Focus on Jesus Series
The Believer's Relationship to the Law
by Ed Vasicek
Note: This is a composite article and may seem choppy.
One of the most confusing questions to deal with in interpreting and applying Scripture is the believer's relationship to the Law. As is typical, we often find it attractive to reduce matters down to a nutshell or a pithy saying, providing simple answers to complex problems.
Even the question, "What is the believer's relationship to the Law" raises many other questions. Which believer—a believing Jew or a gentile? Before or after Pentecost? Which relationship to the Law (there are many)? Which Law? (Law, or Torah, means instruction; there are many set of instructions in the Bible.)
At the outset, we can begin with a few black and white conclusions that are more clear.
Regarding the Torah given to Moses, Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:8-11:
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers—and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me.
Note that there is a use for the Law (of Moses) even during the Christian era.
More next time.
Although Christians are not "under the Law" (that is, we do not find acceptance with God through striving to obey the Law), the term "Law" often refers to the commands of God. We cannot find forgiveness from sin by keeping the Law, but we can find God's direction through a careful study of His Word, and, in that sense, the Scriptures in general are Law.
Every follower of Jesus is expected to obey the Savior's commands (Torah, instruction), though some are admittedly difficult to understand. Incidentally, the commands of Jesus include the entire New Testament. The Apostles were special authoritative representatives of Jesus, wielding His complete authority.
Up until about 75 AD, the majority of believers were Messianic Jews. Did Jews who believed in Jesus as Lord and Messiah abandon their Jewish practices (as prescribed in the Old Testament)? The answer is clearly, "No." (Acts 21:17-26) Church history also verifies that for the first two centuries, Jewish believers in Jesus maintained their Jewish practice by attending synagogue, eating kosher, and celebrating the Feasts of Israel. Even James, the Lord's brother who wrote the Book of James, was put to death because he was trying to purify Temple worship by exposing the corruption of the priests. James was highly respected by both Messianic Jews and non-Messianic Jews.
Unlike some non-Messianic Jews, believing Jews recognized that they were saved by grace through faith in Christ, not law-keeping. They kept the Torah of Moses (though not necessarily the traditions) but accepted gentile believers, who did not abide by all the commandments given through Moses to Israel, as equals. These gentile believers sought to obey the New Testament Torah, part of which was based upon the Torah of Noah (Acts 15:19-21). Jewish believers were not absolutely required to remain within Judaism, but the peer pressure was to do so. They could choose to live the lifestyle of gentile believers and take the status of "grafted in" branches, if they wished.
It is crucial for all believers to study the Torah of Moses. True, we are not held accountable to obey the national, dietary, nor ritual commandments, but we can learn much about God, about His plan for the people of Israel, and about treating others fairly and justly. Additionally, many of the rituals and religious practices of the Law of Moses prefigure the Person and Work of Christ, like the Tabernacle and the Feasts.
The Law of Moses gives us wisdom, and its principles are often applicable to a host of contemporary situations. The Law of Moses is very often the basis of New Testament teaching. Additionally, we cannot deeply understand the New Testament without understanding the Old. The New Testament writers assume that their readers already had a background in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Highland Park Church