(This is part 2 of a 4 part series looking at the question of obedience to the Biblical Law. Which Old Testament Laws should modern Christians obey? Why do some people only obey certain ones? These and many more similar issues will be addressed. If you have not yet read Part 1, read it here before proceeding.)
A quick overview before we continue on discussing the Law and how believers are meant to interact with it:
In Part 1, we talked about why the Law, or Torah, was given to Israel in the first place. As a nation fresh out of captivity, they lacked any stability or knowledge of how to govern themselves as an independent people. God gave them numerous laws, covering different topics so that Israel could live a plentiful and prosperous life.
While this Torah was instituted by God, it was flawed. Not because of the Author, but because of the nature of the system. Having a list of rules quickly illustrates how sinful the human race is, not just the Israelites. The Law became a lamp displaying God’s holiness and mankind’s rebellious spirit. No one could perfectly keep the Law forever, at some point everyone would break a commandment, violating God’s Law. That is not to mention our inability to obey the spirit of the Law. We cannot keep the letter of the Law, and the spirit of the Law shows us even more that we are all sinners, far from the heart of God.
As I said, the Law or Torah was instituted by God, but this was not His original plan. This was His plan after our archetypes and parents, Adam and Eve disobeyed God. The original plan was that God and humankind would have a relationship, not a list of rules to govern their interaction. God created humankind to have a heart to heart communion with him, to know him intimately and deeply, as a wife knows her husband. It was never God’s intention that we would be “law-abiding” citizens. Instead he wanted us to be lovers.
But because of humanity’s sins, there was no way to restore the relationship that God intended, not by man’s efforts anyway. It would take a divine intervention into human history to restore what had been broken.
Enter Jesus and the Love Bugs.
In the third chapter of Genesis, Adam and Eve commit the first sin. This single action catapulted every man, woman, and child into a sin driven and consumed world. No longer would our thoughts and desires be centered on God, but they would become internalized, pointing only to ourselves. Genesis 3 records God’s gracious judgement, but also the start of a cosmic plan to restore that now broken relationship.
So the Lord God said to the serpent [who had tempted Adam and Eve to sin],
“Because you have done this,“Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman,and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” Genesis 3:14-15
God’s judgment on the serpent envelops a prophecy that would be fulfilled thousands of years later. There was enmity between mankind and the serpent, who was symbolic of the accuser, Satan. But the crushing of Satan and the sin that he has helped introduce into the world would not come until the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What God did in this pronouncement of justice on the serpent was the foreshadowing of the restoration of His relationship with His people, and the conquering of sin. This was not the only foreshadowing that would take place before the time of Jesus; this was only the beginning.
Not only would the relationship between mankind and God be restored, it would be redefined. When we say “redefined” it is not that Jesus is changing the definition of the relationship between God and man; Jesus is reestablishing, remaking and redoing the terms of relationship.
After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, after Israel became a nation that was found in captivity in Egypt, after they had been rescued at the leadership of Moses, the people of Israel stopped in the desert. It was there that God gave them the Law, the Torah, the instruction on who they were to live. This is where the Ten Commandments were given, where the first five books of the Bible were actually lived out. These were good laws. They covered a wide variety of topics, ranging from home cleaning to food ethics, religious cleanliness to holidays, work habits to personal grooming. But as was mentioned in Part 1, this was a bad system; a faulty system. Not because of God, but because this was not what God wanted in a relationship with humanity. In fact, at one point in Israel’s history, God declared that He was sick of them. He wanted something else:
“The multitude of your sacrifices – what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. When you come to appear before me, who has asked this of you, this trampling of my courts? Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations – I cannot bear your worthless assemblies.” – Isaiah 1.11-13 NIV
God was sick and tired of their offerings, of their sacrifices, even though He had commanded it. What happened? The heart of the people of Israel changed. No longer did they make these offerings with a heart turned towards God, a spirit desiring Him. Instead their hearts were far from Him, their thoughts and intentions were not connected to their holy actions. They had left the God they loved for other lovers.
Those that did not forsake God for idols—other things to worship— turned what was started out in a good place and twisted it for evil. Rather than a list of do’s and don’t’s that were meant to be liberating and life giving, man turned the Torah into a burden. They changed the purpose of the Law and it became shackles on all those that tried to obey it.
In Matthew 23, Jesus says, “Woe to you, teachers of the Law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.”
While the teachers of the Torah and the Pharisees, among other religious groups, tried to make people follow the Law, they actually made people into slaves. They made things worse by trying to force people into obedience to the Law. This is not what Jesus wanted. This is not what God wanted when He created the Law. God has never been about turning His children into slaves. Never has He called us to a life of bondage, a life of oppression. Quite the opposite actually.
Jesus, being in every likeness, God, told his disciples what He intended to do. He shared with them how He was going to redefine the relationship between God and humanity, how He was going to restore what had been broken:
“I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I have learned from my Father I have made known to you.” – John 15.15
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” – Matthew 11.28-30
Jesus came declaring a gospel that was not focused on slavery, on a strict and obsessive adherence to the rules. It was not a preaching of oppression or burden that Jesus shared. No one was being made a servant, or lesser than one another, as the teachers of the Law did. Instead Jesus came, elevating all those that turned to Him as friends. He saw them as people that were destined and designed for a face to face relationship. An intimate relationship of the heart was what Jesus came to offer, not of studious learning or exact adherence to a man’s teaching. It was not a rule and reward system for Him, nor a do and do not style of relationship either. This was a relationship built on love.
This was fundamentally different than what everyone was doing in that day. Even now, the idea that a relationship with God is based on love is staggering and at times, confusing. How does one do this? What does it look like? How should we operate in this relationship? We come with these kinds of questions because we are so used to a rule/reward system, the do’s and don’t’s have conditioned us to have some kind of command to follow. Jesus only gave one command, one that was a repeat of what God had already established long ago:
“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” – John 15.12-13
“This is my command: Love each other.” – John 15.17
“One of the teachers of the law came and…asked [Jesus], “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus,” is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is One. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Mark 12.28-31
Now, before you start to think that Jesus was the one all about love, and the God in the Old Testament was someone consumed by anger and wrath and judgment, I ask you to consider these portions of Scripture:
“For your Maker is your husband – the LORD Almighty is his name – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer; he is called the God of all the earth. The LORD will call you back as if you were a wife deserted and distressed in spirit…” – Isaiah 54.45-6
“Return, faithless people,” declares the LORD, “for I am your husband. I will choose you…” – Jeremiah 3.14
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, thought I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.” – Jeremiah 31.31-33
“In that day,” declares the LORD, “you will call me ‘my husband’; you will no longer call me ‘my master.’
“I will betroth you to me forever; I will betroth you in righteousness and justice, in love and compassion. I will betroth you in faithfulness, and you will acknowledge the LORD.” – Hosea 2.16, 19-20
Jesus came to redefine how the relationship between God and humanity worked. It wasn’t a list of rules, it was love. For some people this is still confusing. How do you act in love? What do you do and not do?
I turn to a wonderful pastor, Bruxy Cavey of the Meeting House, for an example of how this love looks, how the relationship between God and humanity was meant to work:
“When a couple decides to get married, they don’t make a list of do’s and don’t’s. That would just be weird. They don’t stand there at the alter, ready to say their wedding vows and the groom starts saying things like, “I will honour and cherish you, if you do the laundry on Wednesday and Friday, and if you cook food the way my mom always did. And I’ll love you if you let me watch the football game with the guys, but if you interrupt us, I will stop loving you.” No, of course not. And likewise, the bride doesn’t say things like, “I will honour and cherish you, as long as you don’t forgot to put your dirty socks in the hamper, and you actually put the toilet seat down. And I’ll love you just so long as you always let me steal all the blankets on the cold nights and give me unlimited back rubs no matter what you are doing and how you feel.” No. That is not a marriage you want to get into. That is not going to work out. That is not what love looks like. When Nina [Bruxy’s wife] and I got married, no one had to stop me before the ceremony and tell me how to treat her. They didn’t say to me, “Now, Bruxy, you know you can’t hit Nina now that you are married.” Or, “You make sure that you don’t verbally abuse her now, you hear?” No.
They didn’t need to tell me that, I already knew that. I knew not to abuse Nina, verbally or physically. I knew that because I loved her. Our relationship was about love, based on love, not rules, not do’s and don’t’s. I did to Nina, I treated Nina in the way of love. I gave up my life for her. I sacrificed myself for her, for her happiness, for her security, for her joy and peace. No one had to give me a list to do that. I just knew I had to do that because of love.”
Jesus called us to a love relationship, between Him and us, between God and us. A relationship that functions based on sacrifice, joy, freedom; that is what is being offered to us. This love that we are invited into is one that removes the legalism, the rules, the do’s and the don’t’s.
This is what God wants for us. This is what He was wanting from the start, since the days of the Garden of Eden. The heartbeat of God is to see all of His children return to a loving relationship with Him. Not one based on rules, but one based in sacrificial living, based in real love.
A final quote to end this article, from William Paul Young’s novel, The Shack, but first, to set the scene. A man named Mack has been invited to a cabin in the woods. While the cabin has a dark and depressing past attached to it, Mack encounters God there, in His three unique persons, Papa as Father, Jesus as the Son, and Sarayu as the Holy Spirit:
“Mack stood in the bathroom, looking into the mirror while wiping his face dry with a towel. He was searching for some sign of insanity in those eyes staring back at him. Was this real? Of course not, it was impossible. But then…He reached out his hand and slowly touched the mirror. Maybe this was a hallucination being brought on by all his grief and despair. Maybe it was a dream, and he was asleep somewhere, maybe in the shack freezing to death? Maybe…Suddenly, a terrible crash broke into his reverie. It came from the direction of the kitchen, and Mack froze. For a moment there was dead silence, and then unexpectedly, he heard uproarious laughter. Curious, he exited the bathroom and poked his head through the doorway of the kitchen.
Mack was shocked at the scene in front of him. It appeared that Jesus had dropped a large bowl of some sort of batter or sauce on the floor, and it was everywhere. It must have landed close to Papa because the lower portion of her skirt and bare feet were covered in the gooey mess. All three were laughing so hard that Mack didn’t think they were breathing. Sarayu said something about humans being clumsy and all three started roaring again. Finally, Jesus brushed past Mack and returned a minute later with a large basin of water and towels. Sarayu had already started wiping the goop from the floor and cupboards, but Jesus went straight for Papa and, kneeling at her feet, began to wipe off the front of her clothes. He worked down to her feet and gently lifted one foot at a time, which he directed into the basin where he cleaned and massaged it.
“Ooooh, that feels soooo good!” exclaimed Papa, as she continued her tasks at the counter.
As he leaned against the doorway watching, Mack’s mind was full of thoughts. So this was God in relationship? It was beautiful and so appealing. He knew that it didn’t matter whose fault it was – the mess from some bowl had been broken, that a dish that had been planned would not be shared. Obviously what was truly important here was the love they had for one another and the fullness it brought them. He shook his head. How differently this was form the way he treated the ones he loved!”
Yes, this is a novel. Yes, this is a man’s imagination written on the page. But I think that Young is really onto something when he describes this relationship within the Trinity—between Father, Son and Spirit.
This is a wonderful, full picture of what this loving relationship looks like. This is how a love relationship should work. And this is what we are invited into, we are asked to share in this. This is far better than any list of rules, any do’s or don’t’s that could possibly exist. We are invited to live in the being of Love. A love of sacrifice, a love of putting others first, a love without expectations or demands. That is what God wants to have with us.
But if this is what we are invited into, why do some people insist on following the rules? Why do some people still encourage Christians to live a life of do’s and don’t’s? Or why pick and choose the rules that need to be followed?
These and much more will be addressed in the next installment.
Thanks for reading this guys and gals.
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Grace and Peace be with you.