The inward and supernatural character of the New Covenant is what gives rise to the apostle Paul’s rebuke of his fellow 1st century Jews still seeking to relate to God and earn salvation by attempting to keep the Law through their own strength and effort (Romans 2:25-29). Graciously included in the New Covenant, we Gentiles that believe do not have to futilely attempt to keep God’s Law and commandments in our own strength and effort either nor become Jews and practice Jewish rituals to be saved since it is impossible (Romans 3:9-20). But saved exclusively by grace through faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit does His work in us too (Romans 3:21-30; 15:8-13)!
Just because we do not attempt by any means to keep God’s written Law and commandments to be saved in the New Covenant, does not mean God has voided their authority in our lives as Paul makes very plain in His anointed teaching (Romans 3:31, 7:1-14). Indeed, he uses his own experience as a Jewish Christian to illustrate how those “in Christ Jesus” go from futility because of sin in the face God’s written Law and commandments to victory through the Holy Spirit’s ministry in our lives. For not only does He put God’s Law and commandments in our minds and write them on our hearts, but He also fills us with love and power to fulfill and do them (Romans 7:15-8:6; Ephesians 3:14-21, NKJV)!3
This is what is fully behind the apostle’s instruction contrasting the Law as the physical “letter” written on stone that kills and it written on our hearts by the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 3:1-6, NKJV). By letter in context, he does not mean “the letter of the law” as in legalism (though it too, kills), but as representative of the whole of God’s Law and commandments with the statutes, judgments, ordinances and instructions to Israel in all of the Old Testament as part of their Old Covenant relationship. These are perfect, but kill because no sinful mortal can keep them. Despite that, as Holy Scripture, the Old Testament retains beneficial value as Paul instructs his son in the faith (2 Timothy 3:14-17).
Truly, with new revelation, the instruction by the Lord Jesus, His apostles and New Testament writers the Holy Spirit uses is an elucidation of the Old Testament as seen by how all quote from it; many using the phrase, “it is written.” From this truth, it should be very apparent that unless context or literary form dictate otherwise, the whole Bible is to be objectively understood through literally interpreting and applying it as it is written!4 So, while Christians do not have to keep any Jewish specific laws or rituals, the Holy Spirit leads us to discern and apply their spiritual, moral and ethical dimensions as well as transcendent truths to our lives (Mark 7:14-23; Acts 10:9-16, 24-29; 15:22-29).
Again, by way of example, Christians do not keep the Sabbath observance on the seventh day of the week as God commanded the Jews. Christians may consecrate any day to God for worship and rest before Him as the fullness of spiritual application of the Law taught by the Lord. Each of us enjoys personal liberty in Christ to select a day or many (Romans 14:1-13). By a voluntary consensus, most Christians have chosen to assemble together on the first day of the week as did the apostles (who as Jews, still also went to the Temple or Synagogue on the Sabbath) in homage to the resurrection of our Lord (Acts 3:1, 13:13-15, 20:7; Colossians 2:16-17).
Yet, as spiritual descendents of the 1st century Judaizers the apostle Paul had to contend with, professed Christian religionists have retained Jewish Sabbath keeping and tithing among many other requirements of the Law legalistically insisted upon in their invented forms of Christianity. Too, they have added church covenants, annual days, traditions, rules and regulations that give the outward appearance of religious devotion5 as well as created heretical doctrines upholding immoral behavior such as racism to this hour.6 These are the true legalists that insist on being saved by keeping the Law that exposes and condemns them (Galatians 3:1-14, 4:9-11, 5:1-15; 1 Timothy 1:3-11). They are also rebels in that they read what God actually commands and ignore it to do what they want.
Other rebels do the same and would corruptly have us believe that the parts of God’s Word they select are to be subjectively understood and subject to flexible interpretation and application. A case where this approach is fully evident in these latter days involves the roles of women in the home and churches. With subjective reading into and willful distorting of very plain Scripture texts as well as a high handed dismissal of Christ’s apostles (especially Paul),7 professed Christian men and women that are guilty set aside God’s order of mankind and direct commandments concerning women (1 Corinthians 14:34-37; 1 Timothy 2:11-15). I with others have stood against them on the Word as it is written as I do in my book, The Strong Man Of God: Back To Basics and are branded legalists.8
Nevertheless, it should be abundantly clear by now that the spiritual, moral and ethical dimensions along with the transcendent truths of God’s Law and commandments in the whole Bible have not been set aside by Him and Christians are expected to obey them. How could God have this expectation if His Word is not to be interpreted and applied literally? Because this is the case, our Lord Jesus even makes obedience to His commandments the proof of our love for Him (John 14:15-24; 1 John 5:3)!9 Therefore, it is not legalism to obey God’s Word properly interpreted and applied as it is written. For also, as we do so in the Spirit, the fully revealed apex of His New Covenant work is accomplished in us (2 Corinthians 3:7-18)!
Woe then, to the professed Christian rebels who reproach those that obey the Lord’s Word as it is written calling them legalists. Without repentance your judgment is near since you teach rebellion against the Lord and His Word as the false prophets of ancient Judah did (Jeremiah 28, 29:30-32). Hell also waits for the true legalists since you hypocritically ridicule and mock those of 1st century Israel and are just like them; those you even teach about that receive the Lord’s harshest words of condemnation (Matthew 23:1-33)! Those that "twist" and set aside God’s Word will not escape the eternal fire either (2 Peter 3:9-16, NKJV). “Blessed” are the Lord’s obedient (Revelation 22:12-17, NKJV)! The risen, living Christ continues His cry among American churches, "Who is on the Lord's side?"
3 In the image of Christ, faithful Christians are enabled by the Holy Spirit to love God and neighbor which distilled down to those two commandments as the Lord and the
apostle Paul teach, fulfills the whole Law of God (Mark 12:28-34; Romans 13:8-10)!
4 The Lord has led me to prepare a free, one sheet document entitled, Seven Principles Of Bible Interpretation that readers can download in our Strong Man Store. It will
be helpful in properly interpreting the Bible.
5 A perfect example here is the rule of celibacy Roman Catholicism has imposed on its priests. Neither the Lord Jesus or His apostles anywhere in the New Testament
of the Bible teach celibacy as a requirement for any but the relative few God gifts and calls (Matthew 19:9-12; 1 Corinthians 7:1-9). For the record, a formal priesthood
of the flesh is not taught either. The sexual abuse scandals that continue to rock this form of Christianity are a direct result of the legalism of manmade religion which
sinfully goes beyond God to add and impose on men a requirement He does not!
6 Catholic and Protestant religionists equally share responsibility for enabling and propping up American slavery and other forms of the historic oppression of blacks and
other minorities rooted not in God’s Word, but sinful racism out of the human heart. Read my September 4, 2016 post, Christianity The Religion American Style, under
the category, Call To Repent.
7 Besides disrespecting apostolic authority, professed Christian male and female feminists pervert New Testament Scripture related to the roles of women in the
churches by attempting to claim Paul among the apostles are captives of their historical context and human in origin social customs that drive their teachings on the
subject. Such a conclusion undermines all New Testament teaching (including that of Christ who does so in the 1st century as a Jewish Man) and blasphemes the Holy
Spirit as an inconsistent, inattentive and sloppy Inspirer and Compiler of Scripture (2 Timothy 3:1-5, 16; 2 Peter 1:16-21).
8 The book is available at all major internet booksellers, by order at your favorite brick and mortar bookstore or in the Strong Man Store. The Lord has had me set forth
the divine good intent involved with His order of mankind and roles of men and women in my book and many blog posts including most recently, those made April 15-
May 20, 2018 under the category, God's creatures.
9 Read the September 2014 posts on obedience beginning with, Selective Obedience, under the category, Call To Repent. Aspiring strong men and great women of God
in the image of Christ even with many sin failures (confessed, repented of, forgiven and cleansed through His blood--1 John 1:9) are eager to obey God’s Word as it is
written exactly because we love Him--our Savior and Lord--so much (Luke 7:36-50)!
Those in these latter days that dare to challenge the rebellious departures from God’s Word being made by many professed Christians and their chosen leader/teachers are very often accused of legalism. I know this because it has happened to me. Microsoft Encarta Dictionary defines legalism as “strict adherence to a literal interpretation of a law, rule or religious moral code.” Amazingly, I have never heard the Lord Jesus called a “legalist” and He had no concern about this for Himself in literally interpreting and applying God’s Word.1 My accusers, no doubt, are only attempting to escape their sin guilt from corrupting, compromising, setting aside and/or disobeying God’s Word.
The confusion involved with religious legalism goes all the way back to Eden when the serpent negatively restated God’s actual directive to Adam and Eve added words to it (compare Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:1-3). Obviously, God intended for Adam to give strict and literal adherence to His specific command. There was no room for exceptional situations or conditions in His command to Adam; God meant for Adam to give absolute and full obedience to what He had commanded him. The consequence of death was also clearly stated to the man for this very reason. Thus, strict obedience to God’s specific commandments and instructions is not legalism, but righteousness!
Satan’s deceitful restatement of and Eve’s added words to God’s very concise and save one prohibitive element, permissive command to Adam presents factors for the first time in human experience that lead especially to religious legalism. God’s Law and all commandments to mankind are always to be understood as for our good and beneficial. Prohibitions exist to help us avoid sin and its consequences. Himself a rebel against God, Satan negatively frames God’s Law and commandments as stifling rules and regulations that we now as sinners by nature, also reflexively rebel against (Romans 8:7). Rebels want their way and hate all rules righteous or not!
Even so, very oddly, mankind has been historically drawn to negatively framed religion. Like Eve and Israel’s religious establishment by the time the living “Word of God” become flesh arrived on the scene, they add to, embellish or arrogantly set aside God’s Law and commandments and expect the result to be legalistically kept (John 1:1, 14-18; Mark 7:1-13; Colossians 2:20-23, NKJV). In their self-made religion they appear to want to outdo God in wickedly attempting to impress Him with their outward show. But the Lord Jesus was not impressed and repeatedly challenged the areas of 1st century Israel’s invented religious legalisms involving God’s Law, commandments and Judaic rituals.
For example, Israel was specifically commanded by God in the Ten Commandments to keep the Sabbath Day holy to Him and cease from all of their normal work to rest (Deuteronomy 5:12-15). However, 1st century religious legalism went beyond God and made it a matter of law breaking to do a good deed such as healing (or being healed) and showing mercy on the Sabbath all of which the Lord Jesus did and rebuked them in the process (Matthew 12:1-8; Mark 3:1-6; Luke 13:10-17; John 5:1-16). As “Lord of the Sabbath,” the living Word perfectly knew God’s good intent in the Law was for and to bless and refresh Israel with rest in the divine presence (Mark 2:27-28, NKJV).
As the perfect Fulfiller and Interpreter of the Law along with all of the whole Old Testament’s spiritual, moral and ethical instruction, the Lord Jesus Christ continually showed the fullness of divine good intent in them (Matthew 5:17-48). In many cases, the Lord with His literal interpretations and applications in spiritual depth and required actions went impossibly well beyond what the Law on the surface demanded and sinful human nature was willing or able to do--or who really desires to love a known enemy? But this brings us to where the Lord Jesus is the bridge between the terms of Israel’s Old Covenant embodied in the written Law and those of the New Covenant (Matthew 26:26-28).2
In ushering in the New Covenant with Israel through His blood, the Lord brought into play its terms announced by God through Jeremiah the prophet which still involved the written Law and commandments (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Now, though, God would supernaturally place His Law ‘“in their minds, and write it on their hearts’” as the New Testament writer of Hebrews also affirms while celebrating the sacrifice of Christ for sin and its forgiveness that makes it all possible (Jeremiah 31:33b; Hebrews 10:11-18, NKJV). Along with producing a new heart (nature) in them, the Holy Spirit would be the Agent of placing God’s Law in their minds and writing it on their hearts (Ezekiel 11:19-20, 36:25-27).
1 See the September 16, 2018, Justifying The Means By The End, under the category, Instruction.
2 For a discussion of the New Covenant, read, God’s New Covenant, under the category, Holidays and my two-part post, Party Of The Second Part, under the category,
The Faith all in January of 2014.
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