Thursday, March 1, 2012

Law of Love in the New Testament

In the Church today, there is a common belief that we no longer need to regard the Old Testament Law.  This notion mostly comes from the epistles of Paul, which addressed the matter of circumcision among Gentiles. 

Jesus Taught about the Law
But we would do well to heed the words of Christ.  He is the only foundation of the church, and no man can build on any other foundation.  If you have not read and understood and put into practice the words of Christ, then you should not be building according to the words of the apostles.  First go back to the Words of Christ and heed them! Then you should interpret the words of the apostles based on what Jesus said, rather than interpreting what Jesus said based on the teaching of the apostles.  Jesus' words are where many of our Christian disagreements will be solved.

The Law came through Moses, not through Jesus.  But both grace and Truth came through Jesus (Jn 1:17).  His grace is that you can only be saved by His free gift of eternal life that He purchased with His blood on the cross (Rom 6:23).  And this only happens through a personal relationship with Him by faith (Eph 2:8-9).  His grace teaches us to say no to sin.  It sets us free from sin, so that we can become slaves of righteousness (Rom 6:18).

Truth also came through Jesus.  He is the Truth (Jn 14:6)! And He taught us the truth about the kingdom of God.  When the Kingdom of God is in your life, the Holy Spirit is inside you.  Jesus reigns on the throne of your heart.  And then you want to live righteously.  The Law teaches righteous living (Rom 7:12), and Jesus had much to say about the Law.  Here are some of the things Jesus said about the Law, teaching us what God's heart is behind it:

  • "Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” (Mat 5:17-18)
  • “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail.” (Luk 16:17)
  • "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Mat 5:21-22).  Jesus never said it was all right to murder, to commit adultery, or break the Sabbath.  He taught us the spirit of the Law, the heart of the Father, the mind of Christ behind the Law.  He taught us that God’s standard is much higher than what we see written in the Law. 
  • "For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Mat 5:20). The scribes and Pharisees kept the letter of the law, but Jesus said that our righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, or we will not enter heaven!
  • "For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. "Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Mat 5:18-19)
  • "In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 7:12)
  • He taught the royal law of love and said, "On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets." (Mat 22:40).  The royal law of love sums up the Law and the Prophets. The whole Law and the Prophets depend on this law. This was the point of all that they said and wrote.  Jesus did not say that he cancelled anything written in the Law and Prophets.
  • Jesus was a Teacher of the Law.  When asked what must be done to inherit eternal life, He referred to the Law.  And He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How does it read to you?" (Luk 10:26) When the man referred to the royal law of love for God and others, Jesus said, “Do this and you will live.” (Lk 10:28)
  • "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” (Mat 23:23).  Notice he told them they should have given tithes, but that they should not neglect the weightier provisions of the law!
Five Categories of Law
I like the way Robert Brownell puts it.  Among the “little lessons” (key here for Little Lessons) he teaches on his Spirit Lessons website, he states:

“The Great Apostasy that has entered the Church, is related to the belief that the LAW has been abolished.  Therefore, A Christian needs to separate the Old Testament LAWs into different categories, so it will be very clear which laws we are still to follow. Anyone that says that none of the Old Testament Laws have any consequences today, is mistaken. I've put Old Testament Laws into 5 categories:

    1. The traditions of man, laws and rules that do not have a divine origin. We are NOT to follow these. (i.e. DON'T HEAL ON THE SABBATH)

    2. Temple laws regarding ceremonies and sacrifices. Since Jesus destroyed and rebuilt the temple we no longer do these temple requirements on Earth. Their function is now in the heavenly realm. (i.e. BLOOD SACRIFICE)

    3. Laws reserved solely for the Jews, I don't consider these commandments for every other nation. (i.e. CERTAIN HOLIDAY's)

    4. Laws given by Moses, and confirmed by prophets in later years, and not specifically nullified by any New Testament scripture. I believe these laws still have consequences today. (i.e. INCEST, USERY, 10 COMMANDMENTS).

    5. Laws mentioned by Moses once, but never brought up again anywhere in scripture. (i.e. DON'T WEAR CLOTHES WOVEN FROM 2 DIFFERENT FABRICS, DON'T CUT THE SIDES OF YOUR BEARDS).
Often times when a Christian believer seeks to do the commandments, others will say he is legalistic.  Brownell states, “'Legalistic' is often defined as 'anyone who follows the commandments closer than I do.' The God of the Old testament is the same God of the new testament. Jesus didn't replace God.  He was a greater revelation of who God was.”

I agree with him, and would add to this by saying Jesus didn't replace God.  He is God and is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  Jesus revealed the Father to us, just as He always has been.  He revealed to us the Father’s heart.

I would add to what Brownell states above in the 5 categories of the Law.  Regarding temple laws and sacrifices, here are my comments:

I agree that Jesus fulfills these laws and that their function is in the heavenly realm, or shall we say, in the spirit.  Jesus said he came to fulfill the law (Mt 5:17).  He also said that if they would destroy the temple (His body), that He would rebuild it in three days (Jn 2:19).  He is our high priest, who has gone through the heavenlies (He 4:14).  The blood of God’s Lamb has been shed.  God offered the perfect Lamb for us that we could never offer.  All of the furniture and rooms of the tabernacle are depictions of what was already in heaven (He 9).

But there is still a very real part that the Church has in these sacrifices. The Church is His Body on earth and the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Co 6:19). For example, we are to offer up our very bodies as a holy, living sacrifice to God, and this is our act of worship.  Jesus spoke of this when He said that we must deny ourselves, take up our cross and follow Him daily (Mt 16:24). And there are other sacrifices we must make also, such as doing good, sharing, and giving the sacrifice of praise to God, the fruit of lips that give thanks (He 13:15, 16).

Regarding Brownell’s fifth category of the law, the category of “Laws mentioned by Moses once, but never brought up again anywhere in scripture,” here are my comments:
  • I think these laws are still profitable for us today in some way.  All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; (2Ti 3:16).
  • If we understand God’s thoughts behind them, we can learn what His heart is for us today.  For example, not wearing clothing make from two different kinds of fabric speaks of God’s desire for purity in our lives, so that we would be without mixture, and that even our choice of clothes would reflect that we are not like the world but different and set apart for God.  Our hairstyles should not conform to the worldly fads of the pagans, but show that we are different; we are a holy people.  Everything about us must reflect this, since we are a peculiar people (1 Pe 2:9).  The key is that all of this comes from within a heart that desires to please the Lord, not from external regulations.  "FOR THIS IS THE COVENANT THAT I WILL MAKE WITH THE HOUSE OF ISRAEL AFTER THOSE DAYS, SAYS THE LORD: I WILL PUT MY LAWS INTO THEIR MINDS, AND I WILL WRITE THEM ON THEIR HEARTS. AND I WILL BE THEIR GOD, AND THEY SHALL BE MY PEOPLE.” (He 8:10)
  • We serve God in the newness of the Spirit, not according to the letter of the Law (Ro 7:6).  The Spirit of God knows the mind of Christ and will instruct us how to live, and show us the heart of God, which is consistent with these laws (1 Co 2:16).
James Taught the Law
James was the earthly brother of Christ, who did not believe in Jesus during His earthly ministry.  But later James became a devoted servant of the Lord.  In the epistle of James, he had much to teach us about the Law.  He said:

  • “But one who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does.” (Jam 1:25).  So we are to look intently at the law and abide by it.  We must be doers of it!
  • “If, however, you are fulfilling the royal law according to the Scripture, "YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF," you are doing well. But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. (Jam 2:8,9).  We should fulfill the royal law.  And if we don’t do so, then the law will convict us as lawbreakers!
  • “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all. For He who said, ‘DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY,’ also said, ‘DO NOT COMMIT MURDER.’ Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.” (Jam 2:11)  We cannot pick our favorite parts of the law and only obey those, but disregard the others. 
  • “So speak and so act as those who are to be judged by the law of liberty.” (Jam 2:12)  It is a “Law of liberty,” in that you are free to obey it or not.  But even though you are free, you have a responsibility to it.  And you will be judged by it, depending on whether or not you do what it says.
  • “Do not speak against one another, brethren. He who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks against the law and judges the law; but if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge of it.” (Jam 4:11).  We must be careful that in our behavior and speech we do not speak against the law or judge it.  In that case we would not be a doer of the law as we should!
Peter Taught the Law
Just as James taught the Law, so also did the apostle Peter. When he said in his first epistle, "For it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy,'" (1 Pe 1:16, NIV), he was quoting verbatim from Leviticus 11:44-45. Other Scriptures from the Law that also say to be holy because God is holy include Lev 19:2; 20:7,26. So Peter could have been referring to any one of these or all of them.

Paul Taught the Law
You may not realize it, but even the apostle Paul taught the Law. Of course, he taught us that we are not under Law but under grace.  But he taught us to do what is right, according to the Law.  Let me give you several examples.  He said:

"Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. 'Honor your father and mother”—which is the first commandment with a promise—  'so that it may go well with you and that you may enjoy long life on the earth.'” (Eph 6:1-3)

Notice that he quoted directly from the Law (Ex 20:12; Deut 5:16), citing the commandment of God and its associated promise of long life as the reason why children should obey their parents.  This is in line with his stated view of the Law that "Keeping God’s commands is what counts." (1 Cor 7:19b).

In the same letter to the Corinthians, he wrote, "Who at any time serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat the fruit of it? Or who tends a flock and does not use the milk of the flock? I am not speaking these things according to human judgment, am I? Or does not the Law also say these things? For it is written in the Law of Moses, 'You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing.' God is not concerned about oxen, is He?" (1Co 9:7-9)

For he also said to the Gentile believers in Corinth, "Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says." (1 Cor 14:34).  The reason he required this practice was that it is what the Law says.

Paul also taught that the reason why we should not take revenge is because the Law says that vengeance belongs to the Lord. He wrote: "Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay,' says the Lord."  (Rom 12:19).  In that verse, the apostle was quoting directly from Deuteronomy 32:35.

Paul also cited and upheld God's righteous decree against sin in his letter to the Romans. "Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them." (Rom 1:32, NIV).

Paul taught that “it is not the hearers of the Law who are just before God, but the doers of the Law will be justified.” (Rom 2:13)  He taught that we must be doers of the Law.

Lastly, Paul summed it up as Christ did by saying: "The commandments, 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not covet,' and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Rom 13:9-10, NIV).

Therefore, from all these examples, we can see that the Law was the basis for many of the teachings of Paul, who was inspired by God to write fourteen books of the New Testament. And through his teachings, we can see the Law of Love in the New Testament.

Obedience is Essential for Disciples
Here are just some of the other blogs I have written, which provide a clear and biblical response to the concerns that my obedience doctrine is legalism, especially the first two in the left-hand column:

Is Obedience Optional?
The Law of Christ 
The Law Fulfilled in Us
The Law Established Through Faith
The Cost of Discipleship
The New Covenant
Costly Grace
Deleted Scriptures in the Bible?
Faith Works!
The Obedience of Faith
Is Practical Righteousness a Lost Truth?
The Law is Good if Used Lawfully     
Striving to Enter the Kingdom of God
Aim for Perfection
Righteous Deeds and White Robes
Doing What is Right
Your Rewards Are Based on Your Practice
Partaking of the Divine Nature
Walking in the Perfect Will of God
Pressing on Toward the Goal
Obedience by the Spirit
What Then Must We Observe?

Putting it All Together
Jesus had much to say about the Law.  He taught us the spirit of the Law, and revealed the Father’s will to us.

Our Lord gave His full approval to every jot and tittle of the law and the prophets. He quoted the writings of nearly every prophet, from Moses to Malachi, acknowledging their complete authority, as the word of God, and referring to them as the Scriptures, as unique from all other writings.  His apostles and evangelists always fully recognized the divine origin of those Scriptures and quoted and wrote and preached from them, relying upon them as authority on all matters of faith.  They declared them to be the "oracles of God," given as the Holy Spirit spoke through the mouths of His servants.

The words of Jesus must be the foundation of what we believe and practice as His disciples.  We should not begin building our lives based on the words of the apostles until we have first laid the foundation found in Christ and His words by putting them into practice in our lives.  He did not abolish the law but fulfilled it.  And He calls us to continue to fulfill it, too.  We should fulfill the royal Law.  We are to be doers of it, not only hearers.  It’s a Law of liberty, and we are free to do it or not.  But we have a responsibility to do it, and will be judged by it.

This is not about being born again.  That happens when we believe in our heart that God raised Jesus from the dead and confess Jesus as Lord.  If you turn from sin and confess out loud to someone else who Jesus is, and sincerely mean it, you will be born again (Rom 10:8-13).  You will enter into the New Covenant with Jesus.

But after that, you must not merely give lip service to God. You must do good deeds.  You must live a life of righteous acts.  This means you must live to please the Spirit, Who will lead you to obey the Law of the Spirit of Life that is now written upon your heart.  Always remember that we can do nothing apart from the Lord Jesus (Jn 15:5), and if you keep His commandments, you will abide in His love (Jn 15:10). You must be careful that your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, or else you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.  This is not legalism but a life of love!

Attribution notice: Most Scripture quotations taken from the NASB, unless otherwise noted. Other Scriptures taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® NIV®, where noted.

Author's note: I also recommend reading The New Covenant, Having the Love of God in Your HeartCostly Grace, The Ways of Life, and Obedience by the Spirit, as well as The Flesh vs. the Spirit, in which she saw a man of God in hell for relying on His obedience to the Law to save him. You may also access my complete blog directory at "Writing for the Master." 

Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus.  Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?

“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15).  He preached that we must repent and believe.

Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"

Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International.  He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission.

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