Print Ready Copy|
Christians Observe the Law?
We are living in LAWLESS times. Criminal
violence has reshaped the way we live. Many people feel that they are no
longer safe on the streets or in the privacy of their own homes. Did the
writers of the New Testament come up with a new system in which the Law
was somehow eliminated? Was God's Law "nailed to the cross" because it
did not truly reflect a continuation of His divine will?
Who would deny that we are living in a
LAWLESS time? In every public opinion poll taken over the last ten
years, crime has been one of the top five concerns to the American
public. Criminal violence has reshaped the way we live. Many
Americans feel that they are no longer safe on the streets or in the
privacy of their own homes. We are uneasy with the fact that our
nation's drug problem is completely out of control.
Yes, we are living in LAWLESS times. Why is
there such disregard for the law? Why has our society degenerated to the
point where law means so little? Could it be that the teachings of the
churches of this world are somehow related to this serious problem? As a
professing Christian nation, the United States claims to have a legal
system based on the laws of the Bible. Our forefathers recognized the
inherent value of God's laws and made attempts to found a nation on
those precepts. Yet churches teach that the Law found in the Bible has
been done away! Many ministers say that the Law has been replaced by
Is this viewpoint correct? Did the writers of
the New Testament come up with a new system in which the Law was somehow
eliminated? Was God's Law "nailed to the cross" because it did not truly
reflect a continuation of His divine will? Or, put another way,
should Christians observe the Law ? The answer to this last question is
"Now what kind of an answer is `yes, yes,
yes, and no?'" You are no doubt asking at this time. Perhaps you are
thinking that this seems like a flippant response to a very weighty
Four Types of Law
It is important to understand that there are
four types of Law mentioned in the New Testament. It is essential to
understand the differences among the four if you are to answer the
question posed above.
#1--The Ten Commandments
The first type of Law is described in Romans
13:8-10. Here the apostle Paul writes:
"Owe no man any thing, but to love one
another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. For this,
Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not
bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet: and if there be any other
commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou
shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. Love worketh no ill to his
neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law." The word law in
this instance was translated from the Greek word nomos. When Paul writes
about refraining from committing adultery, stealing, bearing false
witness, and coveting, what Law is he referring to? He is obviously
speaking of the Ten Commandments found in Exodus 20.
Our first type of Law is the Ten Commandments
The second type of Law is discussed in the
Gospel of Luke. Here Jesus says, "...These are the words which I spake
unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled,
which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the
psalms, concerning me" (Luke 24:44). Again, in this instance, the word
law was translated from the Greek word nomos. In this passage, Jesus is
putting his stamp of approval on the Sacred Scriptures of the Jews--the
same Old Testament we find in our Bibles. The Old Testament was
topically divided into three parts: the Law, the Prophets, and the
Psalms or Writings.
The Law that Jesus referred to in Luke 24:44
encompasses the first five books of the Bible, which are also known as
the Torah (Hebrew) or the Pentateuch (Greek).
Our second type of Law, then, is the Torah or
the books of the Old Testament known as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus,
Numbers, and Deuteronomy written by Moses.
#3--Old Testament Revelation in General
The apostle John writes about the third type
of Law in his Gospel.
"Jesus answered them, Is it not written in
your law, I said, Ye are gods?" (John 10:34). Once again, the word law
was translated from the Greek word nomos. What Law was Jesus speaking of
in this passage? It cannot be the two types we have already discussed.
Neither the Ten Commandments nor the first five books of the Bible make
the statement, "Ye are gods." This statement is found in Psalms 82:6,
which brings us to our third type of Law: Old Testament revelation in
general. These Laws Are In Harmony.
When reading either the Old Testament or the
New Testament, we find that the above types of Law are never in
contradiction with each other. They complement each other. The Ten
Commandments do not conflict with the Torah. The Torah does not conflict
with Old Testament revelation in general. Instead, they are contained
within each other. The Ten Commandments are found within the Torah. The
Torah is found within the Old Testament. The above types of Law can be
called sets and subsets.
#4--Tradition of the Elders
We then find a fourth type of laws. These
laws are not inspired of God, but were made by men. These "laws" were
actually a set of regulations that the scribes and Pharisees considered
as binding as God's revealed will. Included among them were
interpretations of biblical principles.
In the Sermon on the Mount, for example,
Jesus has just established the validity of the Old Testament (Matthew
5:17-19). He then goes on to correct the interpretations of rabbinic
tradition relating to divorce, murder, hatred of one's enemies, oaths,
and other principles (Matthew 5:21-43). When a biblical law is listed,
Jesus in no way opposes it; rather He requires a stricter code of
conduct. Hatred of one's enemies was not commanded in the Law, but it
was a belief in certain Jewish sects, and Jesus sets the record straight
by hearkening back to the original intent of Leviticus 19:18. "Is it
lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" the scribes and Pharisees asked Jesus
later in His ministry. "Is it lawful to pluck grain on the Sabbath for
food? Is it lawful to give tribute to Caesar?"
Jesus spoke AGAINST these "laws," which are also called the
traditions of the elders.
Then came to Jesus scribes and Pharisees,
which were of Jerusalem, saying, Why do thy disciples transgress the
tradition of the elders? for they wash not their hands when they eat
bread. But he (Jesus) answered and said unto them, Why do ye also
transgress the commandment of God by your tradition? For God commanded,
saying, Honour thy father and mother: and, He that curseth father or
mother, let him die the death. But ye say, Whosoever shall say to his
father or his mother, It is a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be
profited by me; And honor not his father or his mother, he shall be
free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of none effect by your
tradition (Matthew 15:1-6).
Notice that the scribes and Pharisees
condemned Jesus' disciples for not washing their hands before eating.
Where did the scribes and Pharisees find this requirement? The Ten
Commandments, the Torah, and the Old Testament do not include such a
rule! Rather, this ordinance was found in their own man-made laws which
had been added to what God had given in the Old Testament.
A good example of the conflict between Jesus
and these self-righteous Jews occurred when He healed a crippled man,
described in John 5. In verses 8 and 9 Jesus told the man to take up his
bed and walk. This miracle took place on the Sabbath day. What was the
response of the religious teachers who were steeped in the traditions of
"The Jews therefore said unto him that was
cured, It is the sabbath day: it is not lawful for thee to carry thy
bed" (verse 10).
In this Scripture, was the word lawful
translated from the Greek word nomos or a variant of nomos? No. An
entirely different word is used. The original Greek word was exetazo,
referring to an entirely different type of "law": one that is a
customary practice, rather than of divine origin.
An extremely important question needs to be
asked at this point: "Whose law?" What law forbade this man from
carrying his bed after he had been miraculously healed by Jesus? Was it
the Ten Commandments? Was it the first five books of the Bible? Was it
in the Old Testament?
...NO! The "law" which prohibited this man
from carrying his bed was the tradition of the elders! These "laws" were
ADDED to the Ten Commandments. These "laws" were created by men--not by
The Reason For the Added
In order to understand the problem that Jesus
faced regarding this fourth set of laws--the added laws--we need to
understand the history of the Jews. The Jews during the time of Jesus'
earthly ministry knew their ancestors had gone into captivity because
they had broken God's Laws contained in the Old Testament. When the Jews
returned to Palestine after their captivity (several hundred years
before the birth of Jesus), they rebuilt their temple and made a sincere
attempt to ensure that they would never break the divine Laws again.
They looked at the Sabbath as a beautiful garden which was not to be
trampled. They vowed as a nation to do everything possible to please God
when it came to Commandment keeping.
In their zeal, they actually went too far.
They decided to add further restrictions to the Commandments to ensure
that they were kept properly. They not only built a fence around this
beautiful garden, they added another fence and then another and then
another. By the time of Jesus, these rules--the oral traditions of the
elders as opposed to the written laws of the Old Testament--had become
so detailed that they were a burden on the people.
These traditional laws formed the basis of a
series of writings known as the Talmud, compiled from 200-500 AD. Here
are some examples of the rules that the Jews added to God's law. The
children of Israel had been given instructions on how to observe the
Sabbath. On one occasion, they were told,
"See, for that the Lord hath given you the
sabbath, therefore he giveth you on the sixth day the bread of two days:
abide ye every man in his place, let no man go out of his place on the
seventh day" (Exodus 16:29).
After returning from captivity in Babylon,
the Jews decided that "place" in this Scripture actually meant "city."
They correctly understood that they were not to be doing extensive
traveling on the Sabbath--they were to rest instead. They reasoned that
each city averaged about 3/5 of a mile in diameter. In their
understanding, God did not want a person to travel farther than a
certain distance on the Sabbath. They therefore estimated that the
maximum allowable distance was about 3/5 of a mile. This became known to
the Jews as a Sabbath day's journey. We find reference to this commonly
accepted idea in Acts 1:12, where Luke writes that the Mount of Olives
was about a Sabbath day's journey from Jerusalem. Did the Old Testament
actually forbid God's people from traveling further than 3/5 of a mile
on the Sabbath? No. The idea of an arbitrary distance was added to the
Law. It became a tradition of the elders.
Another example of these man-made traditions
is found in the area of dietary laws. Again, after their departure from
Egypt, the children of Israel were given laws about what to eat and what
not to eat. In Leviticus 11 they were told which animals are clean and
which animals are unclean. They were also restricted in their
preparation of animals for consumption. For example,
"...Thou shalt not seethe a kid in his
mother's milk" (Exodus 23:19).
We are not told WHY we are not to seethe
(boil) the meat of a kid goat in his mother's milk. Perhaps it is for
health reasons. We just don't know. The fact remains that it is
forbidden. In their sincere efforts to make sure that no one broke this
law, the Jews added to it by prohibiting all meat products cooked with
milk products. Today, many Jews have three sets of dishes: Dishes for
meat products, dishes for milk products, and dishes for Passover meals.
Because of what their forefathers added to the Old Testament, devout
Jews are now restricted from eating things such as creamed chipped beef
and cheeseburgers. These dishes combine milk with meat.
When Jesus' disciples went about their
business, they sometimes ignored these laws. The self-righteous Jews
condemned them for not following their special rules. And this is one of
the main reasons that Jesus was in constant conflict with the Scribes,
Pharisees, and Sadducees.
At no time did Jesus ever disagree with or do
away with the Law found in the Ten Commandments, the Torah, or the Old
Testament in general! His conflict with the Jews was over the ADDITIONS
to the divine Law. If at any time Jesus had suggested that the Law was
to be repealed or abolished, He surely would have been stoned by the
religious leaders of His time. Doing away with the Law was not open for
discussion, but heightening the Law was. Thus we find areas of
contention in first-century Judaism relating to Sabbath practices, such
as defending oneself on the Sabbath, preparing food, or traveling, but
no debates on the validity of the Law of Moses.
The New Testament and the Law
Perhaps you don't believe that Jesus obeyed
the Law. Perhaps you believe what many churches teach--that He did away
with the Law. Read His own words for yourself:
"Think not that I am come to destroy the
law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill" (Matthew
He also taught:
"Whosoever therefore shall break one of
these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the
least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them,
the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (verse 19).
Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law--not the
destroyer of the Law. Notice what He said when people came to Him and
asked what they should do if they were to become His disciples. He had a
very clear answer for them:
"And, behold, one came and said unto him,
Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
And he said unto him, Why callest thou me good? there is none good but
one, that is, God: but if thou wilt enter into life, keep the
commandments" (Matthew 19:16-17).
If asked that question, most ministers in
churches of the world would NOT include the answer Jesus gave! And, in
case there was any doubt about which commandments He meant, Jesus listed
"...Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou
shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Honour thy father
and thy mother: and, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself" (verses
Where do we find these Commandments? Why, in
Exodus 20! Jesus is quoting the Ten Commandments that were given to the
children of Israel! Jesus did not say, "Just love your neighbor and
accept me." No. He said that those who would follow Him should OBEY
When Jesus said, "Love thy neighbor as
thyself," He was quoting from the Torah! He was not inventing a new,
consolidated law that eradicated all other laws. He expanded them to
such a degree that adultery could be committed merely by lusting!
The Apostles Taught to Obey
After Jesus was resurrected, His Church began
preaching the Gospel to the world. And those very apostles taught that
the Law was not done away! The apostles did not teach that the Law was a
CURSE. They taught that the Law was given to lead men to Christ:
"Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to
bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith" (Galatians
People still need the law to bring them to
Christ! What then does Paul mean by saying,
"But after that faith is come, we are no
longer under a schoolmaster" (Galatians 3:25)?
The same thing he meant when he wrote to the
Church of God in Rome:
"But now we are delivered from the law,
that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of
spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter. What shall we say then? Is
the Law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law; for I
had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet"
Paul is following Jesus' example by teaching
the Law and quoting from one of the Ten Commandments. He goes on to say:
"Wherefore the law is holy, and the
commandment holy, and just, and good... For we know that the law is
spiritual..." (verses 12, 14).
Paul tells us that the Law is for us in our
everyday lives as Christians. He delighted in the law of God and served
it, although he knew he was also capable of sin (verses 22-25). In
Romans 2:13, Paul wrote:
"For not the hearers of the law are just
before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified."
Is Paul alone in his teaching that the Law is
binding on Christians? No, the apostle John also tells us:
"For this is the love of God, that we keep
his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous" (I John 5:3).
How about the apostle Peter? What does he say
about this vital subject? He actually prophesied that there would be men
who taught that the Law is done away. Peter warned that a person should
not accept Christ and then turn away from keeping the Commandments:
"For if after they have escaped the
pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter
end is worse with them than the beginning. For it had been better for
them not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have
known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them" (2
This is quite a statement! Peter tells us
that we are not to forsake the "holy commandment" which we have been
given once our eyes are opened to the truth. He finishes his thought by
"But it is happened unto them according to
the true proverb, The dog is turned to his own vomit again: and the sow
that was washed to her wallowing in the mire" (verse 22).
Once we have accepted Christ and His
teachings, we cannot reject His Commandments and live a life of
What About Grace?
"But what about GRACE? Doesn't this free us
from having to keep the Law?" This is probably one of the most commonly
asked questions in Christianity. We must never lose sight of the fact
that the Law cannot and does not save us! Ephesians 2:8 says,
"For by grace are ye saved through faith:
and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God."
All the possible observances of the Law
cannot save a single person. If you were to keep the Law perfectly every
day of your life, you would still not be saved. Salvation can come only
when we accept the blood of Jesus as a free gift. When Peter preached
salvation, he said we must repent of our sins (Acts 2:38). Now we come
to a pivotal point of understanding--the area that most churches simply
do not comprehend!
When Peter tells us to repent of sin, we must
answer the question, "What is sin?" Can you agree that, if you do not
know what sin is, you cannot repent? The concepts of sin and repentance
are BASIC to Christianity. We find a very clear definition of sin in 1
John 3:4: "Sin is transgression of the law."
How could it be clearer? If we are to accept
Jesus, we must repent of transgressing the Law! Does this mean that
after conversion we can expect to keep the Law perfectly? Of course not.
Jesus Christ was the only man who lived a perfect, sinless life. But the
Christian is still bound to do his best to love God with all his heart
and to love his neighbor as himself (Deuteronomy 6:5; Matthew 22:37-40).
The way he shows his love to God and man is through obedience to the 10
Commandments (I John 5:3).
The Law Only For Ancient
Still, many people believe that the Law was
only for the nation of Israel. They think that the Law was not in force
before the covenant at Mount Sinai. They also believe that the Law was
not obeyed after the Crucifixion.
We have already shown that the apostles
taught the Law to the New Testament Church. But notice also that the Law
was being observed long before the children of Israel left Egypt. The
Sabbath was observed from Creation (Genesis 2:2-3).
It was wrong to murder in the second
generation after Adam and Eve (Genesis 4:10).
Adultery was forbidden during the time of
Joseph (Genesis 39:7).
Idolatry was a sin before Abraham was born
The Law is for the Christian
"And because of the increase of
lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold" (Matthew 24:12 NRSV).
That's about where we've arrived. The direct
connection between loss of love and lawlessness escapes those who
forsake the commandments as guides for Christians, who forget that John
"By this we know that we love the children
of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the
love of God, that we keep his commandments; and his commandments are not
grievous" (I John 5:2-3).
Yes, we live in a lawless and loveless age,
and the churches are helping to make it so by declaring the law of God
abolished.. The god of this world (2 Corinthians 4:4) would have you
believe that the Law is not a blessing for God's people. Many churches
would have you believe that you do not need the Law, even though the
Bible shows us that the Law was given for our good.
Think of how much better off the world would
be if everyone followed the the royal law of love (James 2:8-10). No,
not the traditions of the elders which Jesus condemned, but the Law
found in the Ten Commandments, the Torah, and the Old Testament.
Reflect on these things the next time you
have to confront the effects of lawlessness in our society. And ask
yourself if you have contributed to the problem by rejecting the Ten
Commandments as your guide for Christian living.
Written by: Wesley White