For most Christians, the Law of Moses is a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma. Are Christians under the Law? Many Christian straddle with these important questions: 1) Are Christians under the Law? 2) How do we decide which commandments are applicable today?
Some people believe that the Law is just the Ten Commandments. Actually, the Law of Moses contains 613 commandments covering everything from sacrifices to men’s haircut and clothing restrictions; sewage disposal and charging interest on loans. These 613 commandments are found in the first five books of the Bible. Christians usually call the five books of Moses the Pentateuch. Jews refer to it as Torah.
Two main systems of theology exist in Christian circles: 1) Covenant Theology, 2) Dispensational Theology.
Covenant Theology teaches the continuity between the Old Testament and the New Testament. Dispensationalism teaches that there is much variety in divine economy of the Bible, and that God has dealt differently with people during different ages of biblical history. These two systems have similarities in many areas. Covenant theologians pick and choose from the Old Testament’s laws and try to apply to New Testament believers. The dispensationalist teaches that the Law of Moses as the 613 regulations prescribed by God to Israel, which is not binding upon the New Testament believers. The Convenantists believe that the Old Testament Moral Law, which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, is the ethical principle for Christians. Covenant theologians have divided the Law into ceremonial, legal, and moral commandments. Some believe that the Ten Commandments are still valid today, while the other 603 commandments are not. When confronted by a Seventh Day Adventist, an individual taking such an approach runs into problems concerning the fourth commandment on keeping the Sabbath. At that point, the Covenantist beings fudging or hedging around the issue, and the result is inconsistency. So they make adjustments to the Law.
It is important to note that the Scriptures clearly state that the Law was given to Israel, and not to the church. (Deut. 4: 7-8, Ps. 147:19-20, Mal. 4:4). What was the purpose of the Mosaic Law? The first purpose was to reveal the holiness of God, to reveal the standard of righteousness that God demanded for a proper relationship with Him. The Mosaic Law was never intended to give the Jew a way of Salvation. It was given to a people already redeemed from Egypt, not in order to redeem them.
A second purpose of the Law was to provide the means of the role of conduct for the Old Testament Saints. The third purpose for the Mosaic Law was to reveal sin. (Rom. 3:19-20). The word Torah or Law is always singular when applied to the Law of Moses, although it contains 613 commandments. The Law was designed to lead one to Jesus as Messiah. (Gal. 3:24-25).
The Law of Moses Rendered Inoperative
The New Testament is very clear that Christians are not under the Old Testament Jewish Law. (Rom. 6:14, Rom. 7:4, 6; Gal. 3:24-25, 5:18; 2Cor. 3:11; Col. 2:14; Heb. 8:13, 10:9)
Is the Law Abrogated?
The dispensational truth asserts that the Law has never been abrogated, but that the Christian is dead to the Law. (Rom. 7:4) Some dispensationalists teach that the Law was nailed to the cross, which is entirely wrong. In 2 Cor. 3, what is annulled is the Mosaic system (as evidenced by the rendering of the veil), not the Law. (Col. 2:13-14) “The handwriting in ordinances” is a figure of speech for the sentence of death that is written by the Law against the sinner. The Law continues and lives today and has a present use. (1 Tim. 1:8-11) But the Christian is dead and risen with Christ. Grace is his divinely appointed teacher, not the Law. (Titus 2:11-15) Moreover, the Law of Christ (Gal. 6:2) and the rule of the new creation (Gal. 6:5-16) are for the believing Gentile and for the Israel of God (the believing Jew). The dispensation of the church was not foreseen by the Old Testament prophets to be followed by the time of Jacob’s trouble when the imprecatory Psalm will have a rightful place with further godly Jews.
The Law then remains, but the Christian is dead to it by the body of Christ. The Lord indeed came to fulfill it, just as He came to fulfill the prophets, but when? He has done so perfectly while here and the remainder waits until after the completion of the present work of gathering “out of the nations a people for His name” (Acts 15:14). After that, He will rebuild the tabernacle of David which is fallen, then will the Deliverer come and turn away ungodliness from Jacob, and so all Israel shall be saved (Rom. 11:26; Isaiah 60:21). Then, under the New Covenant, the Law will be written in their hearts; meanwhile, Christ – not the Law – is written in the heart of the Christian. (Rom.7)
Is the believer under the dominion of the Law or is he also delivered from the Law and its bondage? These questions are answered in this chapter. An important principle is stated in the first verse. The Law has dominion over a man as long as he lives. The Law has dominion over man (both Jews and Gentiles). The Law, which is holy, just and good (verse 12) condemns man, his sinful nature and the fruits of the sinful nature, and in this sense it has dominion over every man and holds him in its grasp. But when death takes place, the rule of the Law is broken. It cannot touch a dead man. The penalty of the broken law is death. When that sentence is executed, the law can no longer have dominion.
An illustration from the marriage law as instituted by God is given to make this clear. Husband and wife are united in a union till death dissolves it. The married woman is bound by that law to her husband as long as he lives. When he dies, she is free and can be married to another. And we are become dead to the law by the body of Christ. The body of Christ means the death of Christ on the cross. On the cross He bore the judgment which is our due. He bore the penalty and the curse of the Law for us. (Gal. 3:13) The penalty of the broken Law has been met and the Law is vindicated. His death is our death, we died with Christ. The Law can have no more dominion over us. We are dead to the Law by the body of Christ.
The old union is dissolved. Death has done its work and it is now possible, after being freed from the Law, to be married to another. In Galatians the question about the Law and its authority is viewed from another side. The Law as the school master unto Christ; now after faith is come, the full truth concerning redemption by the death of Christ is made known, we are no longer under a school master (Gal. 3:23-25) Being, then, dead to the Law by the body of Christ, we are married to another. And this other one is He who died for us and who is risen from the dead. Justified believers are in a living union with a risen Christ; He lives in us and we live in Him. (Heb. 7:11-22) Here the writer of this epistle states that “Christianity” is the final revelation in contrast to Judaism. The theme of Hebrews sets forth the superiority of Christ over and above the previous age; whereby, the Levitical system ruled the people of God. The final consummation of the progress in God’s rule culminates in Christ Jesus. Hebrews 7:11-22 presents the issue that the older system under the Levitical Priesthood has been replaced by the new Priesthood that comes from a different order (verse 1).
The Law is Inoperative
The New Testament believer does not live under the authority of Mosaic Law. Since Christ has now fulfilled the demands of the Law, it has no more authority over a believer. Instead of living in the spirit, which is a central theme in the writings of Paul for the sanctification of the believer, the covenant/continuity scheme of the Mosaic Law places the heavy burden back on the people of God that apostles and elders of the Jerusalem conference alleviated in Acts 15. The covenant theology hinders the Christian and places him under a bondage that Christ does not condone.
The New Testament believer does not live under the authority of the Mosaic Law. The requirements for the Law of Moses have been fulfilled in the life of Christ. The Mosaic Law functioned as a tutor until Christ came. The tutor pointed to the righteous standards of God as it also revealed the sin of humanity. (Gal. 3:25)
The Tithe Doctrine
Most of the preachers of reformed as well as dispensationalists teach that the Christian is obligated to give ten percent. This error exists due to a faulty understanding of the doctrine of the Law of Christ from the Law of Moses. Those who attempt to place the Church age believers under this law violate the testimony of the spirit and the testimony of the Law of Christ. Furthermore, the teaching that a believer must give ten percent because of the old covenant Law, fails to understand exactly what the old covenant tithe meant. Not only are such teachers in contradiction to the New Covenant Law of Christ, but these teachers are in ignorance of the true demands of the Old Testament Mosaic Law.
The Old Testament Tithe Equaled at Least 25% of Income
The Law of Christ differs from the Mosaic Law in the area of giving financially. The tithe in the Old Testament was a tax. This tax was the tithe the people of the theocracy were required to give to the government. This taxation occurred in several forms. First, in Leviticus 27:30 and Numbers 18:25-30. The Jewish people were required to give support to the Levites who oversaw the nation and temple. This was a ten percent taxation used to supply the needs of the Levites because they had no livelihood. When Israel came to the Promised Land, the land was divided among eleven tribes. It was incumbent upon the eleven tribes to support the priestly tribe Levi.
Deuteronomy 12:10-11 and 12:17-18 refer to the second annual tithe for the Israelite community. God commanded the Israelites to bring all of their offerings, sacrifices, and contributions to Jerusalem. This second tithe was for the sake of the Jew’s national religious worship, and it also promoted national unity and fellowship.
Thirdly, Deuteronomy 14:28-29 refers to another tithe. This taxation was a welfare tithe. It was used to help the poor, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widows. These taxations equaled about 23 percent for the people under the Mosaic Law. However, there were still more taxes required than these three main categories.
There was another tax. The nation had a tax that was similar to a profit sharing plan. Leviticus 19:9-10 required that the harvesters leave food at the corners of the field for those in need. This requirement, in effect, constituted a profit -sharing plan to meet some of the needs of the poor.
So the Jews were required to provide a Levite’s tithe, a festival tithe, a welfare tithe, a profit-sharing tax, the every seventh year land Sabbath, and the temple tax. All of that calculates out to more than 25 percent in annual income tax to the theocratic government of Israel. It was far more than this simple 10 percent many believers today mistakenly cite to bolster their argument for required tithing today. These tithes, or taxations, obligated the people to render the items of value unto the nation. Malachi took issue with the people of Israel for their refusal to comply with God’s taxation code. The prophet denounced those within the Israelite nation who lived under the Mosaic Law for withholding their money from the theocratic government. The prophet chastened the people for trying to defraud God by either not paying it at all, or by not paying the theocracy fully, as they should have done.
The tithe of the Old Testament did not equal a simple ten percent. Those who attempt to teach that the people of God today are required to follow the Old Testament law on the tithe would have to require more than ten percent rule that is often placed upon believers. However, the New Testament believer does not live under theocracy. The Christian is no longer under the Mosaic Law but under the Law of Christ. Therefore, as Acts 15 discusses, the Christian teachers in the church should not place a heavy burden back on the people with the Mosaic Law. The church is a new body that is free from the old Mosaic Law.
Biblical giving under the Law of Christ can be seen from the following texts: 1 Cor. 16:1-4; 2 Cor. 8:1-8; 2 Cor. 9:6-8
In the old economy, if a saint did not give proper tithes to God as prescribed by the Law of Moses, then that believer was guilty of robbing God.
However, the New Testament saint lives under a different law code. In this age the government in which one lives under has to pay many taxes. But inside the spiritual family of God the believer is required to give the amount the spirit places upon the believer’s heart. The more he or she gives with a joyful heart, the more in return the person will receive from the Lord. This principle governs the Christian instead of some mandated amount that the organized church leadership places upon the conscience.
In all practical purposes, those who preach the need of giving tithe is guilty of robbing God by placing man-made traditions and standards upon the people. Church leaders have no right to require more or less than whatever the spirit applies to the heart of the believer. Many of the ten percent rule standards of today are seemingly driven by the ungodly motivations of pastors, who must fund elaborate building programs. Radio and T.V. programs and materialistic endeavors do not constitute New Testament biblical Christianity. This trend is simply another example of how theology is becoming less God-centered and more man-centered. This drive to motivate others to give money based upon some arbitrary decision by a teacher to impose the Mosaic Law or tradition on a believer, instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to guide the believer of the New Covenant age, runs contrary to sound practice of theology.
Is Sunday the Christian Sabbath?
Many people teach that Sunday is the New Sabbath. The Bible does not teach that the Sabbath regulation has been adjusted to Sunday. The Mosaic Law commanded that people cease from all activity on the Sabbath. The New Testament does not order the believer to follow this commandment. It is one of the Ten Commandments that Jesus Christ did not institute and establish as mandatory in the New Testament age.
There is no point of greater distinction between the reign of Law and the grace than the observance of the seventh day and the first day of the week. Each represents a different dispensation and how God related to man.
Like the Jehovah witness, many Sabbatarian groups trace this event to Emperor Constantine in 321 A.D. and the council of Laodicea held in 364 A.D. in changing the Sabbath day of worship to Sunday. In the fourth century, Sunday was declared to be the day of rest and worship. This does not mean Constantine changed the Sabbath day to Sunday. The Sabbath is still Saturday.
On the contrary there is much historical evidence to show Sunday worship was a universal practice of all the churches outside the land of Israel by the beginning of the second century. Some go as far as to say Sunday is the day of the sun (worship) so that is what Christians are doing. They are practicing paganism. This kind of rhetoric appeals to ignorance. People with little information will jump in to wrong conclusions. Those who motivate others with guilt say you must worship on Saturday, knowing this word is named after the Roman god Saturn. Like every day of the week, it has a reference to a pagan name since many of these words come from that time period.
An examination of the New Testament passages shows us four important points:
1) Whenever Christ appears in His resurrected form and the day is mentioned, it is always the first day of the week. (Matt. 28:1, 9-10; Mark 16:9; Luke 24:1, 13, 15; John 20:19, 26).
2) The only time Sabbath is mentioned from Acts through Revelation, it is for evangelistic purposes to the Jews and the setting is usually in a synagogue. (Acts 13-18).
3) Paul said “from now on I will go to the Gentiles.” (Acts 18:6) The Sabbath is never again mentioned.
4) Instead of suggesting adherence to the Sabbath day, the remainder of the New Testament implies the opposite. (Col. 2:16)
Scripture never mentions any Sabbath (Saturday) gathering by believers for worship and fellowship. There are clear passages that mention the first day of the week. Acts 20:7 states that “On the first day of the week we come together to break bread.” In 1 Cor. 16:2 Paul urges the Corinthian believers “On the first day of every week, each one of you should set aside a sum of money in keeping with his income.” Historically, Sunday not Saturday, was the normal meeting day for Christians in the church, and its practice dates back to the first century.
The Sermon on the Mount
Is the Sermon on the Mount the rule for the Christian today?
The Sermon on the Mount is a part of the Word of God, and as such, is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness. So is the Law of Sinai and the rest of the scriptures, but that does not prevent our drawing dispensational differences and holding that certain parts do not apply to us primarily or directly. The Law is not the Christian’s rule of life, for we are told again and again (Rom. 7:4; Gal. 2:19) that we have died to the Law. It would then be difficult to assert that the Sermon on the Mount, which is the quintessence of the Law, is the Christian rule of life. It may be questioned whether many who laud it as a code of morals, and make it literally binding as a rule on the Christian, have a very clear idea of its teaching or really practice it themselves in any exhaustive way. They seem to have in their mind a dozen or so verses about giving to every many that asks you, letting a man have your cloak who asks for your coat, going with a man two miles if he forces you to go one, and giving your right cheek to the one who has just smitten you on the left. But this is only a very small part of the Sermon, and if no one has ever perfectly obeyed the Ten Commandments, it is equally certain that no one has ever perfectly carried out the Sermon which deals with the hidden thoughts of the heart, as well as with acts.
When Paul was before Ananias and was unjustly smitten, he did not turn the other cheek, nor did our Lord Himself before Caiaphas, as He certainly would have done, had He laid down the Sermon on the Mount as the Christian rule of conduct. In the new style of teaching, unfortunately, from men who have but a feeble grasp of any distinctive truth or place, it is often the fashion to belittle dispensational teaching.
To understand rightly the Sermon on the Mount, we must understand the dispensational character of the Gospel of Matthew, and in a less degree of the other synopsis. It is addressed primarily to Israel: from the first chapter, Christ is offered to them as the King, the heir to the throne of David. John the Baptist was the herald of the coming kingdom, as was the Lord, the twelve and the seventy; and the miracles, which are so prominent in chapters 8 and 9, were the signs of the of the kingdom. It was as a King that the Lord presented Himself to Israel in (chapter 21:4-5). The Sermon on the Mount comes in its place, as the rules binding on the children of the kingdom. While the kingdom was rejected, and the powers of the King attributed in chapter 9 to Satan, then the Lord revealed the mysteries of the kingdom, namely how the kingdom would be set up in man’s hearts during the absence of the rejected king. When the church is taken away, the testimony of the kingdom will once more come to the front, and during that period most of the Sermon on the Mount will come into very literal force for God’s servants among Israel. On the other hand, it has been alleged that our Lord, in His parting commission, told His disciples to teach the converts to observe whatsoever He had commanded them, but that does not apply to the whole of Matthew. It is clear that no one would maintain that our Lord’s words in Matt. 10:5-6 about not preaching to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but only to the lost sheep of the children of Israel, should be taught to converts today as a rule for their witness.
Our Lord intended His Sermon to be interpreted in the light of subsequent revelation based on the context. For example, “Owe no man anything” (Mark 9:47). “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out.” Over the years many people throughout the world had done this without understanding the true meaning. The true understanding of the place of Matthew 5-7,
The law cannot make you righteous. The law is like a mirror. Look into the mirror in the morning. The mirror cannot fix you; it reveals that you need fixing. If you drive 35 mph in a 40 mph zone, the police are not going to congratulate you. The law is a sign pointing to a savior. The law is to reveal a standard of holiness of God. The Law is like an MRI machine. It would scan your body and detect the problem. But MRI machine cannot heal your sickness. Our good works are not sufficient; otherwise, we would not need the cross. Our god works are like our new year resolutions, and many other decisions based in our own strength. But our flesh has been contaminated with sin. It cannot fulfill our own decisions without the help of the Holy Spirit. You have to understand the standard of Rom. 3:21. The cross doesn’t make any sense if we don’t understand the righteousness of God. God reacts to sin. He is Holy by nature. We understand His righteousness by Law. He put some guidelines in place. The law was never given to make you righteous. It reveals how unrighteous you are. Obeying the Ten Commandments won’t make you righteous. Men want to lower the standard so they won’t have to answer to God. We reduce God. God is not men saving you against your neighbor or coworker. He measures against his standards.