Easter Math: How Does it Add Up?

Have you ever wondered why the date of Easter changes every year?

Have you ever wondered how it can be that Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights if he was crucified on a Friday and rose on a Sunday?

How does the Jewish Passover Week correspond with Jesus’ final week leading up to his crucifixion?

Check out this video in which Mike and I discuss these questions!  (Hint: Good Friday is indeed good, but it wasn’t a Friday…)

 

Is Good Friday Actually “Good”?

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This is the day on which we celebrate the death of an innocent man – and not just any man: the greatest man who ever lived. It is the day when we remember that the Light of the World was overcome by darkness; that the Savior of the World was murdered by those He came to save.

Why in the world would we call this day “Good Friday”?

John Stott put it this way:

“The essence of sin is that we substitute ourselves for God; we put ourselves where only God deserves to be … that’s the essence of sin. But the essence of salvation is that God substitutes himself for us; God puts himself where we deserve to be … that’s the essence of salvation.”

2 Corinthians 5:21 says: “For our sake he (God) made him (Jesus) to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”

In this verse we see what it is that makes Good Friday so incredibly “good”. It is something we call “imputation”, and it has two sides: On the cross, God imputed your flawed record to Jesus, so that He could impute Jesus’ perfect record to you. On the cross, God treated Jesus as if he had lived your life, so he could treat you as if you had lived his life.

Jesus’ act of substitution, God’s act of imputation – lead to our reconciliation with God.

And the way to receive this gift of God’s grace, the Bible tells us, is to “receive him, who believe in his name.” (John 1:12) This kind of belief isn’t merely to believe that it happened, but to believe it personally, in the sense of trusting in it, relying on it, and clinging to it.

If you do that, then today will indeed by a Good Friday for you!

The Last Supper? Actually, No.

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This week is Holy Week, the week during which we remember the final week of Jesus’ life on Earth leading up to his crucifixion and resurrection.

Maundy Thursday is the day in the church calendar when we remember what we call “the Last Supper”, the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before he was crucified. For more on the “lesser known” days of Holy Week, read: “The Less Famous Days of Holy Week

However, there are several aspects to these traditions that might be misleading.

First of all, Jesus’ Passover Dinner with his disciples would have been on Wednesday evening. According to Jewish thinking, this would have been Thursday, since in Jewish thinking the new day begins at sundown. Thus, what we consider to be Wednesday night would actually be considered Thursday by the Hebrews.

For more on the timing of Holy Week, read: “Was Jesus in the Grave Three Days and Three Nights? Here’s How It Adds Up

But most importantly, what is misleading is the name “the last supper”. Consider what James K.A. Smith has to say on this topic:

when Jesus celebrates the Last Supper, he actually intimates that it’s not really the last supper, but the penultimate (second to last) supper.1

Smith is right. Think about what Jesus said during that supper:

Now as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” (Matthew 26:26-29 ESV)

Paul the Apostle then says this about the practice of the Lord’s Supper by Christians:

For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. (1 Corinthians 11:26 ESV – emphasis mine)

In other words, the meal commonly referred to as “the last supper” was not ever meant to be thought of as the last supper that Jesus would have with his disciples, but as the preview of the great supper that they would one day share with Jesus in His Kingdom.

In other words, Communion, AKA the Lord’s Supper, AKA the Eucharist is an eschatological supper, through which we remind ourselves week in and week out of what is to come: the wedding feast of the lamb, in the New Jerusalem (Heaven).

Consider these words further thoughts from James K.A. Smith:

there’s a certain sense in which the celebration of the Lord’s Supper should be experienced as a kind of sanctified letdown. For every week that we celebrate the Eucharist is another week that the kingdom and its feast have not yet fully arrived.2

As you remember and reflect during Holy Week on Jesus’ penultimate supper, and every time you take communion, keep in mind that we do so both as an act of looking back and as an act of looking forward! Both are essential aspects of the hope that we have in Jesus!

 

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdomp.199
2 Ibid., p.200

Longmont Pastor Video Blog – Episode 1

Starting today, every Wednesday we will be dropping a new episode, in which we will be covering some of the topics addressed here on the blog, as well as others topics and interviews with guests about topics relevant to life, culture and the gospel.

Check out Episode 1: The Role of the Law in the Life of the Believer, and follow us on YouTube or Vimeo and Soundcloud.

You can help us spread the word by giving the video a like and sharing it on your social media or sending it directly to some friends.

Here’s the video (email and WordPress subscribers click here):

Thanks to Ocean Babin for all his hard work recording and editing this video, as well as to CryBaby Design for the great background image. We also want to thank Nick Morris Sound Services for making the music for the intro!

For the content mentioned in this video, check out these posts:

I Took a Poll; Here’s What I’ve Learned So Far

On Monday I posted an anonymous poll, asking people what they have found to be the greatest hurdles people today face in believing and embracing Christianity. I got a ton of responses! I’m still looking to get more input, so if you haven’t do so yet, please visit that poll and fill it out.

Shortly after I posted on Monday, as responses started rolling in, I added a second question to the poll, asking whether the person responding was a Christian or not. The reason was: I wanted to determine if there is a difference between the questions that Christians struggle with as opposed to people who aren’t Christians.

Here’s the data so far:

Of those who indicated their belief:

77% were Christians
18% were not Christians
5% were undecided

18% of responders did not indicate if they were Christians or not.

Moral issues seem to be a bigger stumbling block to faith than empirical issues

Most people (71%) said that hypocrisy amongst Christians is a major hurdle to believing Christianity.

In fact, the majority responses, particularly by people who are not Christians, were that the biggest hurdles for them are not necessarily empirical issues – things which are either true or not, such as science, the veracity of the Bible or the “Christ myth”, but rather moral issues, such as hypocrisy, suffering, and Hell.

This aligns with what I wrote about last week, on the topic of whether studying science leads to atheism or not. (Read that series here)

Some of the write-in responses were very telling as well. One person responded that one of the reasons they struggle with accepting Christianity is because they feel it is regressive in its views of sexuality. Another person wrote that they struggle to embrace Christianity because they see Christian culture as encouraging abusive behavior.

This also aligns with the results of a 2007 Barna research project, in which they asked people why they rejected Christianity. None of the top six answers were evidential reasons. They majority rejected Christianity for moralistic reasons, including hypocrisy and being judgmental. In other words, the biggest problem people had with Christianity was the behavior of Christians themselves. On some level, they had determined that if Christianity produced these kinds of people, then there must be something wrong with Christianity.

A few things to consider regarding hypocrisy

Fake disciples: many people who attend church aren’t Christians

Jesus began his ministry with a call to repent. And yet, who was he talking to: religious people or heathens? Religious people. In other words: there are a lot of people who are religious outwardly, but they are not truly disciples of Jesus.

A poll taken several years ago showed that the lifestyle activities of people who claimed to be Christians were statistically the same as those of people claiming not to be Christians when it came to the following categories: gambling, visiting pornographic websites, taking something that didn’t belong to them, saying mean things behind someone’s back, consulting a medium or a psychic, having a physical fight or abusing someone, using illegal or nonprescription drugs, saying something to someone that’s not true, getting back at someone for something they did, and consuming enough alcohol to be considered legally drunk. The study also found that people who claimed to be Christians were less likely to recycle than those who did not claim to be Christians (68 percent vs. 79 percent).1

Many of these people are those who have adopted a cultural form of Christianity, but whether they have truly been converted in their hearts is another question altogether. Jesus’ most scathing words were for people in this camp – the one to which the Pharisees belonged. He called them “whitewashed tombs” – they look good on the outside, they were outwardly religious, but on the inside there was no life, only death. Check out Jesus’ critique of them in Matthew 23.

Jesus mentioned that there are many people who believe they are Christians, but in fact they are not. See Matthew 7:21-23

James (James 2:14-18) and John (1 John 2:4,9) both say that if a person says they have faith, but their actions contradict what they claim to believe, then there is a seriously possibility that they are not actually a Christian at all. James 2:19 points out that even demons believe that God exists, but that doesn’t make them Christians. Simply believing in the existence of God doesn’t make one a Christian, but believing the gospel and following Jesus.

High standards bring the junk to the surface

It’s not just the “fake disciples” in the church who are hypocrites though… I’m sure that I don’t always live up to the standards which I whole-heartedly affirm. But that’s the nature of standards: the higher the standard, the more incongruity it will bring to the surface. If you don’t have a standard, then you won’t fall short of it and you won’t contradict it. The higher the standard, the more you will fall short.

The gospel causes an upheaval in our lives and spurs on a process of revealing our shortcomings and hypocrisies – but what true disciples do is repent of those things, and seek to change those things by God’s grace at work within them.

And here’s the good news: the message of the gospel is not about what we do, but about what God has done for us in Christ. For Christians though, it is really important to remember that other people care a lot about what we do and the attitudes we have as those who bear the name of Christ.

 

Reference:
David Kinnaman, and Gabe Lyons, unChristian, 46–47.

 

Is Christianity Just Another Form of Self-Seeking?

I received this question from a reader recently:
What would you say to someone who claims that “all people watch out for themselves first, even Christians come to their faith in order to selfishly serve themselves and to secure a positive afterlife.”?
I would respond to this claim by pointing out that the Christian ethic is acutely opposed to selfishness. This is exemplified by our God who self-sacrificially gave himself for us; forfeiting glory in exchange for shame, dishonor, discomfort, and death in order to save us. We are then encouraged throughout the New Testament to follow that example in how we relate to others: to lay down our lives for the sake of God’s mission, which is to rescue people out of darkness and death. Christians are encouraged to not seek our own good first, but to sacrifice for the good of others.
A great scripture on this is Philippians 2:3-8:
Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
When it comes to salvation, it is too simplistic to claim that Christianity is only about obtaining a “get out of hell free card.” Jesus said in John 17:3 that the essence of eternal life is knowing God; this means that for Christians, salvation is more than just being saved in the afterlife, it is being saved in the here and now, essentially giving up your life here on Earth for God’s plans and purposes, and this life of salvation continues on beyond death – which is what humans were originally created for to begin with, but which was ruined by sin (and the curse of sin, which is death).
This person would not be wrong in saying that many people turn to Christianity for purely selfish reasons. This is nothing new. A lot of people look to God as useful to them, but when you understand the Gospel, that changes: you begin to no longer see God as useful, you begin to see Him as beautiful, and that becomes your motivation in worshiping and serving him.
Do you see God primarily as useful or as beautiful?
Just because some people “do it wrong” doesn’t mean that the flaw is with Christianity. In fact, Jesus himself criticized such people harshly – particularly the Pharisees, who sought to use religion for selfish gain rather than giving up their lives to serve God and serve others. Jesus said that anyone who tries to hold onto their life will lose it, but only the person who gives up their life for the sake of the gospel will find it. The gospel he is referring to is the mission of God to rescue people – thus what he’s describing is a life of sacrificial love and service to others, which helps work out God’s plan for their life (that they would know God and be rescued from sin and death both now and for eternity).
One last thing: this person seems to be making a common assumption: that selflessness is the highest virtue. Consider this quote from CS Lewis on this topic:
If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness.  But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love.  You see what has happened?  A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance.  The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point.  I do not thik this is the Christian virtue of Love.  The New Testament has lots to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself.  We are told to deny ourselves and to take up our crosses in order that we may follow Christ; and nearly every description of what we shall ultimately find if we do so contains an appeal to desire.  If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.  Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak.  We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by an offer of a holiday at the sea.  We are far too easily pleased.
– CS Lewis, The Weight of Glory 
For more on this, check out this article from the CS Lewis foundation, which goes into more depth on the topic of ethics and virtues.

5 Things to Keep in Mind When Making New Years Resolutions

There is a German saying: “Alles hat ein ende, nur die Wurst hat zwei.” (Everything has an end, only sausage has two [ends]).

As we approach the New Year, this changing of calendars gives us something to measure by. With the end of one year and the beginning of another, we have the opportunity to look back and assess the previous year, as well as to look forward and pray and plan for the year to come.

In his book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done, author Jon Acuff (who I first came to know about through his great blog: Stuff Christians Like) refers to a study at the University of Scranton(!) which determined that 92% of all resolutions go unfinished. Thus, in a world of bottomless possibilities and endless distractions, to be a person who finishes what you start is as rare, valuable and powerful thing.

92% of all resolutions go unfinished

I’ll admit to you right now, I’ve become a slight bit addicted to finishing things. If I start reading a book, I have to finish it, even if it’s bad (and I did read a few books like that this year). If I set a goal, I almost always finish it, even if it’s not always in a timely matter (like the 1.5 year landscaping project in my front yard).

I agree with what Ecclesiastes 7:8 says: “Better is the end of a thing than its beginning.” However, this in itself is one of the things which prevents people from completing their goals… Many people won’t even try to start doing something unless they are sure that they will be able to finish it. So they won’t even start exercising, because they are afraid they will give up.

Through Jon Acuff’s research, what he found is that the most common day that people give up on a goal is Day 2.

The most common day that people give up on a goal is Day 2.

In the past I was not a fan of New Years resolutions for the very reason that most of them don’t succeed, but perhaps I’ve become a bit less cynical (maybe I should have made that a resolution!), because I’ve really warmed up to the idea. So here are some things to consider when making resolutions and some tips on accomplishing them:

1. Don’t Neglect the Spiritual

The most common New Years resolutions are about 1) Health and Fitness and 2) Time Management. For Christians, we remember what Jesus said: that life is more than food, and the body more than clothing. (Luke 12:23) and that it is possible to “gain the whole world and yet lose your own soul.” (Mark 8:36).

2. Do Everything to the Glory of God

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. (1 Corinthians 10:31)
And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:17)
I’ve spoken and written a lot on this topic recently in light of the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation. The idea of doing everything to the glory of God was a key teaching of the reformers, as they rebelled against the division of life into sacred and secular realms and showed that the Bible teaches that we should do everything we do for God’s glory, and if it is something which cannot be done for God’s glory, we should not do it.
For more on this topic see:

3. Set Goals That Are Not Easy, But Are Attainable

Jon Acuff mentions how many people will set a goal like running a marathon, but yet they underestimate the time and effort that goes into reaching a goal like that. He suggests instead setting a goal that is attainable, and exceed-able, such as running a 5k or 10k for someone who is not already a runner. Having reached that goal, you can set another. Whatever goal you set, it should stretch you, but it should still be attainable, if you want to increase the likelihood of success.

4. Write Them Down

God told the prophet Habakkuk to write down the revelation that God gave him and make it plain. (Habakkuk 2:2) As a result of Habakkuk and the other “writing prophets” writing down the visions that God gave them, we are now able to look back at them and have a record both of how God spoke to those people at that time, and how God fulfilled what He spoke to them.
Having a written record of a goal helps keep you accountable to yourself and motivated throughout the year. I like to keep a list in my desk and check it regularly.

5. Make it Fun

Jon Acuff points out that gaming your goals is one of the best ways to ensure that you make progress on them and don’t give up. So a Bible reading plan (I use the YouVersion Bible app and bible.com) that shows progress each time you complete a section can help you keep going.
I like to compete against myself, so things like this are very helpful for me. I recently installed a productivity app on my MacBook and smartphone called RescueTime. It monitors all the time you spend on your devices and gives you reports and graphs to see what you actually do and how much time you spend on certain websites or particular tests. I also gives you a productivity score of 1-100. I like to see that number grow, which encourages me to spend more time working on things that are truly important and in line with my goals – and less time on things which are a waste of time, which there is no lack of on the internet.

Maybe you’ve got some tips of your own. Leave a comment below and tell me what those are. And may this year be one for you in which you live for God’s glory fueled by gratitude for what He has done for you in Jesus!

What Science and the Bible Say About What Leads to Happiness

I recently stumbled upon the work of behavioral scientist Winfred Gallagher, author of Rapt: Attention and the Focused Life, which made the New York Times Bestseller list a few years back. I found the basic premise of the book quite interesting in that through her research Gallagher has validated something which the New Testament has been teaching for almost 2000 years.

For Gallagher, it was an unexpected event in her personal life which set her on this journey: she was diagnosed with an aggressive and advanced form of cancer. Going into her treatment, she had expected it to be a miserable time, but instead found it to be a surprisingly pleasant period of her life. Although physically uncomfortable, she enjoyed many things during this time, including going on walks, and her personal favorite: an evening martini. This led her to later pursue investigating the role that attention plays in a person’s happiness.

After 5 years of studying this topic, she came away with what she called “a grand theory of the mind:”

Like fingers pointing to the moon, other diverse disciplines from anthropology to education, behavioral economics to family counseling similarly suggest that the skillful management of attention is the sine qua non of the good life and the key to improving virtually every aspect of your experience, from mood to productivity to relationships.

If you could look backward at your years thus far, you’d see that your life has been fashioned from what you’ve paid attention to and what you haven’t. You’d observe that of the myriad sights and sounds, thoughts and feelings that you could have focused on, you selected a relative few, which became what you’ve confidently called “reality.” You’d also be struck by the fact that if you had paid attention to other things, your reality and your life would be very different.

The biggest factor which leads to happiness, in other words, is what you choose to focus your attention on.

Author Cal Newport, in reference to this says:

This concept upends the way that most people tend to think about their subjective experience of this life. We tend to focus on our circumstances: assuming that what happens to us, or fails to happen, determines how we feel. From this perspective, the small-scale details of how you spend your day aren’t that important, because what matters are the large-scale outcomes: whether you get a promotion or move to that nicer apartment. According to Gallagher, decades of research contradict this understanding.¹

In other words: our perception of the world and of ourselves is shaped less by our circumstances, and more by what we choose to focus on and pay attention to.

For readers of the Bible, this only serves to confirm what we already know and believe. This is the reason why the Bible says things like:

whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things…and the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:8-9)

This is the reason why Paul the Apostle could write a letter from jail about being full of joy in Jesus; because he took his own advice to “seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.” (Colossians 3:1-2)

This is the reason why to those suffering pressure and persecution as a result of their Christian faith, Paul’s advice was to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12:2-3)

As Winfred Gallagher rightly discerned: two people can be facing the same exact circumstances, but what they focus on will determine how they feel about it and deal with it. This has been a trademark of Christianity from its inception. However, as Christians, our focus is not on shallow pleasures and momentary distractions, but we draw from the deep well of hope that is found in Jesus Christ alone! For this reason:

we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:16-18)

Whatever you are going through today, may you fix your eyes on Jesus, and may the hope you find in Him define your reality, giving you joy in the face of anything life brings your way.

Bad Christmas Songs

One of the ways you can tell it’s Christmastime is because of the music. However, not all Christmas music is created equal.

Every year around Christmas, my wife likes to put on Christmas music and decorate the house with the kids. A few years ago, she put on a children’s Christmas music album. It wasn’t long before my four year old daughter came into the kitchen with a concerned look on her face and asked, “Why was mommy kissing Santa Claus?”

She had heard the song on the kids album and was understandably concerned, because, as a child, she didn’t understand the basic premise of the song which makes it cute and fun: that “Santa” is actually the kid’s dad dressed up in a Santa outfit, and the kissing is therefore completely appropriate.

Without that piece of the puzzle, this song is quite confusing and disturbing! Think about it: it’s the story of a young child, excited about Christmas, who comes out of his room late at night to discover that his mom is making out with Santa! How incredibly traumatic! Not only is his mother being unfaithful to his father, but on Christmas?! And with Santa?! Talk about disillusionment! Where’s dad? And Mom is seriously doing this behind dad’s back, in his own house?! And Santa… he’s a monster who is ripping apart our family! You can keep the presents Santa; I just want my family back, and I want mom to stop doing things like this to dad!

Or how about Rudolf the Red-nosed Reindeer? It’s essentially the story of a reindeer who gets bullied by the other reindeer, and the only time they want him around is when they need him to do something for them. So basically, they treat him terribly and then use him when it’s convenient to them…

Furthermore, if Santa apparently “sees you when you’re sleeping” and “sees when you’re awake”, and “he knows if you’ve been bad or good” — and he keeps a list of who’s been naughty and who’s been nice… well then that means that Santa knew that Rudolf was getting bullied, but he didn’t do anything about it!

Rather than judging him by the content of his character, they were judging him by the color of his nose…

There are some really good Christmas songs out there though; songs written by people for whom the Christmas message completely changed their lives and transformed them at their very core, and there is nothing they can do to stop themselves from erupting in song as a result of it.

They say things like: Joy to the World, the Lord has Come! Joy to the World, the Savior reigns! No more will sins and sorrows grow, nor thorns infest the ground: he comes to make his blessings flow – as far as the curse is found!

They sang rich theology and wonderful truths: Veiled in flesh the Godhead see, Hail the incarnate Deity! Born that man no more may die! — Born to raise the sons of Earth, Born to give us second birth!

That’s a song written by somebody who had something to sing about!

The very first Christmas carol was sung by Mary, the mother of Jesus, and it is known as “The Magnificat” because it begins with the words: My soul magnifies the Lord.

The occasion for this song was the Annunciation: the announcement to Mary that she was going to have a baby, who would be the long-awaited Savior of the World. It was Mary’s response to the news that for a reason based only on God’s sovereign choice, God had chosen to place his favor on her and chose her to be the one to bear, to care for, to raise the Messiah… Jesus.

Here’s what she sang:

My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant.
For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for he who is mighty has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
And his mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts;
he has brought down the mighty from their thrones
and exalted those of humble estate;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and the rich he has sent away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
as he spoke to our fathers,
to Abraham and to his offspring forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

In this song, Mary sings about God’s attributes, God’s purposes in history, and God’s incredible work of opposing the proud but exalting the humble.

May we humble ourselves before Him today, see what He has done for us, and receive His grace: the unmerited favor which He has shown us.

Then you’ll really have something to sing about this Christmas!

Do Christians Pick and Choose When It Comes to Old Testament Laws?

One of the criticisms that is sometimes aimed at Christians, is that we “pick and choose” from the Old Testament laws, applying some of them to today, and not others. For example, we agree with the command “You shall not commit adultery”, but we seem to ignore other commands, such as the command not to eat pork and shellfish, or not to wear clothing made of fabrics made up of more than one material (i.e. that poly-cotton blend shirt). Why, someone might ask, do Christians say that the commandments about certain sexual behaviors are still applicable, but they don’t say the same about other commandments, such as executing people for breaking the Sabbath? Aren’t they just arbitrarily picking and choosing according to whatever they deem convenient for them?

The answer is: because we must differentiate between the different types of laws in the Old Testament. To do so isn’t arbitrary at all, in fact it is the only faithful way of handling the Old Testament laws.

John Calvin, the 16th-century reformer, pointed out that the New Testament treated the 613 Old Testament laws in three different ways. There were:

  • Civil Laws, which governed the nation of Israel, dealing with behaviors and the punishments for crimes.
  • Ceremonial Laws, about “clean” and “unclean” things, various sacrifices and other ritual practices.
  • Moral laws, which declared what God deemed right and wrong, such as the 10 Commandments.

For the people of Israel, all three types of laws blended together. Breaking a moral law had civil and ceremonial consequences. Breaking a civil or a ceremonial law was a moral problem. These laws went hand-in-hand because Israel was in a unique place historically, being both a nation and a worshiping community. God was their sovereign, their king, their ruler, not only over their worship, but over their entire civil society. They had no concept of “the separation of church and state.” Since that is the case for us today, our relationship to the Law is obviously different.

This helps us to understand what often seems contradictory about the New Testament view of the Law. The New Testament says that Jesus came not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill the Law (Matthew 5:17) and because of what He did in his life, death and resurrection, we are released from the Law (Romans 7:1-6; Galatians 3:25).

Understanding how Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law helps us see why we still look to some of the Old Testament laws to instruct and guide us, and “ignore” others.

The Civil Laws were set up to benefit the nation of Israel. However, we are not bound by the civil codes of the Old Testament because there is no longer a theocratic nation-state on earth. We may wisely glean from some of the principles in Israel’s civil laws, such as those regarding public health, caring for the poor, etc. – but in Christ, we have become a “new nation”, the people of God spread out through every tribe, tongue and nation of the Earth, who are subject to the ruling authorities of our respective countries when it comes to civil laws (see Romans 13:1-7)

Things like not eating shellfish, for example, were incredibly thoughtful and merciful commands in the ancient world, for people who did not have refrigeration and did not understand microbes and bacteria. The same is true of pork. As they submitted to these laws without understanding why God had commanded them or what God’s purpose was with them, even if they might have seemed arbitrary to them at the timethe Jewish people benefited from them. There is certainly a lesson for us in that in regard to obeying God’s commands, even when we don’t understand why He has given them.

The Ceremonial Laws illustrate God’s holiness and our unholiness and the inherent problem that we have in approaching God. As the book of Hebrews shows us, the sacrifices were fulfilled in Jesus’ perfect life and death. He is the final sacrifice, who cleanses us inwardly, not only outwardly, and makes us acceptable before God.

The Moral Laws were fulfilled by Jesus in that He lived a perfect life, free of moral failure. Unlike the civil and ceremonial laws, which were bound to particular times and situations, the moral laws show God’s assessment of good and evil, right and wrong. They reflect God’s character, and since His character doesn’t change, neither do His views on morality. In fact, whenever Jesus talked about the moral laws, he either re-affirmed them or intensified them! (see Matthew 5:21-48).

Thus the reason why Christians “pick and choose” from the Old Testament laws is not at all arbitrary, rather it is faithful to understanding the roles and purpose of the different laws, and it is faithful to the teaching of the New Testament.

For more on the topic of the moral law, read: “Oh, How I Love Your Law” – the Role of the Law in the Life of a Believer is More than Just Showing You that You Need a Savior