Understanding Paul's View of
THE TORAH (LAW)
Some ex tempore Notes on Paul's Letter to the Romans
and Luke's Acts of the Apostles
"..I [Paul] worship the God of our [Hebrew] fathers as a follower of the Way, which they call a sect. I believe everything that agrees with the Law and that is written by the Prophets...I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and men" (Ac.24:14,16, NIV).
A. The Picture in Romans
The Law "is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good" (Rom.7:12). Ananais, who healed Paul of his blindness, was a devout observer the Law (Ac.22:12). The Law is spiritual (Rom.7:14). No one is righteous, for all are sinners -- no-one understands, no-one seeks God (Rom.3:10-12). The purpose of the Law is to make people accountable for their actions (Rom.3:19). It's purpose is to make people conscious of sin (Rom.3:20; 7:7). Sin existed before the Law (Rom.5:13) so it is not the Law which causes a person to sin -- it merely makes him aware of it and enables a man to repent and receive a remission of his sins through faith in the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now, under the New Covenant, we are not made righteous by legalistic observance of Law but by observing it by faith in Christ (Rom.3:22). Therefore if we have anything to boast about now, it is our faith in Christ and not our observance of the Law (Rom.3:27) because our centre is Christ. So we are justified by faith and not by legalistic observance of the Law (Rom.3:28). The Law is not nullified by faith in Christ but it is upheld! (Rom.3:31). Admission to the New Covenant is by a new ordinance, baptism. The ordinance has passed from the flesh [= the Letter] to water [= the Spirit]. Both circumcision and baptism are signs of inward faith (Rom.4:11).
There is a difference between our inner state (which is sinful on account of Adam's transgression) and sinning by breaking the commandments of the Law (Rom.5:14). Breaking the commandments also brings us to an awareness of our inner state and our need for redemption. The law was given "so that trespass might increase. But where sin increased, grace increased all the more" (Rom.5:20, NIV). The Law condemned transgressors to death. In Christ, that death is transformed into new life through repentance and reformation (Rom.6:3-4). In Christ we have a new life and a new power so that sin is no longer our master, but Christ (Rom.6:14). We are not "under" the legalism of the Law, therefore, but "under" Christ, for Christ is our master, not sin. Jesus is the fullness of the Law -- we are under Him. In Him we are enabled to obey the Law, not legalistically, but through grace and our willingness to be under that grace (Rom.6:15). We now obey the teaching of Christ, passed on by the apostles, which is that we live the Law through faith in Christ, and thus become sanctified and holy (Rom.6:22).
The Law shows us what we cannot see because of our sinful nature (Rom.7:14-16). It is therefore a great blessing and, like Paul, we can "delight in God's Law" (Rom.7.22). Paul never condemns the Law per se -- only its legalistic observance apart from faith. FAITH IS THE GREAT REDEEMING PRINCIPLE, and faith in CHRIST brings eternal life and the promise of a resurrection. "I myself in my mind am a slave to God's Law, but in the sinful nature of a slave to the law of sin" (Rom.7:25, NIV). Or, to put it more accurately: "To sum up: with my mind, I am a slave of God's Torah; but with my old nature, I am a slave of sin's "torah"" (Ibid., JNT).
When we are in Christ we are free of the condemnation of breaking the Law when we do for He has taken our rightful punishment upon Himself (Rom.8:1-2). But this is only if I repent fully and call upon the redeeming blood of Christ. By living according to the Spirit and not the sinful nature we are able to fulfil the righteous requirements of the Law (Rom.8:5), which is good and holy (Rom.7:12). The sinful mind does not submit to God's Law, nor can it do so (Rom.8:7). The sinful nature cannot please God, but the spiritual nature pleases God by obeying the Law in faith in Jesus Christ (Rom.8:8). Thus those who obey the Law in Christ become the sons of God (Rom.8:14), and they live without the fear of punishment (Rom.8:15). But if there are those who live in fear of punishment then they are not in Christ but in the "law" of their flesh, i.e. their sinfulness.
Therefore we, who are grafted into Israel, are the sons of adoption (Rom.9:8), the heirs of divine glory, the covenants, the Law, temple worship, all the promises, and the Patriarchs (Rom.9:4-5). As Christians -- believers in Christ who obey the Law in Christ -- we receive all these things, and more. Though Israel could not attain righteousness through legalistic observance of the Law, we can through faith in Jesus Christ (Rom.9:31). They did not pursue this righteousness by faith (Rom.9:32) nor in the One who is the author of this faith which was their stumbling block (Rom.9:33).
Today Jews are beginning to accept Jesus as their Messiah. There aren't many (just under a quarter of a million people) but they are growing. Just as they are discovering the Hebrew roots of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, so too are modern Christians -- the New Covenant Christians. Unlike most of Christendom who reject the Law by claiming it has been "done away with", New Covenant Christians are rediscovering freedom, power and glory of the Law in Jesus Christ. Not only are they discovering the freedom that pardoned sin brings through Jesus Christ, but they are discovering the wonders of the God of the Old Testament who for so long has been "rejected" in so many ways by Christendom. This re-discovery has brought us a powerful Spirit which makes many afraid and has provoked them to anger and hostility. In their ignorance they attack this Spirit -- the Holy Spirit -- and call it other things. Using bad translations of the Bible they declare that "Christ is the end of the Law" (Rom.10:4, NIV) when in truth He is "the goal of the Law" (Ibid., JNT) who offers righteousness to everyone who trusts in Him. And this we do. Through this Law in Christ we, like Moses, can claim that we have "attained life" (Rom.10:5, JNT). By taking hold of the Law, we have allowed it to pierce our souls to the core so that through faith in Christ we can be utterly transformed by it. We have not, as so many Christians have done, simply claimed grace and used it to cover our own sinfulness.
The Law, in every part, is for us the Law of Supreme Love (Rom.13:8) because the basis of the whole Law is the love of Christ. Love is the fullness of the Law (Rom.13:10, JNT). And this is no sickly-sweet, hypocritical love -- we do not believe in putting an icing of love on the cake of sin -- it is a love which penetrates everything, making us transparent in love; whereas false Christianity, which denies the Law and claims grace without Law, is two-faced, and those who live it live double-lives.
Paul's teachings on the Law, which are mostly to be found in his letters to the Romans and Galatians are not always easy to grasp. He has been misunderstood for centuries. The New Covenant Church of God, blessed by apostolic ministry again, presents to the world a proper understanding of the Law. It is what we live -- in Christ -- and it is what gives us life. Our theology is immensely practical. It works, and it blesses richly those who will obey in faith.
B. The New Covenant Law: Changes from the Old
1. A New Israelite Nation
The Israelite nation was a theocracy, a "Colony of God" in a world of pagan nations. To preserve that colony from being absorbed by the world, a strict law of exclusiveness was given, making sure that Jews and Gentiles could not mingle in every aspect of life. Because the Israelites were disobedient, this barrier effectively collapsed and Israel rapidly adsorbed the ways of the pagans. However, this was never to be a permanent arrangement and prophecies were given in the Old Testament which looked forward to a time when Hebrew and Gentile would exist under one covenant in one theocratic nation. That "nation" will be created in the Millennium though it is being created, in a watered-down, preparatory form, in the many Christian congregations scattered throughout the world today. In fulfillment of the revelation received by the apostle Peter, Jews may now associate with Gentiles (Ac.10:28). Messianic Jews -- Christian Jews -- now have open fellowship with Gentile Christians. When Christ returns, the secular state of Israel will disappear and a new theocratic Christian State of Israel will replace it.
2. The Law and the New Covenant are One
"All who sin apart from the Law will also perish apart from the Law, and all who sin under the Law will be judged by the Law. For it is not those who hear the Law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the Law who will be declared righteous" (Rom.2:12-13, NIV). Obedience to the Law makes a man righteous in God's sight. But the important thing is not obeying the letter of the Law but the spirit, for "when Gentiles, who do not have the Law, do by nature things required by the Law, they are a Law for themselves, even though they do not have the Law since they show that the requirements of the Law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them. This will take place on the day when God judges men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares" (Rom.2:14-16, NIV).
The Law is "the embodiment of knowledge and truth" (Rom.2:20, NIV). To break the Law is to dishonour God (Rom.2:23). The New Covenant Law -- which is the old Law brought to completion in Christ -- is therefore the full embodiment of knowledge and truth. Take away the old Law from the New Covenant and you have but a shadow of knowledge and truth.
3. Baptism Replaces Circumcision
The apostle Peter taught that Gentiles no longer need to be circumcised or be required to obey the old Law of Moses (Ac.15:5) with all its rituals and shadows (such as animal sacrifice). Those who obey the Law but who are not physically circumcised will be regarded by God as "circumcised" (Rom.2:26), because the Law is now of the heart, by faith without circumcision. A man is a Hebrew if he is one inwardly and circumcision is now of the heart (Rom.2:29). All those of us who are baptised into Christ are therefore also circumcised in heart. As circumcision was a covenant of obedience to the Law of God, so baptism is a covenant of obedience to the Law of God in Christ today. In baptism we therefore undertake to obey the whole Law of Christ in every point according to the grace imparted to us by Christ, which will be in proportion to our faith in Him.
Today we serve God in a new way -- not by serving the letter but by serving the Spirit which makes the letter of the Law come alive (Rom.7:6). The hearts of the Gentiles are purified by faith (v.9) in the Law of Christ. The Jews were never able to bear the requirement of being justified through legalistic observance of Torah (v.10) -- it was too much for them, an impossibility, a "curse". Now Christ has removed that curse by making the goal attainable, for it is attained through the grace of Christ working in obedient souls. It is through the grace of Jesus that all are now saved (v.11) and therefore the Kingdom is open to everyone, including Gentiles (non-Hebrews). Gentiles were prophesied to be amongst Torah-believers (v.17). We New Covenant Christians who are not directly descended from Israel are amongst those Torah-believers.
4. Who Has Authority in the New Covenant?
The leadership in ancient Israel was described in great detail by the Lord to Moses in the Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament). Moses was the first appointed law-giver and himself added to what the Lord had given on Mt.Sinai by revelation when it was required. This authority is called halakhah in Hebrew, and literally means the right to "prohibit" and "permit" (not always accurately translated in Gentile translations of the Bible as "bind" and "loose" -- Matt.18:18).
The term "bind and loose" was a fist century Jewish one and meant that the leaders of the theocracy had the authority to decide what practices should be followed by the community/church. This right, which belonged to the Rabbis in Jesus' time, was transferred by Jesus from them to His own apostles. This authority was not assumed instantly (Matt.23:2), nor was it fully assumed later when it should have been, though we will see some examples of when it was. That authority has now been assumed by the apostles of the New Covenant Church of God because this has been given to them by the Word of God. As such, therefore, this is a revolutionary development in the Christian Church. (Of course, some have wrongly assumed this authority, like the Mormons, the New Apostolic Church, the Reorganized Church, the Worldwide Church of God, and others, for they have created their own non-Biblical gospels).
God has established New Testament apostles and prophets in the Church today who take their calling to establish halakhah very seriously. They have addressed pressing modern issues like alcohol consumption, tobacco, drugs, pagan festivals, surrogate motherhood, abortion, God's Holy Days, and many, many other matters of interest to the Christian in the late 20th and early 21st Century. This they have done prophetically, through revelation, as Peter did when God told him that he was not bound by the Hebrew diet any more.
In the old Covenant the Lord also called a Priesthood (the Levitical or Aaronic Priesthood) into existence with different officers from among the Israelite tribe of Levi. In the New Covenant he has established a new Priesthood, called the Melchizedek Priesthood (Heb.7ff), and established officers therein. These officers are twelve apostles (three of which are presiding patriarchs, as Peter, James and John were in New Testament times), prophets, evangelists, pastors, elders, teachers and deacons. The old Covenant High Priest is now the Lord Jesus Christ Himself as the New Covenant High Priest.
We thus see the smooth "filling up" and reformation of the old Covenant into the New.
5. The First Halakhah
The first halakhah, or apostolic law, was given in the Church when Gentiles were admitted into the community of believers as the result of Paul's missionary work. The first three halakhah were: Gentiles were to abstain from (a) sexual immorality; (b) the meat of strangled animals; and (c) blood (kosher) (Ac.15:20; 21:25). In truth, none of these laws were actually "new" but restatements of the old Covenant. I wonder how many Christians obey them today? I can think of many Scottish Christians who ought not to be eating haggis for this is prohibited by the New Covenant Law! And I can think of many Christians who are living sexually immoral lives, especially practicing homosexuals and lesbians who reject the Old Testament because of the explicit statements about homosexuality (though, in truth, they reject similar things in the New Testament).
It is time Christians -- and especially evangelical Christians --woke up to the truth about the Law and emulated the apostle they champion. The apostle could truthfully say: "I have committed no offence -- not against the Torah to which the Jews hold, not against the Temple, and not against the Emperor" (Ac.25:8, JNT).
Here are three challenges, then, to both Hebrew and Gentile Christian: (a) Have you faithfully obeyed the New Covenant Law? (b) Have you honoured the New Covenant Temple? and (c) Have you honoured the Laws of the Land in which you live, and those in authority over you (to the extent that they do not make you compromise your faith)?
Perhaps we dare go further: (a) Do you know the New Covenant Law? and (b) Do you know what the New Covenant Temple is?
If not, it is time you asked. If you would like to know what God has told New Covenant Christians about these things, then we invite you to get in contact with us as soon as possible. Amen.
1. Sermonette #36, LOVE IS THE PERFECTION OF THE LAW
This page was created on 12 May 1998
Last updated on 12 May 1998
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