What is the place of obedience to the Law in the life of a believer in the Messiah?
This is a big topic that I’m almost scared to take on, but luckily, I’m just dumb enough to give it a go. Also, I don’t really plan on taking on all of this big topic so it can’t be that bad, right?
The role of the Law of Moses in our lives that I really want to talk about could be better defined if we ask the question differently (and in a way that I’ve seen quite a bit of chatter over, recently), and that would be, is obedience to the Law necessary for salvation? If you ask the normative Christian in church the answer would clearly be ‘no’, but you’re more likely to get varying answers when you ask people who are taking more seriously the whole witness of Scripture. You’ll even find some who make Torah observance of equal importance as allegiance to Jesus the King. And I’ll be transparent here, I decided to write this after having interacted with a couple people like this.
Let me also make my position clear so I’m not hiding anything and trying to sneak up on you with some grand revelation at the end: I believe that we are saved by the grace of God due to our allegiance to the king (once we have given it) and that our salvation is not at all based on any work that we could do and solely based on God’s act of grace toward us (Eph 2:8-9). That being said, because of our allegiance to Jesus the King, the natural response we should have would be to be obedient to his commandments (John 14:15). The only question which really pops up is, are the commandments of Jesus the same as the commandments given by God in the Old Testament? Well, in John 10:20 Jesus says that he and the Father are one, and then in John 12:49 he says that he hasn’t said anything that the Father hasn’t commanded him to speak. So, unless we say that the Father has changed his mind about how his covenant people should act – which he hasn’t (Mal 3:6) – we have to acknowledge that Jesus can only have upheld what the Father has already said.
That being said, we can’t allow ourselves to think that our acts of obedience – our works – are the reason that we have right standing in the eyes of God, and this is a trap that our pride begs us to fall into. Our pride wants us to take personal credit for the good we’re doing.
Our pride wants us to take personal credit for the good we’re doing.
Our pride wants us to take personal credit for the good we’re doing. Our pride sits on our shoulders whispering to us of all the things we’ve done that God has instructed us to do. This pride leads down a path with the end result being us taking credit for that which God has freely given us (Matt 10:8).
It is just as true for us now (that we don’t earn our salvation through any sort of good deed or good work) as it was for Israel during their exodus from Egypt. For hundreds of years Israel had been held in captivity in Egypt, and they cried out to YHWH for salvation to come to them (Ex 3:7-9). They cried out with such sincerity and YHWH was moved to take action and bring about their salvation. Their salvation didn’t come because they followed the Law; it came because they cried out to their King and showed where their faith was placed. In fact, they weren’t even given the Law until weeks had passed after they had been saved out of Egypt. The Israelites agreed to the Law given to them at Mt Sinai (Ex 24:3) well after they had already been granted salvation from Egypt (Ex 12-15).
This is the same formula we should see in our own lives. We have seen the damaged state of our lives, due to our captivity to sin and death, and we cry out to God to save us. God sends his only son (John 3:16) and just as the Passover lamb was slain to protect the people of Israel, Jesus gave himself up to provide our protection as we have our own exodus away from our captivity to sin and death. Upon our redemption, we show our love to God by being obedient to him. We don’t obey him to attain salvation, we obey him because he so deeply loved us – and we love him – so we reciprocate in whatever way we can. This is not too dissimilar to the way that I love my wife. We’re not married because I pay attention to her ‘honey-do-list’; I try to check things off of the ‘honey-do-list’ because she loves me and I want to show that I love her. For what it’s worth, the list keeps getting longer and I’m not as good at checking things off as I’d like to be, but I keep trying.
In the end, we have to be able to see that the Creator created the Law, and any attempt to elevate the creation (the Law) – even to equal status – diminishes the one who created the creation. The lawgiver must always hold priority and precedence over the law given in order for the law to have any authority.
There will be a follow-up to this going over a rebuttal which may come about after reading this article.
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