I’m a Law Breaker: Christians and Old Testament Law

As a 21st century American who is 25 years old and considers most stereotypical religious practice to be absurd, I have to ask what the importance of God’s Law was and even what it is for us today. See, I believe that God is there. I believe that Jesus is the Messiah and that it is by Him alone that people can be restored to a right standing with God. I know that the Law came from God, but I also know that most people who claim to be God’s people actually ignore much of that Law. Modern American Christianity seems to be the least religious religion on the planet. My question is, if God gave His people the Law, why do we think that we can be His people if we fail to keep that Law?

“Be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you are not to turn aside to the right or the left. Follow the whole instruction the Lord your God has commanded you, so that you may live, prosper, and have a long life in the land you will possess.”[1]

Previously in this book, the book of Deuteronomy, God reminds this generation of Israelites about their journey so far. He reminds them about how He freed them from their captivity in Egypt. He reminds them about their extended stay in the wilderness because their parents rejected the promised land. Remember that the previous Generation would not take hold of God’s promises. They told God that they would rather die in the wilderness and God allowed them to do so. God reminded this generation of all the land they had already conquered, and urged it to keep all of His commands.

God’s character

When I read this passage and consider all that God had done for this generation of Israelites up to this point, I recognize some of God’s amazing qualities: First of all, when God does something, He is all in. He is never half-way committed. He follows through on everything. He does not have one foot out the door. He completes the work that He starts. Because it is His nature, when He gave the law, He gave the whole law. Consequently, when the law is fulfilled, it is entirely fulfilled; and hen the law is broken, the whole law is broken. Here’s what that means for us. When we break God’s law for us, we break all of God’s law for us. This is why all sin equally separates us from God and why the consequence of any sin must be death.

My shortfall

According to the passage above, it was important for God’s people to keep the whole degree of the Law. Thus, I must ask each Christian a few questions:

  1. Do we cut our hair? If we do, we break a command given in Leviticus 19.
  2. Do we make animal sacrifices? If not, we are guilty of breaking some of God’s very direct commands.
  3. Do we celebrate the Jewish Sabbath? By the way, the Jewish Sabbath began on Friday evening and ended Saturday evening. There was some ritual and much rest. If we do not celebrate the Jewish Sabbath, then we are even guilty of breaking one of God’s ten commandments.
  4. Do we eat pork? Bacon-eaters break God’s law.
  5. Do we eat fat? If so, we are guilty.

Considering these, I have to ask what it might mean for us to keep God’s law? Some laws were meant specifically for the Israelites who lived in a certain context. Scripture even records God as giving many of these laws specifically to Israel. We call these civil laws (e.g. must build a rail around your balcony). Some laws were given to Israel for religious ceremony leading up to the coming of the Messiah. These are ceremonial laws (e.g. sacrificial system). Some laws are morally based on God’s nature and are always applicable to all people. These are moral laws. (e.g. do not murder).

When we read laws in scripture, we have to ask: is this a law for us here and now, or was it for a specific group living in a specific context. We shouldn’t mistake the argument here. Our goal is always to obey God, but we have to try and understand what His commands for us actually are, and be sure that Scripture actually requires something of us regarding that law.

God’s grace

Even when we look into God’s good and perfect law and discern those things that He desires of us, we remain imperfect. We are still unable to keep the laws that God has given us. If we were each to evaluate our own actions, we would see our own shortfalls. There is good news for us, though. This is where Christ comes in to our discussion. In Matthew 5:17, Jesus says that He did not come to do away with the Law, but to fulfill it. If I cannot keep God’s law, but God’s Law is fulfilled in Christ, then by trusting in Christ and following Him I am actually able to please God. Here, I notice that I fall so short. I am imperfect and sinful and unable to keep God’s entire law. This means I am guilty of breaking God’s entire law. Even so, God chooses to be pleased with me through the person of Jesus Christ. God chooses people even when they fail to keep His law. We can actually please God by following hard after Christ.

My response

In this, I realize that Scripture does not demand perfection. It reveals our imperfection and it desires our pursuit of Christ. In the same way, we cannot demand perfection of others. We should, though, desire pursuit. I will never condemn anyone for messing up or doing something wrong. I do commit to helping everyone connected to me love Christ better. That’s how we should be with one another. For if there is no condemnation in Christ (Rom. 8:1), then there should be no condemnation in our churches, in our homes or in our relationships. Condemnation is the weapon of immature faith, while forgiveness and discipleship are conduits for the very work of the Gospel.

It is amazing to know that I fall short, yet God chooses me.

[1] Deuteronomy 5:32-33 (HCSB)

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