Before I travel to a new country I investigate if there are any peculiar laws I need to observe. Luckily I have never had to verify any of these for myself – but they are on the internet so they must be true, right?
In Thailand it is illegal to leave your house without wearing any underwear. In Israel it is illegal to bring bears to the beach. Ireland has prohibited its citizens from pretending to perform any type of witchcraft, enchantment, or occultic practices. It’s not against the law to actually perform them, just to pretend to perform them.
In Canada you may not pay for an item that costs 50c using only 1c coins, you may not water your garden if it is raining, and citizens may not remove bandages in public.
The local law in Chelsea, UK prohibits impersonating an elderly person. (That’s not preventing rude youth from mocking old people, it’s because pensioners are entitled to a housing subsidy, so pretending to be one is considered fraud.)
There’s much confusion among Christians as to which laws in the Bible apply to us. When we decry homosexuality (which was condemned in the Mosaic Law) but still eat bacon (which was also condemned in the Mosaic Law), are we just being arbitrarily selective?
THREE QUESTIONS TO UNDERSTAND LAW CODES & HOW THEY APPLY TO US…
1. WHAT IS A LAW CODE?
A biblical law code is a set of rules issued by God to a specific group of people, for a specific time, based on the character of God. To violate the law code that is currently in effect is to commit a sin. But it is not sin to violate a law in a previous (or future) law code.
So for example, Adam was not required to circumcise his sons, nor celebrate communion. Adam could wear mixed fabrics if he so chose (supposing there was some form of antediluvian polyester blend). Abraham did circumcise his sons, but could eat shrimp to his heart’s content. Moses did circumcise his sons, could not wear mixed fabrics, nor eat shellfish, but he could eat any fruit he wanted to, unlike Adam.
Why? Because they were all under different codes.
Each new law code replaces the past one completely. There will be some similarities, because each code is still based on God’s character. But the reason you obey a law is because it is part of the code to which you are subject, not because it was part of a previous code.
So for example Noah and Adam both had a command to go forth and multiply.
Abraham and Moses both had a law to circumcise males. But when Christians have big families to obey the command to Adam and to Noah, they are making a mistake. Just like Christians who outlaw eating pork or tattoos.
2. WHAT LAW DID CHRIST FULFILL?
Well the short answer is that he fulfilled the Law of Moses, but many Christians deal with this question by saying the Law of Moses can be divided into 3 parts: moral, ceremonial, and civil.
They say Christ fulfilled the ceremonial parts (sacrifices, feasts, dietary laws) and he fulfilled the civil parts (tithing, stoning your kids, eye for an eye). But they say the moral parts (like murder, adultery, homosexuality) are still binding.
You can see why this solution is so handy. It explains neatly why we can’t murder, but can eat bacon. That’s a helpful division to have. The problem is that…
1) The Bible doesn’t make that distinction at all, it mixes all the laws indiscriminately. They were all binding on Israel and considered to be sin if violated. So we end up deciding arbitrarily which category tattoos, Sabbath, and tithing fall into.
2) If we say that the moral law is still binding then that leaves a part of the Law unfulfilled by Christ’s death on the cross. But the New Testament explicitly says Jesus fulfilled the whole Law.
Galatians 3: 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian [tutor] until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.
You can’t say Jesus fulfilled some parts of the Law but not other parts. He either fulfilled it all, or we are still accountable to keep it all.
Thanks be to God that Jesus fulfilled it all, so we don’t have to keep any of it.
So is lobster back on the menu? Yes.
Is circumcision a thing of the past? Yes.
Can I get a tattoo? Yes!
Can I make my daughter a prostitute, can I commit adultery, can I murder? Nooooo.
But wait!? Aren’t we then arbitrarily selecting which laws to keep?
I never said we’re under no law. I said we are not under the Law of Moses. You see, Jesus gave us a new law code.
3. WHAT LAW ARE WE UNDER TODAY?
None of the Law of Moses is binding on New Testament believers. But… Christians are under a new law code, called the Law of Christ, (also termed the Law of Love).
1 Corinthians 9: 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law.
Galatians 6: 2 Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.
There are a number of similarities between Moses’ Law and the Law of Christ. In fact nine of the Ten Commandments are repeated as binding on Christians in the New Testament. But the reason we don’t murder and don’t steal, and yet we can lawfully enjoy playing basketball on a Saturday, is because the New Testament is binding on us as our law code, not because of the Ten Commandments.
So homosexual practices are still offensive to God, not because Leviticus tell us that, but because Romans 1 says so. And that shouldn’t surprise us because both the laws in Leviticus and in Romans are based on God’s character.
Adultery is still wrong, not because of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, but because of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 19. Again, this overlap shouldn’t surprise us.
And when in doubt the guiding law is “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.”
If your head is swimming, then at least take this away: Praise God that you are forgiven and get to go to heaven because of what Jesus did for you from start to finish. But now that we are saved, we are not lawless, but still obey God, by loving him and loving our neighbor. And in that we fulfill the law code we are under until glory: the Law of Christ.