Give Me Law. Give Me Torah. Or Maybe There Is A Better Way.

We have a tendency to want law.

Let's start this article with some devotional thoughts from the Law.

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them,  then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives,  and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’  Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear. Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (ESV)
So the law clearly teaches that if you have a disobedient child, you should just take them to the elders of the city and kill them. In reading the Old Testament laws, we encounter a lot of strange laws like this one. Often, we, as Christians, like to ignore that the Old Testament has these weird and crazy laws. But you know what? Atheists don't ignore them. Nonbelievers don't ignore them. Typically, when you are talking with them about Christianity, these ridiculous laws from the Old Testament are things that come up. The number one thing that people bring up to me when I’m talking about Jesus with them is these laws. So I think it is useful to have a good understanding of how we deal with the Law.

Here’s another one:

For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. Leviticus 21:18-20 (ESV)
None of those people are allowed in the assembly of the Lord. If we still followed this principle, we would exclude people with those issues from coming to church. But we don't do that. We wouldn’t want to do that, and I wouldn’t want to be the person that has to check on the latter either.

The Old Testament has a lot of laws that seem bizarre, so we are left asking how do we deal with them.


We could take the approach of the Seventh Day Adventists or lesser groups in Christianity who still believe that we should hold to the Law. You will notice that they still honor the Sabbath, literally, as the Old Testament taught and the rest of us don’t do.

Some Christians still believe that we should celebrate the Old Testament festivals. I see some benefit in doing that. I spent one year celebrating each one, yet Christians are under no obligation to do this. It was a good learning tool.

The most popular method, that we are more likely guilty of, is that we pick and choose which laws we want to keep and which laws we want to ignore. We disregard those laws we think are silly. We keep those laws we like. But this is really an intellectually dishonest way to deal with the Law. What is the process for picking and choosing anyway?


In all this talk about the Law, I want us to understand that the Law was very important.

Paul taught:

So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.  But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian,  for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. Galatians 3:24-26 (ESV)
The Law was the guardian until Christ came. It played an important role.

If you were living in the world before the Hebrews were brought out of Egypt and Moses was given the Law, you would recognize that it was a vicious world. Maybe no more vicious than some of the places in our world today. Places that would benefit from the law just like the Hebrews benefited from the law.

When you encounter a teaching like "an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth," it helps to understand the world that teaching was given to. God gave them that teaching to prevent people from chopping off someone's head for stealing something. It was limiting retaliation and would stop the process of escalating violence. The maximum punishment for a crime could not be greater than the crime. This was a law of restraint, not a law of violence.

The Law played this role of guarding society until Christ came. The Law was important. It kept humanity in check. It was intended to shape the people into being the people God wanted them to be, but it didn't always work. The people didn't follow the Law the way God intended.


Jesus taught:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.  For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Matthew 5:17-18 (ESV)
Jesus is teaching that the Law will end when all is accomplished. But it's ending with its intended completion. He uses the word “fulfill.” It’s not ending abruptly or prematurely. The "all is accomplished" in Jesus. The Law is fulfilled. The Law was just a guardian to get us to the point where Jesus fulfilled it. Because the Law could never totally fulfill its own purpose. It needed Jesus to do that.

For instance, the Scribes and Pharisees were people really good at following the Law. They would seek to adhere to the letter of the Law while ignoring the spirit of the Law. That isn't just something unique to their times; we see it a lot in our society. We write law after law to create a just society, but we cannot prevent evil people from circumventing the law. Evil people will abuse the law while good people will honor the spirit of the law.

This is what we see with the Pharisees and the Scribes. They would follow the letter of the Law. When the Law told them to honor their parents, they would claim that they have fulfilled that law without honoring their parents because the honor due to their parents was been given to God. (Matthew 15:1-9).  There are always ways for people with corrupt hearts to avoid following the spirit of laws they don't want to follow. The Pharisees and Scribes found legal ways around all the things they didn’t like that God intended for them to do.

We're not really all that different.

That's the problem with laws. If we think Christianity is a group of laws that we have to follow, then we will figure out ways to legally get around those laws. What is the minimum that I have to do to get saved? Is it law that I have to be part of a church? Who do I have to love? We will fulfill the law to the minimum to enable ourselves to do whatever we want to do with the rest of our lives. That approach to Christianity, despite being prevalent, is so wrong.

Christianity is not a bunch of laws. Jesus came to fulfill the Law and bring the Law to its intended ending. He came to bring something better.


As the writer of Hebrews says:

 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. Hebrews 8:13 (ESV)
According to the writer of Hebrews, the Old Testament Law is obsolete. But the zeitgeist of modern Christendom makes us feel uncomfortable saying exactly this. The writer of Hebrews is stating that we don't have to follow the Law any more. Repeating this Scripture in the wrong circles will get you strange looks. I once had someone get very stern and irate with me over stating this very thing, although I think they now believe it as a result of that conversation and further study of the Bible. There is something in our American Christian culture that makes us not want to be freed from the Law. Due to this, we are uncomfortable saying exactly what Scripture says. The Law is obsolete. We are no longer under it.

We wouldn't need laws in our society if everyone loved each other. Nearly every law is there to prevent people from behaving in ways that are not loving to each other.


So when a nonbeliever asks me about the Old Testament Law and tries to hold me to them. I explain how I am not a Jew. If I was, I would have to defend those laws. I serve a Jewish revolutionary named Jesus who fulfilled the Law of the Old Testament, revolutionized the Jewish faith, and has given us the Holy Spirit in its place.

For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.  For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, Romans 8:2-3 (ESV)
We now have the Holy Spirit guiding our life. In some morphed, albeit true, sense this means that we have more laws to follow, but it’s different now and comes through a relationship based on love and learning to listen to God’s guidance.

The Holy Spirit knows what you should be doing this afternoon, and He is going to prompt you. You need to obey that prompting. The Holy Spirit knows what you should say to encourage your friend, and He is going to prompt you. You need to follow through on that. The Holy Spirit knows what you should tell your spouse, and He is going to prompt you. We must ask ourselves, "Are we willing to listen?" "Are we willing to follow?"

A wife posted on Facebook, "Made honey-do list for my hubby today to accomplish after his dentist appointment this morning. And he did everything on the list and more."

To-do lists are good. The husband excelled with the to-do list from his wife. He jokingly said that he did it because he just wanted to eat.

Likewise, we often want to follow the Law just to get the benefits that the Law brings. The Pharisees followed the Law because they wanted to be God's people. Some seem to follow the Law to prevent under the idea that doing so prevents them from going to hell. We want benefits. And because we are just looking for benefits, we miss out on the blessing of actually being God's children. Of living a life guided by the Holy Spirit, dwelling in the presence and work of God all the time.

God wants us to be more than just people who follow the law. He wants us to be in a relationship with Him. He wants to dwell in us and guide us.

I can't give you a list of things to do to please God like the woman gave to her husband. Many denominations make handbooks with lists of do's and don'ts. But there is always another thing that could be added to their books because we are unable make a conclusive and authoritative list of do's and don'ts. If that is what God wanted, He would have given us a handbook Himself. Instead, he gave us the Spirit.

The gospel can only bring its benefits when you truly surrender your life to Jesus. It's not a benefit if you just want benefits. It is a benefit when you truly surrender.


It's like when you love your wife. If you bring home flowers for some manipulative reason and she found it out, the flowers wouldn't count. But if you brought flowers home just to show her that you love her - not for any ulterior motives whatsoever - then they have their worth.

It's the same thing with God, except He knows our heart and can't be deceived. If we do what the law teaches and don't give Him our heart, it doesn't work. We may want the blessings of being God's children, but if we don't give Him our heart, then those blessing will not come.

Being right with God is not about checking off a list. It’s about being in a relationship with Him and letting Him guide you. Letting Him live through and transform the world through you.

I had a great high school baseball coach. He would take time to correct me when I would be doing something wrong. He would see my mistakes and take me aside to tell me how to improve. I would be pitching and do something wrong, so he would tell me what to change. One of those times that he pulled me aside he said, "You know, I spend a lot of time correcting you because I believe that you can be better. I don't spend time correcting [and he pointed at a teammate] because he's not going to be better." God spends a lot of time prompting us because he knows we can better. Our lives. Our church. Our towns. Our world. But if we aren't listening, it will be as if He isn't prompting us. We will not become any better. Things will not transform and improve. We believe in a God who does not force His will but waits on the faithful to transform the world through.

And the great danger is that the less we listen to the promptings we hear, the more we shut off the pathways to hearing Him. It's like a person who has had a stroke. They have to work on rewiring everything so that they can once again do all the things that they previously did. They have to develop different neural pathways to laboriously do the things that once came easily to them. Sometimes we are like that with God. We have hardened ourselves to His promptings so much that we no longer hear His voice. He doesn't give up on us though. He will continually try to get past the hardness of our hearts. He is always willing to guide us, but it is up to us to listen to God and be the people that He wants us to be. So pick those scabs off your heart that life has given you and open yourself up to God’s leading.

Be all that God has destined you to be. It is up to you to live the life that God wants you to live. Nobody else can live it for you. No amount of listening to teaching will do that. No amount of singing songs in worship will suffice. You have to be the one listening to His voice, and then acting on it. God is going to tell you what He wants you to do with your life. My role as a pastor is to encourage you to listen to God, help you to test your promptings with Scripture, use Scripture to open your hearts, and challenge you to be who God wants you to be with your life.

No church will be a healthy church unless the people in the church are focused on listening to the Holy Spirit and doing what the Spirit wants them to do with their lives. A church will not receive the blessing that God wants to give it unless it is filled with people who are trying to be who God wants them to be. Likewise, a person will not receive the blessing that God wants to give them unless that person is trying to be who God wants them to be.

Your relationship with God matters.


There is a story from a guy named Parker Palmer as told by Dr. Marcus Borg.

It's a story about a three-year-old girl who was the only child in her family. But now her mom is pregnant, and this three-year-old girl is very excited about having a baby in the house. The day comes where the mother-to-be delivered, and the mom and dad go off to the hospital. A couple of days later come home with a new baby brother. And the little girl is just delighted.

But after they've been home for a couple of hours, the little girl tells her parents that she wants to be with the baby in the baby's room, alone, with the door shut. She's absolutely insistent about the door being shut. It kind of gives her folks the willies, you know? They know she's a good little girl, but they've heard about sibling rivalry and all of this.

Then they remember that they've recently installed an intercom system [think of an old-style monitor if you don't know what an intercom system is] in preparation for the arrival of the new baby, and they realize that they can let their little girl do this, and if they hear the slightest weird thing happening, they can be in there in a flash.

So they let their little girl go into the room. They close the door behind her. They race to the listening post. They hear her footsteps move across the room. They imagine her now standing over the baby's crib, and then they hear her say to her two-day-old baby brother, "Tell me about God. I've almost forgotten."

Now, that’s just a story, and I don’t know if there is truth in a newborn knowing God in that way. But the sense of wonder. The desire to know God rather than adhere to the law. Those are all things we would benefit from having more of. The question we are all faced with is whether we are going to continue to grow closer to God throughout our lives or are we going to drift away. The choice is ours. We can cling to the Law and die – and our Law can be some other law than even the Old Testament Law, or we can grow closer to God, learn to listen to the Spirit, and act upon who He is guiding us to be.

Christian culture will continue to try and convince us that the way to do that is through following laws. It's wrong. Laws are not going to get you closer to God. You could be the most moral person around, yet you could be just as far away from God as the most immoral person you know. God wants you to be close to Him. He wants you to be in a relationship with Him. He wants you to be His. There are no laws that if we followed would bring that about. It only comes through a willing heart, a willingness to listen, a willingness to let that Spirit lead you, a willingness to act on His promptings, and a willingness to be different when God wants you to be different. That's what God wants in our lives. He wants you to say yes to Him.

May we grow closer to God through our lives. May we not stray into an unhealthy dependence upon laws. May we learn to listen to Him every day of our life.

The law has been fulfilled. The law has been made obsolete. The Holy Spirit has been given to us in its place. May we learn to listen to Him. May we learn to live in this new life He has planned for us.