Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 4) Hebrews: Freedom from Dead Works

In the previous articles in this series (see links below), I believe we did a thorough job of addressing the claims of the email that sparked this blog series, but we received this comment on one of the articles, a response to the question in the series title: Must Christians follow the Old Testament Law? The comment:

“Short answer yes…all believers in Yeshua HaMashiach [Jesus the Messiah] must follow the Torah with the exception of blood sacrifice since Yeshua was the last ‘red heifer’. Believers are justified by grace and mature during the period of ‘sanctification’ as we live in obedience to the Law.”

Below, we will further address our big question, as well as address this comment about sanctification, as we look at the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. (As before, I will use the King James Version, since some of our friends appear to be King James-Onlyists, but also mix in my preferred modern translations [ESV, NASB] for clarity.)

HEBREWS: The “Necessity” of a Change

To start, we jump to Chapter 7 of Hebrews, where the author lays out how Jesus is the perfect high priest. Perfection could not be reached through the deeds of OT priesthood, whether for the priests themselves nor on the behalf of all of Israel (7:11); therefore, the OT priesthood was temporary. But Christ is “perfect forever” (7:28), the holy, innocent, exalted (7:26) high priest who gave the perfect sacrifice (himself) “once for all” (7:27). Leading up to this big conclusion, the author says some interesting things concerning the OT Law:

22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. (Heb 7:22 KJV)

In other words,

22 so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (Heb 7:22 NASB)

And this is because,

18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. (Heb 7:18–20 KJV)

To put it another way,

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (Heb 7:18–19 ESV)

And so,

 12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. (Heb 7:12 KJV)

So, here we quite plainly see in God’s holy Word that the old covenant of the OT is just that: “old.” In fact, 7:18 speaks of its “weaknesses and unprofitableness” (KJV)—strong words, but this is what God’s Word says. Because of the coming of the only perfect priest, Jesus Christ, who offered the only perfect sacrifice (himself), there’s a “necessity” for a change in the law of God (7:12). Again, these are strong words about the OT Law right in God’s Word!

This theme continues throughout the following chapters in Hebrews. The OT priest was an “example and shadow of heavenly things” (KJV)—a “copy and shadow” of heavenly truths (ESV) (8:4-5). Jesus brought a “better” covenant because the old covenant was not without fault (8:6-7). Again, these are the words of the Bible itself:

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. (Heb 8:6-7 KJV)

After citing OT prophet Jeremiah, who speaks of a “new covenant” (Jer 31:31-34), the author of Hebrews states, 

 13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. (Heb 8:13 KJV)

In other words,

13 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. (Heb 8:13 ESV)

The covenant of Moses is “obsolete,” which includes the Aaronic priesthood, the earthly sanctuary (the Jerusalem temple), and the Levitical sacrifices. As scholar F.F. Bruce writes in his commentary on Hebrews, “The age of the law and the prophets is past; the age of the Son is here, and here to stay.” 

Chapter 9 begins with referring to the first convenant’s “ordinances” (KJV) or “regulations” (NASB) of divine service and goes into a description of the OT tabernacle and its operations. Yet, all of the rituals could not make anyone “perfect in conscience” (NASB); thus, “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body” will only be “imposed until a time of reformation” (9:10 NASB). Immediately, the author states,

 11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building (Heb 9:10–11 KJV)

Notice the flow of thought: The OT rituals could not make us perfect, SO they were temporary, BUT Christ has now come. Thus, these OT rituals are “dead works”:

​​14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:14 KJV)

 Therefore, the first covenant is gone and we’re under a new covenant (9:15, 18), because…

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near… For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb 10:1, 4 NASB) 

Christ took away the first covenant to establish the second covenant (10:9), and by this new covenant “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10 KJV, also 7:27) and “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (10:14 KJV, also see 7:27, 13:10).

Then, in 10:16, the author cites Jeremiah 31:31-34 for the second time in this letter, where God speaks of a new covenant where his Law will not be something external, but internal to God’s people:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, And write it in their hearts; And will be their God, And they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33 KJV)

With the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit into all who declare Christ as Lord and Savior, this divine promise became a reality. 

Conclusion & 2 Corinthians 3

Therefore, we strongly agree with our friend who left the comment saying that Christians no longer have to perform sacrifices as God’s people did in the OT. But to defend his comment that Christians need to continue to follow the rest of the OT Law to grow in sanctification is quite an uphill battle. Based on everything we looked at in this series, I would say the burden is on him to convince us from God’s Word. God’s Word repeats many times that Christians are under a new, different covenant. Under the new covenant, it’s Christ’s sacrifice and the indwelling Holy Spirit that sanctifies us, that makes us holy. 

I think our friend would agree with me that walking in the Spirit in obedience to God’s Word as imitators of Christ is how we continue to grow in that sanctification, to grow more like Christ, but I see no evidence in the NT that that means continuing to follow the OT ritual and religious laws. Of all the NT passages that speak of growing in sanctification, any hint of that meaning we continue to follow the OT Law is absent. Yes, we walk in obedience to God, which means following his moral law, and there is a clear continuity between the OT and NT in this sense. In fact, I have defended the importance of the OT in relation to the NT before. But I see no evidence in the NT that saved believers in Christ need to continue to follow the OT ritual and religious law. All the evidence points in the opposite direction. 

In fact, I believe Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3 are sufficient to close us out and put this to rest. Echoing Jeremiah 31:33 once again, Paul contrasts the Old and New Covenants—that which is written with ink or on stone tables (the Old Covenant) versus that which is written by the Holy Spirit on the human heart (the New Covenant) (3:1-5)—and this “hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (3:6 KJV). He then speaks of those still reading the Old Covenant as having blinded minds, as if having a veil over their faces, a veil only Christ can remove (3:14):

16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. 17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:16–18 KJV).

Christians are sanctified—made holy, set apart—through both the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the receiving of his Holy Spirit, which changes hearts and renews minds. Moreover, the Christian continues to grow in sanctification—to grow more into the image of Christ—by continuing to walk in the Holy Spirit in obedience to Christ, which is true freedom (2 Cor 3:17), which includes freedom from the OT Law.

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 1) Galatians: Paul Gives a Smackdown

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 2) Romans: It’s the End of the Law as We Know It (and Paul Feels Fine)

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 3) Acts: What to Do With Those Filthy Gentiles

Related GFTM Articles:

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 1 of 2) Are OT laws arbitrary, offensive & silly?

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 2 of 2) Why do Christians follow some OT laws & not others?

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Mark)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Matthew)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of John)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Luke + Series Final Results)

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 3) Acts: What to Do With Those Filthy Gentiles

I find it interesting that our OT-following friend cites the Book of Acts so much in his email (see below) as evidence of Paul still following the OT religious law after Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection. 

First, unlike Galatians and Romans, which are letters we looked at before, Acts is a narrative. In the letters of the New Testament, imperatives—commands—are pretty easy to spot. On the other hand, narratives may contain teachings within the story—such as when Jesus instructs his disciples (which carry over to all of Jesus’ followers, including us living 2,000 years later), but narratives also involve a lot of descriptions of events and actions.

So, when someone is reading a narrative in the Bible, the reader has to ask, “Is this an imperative or merely descriptive?”

Just because we see someone doing something in a biblical narrative, even a person who is considered a hero of the faith, it doesn’t automatically mean we’re supposed to do the same thing. Hey, Abraham and King David were big time (biblically speaking), but they also did some bad stuff Christians clearly are not to imitate. Likewise, Peter is one of the greatest apostles to live, but he could be a block-head. So, just because we see Paul doing something in the Book of Acts, it doesn’t automatically mean Christians are required to do the same thing.

In fact, when we take into account what we already looked at in Paul’s letters to the Galatians and Romans, it’s unlikely what we see in Acts means Christians are to follow the OT religious law. In fact, Acts itself gives us good reasons to doubt this.

AN EMAIL

Dear brothers and sisters in Messiah!

All believers listen up!

In Galatians 1, Paul says that there is only one gospel and those who teach a different one are under a curse.

In 2 Peter 3:14-17, Peter warns that many will misinterpret Paul’s difficult to understand writings, resulting in lawlessness and destruction.

  • Paul always kept the Sabbath (Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4)
  • Paul kept the Feasts (Acts 20:6; Acts 20:16)
  • Paul instructed us to keep the Feasts (1 Cor 5:7-8)
  • Paul believed all of the Torah (Acts 24:14)
  • Paul stated that we establish the Torah (Romans 3:31)
  • Paul taught from the Torah (Acts 28:23)
  • Paul obeyed the Torah (Acts 21:24; Romans 7:25)
  • Paul took delight in the Torah (Romans 7:22)
  • Paul told us to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16. 1 Cor 11:1)

There was no New Testament when the disciples were preaching the good news, they were using the Old Testament to prove who Yashuah is.

Please take this Shabbat and study the above…

Blessings to you and your families!

Shabbat Shalom!

Sincerely,

XXXX XXXXXX

THOSE FILTHY GENTILES

In Acts 10, we find one of the momentous accounts showing us that God’s salvation is not just for the Jews, but for Gentiles as well, when God supernaturally sets up a meeting between the apostle Peter and a Roman centurion named Cornelius.

Cornelius is a “god-fearer,” a non-Jew who worships and prays to the one true God (10:1-2), and God gives both Cornelius and Peter visions, leading to their encounter. In Peter’s vision, he sees “all manner of fourfooted beasts of the earth, and wild beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air” (10:12), and a voice says, “Rise, Peter; kill, and eat” (10:13). Now, based on the OT religious law, Jews lived by strict rules about what they could and could not eat to be ritually pure. Because of these OT ritual laws of what is “clean” and “unclean,” Jews couldn’t eat with the “unclean” Gentiles or even go into their homes. So, Peter protests, “Not so, Lord; for I have never eaten any thing that is common or unclean” (10:14). The voice answers, What God has cleansed, do not call common (10:15). As I mentioned earlier, Peter could be block-headed, so this back-and-forth repeats two more times (that is, three in all) before the vision ends (10:16).

When Peter meets Cornelius, the apostle brings up the OT ritual purity laws, but notice what Peter says this time:

 28 And he said unto them, Ye know how that it is an unlawful thing for a man that is a Jew to keep company, or come unto one of another nation; but God hath shewed me that I should not call any man common or unclean. (Acts 10:27–28)

Peter proceeds to proclaim the good news of Christ to Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit fills his listeners, and these former pagans are baptized as believers in Christ. Praise to God!

Then, when Peter returns to Jerusalem, those “of the circumcision” weren’t too happy about Peter mingling with non-Jews (11:1-3). But Peter recounts the whole supernatural ordeal, including his vision and the coming of the Holy Spirit to the Gentiles (11:4-17). This group “of the circumcision” are Jewish Christians who held to the OT ritual purity laws, the practice of circumcisions, and—it’s safe to assume—the rest of the OT Law. Yet, “[w]hen they heard these things, they held their peace, and glorified God, saying, Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life” (11:18).

Clearly, these OT ritual purity laws—with the related food laws, as well as circumcision—are things of the past.

THE JERUSALEM COUNCIL

What’s clear in Acts (and Paul’s letters) is that the same argument some of us are having today, is the same debate the first Christians (who were Jews) were having: Do Gentile Christians have to follow the OT Law? On top of that, do Jewish Christians have to follow the OT Law?

First, it’s clear to everyone that the OT Law was not needed for justification and salvation. After all, Paul declares in a synagogue,

38 Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: 39 And by him all that believe are justified from all things, from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses. (Acts 13:38–39) (Emphasis mine)

Also, in Acts 15, arguably the most relevant chapters in the entire New Testament for addressing this topic, we find Paul and Barnabas ardently debating against a group of men who are teaching that unless someone is circumcised “after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved” (15:1-2). This was such a topic of debate, Paul and Barnabas were sent to discuss this with the apostles and elders in Jerusalem for what is commonly known as the Jerusalem Council. There, a group of Pharisees insisted that circumcision was required to keep the law of Moses (15:5).

Not only do Paul and Barnabas weigh in, but so does Peter, stating, “[W]hy tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they” (Acts 15:10–11). Here, I believe Peter has the whole OT Law in view, not just circumcision. After all, circumcision (though daunting for obvious reasons) is a one-time thing. But keeping the rest of the OT Law on a daily basis is certainly a weight the Jews could never perfectly keep—a “yoke…  neither our fathers nor we were able to bear.”

Afterwards, James, the brother of Jesus, concludes,

19 Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: 20 But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. (Acts 15:19–20)

In other words, he sees no reason to trouble the Gentiles with the OT Law, but he also advises the Gentiles to not participate in four things. Three have to do with food: food offered to idols (15:29), meat from strangled animals, and meat still with blood in it. Eating such things were forbidden by OT Law and are part of the ritual purity laws. Lastly, the Gentiles are to abstain from “fornication,” often translated as “sexual immorality.” The Greek word is porneia, a catch-all word for all sexual activities forbidden by God.

So, the question is, why would James say that Gentile Christians should not be burdened with circumcision and the OT Law, but then highlight these things for the Gentiles to avoid? 

First, the Gentiles were coming from a different culture than the Jews, a culture where idol worship and unbiblical sexual practices were the norm. Sexually immoral things, such as sex with prostititues, was a regular part of their culture. In fact, sexual immorality was often tied to pagan religious rituals. Why James emphasized that Gentiles should avoid those things is easy to understand, but what about the prohibition against consuming strangled food and blood? Those surely sound like OT ritual purity laws.

When we take everything into account, we have to conclude that these were suggested by James so Gentile Christians could still eat and fellowship with Jewish Christians who still held to the OT Law. The first Christians were Jews, who still were holding to their life-long practices as Jews. But, the early church quickly became a new thing where both Jews and Gentiles found themselves siblings in Christ and doing this whole “church” thing together. James isn’t concerned about the Gentiles following the OT Law; he’s concerned about Gentiles partaking in food that would be a barrier between them fellowshipping with their Jewish brothers and sisters in Christ. (Also, contrast this to 1 Cor. 8)

The rest of the apostles and elders agree, so instructions are sent to the churches (15:22-32), stating “it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things” (15:28).

So, when the apostles and elders—including Peter, Paul, and James—assembled to discuss the exact topic we’re discussing in this blog series, did they conclude the Gentile Christians needed to be circumcised? No. Did they say the Gentile Christians are required to keep the Passover or any Jewish holy day? No. Did the Jerusalem council declare that Gentile Christians need to keep the Saturday Sabbath? No. Think about it: This was the time for the Apostles to be abundantly clear about this! If the Gentile Christians had to uphold the OT religious laws, this was the time to declare it! And their conclusion wasn’t just their human opinion, but the judgment of the Holy Spirit (15:28).

The only question that remains is whether ethnically Jewish Christians need to still follow the OT Law. But let’s be honest, most of us aren’t ethnically Jewish; therefore, the answer is a “no” for the vast majority of us.

ALL THINGS TO ALL PEOPLE: Do Jewish Christians Still Have to Follow the Law?

Are Christian Jews both under the new covenant of Christ as well as the old covenant of Moses? Admittedly, I haven’t studied this question in depth, but I’m going to argue the answer is “no” for the reasons I will lay out below. 

First, Christ fulfilled the OT Law (Matt. 5:17, 26:54). This is testified to in Scripture. Scripture also testifies that Christ did this for everyone. To put it another way, if Christ fulfilled the OT Law—it’s fulfilled! It’s not somehow fulfilled for Gentiles and not Jews. Anyone, whether Gentile or Jew, who puts his faith in Christ benefits from Jesus’ life and death and enters into the new covenant.

Secondly, based on the New Testament evidence, Paul no longer believed it was required to follow the OT Law, but when we do see him observing it, it was primarily because (1) he doesn’t want to offend his fellow Jews and (2) he wants to reach his fellow Jews with the Gospel of Christ. After all, it would be impossible to share about Christ if his fellow Jews reject him.

(We also have to take into account that Paul has lived his whole life as a strict Law-following Jew [Acts 22:3, 6], so he’d likely continue to do a lot of Jewish things culturally, though not required by his beliefs. Sort of like how even people who were raised Christian and leave the faith still partake in Christmas celebrations. For them Christmas has no religious significance, only cultural significance.)

To best see all this with Paul, we need to leave Acts briefly for Romans and 1 Corinthians. In the last article, we looked at Paul’s “Stumbling Block Principle.” Paul explains that there are Christians getting bent out of shape over whether Christians should eat certain things and recognize certain holy days (Rom. 14:1-15:1). But instead of Paul advising Christians to argue with these people, he tells them to voluntarily submit to these others, putting aside their rights of freedom in Christ, so as not to be a “stumbling block” to the others’ faith.

Yet, in no uncertain terms, Paul refers to those insisting that Christians ought to follow rules about eating and holy days as the weak in faith (Rom. 14:1; 1 Cor. 8:9-11), and those that don’t (who are to put their rights aside for the sake of their fellow Christians) are the strong in faith (Rom. 15:1). 

This alone is powerful evidence that Paul did not see the following of the OT Law as required for any Christians, but when we look at 1 Corinthians, we get even more insight. Similar to Romans 14, Paul brings up the Stumbling Block Principle when it comes to food:

 8 But meat commendeth us not to God: for neither, if we eat, are we the better; neither, if we eat not, are we the worse. 9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. (1 Corithians 8:7–9)

Paul states “if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Cor. 8:13 ESV). But, to drive home his point, he goes on to ask some rhetorical questions to emphasize that he totally has the freedom to eat and drink what he pleases:

Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?… 3 This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? (1 Cor. 9:1-4)

Then, we come to the bombshell:

19 For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. 23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. (1 Cor. 9:19–23)(Emphasis mine)

If Paul believed that he was still under the OT Law, would he ignore the Law when ministering to those “outside the law,” i.e. Gentiles? Wouldn’t that be a grave sin to dismiss God’s Law? But it’s not sin for Paul to live as “one outside the law” because he is “under the law of Christ.” In addition, Paul couldn’t put it more plainly when he said he follows the law when he’s around Jews “though not being myself under the law”!

So, when we see Paul going to the synagogue (Acts 17:2) and keeping the sabbath (Acts 18:4) and the festivals (Acts 20:6, 16), he’s doing so to “become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”  Remember Acts is a narrative so it’s descriptive, but not necessarily prescriptive.

Take as another example Paul’s circumcision of Timothy in Acts 16. Having just read about the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15, which stated that Gentile Christians do not have to be circumcised, why does Paul have Timothy circumcised in Acts 16? 

Timothy’s mother was a Jewish Christian, but his father was a Gentile, so he was not circumcised like full-blooded Jews, but…

3 Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Acts 16:3 ESV)

Thus, Timothy did not have to be circumcised for any religious reason, but he was circumcised to “become all things to all people, that by all means [he and Paul] might save some.” This is an interesting contrast to what Paul writes in Galatians about refusing to circumcise Titus, a Gentile (Gal. 2:3), so “that the truth of the gospel might continue” (Gal. 2:5).

 So, when we come to Acts 21:24, a verse cited by our OT Law-following friend in his email as evidence that Paul obeys the OT Law, he misses the whole point. Paul is once again becoming “all things to all people” because the church is taking heat from the OT Law-following Jews. When Paul returns to Jerusalem, he’s received gladly by James and the elders and they glorify God for Paul’s ministry (21:17-20). Everything between Paul, James, and the Jerusalem elders is copacetic, but the church leaders also tell him,

“You see, brother, how many thousands there are among the Jews of those who have believed. They are all zealous for the law, 21 and they have been told about you that you teach all the Jews who are among the Gentiles to forsake Moses, telling them not to circumcise their children or walk according to our customs. 22 What then is to be done? They will certainly hear that you have come. (Acts 21:20-22 ESV)

Where the OT Law has not been an issue in the Gentile churches, once Paul returns to Jerusalem it’s still a topic of controversy. Despite its ruling, it seems the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15 didn’t, in fact, settle the matter for many in Jerusalem. Clearly, it’s still a big topic of contention among the Jewish Christians. Thus, the leadership of the Jerusalem church urge Paul to participate in a Nazirite vow to appease the Law-following Jewish Christians (21:23-26).

Yet, Paul’s opponents are so zealous and hostile towards Paul, they falsely accuse him of bringing a Gentile into the Temple, which is forbidden, just because they saw him with a Gentile earlier in the city. Chaos erupts and Paul is rescued from mob violence by the Romans (21:27-36). When Paul addresses the crowd in the Hebrew language, citing his Jewish upbringing and education, the mob settles. Yet, as soon as he mentions his commissioning by Jesus to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles, the crowd starts crying for his blood again. For everyone’s safety, the Romans escort him away (21:37-22:24). 

Plainly, the situation in Jerusalem was volatile and explosive. Paul was trying to be “all things to all people” to maintain the peace in Jerusalem, but in this situation, it didn’t help.

Finally, we have two last verses from Acts cited by our OT Law-following friend in his email:

14 But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets (Acts 24:14)

23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. (Acts 28:23)

To close, all I can say to these two passages is “Amen!” I am a Gentile follower of Christ, who believes in the inerrancy, preservation, sufficiency, and truth of Scripture—both the Old Testament and New Testament. I also believe, based on everything we looked at in these three articles, I am not required to follow the OT religious and ritual law. (But, I do my best in the power of the Holy Spirit to follow God’s unchanging moral law.) Yet—like Paul—I believe “all things which are written in the law and in the prophets” and use both the law of Moses and the prophets to testify to the Kingdom of God and Jesus Christ, my savior, who freed me all from slavery.

All glory to Christ!

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 1) Galatians: Paul Gives a Smackdown

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 2) Romans: It’s the End of the Law as We Know It (and Paul Feels Fine)

Related GFTM Articles:

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 1 of 2) Are OT laws arbitrary, offensive & silly?

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 2 of 2) Why do Christians follow some OT laws & not others?

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Mark)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Matthew)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of John)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Luke + Series Final Results)

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 2) Romans: It’s the End of the Law as We Know It (and Paul Feels Fine)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes a similar argument as in his letter to the Galatians, which we looked at in the last article. Our friend who claims Christians must continue to follow the Old Testament (OT) religious and ritual law cites three passages from Romans to support his view (See the email below). When looking at the overall argument Paul makes in Romans, we see that our friend’s use of these three verses are one of the most common techniques used by those trying to justify fringe views: cherry-picking—that is, plucking a verse out of the Bible and ignoring the context around it. In order to take these verses as teaching that Christians are still obligated to keep the OT Law, one has to ignore much of the flow of Paul’s argument in his letter.

AN EMAIL

Dear brothers and sisters in Messiah!

All believers listen up!

In Galatians 1, Paul says that there is only one gospel and those who teach a different one are under a curse.

In 2 Peter 3:14-17, Peter warns that many will misinterpret Paul’s difficult to understand writings, resulting in lawlessness and destruction.

  • Paul always kept the Sabbath (Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4)
  • Paul kept the Feasts (Acts 20:6; Acts 20:16)
  • Paul instructed us to keep the Feasts (1 Cor 5:7-8)
  • Paul believed all of the Torah (Acts 24:14)
  • Paul stated that we establish the Torah (Romans 3:31)
  • Paul taught from the Torah (Acts 28:23)
  • Paul obeyed the Torah (Acts 21:24; Romans 7:25)
  • Paul took delight in the Torah (Romans 7:22)
  • Paul told us to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16. 1 Cor 11:1)

There was no New Testament when the disciples were preaching the good news, they were using the Old Testament to prove who Yashuah is.

Please take this Shabbat and study the above…

Blessings to you and your families!

Shabbat Shalom!

Sincerely,

XXXX XXXXXX

*Note: Since our author of this email may be a “King James Only-ist,” I will be primarily using the King James translation.

ROMANS: Righteousness By Christ Alone

Romans is a much longer, complicated letter than Galatians, but Paul’s flow of thought is not hard to see. Paul begins by explaining the sorry state of things; much of mankind is in rebellion against its Creator (Chapter 1-2). Even Jews, who were given God’s Law, fail to live righteously, leading Paul to ask in Chapter 3:

9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin (Rom. 3:9)

Or, to put it another way:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin (Rom. 3:9 NAMB)

So, both Jews and Gentiles fail to live up to God’s righteousness, and God’s OT Law shines a spotlight on this sad fact:

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:19-23)

So, both Jews and Gentiles fall short of God’s goodness—there is no difference between them in this way—but immediately now we get the good news, that no difference also exists between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to being justified and redeemed by the blood of Christ:

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)

Thus, Christians are justified not by obeying the OT Law, but by faith in Christ. They are “justified freely by his grace.” Paul immediately continues:

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Rom. 3:27-31)

So, being circumcised or doing any other part of OT Law is not the key to forgiveness of sins, justification, and righteousness, but faith alone in Christ. What Paul calls “the law of faith” leads to right standing before God.

Here, we come to the first verse in Romans referenced by our OT Law-following friend in his email (3:31). When cherry-picked out of context, it does appear to support his view. After all, it does say “we establish the law” or even “we uphold the law” (ESV). But we must understand this in the flow of Paul’s thought. It would certainly be odd for Paul to write this beautiful passage about Christians being made justified by Christ “without deeds of the law” in 3:28, only to have him say we need to still follow the OT Law in 3:31! No, Paul is not saying Christians must still follow the OT Law. The OT Law was fulfilled in Christ, as Christ himself said he would do (Matt. 5:17). Therefore, Christian faith in Christ also fulfills—established, upholds—the purpose of the Law. This will become clearer as we continue, as we see with Paul’s words in 8:4: 

“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

This statement in 3:31, then, immediately moves us into Chapter 4, where Paul uses Abraham as a biblical example of someone counted righteous through faith (4:3, 5). One of Paul’s big points is that Abraham was declared to be righteous before he received the command of circumcision (4:9-12); thus, righteousness is through faith, not works:

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Rom. 4:13)

Similar to his letter to the Galatians, Paul says those who live in faith are descendants of Abraham. Righteousness and justification—by God’s grace—will be given to those who believe in Christ.

 16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all… 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification (Rom 4:15–16, 24–25)

THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT

Paul states Christians are “justified by faith” (5:1). This justification and righteousness before God is a “free gift” of God’s grace, meaning it’s not something earned through obeying religious rituals and rites. Otherwise, how is it in any way a “free gift” and a “gift of grace” (5:14-17)? Paul expands on this:

18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation [see Gen. 3]; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [Christ] shall many be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 5:14-21) (Emphasis mine)

So, where the OT Law shines a spotlight on humankind’s sinfulness, it also—at the same time—accentuates God’s grace! Reading this, I can’t help but think of Paul’s strong words from his letter to the Ephesians: 

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Likewise, he states later in Romans:

14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)

Jesus proclaimed that he had come to fulfill the OT Law:

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. (Matt. 5:17)

Christians do not have to fulfill the OT Law because Christ did it for us. This is what Paul is referring to when he writes,

10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life... 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (Rom 5:10, 19) (Emphasis mine)

Jesus fulfilled the OT Law by perfectly living it out, something no one could do other than the God-man Jesus. Theologians call this Jesus’ “active obedience.” Then, he further fulfilled the OT Law by dying on the cross. Theologians call this Jesus’ “passive obedience.” Someone once pointed out to me that a law can be fulfilled in two ways: (1) Someone can obey the law or (2) one can break the law and then fulfill it by paying the penalty for breaking it. Thus, Jesus fulfilled the OT Law in two ways: He obeyed it perfectly, but he also took the penalty—our penalty—for breaking it.

Therefore, Christians are “dead to the law by the body of Christ” (7:4) and “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (7:6) The OT Law shows us what sin is (7:7-25) and we all fall short, but…

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:22-25)

Here, we come to the two other verses from Romans cited in our OT Law-following friends’ email (7:22 and 7:25). Yes, Paul states in these verses that he delights in the Law and serves the Law, but didn’t Paul just say Christians “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter,” that is, not the written OT Law (7:6)? So, Paul is speaking of the “law of the Spirit,” not the OT Law, as we see in his immediate words to follow: 

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom. 8:1-4) (Emphasis mine)

So, what the OT Law could not give, the law of the Spirit can: freedom from sin and death. Those who walk in the Spirit fulfill the righteousness of the Law. Even the Gentiles, who the OT Law wasn’t given to, have attained righteousness through faith, but Israel has not attained it because they tried to fulfill it through works, not faith:

30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. 31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness… 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom. 9:30-31, 10:3-4) (Emphasis mine)

What was that again?

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom. 10:4)

Later in Chapter 10, Paul gives us one of the great statements of how salvation is attained. It says nothing about obeying the OT Law:

9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom. 10:9-13)

In Chapter 11, Paul reminds us again that salvation is attained not through works, but by God’s grace:

5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Rom. 11:5-6)

Or, to put it another way,

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Rom. 11:5-6 ESV)

Paul clearly teaches that right standing before God—which includes justification and righteousness—doesn’t come through obeying the OT Law.

THE WEAK IN FAITH

Like we saw in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul’s big ideas are clear throughout Romans. We find nothing to suggest that Christians need to continue to obey the OT religious Law. Everything we see points in the opposite direction.

To close, let’s look at one last passage. In many of Paul’s letters, he encourages peace and unity within the young church, often calling Christians to humble themselves and put others’ needs before their own. In Chapter 14 of Romans, Paul writes that the church should not quarrel over opinions about non-essential practices. (Pause here and read Romans 14:1-15:1.) He specifically mentions disagreements over what Christians should and should not eat and the practice of “esteeming one day above another” (14:5). Here, Paul introduces his stumbling block principle. The idea is to not do anything that might make other Christians stumble in their faith, even if you have the right to do it. 

Since Paul mentions drinking wine (14:21), let me use drinking alcohol as an example of Paul’s Stumbling Block Principle. Since Jesus turned water into wine and there are no commands absolutely prohibiting the drinking of alcohol in the Bible, I believe it’s okay for a Christian to enjoy a glass of wine as long as one does not get drunk, since drunkenness is clearly prohibited in the Bible. Yet, many Christians feel strongly that Christians should not drink alcohol at all. According to Paul’s “stumbling block principle,” though I believe it’s biblically allowable for a Christian to drink wine, if I were around a Christian who was against doing so, I’d abstain from, say, having a glass of wine while I’m out to dinner with him. Though I have the right to do so, I’d forfeit this right for the sake of my brother in Christ.

This passage gives valuable insight into our debate about whether Christians need to follow the OT Law concerning religious and ritual practices. To be clear, Christians are obligated to follow the OT moral commands because they’re based on God’s unchanging character and purposes for creation. If there’s any question, many of those commands are repeated in the New Testament. Yet, we don’t find this with the OT religious commands because Christ fulfilled them through his perfect life and death. As we’ve seen, Paul in both his letter to the Galatians and Romans fills considerable space arguing that Christians are a people under the grace of God through faith and not under the OT Law of works.

In Romans 14, Paul specifically mentions debates about what is allowable to eat and if certain days should be esteemed as better than others (14:2-3, 5). These debates could certainly include dietary restrictions found in the OT Law as well as debates over days of sabbath rest, OT festivals, and holy days. This is certainly in line with the context of Romans (and Galatians) and what Paul writes in Colossians:

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (Col. 2:16-17)

(Also see Galatians 4:9-10.) In 1 Corinthians, we get insight into one of these debates over food (see 1 Cor. 8) about whether Christians should eat food offered to pagan idols. Interestingly, Paul uses the Stumbling Block Principle here too (1 Cor. 8:9-13). Where it’s possible Romans 14 may not only be about dietary and holy day beliefs concerning the OT Law, it’s certainly a good possibility the OT Law is in view here based on the context of Paul’s letters. In fact, Paul writes in Romans 14:14, “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself,” which is a clear reference to the ritual purity laws of the OT Law concerning food. Paul goes on to state,

17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost… 20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure (Rom. 14:17, 20)

Christ has set us free from the OT ritual purity laws. The Christian life has considerable freedom in comparison to life under the OT Law. Christians are under the new covenant, not the old covenant (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).

Now, let me point out one last—but important—thing about Paul’s Stumbling Block Principle: Paul refers to those who might “stumble”—that is, those who might have their faith in Christ shaken or injured by what people eat and what holy days they recognize—as the weak Christians! That is, those who are insisting that Christians must eat one thing over another or that Christians must recognize one day over another are, in fact, the weaker in faith! He starts this section by stating, 

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. (Rom. 14:1)

In other words,

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. (Rom. 14:1–2 ESV)

We find a similar statement in 1 Corinthians:

9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. (1 Cor. 8:9)

And those who aren’t concerned about such things (yet are to conform to prevent weaker Christians from stumbling) are the strong in faith:

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Rom. 15:1)

To reiterate, Paul is so unconcerned about what to eat and what days are holy that he tells the strong in faith to go along with the weak because what Christians eat or days they recognize—for the most part—don’t matter.

To close, a warning from Paul:

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (Rom. 16:17-18)

Let me just say again how sad I think it is that this group of believers serving as witnesses of the gospel in an international, secular corporation has been hijacked by someone who has made things God’s divine Scripture deems insignificant a central focus of this group of believers.

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 1) Galatians: Paul Gives a Smackdown

Related GFTM Articles:

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 1 of 2) Are OT laws arbitrary, offensive & silly?

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 2 of 2) Why do Christians follow some OT laws & not others?

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Mark)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Matthew)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of John)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Luke + Series Final Results)

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 1) Galatians: Paul Gives a Smackdown

AN EMAIL

Dear brothers and sisters in Messiah!

All believers listen up!

In Galatians 1, Paul says that there is only one gospel and those who teach a different one are under a curse.

In 2 Peter 3:14-17, Peter warns that many will misinterpret Paul’s difficult to understand writings, resulting in lawlessness and destruction.

  • Paul always kept the Sabbath (Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4)
  • Paul kept the Feasts (Acts 20:6; Acts 20:16)
  • Paul instructed us to keep the Feasts (1 Cor 5:7-8)
  • Paul believed all of the Torah (Acts 24:14)
  • Paul stated that we establish the Torah (Romans 3:31)
  • Paul taught from the Torah (Acts 28:23)
  • Paul obeyed the Torah (Acts 21:24; Romans 7:25)
  • Paul took delight in the Torah (Romans 7:22)
  • Paul told us to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16. 1 Cor 11:1)

There was no New Testament when the disciples were preaching the good news, they were using the Old Testament to prove who Yashuah is.

Please take this Shabbat and study the above…

Blessings to you and your families!

Shabbat Shalom!

Sincerely,

Xxxx Xxxxx

A Response

Above is an email a friend shared with me. He works for a large corporation, and what’s good to hear is that within the corporation some Christians started a group for believers to meet, fellowship, and study the Bible with their coworkers. The bad news is that when the former volunteer organizer of the group stepped down, the person who stepped in started using the group as a platform to promote his own fringe beliefs. Essentially, he highjacked a cross-denomination Christian group to push these fringe beliefs instead of focusing on the shared, essential beliefs all Christians hold in solidarity.

As you can guess from his email above, he is promoting a type of Christianity that still follows the Old Testament (OT) religious laws. I have spend time before writing about how Christians should understand the OT Law—as well as the importance of the OT in understanding the New Testament—(See links below), but let’s get more specific in this article (and future ones) as we respond to this man’s views.

Note: Since I’ve been told this man also seems to be a “King James Only-ist,” I’ll be using the King James so to remove one barrier in communication.

GALATIANS: Paul Get Livid

To begin, it’s ironic that one would start an argument that Christians should follow the Old Testament (OT) Law by citing Galatians 1 when Paul’s letter to the Galatians—easily one of his most stern and vehement letters—argues the exact opposite! I recommend reading the whole letter yourself, but here are some highlights:

6 I marvel that ye are so soon removed from him that called you into the grace of Christ unto another gospel: 7 Which is not another; but there be some that trouble you, and would pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But though we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel unto you than that which we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. 9 As we said before, so say I now again, If any man preach any other gospel unto you than that ye have received, let him be accursed. (Gal. 1:6–9)

Paul begins his letter with very strong language and a strong condemnation of anyone who preaches another gospel than the true gospel of Christ, which Paul received from Christ himself (Gal. 1:11-12). So, what is this other, false “gospel” Paul is addressing? As we continue in the letter, it becomes clear: 

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised: 4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage: 5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you. (Gal. 2:3–5)

Paul speaks of Titus, who was not “compelled to be circumcised” in accordance to OT Law. Thus, immediately we see that circumcision, which was commanded by God for all male Jews in the OT Law, is not something Titus must do. This shows us immediately to start that not everything in the OT Law carries over to Christians under the new covenant of Christ (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). The covenant Christians are under is not the same covenant Israel was under. (Let me point out that Christians are still under God’s moral law that we find in the OT, since God’s moral law is unchanging because it’s grounded in God’s unchanging character and his divine design for creation. If there’s any question, most of these moral commandments are repeated in the New Testament. This is not the case with the OT religious and ritual law.)

In the above Scripture, Paul also speaks of false brothers that wish to bring them into bondage (i.e. slavery), but they resist them for “the truth of the gospel.” Surprisingly, even the apostles Peter and Barnabas were taken in by this faulty theology, which leads to Paul having a confrontation with Peter:

11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed. 12 For before that certain came from James, he did eat with the Gentiles: but when they were come, he withdrew and separated himself, fearing them which were of the circumcision. 13 And the other Jews dissembled likewise with him; insomuch that Barnabas also was carried away with their dissimulation. 14 But when I saw that they walked not uprightly according to the truth of the gospel, I said unto Peter before them all, If thou, being a Jew, livest after the manner of Gentiles, and not as do the Jews, why compellest thou the Gentiles to live as do the Jews? (Gal. 2:11–14)

Along with circumcision, the Jews had strict rules based on OT Law about ritual purity. These included laws about what they could and could not eat and even who they could and could not eat with. Since Gentiles didn’t follow these ritual purity laws, Jews were forbidden to eat with them. Yet, because of the life and death of Christ, these purity laws are fulfilled and now defunct. Peter and Barnabas knew this, but essentially gave into the peer pressure of their fellow Jewish Christians and once again stopped eating with Gentiles. Jumping ahead in the letter, this injustice leads to Paul pronouncing:

28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise. (Gal. 3:28–29)

Thus, all those who proclaim Christ as their Lord and Savior are the true descendants of Abraham and the receivers of the promise God made to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3). But continuing right where we are in Chapter 2, Paul says, 

15 We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, 16 Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified. (Gal. 2:15–16)

Paul couldn’t be clearer: Christians are justified by faith in Christ alone, not by doing works of the OT Law, nor any law. He goes on to say that to believe otherwise is to “frustrate the grace of God,” and if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died for nothing:

21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. (Gal. 2:21)

As I said, this is one of Paul’s most blunt and vehement letters! He doesn’t mince words, going on to call the Galatians “foolish” for buying in to such things, and, thus, they’re under a curse:

O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, Received ye the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?… 10 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law (Gal. 3:1–2, 10–13)

In 3:10 above, Paul even references the OT (Deut. 27:26) in saying that the person who lives by the Law, must do all of the Law or else he or she is cursed. So, if you’re going to follow some of the Law, you must follow all of it, according to the Law itself. But we already know that Christians don’t have to be circumcised, so Christians are not required to keep all or even some of the Law, according to Paul’s own thinking. But—all glory to Jesus—“Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law.” We receive the Holy Spirit and righteousness, not through doing works of the Law, but through faith (Gal. 3:2, 5).

24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. 26 For ye are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus. (Gal. 3:24–26)

Above, Paul refers to the OT Law as a “schoolmaster.” This word can also be translated “tutor” or “guardian.” The idea is that the OT Law was preparing and teaching the people of God. The implication is that the OT Law was preparing the people of God for something to come later. After all, children have a “schoolmaster” but eventually grow to adulthood. Yet, we don’t even need to go into the significance of the meaning behind “schoolmaster” here; we only have to see that Paul states that Christians are no longer under this “schoolmaster.” We are made children of God, not by following the OT Law, but by faith in Christ. To say otherwise is to preach another gospel, for the gospel of Christ is freedom from slavery:

 7 Wherefore thou art no more a servant, but a son; and if a son, then an heir of God through Christ. (Gal. 4:6–7)

Paul continues with his strong language, asking why would the Galatians want to become slaves again after being set free by Christ:

9 But now, after that ye have known God, or rather are known of God, how turn ye again to the weak and beggarly elements, whereunto ye desire again to be in bondage? 10 Ye observe days, and months, and times, and years. (Gal. 4:9–10)

Notice, Paul considers it slavery to be observing “days, and months, and times, and years.” This is likely—based on the clear context of the letter—to be a reference to special days and times observed by Jews according to the OT Law. Based on this and other New Testament Scripture, I believe Christians do not have to observe OT festivals and holy days like the Sabbath and the Passover. Again, Christ fulfilled these. In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul writes,

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. (Col. 2:16–17)

(Perhaps we will explore the Sabbath more in the future. In the meantime, here are some more passages to consider: Matt. 11:28-30; Mark 2:27; Rom. 14:5; Heb. 4:1-10; Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2; Rev. 1:10.)

I think you get the point of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. Paul goes on to emphasize his big ideas, stressing again that we are free in Christ and not to be under the yoke of slavery again (5:1); to do one part of the Law means we have to keep all of the Law (5:2-3), and if you live to keep all of the OT Law, it means you have fallen away from God’s grace (5:4). Paul closes the letter by saying those who push for circumcision do so to glory in (or boast in) the flesh, but we are only to glorify in (or boast in) the cross of our Lord and Christ (6:13-14).

To conclude, I close where we started with Paul’s words:

I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel. (Gal. 1:6 ESV)

Related GFTM Articles:

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 1 of 2) Are OT laws arbitrary, offensive & silly?

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 2 of 2) Why do Christians follow some OT laws & not others?

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Mark)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Matthew)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of John)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Luke + Series Final Results)

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out (Book Review)

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out is a book I wish someone had handed me early in my walk with Jesus. I came to Christ as an adult after over a decade of skepticism of all things religious, and it became clear to me early on in my walk with Christ that part of following him was sharing my faith with others. The thing with evangelism is that though all Christians are called to share their faith, not every Christian has the calling of an evangelist. Forget standing on a street corner and proclaiming the good news of Christ, most of us aren’t even comfortable having a spiritual conversation with a coworker at lunch. So, if you’re a natural evangelist, the church thanks you because the church needs you! But, as I said, Christ calls all of his people—not just pastors and missionaries—to be disciple-makers and witnesses of his goodness and salvation—no exceptions. D. Scott Hildreth and Steven A. McKinion have written a book for the rest of us, who “freak out” when we think about sharing our faith. 

What they lay out can best be described as “lifestyle evangelism,” and it’s so common-sense-based, you almost ask yourself, “Why didn’t I think of this?” Yet, I think so many of us have been thinking of evangelism in such a narrow way we’ve convinced ourselves we can’t do it. We think that if every conversation doesn’t end with us calling the person to repentance and faith (with complementary Bible verses), we’re not doing evangelism right.

To start, one way to open the door to sharing your faith is to live as Christ calls us to live, which includes caring for people and letting those relationships bloom and lead to conversations—conversations which will allow you to share your faith naturally. Instead of worrying about how to answer every objection, instead focus on simply explaining the big story of the Bible and making sure the person understands it. I even once said to someone, “Listen, I know you don’t believe in it, but I just want to make sure you understand what the Bible teaches and what I believe.” Your goal isn’t to win a debate, but to tell the story of the Bible. Again, this happens best in dialogues—not monologues—in relationships. 

The authors remind us that conversion is the work of the Holy Spirit; we don’t convert anyone, but we’re called to be faithful. Our role is to “(1) retell the story of the gospel clearly, accurately, and convincingly; (2) try to eliminate any roadblocks or stumbling blocks from their minds that may keep them from understanding what Christ did for them; and (3) bring questions to their minds that show their need for a savior.” (I highly recommend the book Tactics by Greg Koukl, which compliments this book beautifully. If I were to teach an evangelism class, these would be the two main books I would use.)

Hildreth and McKinion’s book could easily be re-named, Don’t Be Scared: It’s Only Evangelism. I’ve been in ministry full-time a few years now, and I’m still not a natural evangelist. It takes effort and intentionality for me. There are certainly times when the Holy Spirit is already working on someone and that person is ready to receive the gospel as soon as they hear it proclaimed. But my experience has been that the most fruitful gospel encounters have taken place in the context of conversations between friends. Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out is a welcomed guide for those of us who don’t want to come across as salesmen making a pitch, but instead as lovers of Christ sharing Christ in love.

Sharing Jesus Without Freaking Out by D. Scott Hildreth and Steven A. McKinion

*B&H Publishing provided me with a free copy of this book for review.

Dealing with “Apatheism” & Understanding the Joy of New Creation (Book Reviews)

Apatheism: How We Share When They Don’t Care by Kyle Beshears (B & H Academic)

Kyle Beshears’ book tackles an extremely problematic question that is often overlooked in discussions on evangelism: How do you share your faith with those who simply don’t care about God? Even if you share your faith, how do you get the person to care enough to consider what you said?

When you get down to it, it’s actually easy to get into conversations with ardent atheists. Ardent atheists have strong beliefs and they want to talk—or at least debate—about those beliefs. In the same way, it’s easy to get into a spiritual conversation with a religious non-Christian because they care about spiritual things. But how do we engage the “apatheist”—someone who believes God is irrelevant? 

Beshears lays out the symptoms in a society that lead to apatheism: secular, comfortable, and distracted—all aspects of American culture. Further, radical individualism feeds it, where it’s believed we can create our own meaning to life. Additionally, mix in pluralism and the internet age of too many options. Not that exposure to other beliefs is bad within itself, but too many options leads to many experiencing a mental fatigue, so they don’t hold to any belief all that strongly or simply don’t wish to engage with anyone about them. Keep in mind, even a professed Christian can still be an apatheist. This is the “practical atheist” (or what I often call a “functional atheist”) in your pews whose Christian identity has no impact on their lives.

Since the “apatheist” is one who both “believes God is irrelevant and feels apathetic towards him,” Beshears proposes that we have to hit them first emotionally to wake them up. How do we do this? We go after their idols. We make them aware that anything other than God that they find their happiness in can be taken away; it will ultimately let them down. Then, once we jolt them enough to listen, we point them to Christ as the only lasting source of joy. Augustine wrote of God, “You have made us for yourself, and our heart is restless until it comes to rest in you.”

Beshears points out another important point many would overlook: Before doing this effectively, we can’t be apatheists ourselves! We have to ask ourselves, Have I lost my joy in Christ? What must I do to recapture it? Does my life display the joy and hope I have in Christ? After all, we don’t just want them to know Christianity is true, but we want them to want it to be true. Anselm once stated that an emotional desire for Christianity to be true is a necessary step before someone could be intellectually convinced of the gospel.

At barely 100 pages, Apatheism: How We Share When They Don’t Care is certainly worth the read. Whenever I read a book like this, I always end by wishing it had more practical advice and real-world examples, but Beshears has written a book with both those things that is a great help to anyone hoping to share their faith. Beshears has written a much-needed book that is a welcomed gift to the church. I hope this book will start a conversation and lead to more Christian thinkers tackling this topic.

*B & H provided me with a free copy for review.

The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture by Frank Thielman (Crossway)

The New Creation and the Storyline of Scripture is the third book I’ve read (and reviewed) from the Short Studies in Biblical Theology series by Crossway. So far, I’ve enjoyed and benefited from the books tracing an important theme throughout the Bible. That would include this book, which follows the prominent biblical theme of new creation. Of the three Short Studies books I’ve read, this is the most basic; new creation is a biblical theme many Christians are aware of already. If you are already familiar with the big story of the Bible, it’s a theme that’s not hard to see. So, I would recommend this book to someone as an introduction to biblical theology, someone who doesn’t have a good grasp of the overall storyline of the Bible.

This is by no means a negative thing; tracing the theme is both essential to the Christian worldview and beautiful to see in Scripture. From the moment the new creation fell under the destruction of sin, God put his plan into effect to restore it, from the proclamation of the coming one who would crush Satan’s head, to the establishment of the nation of Israel, to the prophecies of the prophets, to the miracles of Jesus, to the born-again followers of Jesus becoming “new creations,” to the vision of the New Heaven and New Earth in the Book of Revelation. As I said, it’s a beautiful and essential thing for Christians to understand, showing us how we can have both hope and joy in the face of current turmoil and suffering.

*Crossway provided me with a free copy for review.