Has the ‘law’ been abolished?

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According to most Christians the ‘law’ of Moses has been abolished. The grace of the Lord Jesus is supposedly the new norm. Still, not all believe this. Some point at the ethics of the ‘law’. Others maintain that the core of the ‘law’ is still valid; the Ten Commandments. But there are also who claim that only the ceremonial part of the ‘law’ is abolished, but that the rest is still valid. Many Messianic believers claim that the entire ‘law’ is still in force. What is said about it in the Bible?

By Marco van Putten

The ‘law’ is very much disputed in Christianity. People resist laws, but believers often disagree with God’s ‘law’ and ignore it. Not realizing that even hate and sin follow ‘laws’. That the stance one takes regarding the ‘law’ has large implications for the practice of one’s belief is seen clearly in history. It was the cause for expulsion, persecution, hatred, denunciation and even death penalty. Finally, it became law to ban the ‘law’ from Christianity.

Torah
The Bible doesn’t contain many ‘laws’. Moses has not received a ‘law’. Who studies his five books shall discover that it has a learning curve. From 1. Practical examples, 2. Grace and forgiveness during practicing it, 3. Lessons learned, 4. Recovery and back again to 1. This is called instruction (Hebrew: Torah). It’s the upbringing of God, the Father. God wants to show His will and what He expects of people, to enable them to understand Him, their Creator, and to reach their calling (Gn 2:15). Instruction cannot be without consequences. It must lead to a change in the way of living. Through Torah man, corrupt from birth (Rm 3:12), can become children of God – God’s people (Jh 1:12).

Covenant conditions
The way that God interacts with people is determined by His Covenant. That is not a neutral agreement, but it determines the mutual love relationship. But it also emphases a certain distance; the broken bond between God and Creation/man. Torah is the requirement to uphold God’s Covenant but also represents the characteristics of it. Whoever trespasses the Torah will experience the disciplinary measures of it; punishments and chastisements. Serving God is determined by the limits set by Torah, but the Covenant is however dominant to it. However, God’s Covenant is related to His Plan of Salvation and thus represents the spiritual status at a certain time. Through Torah a believer takes part in God’s salvation. When God’s Salvation Plan enters a new phase it often goes together with a renewal of God’s Covenant. Renewal also means a renewal and improvement of Torah.

Holy Spirit and Torah
God knows that it is impossible for people to please Him (Rm 8:8). He had, as a consequence of their evilness, taken away His Spirit from them (Gn 6:3). That left them being just material (Mt 26:41). Thus, man was no longer able to fulfill its calling. Therefore God often comes to the help of people in many ways. Still also believers continued to do evil (Rm 7:18). Torah was a means to get discipline (Gal 3:24). But only once the Holy Spirit could be poured out again on the believers they are able to please God by fulfilling its calling. Through it Torah became a means to make them holy (Rm 8:2-4; 1 Th 4:3; 1 Pe 1:16).

Misunderstandings
Many misunderstandings exist about Torah, like:

• Torah is supposed to contain ‘laws’
When Torah is viewed merely as a set of all kinds of rules, then its goal is missed. Since it is about the mindset of God and His reality. It’s also about, that people will honor and serve Him based on love for God. Without that basic attitude Torah is meaningless. Torah teaches to separate out primary from secondary issues and to live from it. God is put central by it, and not man and its works. Many believers however want to fulfill their calling without (the fulfillment of the Spirit of) God. But the core and the purpose of Torah is missed out this way (Rm 9:31).

• Only Moses gave Torah
The five books of Moses are called ‘Torah’. Only those are supposed to be regarded as Torah. However, in the whole Bible (also the New Testament (NT)) is Torah. Moses only mediated God’s Covenant after the Exodus from Egypt. Wisdom and insight about that and its Torah only came afterwards.

• ‘Law’ versus Gospel
Christians disqualify the Covenant of Moses (the Old Covenant (OC)) as a ‘shadow’ which is not far from disappearing [1]. But by setting out the OC against the Gospels a wrong comparison is made since they are too different in content to be compared. A gospel is a good message from God, but it’s not a Covenant of God and thus not such Torah. The OC and the Gospels are however complementary to each other. The Gospels suggest an OC and that it has been continued with the New Covenant (NC). There is no conflict.

• Keeping the ‘law’ is Judaism
Following Torah is supposedly the requirement for being Jewish, but also Noah and the pious in his descendents kept the requirements (Torah) of the Covenant that God had made with him (Gn 9). Also, Abraham and the pious in his descendents kept those and the ones of the Covenant that God made with him (Gn 15, 17). From Noah unto Moses the Israelites did not exist, but they were called Hebrews. Many of the Covenant requirements of Moses are refinements of those of the Covenants of Noah and Abraham whom they kept. It has always been God Salvation Plan that all people would become believers. The Covenant of Moses however has also national aspects. But to confuse the ‘Jewish law’, that became dominant in Judaism after the fall of the 2nd Temple, with the Covenant of Moses is confusing words of God with words of man [2]. The NC is made with those who accept it.

• No ‘law’ because of grace
The norm in the NC is supposedly grace. But anyone who knows the Old Testament (OT) knows that grace was already the norm in the OC. In the Bible it is clearly stated that God’s grace was always determined and limited. Abolishing frameworks, tests and instructions for growth doesn’t give grace and freedom. Neither does the Bible teach that. Man, fallen away from God, needs Torah to fulfill its calling. There is no other way. Everyone will admit that Torah is just and good (R, 7:12). Without ‘law’ man remains disqualified before God and goes from worse to evil. Putting grace into the extreme would result in not accepting God to become angry and punish.
Followers of the thought that all is grace due to the NC forget that the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, the requirement for the NC, lifts responsibility (Mc 3:29) in comparison to the OC. God’s grace, but also falling away from faith, are therefore put in a much more serious perspective (Hb 10:29).

• Legalism (strong focus on Torah observance)
According to some believers rules hinder growth in faith. They would cause a cramp. But doesn’t God know better what is good for humans? Man is not up for it (Rm 3:12). Even when God’s Spirit dwells in them. Especially Spirit filled, re-born believers struggle to fulfill their calling (Rm 7:24). The Lord Jesus has not redeemed them from it, but He wants to help them to succeed. Some say that it is impossible to keep Torah completely, but Torah is just the Way towards the end-goal. It’s not the end-goal itself.

Torah weighed
Can God’s Torah be abolished (Mt 5:18)? Because it represents God’s Character and He Himself is eternal (Js 40:28) it cannot be abolished. It is better to ask what is still in force in the NC? The NC could become fact because the Lord Jesus has broken the power of sin. This made it possible for the Spirit of God to dwell again in a human. This gives more possibilities, but also more responsibilities. Everything points to the facts that the work of the Lord Jesus on earth is still unfulfilled [3]. Keeping Torah is also continuing His work.

Can Torah be separated out in ‘timely’ and ‘eternal’ parts? The Lord Jesus became High priest and in being that He keeps the (ceremonial) Torah. That part, which most firmly regard as being abolished, seems not abolished at all and still fully active on behalf of the believers on earth. Thus, Torah cannot be divided up. Who has the right or the wisdom to do that? Also, it is not allowed to reduce Torah into 10 or 613 commands. But Torah can be and has to be adjusted.

The Lord Jesus is the highest Torah authority (Hb 3:3). Even He has bypassed instructions, made some meaningless and lifted some, but has confirmed others or made some even more stringent (Mt 5:28, 32). His disciples have continued that work and added to it. The NT contains over a thousand Torah instructions and the Holy Spirit is still ongoing revealing new ones (Jh 16:13). Still, due to the closeness and the heavenly intercession of the Lord Jesus the ‘yoke’ of His Torah is made light (Mt 11:30).

Ask fundamental questions
Now that it has become clear that the NC has conditions (Torah) important questions should be raised that make the core of it clear, such as:

• What is the difference between the NC and the OC? For example the aspects on nationality in the OC.
• How Torah relates to the laws of the land/nation? For example in honoring the government.
• How should Torah be kept without the Temple on earth? For example regarding religious judgment.
• Believers have received more time to learn Torah, rather than being forced to obey the complete Torah at their conversion. Since nationality [4] of God’s people has been lifted the need to comply with Torah also has been eased. Should that then be a ticket for self-indulgence and mediocrity? What does this mean for example for mutual respect?
• The Bible urges Christians to feel responsible for the Jewish people (Rm 15:27, but why don’t they do that and why are they even anti-Jewish?
• What is the relation between Judaism and Christianity? Why does Christianity for example follow a completely different marching order then that of the religion of Israel (Judaism)?
• Are Jewish Christians different then other Christians? For example in keeping Torah.

Evaluation
Christianity exists by the grace of the NC and its conditions (Torah) [5]. But Christianity states [6] that it does not need Torah since the Lord Jesus is supposed to have abolished it [7]. Believing in Him is supposed to be enough and it should remain at that. But in the Bible it is written that faith is proven only by keeping Torah (Rm 3:31; Jm 2:18). Even more so, keeping Torah is proof of being ‘in’ the Lord Jesus (1 Jh 3:24). The Spirit of God uses Torah for the mandatory growth in faith and He warns believers to honor Torah (Mt 5:19; Hb 10:28). Believing cannot do without keeping Torah (Ex 23:25-27). Still, Christianity has another focal point (Greek: telos) [8] to fulfill its calling [9]. This can only lead to problems and that explains why the Lord Jesus has to return to seek out those who kept faith (Lc 18:8)!

Endnotes
[1] As long as Israel had not restored from its exile they remain under the judgment of the OC. The OC will only disappear after their restoration which tarries already some 2000 years!
[2] But a religion cannot do without words of man. The question is whether God’s will is being honored by these words.
[3] This explains why the pouring out of God’s Spirit took place only after the ascension and the return of the Lord Jesus as Messiah to heaven.
[4] The nationality of Israel.
[5] According to mainstream Christianity the NC has no covenant conditions, but God’s grace is suppose to be a blank cheque.
[6] The position of the majority.
[7] This is based on the confusion between the ‘curse of the law’ (the punishment on trespassing the law) with the ‘law’ of God (Gal 3:13). More important is to understand that the Lord Jesus has only put the ‘law’ of sin (the power of sin) to rest (Rm 8:2), but not the ‘law’ of God. The Son of God is not authorized to put God’s ‘law’ to rest. Even God would never do that, since Creation is based on it. Redemption of the power of sin has fundamental impact on keeping Torah. In the NT it is made clear that after the redemption the Lord Jesus completed, the requirement to keep Torah remained in place.
[8] Belief according to church tradition, which sees keeping Torah as blasphemous.
[9] Whilst the Lord Jesus, the Son of man, is aimed at Torah (Rm 10:4) and He has shown the only Way to God (Jh 14:6)!