Thursday, June 25, 2009

Why Christians Don’t Keep Kosher – Part 4

This is the fourth in a series of posts on why Christians are no longer under the Jewish laws as found in the Old Testament. See my earlier posts for more information.

IV. Role of The Law

Lastly, I want to take a quick look at how The Law impacts Christians today. In this case, I’m referring only to the moral and ethical law.

1. Reveals What Is Sinful

One major aspect of the moral and ethical law is that it reveals to us what is wrong and what is right. We want to avoid what is wrong because such wrongdoing hurts us, damages our relation­ships, displeases God, separates us from God, and doesn’t glorify God. The Apostle Paul explained this in Romans 7:7b:

In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.” NLT

To illustrate the benefit of such knowledge, there was a report that came out a few years ago about fast food. This report revealed that such fast foods as Big Macs were loaded with fat, sodium, and calories. Although I used to like Big Macs, I haven’t had one in many years – that knowledge resulted in my avoiding such unhealthy treats.

2. Results in Struggle with Sin

Another result of the moral and ethical law is that its provisions usually go against the desires of our sin nature. Therefore we have a constant struggle between doing what we know is right, and the pull of the flesh wanting us to do what is wrong. If you are having such struggles, that’s a good sign – it means you care. Others don’t struggle because they either don’t know or they don’t care that what they are doing is wrong. The Apostle Paul recognized his weaknesses and struggled with them, as we read in Romans 7:14:

So the trouble is not with the law, for it is spiritual and good. The trouble is with me, for I am all too human, a slave to sin. NLT

V. Conclusion

To summarize, Jesus fulfilled the righteous requirements God put forth in the Old Testament Law. Therefore, Christians don’t have to make animal sacrifices because Jesus fulfilled that part of the Law by dying on the cross. We also don’t have to observe the Ceremonial Law, because we are already right with God through our relationship with Jesus Christ. We see God eliminating the requirement for keeping Kosher in Peter’s vision, when God said to him in Acts 10:15b: “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” NIV

So Christians don’t have to observe the Ceremonial Law to be righteous, because in Christ we should have a different kind of righteousness. Our actions should be based on our love for God, not just mere legal compliance or a more intense version of the Pharisees’ obedience. Our righteousness under Christ:
(1) must come from what God does in us, not what we can do by ourselves,
(2) must be God-centered, not self-centered, and Spirit-led,
(3) must be based on reverence for God, not approval from people, and
(4) must go beyond keeping the law to living by the principles behind the law.

Although we are under grace, not under the law, we are expected to live by the guidelines given in the moral and ethical law. We see these moral and ethical provisions reinforced in the New Testament in many places as the best way to live a life pleasing to God. We have the Holy Spirit to guide us and enable us to do the things God wants us to do and to resist temptations. So I encourage you to stay tuned into the leading of the Holy Spirit so that you can grow in holiness and righteousness, living by the principles of the law, not by the letter of it.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Why Christians Don’t Keep Kosher – Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts on why Christians are no longer under the Jewish laws as found in the Old Testament in order to atone for our sins and find favor with God. See my earlier posts for more information.

III. No Longer Under the Law

1. Paul’s Explanation of Grace, Not Law

In Romans chapter 7, the Apostle Paul makes a strong case that Christians are no longer under The Law. But which law is he talking about? Of course we are no longer under the sacrificial system, as Paul wrote in today’s epistle (Romans 8:3-4):

So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son… and … declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just require­ment of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer fol­low our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. NLT

Our sins are gone thanks to Jesus’ work, and we are freed from the Ceremonial Law as well. Rather than following the letter of the law, we are now free to serve God as led by the Spirit, as Paul wrote in Romans 7:4b, 6b:

And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God… Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. NLT

So life in Christ is freeing – we are free to follow the Spirit’s leading, living according to the spirit of the law, not the letter.

2. Jesus’ Comments on The Law

Jesus said this about The Law in Luke 16:16-17:

“The law and the prophets were in effect until John [the Baptist] came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is strongly urged to enter it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.” NRSV

Jesus said this about the law in Matthew 5:17-18, 20:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished…
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

There are three points being made by Jesus in these related passages.

a. The Law Is Forever

The first point is that The Law is forever – the requirements of the sacrificial system of atonement don’t go away. God established that system because blood must be shed to atone for sins. Leviticus 17:11 tells us:

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. NRSV

Hebrews 9:22 echoes what it says in the Leviticus passage, that we are made pure and forgiven by the shedding of blood:

Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. NRSV

This shedding of blood is a vivid reminder of the ugliness of sin, and the fact that sin results in spiritual death. Romans 6:22-23 tells us that sin results in death, spiritual death, which we can avoid when we accept what Jesus did on the Cross for us:

But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advan­tage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. NRSV

The requirements behind the sacrificial system will never go away, so every generation needs Jesus, who fulfilled those requirements once for all.

b. Nobody Can Fully Obey the Law

The second point Jesus made is that we can never fully obey the law. The Pharisees scrupulously tried to observe the Ceremonial Law, so they were generally considered by the people to be super-righteous. Jesus told the crowd that “… unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20, NIV) The point is that only through Jesus can we enter the Kingdom of Heaven, not through our own works, no matter how hard we try.

c. Atonement under The Law Ended with John

The last point made by Jesus is that The Law was in effect until John the Baptist came (Luke 16:16):

“The law and the prophets were in effect until John [the Baptist] came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is strongly urged to enter it.”

By this Jesus was referring to the Old Testament sacrificial system to achieve forgiveness for sins, mainly because that was the only way then. With Jesus, the sacrificial system was rendered unnecessary because Jesus fulfilled its requirements, as he said in Matthew 5:17:

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” NIV

In summary, the requirements of the Law are in still effect, but Jesus fulfilled them for us because we couldn’t do it ourselves. The Apostle Paul summarized this inadequacy in today’s epistle (Rom 8:3):

The Law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. NLT

More on this topic in a future post.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Why Christians Don’t Keep Kosher – Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts on why Christians are no longer under the Jewish laws as found in the Old Testament. See my earlier post (Part 1) for my introductory comments on this topic.

2. Types of Rules

Within this third meaning of The Law, the rules and regulations (after the Torah and animal sacrifice), there are three types of rules.

a. Morals and Ethics

The first type of rules has to do with morals and ethics. These are still in effect for Christians as guidelines to live by. Abiding by these morals and ethics doesn’t earn our salvation, but once we are saved by God’s grace through our faith, we want to live by them. Living a moral and ethical life is part of the outworking of our salvation, guided by the Holy Spirit. The moral and ethical law consists of the Ten Commandments and any other commands of a moral or ethical nature mentioned in the Bible.

The moral and ethical law spells out things we should do, such as taking care of widows and orphans, observing the Lord’s Day, helping the poor, and loving your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19). The moral and ethical law also points out things to avoid, such as don’t lie, don’t cheat customers with false weights, don’t worship idols, and don’t commit sexual sins.

Jesus summarized the moral and ethical law by quoting two Old Testament passages in Matthew 22:36-40:
"Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?" [Jesus] said to him, "'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.' On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets."NRSV

b. Civil Law

The second type of rules has to do with daily life in Israel in Old Testament times, called the Civil Law. Those rules aren’t in effect for us, because we don’t live in ancient Israel. Today we are to live by the laws of the nation we are citizens of.

c. Ceremonial Law

The third type of rules found in the Old Testament is the Ceremonial Law. God put these into place as forms of worship, self-sacrifice, and obedience. They include keeping Kosher, not mixing meat and milk products in the same meal, and hundreds of other observances.

Christians have been freed from observing these rules because our position in God has been assured by Jesus Christ for all time. Christians believe that claiming Jesus as our Lord and Savior makes us right with God, not by trying to follow hundreds of rules. But here is a very important point: we should still live according to the underlying principles of the Ceremonial Law, which is: we should worship God with our lives by exercising self-control, and living in obedience to God. We read in Romans 12:1

I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. NRSV

More on this topic in a future post.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Why Christians Don’t Keep Kosher – Part 1

I. Introduction

Christians have been accused of picking and choosing which Old Testament laws they want to follow. For example, Christians believe in the Ten Commandments and other moral and ethical provisions in The Law, yet they don’t keep Kosher. So what’s going on here? Are they playing fast and loose with God’s law? Are they discarding some laws and keeping others? To complicate matters, we have Jesus saying The Law will never disappear (Matthew 5:17-20 and Luke 16:16-20), and the Apostle Paul saying that we are no longer under The Law (Romans 7 and others). I’ll try to clarify all this, and explain why Christians don’t keep Kosher and follow other Jewish practices.

II. Different Kinds of Laws

First of all let’s define “the Law”, which can refer to three things.

1. The Law

a. The Pentateuch

First, we occasionally read something that refers to “The Law of Moses.” This usually means the first five books of the Bible, called the Torah or the Pentateuch, traditionally attributed to Moses. It may occasionally refer to one or both of the next two means of The Law.

b. Sacrificial System of Atonement

Second, “The Law” can refer to the Old Testament sacrificial system. Christians no longer have to sacrifice animals to atone for sins, because Jesus took care of that requirement of The Law once for all time. We read in Hebrews 10:9b-10:

God ends the first system of sacrifices so he can set up the new system. And because of this, we are made holy through the sacrifice Christ made in his body once and for all time. NCV

c. Rules and Regulations

Third, “The Law” can refer to keeping the various rules and regulations spelled out in the Torah. Devout Jews were (and are) supposed to keep hundreds of these various rules and observances to gain favor with God.

More on this topic in a future post.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Do You Have Doubts? – Part 4

This is the fourth and final post in a series about faith and doubt.

IV. Believing and Being

As we have seen, faith is an important aspect of Christianity. The main reason faith is important is because the Bible says we are saved by God’s grace when we put our faith in Christ. The Bible tells us that… it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. (NIV, Ephesians 2:8-9)

Moreover, we can’t have the kind of relationship with God we were intended to have if we reject or doubt much of what the Bible says about him. But faith and belief aren’t the whole story – it is also very important to live according to biblical principles. We are not just to believe, but to be – that is, we are to live out our faith. The Apostle James tells us

What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? (NLT, James 2:14)
But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. (NLT, James 1:22)

Sometimes believing is the easy part, and being is the tougher one.

V. Conclusion

In the Book of Acts we see how the very early church in Jerusalem lived out Christ’s teachings. They shared everything, and There were no needy persons among them. (NIV, Acts 4:34a) In this imperfect world, such a situation is unsustainable, and that early church gave way to something that was less idealistic. However, the church can still live out those principles: take care of the needy, seek justice for all, and worship God in spirit and in truth. The Church is God’s instrument for worship, fellowship, learning, and ministry.

Moreover, once we come to faith we should testify to the truth as those Apostles did. We see them proclaiming the Resurrection in today’s reading from Acts:

With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. (NIV, Acts 4:33a)

Those same disciples, who once seriously doubted the Resurrection, were now actively proclaiming it “with great power”. They did this at risk to their lives, I might add. What a change from that frightened group hiding behind locked doors on Easter evening! Only God could do that – and that same power is available to you if you’re open to it. So if you have doubts, seek out answers – God will help the honest seeker (Hebrews 11:6). Get in the game – don’t just sit on the sidelines.

If you don’t understand something, get help from someone who can provide some answers. Let faith become a part of your life, so along with Thomas you will be able to say to Jesus “My Lord and my God!” (NIV, John 20:28b) When you do, your life will be much better, and you can fulfill your purposes in life, which Jesus summarized when he said to the disciples:

“Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” (NIV, John 20:21b)

So I hope you are committed to starting a new life of faith in Christ, sent out to be faithful followers of the one who died so that you might live.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Do You Have Doubts? – Part 3

This is the third in a series of posts about doubts we might have concerning Christianity.

III. Moving Beyond Doubt to Faith

Of course everybody has some things about Christianity they don’t understand, don’t like, or seriously question.

1. Some Teachings Difficult

For example, some Christian teachings are difficult, and we will never completely understand them in this life. How do you explain Jesus as both truly God and truly human? How do you make sense of the Trinity: one God consisting of three persons? How could Jesus dying on a cross save us from the penalty of our sins? How do you reconcile a good, righteous, and holy God with all the evil that exists in the world?

We all have questions, we all have doubts, and we all should try to deal with them in a positive way. I know that attending Bible studies really helped me get a lot of answers to the many questions I had. As I learned more, my faith deepened, and while I still don’t understand everything (and never will in this life), I believe because it’s in the Bible. By the way, it’s not too late to start – I was about 40 when I started going to church again and attending Bible studies. I discovered that many Christian beliefs can be explained logically, and once you hear these explanations, these beliefs begin to make sense.

While we should never stop learning and seeking answers, we also have to move beyond doubt to faith. You might question whether you have the kind of faith it takes to accept those things that are difficult. God gives us the faith if we open ourselves to God’s leading – and if we keep an open mind. It may help to know that Christianity, and the realm of religion in general, are not the only areas where faith plays a part.

2. Faith in Every Endeavor

Many of the teachings or principles of any belief system are held by faith. It really becomes a matter of where you want to put your faith: in the Bible, which was inspired by God, or in man-made philosophies and systems. Man-made belief systems appeal to us, because they were created by people. On the other hand, God’s ways can be difficult for us because his ways are not our ways. If biblical teachings were completely understandable to us, they really wouldn’t be from God, would they?

3. Even Science Has Faith

We don’t think of faith as playing much of a part in science, but even some aspects of science are based on faith. For example, scientists put their faith in, and sometimes stake their reputations on, unproven theories. But science is constantly making new discoveries, and old theories are discarded as new evidence comes to light. That should be a warning for us to put our faith in the unchanging truths of God as revealed in the Bible, not in currently popular ideas that will change.

4. We Exercise Faith Daily

Faith isn’t anything new to us, because we exercise faith every day. We have faith that an airplane will stay in the air, even though we have no idea what keeps it there. So we place our faith in that airplane’s ability to stay airborne and get us safely to our destination. What’s holding you back from placing your faith in Jesus?

More about doubts in a future post.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Do You Have Doubts? – Part 2

This is the second in a series of posts concerning the doubts we might have concerning our faith.

II. All Have Doubts

If you read the Gospel according to John you’ll see that Jesus did not criticize or scold Thomas for his doubt, but gently said to him:

“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” (NIV, John 20:29)

Jesus understood it is natural to have some questions and doubts, especially about things we don’t understand. If you have some doubts, you are in good company. Everybody from John the Baptist to the Apostle Thomas to Martin Luther to Mother Teresa has had some doubts at one time or another. The question is not whether or not you have doubts, but what you are going to do about them.

1. Drop Outs

Some have doubts, but don’t want to deal with them, so they just drop out. They don’t bother to try to find answers to their questions. I guess they feel that this stuff is just not understandable or maybe irrelevant. I can assure you that from my own experience, much of it is understandable when you make the effort to learn. It is certainly not irrelevant because these things have to do with God, life, morals and ethics, and where we spend eternity – not exactly trivial issues.

2. Critics

Some have doubts about the faith or about God, but become hostile, angry, and critical, often because God didn’t answer their prayers as they wanted. I know a number of people who are angry with God because God didn’t spare a loved one, so they have become harsh critics. Unfortunately critics would rather tear down than search for answers that just might give them some degree of comfort as well as insight. Some of these critics devalue the Scriptures, saying they’re fairy tales, parts were added later, or they’ve been distorted by misguided disciples.

3. Explorers

The most productive way of dealing with doubt is to be an explorer. Explorers make the effort to get answers that might help to explain what they don’t understand or they have doubts about. Remember, just because you doubt something doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Just because you might not understand something doesn’t mean it can’t be understood.

How do you become an explorer? You become an explorer by learning as much as you can about Jesus, God, life, and Christian beliefs. You can’t learn unless you make the effort by attending church, prayer, and participating in a Bible study, things like that. Are you willing to make the commitment to constructively address your doubts and keep an open mind?

More on the subject of doubt in a future post.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Do You Have Doubts? – Part 1

This is the first in a series of posts on doubt. I recently saw the move “Doubt” on DVD. It reminded me that it seems we can never be sure about anything except the truth of God as revealed to us in the Bible. Unfortunately we even have doubts about that, since some of these truths are difficult for us to comprehend. I want to use the early disciples, and especially Thomas, as the basis for this discussion.

I. Introduction

Picture the scene: the cowering disciples are barricaded in a house behind locked doors, fearing for their lives. Their charismatic leader has been brutally killed, and they are in hiding from the authorities. Who knows, they could be the next ones to be strung up on a cross. They are scared, disheartened and doubting, despite all that Jesus had said earlier to prepare them for what happened. Not a very promising beginning for the Church of Jesus Christ.

But then suddenly Jesus appears among them in that locked house. From other Gospel accounts we know they had received reports of an empty tomb, but they were still in serious denial. From Luke’s Gospel, we learn that Jesus showed up just as two guys were reporting about Jesus’ visit to them on the road to Emmaus. Luke’s Gospel also tells us that even though Jesus was standing right there with them, the disciples were still skeptical, as we read (Luke 24:36-38):

While they were talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” NRSV

Despite showing them his hands and feet with the marks of the nails still visible, Jesus could see they still thought he was a ghost or apparition. Finally, Jesus asked for some food and ate in front of them, showing them he had a real body and was bodily resurrected from the dead. Even though all of the disciples had doubts, poor Thomas gets the bad reputation, probably because he was so forceful in his denial:

“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (NIV, John 20:25)

More on the subject of doubt in a future post.