Should Christians follow the law or grace? The Christian relationship to the Mosaic Law is not one of conflict infused with tension, rather, a symbiotic coupling where both receive nourishment and confirmation from the other.
Christianity’s Relationship to the Mosaic Law
The Christian relationship to the Mosaic law is not only crucial for understanding the faith preached by Jesus, it is the essential to establish the continuity of God’s message to humankind.
It would be difficult to exegetically explain Christianity’s connection to the Mosaic law if we do not, first, understand the writer who explained it: the apostle Paul.
The question of who was exegeting is just as important as what was exegeted. During the time of Jesus’s earthly ministry, the rulers of the temple were a sect of religious leaders known as Pharisees.
Among these Pharisees, was a man named Saul of Tarsus. Saul, later Paul, became a Christian convert after both the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Paul is not only amongst the first Christian converts; he is probably the most famous.
When some social scientists speak on sudden emotional conversions, Paul’s name often comes up. To say he was an interesting choice, by Jesus, is an understatement.
Paul was not only of the very sect that persecuted Jesus, and ultimately led to his crucifixion, but Paul, as a Pharisee, led the persecution of the very church.
However, when Paul’s future mission, his beautiful dissertation on the law and justification through faith, could only have been possible by someone who thoroughly understood both subjects as did he.
Christianity, the Mosaic Law, and Tension
It is first critical to point out that whether sin was judged by the law, or through the blood of Jesus Christ, sin was judged.
There are very few problems, with respect to Judaism and Christianity, larger than the friction which exists between the Jewish understanding of the law and a Christians concept of grace .
This issue was not only dealt with in the book of Romans but seems to be a common issue as evidenced in a few of Paul’s epistles to other churches.
Here is a brief explanation of the debate:
The adherents of Judaism fully expected that there was a ceremonial aspect which could be engaged in, such as animal sacrifice, to appease God and cover their sins.
Under the Christian doctrine of justification, Jesus was the once and for all sacrifice for the sins of humankind.
At the heart of both beliefs, is the desire for religious adherence to be made righteous, through sacrifice, in the sight of God.
When we dig down a bit further, and with respect to justification, the adherence of the Mosaic, law as well as Christians, both agree on the need to be justified in the eyes of God yet differ on the method of how that justification is accomplished.
At the heart of the Mosaic law, was the practice of sacrifice of certain animals. God required the blood of animals to be spilled to atone for the sins of an entire nation. In the Christian faith, however, this justification, as described in Romans chapter 5:8-9, occurred through the spilling of the blood, on the cross, and finally the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Those scriptures describe it as such (Romans 5:8):
Another point of friction is the Jewish nation and its blindness to God’s desire to justify not only them, personally, but the entire world. It should be noted that Christian teachers bear much of the blame when it comes to utter failure to understand (and explain) law and grace.
As rudimentary as it may sound, either the blood of animals was going to be spilled to satisfy God’s eternal sense of justice, or the blood of humankind would need to be spilled.
For God to even substitute animals to be sacrificed, in the Old Testament, demonstrates a measure of grace when one understands God’s demand for righteousness.
The Apostle Paul Expertly Explained Both
Nevertheless, a great deal of confusion still exists on the concept of grace versus the Mosaic law. Instead of both forming a nexus and pointing one towards God, confusion has set in due to lack of understanding.
Further, there are those who accept Paul’s presentation in Romans on grace versus the Mosaic law, while at the same time, having a personal bent towards legalism.
Certain passages in the Book of Romans deal (5:10, 6:14, 7:1) deal directly with one’s leaning towards being justified by works, or legalism, while at the same time encouraging one to understand that it was by life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that one is justified.
So passionate and desperate was Paul to clear up this confusion, he even reached back to a time previous to the Mosaic law being given. In Romans 4:9 & 4:22, Paul reminded the church that being justified by faith alone existed even in the time of Abraham.
More specifically, in these verses he wrote “and Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him righteousness”.
Paul’s view was if even Abraham, the great progenitor of their nation, could be justified by faith alone, and his life proceeded the Mosaic law, how much more could those be justified through faith in Christ?
One scholar suggests that the point of the book of Romans was not the confusion of Jews vs. Gentiles, rather, to unify the entire Roman church, regardless of background.
It is no small thing that Paul is attempting to eliminate the tension of national background in his presentation in the book of Romans. Tribalism is one of the many roadblocks to the unity in the church especially in a multicultural society, such as was true in the time Paul was writing to the church at Rome.
This tension is also present in modern day society in the American church. However, instead of following Paul’s example in the book of Romans, modern-day teachers are not trying to eliminate the tension that exists among different cultures, they are actually suggesting that somehow makes the church stronger.
Christianity, the Law, and Justification
With respect to this diversity issue, one thing that the book of Romans makes clear is that the entire human race, irrespective of race, gender, ethnicity, or national origin, is guilty in the eyes of God.
It must be understood that, yes, the Hebrew people are God’s instruments for revealing himself to the world. This could be more accurately described as the Hebrews being God’s “chosen” people.
However, this book also makes it clear that just because the Hebrews were chosen as the revelatory instrument by God, through them, and thus the Mosaic law, the sin of the entire world was exposed as well.
After all, justification cannot exist without someone needing to be justified to begin with. Some have posited that Paul was given either Jews or Gentiles preferential treatment in the Book of Romans.
One’s view on this matter largely depends on who needed justifying more: Jews or Gentiles. The book of Romans makes clear, however, that from the beginning, God meant justification to be applicable to the entire human race.
This justification, according to Paul, could not be achieved through the Jewish practice of circumcising all male newborns on the eighth day after birth.
Whether a male newborn is circumcised or not, their standing, with God, when they are old enough to understand, will totally depend on the condition of their heart and whether they accepted the forgiveness and salvation through Jesus Christ.
According to Paul, such a decision could not be grounded, or inherited, from a genealogical source. The preserving power of justification had to be rooted in a personal belief that no other sacrificial source was adequate except God’s own son.
There is an interesting comparison between Adam and Christ in Romans chapter 5 which must be noted as well.
In verses 12-21, the apostle Paul explains that it was, in fact, Adam who brought about the need for justification to begin with.
Adam, Eve and the Need for Justification
The implications of Paul’s presentation, in these verses, should not be understated.
Through Adam, the need for justification became a reality once he and Eve succumbed to the suggestions of the serpent in the garden of Eden, as outlined in Genesis chapter 3.
From the moment their eyes were opened, and God passed judgment, the need for a kinsman redeemer became necessary.
Kinsman, in this instance, is only meant to indicate that blood sacrifice would be needed to atone for the disobedience of one whose life is only possible through blood.
According to Romans chapter 5, there is a solidarity in humankind irrespective of ethnic origins or any other thing which would seem to separate us.
Paul put it more succinctly in 1st Corinthians 15:20-23:
To be more precise, the sin issue traces that further than even the time of Adam and Eve in their transgression in the garden of Eden. There was a causal event, however, which made sin in humankind an eventuality.
Isaiah chapter 14:12-15 reveals the location and circumstances in which the first recorded sin took place: “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north: I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High. Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.”
This is important because within the need for justification, the source of the need has historically, and theologically, been traced to the transgressions of the first humans when, in fact, the source of disobedience originated somewhere else.
This is not to suggest that justification applies to Lucifer, later Satan, and those who followed him, but only that regardless of their actions, God still supplied a way out.
Another point which must be made, with respect to Adam and Christ, is the reality in the creation of Adam and the birth of Jesus, God perform something which he had not previously nor would do afterward.
First, Adam is the only man, and the entire biblical record, to not be born of a woman. In fact, it was created, directly by God, using nonhuman material. Genesis 3:7 describes this creative event: “And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
Next, and many generations later of course, the son of God, Jesus Christ, had a peculiar formation.
Matthew 1:23 describes as: “Behold, a virgin shall be with child, and shall bring forth a son, and they shall call his name Emmanuel, which being interpreted is, God with us.”
None who supposed to understand Paul’s Roman intent can quickly sweep away these two amazing realities. Although these two exegetical facts don’t find the beginnings in all treatise enrollments, none of the major themes of the Book of Romans can be understood outside of these two points being revealed.
These facts are coupled with the lordship of the spirit as presented in Romans 7:17-20.
The sin issue, which overtook the lives and futures of Adam, Eve, Cain, Abel, Seth, and later their descendants, had dominion until the spirit, which Jesus breathed on his disciples, and consequently described as a comforter, overtook the power that sin had on all flesh.
Christians Cannot Dismiss the Law of Moses
There are several conclusions that I draw with the Christian’s Relationship to the Mosaic Law.
First, those who state that believers should not recognize the Mosaic law do not understand that by stating this, they are saying that Christian should disregard the completeness of Scripture.
Beyond the history of Scripture, there is a theological pattern that can only be understood and properly taught when the entire case of the biblical narrative is pieced together.
I do not offer this suggesting that the Bible is in any way theologically fragmented. Nothing could be further from the truth. There is a need, however, to step out of one’s flesh and dwelt in the place of the spirit.
The Book of Romans expertly presents sin, death, law, spirit, and justification in a way which links the Mosaic law to Jesus in an indisputable manner.
Next, the choice, by Jesus, of Saul of Tarsus would later become the apostle Paul, should not be overlooked either. Jesus Christ chose a former Pharisee to present his case is not only the Christian Messiah, but the very Messiah that was foretold by the Mosaic law.
This choice becomes more incredible when we remember that Paul’s (Pharisees), who had control of the Jewish temple during Jesus’s earthly ministry, vehemently opposed Jesus and had him crucified.
Jesus chose a Pharisee, not to refute the Mosaic law, but expertly bonded together with grace and justification.
Last, although mankind was separated from God through the sin of Adam, who was just one man, the exposing of that sin came through the Mosaic law, and the Mosaic Law, and thus, the end of the sin came through one man, Jesus Christ.
Header Image Courtesy of Jeff Jacobs 1990 @ Pixabay
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