|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. - Matthew 5:18 [ESV]
Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. - Luke 21:33 [ESV]
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. - Hebrews 8:13 [ESV]
The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. - Luke 16:16 [ESV]
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. - Matthew 5:17 [ESV]
For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. - Romans 10:4 [ESV]
So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. - Galatians 3:24 [ESV]
For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. - Hebrews 10:1 [ESV]
For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. - James 2:10 [ESV]
Anyone who has ever understood the purpose of an engagement ring can understand the notion of a promise to one day make a better promise. That is what an engagement ring is, it is a promise to one day make another (better) promise. It says I am committed to seeing the second promise established.
Now no one, when asking another person to marry them, will get on bended knee and say, "I promise you, if you accept this promise, that I will give you a better one later" - no, the question is simply, will you marry me? If the answer is yes, the engagement ring is given, and it represents not only the promise to wed, and the acceptance of that promise, but a promise of exclusivity. When the ring is donned, the promise is in effect.
Once the wedding has taken place, the engagement ring no longer has the same role it previously had; that role has been overcome by the wedding band which represents a more substantial promise. The engagment ring is still worn along side the wedding band, but it is the wedding promise that is in effect. The exclusivity of the engagement promise, while no longer in effect, has been replaced with a greater promise of exclusivity: the marriage vow.
You probably are able to leap ahead of me, but in case you were wondering what engagement rings and what not have to do with the verses quoted above, I am writing today about the relationship between the promises of God, and the expectations those promises warranted.
I am sometimes pressed to explain to those younger in the faith, what role the law of Moses is supposed to play in the life of the believer. New converts are typically zealous to be good Christians, but aren't sure what they need to do to be good Christians. For this reason many a new believer has become convinced (and subsequently has taught others of the same) that keeping the ten commandments is part of what God expects from a believer.
I plan to explain how that is off, but in doing so I don't want to be misunderstood. If a person keeps the ten commandments that God gave to the Israelites on Sinai, that person's life will certainly look far more righteous than the life of someone who is not keeping those commandments. In fact, that was a major reason why many of the Scribes, Pharisees, and Sadducees rejected Christ. They were already "righteous" in their own eyes because they were keeping the letter of the law, at least according to their interpretation of the law.
The Apostle Paul taught that the law cannot be kept by a sinful man. That the purpose of the law was to prove this to the individual. The law's purpose was to bring us to the realization that we are sinful, and in need of a Saviour; that is, that we need Christ.
Here is where some people go way out to lunch. Becoming a Christian doesn't mean that Jesus now empowers you to keep the laws of Moses, thus generating legitimate personal righteousness of your own. Paul was not teaching us to seek after "a righteousness of [his] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith" (c.f. Philippians 3:9). No, Paul did not believe that Christ empowered Him to keep the law of Moses; Paul wasn't looking to its keeping as a means of righteousness, nor was He looking to Christ as the power by which He could obtain personal righteousness through the law. Paul was relying entirely on a righteousness that was not His own at all, but that was His through His union with Christ by faith.
Christ was the only one who ever kept the law. If anything the law was there to show us who the Christ was, for only the Christ has ever kept it. I think this is part of what is meant when Paul says that the law was our schoolmaster, bringing us to Christ. It doesn't bring us to any other man, but only to Him who kept the law perfectly. The law then served to identify the Christ.
But I am digressing a bit. The new believer sees the law and assumes that in keeping the law, he will be pleasing to God, and because the Holy Spirit dwells within Him, the notion of being pleasing to God is a driving motivation; so the new believer falls easy prey to a works righteousness mindset, and the law of Moses, and the ten commandments in particular, are the rungs on the ladder this one endeavors to climb.
But how many new believers are gung-ho to sacrifice cattle or sheep? How many give up pork and shellfish? How many get circumcized? How many pay tithes to the Jewish Priesthood? I tell you, very few, if any, and those who do, pick and choose what they will keep and what they will throw away. But when it comes to the ten commandments, things change. Those who would never bother to pay the temple tax are ready to obey the ten commandments without reservation, even though James tells us plainly that the law is a whole, that keeping the ten commandments counts for nothing if in doing so you fail to keep the rest of the law. In other words, Christianity is either Judaism plus Christianity, or it is just Christianity; you can't have it both ways.
might will object at this point (if not sooner), because the I am, in effect saying, that the command "You shall not commit murder" is no longer in effect. They will take offense because it is clear to any and all that God does not now condone murder.
Here is the lesson of the engagement ring again. The promise of exclusivity that was bound in the engagement, is replaced by a better promise of exclusivity in marriage. In the same way, the commands given to Moses on Sinai, commandments which if you kept them meant you were upholding your part of the bargain, and could thus depend upon God to keep His end of the bargain - that promise was replaced by a better promise.
You are still not allowed to commit murder, as a Christian. Not because God commanded the Israelites, in order to maintain their end of the bargain, had to refrain from murdering -- but because you belong to Christ and are therefore commanded to love your enemy/neighbor/brother etc. That might not seem any better than the first promise, but it is better because this promise cannot be anulled by our failure to uphold our end of the bargain.
You see, Christ upheld and upholds the bargain. It is His righteousness, and not our own upon which this covenant depends - and the moment God raised Christ from the dead, the matter was sealed and settled. He kept "our" end of the deal - securing for us an unbreakable (by us, and the things we do) covenant.
Typically when someone asks me if they should keep the Sabbath or not, I don't jump on them with the whole spiel, my answer for such a question is typically brief, and involves quoting such passages as Colossians 2:16-17 (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.), since that deals with the concept directly.
But such a question, because it betrays an ignorance of the covenants of God and how they pertain to the church, often draws me into the underlaying concepts that are confusing the one asking the question.
One way I approach the topic is by asking what would be different if instead of sending Moses to provide us with a system that was to the shadow of Christ's substance, God had simply sent Christ instead.
Christ would not issue ten new commandments from Sinai, there would be no laws of seperation, no ritual uncleanness, no animal sacrifices, no priesthood, no temple, no national Israel... All of these things were shadows. So what would Christianity look like without them? Or more pointedly, would would be different?
I can tell you what would be different; people wouldn't be trying to keep the ten commandments (which wouldn't exist), they would instead be keeping the commandments of Christ.
Now, if a person is convinced that he must keep the Sabbath, or new moon festivals or even get circumcized, I will not charge the person with sin if they pursue such shadows in their ignorance. If a believer is blinded in this way, and imagines that what he does is spiritually significant or required, and so in his confusion he responds from a good heart, I say he or she has done well. But I don't believe that ignorance is proper, or that we should allow ignorance to continue or thrive.
Imagine that you sit down to a meal with another believer who informs you as you are eating, that the beef you are munching down is sacred, having been sacrificed earlier that day in worship to God. I tell you, I might pause for a moment in thought, then continue eating, and change the subject to the sacrifice of Christ, and how every other sacrifice pointed to Christ, and how this meat which we were eating, was no more sacred than any other meat - perhaps even less sacred because in sacrificing the animal, it was a tacit accusation that Christ's sacrifice was insufficient.
The point is, that the law of Moses served a purpose, it was a placeholder tied to a covenant that has been surpassed by the new covenant in Christ's blood. Israel's heart of stone (the ten commandments) was replaced with a heart of flesh (Christ) when He ushered in the new covenant. We are no longer under the law, but under grace. If I refrain from murder, it is not because the law says, "you shall not murder" it is because Christ has said, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another." (c.f. John 13:34). No one who is obeying Christ's command can commit murder. If I refrain from coveting it is not because the ten commandments tell me not to covet it is because Christ said, "Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." (c.f. Luke 12:15). If I refrain from paying the temple tax, it is not because there is no longer a temple, it is because Christ commanded nothing concerning the temple tax.
Had there been no Moses, Christianity would not call me to imitate what never was, but here is the thing: Christianity does not call anyone to imitate what was. We are not called to an amended form of Judaism, where Christianity is just the latest patch sewn into the old cloak of Judaism, we are called to a new covenant, a covenant that was foreshadowed by, but not a continuation of, the old.
The knowledge of this should make us more holy, and not less - for we will not imagine, as some unfortunate souls presently do, that law keeping has anything to do with righteousness. Do you want to do the work of God? Then believe in Him whom God sent. His Spirit will indwell you, and you will be inclined by that same Spirit to live a life that is pleasing to God. You will learn how to please God, not by obeying the voice of Moses, but by obeying the word of Christ.
One closing note: Moses spoke, as did all the prophets, the words of Christ. I don't suggest that Moses was supplying Israel with anything less than exactly what Christ commanded for them. What I do suggest is we are no longer in the engagement phase of our relationship, but in the marriage itself - and while some of what was true of our engagement is likewise true in the marriage, they are not one and the same thing. Moses was the shadow, Christ the substance - we are not married to the shadow, but are married to the Substance; it behooves us therefore to be discerning in our worship, to ensure that we do not confuse the keeping of the old covenant laws with the keeping of the new covenant commands. We are not under the old covenant if we are in Christ, even if there is a great deal of overlap between the commandments of Christ and the laws of Moses.
This was a difficult thing, even for many Jews to grasp (hence the Judaizers etc.), it may not be something you fully get (today), but it ought to be something you think about.
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