Written By Ken Alexander
It seems we are coming across more Christians who want to put us back under the Old Testament law. In some ways we admire their zeal to obey God, and we love them as beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. We simply have a a significant fundamental disagreement as to whether the Church is a continuation of Israel, or is it a new nation, in a new wine skin, living in a new age, which God has designed for mankind? Just as the first 2,000 years of early beginnings there was no law, yet God worked with mankind, then the next 2,000 years God worked in developing a people from Abraham through the nation Israel. Now we are in the 2,000 years of a new Church age where it is clear that circumcision, temple sacrifices, and a myriad of other OT laws that were intended to help govern a nation no longer apply to the new entity called the Church.
This idea that the Church must adopt OT laws and practices is not a new phenomena but a very old one that the apostle Paul had to deal with back in his days as the Judaizers would infiltrate newly formed Christian churches and teach that God demands that the believer adopt Jewish customs and practices given to Israel in the Torah. They may say that salvation is not the issue, but would emphasize that to not to keep the laws of the Torah and its ceremonies are sin and lawlessness, despite the New Testament completely destroying this false teaching in multiple places. The Church too throughout history has rejected the idea. We cannot more wholeheartedly disagree with the Judaizer as this matter was settled by the apostles at the Jerusalem Council in the book of Acts and further refuted regularly by the apostle Paul in his epistles, especially in his letter to the Galatians.
“O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are ye so foolish? having begun in the Spirit, are ye now made perfect by the flesh? Have ye suffered so many things in vain? if it be yet in vain. He therefore that ministers to you the Spirit, and worketh miracles among you, does he it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith” (Galatians 3:1-5).
Before we are misunderstood, we are also in strong disagreement with many in the modern church who advocate “easy believism.” They want to see the grace of Christ forgiving all sins as “love wins” souls by faith alone, even if there are no signs of the Christian life or fruit of the Spirit in their life. A profession of faith is not all it takes to be saved. We are told,
“For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:8-10). Please note that the verse says after one is saved by “grace through faith” they become the “workmanship” of God “created unto good works.” These good works include the works of righteousness as we are to look like Jesus more and more each day of our Christian walk.
So here we have the two extremes. One that wants to take the grace of God and turn it into works by focusing on obedience to rules and laws, and the other which wants to falsely teach that a simple assent to certain doctrinal beliefs in Jesus is enough to gain salvation. The fact is that faith in Christ alone IS enough to be granted eternal life by God’s grace alone, BUT who God saves He ALWAYS grows up to bear fruit, often 30, 60, and 100-fold. If someone says that they believe in the Lord Jesus Christ but cannot point to regular fruit in their life, they should question their faith and go back to the cross to find Jesus in a real and meaningful way. For belief always results in actions that conform with one’s beliefs. Not always perfectly but in time. It should be easy to see a changed life growing up into Christ Jesus, just as God has promised.
Now back to the modern day Judaiziers who want to put Christians back under the Mosaic and OT laws. The Christian Church has long held that the apostles settled the matter at the beginning of the church age in Acts 15, and that much of the Mosaic laws shall not be demanded of the Gentile believers. The question of circumcision was the first test and the conclusion was that Gentiles who come to the faith are not required to obey one of the most important laws of Judaism.
“But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.’ The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, ‘Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.'” (Acts 15:5-11).
Then the conclusion given by James, the head of the church of Jerusalem, as he said:
“Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood” (Act 15:19-21).
Thus we have the conclusion of the important 1st Apostolic council that the Gentile believers should not be troubled by OT and Jewish laws. This did not mean that righteousness was no longer to be the fruit of salvation as most of the Ten Commandments are repeated for the Church in the New Testament along with many other moral and practical admonitions first found in the OT. But the commands of the NT are far more practical in building the Kingdom of God on earth than the OT laws which were used to govern the nation Israel in far more ancient times prior to God becoming man and fulfilling the law so that you and I no longer stand under its condemnation.
What is very important to understand is that God has not worked with mankind the same way throughout history. This does not mean that God changes, but the program for man that He has designed has changed age by age, and will change again when Christ returns to be King in the final age of His 1,000 year reign.
God had given to the children of Israel the Mosaic Covenant (Old Covenant) which was conditional and based on their works. It’s summary might be this: Keep My laws and ways and you will be blessed. Disobey My laws and ways and you will reap destruction on you and your land. (Deut. 30:15-18). This approach God took with Israel proved mankind’s total inability to keep God’s laws, nor achieve the righteousness of God by works. One could say that the experiment of the nation Israel was a failure until one consider that this was all God’s way of driving mankind back to Him, and it is out of Israel comes the Messiah. Really, it was no failure at all, but simply one more act in His-story. And God will restore Israel in the end of times, and we are seeing that today. The land and the rulership of the Messiah cannot be separated from Israel as during the Millennium when Christ will rule the earth from Jerusalem and fulfill each and every promise made to the nation Israel.
Jesus speaks of New Wineskins to contain the New Covenant of His blood and His people now become those of the body of Christ, the Church. According to Jesus, the Church is a different and unique nation and not a continuation of Israel. It is here that many Christians get messed up in their theology, not understanding that God works in distinctly different ways with different periods of time, all culminating in the Millennial reign of Christ from Jerusalem over the whole earth. Where both Jew and Christian will partake of the rich promise that “I will be their God and they will be my people” (Zech. 8:8; 2 Cor. 2:16).
But for the Church, Communion, as given by Jesus, becomes the heart of the Church’s ceremony and replaces the laws concerning the Passover celebration and temple sacrifice. Baptism, again initiated by Jesus, becomes the mark of the New Covenant for the obedient believer, similar to circumcision which was the sign of obedience for the Jew in the Old Covenant. Elders are appointed in the churches as leaders instead of priests. The believer is granted direct access to the throne of God by way of our mediator Christ Jesus instead of having to go through the priest. And most importantly, the Spirit of God does not only come upon certain men from time to time as He did in the OT, but rather God’s Spirit now lives in and through us leading us to truth and gives us the power to be able to say “no” to sin and “yes” to righteousness.
The differences between the Old Covenant and New Covenant are a stark contrast, yet some want to mix them together, believing that they are achieving a greater level of righteousness by wearing tassels on their clothing, keeping the Sabbath laws and feasts, and not eating bacon. Some are even sending their wives and daughters out of their homes when they menstruate (Lev. 15:19-30). Things that the book of Hebrews and Colossians make clear were but a shadow of things to come but now fulfilled in Christ Jesus once He shed His blood on the cross. The cross changed everything!
What gets me most upset is the Pharisaical zeal by which some are trying to proselytize, and even condemn, their fellow believers to hell for not following their religious zeal by following the Torah. It is one thing if they, as the apostle Paul admonishes, held onto their convictions as there own before the Lord. It is another to try and force matters of conscience upon your brother and sister when our consciences are completely clear before God to worship on Sundays and eat pork. Speak your peace and hold firm to your convictions, but stop trying to put other believers back under the law when we have found the better way of life in Christ Jesus. This is contrary to what you are commanded to do in the New Testament. (Study Galatians.)
Allowing Christ to live in and through us is the promise of the New Covenant. God’s laws are written on our hearts so that we can walk righteously without sin each and every moment of the day when we trust God fully at His Word. If we sin, it is not that we are not keeping a law, but rather that our faith is weak, or underdeveloped and not being exercised.
In the New Covenant and the Church age, we walk not as law keepers but we live as the children of God. Our whole mindset is changed from “trying not to sin” to rather trying to please our loving Heavenly Father. What the Judaizers fail to understand is that God wants a New Covenant and wants to do away with the equation of “law and sin” and replace it with an actual relationship with His children. A Father son and daughter relationship instead of a taskmaster who is always condemning us for coming up short in keeping laws that even the apostles agreed were a burden not a joy.
The apostle Paul and the book of Hebrews make it very clear that the old model and Old Covenant were defective and had to be replaced by a New Covenant. This New Covenant was intended for all believers not just the two houses of Israel, which too will be grafted back into the Olive Tree when God turns once to the Jews again and “all will be saved” (Romans 11:28).
It is the letter of the law that kills, but the Spirit of God brings life.
“God, who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Cor. 3:6). That same law these people want to put us back under brings only will worship and death. Only salvation through the blood of Christ Jesus can save us and only His Spirit working mightily in us can keep us from being entangled in sin again. Not the law or how we keep the law.
That said, how a believer tries to please God and His heavenly Father can prove where his or her heart is. But tell me, Judaizer, when you cannot even fully keep the New Testament commands, why do you go back and try to live under the Old Covenant and its laws and punishments that were given to the nation Israel? If you are a Jew, you may have a reason, but still have faulty theology to give up your freedom. But for a Gentile to do this is nonsense, and worse yet, destructive to advancing the Kingdom of God for all those trying to find a redo of the Acts 15 council’s decision; and may I add every Church council since that time! Why are you trying to bother the clear consciences of Christians with laws that applied to a different age and have no place in the Church? If they had a place in the Church would not God have repeated His will in the New Testament, or with one command say, “I expect all Christians to follow the Mosaic law.” Instead, God tells us the opposite, that we “are not under the law, but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
So the apostles send a letter to the Churches that says: “For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15: 28-29). There is no mention of any further requirements in this official letter as it pertains to the Mosaic law; not even circumcision, a major and most critical OT law!
Here is Paul’s clear teaching on the matter to the Judaizers under the inspiration of God:
“Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ… If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why, as if you were still alive in the world, do you submit to regulations— “Do not handle, Do not taste, Do not touch” (referring to things that all perish as they are used)—according to human precepts and teachings? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting self-made religion and asceticism and severity to the body, but they are of no value in stopping the indulgence of the flesh. (Col. 2:16-23)
And in Romans 14 the Apostle writes: “One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord… Why do you pass judgment on your brother? Or you, why do you despise your brother?”
If you want to observe the Sabbath, then do it. Do you believe that by not eating bacon you are honoring God, then honor Him that way. If you believe wearing tassels reminds you of your obedience to Christ, then wear them. But be careful on your quest to please God that you do not find yourself practicing the same old will-worship of the Pharisees, or worse, disobediently trying to force your convictions and wrong teachings upon others who are walking in the freedom and liberty of Christ. Clean out the leaven from your homes and wear out your beards, but you are missing out in much of the fat and richness of the Abrahamic Covenant where faith alone is all we really have to offer God, not the law which no longer has purpose in the Church age.
You will not put us back under laws that God did not ask the Church to follow in the New Testament. There is a reason why it is called NEW Testament and the Old is the OLD Testament. The letter to the Galatians clearly outlines the believer’s freedom in Christ and that our relationship to God is not as rule keepers, but sons and daughters who are to seek to please God in how we live a life of faith, love, and Christ’s righteousness. But yes, let us be careful to not go on sinning, for walking in righteousness by pleasing God is proof that our lives have been changed from the inside out by the Spirit of God.
Let us also heed God’s admonitions to first, stand fast in liberty and second, do not allow it to give occasion to the flesh, nor be entangled again with the yoke of bondage to sin. For the Son has set us free, so we will be free indeed. Freed from sin, not free to sin. But with all the clear admonitions and commands of the New Testament which are challenging enough to follow, why would anyone want to go back and live under laws written for the nation Israel for a particular time and purpose, especially after God declares the Old Covenant obsolete? For the purpose of the Mosaic Covenant was to prove mankind as incapable of living up to God’s demands, and the New Covenant is all about understanding who we are in Christ Jesus, for we are His righteousness in Christ Jesus (2 Cor. 5:21).
We should no longer think of our relationship with God as law keepers, but instead see a vibrant and loving personal relationship in Christ Jesus who has fulfilled the law for us. When God sees me at the judgment seat, Christ’s record will be my record, and my record will belong to Christ who is my atonement for my sins. This alone should keep us from wanting to put more sins upon the cross of Christ, and to walk in obedience as faithful children, instead of as a slave to the Law (Gal. 4:4-11). No longer think “don’t sin, don’t sin, don’t sin,” but rather walk in the new found righteousness of Christ as worthy sons and daughters of the King!
For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage.
Galatians 5:1, 13
***Church Father Ignatius from 100 AD: “Be not deceived with strange doctrines, nor with old fables, which are unprofitable. For if we still live according to the Jewish law, we acknowledge that we have not received grace.”
“It is absurd to profess Christ Jesus and to Judaize. For Christianity did not embrace Judaism but Judaism Christianity, that so every tongue which believes might be gathered together to God.”