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

“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

Nick Cady fényképe.

For Thanksgiving I took my family to California to visit family and friends. We drove out; it’s a 15-16 hour drive each way, but this afforded me the chance to listen to 3 audiobooks.

The first was The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway. Earlier this year I read A Farewell to Arms and loved it, particularly the ending, and how Hemingway is clearly expressing his own wrestling with faith and belief in God. However, The Sun Also Rises was not like that at all. Besides the detailed account of bull fighting, I didn’t really like the book.

The second book I listened to was The Whole Christ by Sinclair Ferguson, on the topic of the Marrow Controversy, a debate which split the Scottish Presbyterian churches in the 18th Century over the topics of legalism and antinomianism (anti – nomos (law) = against the law).

Ferguson points out that legalism and antinomianism are like cousins who are more related to each other than they are to the gospel. The legalist looks to rules and performance to earn status and favor with God. Clearly this is a wrong and unbiblical view. But the other extreme is antinomianism – a rejection, even antagonism towards the Law, i.e. the moral commandments, rules and obligations which the Bible lays out.

The thinking behind antinomianism is that the Law served one purpose: to show us that we are sinners who need a Savior, and once that work is done, we have no further use for the Law, and we should have nothing to do with it in our lives, beyond historical reference.

It is true that the Law serves to show us that we are sinners who have not lived up to God’s perfect standards, and therefore we need a Savior. Romans and Galatians make this point crystal clear. But is this the only function of the Law in the life of a believer? The answer is: No.

So then what is the role of law in the life of a believer – one who has been set free in Christ – beyond just showing us that we are sinners who need a savior?

1. The Law points us to Christ as the Fulfiller of the Law

The Bible is full of moral principles and injunctions towards things like kindness, compassion, honesty, forgiveness, generosity, humility, etc. The problem is that very often we read these (or teach them) without reference to Christ. Paul writes in Galatians 3:24 “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.”  The Law shows us that we are sinners who desperately need a Savior. But, we see the perfect fulfillment of the Law in Christ—and only in Him! The Law points us to Christ not only by condemning us for breaking it, but by pointing to Christ who is the fulfillment of it! Jesus said: 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. (Matthew 5:17)

2. The Law Reveals God’s Character and Shows His Glory

The Law reveals the Glory of God, by showing us His holiness, how He is “other”, different, perfect and good. Where we fall short, He does not.

The Law leads us to reverence and worship of a God who is greater than us. This leads us to a posture of humility before God. 

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:10)

3. God’s Law is a playbook for the redeemed person to use in bringing Him pleasure

We ought not look to God’s moral injunctions as the means by which to garner His love or favor, nor as a way of earning or meriting anything from Him. But for the redeemed person, the Law becomes a playbook in our hands, which tells us what God likes and dislikes – and therefore how we, as people who love God, can bring joy and pleasure to His heart.

I recently taught a class at White Fields’ School of Ministry on the Minor Prophets. The last book, Malachi, talks a lot about obeying God by keeping His law, and specifically talks twice (in only three chapters) about tithing. The question I asked the students was: What is the role of keeping God’s Law, and specifically of tithing, for the New Testament believer?

The answer was that, as people who don’t relate to the Law as a means of earning or meriting anything from God, we approach it as a playbook which instructs us about what God loves and hates, and therefore helps us to respond in love to Him who has poured out His love in our hearts by the Holy Spirit and redeemed us from the pit and set us on a rock in Christ. When we obey His moral instructions and commands, it doesn’t make Him love us more, but it is a way that we can bring Him joy and pleasure.

May we not become antinomian in our view of the Law, but may we see it for the good and glorious thing that it is, and say with the Psalmist: “Oh, how I love your Law!” (Psalm 119)

Dynel Lane, the Media and a Contradiction of Terms

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Almost a year ago, a tragedy happened here in Longmont: a pregnant woman responded to a Craigslist ad for free baby clothes, only to be attacked and to have her baby cut from her womb and abducted.

The baby did not survive, and the assailant, Dynel Lane is currently on trial this week in the Boulder District Court, however she is not being charged with murder, but with suspicion of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault and child abuse knowingly and recklessly resulting in death and unlawful termination of a pregnancy.

Colorado law does not count the death of an unborn child as murder, only if the child lived outside of the womb for some time. The issue in this case is that it’s not possible to prove how long the child lived outside of the womb – so Colorado’s wording of the law will not allow a murder charge in this case, even though wrongful death is obvious.

Dynel Lane has pleaded not guilty to these charges and has come back saying that it was Michelle Wilkins who attacked and tried to stab her, and that she was only trying to defend herself, and the reason she cut the baby out of Michelle’s womb was because she thought Michelle was dead and was trying to save the baby. This however, gives no explanation for why Dynel Lane told medical personal at Longmont United Hospital that the baby was hers, until they realized that she hadn’t given birth and the baby couldn’t be hers.

You can read Dynel Lane’s testimony here.

Today closing arguments are being presented by both sides.

This case presents a conundrum, not only for the wording of the law, but for the media in telling the story.  As one friend pointed out: The Denver Post reported that Dynel Lane “…cut out Wilkins’ fetus before taking the baby to Longmont United Hospital…”

Did you catch that?  She cut out a “fetus” and then took the “baby” to Longmont United Hospital.

It’s a very careful choosing of words which reflects a fundamental belief: that unborn children are not actually children.

The word they’ve coined to help create this false dichotomy – which this case so painfully exposes – is “fetus.” What’s ironic, is that this is based on a failure to grasp the fact that the word fetus is simply Latin for “young person.”

Fetus is Latin for “young person”

Did you catch that?  Young PERSON.    Not “young mass of tissue, akin more to cancer than to a human being.”

This case presents a conundrum for lawmakers and the media, because it shows that a fetus and a baby are not two separate things. Everyone knows that what this woman did was wrong, because she killed a baby… But if we stick with strictly considering the unborn unhuman, then why is this crime so heinous?

Is a baby only a baby if its mother wants it?   Clearly the answer is no.

I will be interested to see what happens in this case. Hoping for justice for Dynel Lane’s crime and mercy for her soul.

 

Longmont Baby Abductor Will Not Be Charged With Murder

I was talking to a friend in Romania the other day and he said it feels like he is always seeing Longmont in the news.

It’s true. Longmont has made national (and apparently international) headlines a lot in the past few years, and not for good reasons: catastrophic floods, carjackings involving kids, and most recently a fetal abduction in which a woman who was 7 months pregnant responded to a Craigslist ad for free baby clothes was beaten, stabbed and had her baby cut from her womb and kidnapped.

For what it’s worth – crime rates in Longmont have actually decreased in the last year, as opposed to Boulder, which has higher crime rates which haven’t decreased, but this kind of stuff, although not characteristic of this fine town, gets a lot of publicity – as it should.

The suspect’s arraignment will be today at 1:30, but the Times-Call reported that the DA has already stated that murder will not be among the charges brought against this woman, the reason being that Colorado law does not count the death of an unborn child as murder, unless the child lived outside of the womb for some time. The issue in this case is that it’s not possible to prove that the child lived outside of the womb, and if so, for how long – so Colorado’s wording of the law will not allow a murder charge in this case.

People in Longmont were protesting this and picketing on Main Street last week when it was first announced. The charges expected to be brought against the suspect are: suspicion of attempted first-degree murder, first-degree assault and child abuse knowingly and recklessly resulting in death.

The problem with those charges are that even all together they will not lead to as strong of a sentence as if murder or manslaughter had been part of it. Since the mother survived, and there is no proof that the baby lived outside of the womb, Colorado law has no way to charge her with anything stronger.

What do you think?  Is this justice?

The sad part of this is that if this attack had not happened, this baby would have lived. The baby’s life was clearly taken by this attack. I find it hard to accept that we have no way to prosecute that.

Marijuana Legalization and the Effect on Kids

One of my most popular posts on this blog so far was one I wrote about marijuana legalization and Christianity.

In that post, I mentioned that one of the greatest concerns I have with legalizing marijuana is NOT that I want to legislate Christian moral values on people who aren’t Christians (read more about that issue here) – but that it will make it more accessible to children, something that no one on either side of the discussion wants.

It seems that my concern is legitimate, and that this is already happening. The Denver Post published an article this week titled: “Pot problems in Colorado schools increase with legalization”. Here are some quotes from that article:

  • [Mike] Dillon… a school resource officer with the Mesa County Sheriff’s Department, said he is seeing more and younger kids bringing marijuana to schools, in sometimes-surprising quantities.
  • school officials believe the jump is linked to the message that legalization (even though it is still prohibited for anyone under 21) is sending to kids: that marijuana is a medicine and a safe and accepted recreational activity. It is also believed to be more available.
  • “Kids are smoking before school and during lunch breaks. They come into school reeking of pot,” “They are being much more brazen.”
  • when school officials were asked to identify the reason for students’ expulsions. Marijuana came in first. It was listed as being a reason for 32 percent of expulsions.
  • National statistics also point to marijuana being more prevalent in schools. The National Institute of Drug Abuse found that marijuana use has climbed among 10th- and 12th-graders nationally, while the use of other drugs and alcohol has held steady or declined.
  • “They need to know how destructive it is to the adolescent brain,”

I remember when I was in high school, kids brought pot to school and smoked it at school. I certainly don’t want my kids doing it though, and it seems to me that legalization will only make it more accessible – the facts show that is already happening.

What do you think? Is this something we should be concerned about?

Longmont Church Officials Face Charges In Assault Case

What happened at VineLife is grievous, and the worst kind of offense. In a place where people, especially youth, should be safe, an offense like this is especially terrible.
What makes it worse in this case is that pastors and elders were involved in covering up the situation and not reporting it to police.
There is biblical precedent for dealing with things internally rather than going to court, but I believe this regards civil disputes rather than crimes, especially felonies.
The other thing this story brings to awareness for pastors and church leaders is the fact that pastors, like teachers, are mandatory reporters. A friend of mine who works at a school was recently held responsible before the law because he heard a rumor, investigated it himself, was convinced that nothing had happened – yet did not report it to police. That’s against the law. Pastors in America need to keep that in mind – and we must never cover up crimes. This all falls under the category of respecting the authorities that God has placed over us and the laws of the land in which we live (Romans 13).

CBS Denver

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BOULDER, Colo. (AP/CBS4) — Boulder police have issued tickets to two pastors and two elders associated with VineLife Church in Longmont after investigators said the officials failed to report allegations that a youth pastor sexually assaulted a child who was a member of the church.

Police said in a statement Wednesday a fifth church official, who is currently out of the country, will be served a summons when he returns to Colorado.

The victim is now 23 years old. She told police the relationship with her pastor began when she was 15 years old and continued for seven years.

Police arrested youth pastor Jason Roberson in September on sex assault charges after he admitted having a relationship with the victim, who was also a church employee.

The pastors and elders face charges of failing to report child abuse, a misdemeanor. They were issued tickets on…

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Marijuana Legalization and Christianity

This week a Gallup poll came out which showed that for the first time, a majority of Americans favor legalizing marijuana. In fact, in the past year, the support for marijuana legalization surged from 48% to 58% of those polled. Here in Colorado, we live in a state that has had medical marijuana legal for years and which voted last November to legalize its recreational use as well. Not to mention that here in Boulder County, whether it’s legal or not, people in this area have been smoking a lot of pot for a long time and will continue to do so. A friend of mine who just moved to BoCo wrote this about how prevalent marijuana use is just in his daily commute. Just the other day I was talking to someone about Lyons High School (thinking ahead for our kids); they said it’s a good school – but that it’s known for the kids there smoking a ton of weed.

Marijuana is here to stay. It’s already been legalized in this state, and will soon be regulated. Interestingly enough though, I have heard almost NOTHING from Christian leaders on this topic. I have, however, heard a lot of people talking about it – including Christians, saying things like: If marijuana becomes legal and readily available in the same way that alcohol is, then is there anything wrong with trying it out? If you can buy it in a shop and it becomes socially acceptable, then is there any reason to not occasionally indulge?

Up until now, pastors have been telling people they shouldn’t smoke pot because it’s illegal, and the Bible instructs us to honor the laws of the land we live in (Romans 13). But now – guess what: game changer! Marijuana is no longer illegal! Drinking alcohol in moderation is more or less acceptable in most Christian circles these days – so if marijuana gets put in the same legal category, then is it okay to treat it the same way?

These are real questions that people – including Christians – are considering. If Christian leaders aren’t talking about what people are actually thinking about and talking about, then we have become irrelevant and are not engaging people and bringing God’s word to bear on the time and place we live in, as we are called to do.

So, what should be the Christian response to the legalization of marijuana?

What does the Bible say?

The Bible doesn’t say anything about marijuana – just like it doesn’t say anything about tobacco or chemical weapons or genetically modified food. But there are principles the Bible lays down which apply.

The “don’t do it because it’s illegal” argument is soon to be off the table, so what should our position be towards recreational marijuana use? The Bible doesn’t say anything about marijuana in particular, but it does speak about mind-altering drugs – in Greek: farmakeia – which were used recreationally rather than medicinally.

Also, the Bible tells us not to be drunk, but to be filled with the Holy Spirit – i.e.: Don’t be under the influence of substances, but be under the influence of God’s Spirit.

The differences between marijuana and alcohol

More and more people are speaking up about how much safer marijuana is than alcohol. You never hear about people committing violent acts because they are stoned. Marijuana has also not been shown to cause long-term brain damage as alcohol has.

But the difference between marijuana and alcohol are that you can drink alcohol without getting intoxicated. It’s possible to drink wine (like Jesus did) or beer with a meal to enjoy the flavor without getting drunk. No one smokes marijuana just for the flavor – the very point of smoking it is mood alteration.

Will marijuana legalization change anything?

It’s clear by now that adults are going to smoke marijuana whether it is legal or not – which is why more and more people are saying, ‘why not tax it and regulate it then?’. It has been estimated that up to $40 million dollars in tax revenue could come in from recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, which would be earmarked for schools. Regulating marijuana, they point out, could also kill at least part of the black market for it, which inevitably leads to violent crime.

Certainly marijuana use would increase once it’s legalized – as people who were once worried about doing something illegal would no longer have to worry about that. Also, and this is a concern for me – it would make it more accessible to kids, because they would no longer need to find a dealer, they will just have to find a friend with an older brother who is willing to buy it for them – just like with alcohol and tobacco.

I smoked pot when I was a teenager, before I gave my life to the Lord when I was 16. I have family members who smoke pot regularly, and I don’t want my kids to smoke pot. I don’t want them to check out or get intoxicated to cope with life or to have fun – whether with alcohol or marijuana or any other substance.

Legislating morality and the real issue

There are plenty of things the Bible instructs us not to do that are legal in our society, such as adultery, fornication, drunkenness, sorcery, etc. Christian maturity means being able to discern and choose for yourself, from a heart-felt response to God’s grace rather than needing to have someone hold your hand and dictate to you what to do.

There are plenty of ways to harm yourself which are completely legal. You can go buy some glue and sniff it and get high – legally. There are also ways to harm yourself, however, which are illegal, such as chemical food additives, cocaine, certain medications, meth, etc. which we consider detrimental to society and harmful to people, which we have banned and we don’t give people legal avenues to indulge in.

For us as Christians, the point is clear: marijuana is intoxicating. We should not be intoxicated or controlled by substances, but by the Holy Spirit. It’s pretty cut and dry.

For society in general, it’s a question of whether or not it would be helpful or harmful to have more intoxicated people everywhere and to make a mind-altering drug more accessible to children than it already is.