Wednesday, May 22, 2013
The Law of Moses
It has been long since I wrote, and I feel the need to break my self-imposed study time in order to deal with a major issue in the Church. I have recently devoted much time to understanding Mosaic Law and its relationship to the believer. Once many of the answers to the questions I had were revealed, I began to realize how so many people have had the same questions I did. So, I want to give you all a basic set of passages and points which I think may help clear this issue.
Firstly, let us examine what the Law itself declares about its purposes.
#1: The Law was created to cleanse Israel of their ceremonial uncleanness. This purpose is found in several passages, but let us look specifically at Leviticus 15:31. According to the NASB, “Thus you shall keep the sons of Israel separated from their uncleanness, so that they will not die in their uncleanness by their defiling My tabernacle that is among them.” This verse proceeds a long list of laws which dealt with issues such as leprosy, household mold, and so on. Right before this verse, Moses is told that the priest shall offer a sin offering and a burnt offering in order to make atonement for a specific issue. Therefore, vs. 31 gives us one of the reasons for the sin offering.
Yet, if we are to truly understand the significance of vs. 31, we must do some translating from the Hebrew text. The translation from the Hebrew gives us the following sense of the verse, “Thus you shall cause the Sons of Israel to be separate from their ceremonial uncleanness, so they will not die in their ceremonial uncleanness by (making ceremonially unclean) My tabernacle in their midst.” One thing we will notice is that the sin offerings did not actually make Israel clean, only ceremonially clean. This allowed God to overlook their real uncleanness and not kill them for defiling His tabernacle. As was written in Hebrews 9:13, “…the blood of goats and bulls, and the sprinkling of defiled persons with the ashes of a heifer, sanctify for the purification of the flesh…” However, this did not truly cleanse them, “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. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” (Hebrews 10:1-4)
Here are other passaged mentioning the law ceremonially cleansing persons: Leviticus 21:12, Numbers 19:13, 20.
#2 The Law was meant to give life to the one who fully keeps it. According to Leviticus 18:5, “You shall therefore keep my statutes and my rules; if a person does them, he shall live by them: I am the Lord.” If Israel, or an Israelite, completely kept the Law, then he would not die. This would have been a result of his own goodness. As said in Deuteronomy 5:33, “You shall walk in all the way that the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live, and that it may go well with you, and that you may live long in the land that you shall possess.”
Cf. Deuteronomy 6:1-3
#3 To train Israel’s mind to be able to discern between what is clean and unclean. Leviticus 11:47, “to make a distinction between the unclean and the clean and between the living creature that may be eaten and the living creature that may not be eaten.” Here are some thoughts which might help guide you all in determining the meaning of this verse.
Firstly, were there animals which were truly, biologically or morally, unclean? (cf. Gen. 1:31)
Secondly, were there animals which God made that were unfit for consumption? (Gen. 9:1-4)
Thirdly, if an animal was unclean because it was unfit for consumption, then why did God make a distinction in Lev. 11:47 between “unclean” and “the living creature that may not be eaten”? If they were the same, why did He repeat Himself?
Finally, what is meant by unclean in this verse?
Now, let us consider what the Bible, outside of the Law, reveals about the Law.
#1: The Law does not cleanse men of sin. In Jeremiah 31:31-34, Israel is given the promise of a new covenant, which is fundamentally different than the Mosaic Covenant which resulted in the Law. “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” Therefore, we see that a fundamental difference between the New Covenant and the Mosaic Law is that the New Covenant will cleanse Israel of their sins whereas the Mosaic Law could not.
To cement this thought, here is Hebrews 10:1-4, “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. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year. For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.” Thus, the Law could not truly cleanse a man from his sin.
#2: The Law was meant to bring conviction of sin. As we saw in Hebrews 10:3, “But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.” As an Israelite, you had to continuously offer sacrifices in atonement for your sins. When you came to the priest in the Tabernacle or Temple, you gave him an animal to sacrifice. The priest would then kill the animal and complete the rather gruesome acts which will atone for the sins of the Israelite (cf. Leviticus 4-5). The whole time, the Israelite is being shown the consequences for his sins. Thus, these sacrifices which could not cleanse did serve as a terrifying reminder of the consequences for sin.
Another important thought to ponder, was the Law meant to decrease sin or to increase it among men? (Cf. Rom. 5:20)
#3: Men cannot be justified by the Law. According to Leviticus 18:5, the doer of the Law will live by his doing of it. However, according to Habakkuk 2:4b, “…the righteous shall live by his faith.” Thus, as Galatians 3:10-12 states, “For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, ‘Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.’ Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’ But the law is not of faith, rather ‘The one who does them shall live by them.’”
Thus, we find that the Law had an inherent weakness, ourselves. Romans 8 states, “For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do…”, which was to, “[condemn] sin in the flesh” and thus justify and sanctify us.
#4: Because the Law is insufficient to justify and sanctify us, God graciously grafted us gentile believers into the New Covenant. This Covenant rested upon grace. Ephesians 2 shows us this grace, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”
By our death in Christ, we die to the law. Romans 7 gives us a good example of this principle,
“Or do you not know, brothers—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law is binding on a person only as long as he lives? For a married woman is bound by law to her husband while he lives, but if her husband dies she is released from the law of marriage. Accordingly, she will be called an adulteress if she lives with another man while her husband is alive. But if her husband dies, she is free from that law, and if she marries another man she is not an adulteress.
Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.”
Therefore, Christ’s death released us from the Law, and his resurrection has made us alive to God. As a result, we are not bound by the Law, nor do we serve by it.
This may seem very controversial, but Galatians 4 gives us a good line of reasoning to demonstrate this,
“O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham ‘believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness’?”
If we were justified by grace through faith, why do we think that the subsequent perfecting of ourselves would come from the Law? Remember, the Law relied upon our own works to justify us. However, since we are unable to do good of our own accord, the Law cannot be fulfilled by our works. Therefore, if you were saved and justified by grace through faith, you are also sanctified by grace through faith. Because,
“…the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)
It is the grace of God which sanctifies us, and teaches us to deny evil. This is because, “those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified (Note: by grace through faith), and those whom he justified he also glorified (Note: by grace through faith).” (Rom. 8:29-30)
Realize, we are dead to the Law. Now, we are made alive to Christ by His grace. The great hymn was right,
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me (cf. Rom. 7:24, Titus 2:11-14, Eph. 2). I once was lost, but now am found. Was blind, but now I see (2 Cor. 4).
‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear (cf. Prov. 1:7, Psalm 2, Revelation 14:6-7), and grace my fears relieved (cf. Rom. 8:15 and 2 Tim. 1:7). How precious did that grace appear the hour I first believed.”
So, Brethren, let us not return to the Law, which is but a shadow of the substance we have in Christ (Colossians 2:17). Because, “the law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized in Jesus Christ.” (John 1:17)
The Amazing Grace of the Lord be with you all.
P.S. Because I do not consider my interpretation of the Bible to be infallible, I ask that everyone give their thoughts on this post and others. As the Body of Christ, we are called to build one another up in the faith (1 Thessalonians 5:11, Eph. 4:12). Therefore, I ask that you all help build me up in the faith by sharing with me the truth of the Bible (John 17:17). If I am wrong, I must repent and be built up in the faith. If otherwise, I will still be built up in the faith by being forced to think over the truths of the Bible even more thoroughly.
How am I to know if I am in error if no one tells me the truth?