“You foolish Galatians! Who has done a number on you–you before whose very eyes the Lord Jesus was vividly portrayed as crucifed? Tell me this: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith?” (Galatians 3:1-2)
I had just sketched the young single mother and she was telling me about her life. She doesn’t go to church anywhere, she said, but her mom has been pressuring her to attend her church. And what kind of church does her mother have?
“She’s started her own religion.”
That got my attention as few other things will. She’s started her own religion?
Just what this world needs, another variety of religion.
“And what is that all about?” I asked.
“Well, she’s reading the Old Testament and the New Testament.”
“Okay. No problem there,” I said.
She said, “She’s given up pork. And she said we can’t have any birthdays or specific holidays because they aren’t biblical.”
Uh oh. This woman has started on a slippery slope which can lead her into an abyss of legalism and law-keeping.
I said, “If she keeps on this way, you can expect your mother to start keeping the Sabbath as her day of worship. And it will get worse after that.”
I took a notepad and wrote: “Acts 15–You don’t have to become a Jew to be saved” and “Colossians 3–let no one judge you on the basis of what you eat or the sabbath.” (Note: I had it wrong. It’s Colossians 2.)
I said, “The note is for you, not your mom. She might not appreciate the discussion we are having. But as you read these and think about them, they might provide the answers you want to give her.”
“But the best answer you can give your mother when she pressures you to attend her church is to already be attending a good strong church and tell her that.”
From that we got into a discussion of her relationship with the Lord, her reading the Word on a regular basis, and taking her children to church. Later that morning, I bought her a Bible in modern English since she said she was having trouble understanding the KJV.
The New Testament has no patience with those who would take Christianity back into the dark ages.
“You foolish Galatians!” Paul says twice (3:1,3). Earlier in chapter one, he pronounced a curse on anyone preaching a gospel other than the one Jesus Christ gave to the world by His death, burial, and resurrection.
Anyone who knows their New Testament–and I’m most definitely not accusing my young friend’s mother of that!–has seen clearly that a great deal of effort was expended by its writers to make clear that we are not to return to the Old Testament law, that it was fulfilled in Christ, and now God has done His new thing for the world in the Gospel of Jesus’s salvation.
Just yesterday, on my Facebook page, a number of friends got into a deep discussion about whether the church today is the inheritor of the promises of God to the Old Testament Jews. That is, whether the Church is the True Israel. When I quoted Paul in places like Romans 2:28-29 (“A person who is a Jew is not one outwardly….”) and 9:6 (“Not all who are descended from Israel are Israel”) and others, someone responded, “So you believe in a ‘replacement theology.’” (Indicating that the Church replaces Israel.)
I replied, “I believe in Fulfillment Theology. God ain’t replacin’ nuthin’. He’s doing what He said He would do from the very first. Jesus was always His plan. If people did not understand Him or misinterpreted what He said and promised, that is their problem and not His.”
Someone said is this were the case, then God was doing a bait and switch thing, being deceitful, saying one thing and then running in something else.
I replied, “Be careful here, friend. Just because you do not understand what God was doing is not a failure on His part. In fact, after Saul of Tarsus came to know Christ, he had to go back all through the Old Testament and read it all in a new light, in view of Jesus Christ. Out of that, he was able to give us the epistles of Romans and Galatians, which establish once and for all that the Old Testament pointed to the fulfillment which is Jesus Christ. This was not a replacement, but was always the intention of God.”
In the earliest days of the Christian movement this subject came up. Some who are called Judaizers were telling outsiders–Gentiles–that in order to be saved, they had to become Jews (that is, keep all the OT law). So, the leaders called a conference in Jerusalem, the minutes for which we have intact as Acts chapter 15.
James, half-brother to our Lord, apparently the leader of the Jerusalem church said, “We should not cause difficulties for those who turn to God from among the Gentiles. Instead, we should write to them to abstain from things polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from eating anything that has been strangled, and from blood.” (Acts 15:19-20)
The official conclusion of that council said, “It was the Holy Spirit’s decision–and ours–to put no greater burden on you than these necessary things (the above list)…. If you keep yourselves from these things, you will do well. Farewell.” (Acts 15:28-29)
We do not have time or space here to go into it–nor is it necessary–but the epistles of Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews all establish as strongly as possible that to return to the Old Testament law would be Christ-dishonoring, Gospel-denying, and utterly stupid.
So, what is the attraction to returning to the Old Testament law?
Why do people do this?
Answer: It appeals to the flesh. There is an attraction to giving up meats and fleshly appetite and putting oneself in bondage to rules and regulations.
Because (to certain types of individuals, not everyone) this is something specific you can do in the body that does not involve the heart, and once you do it, you feel a sense of accomplishment and even superiority over those not doing these things. You do not have to humble your stubborn heart, repent of anything, meditate on the Word, and try to subdue your stubborn will. You just have to skip a meal or two (fasting) or offer up a lamb or two (sacrifices) or drop an extra 50 bucks in the offering (tithe).
Legalism does have its appeal.
A couple of generations ago, a large strata of conservative Christians defined the faith of Jesus Christ in terms of what His disciples were not to do: attend movies or dances, drink alcohol, play games on Sunday, and smoke tobacco. Some went so far as define the length of women’s skirts and hair.
One such man told a deacon in our church that his pastor (me!) was going to hell because his hair was too long. When asked how long it should properly be, the man said, “About like mine.”
That’s how legalism operates. It sets itself up as the standard. And the news is all bad after that.
Returning to the Old Testament law is a dead end street. After all, at what point does one draw the line and say he will go no further? Even the most orthodox of Jews do not conduct animal sacrifices. That’s why we say, keeping the OT law as fully as the Jews of that period did is an impossibility. As well as completely unnecesary.
The thrust of the New Testament book of Hebrews is to say emphatically that to return to the former days is to give up all God has done in Jesus. He is superior to all the former things–the sacrifices, the altars, the priesthood, the holy days, the tabernacle, even the angels.
A little biblical understanding is a dangerous thing.
And this is precisely what my young friend’s mother has: a little biblical understanding. But not nearly enough. She’s read enough to be enamored by those precious Old Testament stories and intrigued by God’s acts with Israel. But she has not read enough to see that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of every OT sacrifice, every symbolism in the tabernacle, every promise given to God’s people, and every spiritual leader in the old days (Moses, Joshua, Melchizedek, etc). All the OT prophecies had Him in mind. Jesus is not a replacement for anything. He is everything God had in mind from the first.
The clearest way to spiritual maturity in Christ is to stay in the Word (and that means stay in the New Testament until one grasps its message fully, and then can appreciate what God has done leading up to it), keep one’s heart and life under the reign and lordship of Jesus, and obey His teachings in all our relationships. We must get into a faithful New Testament church (I said to the young mother, “There are no perfect ones. Do not fall into the trap of looking for a church with no hypocrites where everyone is godly and mature. They don’t exist.”) and worship and grow there.
“Don’t let anyone judge you in regard to food and drink or in the matter of a festival or a new moon or a sabbath day. These are a shadow of what was to come: the substance is the Christ.”
“Let no one disqualify you, insisting on ascetic practices and the worship of angels, claiming access to the visionary realm and inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.
“If you died with Christ to the elemental forces of this world, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? … These have a reputation of wisdom by promoting ascetic practices, humility, and severe treatment of the body, but they are not of any value against fleshly indulgence.” (Galatians 2)
But if you are raised with Christ, seek what is above! (Galatians 3)