I have been thinking a lot about Grace v. Mosaic Law lately. I have been engaged in conversations with people who advocate that Christians today should follow after the Laws. Some of the conversations led to some excitement by the participants.
I decided to look into what the Bible actually says in order to gain the best understanding. It seems that the issue of circumcision was the biggest area of dispute in the 1st century church.
Circumcision was established in Genesis 17 as a sign of the covenant between God and the descendants of Abraham. A covenant is a contract. Each party to the contract had a part to play:
- Abraham’s part – Walk before God and be blameless (Gen. 17:1)
- God’s part – He would make Abraham the father of a multitude of nations and kings would come from him. He would also give Abraham and his descendants the land of their sojourning forever. (Gen. 17:4-8)
The sign of the covenant was to be circumcision (Gen. 17:11). But, after the death and resurrection of Jesus, the people who had converted to Christianity from Judaism wanted the Gentile converts to obey Mosaic Law in order to be true Christians. They were acting as if circumcision was part of the covenant rather than a sign of it. If this were so, then it would be as if God had told Abraham, “I will give this land to you and all your descendants. All you have to do is circumcise all the men forever.” No, God told him that our part was to “be blameless and to walk before God.” Truthfully, circumcision would have been easier (in the long run).
When you look into these matters, the question comes up, “Why didn’t Jesus address these issues directly?” Seriously, He could have stated either: “After my death and resurrection, the old law is no longer in effect” or, “My death is for the forgiveness of sins, however, you will still need to observe Mosaic Law.” I find that many things would be easier to understand if direct, plain language were used. We were never promised an easy understanding, but we were given the inspired word of God to guide us as we take this journey. Christ may not have come right out with either of the comments I just suggested, but He did say:
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matt. 5:17-20 NASB).
At first blush, it might seem as if He is advocating that the Law remain in effect forever. But look at that first sentence again. He says, “I did not come to do away with the Law, but to bring it into fulfillment.” The Greek word used for “fulfill” basically means, “to cause God’s will (as made known in the law) to be obeyed as it should be, and God’s promises (given through the prophets) to receive fulfillment.” So, Christ did not do away with the Law, but He is the fulfillment of it.
In his book, The Apostle: The Life of Paul, John Pollock addresses the issue of circumcision since it was a hot issue in the 1st century church: “On ‘circumcision,’ however, they had no clear word, the subject presumably being one on which Jesus could not instruct them until He had been crucified, had risen from the dead and left them, and the Holy Spirit had come. He had promised that His Spirit would lead them into all truth, and it was now their duty, as they met together, to find what He was saying.”
As temples of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19) we need to rely on the leading of the Holy Spirit to teach us the truth about how we are to live (John 16:13).
As the apostles were debating this issue, Peter stated, “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.” (Acts 15:11 ESV). He was basically saying that those who had never been circumcised when they accepted Christ were just as saved as those who had already been circumcised at the time of their salvation.
So, what is the point of all of this? I am not trying to convince anyone whether they should be circumcised or not. The truth here is about how to gain God’s favor. There are those who believe that we should perform all kinds of acts to “earn our salvation”. But I thank God that instead of earning my place in Heaven, He has given me Grace so that my sins are forgiven!
Some people excuse their behavior by referring to the scripture that says, “for you are not under law but under grace.” However, the entire scripture needs to be understood: “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (Rom. 6:14-15 NASB). Just because Grace saves us from the sin that the Law can only reveal does NOT give us the license to sin!
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