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The Christian and the Mosaic Law

Dating back to the early church believers have questioned their relationship to the Mosaic Law (Acts 15:1-31, Gal. 2:1-21). While Bible believing Christians would agree that the Law cannot save them, some still believe that we must follow the Ten Commandments as our rule of life for sanctification.

To fully grasp our relationship to the Law we must first understand the Law’s characteristics, origin, and purpose.

The Law’s Origin and Scope

Scripture refers to the Jewish people “as those who are of the law” (Rom. 4:16). In showing that all are sinners, the Bible includes Gentiles who have sinned without the law and Jews who have sinned in the law (Rom. 2:12-16). Speaking of Christ the Holy One, it states that He was born a Son of Abraham, born under the law (Matt. 1:1-17, Luke 3:23-38, Gal. 4:4).

This tells us that the Law was given to one nation and did not exist in the time period between Adam and Moses, though sin and death certainly did (Rom. 5:13-14). But shortly after their redemption from Egypt God gave it exclusively to Israel on Mount Sinai, its stipulations encompassing every aspect of their lives.

First, revealing God’s holiness and distance from them its terms provided a way for a sinful people to approach Him both as individuals and as a nation. The offerings and feasts provided a temporary covering for sin, opportunities to worship, and a time to remember His goodness to them.

Second it instituted their judicial law, transitioning them from slaves to a nation about to inherit its own land. It instructed them how to govern themselves, on their relationships with each other, its precepts also providing remedies for any wrongs committed.

Third, the Law was one of Israel’s many privileges (Rom. 9:4-5), that uniquely set them apart as a special nation. A separate people, they were to distinguish themselves as the nation that worshipped one God and obeyed His law (Deut. 4:8). Being God’s revelation, the Law set a higher standard for them then the Gentile nations who governed themselves by their own consciences and laws.

The Law, a Greater Revelation

In Scripture we find that with each revelation God builds on what was known before. This progressive revelation culminates in God’s complete and final revelation, the coming of God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, the express image of God (Heb. 1:1-3).

At Sinai the Law revealed God’s holiness and righteousness in written form (Psa. 12:6, Rom. 7:12), a greater revelation than what was known up to that time. It gave Israel a clearer picture of right and wrong, a knowledge that the nations being guided only by their conscience did not have (Rom. 2:12-14, 3:20). Though all have sinned by missing the mark, falling short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23), Israel’s sin took on the nature of transgression because they stepped over recognized boundaries, breaking known precepts and commands. Every year they faced a continual reminder of sins (Heb. 10:3) because the Law revealed sin as a transgression (Rom. 4:15; Gal. 3:19).

The Law’s Conditional Terms

Visibly demonstrating His distance, God gave the Law through the agency of angels (Acts 7:53; Heb. 2:2) with Moses mediating upon behalf of the people. A conditional agreement between two parties – God and Israel – it required a mediator (Gal. 3:19-20, Deut. 5:5).

God promised Israel that if they would follow Him with all their heart He would bless their nation with many earthly blessings. If they failed to do so, many curses would fall upon them (Deut. 28). The Law could never bring personal salvation to the Israelite. Even in the Old Testament personal salvation was always by grace through faith (Gal. 2:16, 3:1-9), both to the Jew and to individual Gentiles such as Rahab and Ruth.

Contrast this with how God appeared and spoke directly to Abraham, the Abrahamic Covenant requiring no mediator, being an unconditional promise (Gal. 3:20).

It was common in Abraham’s day to ratify a contract by having both parties walk hand in hand between divided offerings, each party promising to fulfill their end of the agreement. But in the Promise a smoking oven and burning torch went through the offering signifying God alone was responsible to fulfill it (Gen. 15:5-6, 17; Gal. 3:6-9).

The Law’s Timing

Though added 430 years after the Promise (Gal. 3:17) the Law did not retract God’s earlier guarantees to Abraham (Gal. 3:17-18, 21). Neither did it add to or enhance the Promise but instead was supplementary, a separate covenant, a parenthesis within the eternal Promise.

A clause within the Abrahamic covenant promised that through Abraham’s Seed all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3, 22:18; Gal. 3:16, 17, 19). Here God swore that it was through Christ, Abraham’s Seed, the whole world could be saved. The Bible says that the Law functioned only until Christ came, using the phrase “till the Seed should come,” (Gal. 3:19), affirming a new standard for the Jew when faith in Christ was revealed (Gal. 3:23, 25; John 1:17).

Paul, a Jew includes himself by using the pronoun “we” when he says “we (Israel) were kept under guard by the law,” (Gal. 3:23) and then again in verse 24 “Therefore the law was our (Israel) tutor to Christ, that we (Israel) might be justified by faith.”

Staying true to both the passage and the letter’s context Paul is expressing the thought that the Law was Israel’s custodian or guardian until Christ came (Gal. 3:19, 23-25, 4:4). Later when he’s referring to both Gentile and Jewish believers and their oneness in Christ he uses the pronoun “you” (Gal. 3:26, 28-29).

The Law’s Purpose

In Paul’s day a tutor (custodian, guardian, child-conductor), normally a slave, looked after a child’s moral and physical well-being, providing a restraining influence on the minor. He helped train the children both in their behaviour and in their studies. He did so until the child came of age becoming an adult son (Gal. 4:2). Until then the child was expected to obey his guardian, having no more rights than a servant (Gal. 4:1).

Similarly the Law functioned as a guardian of the Jewish nation. When obeyed, it had a preserving influence on them, protecting them from the immoral practices, idolatry and unrestrained behaviour of the nations around them. It helped them in their studies – their knowledge of God’s righteousness and their own sin. Preserving them was necessary because it was through them the Old Testament was revealed and kept, and it was through them the Messiah would come (Gal. 3:23). Therefore even though Israel was apostate throughout most of their history God always preserved a remnant. The coming of Christ, elsewhere referred to as the “fullness of time” (Gal. 4:4) is Israel’s coming of age.

Since Christ has come, the Jew is no longer under their “law guardian.” Instead upon trusting Christ they become adult sons, fully entering into the rights and privileges of sonship that God has bestowed on all believers. They have died to the Law (Rom. 7:1-6), their past relationship to the law having ended. Though they were never under the Law, Gentiles also faced the same condemnation for their sins, but upon believing Christ they too become adult sons. Both Gentile and Jewish believers are one in Christ.

Christ, The Law’s Theme

Yet the Law and Israel’s experiences still have spiritual value today. For it is God’s Word and all scripture is God breathed and profitable (2 Tim. 3:16).

The Holy Spirit can use any portion of scripture to lead a lost soul to salvation because Christ is the theme of God’s Word. Responding to the Jews the Lord confronted His accusers by telling them that the scriptures testified of Him (John 5:39). After His resurrection, while travelling on the Emmaus road, He expounded from the Old Testament beginning with Moses, the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27).

Knowing this we can meditate upon Christ in the Pentateuch, seeing Him foreshadowed in the feasts, offerings and different personalities of the Law. The examples of Israel’s failures in the wilderness were written for our admonition and instruction. Appealing to our conscience, mind, and will they exhort us to learn from their example (1 Cor. 10:11). The entire Old Testament can instill patience, comforting us with hope, fortifying us with an unshakeable trust in a faithful God (Rom. 15:4).

Christ, God’s Definitive Revelation

After Calvary some significant changes occurred demonstrating that we are not under law but grace (Rom. 6:14).

First the church, a separate entity from Israel, was born at Pentecost. The Mosaic Law was given to an earthly people, a national identity whom God promised earthly blessings upon their obedience to the law. Christians are a heavenly people comprised of Jews and Gentiles, citizens of heaven, spiritually blessed by God because of our union with Christ Who both fulfilled the law and bore its curse (Eph. 1:3, 19-23).

Second there was a change in the law of priesthood. The Old Testament priesthood functioned according to the order of Aaron while Christ is now Priest according to the greater order of Melchizedek. Melchizedek (King of Righteousness) is an Old Testament type of the eternal Christ in that his genealogy is unknown. He was the Priest King of Salem (peace) who met Abraham upon his return from rescuing his nephew Lot. The fact that he blessed Abraham and received a tithe from him gave evidence that his priesthood was greater than the Levitical priesthood that would begin with Abraham’s great-grandson, Levi (Gen. 14:18-20; Heb. 7:1-17).

In the Mosaic Law one became a priest by genealogy because the priesthood was restricted to the tribe of Levi. In the church all believers are priests with the opportunity to offer up spiritual sacrifices to God (1 Pet. 2:5).

In addition to being from the tribe of Levi, the Old Testament High Priest also had to descend from Aaron. On the other hand God appointed Christ, born of the tribe of Judah, to be our great High Priest.

The Aaronic priesthood had a continual succession of priests because eventually each one died. Christ has an eternal priesthood, living forever to make intercession for us. The Law prohibited combining the offices of priest and king. But Christ is the Priest who is now appointed to someday rule the entire earth.

Third, Christ is God’s consummate and final revelation. In the past God spoke at numerous times and in many diverse ways through prophets like Moses, bringing greater understanding to Israel. Giving the Law God visibly demonstrated His transcendence over all creation, including His distance from separated sinners. But the law not only demonstrated God’s distance but also pictured the good things to come (Heb. 10:1).

With the coming of the eternal Son God Himself came to earth and spoke (Heb. 1:1-3). Equal to the Father Christ is the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person. God’s grace has brought us near to Him through Christ (John 1:17-18, 14:21-23) without diminishing His unchanging transcendence. Seeing Christ exalted above all, brings greater clarity and understanding of the High and lofty One who invites us to come boldly to His throne of grace.

While one may separate the Mosaic Law into three parts: civil, ceremonial, and moral, and because nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated in the New Testament, some may be tempted to believe that while the ceremonial and civil have passed the Ten Commandments are now the believer’s standard. But we must remember that when it comes to its adherence the law is an integrated seamless whole that must be fully followed (Gal. 3:10, Jam. 2:10).

Instead Christ must be our rule of life. He brings greater light for guidance, superior strength for service, and abundant power for practical holiness. We must foster our relationship with Him, abiding in Him, seeking His direction, wisdom, and power.

Measuring our spiritual health by the Law may lead some to legalism, self-reliance, and a sense of self-righteousness that hinders the Spirit’s work in their lives.

In others it may lead to despair as the Law awakens their sinful flesh, accusing and condemning them. This was Paul’s experience. He had a sense of self-righteousness before he met Christ (Php. 3:4-6). Yet trying to fulfill the Law after his conversion he experienced something new – its condemnation. Now the law accused him, awakening in him evil desires which conflicted with his new life in Christ (Rom. 7:7-25). In this he recognized his utter helplessness to please God in his own strength. God subsequently revealed to him the liberating truth that there is no condemnation for the believer and that by living a spirit-filled life, God’s righteous moral law could be fulfilled not by him but in him (Rom. 8:1-4).

The Bible states unequivocally that one does not achieve spiritual growth by following the Law (Gal. 3:1-3). Instead it exhorts the believer to live by a new law, the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus (Rom. 8:2). This law exhorts us to live by the Spirit, walking with our eyes solely fixed on Christ (Gal. 5:16; Heb. 12:1-2).

The Lord promised His disciples that after His ascension the Holy Spirit would remind them of truths He taught them, introducing also new doctrine specifically for the church (1 Cor. 11:23, 1 Thess. 4:15), bringing greater clarity to the Old Testament. Christ has removed the old and brought in the new (Heb. 10:9). With Him all things have become new (2 Cor. 5:17).

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Spirit Controlled Ministry

In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, throughout chapters 8 to 11, he reveals the encroachments of carnality into their church; in this, chapter 14, he administers a specific rebuke to the evident license given by the saints at Corinth to the flesh, for here true Christian liberty is seen as the Divine control of the Holy Spirit. In this one chapter there are at least seven principles which constitute the Spirit’s control in the assemblies of the saints. The influence of the Holy Spirit is seen to be, not only the power of ministry, but the restraint of ministry as well.

THE QUALITY OF MINISTRY:

All oral ministry must be to edification, exhortation, and comfort (vs. 3). Edification is for the mind, exhortation for the conscience, and comfort for the heart. The first build up the Church in right thinking, the second, to right acting, and the third aspect of ministry binds up the wounds of the discouraged and broken-hearted.

THE COMMUNICATION OF MINISTRY:

All ministry must be in words easy to be understood, “Except ye utter by the tongue words easy to be understood how shall it be known what is spoken?” (vs. 9). The glory of God and the welfare of the saints must ever be before the speaker.

THE MEANS OF MINISTRY:

The speaker must be conscious that he has a message from God. “That I may teach others also,” (vs. 19). It is only in malice that we are to be children. In understanding we are to be men (vs. 20). We must ever guard against a waste of precious time by ten thousand words to no profit, and say as much as possible in as little time as possible.

THE POWER OF MINISTRY:

Ministry in the Holy Spirit is convincing. It flows from the heart to heart. Of the listener we read, “He is convinced of all, he is judged of all” (vs. 24). When the presence of God is felt in the midst of His people the consciences of all are gripped, there is indeed a holy atmosphere, and as the saints engage in their devotions the power of God is felt and known. It is according to the spiritual condition of the Lord’s people whether they bring that power and holiness with them or not when they come together in the Church.

THE APPRAISAL OF MINISTRY:

Ministry is tested by the judgement of the saints (vs. 29). No man is the judge of his own ministry. There is a Divine liberty to minister, but only for those who are so gifted to minister by the Risen Head of the Church. The dignity of ministry is lowered when the assembly tolerates every one who feels that he has liberty to minister. Many a Christian conference and many a Gospel testimony has been ruined by an “every man” ministry. Verse 29 teaches that God-given gift should be acknowledged by the Church.

THE METHOD OF MINISTRY

God lays down principles, rather than rules and regulations, for the guidance of His people. Here an important principle is stated, “Let all things be done decently and in order” (vs. 40). We may, and do, adopt methods to carry out the principles of Holy Scripture, but these must be in keeping with the dignity and holiness of God’s testimony. Let us ever remember that God has given no legislation for methods, He has given His people wisdom instead. Methods may change in every generation and in every country, but principles never change. Consequently, God never meant that we should look in the Scriptures to find methods, for the simple reason He never placed them there. The grace and ability to distinguish clearly between principles and methods would save the Lord’s people from many a heartache and the Spirit of god from being grieved by vain wrangling.

THE PURPOSE OF MINISTRY

The aim of the Spirit in the assembly of the saints is to unveil Christ to every eye. In chapter 11, verses 10 to 16, the Spirt of God uses a simple exercise and custom to accomplish this end. Here he treats of the subject of Headship. “The head of every man is Christ; and the head of the woman is the man; and the head of Christ is God” (vs. 3). Men appearing in assembly capacity uncover their heads. Why? Because the head of every man is Christ. He must not be covered. The unveiled head of the man teaches what the aim of the Spirit is, the unveiling of Christ to that His glory fills every vision. (vs. 7).

Women appear in the Church with their heads covered. Why? Because the head of every woman is the man, he must be covered; put out of sight. The woman is the glory of the man (vs. 7). That glory must be veiled. The glory of Christ must have no rival in the assembly of His people. Every act of the flesh has its rebuke in the covered heads of the sisters. Thus, our very deportment teaches angels and ourselves that all flesh should be silent before God, that reverence and Godly submission to the control of the Spirit becomes us lest we in some way hinder His revealing of Christ in all His beauty to the hearts of His own.

We conclude by pointing to three verses the summarize these seven Divine principles:

“Let all things be done unto edifying.” (vs. 14:26)

“Let all things be decently and in order,” (vs. 14:40)

“Let all your things be done with love,” (vs. 16:14)

Editor’s Note: Robert McClurkin was the founding editor of Counsel Magazine. This articles was reprinted from the May 1955 issue of Food for the Flock

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Focusing on Christ

“And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me.

After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, this cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me.”

1 Corinthians 11:23-25

The institution of the Lord’s Supper could not have been in a more simpler fashion. A small group of men sitting about a table in an upper room away from the busy world without any distractions. There was no pipe organ. There was no priest in elaborate garments, no altar of any kind, no stained glass windows, no worship leaders, no formal prayers, no bells, no incense, nothing, except Christ.

Christ used simple and common item, bread and cup filled with fruit of the vine. Perhaps using the practice mention in Jeremiah, “Nor shall men break bread in mourning for the, to comfort them for the dead; nor shall men give them the cup of consolation to drink for their father or their mother,” the Lord Jesus used bread and the cup as a way for His disciples to remember Him. (Jer. 16:7 NKJV)

It should be noted that Christ did not say, “Remember me in my death.” We so often use those words, “Remember Christ in His death.” His request was that they would remember Him. It was a Person they were to remember, not so much an event. Now when they broke the bread which Christ said represented His body, and drank of the cup which represented His blood, they “declared” the Lord’s death until he come. Too often we remember only His death, but have little memory of the Lord Himself.

When we grow cold and have given little time to remembering Him in our daily course of life it is often reflected at the Lord’s Supper. Not all times of silence are a reflection of coldness, but frequent periods in which the brethren are silent can well be an indication we have “forgotten” the Lord duing our daily life. Sadly, instead of confessing our coolness, we install external “props” in an effort to produce worship. It may be by having a “worship group” provide music, it may be ornate surroundings, it may be liturgy, anything that appeals to the natural senses, our ears, eyes, touch, smell, etc. All of these only mask the real internal condition of our hearts.

When in truth we are gathered in simplicity to remember the Lord there are no props and the true condition of our hearts is clearly revealed. It is soon evident, individually and collectively, that this is why our wise Saviour instituted this supper. We are prone to forget! At times such as these we often revert to the hymn book and sing words that other godly saints have written. (do not misunderstand, the right hymns sung from right hearts convey many proper thoughts.) In addition to the hymn book we can drift into a “thanksgiving” meeting in which the wonderful truth of our salvation takes center stage. We become “we” centered. We concentrate on the gifts, not the Giver. Like the assembly at Ephesus we can do many good things, but lose our focus. (Rev. 2:2-4)

I would like to suggest four words that might help us keep our minds focus on Him. Now there is plenty of latitude associated with these suggested words and so they will in no way infringe on the work of the Holy Spirit in orchestrating the worship of His saints.

The first would be His preincarnate “Loftiness.” He was God! (John 1:1) He was eternal! (John 1:2) He was the Creator! (John 1:3) He is “the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person, and upholding all things by word of his power,” (Heb 1:3) and of course much, much more could be added.

Second would be His incarnate “Lowliness.”  He who was God took upon Himself humanity. (Phil. 2:6) Additionally He was a servant! (v. 7), a humble and obedient servant, even to the point of dying a “cross death.” He was rich but for our sakes became poor. (2 Cor. 8:9) How rich was he? How poor did He become? His life was perfect, without sin. He did always those things that pleased the Father. (John 8:29) He was “a friend of publicans and sinners,” and “went about doing good.” (Matt. 11:19; Acts 10:38) volumes have been written in attempts to speak of His lowliness, and there is plenty of room for our hearts and minds to ponder and adore.

Thirdly, we could think of His “Lordship.” Not that He is to be Lord of our lives, but that He has gained the victory over death and now sits enthroned “on the right hand of the Majesty on high.” (Heb. 1:3) Because of His submission to His father’s will He has “highly exalted him” and “every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord.” (Phil. 2:9-10) We declare the Lord’s death, but we worship a living glorified Lord! Certainly as we do so we cannot forget what He has accomplished for us, but let us not forget when He accomplished for God. “God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)

We can think of Christ’s Loveliness. Here there are multiple avenues of thought that lead to worship, not just due to His work, although certainly that is proper, but also of Him personally. “Remember me” was His request. “Do not forget Me.” Not only what He has done, as amazing and wonderful as it is, but remember “Him” as well.

We see His love, meekness, humility, purity, compassion, graciousness, kindness, devotion, obedience, righteousness, sincerity, and so much more. So much that we have no justification to be silent. We can fall at His feet and worship for many reasons. He has many glories that we can call to mind. Certainly that he purchased our redemption with His blood, but also for the humble mind that was behind His coming to earth and going to Calvary. He is altogether lovely. Let’s remember Him!

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