In my last post in this series Common Legalist Arguments - Part II, I went over the idea that "God wants us to be obedient." We saw that it isn't about external obedience from an external law but an internal change of heart from an internal faith and indwelling of God.
This time, I would like to approach what may very well be the second half of that same idea. But I see this as the heart of legalism itself.
"We are commanded in the New Testament to obey God and His laws"
This argument is very tricky to address, not least of all because it's very hard to nail down even an adequate description of it. The buzzwords here are "command", "law", and "obey". Yes, these words exist in the New Testament. But what's really at the heart of this argument is the desire to make the New Covenant conform to the Old, and that simply is not possible.
The New Covenant is not like the Old Covenant (JER. 31: 32). What is happening here is people have been taught to view the New as a renewal of the Old, with its laws and commands and ordinances and requirements. The struggle of this post is to show how that approach, although it may appear to fit, in fact is not the correct approach. In other words, the challenge of this post is to show a more perfect way. What I ask is for the reader to pray for understanding because I find it difficult to fully communicate this to you because what I will be describing will seem like a technicality, or a slightly different way of viewing the exact same thing. Truth is, however, it is much more than just that. It is a crucial distinction.
I think it would help to start in Jeremiah 31.
(JER. 31: 31-34) 31 “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah [this is a New Covenant; it is not just a slight alteration or a renewal of the Old] — 32 not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers [The phrase "according to the covenant" is taken from the word "covenant", so this could read "Not the covenant...". No, not that covenant at all!] in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke [and people still break it who teach we must keep its requirements], though I was a husband to them, says the LORD. 33 But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law [Singular! "Law" not "laws".] in their minds, and write it on their hearts [here is the crux of the issue: which "law"?]; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. 34 No more shall every man teach his neighbor, and every man his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they all shall know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them, says the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and their sin I will remember no more [and thus He has done; the Old Covenant is gone, replaced in its entirety, and unavailable to us - the New has come in].
People who say this is the merely Old Covenant written on our hearts (until very recently I was in agreement with you) please look at the covenants and see what I am inadequately trying to explain. In the Old it was "thou shalt" and "thou shalt not". In the New it is "I will write", "I will be", "I will forgive". Do we see the change in focus here? There was nothing inherently wrong with the old law. The law IS good! But the problem was in our hearts. We cannot keep it! So long as we say "I must", we prevent God from saying "I will". If God says "I will", then it is a promise, He most certainly will (if we step aside and let Him)! And if He is in us, so will we. But not because of us, rather in spite of us and because of Him!
Now it is no longer about "because of the law I must" rather it then becomes "because of my heart I want to". It was our hearts that prevented us. The law could not bring about righteousness inside us because the law, as good as it was, cannot change our hearts. At best we had an outward show. It was external. Now God Himself is internal.
Now we must ask, "want to what?" In other words, when the New Testament says "law", what "law" are we talking about here? This is the true crux of the problem. One group sees this as meaning the Old Covenant law lightly modified and brought forward into the New. As if to say that God has changed us in order to be compatible with the unchanged law. I am no longer among that group. There is a more perfect way. God has changed us AND the law... AND the promises.
Let's ask what law did God write on our hearts? With a New Covenant comes a new law.
(JOHN 13: 34-35) 34 A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
(JOHN 15: 12, 17) 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 17 This is my command: Love each other.
(GAL. 5: 14) The entire law is summed up in a single command: "Love your neighbor as yourself."
(I TIM. 1: 5) The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.
(I JOHN 3: 23) And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us.
(I JOHN 4: 21) And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother.
(II JOHN 1: 5-6) 5 And now, dear lady, I am not writing you a new command but one we have had from the beginning. I ask that we love one another. 6 And this is love: that we walk in obedience to his commands. As you have heard from the beginning, his command is that you walk in love.
It is obvious what law the New Testament is referring to!
How is it that I used to believe that the 10 Commandments were what was required of us? I was taught, and I accepted, that these 10 were the summary of God's will for us. They were the peak, the pinnacle of God's will! "The Big 10," they are called. But this is a misnomer! There are greater things than the 10 Commandments.
(MARK 12: 28-34) 28 One of the teachers of the law [notice closely that this man is a teacher of the Old Covenant law] came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" [Now we will see what God instructs a keeper and teacher of the 10 Commandments as to what are God's priorities!] 29 "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' [NOT one of the 10.] 31 The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' [Again, NOT one of the 10.] There is no commandment greater than these." 32 "Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33 To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices." 34 When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.
There is nothing more to ask. These are the greatest commandments according to God. Greater than the 10 Commandments. And Christ spoke these words during the Old Covenant period! So many times in the past few years I listened to HWA's ministers proclaim that the 10 Commandments are subsets of these two. Yes, they are! SUB-sets. Lower. While these two are greater. That is God's opinion, not something I made up. How can these men be so very close - fully understanding the beginning - but not coming to the ending?
But I tell you something more, there is a principle greater still. What is it? LOVE! How is it that love is greater even still than these things which Jesus said were the greatest commandments?
(I JOHN 4: 7-8) 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 16 And we have known and believed the love that God has for us. God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.
This is a principle, not necessarily a command. God IS love. You cannot be greater than God, and God is love. His command is for us to love. This is the pinnacle. This is the apex. This is the height, the peak, the topmost. All else comes down from this and this fulfills all else. Love. And if God is in us, love will be in us, God will be loving through us. It is exactly as Christ said:
(JOHN 14: 15) If you love me, you will obey what I command.
Do we see this as saying, "If you love Me, you will be making a hopeless effort to keep the Old Covenant law"? (Thus forgetting that Jesus just got done saying "My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.") Or do we see it as, "If you love Me, My Spirit, My Father, and I will be in you, making our home with you, and I will be fulfilling all righteousness in you, taking you along with Me despite your failings"?
Once again I say, as I say over and over and over, that it is not about us, it is about Him!!!
Why, then, do men insist that we look farther down the line when we can have the very essence of God in us? If we have love, we have all else. Why do we bicker and argue over a day of the week? And that in direct violation of what Paul taught in Colossians 2: 16!
These next verses confuse so very many people who merely have had it explained to them incorrectly, which hopefully now we can fix:
(ROM. 13: 8-10) 8 Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." 10 Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
Why does Paul quote these specific selections of the 10 Commandments? Is it to tell us they are still in effect? NO! It is to emphasize that all the law ever tried to do was point you towards love. See what Paul says, "whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'" And see again his conclusion, "Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." Paul isn't saying "keep the 10", he is saying "love and you have fulfilled ALL!"
It is at this point that most Armstrongists will tell me that I am talking in circles. "Aren't you just keeping the 10 Commandments anyway?", they ask. I tell you that what a person does is fulfill ALL law, not just the 10, and not just fulfill but full up, press down, and fill up again until running over!! The New Covenant bursts the Old like new wine into old wineskins and tears it like an unshrunken patch on old clothes. They cannot get past the idea that love is greater than the 10 Commandments. YES, I am keeping the righteous requirements found in the 10, but not for the sake of any external law which Paul called "the ministry of death, written and engraved in stone" (II COR. 3: 7) and a "yoke of bondage" (GAL. 5: 1). It seems subtle, but it is not - it is the difference between "ministry of death" and "promise of life". Paul says clearly:
(GAL. 5: 4) You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace.
And, again, Paul says:
(GAL. 5: 6) For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but faith working through love.
Now is when the Sabbath always comes up. If I am keeping the 10 Commandments, why am I not obeying the 7th day Sabbath? A legalist will hold this up as proof that love does not fulfill the law, but it's not me that they try to prove wrong, it is Jesus Christ.
Herbert Armstrong would always ask "What problem does mainstream Christianity [HWA used more derogatory terms, but I digress] have with the 4th Commandment?" I ask much the same! What problem does HWA have with the 4th Commandment? He is the one that taught all the law was magnified. Circumcision is of the heart, adultery is of the heart, covetousness is of the heart, murder is of the heart. They were magnified, he said. But who asked "then what of the Sabbath?" If all of those things were magnified, then what of the Sabbath? How was it "magnified"? [I am not using a Biblical argument here. I am merely addressing HWA's craftiness.] The answer is that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of all the law and the prophets. And here is how He "magnified" the 4th Commandment:
(MATT. 11: 28) Come to Me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Remember how at the beginning of this post we saw that the Old Covenant is "thou shalt" but the New Covenant is "I will"? This is the same thing here. It does not say "the Sabbath day will give you rest", but "I will give you rest." Christ is our Sabbath. If we have Christ in us, we will be fulfilling even the righteous requirements of the Sabbath day, because our spiritual rest is in Christ and no longer in any mere physical rest on one physical day. People say "we need to set aside time to be with God." Yes, I don't argue that. But if God is in you, He is always with you, and you do set aside time to be with Him. People say "we need to not pursue our own gain on the Sabbath". Well, if Christ were in you, you would be a living sacrifice. If you give 100%, when are you living for yourself that you would have to cease that on merely one day of the week? Wouldn't you be setting aside your own gain always? Don't we see how the Sabbath is magnified, if I may borrow the man's argument?
(ROM. 8: 8-9) 8 So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God. 9 But you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. Now if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.
This isn't a post about the Sabbath. I don't want to get any deeper here on this side-tangent than I have already. For more on that than I could possibly expound upon, read Justin Martyr's "Dialogue With Trypho". Pay special attention starting in chapter 10 where Justin asks, "Is there any other matter, my friends, in which we are blamed, than this, that we live not after the law, and are not circumcised in the flesh as your forefathers were, and do not observe sabbaths as you do?" Justin wrote in the early 100's AD, immediately after the age of the Apostles. He is a primary example of how the first century church REALLY operated (as opposed to how HWA said they operated).
Back to the subject at hand. The New Covenant is not like the Old. It may appear to be a subtle difference, but it is in reality deeply profound if Christ opens your mind to it. God's own nature is "written on your heart". In other words, your nature is becoming like God's. This is something I remember from Armstrongism. They taught this principle. Why do they not achieve it?
(ROM. 9: 30-32) 30 What then shall we say? That the Gentiles, who did not pursue righteousness, have obtained it, a righteousness that is by faith; 31 but Israel, who pursued a law of righteousness, has not attained it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works. They stumbled over the "stumbling stone."
(ROM. 1: 17) For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: "The righteous will live by faith."
It is by faith indeed and faith only. As Paul said "by faith from first to last". This is not about keeping law, the 10 Commandments or any other. The "law" is love. But it is not in that we keep a law of love, but that we have faith in Christ, and by that faith the Spirit is in us, and by that Spirit in us we love, and in love we have fulfilled all the righteous requirements of all law without ever pursuing righteousness through law. It is by faith!
I am a blessed man. Blessed beyond anything that I have ever deserved or could earn. I have met wonderful people since I left Armstrongism (not that I say the people I knew while I was there were not wonderful, but the people I know now are wonderful too). The difference is, the friends I now have are a blessing to my soul, while the friends I once had were well-intended but a distraction to my faith. I still love them dearly! They are better people than I am. I pray that they will receive the eye-opening faith that I have undeservedly been gifted by God. But my new friends are a benefit to my faith. Read what Seeker and Luc and Raccoon have said in their comments to my previous post.
Seeker wisely likens what I am trying to convey to a parent/child relationship. Which would you rather have, children whom you have to command and correct but whose hearts are far from you, or children who are so in tuned to what you desire for them that they just do everything by nature (even though they are still flawed)? Obviously the latter is by far the better. Again, which is better, a servant or a friend? Obviously a friend. And that is what God wants from us! We can not, I repeat CAN NOT, obtain this relationship by law. It must come from faith. Even though both children are for all practical purposes doing much the same, one is pursuing by law and the other by faith.
The Pharisees kept the commands, but since their hearts were so far from God they added all sorts of extra things until what God wanted was not being done and what was being done missed the point entirely. But they kept the law! Why wasn't it good enough? Because it cannot be! And this is no different from the teachers of legalism today. Oh, sure, they say "keep the 10 Commandments", but as certainly as the sun rises in the east they then add to it such things as tithing, food laws, holy days, etc. Before you know it, since their face is towards the Old Covenant, that is where they run off to. So what we're really, honestly talking about in this argument #3 is not just the 10 Commandments by any means, but a greater creeping in of the Old Covenant. And right back we are imprisoned in what Jesus died to redeem us from.
Saul, a Pharisee, was "as for legalistic righteousness, faultless." (PHP. 3: 6). Yet Saul, once his heart was changed, gave all that up for rubbish!
(PHP. 3: 7-9) 7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. 8 What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith
Here, Paul, an Apostle who was taught by Jesus Christ Himself, tells us that any righteousness we may obtain from pursuit of law is rubbish! Why, then, do we still have this debate, now some 1,900 years later? Why don't we consider pursuit of law as rubbish? This third legalistic argument is destroyed!! Not by me, but by Christ on the cross! Why do we still say "We are commandded in the New Testament to obey God and His laws"? And if after all of this you still say "I will still go to church on the 7th day Sabbath" then fine and well. I have no argument with that at all. Be fully convinced in your own mind, not doing this by law but by faith. I ask that you not condemn those Christians who do not view it necessary to keep a 7th day Sabbath, calling them "worldly" or "so-called Christians"; conversely do not place yourself upon a pedistal as if you will be in a greater resurrection because of the law (there are 632 laws in the Old Testament, of which you keep but 10, and imperfectly, but by faith they keep the righteous requirements of all 632). Know that you must not judge another man's servant (ROM. 14: 1-10).
Wisely Christ said "Behold, I stand at the door and knock" (REV. 3: 20). Why is Christ outside of His temple, knocking to be let in? Let Him in!! Beloved of God, I pray for all men, but most especially and sincerely for those who are already Christians yet are unwittingly trapped in a legalistic pursuit of rightousness that no man can accomplish. I pray you will step FULLY into the New Covenant. I pray you will no longer sit on a fence between the two, accomplishing neither! The New Covenant is not "thou shalt", but rather "I [Jesus Christ the King of Glory] will". If we are to obey anything in the New Covenant it most assuredly is not the precepts of the Old. It is about faith and love. It is about Christ and not us. I pray you will ask Christ to let Himself into His temple. It may be dark where you are, you may not be able to find the door, but cry out to Him and He will open (and no man will ever again shut). God bless you and open your eyes and your heart and give you peace!
It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom.