WHAT WAS NAILED TO THE CROSS?

 

By R.K. McGregor Wright

 

The occasion

There are several ideas circulating among Bible-believing Christians about the status of something variously referred to as “the law of God,” the “Ten Commandments” or “the rule of life for the believer.” Some Christians argue that these ideas express an overarching relationship between the Law and the Gospel and between the Old and the New Covenants.

In the last few years I have encountered antinomians who teach that the Christian is under no Law at all, having been made“free”from the Law at the cross.This idea becomes part of the “cheap grace” mentality that seems unconcerned with holiness. I have also met postmillennial Reconstructionists who tell me that except for the ceremonial laws which Christ fulfilled, the Law of Moses is still in force in all its detail. These people claim that“the Kingdom is now.We must conquer the world for Jesus by reconstructing our civilization and culture through applying and enforcing the standards of God’s Law,” by which they mean the mosaic system minus the ceremonial elements. Others who worship on Saturday (such as the Seventh-day Adventists or S-D Baptists) claim that the moral law (by which they mean all the Ten Commandments of Exodus 20 plus a small selection from the rest of the Mosaic system) still applies to Christians in this age. Others, such as those Presbyterians who worship on Sunday (which they call the Christian Sabbath), still claim that the “moral law” is somehow eternal and must be distinguished from the “civil law” which relates to the Jewish State only, and so doesn’t apply to Christians. It is also supposedly distinct from the “ceremonial law” which was fulfilled by Christ. I also discovered certain Puritan writings which speak of a “Third Use of the Law,” by which they mean that not only is the Law a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ and to tell us what sin is, but that it also provides a means of sanctification, and so functions as the rule of life for the believer.

These are by no means the only possible positions being taught today, but even these few are all seriously incompatible with each other. Some definitions are in order, and some categories need clarifying or questioning. Further, as disturbing as it might be, we must determine whether certain not-fully-recognized presuppositions and axioms control our discussion.

We will also mention related topics such as covenant theology and sabbatarianism, but our main purpose will be to decide exactly what the status of “the Law” is for the believer today.

 

Definitions: what counts as “law”?

The term law (torah) in the Old Testament means a variety of things, primarily the many laws of the Mosaic Covenant, either considered separately or viewed as a whole. It is also a convenient synonym for the first five books of the Hebrew Bible, called the Pentateuch. Further, it is a general term for the Old Covenant itself, as it defined the life and constitution of God’s people as a nation. It also seems in many passages to be a synonym for the Word of God as a whole (God’s debar), and corresponds roughly to the idea of the Wisdom of God revealed (sophia), or the Logos, the mind of God as revealed to mankind (the logos as law or nomos). All these ideas and usages appear in the New Testament (or Covenant) also, as they were part of the common thinking about the Law in first century Judaism.

By the time of Jesus, Judaism had developed a concept of Tradition viewed as the living voice of the Rabbinate handed down from ancient times. The application of the OT laws was not always completely clear, so the Jews developed a tradition of sanctified commonsense to “Throw a fence around the Law” in order to define its limits and cases. For example, it was not enough to know that we must not work on the Sabbath days, for what counted as work? Was picking up a knife dropped during a meal work? Was stripping a handful of wheat to munch while walking in a field to be included in the work of harvesting? The rabbis said that the first was not work, while the second was. Pulling a sheep from a well-pit on the Sabbath was excusable, but the healing tasks of a physician were not, for they were work (Mat 12).

All legalisms (ethical schemes teaching salvation or sanctification by Law) must develop a “Talmud,” a system of traditions to explain how to apply the laws. The Jewish traditions, eventually encoded as the written Talmud, detailed the possible answers to these types of questions, and the recorded arguments of the main schools of such famous rabbis as Shammei, Hillel, and Gamaliel, showed on what ethical principles one could make these distinctions safely.

One of the principle sources of conflict between Jesus and the Jewish leadership of his day was about the validity of these traditional interpretations.There was no question between Jesus and the Rabbinate about which books were in the Canon, or about the absolutely binding character of God’s writ- ten code, but the Jews viewed their Holy Tradition as having substantially the same authority as the Law of Moses itself. In fact, this oral tradition was considered the authoritative interpretation without which the “true meaning” of the whole OT text could not be known.The Pharisees taught that this Tradition was the “Light of the World” in which light the Law was to be read. Naturally, when Jesus said that He was the Light of the World, they immediately understood that He was claiming authority to teach the Law of God independently of the rabbinical traditions. This claim was one of several He made which effectively guaranteed His fate.

 

The threefold division of the law

Traditional discussion of the Law divided the many specific laws into three classes: the moral, the civil, and the ceremonial laws. This threefold classification stems from the exegesis of the early Middle Ages. It remains an integral part of the ongoing discussion of the theological significance of the Ten Commandments and of catechetical teachings. It can hardly be denied that these three distinct kinds of laws are actually found in the mosaic system. Clearly,“Thou shalt have no other gods before me” is a moral commandment, the Passover sacrifice is a ceremony, and the laws of inheritance making daughters equal to sons is a civil law. The Moral Law was early equated with the Ten Commandments brought down from Sinai by Moses. They were supposed to be distinguished from the body of the laws by being written by the finger of God on the tablets, by being themselves a summary of the whole Law in principle, and by being a direct reflection of the character of God himself. For example, it was argued that the weekly Sabbath prescribed in the fourth commandment was somehow innate to God’s character, that this Sabbath rest goes back to creation itself when God “rested” on the seventh day. Other Sabbaths of the mosaic system, such as the 49-year Jubilee cycle of years, were arbitrary and prescriptive; God himself did not take a year off and rest every 49 years, but the Jews had to.

The Ten Commandments were also subdivided into the first table, laws one to four, conditioning our love of God, and the second table, laws five to ten, defining our relation of love towards our fellow man. In this way, the Ten Commandments defined the two greatest commandments, love of God and love of our fellows.

This subdivision of the Ten Commandments only reinforced the idea that they represented the moral character of God more than the rest of the laws did. This impression was partly created by the nature of the “first table,” and partly by traditional inattention to the relation of the ten to all the other commandments. In addition, this subdivision also reinforced the opinion that the Sabbath rest of the fourth command is somehow a “moral” law. If it is asked why the principle of atonement by sacrifice is not just as much intrinsic to the divine nature as other moral principles embodied in the laws of Moses, the usual answer is that the “ceremonial laws” were fulfilled in the death of the Messiah. But the same texts that prove this fulfillment also prove the fulfillment of the Ten Commandments, of the “moral Law”.

The arbitrariness of these schemes of classification can be exposed merely be asking, But Why is the Sabbath law a “moral” law while the laws of the Jubilee are only ceremonial or civil laws? Are they not also part of the Sabbaths of the mosaic system? Why should anyone think that the original Sabbath was a “moral” law in the first place?

We know today from archaeology that Moses’ two tablets were not two parts of the law, but two copies, each copy containing all Ten Commandments. The mosaic covenant was modeled after the Middle Eastern suzerainty treaties of the time. These treaties or covenants contained the same main divisions that the Law of Moses contains, including an opening statement about the inviolate sovereignty of the ruling king and of his gods, followed by a set of laws governing the lives of the people. Then came lists of curses and blessings to follow submission or rebellion.When a conqueror or king made a covenant with another city-state, two identical copies of the basic laws of the covenantal code would be made, one to be placed in the temple archives of the ruling king, and the other to be placed in the temple of the subject nation. Often, a summary of the covenant was inscribed on a stela, or stone monument, and erected in the presence of the subject gods within the subject peoples’ temple precincts, for all to read. In the case of the giving of the Law of God to his own people, the two copies were both placed in the ark in the tabernacle (the double witness of Deut. 19:15), along with the pot of manna to show God’s care and protection of his people, and Aaron’s rod that budded, showing God’s right to judge through his appointed prophets and priests. These testimonies to the sins of the people resting in the ark below the mercy seat amounted in practice to four witnesses, twice the necessary minimum. There are, in fact, no grounds for assuming that Moses’ two tablets corresponded to the traditional assumption that the first represented man’s duty to God and the second represented man’s duty to man.

Scribes made further copies of the Law in its entirety on parchment, and the priests read them to the people, while the King had his own copy. God’s suzerainty treaty was not made with conquered foreign subjects but with his own people. His Law was the whole text, of which the Ten Commandments were but the opening summary paragraph. The Jews were therefore right to refer to the Pentateuch as a whole by the term “The Law.”

We may further ask Why any particular law is ceremonial rather than moral, or civil rather than ceremonial? Can it be reasonably claimed that while Deuteronomy 6:5 about loving God and man is a moral law, verses 7-9 about teaching the Law to your offspring is not moral? Is it civil or ceremonial? Why could it not be all three? But if it is all three, so is the law of the weekly Sabbath also all three. This analysis, however, wreaks havoc with the traditional classification scheme. Many among the over 600 laws in the Pentateuch defy the traditional classification. This fact alone shows that the traditional threefold division is just a rough guide, not an intrinsic property of the Law itself. No such division is described in the OT text itself, but there are dozens of occurrences of the singular word torah referring to the Law as a whole, suggesting that the OT writers saw the Law as a covenantal unity. Dozens of contexts seem to require this understanding.

The real motivation for the threefold classification is that the NT teaches that the Law was fulfilled in Christ. This teach- ing presents a problem, however, for those who believe that the moral law was not fulfilled at all, that it is still applicable to everyone in all ages, and that Christ only fulfilled the ceremonial laws. If Christ fulfilled the whole law, however, does that not mean the Ten Commandments were also fulfilled on the cross? Nobody argues that Christians should be sacrificing lambs each day, but what about the fourth commandment? Is it moral instead of ceremonial because it is in the Ten Commandments?

In other words, the traditional threefold division of the Law is intended to buttress the view that only part of the Law was fulfilled by Christ in his redemptive work. The rest remains for us to live by. According to this reasoning, the ten commandments are “the rule of life for the believer’s sanctification,” thus defining the Puritan’s “third use of the Law” beyond the two functions of 1), showing us what sin is, and 2), leading us to Christ. The Bible makes no such reference to a “third use” of the Law.

The traditional threefold division also paves the way for all sorts of legalisms, from the relatively harmless idea that Sunday is “the Christian Sabbath” (for which there is no evidence in the NT), to the more divisive Seventh-day Adventist (or SD Baptist) position that if the Sabbath is part of God’s eternal moral character, it can never have been abrogated and must, therefore, be the only right day of worship. Historically, Adventist doctrine has reinforced this view by identifying Sunday-keeping as “the mark of the Beast”. Although many claim no longer to accept this idea, it nevertheless remains an official denominational tenet. The Adventist polemic quite correctly points out that there is nothing in the NT to suggest that God changed the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday, and in fact it was merely a church tradition to do so, confirmed by the Pope of Rome a few centuries later. There seems to be no question that if “the Ten Commandments apply to us,” and God never altered the Sabbath to Sunday, we absolutely should be worshiping on Saturday, for no other “Sabbath” is known to Scripture. Do we believe in sola Scriptura, or not?

My conclusion is that Protestant “Sabbatarians” are not real Sabbatarians at all; they are just Sunday-worshipers who think that Sunday is “the Christian Sabbath.” In fact, it is my opinion that the traditional threefold division of the Law of Moses leads naturally to the Seventh-day Adventist position.

 

Presuppositions control everything

There is always a sure-fire method of criticizing a position that seems to have both “the facts” and “logic” in its favor. All we need to do to demolish the theory is to question its pre- suppositions. If the assumptions are wrong, the whole system is wrong, and all conclusions drawn from it are suspect. More facts and more logic cannot help us here, for presuppositions control an argument in much the same way as the International Rules determine what counts as a valid move in the game of chess.

But first another consideration must be attended to. When Reformed theologians stated in the Westminster Confession Of Faith that “the true and full sense of any scripture… is not manifold, but one” (I:9), they were repudiating the mediaeval theory that held every scripture to have three or four “senses.”

 

The “fourfold sense” of Scripture

Throughout the Middle Ages, the Bible was universally interpreted in four ways. Every word, every doctrine, every phrase, every story and parable was deemed to have the traditional Four Senses. Virtually all exegesis and preaching regularly asked four questions of the text:

1) What is its literal, or grammatical-historical meaning? In this first and most obvious sense, the word Jerusalem means the city of that name in Palestine.

2) Secondly, what is its allegorical, or spiritual sense? Allegorism was a transformist technique. By using metaphors and similes, the exegete could claim that behind or above the literal meaning was a more “spiritual” significance, supposedly hidden in the text but accessible to the learned. This technique made it possible to apply endless speculation, largely derived from Holy Tradition. So the word Jerusalem also meant the Catholic Church.

3) Thirdly, what was the analogical, or moral sense of this text, word, phrase, etc.? This notion attempted not only to con- vey what a text meant in its own day and context but also to forge a link with the moral life of the people of God and with each hearer. Today we would call this “bringing out the practi- cal application” of the text. The assumption behind this analy- sis is that the whole of the Word of God in all its parts “has a message for today.”The Puritans in their detailed sermons and commentaries certainly never left a text before drawing out a number of uses or moral applications of its doctrine for their hearers.

Jerusalem, therefore, was thought to stand morally for the redeemed soul as it grows in grace while resisting the World, the Flesh, and the Devil. John Bunyan might have been reflect- ing this sense when he spoke of the “City of Mansoul” being besieged in his allegorical story of The Holy War.

4) Finally, many (but by no means all) mediaeval interpreters held to a fourth anagogical sense. This odd word comes from a Greek verb meaning “going upwards,” and this final “sense” of the text supposedly encouraged the believer upward towards God in worship and ultimately, to heaven itself. Jerusalem, then, also means Heaven.

The problem with these four “senses” is their total arbitrariness. The allegorical sense, for example, is nothing but a declaration that X actually “means” Y,whether the original writer could have thought so or not. There are five basic reasons for these mediaeval assertions:

1) There is the unspoken (and illogical) assumption that a symbolic similarity between signs “really” means identity, and so identifies a true meaning.

2) The fallacy of “identity” is then combined with a loose use of real Biblical symbolic correspondences such as typology, in which, for example, the Passover lamb typologically represents (and points to) the death of Jesus.

3) In addition, mediaeval scholars manipulated their hearers by teaching that the literal sense of the text is somehow merely fleshly and is therefore insufficient to meet the needs of God’s people. A further meaning called “spiritual” must be found, too.

4) The early church Fathers first discovered the usefulness of allegorism in the secular philosophical writers, especially the Stoics. By using allegory, a writer could make Homer’s myths, for example, seem full of spiritual meaning and could make Homer seem to be a philosopher.

5) The final ground for the acceptance of multiple arbitrarily chosen meanings is that for over fourteen centuries of the Middle Ages, preachers and commentators used this catholic method of Bible interpretation. Holy Tradition, consequently, standardized the Four Senses.

This method of arbitrary interpretation is self-justifying. Holy Tradition was built on this method of exegesis, and where the authority of Holy Tradition is concerned, mere illustration becomes proof. Anyone foolhardy enough to deny this assumption was thought to be of a fleshly, literal temperament, and was probably a heretic to boot.

Despite its obvious problems (of which sheer arbitrariness is the most serious), the allegorical method of understanding the Bible greatly strengthened the notion that the Sabbath had been changed to Sunday, that the term “Sabbath” in fact meant not only

  1. the original literal seventh-day sabbath, but also
  2. the spiritual sabbath, “proved” by allegorism to be Sunday,
  3. the rest of the soul in Christ, the moral rest of sanctification as we grow in grace, and finally,
  4. the anagogical rest of heaven itself.

Needless to say, verses like Hebrews 4:9, “There remains therefore a rest [i.e., a Sabbath-keeping] for the people of God,” can be used to confirm any or all of these “senses” of the text. We need to recall that in Catholic thinking, the purpose of the Bible is to confirm and illustrate Holy Tradition, not to supply doctrine by itself. The Bible cannot be understood by itself, but only as part of Holy Tradition, which includes the Fourfold Sense of every text. The circularity of this argument should be obvious.

This kind of traditionalist interpretation made it easy to accept that for truly spiritual people, the Sabbath really meant Sunday. By allegorism a verse can be made to teach anything at all even without direct Biblical support.

We must now answer the question of what exactly it was that was “nailed to the cross” when Jesus died? This phrase appears in Col 2:14.

 

Jesus the incarnate Torah

This expression, the incarnate Torah, simply translates the idea of the incarnate Logos into the main corresponding Hebrew word. The Torah was a verbal revelation of the mind of God, of which the over 600 separate commands of the Pentateuch were just a fraction. Jesus incarnated the fullness of God’s purposes not just for Himself, but for the whole world as the eventual scope of His Kingdom. All that Adam lost in the Fall, Jesus would regain redemptively for his people. He was the Second Adam, the Image of God par excellence. All that Adam might have been had he not fallen, Jesus was to become as God’s Messiah. Just as nature fell along with Adam, so nature would also be redeemed in Christ’s Kingdom. The drama of redemption would finally extend “Far as the Curse is found,” as Isaac Watts puts it in his famous hymn “Joy to The World”.

When Jesus went to the cross, he took a perfectly fulfilled Torah with him. His life was the perfect expression of what Torah was in its innermost essence. As creator of the Sabbath, he was Lord of the Sabbath, but as the Second Adam, he fully obeyed God’s Law as he read it in the books of Moses. He is the only man in history to have been able to say to the Pharisees, “Which of you convinces me of sin?”and still keep a straight face!

In Romans 12:1-2 we find an exhortation explaining what true spiritual worship is; we are to present our bodies to God as “a living sacrifice.” This is how we are to walk the path of the “newness of life” that our baptism set forth (Rom. 6:3-4). To present our bodies is to present our all, for in the New Covenant, our individual bodies are the residences of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19), and corporately, we who are individually inhabited by the Spirit of God are the temple in which God literally tabernacles on earth (2 Cor. 3:16-17). By presenting our bodies we express surrender to the Spirit of Jesus who works through us those “good works which God has before ordained, that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8-10). This surrender of our bodies to the Holy Spirit is not the equivalent of receiving a supernatural ability to keep the Law. Rather, we experience the risen Christ indwelling us by His own Spirit—the Living Law—to give us the very mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:9-16) by which we are “transformed by the renewing of [our] minds.” When we surrender ourselves to Jesus fully, our bodies become sacrifices of praise as the Holy Spirit does the work of God in and through us. We no longer rely on or answer to an external law; we respond moment by moment to the Author of the law Himself who is dwelling in us. This process is called sanctification, or “growth in grace” (2 Pet. 3:18).

The point is, we offer the body to God that he might live in and express His eternal purpose through it (Phil. 2:13), just as He lived and expressed his eternal purpose through the body of Christ: “A body hast Thou prepared for me…to do Thy will, O God” (Heb. 10:5-7). This verse in Hebrews is not a NT novelty, but a midrash or commentary on Psalm 40:6-8. In other words, the Jesus of Hebrews was the Torah incarnate.

Therefore, when the nails pierced his sinless hands, the entire fulfilled Torah, the Law of God in its entirety, was “nailed to the cross” (Col. 2:14-15). Some have tried to argue that when Paul said that “the handwriting of ordinances that was against us” was nailed to the cross, he meant only to include the hundreds of civil and ceremonial laws in the Pentateuch and not the “moral law” of the Ten Commandments. But the word for “ordinances” is the usual Greek word (dogmata) for the authoritative proclamation of a ruler declaring his laws to the people (Lk 2:1). The term “handwriting” (cheirographon) clearly refers to God’s writing the Ten Commandments on the tablets with his own “finger” (Ex. 31:18, 32:15-16, and Deut. 9:10, etc.).

Colossians 2 offers the clearest proof that the entire law is a unity. After declaring that the Law was nailed to the cross, Paul continues to specify laws of the mosaic covenant which do not apply to the Christian, including the laws of “food and drink,” of “holy days,” of the “new moon,” and of “a Sabbath day.” In this clarification Paul includes not only the food laws commonly recognized as part of the “ceremonial” laws, but by listing the feasts in the classic order of “yearly” (holy days), “monthly” (new moon), and “weekly”(a Sabbath day—NIV, NASB), he states that not only the Jewish festivals but also the weekly Sabbath were mere shadows of Christ (Col. 2:17). In other words, laws often designated “ceremonial” and also the weekly Sabbath (often designated “moral” because of its inclusion in the Ten Commandments) were equally nailed to the cross.

Jesus also held that the Law was a unit. Not only did He hold that to break “the least of these commandments” is to break the lot (Mat. 5:18-20, cf. also Jas. 2:10), but He also held that all the mass of the commandments depends on the two “greatest” commandments, love of God and love of man (Mat. 22:40). None of this makes any sense unless the law is a moral unity. It makes no difference to this argument that some laws are more “civil” than “moral.” All the Law is included.

The only appropriate conclusion is that the whole of the Law in its detailed entirety was “nailed to the cross,” abolished for the Christian in this age, and replaced by a new “Covenant.”

If, then, the entire Law including the Ten Commandments was abolished with the passing of the Old Covenant, what law directs the Christian’s life? Does not the claim that the Ten Commandments have also been fulfilled in Christ lead to antinomianism?

 

New covenant law

Although the Bible contains accounts of several covenants governing the relation between God and man in various ages, the covenants which mainly affect the Church’s discussions today are the Mosaic (called the Old Covenant in the New Testament), and the New Covenant that replaced it through the work of Christ. Hebrews declares that the Law of Moses and Aaron has been replaced by a new covenant, of which the High Priest is Jesus “after the order of Melchizedek” (Heb. 5:6+10, and the argument of chapter 7), of whose priesthood the Mosaic Covenant said nothing. The Aaronic priests could not continue forever because they died, but Jesus’ Mechizedekian Priesthood devolved upon one Man who “continues forever” through his resurrection. It is therefore “an untransmissible priesthood” (aparabaton) and is never to be passed to another (Heb. 7:24).

The Mosaic Law is said to be “weak,”“useless,”“disannulled,” and unable to make anything “perfect,” or spiritually mature (Heb. 7:18-19), being merely a “shadow” of “a better covenant,” the old being “decayed, grown old, and ready to disappear” (7:22, 8:5-6+13). If it be objected that all this is said only of the civil and ceremonial laws and does not include the Ten Commandments, we need only note that in Exodus 34:28, the Ten Commandments written on the tablets are themselves said to be the words of the Covenant. It is therefore self-contradictory to claim on the one hand that the Ten Commandments are a “summary” of the whole law, expressing the “essence” of the whole law, and then to claim on the other hand that when the Law was fulfilled by Christ in his Person and Work, the Ten Commandments were not included because they are somehow more “moral” than the rest. It was precisely their moral significance that caused them to condemn sinners; they were “against us and hostile to us” (Col 2).

 

God’s provision of new covenant law

The New Covenant Scriptures answer this question in the clearest possible language. The moral law governing the Christian’s life is the “commandments of Christ,” the New Testament teaching of the Messenger of the New Covenant. In the prophets, those people included in the New Covenant are identified as those who “all know the Lord,” having the Law “written on their heart” (Jer. 31:33-34). In the New Testament, this inner dynamic is variously called “the circumcision made without hands” in Colossians 2:11,“the law of the spirit of life in Christ Jesus” in Romans 8:2, the “law of faith” in Romans 3:27, the “royal law,” and the “law of liberty” in James 2:8 and 12, and “my commandments” in John 14:15 and 21, 15:10 and 12,“the commandment of us the apostles and of the Lord and Savior” in 2 Peter 3:2,“the commandments of the Lord”in 1 Corinthians 14:37, and “his [Christ’s] commandments” in 1 John 2:3-4, 3:22,23, and 24, 5:2-3, and 2 John 6, and Revelation 14:12. And this is but a sample of the relevant verses.

New Covenant Law is therefore simply the teaching of Jesus and the Apostles, the law written on the heart by God’s sovereign regeneration. That is, it is the text of the New Testament (the New Covenant) itself, supported by the spiritual dynamic of the resurrection life of Christ in the believer. The New Testament text replaces the Mosaic Law of the Old Covenant in its entirety, and when the believer reads this text, the Holy Spirit instantly witnesses to its truth and opens up a path of obedience. Further, anything in the OT text that God wants to apply to the Christian today must do so by passing through the filter of NT teaching. In the meantime, the Hebrew text of “the Law, the Psalms, and the Prophets,” (Jesus’ OT Canon), remains forever the inspired Word of God in its every “jot and tittle” (Mat 5:18). The Old Covenant is not, however, the believer’s direct rule of life like it once was.That role is now filled by the New Testament text itself as it is imprinted on the believer’s heart and mind by the indwelling Holy Spirit.

The fact that the New Covenant includes many moral commands of Christ also disproves the Antinomianism referred to in the opening paragraphs. It is not true that the believer is not obligated to any moral commands at all, for the Lord Jesus himself addresses us in just such moral commands. This is what gives content to what I have called for want of any better term,“New Covenant law.” On the other hand, the Reconstructionists who teach that the entire Law of Moses, including its entire civil and moral content in all its detail, is not only in force today, and must be enforced by a Christian government upon the whole U.S. population, cannot get around the fact that the entire Law as a unit was “nailed to the cross,” having been completely satisfied by the Lamb of God in his bodily incarnation and life (Col. 2:9+14). Jesus as the Incarnate Torah exhibited a righteousness of his own merit, which is then imputed in its entirety to each believer for whom Christ died.

 

Conclusions

It makes no difference to the above argument that much of the teaching of the Old Testament is repeated or otherwise validated by the New Testament text, or that a modern government can still get guidance and wisdom in formulating its own legal system from the mosaic system. The point is that the Old Covenant Law including the Ten Commandments are not the Christian’s rule of life. They have no more power to sanctify now than they ever had, and therefore the weekly Sabbath of the fourth commandment is no more binding on the believing church of this age than are the rest of the mosaic laws. To return to dependence on them is the very apostasy that the letter to the Hebrews argues against (to say nothing of Galatians). We do not need the “weak and useless” laws of Moses (Heb. 7:18), for we have the commandments of a risen Savior with whom we are right now spiritually united in his resurrection life.

There is nothing in the New Testament to prevent the Adventist denomination from worshiping on Saturday if they wish, but to make the day a test of fellowship or a symbol of salvation or loyalty to Christ is completely unbiblical. Further, to condemn other Christians for worshipping on Sunday (or Tuesday for that matter) is an unfortunate legalism at best, and may be associated with a heresy at worst. To claim that Sunday worship is now (or ever will be) “the Mark of the Beast” is just an idiosyncratic absurdity, one of those curiosities of eschatological speculation beloved of the less perceptive historicist commentators on the Book of Revelation. There is of course, no ground for such a notion in the Bible.

Further, the Sabbatarianism of those who claim that Sunday must be governed by similar types of restrictions as the Jewish Sabbath quickly slip into legalism as well. Legalists, in fact, never manage to obey consistently even the laws they do approve. They all come under those many judgments of the New Testament that “we are not children of a bondwoman, but of the free woman” (Gal. 4:31), for “as many who are of the works of the Law are under a curse” (3:10-12) for “the Law is not of faith.” Paul meant what he said:“the letter kills” (2 Cor. 3:6).

Under the New Covenant, the problems of what day to keep and how to keep it provide their own refutation. When it comes to deciding which legalistic details we are willing to accept, like the old maps used to say,“There be dragons!” The Christian dare not let him or herself be judged “in respect of Sabbath days” of any kind (Col. 2:16-17). Paul was clear that a believer in Christ has been set free and must not allow him/herself to be bound again “by a yoke of slavery” (Gal. 5:1).

Jesus Himself has become our rule of faith and practice, and the words of the New Testament (Covenant) reveal that rule to us. As children born of God (Jn. 1:12) we have the witness of the Holy Spirit testifying to our spirits that we are God’s children and heirs (Rom. 8:15-17). This heritage means that we have the intercession of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:26-27) and the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:14-16) to teach us and empower us to live by His rules and promptings instead of by an external law which has no hope of restraining our natural impulses (Rom. 8:3, Col. 2:20-23).

The Holy Spirit writes the New Covenant law on our hearts. Jesus has fulfilled all regulations and requirements for righteousness, and He has replaced the law in our lives.

The Apostle to the Gentiles must be allowed to have the last word: “You are observing days…I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain” (Gal. 4:10-11). †

 

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