Law (Torah) and the Believer

Published September 10th, 2014 by Dirk Waren

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“Law is Made Not for the Righteous”

Many believers may find this surprising, but the Old Testament law – the Torah – was not made for the righteous. Note what the Bible says in this regard:

We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. (9) We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers of mothers, for murderers, (10) for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine (11) that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God,

1 Timothy 1:8-11

This passage starts off by declaring that the law is good, but only if it is used properly. This means that the law is intrinsically “holy, righteous and good,” as Paul pointed out in Romans 7:12, but it is only good for people if it is used properly. In other words, in and of itself the law is good, but it is only good for people when it is used appropriately. The remaining verses reveal what this means: For one thing, the Old Testament law is not made for the righteous, meaning believers who are made righteous in Christ through spiritual rebirth:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2 Corinthians 5:21

Jesus never sinned, but he became sin for us on the cross so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. ‘Become’ in the Greek is ginomai (JIN oh may), which means “to come into being, to be born.” Whether you know it or not, when you turned to the LORD in repentance and faith you were spiritually reborn and, consequently, your spirit was born the righteousness of God. This explains why we are instructed to put off the flesh and put on the new man – meaning live out of our reborn spirit – because it was “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). Let’s look at this incredible passage:

You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

Ephesians 4:22-24

When we put off the flesh, change our thinking, and learn to live out of our new righteous and holy nature with the help of the Holy Spirit we’ll be spirit-controlled rather than flesh-ruled. We’ll naturally bear forth fruit of the spirit rather than works of the flesh. This is the key to living according to the Old Testament moral law, not putting the law in front of us and trying to force our flesh to comply, which is being “under the law.” Notice that God’s Word explicitly says believers are not under the law:

But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

Galatians 5:18

For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.

Romans 6:14

we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.

Romans 7:6

Putting yourself under the law to attain righteousness does not work; in fact, it will actually increase the sin problem, even if it increases a sin other than the one you’re trying not to commit, like arrogance, hatred and abuse. Why do you think Paul said, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase” (Romans 5:20)? He said it because this is the reason the law was given to humanity – to increase the sin problem and drive us to the Savior in whom we can have spiritual regeneration. Once we’re reborn in this way all we have to do is learn to put off the flesh daily (or, as Jesus put it, “deny yourself”) and live out of our spirits empowered and guided by the Holy Spirit. This is the answer to the sin problem, not putting a list of hundreds of laws in front of us and trying to force our carnal nature to conform. Again, this doesn’t work and never will because the flesh is the sinful nature. It’s utterly futile to try to make it produce righteousness! The entire Old Testament is testimony to this.

Secondly, the passage goes on to stress that the moral law was made “for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious” (verse 9). Paul then provides a list of various sinful lifestyles, like fornicators, sodomites and liars. God’s moral law was “made for” such people in that it reveals to them that they’re in sin, which can lead them to the Savior, the gospel, spiritual regeneration and the attainment of righteousness in Christ. At which point they won’t need the law anymore; they’ll just need to learn how to put off the “old man” and put on the “new man” because – when they do this – they’ll walk in “true righteousness and holiness.” Obviously if someone’s walking in “true righteousness” they have no need for the law. This, by the way, explains a mysterious statement Paul made after listing the fruits of the spirit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Galatians 5:22-23

When believers learn how to live out of their new nature as led of the Holy Spirit they’ll be spirit-controlled rather than flesh-ruled and naturally produce the fruit of the spirit, which are the fruits of God’s very nature! Such people need no external law to produce these godly attitudes and behaviors! This is why the Bible says that the law is not for the righteous, but the unrighteous. The righteous have no need of the law. Why? Because they’re already producing the fruits of righteousness through living out of their spirit by the Holy Spirit. They’re spirit-controlled, not flesh-ruled. It’s the unrighteous who need the law. This would include believers who may stumble into sin. Say if believers are living in adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lying or strife. We can show them through God’s moral Law that they are in sin and need to repent. This is using the law lawfully or properly. Once they humbly repent God forgives them and they are cleansed from “all unrighteousness.” At which point they’ll no longer need the law because they’re righteous, as this passage clearly shows:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:8-9

As long as believers “keep in repentance” in this manner, as John the Baptist put it (Luke 3:8), they walk in the grace of God’s forgiveness and are righteous in Christ because God purifies them “from all unrighteousness” when they humbly confess. If the LORD cleanses repentant believers of all unrighteousness, what’s that make them? Completely righteous. As such, they have no need of the Law because the Law was made for the unrighteous, not the righteous.

Reflect on these things.

Why Do Legalists Prefer the Law?

Legalists by definition prefer to focus on religious laws at the expense of living by the spirit. That’s why they’re called legal-ists. As shown in the New Testament, the Pharisees and teachers of the law were staunch legalists. This spiritual disease has been a huge problem throughout church history and up to today. This was the problem Paul was having with the Galatian churches circa 50 AD, a mere two decades after Christ’s death and resurrection. Jewish legalists infiltrated these Gentile fellowships and put them into bondage to various religious laws, like circumcision, strict Sabbath observation, special fasts initiated by the Jews during the Babylonian captivity, the seven Jewish feasts and the seven seven-year periods that culminated with the fiftieth year, the year of Jubilee (Galatians 4:10).

This understandably upset Paul, a former Pharisee, especially since he founded all or most of the churches he was writing to. Notice what he asks the Galatian believers in exasperation:

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. (2) I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by what you heard? (3) Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?

Galatians 3:1-3

This perplexed and grieved Paul so he felt it necessary to explain to the Galatians the actual purpose of the law, concluding with this thought:

So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.

Galatians 3:24-25

Since believers are justified in God’s sight by faith we are no longer under the supervision of the law. ‘Supervision’ is translated as “schoolmaster” in the King James Version. The original Greek word refers to a household servant or slave whose job was to tutor and overseer male children until they came of age whereupon the sons took on the responsibilities and freedoms of adulthood. Are you getting this? Believers are no longer under the supervision of religious law; since we are spiritually regenerated and have the Holy Spirit we are liberated to function in the responsibilities and freedoms of spiritual adulthood, keeping in mind that the Bible shows three stages of Christian growth — “children,” “young men” or young women and “fathers” & mothers (see the teaching Spiritual Development — The Four Stages for details).

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If this is so, why on earth would believers go back to a system of do’s and don’ts, like the Galatians did? Why would spiritually regenerated believers submit themselves to a former slave — the supervision of the law — and have “him” oversee them? It’s both foolish and absurd, not to mention a denial of the believer’s rights as sons and daughters of the Most High!

So why do some do it? Why revert to a system of rules and regulations that can only give the outward appearance of godliness and not the real deal? One obvious reason is laziness. In some perverted sense it’s easier to submit to a system of laws than to think for oneself. You’ll see this mentality in Christians who wholly submit their lives to authoritarian churches that tell them precisely what to do and believe. As such, they don’t have to think for themselves; they just follow the authoritarians and their commands or rules.

Other reasons are insecurity and fear. Some believers are so insecure that they need someone to tell them what to do and believe. They’re simply not secure in who they are in Christ and, consequently, they’re weak. They’re afraid of the responsibilities and freedoms that come with spiritual adulthood and therefore never really grow up. It’s akin to the security of working for a company all your life rather than deal with the uncertainties of striking out on your own. Although the latter would provide a sense of adventure, freedom and change, the former provides such security and comfort. Why risk the unknown? For these same reason millions of believers languish in dead fellowships.

Preferring the security of being an employee rather than being your own master is perfectly okay for the labor market, if that’s what a person prefers, but it’s unhealthy in the realm of the spirit. There are plenty of legalists, libertines and authoritarians out there who are more than willing to take advantage of believers who refuse to take the reins of spiritual growth and maturity.

Since legalists refuse to foster an actual relationship with the LORD they have no choice but to divert to rules and regulations. This isn’t to say they won’t go through the motions of having a relationship, but this is chiefly for appearances sake. In some cases they may actually pray in their private time, but it’s very rehearsed, one-sided and lifeless, like talking to a wall. They likely do this to convince themselves that they actually have a relationship with God. If your prayer time is dry, one-dimensional and boring, take note. Legalism is creeping in.

Lastly, in addition to lacking an actual relationship with the Lord, legalistic leaders prefer religious rules so they can dominate others and foster a dependent following of sheeple. Such dependency naturally feeds the leader’s egos.

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Legalists Focus on Rules above Relationship, Including Extra-Biblical Rules

The gospel is referred to as the “message of reconciliation” in Scripture (2 Corinthians 5:17-21). Why? Because it is through the good news of the gospel that people are reconciled with their Creator. ‘Reconciliation’ means “to turn from enmity to friendship” and this is the core of the Christian message: We can have an actual relationship with God through spiritual regeneration via the imperishable seed of the enduring Word of God, Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:23 & 1 John 3:9). I should add that ‘seed’ in the Greek is “sperm” (in the latter verse) – we’ve been born-again of the imperishable sperm of Christ, the Living Word of God.

Since legalism is the definition of hypocrisy – putting on an act – legalists can’t stress relationship; consequently, they divert to religious rules, including the many rules they make up. Why do they dream up new rules or laws? Because they’re obsessed with them, that’s legal-ism.

Notice what Jesus said about the legalists of the first century:

“ ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. (7) They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’ (8) You have let go of the command of God and are holding on to the traditions of men.”

(13) “Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down.”

Mark 7:6-8 & 13

What we see here is a tendency of legalists to dream up rules that go beyond Scripture. The Bible is full of moral commands, which can be condensed into the two greatest commands, loving God and loving people as yourself (Matthew 22:34-40). But this isn’t good enough for legalists; they have to add more rules. Paul commented on this fleshly practice when he wrote to the Colossians:

Since you died with Christ to the basic principles of this world, why, as though you still belonged to it, do you submit to its rules: (21) “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? (22) These are destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings. (23) Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.

Colossians 2:20-23

Notice Paul is denouncing human commands and teachings, not biblical ones. Such rules only have an appearance of wisdom and have no real power to restrain carnality (verse 23). Only spiritual rebirth, putting off the old self and putting on the new self, provides the power to walk in true righteousness and holiness (Ephesians 4:22-24) .

Also observe in verse 21 how Paul literally mocks the goofy rules that legalists dream up: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!” He’s making fun of their stupid rules! Notice that one of the rules he mocks is “Do not taste!”

Legalists do the same thing today as they did in the first century. Here are ten modern examples followed by my observations in parentheses:

  • “Don’t drink caffeinated beverages” (Why not if it’s done in moderation? In fact, a recent 15-year study revealed that people who regularly consume caffeinated beverages in moderation actually live longer).
  • “Don’t drink alcoholic beverages” (But wasn’t Jesus’ first miracle to turn water into wine at a wedding party? Didn’t Jesus and the disciples drink wine at the Lord’s Supper? What about Deuteronomy 14:26 and numerous other passages? Not that I’m advocating being a drunkard, of course, which is carnal according to Galatians 5:19-21 – I absolutely abhor alcoholism – but there’s a difference between being a drunkard and drinking a sip of alcohol. At the same time, those who partake of this freedom shouldn’t look down on those who choose not to and vice versa; read Romans 14 for details).
  • “Don’t eat pork or meat?” (Why not? Didn’t Jesus and Paul declare all foods clean in the New Testament, as shown in Mark 7:18-19 and 1 Timothy 4:1-5? Didn’t Paul stress that every neutral thing is permissible if we’re not mastered by it, according to 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 10:23? I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with a vegetarian lifestyle; in fact, I’m not a big meat-eater, but to make vegetarianism a rule that all believers must follow is a different story and wholly wrong. In 1 Timothy 4:1-5 Paul blatantly warned of false teachers that “abandon the faith” and “follow deceiving spirits” who order believers “to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe.” Needless to say, beware).
  • “King James only!” (Not that there’s anything wrong with the KJV Bible, of course – except that it’s written in an archaic style of English that modern readers can barely understand – but this rule is so absurd it requires no further comment. See the teaching Bible — You Own One at a Huge Price for details).
  • “You’re only welcome at our church services if adorned in dress clothes” otherwise known as “Suit and tie only!” (This is more of an unwritten rule where you’ll get dirty looks if you dare to come to church in anything other than the so-called appropriate apparel. There’s nothing wrong with wearing dress clothes to church gatherings, of course, but to make it a rule and look down on those who don’t is grossly wrong. See James 2:2-4).
  • “You can celebrate this and that holiday but not this or that holiday” (Although some religious holidays have somewhat dubious origins, observing them or not is a matter that comes down to a person’s heart. For example, Christmas may be about materialism to one person and it may be about a celebration of Christ and the gift of giving to another; Easter may be about colored eggs and spring vacation to one person and about the resurrection of Christ and spiritual regeneration to another. This is why Paul encouraged Christians to resist making judgments about fellow believers and the days they choose to celebrate as holidays. See Romans 14:5-8 & Colossians 2:16).
  • “You must not view an R-rated movie” (Unless, of course, it’s The Passion of the Christ, which proves that not all R-rated films are moral filth, even if they have scenes depicting various fleshly behaviors and extreme violence. Want proof? Are there any stories in the Bible that are heavily R-rated? Obviously: David’s lust for the bathing Bathsheba and his subsequent adultery and murder of Uriah; David chopping off Goliath’s head and parading it around; Lot’s daughters’ incestuous actions with their drunken father; the mass slaughter of infants; whole cities put to the sword, including women and children; the global bloodshed in Revelation; the naked demoniac; the witch of Endor; Judah having sex with his daughter-in-law who was posing as a prostitute; God threatening to kill Moses until his wife circumcises their son and throws the bloody foreskin at Moses’ feet; wicked Jezebel being thrown alive from an upper window, splattering on the pavement – her corpse trampled by a chariot and torn to pieces by dogs; all the pregnant women of a city ripped open; lions mauling to death Gentile settlers in Israel; ten thousand captured soldiers thrown off a cliff to their deaths; etcetera. What about the Song of Songs? It’s a beautifully poetic book about romantic love and sexual union with a deeper subtext, but what’s it rated? Read it and be honest. God’s Word obviously doesn’t whitewash human nature but rather honestly bares it with all its potential glory or shame. The Bible isn’t the “Good Book” because it Disney-fies the human experience, but because it’s brutally honest about it and provides the God-given answers. Of course, someone could argue that these hardcore Bible stories include moral themes or lessons, but so does the R-rated 3:10 to Yuma remake, which is a story of redemption with a Christ-figure. Needless to say, not all films are moral trash and believers should have the freedom to seek out the worthy ones while adhering to the principle “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life” from Proverbs 4:23. For more details on this issue see the teachings Holiness — A Fresh Look and R-Rated Movies — Yes or No?).
  • “You can’t play competitive games, like football, including board games, like chess” (You might think I’m kidding, but I actually read this absurd rule on a Christian website. It’s hard to believe, but this ministry was actually making the argument that truly holy Christians shouldn’t engage in any type of competitive games whatsoever because it’s inherently carnal. Incredible. NOTE: This is a different issue than those who watch [or play] sports, like football, to the point that it’s akin to idolatry. Anything can become an idol if it becomes our primary focus at the expense of God and health).
  • “Marital couples can only have sex in the missionary position; all other sexual expressions are forbidden” (As unbelievable as this one sounds, multiple believers who left a rigid sect testified that this was actually one of the groups’ numerous, eye-rolling rules. I’m guessing these prudish rule-makers never read the Song of Songs).
  • “You must witness door-to-door or you’re not a true believer” (I came across a couple of believers about a year ago who regularly went door-to-door sharing the gospel. One of them was an elder and it became clear that he looked down on Christians who failed to go door-to-door as they did. I asked, “Did Jesus go door-to-door?” They quickly answered, “Of course,” but failed to cite any Scripture [because they couldn’t]. I then asked, “How come there’s not one instruction in the epistles for believers to ‘witness’ door-to-door?” They had no answer, except to inquire, “How else will people hear the good news?” I then listed a number of ways off the top of my head: “Natural contact, revivals, internet, tracts, books, radio, TV, inviting people to church, etc.” I’m not at all saying that believers shouldn’t go door-to-door, as Jesus sent his disciples to do this on a couple occasions, but there’s no rule in the New Testament that believers must go door-to-door. Why? Because not all cultures or generations are conducive to the door-to-door approach, as first century Israel was, and believers need to adjust their evangelistic methods accordingly. What God’s Word does say is that believers should “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks” us to give the reason for the hope that we have “But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15); and that we should “shine out like stars in the universe” as we “hold out the word of life” (Philippians 2:15-16). You see? There’s no ironclad law that believers must go door-to-door, but rather general instructions to hold out the word of life in a respectful fashion as led of the Holy Spirit. Speaking of which, if the Holy Spirit guides you to go door-to-door in a certain neighborhood, by all means do so).

Eye-rolling rules like these bring to mind Jesus’ potent observation about legalists: “They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Mark 7:7).

What about Old Testament Laws Like Sabbath-Keeping, the Jewish Feasts and Dietary Laws?

The New Testament believer is free of the ceremonial and dietary laws of the old covenant and are only obligated to fulfill the moral law, which they do by walking in the spirit — i.e. “participating in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4) — and not by putting themselves under the law, as detailed above. That believers are required to fulfill the moral law but not the ceremonial & dietary laws can be observed by the fact that Old Testament moral laws are cited in the New Testament (e.g. Luke 4:8 & Acts 23:5), but never the ceremonial or dietary laws, including Sabbath-keeping. As a matter of fact, notice what the Word of God blatantly says on the matter:

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:13-17

Christ came to fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law on our behalf (Matthew 5:17) and, in fact, he is the “culmination of the law” — the “end of the law” – “so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). As detailed above, “everyone who believes” attains righteousness through spiritual rebirth (2 Corinthians 5:21) and learning to live out of his or her spirit with the help of the Holy Spirit. The reason this works is because the believer’s born-again spirit is the “new self,” which is “created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22-24). As such, learning to put off the flesh — the sin nature — and put on the new self — our godly nature — is the key to fulfilling the moral law. Those who are led of the Spirit in this manner “are not under the law” (Galatians 5:18).

I know I’m repeating myself a lot here, but this material is mandatory for believers to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:4). Master this material and you will walk free of the flesh and legal-ism; you’ll soar in the spirit!

Notice again what God’s Word says:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17

The passage is addressing the dietary and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament: “what you eat or drink” refers to dietary laws and the others refer to ceremonial laws. We are not to allow legalists to judge us negatively by these things.  In fact, all of them — dietary laws, the Jewish festivals, the New Moon celebration and the Sabbath day — are a mere shadow of what was to come, meaning Jesus Christ, the Anointed One. “The reality is found in Christ” and if you’re a believer YOU are “in Christ.” Are you following? Everything in the law and prophets from Genesis to Malachi were types and shadows of the true reality, which is Christ and the spiritual rebirth that comes through his seed (sperm) and the power of the Holy Spirit. More than 600 laws were given to the Hebrews in the Old Testament and Jesus fulfilled every one of them; he completed or stopped every one of them, including the Sabbath.

All Foods are Declared Clean in the New Testament

It always surprises me — even shocks me — when I come across believers who staunchly advocate that Christians should obey the Old Testament dietary laws. Why? Because it’s so absolutely clear in the Bible that believers are liberated from these laws in the New Testament era, the age of grace. Let’s start with what Jesus himself clearly taught on the issue:

“Are you so dull? Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)”

Mark 7:18-19

As you can see, no food that enters a person from the outside can defile them! (Please notice that Jesus was talking about legitimate food here). The passage goes on to matter-of-factly state that “Jesus declared all foods clean.” If language means anything we have to conclude that Jesus, in fact, declared all foods clean.

Is this backed-up by the rest of the New Testament? Absolutely. Let’s start with Peter’s vision of a sheet of unclean animals let down from heaven and a voice saying, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Acts 10:14-16 & 11:8-10

As you can see, this passage appears twice in the New Testament verbatim and corresponds to what Jesus said above. Why does it appear twice verbatim? Because the LORD is trying to get something across to us and wants to make sure that we get it.

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Now legalists will argue that the purpose of the vision had nothing to do with food and everything to do with God granting salvation to those considered unclean by Jews, the Gentiles, as shown in Acts 11:18. Actually, the vision applies to food literally and to the Gentiles figuratively. Why else would the Lord give Peter a vision of unclean animals and proceed to declare them clean three times and then have the account repeated verbatim twice in the book of Acts? If the Lord was only talking about Gentiles being declared clean in Christ then why use the vision of unclean animals at all? Why not just have a sheet of Gentile people appear to Peter to which the Lords says, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean”? Obviously because the vision applies to both, especially when you consider what Jesus already said about all foods being declared clean (Mark 7:19) and what Paul’s epistles consistently teach about the believer’s dietary intake.

Let’s look at those particular passages:

I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.

Romans 14:14-15

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:17

Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.

Romans 14:20

But food does not bring us near to God;we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

1 Corinthians 8:8

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink

Colossians 2:16

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:1-5

These passages couldn’t be anymore clear that all foods are declared clean in the New Testament period and that the kingdom of God is not about eating and drinking because, as Paul says, “food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.” In other words, whether a believer chooses to have shrimp for supper or some bacon for breakfast doesn’t mean anything in the kingdom of God, as long as we’re not gluttons — that is, make an idol of food — and we do all things in moderation (1 Corinthians 6:12 & 10:23).

Notice how the last passage shows that false teachers will rise up and follow deceiving spirits and one of their false doctrines will be instructing people to “abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving for those who believe… For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.” If words mean anything at all we have no recourse but to conclude that all foods are declared clean for the believer! Be on your guard against groups who insist on obedience to Old Testament dietary laws and abstaining from certain foods. You can be sure that such people are following deceiving spirits who want to get believers back under the law where there’s no life. “For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).

Understanding the Sabbath

 There are some misconceptions about the Sabbath, so let’s read God’s specific instructions to the Israelites on this issue:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.”

Exodus 20:8-11

The root word for Sabbath is shabath (shaw-BATH), which means to “cease” or “desist from labor.” The Sabbath was a day of rest from one’s labor, that’s it. Although it’s presumed that a person celebrating the Sabbath will naturally worship the LORD there’s nothing in this ceremonial command that says people have to meet on that day to worship together. Yes, Hebrew people have traditionally met to worship on the Sabbath and that’s fitting, but — as you can see from this passage — meeting with other people and worshipping together is not the essence of the command, resting from one’s labors is.

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The LORD commanded the Israelites to observe the Sabbath for all generations as a sign of the lasting covenant between God and them (Exodus 31:16-17). It was meant to be a blessing to the Israelites — a day to rest and refresh — but by the time of Christ sourpuss legalists had largely turned it into a burden. These religionists got so technical about defining what “work” was and wasn’t that they came up with myriad rules, like the “Sabbath Day’s journey,” which was less than half-a-mile, the distance Israelites were allowed to travel on the Sabbath without violating it (Acts 1:12).

The Pharisees are the quintessential example of legalism in the Bible and they objected to Jesus’ mere intention of healing a man’s deformed hand on the Sabbath, as shown here:

Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”

Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.

He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.

Mark 3:1-6

The Pharisees were so ridiculously detailed and rigid with their rules concerning  “working” on the Sabbath that they objected to Jesus doing any type of healing “work” on that day. Christ was so disgusted by their stubbornness that he shot them all a glance of anger, as shown in verse 5. This was righteous anger, of course, but anger nevertheless. He then proceeded to heal the man despite their legalistic objections. This was a wordless reprimand to the legalists and they were so offended that they decided to murder him!

Can you imagine people being so blinded by legalistic zeal that they object to an incredible healing? Make no mistake, this is what the poison of legalism does when people are seriously infected. Those who are not contaminated, by contrast, are ever ready to praise God when people are miraculously healed and set free. Take, for instance, the occasion when blind Bartimaeus received his sight through faith and he immediately glorified God. The passage goes on to say, “And all the people, when they saw it, gave praise to God” (Luke 18:43 NKJV). This is how normal people react to incredible healings and life-changing miracles. Not so with legalists. They’re so corrupted by rule-ism they can’t see the forest for the trees!

On another occasion Jesus and his disciples were walking through the fields on the Sabbath and picked some heads of grain to quell their hunger. Since it was the Sabbath the Pharisees argued that the disciples were guilty of working because they plucked the grain and rubbed it in their hands before eating. To their legalistic way of thinking this was equal to reaping and threshing. God’s law did forbid working on the Sabbath but it was intended to be a blessing, not a burden. The Sabbath was supposed to be a welcomed rest and celebration of God after a 6-day work week, not a joyless ritual observing man-made technicalities. Jesus’ simple-yet-brilliant response says it all:

“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.”

Mark 2:27

NOTE: You can compare the three accounts of this occasion as shown in Matthew 12:1-8, Mark 2:23-28 and Luke 6:1-5.

God’s Commands are NOT Burdensome

God is always interested in blessing people by setting them free while religionists are intent on burdening others and putting them into spiritual bondage. Notice what Jesus said of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees: “They tie up heavy loads and put them on men’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to lift a finger to move them” (Matthew 23:4). By contrast, the Bible says:

This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.

1 John 5:3-4

All of God’s moral laws in the Old Testament can be condensed into two basic commands with three applications: Love God and love people as you love yourself. That’s it. And these commands are not burdensome because believers are born of God and have the spiritual nature to fulfill them with joy. The only believers who can’t do this are those who fail to put off the flesh and are therefore flesh-ruled. As such, the “law of sin and death” is at work in their lives and this is no fun because sin’s reward is death. But those who walk in the Spirit are spirit-controlled and therefore the “law of the Spirit of life” is in motion, which is a higher law than the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2).

Did you ever marvel at how huge aircrafts are able to defy the law of gravity and soar above the landscape? How do they do this? It’s simple: They activate a higher law, the law of lift and propulsion, which neutralizes the law of gravity. As long as the higher law is in motion the lower law is rendered powerless. Just as the physical law of lift and propulsion enables people to conquer gravity and fly, so the law of the Spirit of life deactivates the law of sin and death when it is in motion. This is “walking in the spirit” or “participating in the divine nature.” Such a law is not burdensome, but man-made religion is. See the video How to Walk FREE of the Flesh for details.

Observe what Jesus said about God’s commands not being burdensome in the kingdom of God:

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matthew 11:28-30

Yes, there is a yoke and burden to serving the Lord, but unlike the yoke of the flesh or the burden of religion Jesus’ yoke is easy and his burden is light. How so? Because that’s the nature of the law of love, and love is the fulfillment of the law (Romans 13:8-10).

The Sabbath and the Believer’s Freedom

Getting back to the issue of the Sabbath, someone might argue, “If loving God is to obey God’s commands according to 1 John 5:3, then we should love God by obeying his Sabbath command.” The ten commandments were just ten of over 600 Old Testament laws and a lot of important moral commands are missing from the ten commandments, like do not fornicate, do not commit homosexuality, do not attempt to contact the dead, do not be a drunkard, do not engage in witchcraft, and so on. God’s instruction to rest on the seventh day wasn’t a moral command, but rather a ceremonial one, and — again — believer’s are not required to follow the ceremonial & dietary laws of the Old Testament. Let’s revisit a statement Paul made:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17 

The Sabbath was a shadow of what was to come — Jesus Christ! The dietary laws, feast days and holy days that God commanded in the Old Testament – including the Sabbath — pictured the person and work of the coming Messiah. Jesus carried out all these types through his ministry. Thus the need to observe them has ceased.

For the believer there is freedom on the issue, notice:

One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord.

Romans 14:5-6

Paul goes on to say: “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” (Romans 14:13) and earlier he said, “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall” (Romans 14:4). As you can see, believers have freedom on the issue, but some are more conscious of their freedom than others and, as such, we need to be sensitive and respectful so as not to harm our brother and sister in the Lord.

In the early days of the church believers were predominantly Jewish. Antioch was nearly 500 miles north of Jerusalem (in what is now Turkey) and was the location of the first non-Jewish church, which included some Hebrew believers; there were more Gentile fellowships in Syria and Cilicia. The Jerusalem church faced a dilemma, what aspects of the Mosaic law would the Jewish believers impose on the Gentile believers? Notice what they decided:

“It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. 20 Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.”

Acts 15:19-20 

Notice that there was no instruction for the Gentiles to keep the Sabbath or follow the Jewish festivals or celebrate the New Moon, nor to follow the Old Testament dietary laws. These Messianic Jewish leaders decided it wasn’t right to impose Old Testament ceremonial & dietary laws on Gentile believers. It should be emphasized that this four-item list had nothing to do with God’s grace of salvation, which the council had already settled came through faith alone (Acts 15:6-11). However, the list had everything to do with how the Gentile believers could live and worship with Jewish believers who were particularly offended by these four types of behaviors and, as such, were intended to maintain peace and unity in the Gentile churches. Because the Greek and Roman world was filled with pagan religions the council’s instructions were focused on helping the Gentile believers to break from their pagan past and ease the consciences of sensitive Hebrew believers in their midst. Hence, the instructions were about the Gentiles cutting themselves off from anything related to pagan worship. They were therefore encouraged not to eat food sacrificed to idols or to participate in pagan festivals, which were marked by all-around sensual revelry, including sexual immorality. Antioch was located in a pagan nation where sexual immorality was rampant.

Several years after this occasion Paul declared eating meat sacrificed to idols acceptable for believers with strong consciences — i.e. mature believers — but he stressed that such believers should remain sensitive to their brothers and sisters with weak consciences who felt eating such meat was intrinsically wrong (1 Corinthians 8). This instruction revealed both the believer’s freedom and responsibility. Believers have the liberty to eat such meat but they were also responsible to make sure that the practice of their freedom didn’t harm someone with a weak conscience. This is true today with many issues, like drinking alcohol (which is different than being a drunkard) or watching movies. Paul stressed, “Be careful… that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1 Corinthians 8:9).

The point is that the Jerusalem council did not require Gentile churches to keep the Sabbath.

So when did early Christians meet and worship together? Read what the Bible says:

Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. 

Acts 2:46-47  

They met together every day at the temple courts and in their homes. If there was a day that Christians met regularly it was the first day of the week, which is our Sunday (Acts 20:7 & 1 Corinthians 16:2). This was in honor of Christ’s resurrection on Sunday and should not be viewed as a “Christian Sabbath” but simply as a day to especially worship Jesus Christ. Notice what the Bible instructs about New Testament believers meeting together:

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

Hebrews 10:24-25

Notice that nothing is said about meeting and worshipping on a certain day. Why? Because it’s not important. What was important was that they met together. True worship is a lifestyle and a heart attitude; Jesus said we must worship “in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). As such, we should practice the presence of Christ 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Not only is there no correct day to worship the Lord, we should worship every day!

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Again, Sabbath means “rest” or to “cease from labor.” In the New Testament age of grace we are to cease from working for righteousness. Jesus said that we are to come to him because he is our rest, our Sabbath (Matthew 11:28-30). Through Christ we are born righteous in our spirits and, as such, we are already righteous and in-right-standing with God. Of course genuine faith produces works (James 2:14-16), but these works are a result of being righteous and not an attempt to become righteous. Are you following?

The Church is to Rest in Christ’s Already Accomplished Work of Salvation

Why did New Testament believers — the church, the “called-out ones” — gather on the first day of the week as shown in Acts 20:7 and 1 Corinthians 16:2? Because the body of Christ is a new creation, and it’s very existence was birthed via resting in Christ’s already accomplished work of salvation:

for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from their works, just as God did from his.

Hebrews 4:10

New Covenant believers cease performing our own works and the works of the law, including the ten commandments. Instead of working toward victory we work from Christ’s already accomplished victory. Let’s revisit a key passage with the addition of the preceding two verses:

14 having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

16Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:14-17

“A shadow” means a foreshadow, testifying to the reality to come. The real thing, however, is not the shadow. Notice what verse 18 goes on to say:

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind.

Colossians 2:18

Those who walk in the shadow of things to come rather than the reality of Christ have an “unspiritual mind,” which means fleshly. This includes strict Sabbath-keepers. They’re still trying to serve God from the perspective of the flesh no matter what staunch religious airs they put on.

The Physical Principle of the Sabbath

Although the Sabbath was a shadow that was fulfilled in Christ, the purely physical principle of the Sabbath — a day to cease from labor — remains true and applicable, but the believer has the freedom to pick that day or time slot. What  I mean is that God set the example of working six days and resting one full day — completely taking a break from work, both mentally and naturally. This principle is necessary and healthy and is a wise principle to live by. For example, I’m one of those people Paul spoke of who “considers every day alike” (Romans 14:5) and am not moved by national or religious holidays, which doesn’t mean I won’t celebrate them to some degree. But, whether I do or not, I’m free. It’s the believer’s choice, as led of the Holy Spirit. In regards to the Sabbath — a day to cease from physical and mental toil — I celebrate Sabbaths as the need arises, as led of the Holy Spirit. For instance, just the other day I had finished a string of days of voluminous ministry work and I suddenly realized I was tired and needed a break. So I took a day off where I rested and didn’t think of ministry work — or any other type of work — at all. Once refreshed, I was inspired and psyched to finish the current project and tackle the next.

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Are there examples of this in the New Testament? Yes. When Jesus sent out the twelve disciples to minister from village to village in Israel they drove out demons, cured diseases, preached the truths of God’s kingdom and healed the sick. When they returned and gave a good report of their activities they all “withdrew by themselves” to the town of Bethsaida (Luke 9:10). Why is this significant? Because Jesus recognized the need for ministers to retreat for rest and refreshing after significant ministry endeavors, which naturally protects ministers from burnout.

This, of course applies to any type of work and not just ministry. It’s the principle of the Sabbath — to rest from one’s work and refresh. And this doesn’t have to be a full day either; you can (and should) have mini-Sabbaths every day. As Solomon said, there’s “a time to weep and a time to laugh, a time to mourn and a time to dance” (Ecclesiastes 3:4). Even work can become an idol — and unhealthy — if it’s done without moderation.

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Additional Proof Believers are Not Under the Law

Notice this powerful statement made by Paul:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

Galatians 5:1

The “yoke of slavery” Paul was referring to is the yoke of religious law — both the Torah and various laws that were added. In this particular case, a group of legalistic teachers called the Judaizers infiltrated the Gentile churches of Galatia and taught that the requirements of Jewish religion were necessary for salvation and spirituality, which included physical circumcision, traditional fasts and observing various holy-days. Circumcision was an issue as confirmed by Galatians 2:3 and 5:2-3, while the others Paul cited when he said:

 You are observing special days and months and seasons and years!

Galatians 4:10

“Days” refers to strict Sabbath-keeping, “months” to the fast initiated by the Jews during their Babylonian captivity, “seasons” to the seven Jewish feasts – Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Pentecost, Trumpets, Atonements, and Tabernacles – and “years” to the seven 7-year periods that culminated in the fiftieth year, the year of Jubilee. The Judaizers argued that observing these were necessary for salvation and spirituality, which Paul blatantly called a “different gospel,” a perversion of the true gospel (Galatians 1:6).

The true gospel is that salvation comes simply by God’s graciousness through faith, “not by works so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:9). True faith will produce good works (James 2:14-24) because “we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Ephesians 2:10). This occurs naturally as the believer learns to put off the old self — the flesh — and put on the new self — the spirit (Ephesians 4:22-24). This is why it’s so important for believers to know who they are in Christ. Those who aren’t bearing fruit and doing good works aren’t necessarily counterfeits. More likely they have an identity problem – they simply don’t know who they are (if you’re having this problem check out this video How God Sees YOU). Counterfeits can be identified by a consistent unrepentant spirit; in other words, they stubbornly continue to walk in the flesh with no care of repentance, even after being exposed to these powerful life-changing truths (Matthew 7:15-23).

Paul knew how to recognize legalists because he used to be one. Notice how he refers to legalists in this passage:

Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! For it is we who are the circumcision, who worship in the Spirit of God and boast in Christ Jesus and have no confidence in the flesh.

Philippians 3:2-3 (NRSV)

Paul was warning the Philippian believers of legalists who taught that non-Jews had to be physically circumcised in order to be truly saved; they were obsessed with it. Notice that Paul doesn’t mince words here. He blatantly calls these legalists “dogs” and “evil workers”!

Calling someone a “dog” was even more offensive in biblical times than it is today. The term referred to people of low moral character. For instance, “dogs” is a used in the Bible in reference to homosexual prostitutes (Deuteronomy 23:18), wicked betrayers (Psalm 59:5-6), corrupt leaders (Isaiah 56:10), heathen people (Matthew 15:26-27) and staunch legalists in this particular passage. And how would you like to be called an “evil worker”? That’s pretty harsh, don’t you agree? This is recorded in God’s Word to show that legalism is utter wickedness in the LORD’s eyes. It cannot be tolerated; it must be confronted, exposed and rebuked; and genuine believers should be warned for their protection.

Getting back to the Judaizers who were trying to corrupt the churches in Galatia with a “different gospel,” a gospel mixed with Jewish law, Paul called the Galatian believers “bewitched” for tolerating the Judaizers and allowing them to corrupt their churches (Galatians 3:1). Notice what he blatantly says about these legalists:

If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!

Galatians 1:9

Paul adamantly says that anyone who preached this different gospel should  “be eternally condemned!” You know what this means in plain English? “Let him go to hell!” Yes, as unbelievable as it may seem, Paul, the greatest figure of Christianity after Jesus Christ, emphatically declared that those who unrepentantly preached a different gospel — a “gospel” that soiled the body of Christ with legalism — should go to hell!

Needless to say, legalism is a grievous sin in God’s eyes and cannot be tolerated, whether in myself, yourself or others. It must be recognized, corrected and purged ASAP.

This “different gospel” (Galatians 1:6) included the practice of circumcision, the cutting off of the male foreskin, which was commanded in the Torah:

On the eighth day the boy is to be circumcised.

Leviticus 12:3

Physical circumcision is unnecessary in the new covenant because believers are circumcised inwardly through spiritual regeneration (Romans 2:29 & Titus 3:5). Notice what Paul told the Galatian believers about circumcision:

Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.

Galatians 5:1-6

Paul blatantly warns the Galatians that, if they allowed themselves to be circumcised, Christ will be of no use to them at all! He equates any attempt to be justified by the law — including the practice of circumcision — to being “alienated from Christ” and “fallen away from grace.” Lastly, he points out in verse 6 that whether someone’s physically circumcised or not holds no value for those “in Christ Jesus,” meaning believers. Numerous other New Testament passages teach against the practice of circumcision, including Acts 15, 1 Corinthians 7:17-20, Galatians 2:1-3, Galatians 6:11-16, Colossians 2:8-12 and Philippians 3:1-3.

This is a crushing blow to the arguments of legalists who try to add one element or another of the Torah (and other Jewish religious laws) to faith in Christ. How so? Because circumcision was clearly part of the Torah — Old Testament law — and the New Testament plainly says that it is not applicable to New Testament believers, just like Sabbath-keeping, observing the feast days and dietary laws. I stress again: these things were but a shadow of what was to come, the reality is found in Christ (Colossians 2:16).

Legalists Want to Put You into Bondage

The Judaizers who infiltrated the Galatian churches were legalists and legalists are characterized by a spirit of bondage that makes them obsessed with the yoke of religious law. A “yoke” is a device for joining together a pair of draft animals so they can be worked as a team, typically oxen. The beasts are shackled together for the purpose of work. That’s what the yoke of religious law does to people; it shackles them together to perform religious works. It’s religious bondage, which is the antithesis of the spirit of freedom and, as such, saps joy.

You won’t see a lot of joy in those entrenched in religious bondage. The Judaizers were such people and they started to sap the Galatians’ joy, which is why Paul asked them, “What happened to all your joy?” (Galatians 4:15).

Those who have a spirit of bondage can’t set others free because they themselves don’t have freedom. People can only give what they’ve got. Those who have a spirit of bondage can only give bondage. In fact, it’s their primary objective — to make people slaves to religious rules. It’s their goal. Here’s an example:

…some false brothers had infiltrated our ranks to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus and to make us slaves. We did not give in to them for a moment,

Galatians 2:4-5

Paul is talking about his second trip to Jerusalem here where he shared his calling with the leaders of the Jerusalem church. His calling was to minister to the Gentiles. That’s when some dyed-in-the-wool legalists infiltrated Paul’s group to spy on them. We know they were hardcore legalists because Paul plainly calls them “false brothers.” In other words, these weren’t genuine believers who were stumbling into a system of rules and regulations, like the Galatians, but rather full-tilt legalists similar to the Pharisees with whom Jesus dealt. They weren’t spiritual brothers at all. And notice what their goal was: to make those who were walking in the freedom of Christ slaves. Make no mistake, legalists hate freedom; it goes against everything they are. Legalists are people in bondage to rules, which is why it’s called legal-ism, meaning law-ism or rule-ism.

Paul stresses in verse 5 that he and his team didn’t give in to the legalists for a moment. You can’t parley with people infected by this spiritual disease. If you give them an inch they’ll take the proverbial mile. Resist their legalism, pray for them, correct them through the Scriptures, and leave them when you must, as Jesus taught in Matthew 15:14, but never give in to them, not a single inch. The only exception would be if you’re going into their territory to try to minister life to them. Paul expressed it this way: “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

Remember these words and memorize them; write them on the tablet of your heart:

It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery [to religious law].

Galatians 5:1

Addressing Various Objections

So the New Testament is utterly clear that believers in Christ are not under the moral law, but rather they fulfill it by the spirit; and also that the ceremonial and dietary laws have ceased for believers because they were merely shadows that pointed to the reality, Jesus Christ, and believers are “in Christ.” Despite the clarity and magnitude of the scriptural evidence on this issue, legalists who want believers under one element of the law or another try to come up with one loophole after another to convince themselves and others. Let’s consider these objections.

Objection #1: Peter tells us that Paul’s teachings were misunderstood.

This argument is based on the idea that, since Peter said some things Paul taught were hard to understand and some people misinterpreted them, we can’t take Paul’s words to mean what they obviously say.

Let’s look at what Peter actually said:

His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.

2 Peter 3:16

All he says is that some of the Scriptures that the Holy Spirit moved Paul to write are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort like they do other Scriptures. So it’s not just the Scriptures written through Paul that are misinterpreted by ignorant, unstable people. Moreover, Peter doesn’t specify which Scriptures are hard to understand and no where does the context suggest that Peter was referring to Paul’s teachings about believers not being under the law or that the ceremonial & dietary laws have ceased. Furthermore, Peter himself testified that the Lord told him in a vision “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean,” referring literally to unclean animals and figuratively to Gentiles (Acts 11:4-10). So by suggesting that ignorant people misinterpreted some portions of Scripture he obviously wasn’t saying that he disagreed with Paul’s plain teachings on all foods being declared clean for believers.

As far as Paul is concerned, he was a former Pharisee who followed the Torah to a ‘t’ and is second only to Jesus Christ as far as New Testament personages go. With this in mind, I think it’s notable to point out that The LORD used Paul to write more of the New Testament than any other person, about one-third (not including Hebrews, which many believe he wrote); and half of the book of Acts is devoted to his missionary exploits.

With this in mind, what did this former Pharisee who (formerly) followed the Old Testament law to a ‘t’ plainly teach about believers and what they could and couldn’t eat & drink? Let’s read (again):

I am convinced, being fully persuaded in the Lord Jesus, that nothing is unclean in itself. But if anyone regards something as unclean, then for that person it is unclean. 15 If your brother or sister is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by your eating destroy someone for whom Christ died.

Romans 14:14-15

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:17

Do not destroy the work of God for the sake of food. All food is clean, but it is wrong for a person to eat anything that causes someone else to stumble.

Romans 14:20

But food does not bring us near to God;we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

1 Corinthians 8:8

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink

Colossians 2:16

The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron. They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and who know the truth. For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.

1 Timothy 4:1-5

Are these passages hard to understand or are they plain-as-day? Paul says, “For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). Is there anything hard to understand about this statement? Everything Paul says in these passages corresponds to what Jesus taught on the topic:

“Are you so dull? Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

Mark 7:18-19

First Timothy 4:3 plainly says that false teachers will rise up and teach things taught by deceiving spirits, including ordering believers “to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe.” Have you run into a group of believers or a sect that does this? They’re following deceiving spirits; get away from them! 

One last thing about 2 Peter 3:16, Peter says that “ignorant and unstable people distort” Paul’s Scriptures “as they do the other Scriptures.” I’d like to humbly point out that I don’t qualify for this description as I’m hardly ignorant of the Scriptures since my ministry — Fountain of Life — focuses on teaching from God’s Word in a sound and balanced manner with no concern to sectarian bias. As far as instability goes, I’ve been in the Lord since I was 20 years-old – 1984 — and I’ve never backslid in the conventional sense (i.e. I never went back into the world and acted like God didn’t exist, etc.). I’m not saying that I know it all or that I’m not open to correction, because both are untrue; I’m just pointing out that I don’t fit the criteria of these ignorant, unstable people whom “distort” the Scriptures.

Objection #2: Matthew’s version of Mark 7:19 explains that Jesus was talking about eating with unwashed hands.

Let’s read the full passage in question from Mark:

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)

20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:14-23

What Jesus is saying is so clear that I hardly need to comment: In verses 18-19 he says that nothing that enters a person’s body from the outside — i.e. food — can defile them because it doesn’t go into the heart (which is the core of the mind) but rather into the stomach and then out of the body. Mark adds a parenthetical statement explaining that, by saying this, “Jesus declared all foods clean.”  This is a simple-to-understanding explanation of what Jesus was saying. There’s no vagueness whatsoever. In the remaining verses Jesus goes on to say that evil originates from within and this is what defiles a person, not food.

Now let’s look at Matthew’s account of the same event or a similar event:

Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”

13He replied, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. 14 Leave them; they are blind guides. If the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”

15 Peter said, “Explain the parable to us.”

16 “Are you still so dull?” Jesus asked them. 17 “Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20 These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”

Matthew 15:12-20

As you can see, Matthew’s account omits Mark’s Spirit-led parenthetical explanation – “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean” – and it doesn’t expound upon it either. As for Jesus’ statement in verse 20, “These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them”, this has nothing to do with whether or not Jesus declared all foods clean, but rather addresses the Pharisees original question from verse 2: “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”

Enough said.

Objection #3: How were all foods declared clean when the book of Revelation refers to certain birds as unclean at the end of the Tribulation.

Let’s read the passage in question:

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was illuminated by his splendor. With a mighty voice he shouted:

“ ‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’     She has become a dwelling for demons and a haunt for every impure spirit,     a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird.”

Revelation 18:1-2

Since “every unclean and detestable bird” is used in direct connection with demons and impure spirits it’s likely a figurative reference to these. Another example of this can be seen in the Scriptures when Jesus said, “I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy” (Luke 10:19); Jesus obviously wasn’t referring to literal snakes and scorpions but to the devil and demonic spirits.

But’s let’s say Revelation 18:2 is referring to literal unclean birds. These birds are unclean according to Old Testament dietary laws, so what? The text doesn’t say anything whatsoever about whether or not believers are obligated to obey such dietary laws.  To properly understand that topic we must go to the passages that directly address that topic, like the many we’ve already examined. This is in line with the hermeneutical rule that Scripture interprets Scripture where the more direct and detailed passages naturally trump the indirect and ambiguous ones. Since Revelation 18:1-2 says nothing about whether or not believers have the freedom to eat foods considered unclean for the Israelites in the Old Testament we simply go to the passages that directly and clearly address that issue.

Furthermore, remember Peter’s crystal clear vision of a sheet of unclean animals let down from heaven where the Lord says, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”

“Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.” The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.

Acts 10:14-16 & 11:8-10

Not only did the Lord say this to Peter three times in this vision, the incident is shared verbatim twice in Acts 10 and 11. Do you think the Lord’s trying to get something through to us?

Frankly, citing Revelation 18:2 to support believer’s submitting to kosher laws smacks of legalistic desperation since it’s not even directly addressing the topic.

Objection #4: The book of Isaiah mentions the New Moon celebration and Sabbath being observed during the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth, why would the New Moon holiday and the Sabbath be abolished just to be put back in force again later?

Let’s look at the passage in question:

“As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,” declares the Lord, “so will your name and descendants endure. 23 From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,” says the Lord.

Isaiah 66:22-23

We have to understand dispensations or ages, which are according to the covenants God has or doesn’t have with humanity. This is the age of grace, the age of the New Testament. This passage from Isaiah concerns the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth, detailed here in Revelation:

Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

Revelation 21:1-2

This is the eternal age that Peter instructed us to look forward to (2 Peter 3:13); it’s when the heavenly city, the new Jerusalem, will come down out of heaven from God to rest on the new earth where “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them” (verse 3). Notice how this is contrasted to the former ages saying, “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away” (verse 1). This includes the current New Testament age, which corresponds to “Earth III” in this illustration:

earths-diagram[1]

NOTE: This illustration is courtesy of Lamb & Lion Ministries.

In the eternal age of the new heavens and new earth, God’s government will reign in the universe and we’ll be his citizens/children/servants and, like with any government (like America’s Independence Day), there will be holidays – special days to celebrate or commemorate this or that – including the “New moon” and “Sabbath.” Again, this is applicable to the eternal age to come and has nothing to do with our current age of grace. Remember what the WORD OF GOD says about this current age:

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Colossians 2:16-17

For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving.

1 Timothy 4:4

But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do.

1 Corinthians 8:8

For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.

Romans 14:17

In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.

Mark 7:19

“Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”

Acts 10:15 & 11:9

 It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery [to religious law].

Galatians 5:1

Needless to say, taking a passage from Isaiah 66 that applies to the eternal age to come and applying to a wholly different dispensation — our current one — is an example of unsound hermeneutics.  The New Testament encourages those who teach God’s Word to “rightly divide” or “correctly handle” the Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:15).

Objection #5: Why would believers have freedom in Christ now where they can choose what to eat and what days are more holy then others and then have that taken away in the coming eternal age?

This presupposes that there will be unclean animals during the eternal age and that we will kill them for food. Neither is true. Revelation 21:4 says, “There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Objection #6: In Mark 7 Jesus did not teach that every animal is now clean and good for eating by actually doing so. If he did, the Pharisees and Israelites would have had a solid reason for doubting that He was the Messiah.

Let’s read that particular passage again:

Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.” 17 After he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about this parable. 18 “Are you so dull?” he asked. “Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.”(In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.) 20 He went on: “What comes out of a person is what defiles them. 21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Mark 7:14-23

As noted earlier, the statement at the end of verse 19 — “In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean” — is a parenthetical statement. It reveals the obvious implications of what Jesus said and points to the freedom from the dietary laws for the new covenant believer. In his actual life, however, Jesus fulfilled the law, including the dietary laws, which is precisely what he said he came to do (Matthew 5:17). As such, the legalists like the Pharisees and teachers of the law couldn’t nail him for being disobedient to any part of the law, whether moral, dietary, ceremonial or ritualistic. In the new covenant, all foods are declared clean and this is exactly what the passage says. If the plain sense makes sense — and is in harmony with the rest of the New Testament — don’t look for any other sense lest you end up with nonsense.

Conclusion

Believers in Christ are not under the Old Testament law, rather we fulfill the moral law by living out of our new nature, which was “created to by like God in true righteousness and holiness” with the help of the Holy Spirit. The Sabbath, the Jewish holidays and dietary laws have ceased because they were mere shadows pointing to the reality, which is Jesus Christ. And we are in Christ.

Amen.


SFTF Rel vs Chris 2

For Additional Insights: see this video.

Further Reading:

Hebrew Roots Movement


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