Too Proud To Follow God

I’ll bet none of us would just come out and say, “I know better than God” or “God’s wrong and I’m right.” We recognize that as arrogant, inaccurate, and fool-hardy. But far too often, we act like that’s what we think even if we’re not saying or even consciously thinking those words. We come up with reasons why we don’t have to keep His commands, or decide we have a better idea for how to obey than what’s instructed in scripture. We try to come figure out what being Christian means to us rather than seeking what it means to God.

The stories of Israel’s first two kings perfectly illustrate the different ways we humans can approach following God. Saul did what was right in his own eyes while pretending to follow God, and God wasn’t impressed. He took the kingdom away from Saul and his family to set up David, someone who would truly follow after God’s heart and listen to His commands.

click to read article, "Too Proud To Follow God" | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Saul’s Prideful Disobedience

God chose Saul out of all the people, just as He later would David. It wasn’t His intention that Saul fail. But just two years into his reign, Saul found himself facing an army so terrifying his own troops ran and hid in caves. He waited seven days for Samuel the priest to come and offer sacrifice to God, but Samuel didn’t show.

That’s when Saul committed a sin that cost him the kingdom (1 Sam. 13). He made the decision to offer the sacrifice himself, showing a presumptuous disregard for God’s instructions. When Samuel showed up, Saul had all sorts of arguments to justify his actions but they didn’t change the fact that he’d ignored God’s will. Continue reading

What (if anything) must you do to be a Christian?

Is there anything we have to do in order to be a Christian? Some will tell you the answer is “no” — that salvation is a free gift and once you accept it you’re a Christian and there’s nothing else you need to do. Others will say “yes” — that you’re not a Christian unless you keep God’s commandments and follow Jesus Christ.

The truth is that God offers salvation freely, but you have to accept the gift on God’s terms. Those terms are called covenants — agreements that involve two parties binding themselves together with oaths. On the spiritual level, God initiates covenants, establishes the terms and promises, and binds Himself to the covenant oaths. These covenants are unfailing and sure, regardless of human action. We can choose whether or not to walk in covenant with God, but the covenant, and associated consequences for sin, stand whichever you decide.

What (if anything) must you do to be a Christian? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

Choose Covenant

“I make this covenant and this oath, not with you alone, but with him who stands here with us today before the Lord our God, as well as with him who is not here with us today,” Moses recorded in Deuteronomy 29:14-15. Not entering into covenant with God does not mean you’re getting out of consequences for sin — it means you’re choosing a path of death (Deut. 29:18-28).
Continue reading

Who Receives The Holy Spirit?

This blog post is, like my last posts, inspired by something I heard while keeping the Feast of Tabernacles (Sukkot) this year. In this case, though, it was something I disagreed with. During a Bible study, the study leader said that ordained ministers receive an “extra measure” of the Holy Spirit. That teaching is an old one, but is it correct? I wasn’t sure. Another thing that didn’t sit right with me was several speakers calling groups other than those like ours “nominal Christianity.”

I talked these two points over with several friends at our Feast site, and was relieved to find I wasn’t the only one bothered by them or suspicious that they didn’t have a solid scriptural basis. So the question is, who does God give His Spirit to, and how much do they get? and does it vary depending on the individual’s role in the church, or what church they attend?

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

(For a quick over-view of my beliefs about what the Holy Spirit is, click here)

Those Who Believe

God has been giving His Spirit to believers apparently from the very beginning. David prayed, “do not take Your Holy Spirit from me” (Ps. 51:11), and Peter said “the Spirit of Christ” was in the Old Testament prophets (1Pet. 1:10-11). The Spirit wasn’t readily available, though, until after Christ’s sacrifice and ascension — “the Holy Spirit was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified” (John 7:39).

The disciples received the Holy Spirit dramatically at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. As part of his sermon that day, Peter told others what they had to do in order to receive the Holy Spirit.

Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” (Acts 2:38-39)

This simple formula gives the Holy Spirit after baptism and repentance in the name of Jesus Christ to everyone who God decides to call. There were exceptions to this order — namely the gentiles who were given the Spirit before baptism in Acts 10 — but the Holy Spirit is only given to those who 1) believe in Jesus and 2) are called by God.

The Called, Who Ask

The first requirement for receiving the Holy Spirit is being called by God since we can’t get to Jesus without that calling (John 6:44). Who receives a calling is entirely up to God. It is a gift of grace that cannot be earned (Gal. 1:15; Rom. 9:11), which is given “according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

I do think, however, that someone can ask for a calling. The Father is actively seeking those who will worship “in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23), and Jesus tells us that if we ask, seek, and knock persistently, God will respond (Matt. 7:7).

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.comThen you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. (Jer. 29:12-13)

God choses who to call, but He does respond to sincere seeking of Him. If someone hears the gospel preached and wants to learn more, God will see that. We’re not called because of our works, but God does call those who will do good works, obey Him (Acts 5:32), and commit to becoming holy (2 Thes. 1:11; 1 Thes. 2:12; 4:7).

If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” (Luke 11:13)

Committed, Prayed-for Believers

Once God calls us, He gives us to Christ (John 6:65; 17:11). Jesus is the only one who can provide salvation (Acts 4:12), and that’s why the converts in Acts were all “baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ” (Acts 8:16; 19:5). With the exception of the Gentiles mentioned earlier (who God used to show He was opening up salvation to non-Jews), the Spirit is given after baptism. We have two examples of disciples being baptized, but not receiving the Spirit until an apostle prayed and laid hands on them. This happened in Ephesus (Acts 19:1-6), and in Samaria.

Now when the apostles who were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent Peter and John to them, who, when they had come down, prayed for them that they might receive the Holy Spirit. For as yet it had fallen upon none of them. They had only been baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Then they laid hands on them, and they received the Holy Spirit. (Acts 8:14-17)

There aren’t really apostles today, but the principle, I think, stands. God typically gives the Holy Spirit to someone after they’ve made a commitment through baptism, and after a more mature believer who already has the Holy Spirit prays and lays hands on them.

Those Who Use It

On the question of whether some people get more Holy Spirit than others, I’ve only found two scriptures that talk about how much Spirit an individual is given. In 2 Kings 2, Elisha asked for, and is given, “a double portion” of “the spirit of Elijah” (2 Kings 2:9-12, 15). Then in the New Testament, John the Baptist explains that Jesus received an unlimited supply of the Holy Spirit.

 For He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God does not give the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (John 3:34-35)

You could extrapolate from this that people other than Jesus are given the Spirit “by measure” (i.e. “a limited portion,” Strong’s G3358). It makes sense that we would all have less Holy Spirit than Jesus because we are infinitely less worthy. But I can’t find scriptures that clearly support the idea you’ll find in some churches that ordained leaders are given an “extra measure” of the spirit compared to other believers.

On the contrary, we find several scriptures that remind us God is not a respecter of persons. He opened salvation to the Gentiles because “God shows no partiality” (Acts 10:34). He wants us to treat people fairly “knowing that your own Master also is in heaven, and there is no partiality with Him.” (Eph. 6:9, see also James 2:1-9). He will judge everyone righteously by looking at “each one’s work” “without partiality” (1Pet. 1:17).

God doesn’t show partiality in how He distributes the Spirit, but we can affect how much Spirit is available to us by whether or not we use it well.

Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the laying on of my hands. For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. (2 Tim. 1:6-7)

“Stir up” is from anazopureo, and means “to kindle” or “re-enkindle,” as in reference to a fire (Strong’s G329). It’s the opposite of sbennumi, which means “to extinguish a fire” (Strongs G4570). Sbennumi is translated “quench” in 1 Thes. 5:19’s command, “Do not quench the Spirit.”

Who Receives The Holy Spirit? | marissabaker.wordpress.com

God gives the Spirit to whomever He wants. These are people who seek a relationship with Him, who ask for His Spirit, and who believe in Jesus Christ. Once given the Spirit, our actions determine how well we can use it. We can either stir up the Spirit we’re given so it burns brighter, or suppress it till it flickers and dies in us. That’s our choice. The closer we draw to God, the more powerful His presence will be in us. That’s what determines who gets the Holy Spirit and how much they can use — the individual believer’s relationship with God. It doesn’t matter whether you’re ordained, and where you go to church only matters in so far that you’re attending a church which preaches God’s truth. What matters most is that you’re following God the way He commands.

Good and Bad Fruits

As Christians, we’re asked to find a balance between being too judgmental and an “anything goes” mentality. We must not condemn others, but neither should we ignore sin. We have to exercise discernment, “judge righteous judgement” (John 7:24), and make decisions about right and wrong in our own lives, and in the lives of people we choose to associate with.

When we’re deciding that teachers to listen to, which groups to fellowship with, and who to count as our closest friends, God gives us guidelines for making decisions.

Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits. Do men gather grapes from thornbushes or figs from thistles? Even so, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Therefore by their fruits you will know them. (Matt. 7:15-20)

A parallel scripture in Luke 6:43-45 shows this principle applies to people in general, not just leaders. It also applies to us. Before we can recognize good and bad fruits in other people, we have examine ourselves. We must remove the plank from our own eye before we can clearly see the speck in our brother’s eye (Matt. 7:3-5). This is especially important as we approach the Passover season, traditionally a time of reflection and self-examination (1 Cor. 11:28-31).

Bad Fruits

When we’re trying to discern good and bad fruits, what should we be looking for? The Bible outlines many good and bad traits that individuals may have, but today let’s focus on a list given in Galatians. We’re very familiar with the fruits of the spirit, but leading up to that there is also a list of undesirable traits and actions.

 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Gal. 5:19-21)

Credit:  oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr

Credit: oatsy40, CC BY, via Flickr

This is serious stuff. Those who have these “bad fruits” in their lives will not be welcomed in God’s kingdom. It’s easy to just read over lists like these, pick out a few traits that seem particularly bad, then pat ourselves on the back because we’re not practicing witchcraft or murdering people. But let’s take a closer look. We need to be able to recognize these sort of bad fruits in church congregations, in leaders, and in ourselves.

Does a church congregation overlook sexual sins among its members or ignore them in society? Is that teacher impure in his deeds? Am I allowing an absence of restraint to characterize my life? Does this church group put anything before God on their priority list? Do they teach that it’s okay to dabble in the occult?

Is a minister acting out of hostility or hatred? Am I stirring up debates and contentions? Are we jealous of others, or easily made indignant? Are the people in that congregation known for their anger? Does their leader encourage strife and divisions, or teach things contrary to sound doctrine? Do we envy each other, or hate someone so much that we’ve wished them dead? Am I lacking self-control and moderation, or engaging in riotous conduct?

Christ made it clear in His sermon on the mount that the laws of God are still in effect, and operating on a spiritual plane. Even a longing to sin is a sin (Matt. 5:17-30). We need to be on guard against bad fruits showing up in our lives, as well as being wary of associating with a church or following a minister who is producing bad fruit. God expects better from us than that.

Good Fruits

God expects us to bear good fruits for His glory, and to associate with other Christians who are also bearing good fruits. We do this by developing a strong relationship with Him and with Jesus Christ.

Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. … By this My Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit; so you will be My disciples. (John 15:4-5, 8)

If an individual or church group has a strong relationship with Jesus and the Father, it is made visible in the kind of fruits that show up in their lives.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:22-23)

Let’s ask ourselves the same kinds of questions about this list. Is that church congregation characterized by active goodwill and godly love towards all? Is this minister filled with joy and gladness, and encouraging that in his brethren? Do I “live peaceably with all men”? (Rom. 12:18).

Do the people of our church congregation show self-restraint before acting, and choose to suffer long rather than taking vengeance? Does this teacher have a “grace which pervades the whole nature, mellowing all which would be harsh and austere”? (Zodhiates, G5544). Can God look at me and say that I am actively practicing goodness?

Is this church group defined by their faithfulness to the Word of Truth? Is that minister a humble man who calmly accepts God’s will in His life? Do I have self-control that lets me moderate my desires? If we can answer these questions with a “yes,” then we can be assured that our churches, our leaders, and we ourselves are bearing “good fruit.”

Examine Yourself

We’re less than three weeks away from Passover, and whether or not you observe it as part of your Christian walk this is a good season to take a close look at ourselves and what kinds of fruits we’re producing. When John the Baptist was preaching, he warned the Pharisees about how important it was to produce good instead of bad fruits

Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. And even now the ax is laid to the root of the trees. Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. (Matt. 3:8-10)

A sense of complacency will not get you in to the kingdom of God. Jesus told the Jews near the end of His ministry, “the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it” (Matt. 21:43) We don’t want that to happen us us as individuals. We must abide in Christ and bring forth good fruits while getting rid of bad fruits in our lives.

And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another. (Gal. 5:24-26)

That’s the concluding thought at the end of the “works of the flesh” and “fruits of the spirit” lists. We belong to Jesus – there should be no room in our lives for evil fruits. We have to battle against that fleshly, rotten side and truly walk in the spirit as we follow Jesus

Can We Lose Our Salvation?

The notion that we could lose our salvation is not a popular one among Christians. It is far more comfortable to believe that God will welcome us back with open arms no matter what we do. And yes, we do see that God rejoices over repentant sinners (Luke 15:4-7) and welcomes back prodigal children (Luke 15:11-32). We have all sinned and we’ve all been “justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 3:24).

But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more, so that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? (Rom. 5:20-6:2)

Though we are not suddenly incapable of sin once we receive grace, the direction of our lives must be moving away from sin. God’s love covers a multitude of slips and stumbles on our walk with Him, but our hearts must change so we can learn to practice righteousness instead of sinfulness. We could talk about this in theory indefinitely, but let’s go to an example instead.

A Lost Kingdom

We all know about King David, the “man after God’s own heart” who was so faithful that God promised to establish his kingdom forever (1 Kings 9:5), even including him in the genealogy of Messiah (Matt. 1:1). David is an example to a man who sinned, sincerely repented, and received grace so he could continue to walk with God. He was even forgiven for what we think of as Really Big Sins, like committing adultery and then murdering the woman’s husband.

But before David, there was a king who did not measure up. Saul was offered the same promise made to David — that his kingdom would be established forever. He could have been in the line of Messiah. He could have been David, but he lost that opportunity.

And Samuel said to Saul, “You have done foolishly. You have not kept the commandment of the Lord your God, which He commanded you. For now the Lord would have established your kingdom over Israel forever. But now your kingdom shall not continue. The Lord has sought for Himself a man after His own heart, and the Lord has commanded him to be commander over His people, because you have not kept what the Lord commanded you.” (1 Sam. 13:13-14)

This happened after Saul’s first sin at Gilgal, when he stepped out of line by offering a sacrifice that could only be offered by a priest. On the surface, that doesn’t look as serious as David’s sins, but at it’s core there was a much bigger issue. Saul’s heart was no obedient, and he didn’t change. In fact, he just kept getting worse.

Can We Lose Our Salvation? | marissabaker.wordpress.comSaul’s second sin at Gilgal was also one of direct disobedience. He was ordered to “utterly destroy” Amalek, but he thought it would be a good idea to spare the king of Amalek’s life and save some of the best livestock. Compounding sin upon sin, Saul insisted that he had “performed the commandment of the Lord” (1 Sam. 15:13). When he was confronted about his disobedience, he kept back-peddling and blaming everyone but himself, insisting he was actually doing what was right because he intended to sacrifice the livestock to God. This is in stark contrast with David’s attitude after being confronted with his sins (2 Sam. 12:7-14; Ps. 51:1-19).

So Samuel said, “When you were little in your own eyes, were you not head of the tribes of Israel? And did not the Lord anoint you king over Israel? Now the Lord sent you on a mission, and said, ‘Go, and utterly destroy the sinners, the Amalekites, and fight against them until they are consumed.’ Why then did you not obey the voice of the Lord? Why did you swoop down on the spoil, and do evil in the sight of the Lord?”

So Samuel said: “Has the Lord as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and stubbornness is as iniquity and idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He also has rejected you from being king.” (1 Sam. 15:17-23)

Saul was rejected because he thought he had a better idea for how to conduct himself than God did. He rejected the leadership of God, and so God said, “I greatly regret that I have set up Saul as king, for he has turned back from following Me, and has not performed My commandments” (1 Sam. 15:11).

Could that happen to us? could we do something that would make God “regret” choosing us? Are there things we read about in the Bible and rebel against, thinking we could come up with something better than what God commands? How about some of these (just as an example to give us something to think about):

“I Never Knew You”

Jesus told us that if we love Him, we will keep His commandments (John 14:15). The love comes first — what God is chiefly concerned with is having a relationship with us, like He had with David. But obedience is also essential, and that is something Saul lacked.

 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching. (Heb. 10:23-25)

This is one reason why fellowship and friendship with other believers is so important. We help keep each other on-track and encourage each other to never give up. God gives us these people to help save us.

For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb. 10:26-29)

Brethren, these are scary scriptures. It’s talking about turning our backs on and actually despising what God has offered us. This is doubly scary when we read Matthew 7:21-23, where Christ says that there will be people who thought they were being faithful but were really “practicing lawlessness.” To them, He will say, “I never knew you; depart from Me.”

Never Let Go

The good news is that this doesn’t have to happen. God is committed to pursuing a real, life-giving relationship with each one of us. He doesn’t just sit around twiddling His thumbs waiting for people to wander towards Him. He is constantly working to develop real relationships that save lives.

The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. (2 Pet. 3:9)

God gives us every opportunity to come to Him. We are precious in His sight, and He is pursuing our hearts in the greatest romance ever told (Is. 43:1-7). If we do lose our salvation, it will be because we turned away from Him and walked away, not because He gave up on us.

Therefore do not cast away your confidence, which has great reward. For you have need of endurance, so that after you have done the will of God, you may receive the promise: “For yet a little while, and He who is coming will come and will not tarry. Now the just shall live by faith; but if anyone draws back, My soul has no pleasure in him.” But we are not of those who draw back to perdition, but of those who believe to the saving of the soul. (Heb. 10:35-39)

Can We Lose Our Salvation? | marissabaker.wordpress.comThese are the verses which follow the warning in Hebrews about rejecting Christ’s sacrifice. It’s like the writer is telling us, “Look, you need to know how serious it is to turn away from God. Let that scare you — it should. Now that you know how bad it is to reject the Lord, don’t do it! We’re not that kind of people. We are the ones who can and will continue in the faith with God. Take courage, because the Creator of the whole universe is on your side and He wants you to succeed.”

Unchanging Laws

Tallitot (prayer shawls) by  Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY via Flickr

Tallitot (prayer shawls) by Robert Couse-Baker, CC BY via Flickr

Last week we started a study about whether or not the commands and instructions given to Biblical Israel apply to us as Christians today. I answered with a qualified “yes” — we are spiritual Israel, which is not so much separate from physical Israel as it was the next step in God’s plan for His chosen nation. Now, the question becomes, “How many of the laws given to Israel apply under the New Covenant?”

I’ve grown up believing that the Ten Commandments, including Sabbath keeping, carry over into the New Covenant, along with the Lev. 23 Holy Days and the clean and unclean meats laws. I still believe that, but now I’m starting to wonder why we keep those things and not others like the command to put tassels on our garments (Num. 15:37-41) or blow shofars on Holy Days (Ps. 81:3-4). When I ask this question, I’m usually told that not everything from the Old Covenant applies, and when I ask how they know which ones to keep they say, “It’s our tradition.” In my mind, that’s not a good enough answer, so it’s time for some Bible Study.

A New Priesthood

If you read through the laws of the Old Testament, you find quite a lot about the Levitical priesthood. Some of these are described as “a statute forever to their generations on behalf of the children of Israel” (Ex. 27:21), yet it is evident that Christ’s priesthood supersedes that system. If the switch to the New Covenant changed that, how much else was changed?

 For the priesthood being changed, of necessity there is also a change of the law. (Heb. 7:12)

But now He has obtained a more excellent ministry, inasmuch as He is also Mediator of a better covenant, which was established on better promises. (Heb. 8:6)

When it talks about a change of the law, I think we often imagine quite a disconnect between the Old and New Testament. We think of change as in something old being replaced by something completely new, but I think perhaps the change is more in how God’s laws apply.

For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My laws in their mind and write them on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Heb. 8:10)

The Old Covenant was replaced with the New (Heb. 8:13), but God’s laws were not done away with. Even before the Old Covenant was instituted at Mount Sianai, God had laws in place. We can see this in Genesis 26:5, where God says, “Abraham obeyed My voice and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws.” Since God is unchanging, His standards for what He expects from us do not change either.

Jesus said, “till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled” (Matt. 5:18) In the Greek, this means “filled to the fullest extent.” The laws were brought to a spiritual plane, much as physical Israel became spiritual Israel. You still keep the physical laws, but there is a spiritual aspect as well, and we are held accountable for what goes on inside us as much as for what we actually do (Matt. 5:17-30).

Updating The Law

The laws governing the Levitical priesthood are examples of parts of the Old Covenant that have already been filled to the fullest extent by Jesus Christ. We don’t have a physical priesthood any more because He is our High Priest forever. We don’t sacrifice animals any more because Christ’s sacrifice completely fulfilled all the Old Testament commands for blood sacrifices.

For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; not that He should offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the Most Holy Place every year with blood of another — He then would have had to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. (Heb. 9:24-26)

Without a physical priesthood or temple, many of the ceremonial laws no longer apply to spiritual Israel. Though we as the New Testament church can examine and learn from them and how they foreshadowed Christ’s role as priest and sacrifice, people in the church no longer serve as priests and we no longer sacrifice animals.

Similarly, there were civil laws given to govern the nation of Israel that are not in effect now because the church is scattered through other physical nations with their own laws. Many of the civil laws had a moral aspect, though, and this is updated for us to follow under the New Covenant. Take, for example, the law that said a man and woman who commit adultery must both be put to death (Lev. 20:10). The Pharisees brought Jesus just such a case, and Jesus told them, “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first” (John 8:7). When all her accusers left, Jesus told the woman, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more” (John 8:11).

Jesus didn’t say that she hadn’t committed a sin. He said that there was room for mercy and forgiveness even of sins that had formerly incurred a physical death penalty. For judicial matters, Christians are now under the laws of the countries we live in. For moral matters, God’s laws are applied to spirit and in truth with an emphasis on mercy. Is there a guy in your church shaking up with his step-mother? We don’t stone them as was the case in ancient Israel (Lev. 20:11), but we do make it clear that behavior like this is morally wrong and won’t be tolerated in the church (1 Cor. 5:1-13). If he repents, you have to welcome him back just like God welcomes us back into relationship with Him when we repent of our sins (2 Cor. 2:3-11).

There are also aspects of the Old Testament laws that we are specifically commanded to continue observing. This includes the weekly Sabbath (Heb. 4:9) and Passover (Luke 22:19-20). We infer from these specific commands, and from the fact that Jesus and His disciples observed the other Holy Days, that all those days are still commanded observances. Even more obvious is the fact that we should be keeping the Ten Commandments, which are succinctly comprehended in the two greatest commandments.

Jesus answered him, “The first of all the commandments is: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ This is the first commandment. And the second, like it, is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” (Mark 12:29-31)

God’s focus is on our hearts, and whether or not we choose to keep His commandments tells Him what our hearts are like. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John 14:15). The implication is that if we don’t keep His commandments, we are telling Jesus we don’t love Him. If our hearts are right, obedience to God naturally follows.

My feelings on the question, “What is applicable under the New Testament?” is that everything God didn’t specifically replace/update to a spiritual level (the priest hood, physical temples, civil laws) are probably still in effect. It’s up to us to seek out the spiritual reasons for these commands and find a way to physically keep them. There are still some I’m not sure about — like those tassels on the borders of our garments or what we’re supposed to do on New Moons — but I want to keep searching and learning. I want to worship God the way He tells me to, not the way I think sounds like a good idea.