Tuesday, April 12, 2016

The New Testament is Not a Legal System

When we look at the New Testament as a legal contract, to which we must adhere in every aspect, we have simply replaced one legal system with another, and we have gotten it wrong. We have missed the mark.

The apostle Paul does not contrast the Law of Moses, the old legal system, with the Law of Christ*, a new legal system; he contrasts a legal system with a grace/faith system. (* The only time the phrase "law of Christ" is found is Gal 6:2, wherein it is said that this law is fulfilled by bearing one another's burdens.)

The New Testament is not a new legal code replacing an old legal code. The old legal code (the old covenant) was written in stone, for all to see. God prophesied (Jer 31:31ff) that the new covenant would not be like that old covenant. The result is a new covenant that does not have a list of laws like the old covenant had; it's not a legal system.

Yet we think it is, so we FIND (that is, invent) legalistic laws within the pages of the New Testament, and then we teach those man-invented laws as doctrine. Vanity, this is vanity.

Don't you think that if God wanted to replace one legal system with another legal system, he'd make the laws in the new system just as plain and clear as he did in the old system? Or do we think he's now hidden those laws "between the lines", perhaps to weed out those believers who aren't dedicated enough to dig to find them?

The "law of Christ" is not about rules and regulations, such as "don't handle, nor taste, nor touch". These rules certainly look religious, but they aren't of any value in changing who we really are; they're just externals (Col 2:16-23). The law of Christ is about bearing one another's burdens, about feeding the hungry, and dressing the naked, and about having joy and peace, and doing "the right thing" (Gal 6:2; Matt 25:31ff; Rom 14:17). The "royal law" is not about keeping or not keeping a Sabbath day or a Sunday or a Passover or an Easter as a holy day, or about eating or not eating meat sacrificed to idols, or about drinking a little wine with supper vs being a teetotaler, or even being in agreement with other believers on these and similar issues (like one-cuppers, or kitchens in the building, or instrumental music); it's about loving your neighbor, and taking care of the widow and orphan, and living a clean life (Col 2:16-17; Rom 14; Jam 2:8; 1:27).

Yes, there may be correct and incorrect answers to these issues, but not every believer may come to understand that correct answer, and more importantly, the New Testament may not even provide that correct answer, simply because ... the New Testament is not a legal system.

Rather, the New Testament is a record of Jesus, and of his early disciples as they learned to live within the new covenant. The New Testament "system" can be best summed up by Rom 12:1 - "Live your life in submission to God, on a moment-to-moment basis; this is your holy service."

It's not about tithing on pennies (or spices, as Jesus put it - Matt 23:23); it's about the weightier matters of justice and mercy and being heart-faithful (like a spouse to a spouse should be heart-faithful - not perfect performance, but perfect commitment to each other). Yes, take care of the small details also; tithe on the pennies if that's what your understanding leads you to do; but the legalities are not the focus.

When we ask if a man who has been widowed, and then marries a second time, can be an elder ("Does he meet the qualification of being the husband of one wife?"), we're looking at the New Testament as a legal system. We're looking at the letter of the law, which Paul says brings death (2 Cor 3:6). Instead, we should be making judgments based on having God's spirit within us, on having the heart of Jesus; what would Jesus do? Would he use such a man as a shepherd for his people, or would he disqualify the man on a technicality?

We supposedly are adults now, no longer children; we don't need the rules and regulations that children need. We don't look to technicalities to get away with what we can ("You just said I couldn't watch TV; you didn't say I couldn't watch Netflix on my smartphone"; "You said I could bake the batch of cookie dough and then have one cookie before bed; so I just made one big cookie out of the batch, so I didn't disobey you"). We now have maturity, based on how our parent has raised us. If we have the heart of Jesus within us, if we are led by God's spirit matured in us, and not by our own childish, legalistic spirit, we may then do all things, whether in word or in deed, in the name of Jesus Christ, even if there's not some rule somewhere that specifically governs that thing we are doing. If we are led by the spirit of Jesus, we don't have any need to "find" rules to cover whatever it is we're doing; we'll make a good choice based on our maturity we have in him.

Go, and be Jesus to the world. Don't teach a legal system; teach how to live as God-empowered, spirit-filled, grown-ups.

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