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>Obeying the Law thru faith

>I was listening to a talk recently about understanding the Law. He discussed many of the issues such as type and antitype, old covenant and new covenant and gave a helpful distinction between covenant and dispensational theology. What struck me however was a helpful comment about sacrifice.

Post crucifixion we live under grace. It is not our obedience to the Law that saves us, rather our trust in Christ. Actually it is not our trust that saves us, rather we trust in Christ’s salvation that he obtained thru death.

Now Paul says that not only can the Law not save us, it was never intended to.

Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. (Galatians 3)

Much has been written about law and grace. What I specifically want to address is faith for those under the Law. Paul makes it quite clear that men are and always have been saved via faith. We have faith in Christ now. The ancients had faith in God then. Habakkuk mentions the righteous will live by faith (Habakkuk 2) and Paul reminds us that Abraham was justifed prior to the Law (Romans 4). I have no difficulty agreeing with what Paul is claiming, what I found difficult to marry is his claim about the Law being unable to save, and commands in the Torah suggesting otherwise.

“For this commandment that I command you today is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.

“See, I have set before you today life and good, death and evil. If you obey the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you today, by loving the LORD your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments and his statutes and his rules, then you shall live and multiply, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. (Deuternomy 30)

Paul mentions there was nothing wrong with the Law. It wasn’t unable to save us, obeying the Law could save but it is sin that is in us that prevents us obeying the Law. And the curses and cautions in the Law allude to God’s knowledge that the Israelites would fail. Nevertheless, there seems to be the suggestion in passages such as Deuteronomy 30 and others that the Israelites were able to obey the Law and live by it.

The insight given by the recent talk was the issue of sacrifice. It was offering sacrifices which was the activity of faith by which the people under the Law were saved.

I think that all men at all times are saved by faith. Abel, Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Queen Sheba, the Ninevites, and all the Israelites who trusted in God. So how does this work under the Law?

The term “Law” has multiple uses. It applies to the Torah as a whole: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It also applies to the specific commands contained within the last 4 books that God gave at Sinai and during the following 40 years. These laws are often divided into moral, civil, and ceremonial. Included in this, or in addition to them, are the laws surrounding sacrifice. What to offer, why to offer, and how to prepare sacrifices and participate in them.

One can consider the Law here as a set of rules, and the sacrifice as the mechanism of forgiveness for breaking the rules. We have a set of rules that God knows the Israelites cannot keep (due to sin, not due to the Law) and a mechanism for which forgiveness can be obtained.

For these ancient Hebrews it was not obedience to the rules that saved them, it was faith in the sacrifice that saved them.

This is the key point.

They had to trust God that the sacrifice that he had specified would somehow remove their offence. We understand now that the particular sacrifices in themselves did not take away their sins (Hebrews 10), rather they just were the type pointing to the true sacrifice of Christ. Whatever clarity, or lack thereof, they had at that time concerning the animal sacrifices is less important than the faith they had in the God who had appointed the sacrifices; the God who told them that this was the path of redemption.

Israelites prior to Christ knew that all men were sinners.

Enter not into judgment with your servant,/
for no one living is righteous before you. (Psalm 143)

“If they sin against you— for there is no one who does not sin…” (1 Kings 8)

Behold, you were angry, and we sinned;/
in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved?/
We have all become like one who is unclean,/
and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment./
We all fade like a leaf,/
and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. (Isaiah 64)

The Law was never given to save people and it was never suggested that they could fully obey it, even at the time it was given by Moses. It was understood at the time of Moses that people cannot obey the Law, that is why the sacrifices were mandated at the same time the Law was given.

  1. Starwind
    2009 March 6 at 14:27

    Good stuff.
    The Law was never given to save people and it was never suggested that they could fully obey it, even at the time it was given by Moses. It was understood at the time of Moses that people cannot obey the Law, that is why the sacrifices were mandated at the same time the Law was given.
    A consequent and related subtlety further confused is when Jesus said:

    Mat 5:17 NASB “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill.

    The aspects of the Law that were not abolished are its requirements e.g. do not murder, lie, steal, covet, adulter, etc. nor were the consequences of violating the law abolished, the penalty of sin (violating the law) is still death and there will still be a white throne judgement, but Jesus fulfilled the sacrifices under the Law for those sins – He provided the sacrifice Himself, completely, for everyone, one final time, thereby ushering in the age of grace for those who have faith in God the Son’s sacrifice and Lordship. And as there is no longer any Temple sacrificial system (Jesus having fulfilled it), Jesus remains the only name under Heaven by which one must be saved, by whom a substitutionary sacrifice can yet be had.
    Circumcision was a “sign” of being under the Old Covenent and its saving substitutionary sacrificial system, while baptism in the Spirit is the commensurate sign of being under the New Covenant and His ‘once for all’ saving substitutionary sacrifice.
    God’s requirements for sinlessness never changed and His provision of substitutionary sacrifice for sin never failed. God’s covenant to Israel never changed, and will yet be fulfilled.
    The only ‘change’ was to additionally include the Gentiles in the offer of salvation under the new and better covenant in Jesus wherein only the sacrifice itself changed from the blood of bulls and goats to the blood of God’s Son, and the accompanying ‘sign’ (baptism vs circumcison) changed. God had foretold of this inclusion of the Gentiles (Gen 22:18) and the accompanying change in the sign of the covenant (Deu 30:6) and Jer (Jer 31:33-34).
    But if one chooses to remain under the Old covenant, for which remains only the Law and no further substitutionary sacrifice for failure to obey that Law, there is only death as the Law can not save. God said He was not pleased by the blood of bulls and goats (Isa 1:11), and given the daily, and annual nature of those sacrifices God remembered their sin daily and annually, but in Jesus He remembers our sin no more as He foretold He would in Jer 31:33-34.

  2. 2009 March 8 at 08:57

    Thanks Starwind. I would agree that the Law cannot save. Inclusion of Gentiles, while proclaimed vigourously post Christ was announced to Abraham as you say. I would add that the intention was for early inclusion of the Gentiles; from stories we see of Egyptians leaving with the Israelites from Egypt, Rahab, Ruth, Sheba, Ninevites.
    We probably differ on what Jesus fulfilled. I would claim that Jesus fulfilled the sacrifices and the moral and civil for us. So I consider it is possible that even murder, coveting, etc. are no longer in force. Of course we have the Spirit who would not lead us there and in fact has even higher requirements like not even hating. But this is for another time. :)

  3. michael
    2009 March 8 at 17:03

    While the Law cannot save us from the flesh, the world or the devils, in civil societies, laws are established whereby the citizen may enjoy the peace and tranquility of that society.
    And as the “moral” Laws of God are Holy, when a society begins to become weakened to them by the flesh, the world and the devils, God brings His wrath upon that society.
    One of the greatest expressions of this is found here:
    Psa 72:1 Of Solomon. Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son!
    Psa 72:2 May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice!
    Psa 72:3 Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!
    Psa 72:4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!
    Psa 72:5 May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations!
    What I am particularly drawn to is verse 4 as I see a similar theme being touched on in the days of Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles, as written here:
    Act 20:32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.
    Act 20:33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel.
    Act 20:34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me.
    Act 20:35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.'”
    Peter takes a different tact when we read his words here:
    1Pe 5:8 Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.
    1Pe 5:9 Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
    1Pe 5:10 And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.
    Quite literally Satan wants a moral society where all is well and good and there is prosperity and peace all the days of your life.
    The problem is, neither is he, nor the beast, the false prophet, Death, Hades or some people willing to come under the Authority of Christ so that mankind is freed up to have in this lifetime such a society:
    Joh 17:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you,
    Joh 17:2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.
    Joh 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.
    God is still in charge of the salvation of the lost, not a moralistic world

  4. 2009 March 11 at 23:26

    As I like to point out, God’s requirements never changed because God never changes.

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