ's sacrifice on the cross replaces the animal sacrifice ritual. Hebrews 10:1 says that sacrifice was part of the law, but it was just a shadow of things to come. This is one of the great ways that Christ fulfills the Law, and Hebrews 10:4 says that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin.  In that sense, since it was pointing to Christ and fulfilled in Christ, it was a means of grace from the Father. Keeping the Ceremonial Law was an act of faith--a belief that God's Word and covenant were true. Now our faith is in Jesus Christ. We see that Christ has fulfilled the Ceremonial Law when he moved the temple system from a physical location in Jerusalem to the body of Christ. We are the temple (2 Corinthians 6:16-18, John 4:23-24).

Civil Law

The most complex to understand seems to be the Civil Law. These are the commands that appear as if they were meant for living in ancient Jewish society. Mixing of different kinds is not allowed (Leviticus 19:19). Only certain foods are allowed, and there is a large emphasis on "clean" versus "unclean". Matthew Henry makes the insight in his commentary that these regulations were designed to demonstrate the holiness of God's people. God is holy and has called his people to be holy, and these laws were the means by which the Hebrews maintained distinctiveness. It was a reminder for Israel not to mingle with the heathen, the gentiles or the pagan, but to remain single-mindedly devoted to Yahweh. 

The way Christ fulfills this part of the Law is subtly different, but it's within the same chord as his fulfillment of the rest. He took the idea of holiness and moved it from outward practices and placed it on the heart. Just as hate is murder and lust is adultery (Matthew 5:21-30), all holiness is judged by what comes out of a person. So all foods are clean. Mixing fabrics (if done in faith) does not inherently violate the command to be holy. Social mixers with Gentiles is kosher.
And he called the people to him again and said to them, “Hear me, all of you, and understand: There is nothing outside a person that by going into him can defile him, but the things that come out of a person are what defile him.” And when he had entered the house and left the people, his disciples asked him about the parable. And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) And he said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.” (Mark 7:14-23 ESV)
Combined with Acts 10, you see that Christ has fulfilled the Civil Law through gospel inclusion instead of social exclusion.

One interesting thing about Mark 7 is that Jesus still rules out homosexuality (for those that argue it's part of the Ceremonial Law). That's not because it's Moral Law in the sense that you're loving or harming another person, but you're violating the God ordained order of the universe, so you're breaking the Moral Law of loving the Lord with all your heart.


All of these distinctives boil down to the Law of Love (1 Corinthians 16:14) through the Law of Faith (Romans 3:27). So if you can do a thing by faith, it is within the Law, otherwise your conscience breaks the Law. Living by faith, in the Spirit, you will love God and your neighbor. If you do something unloving, then it is not of the Spirit but of the flesh, and that is sin. If you do something without faith, it is sin (Romans 14:23). Read the rest of Romans 14 for a deeper understanding of how this plays out in Christian living.

What is the point, then, of the hundreds of commands? First, they reveal sin and judge men. Second, they give practical guidance on how to love God and neighbor. Third, they show how the world is wrong and incomplete, and they point to something greater--they instill a longing for fulfillment, so they give hope that God will provide salvation.

Now it's possible to see how the Law is not abolished, fulfilled in Christ, and how believers are not bound by the Law. Faith implies the keeping of and fulfillment of the Law. This does not mean a Christian is without sin, for there is still a battle between the flesh and the Spirit (Galatians 5:16-26). But for every failure, Christ has fulfilled the payment of God's wrath on the cross, and by faith the Christian repents and is forgiven.

No comments:

Post a Comment