Legal Worship

The 613 commandments comprising the Mosaic Law perfectly mirror the absolute moral perfection of God. And any resistance to personally implementing these divinely inspired directives directly stems from our Adamic propensity to autonomously and rebelliously act out.  When the transcendent Sovereign to whom we are ultimately accountable says, “You will,” our automatic post-Eden response says, “I most certainly will not!” In a nutshell that’s human depravity. Not only do we need something outside ourselves to be rightly related to God so we can live eternally in the presence of our infinitely holy Creator, we also need something outside ourselves so we can consistently behave in a way that’s truly pleasing to the One, “… in whom we live move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).

Now in contrast to the Mosaic covenant, the promise of the New Covenant prophetically looked ahead to a day when the LORD would not only write His Torah (instruction) on tablets of stone but also on human hearts (cf. Jer. 31:33). And so this new delivery system meant that the impartation of the Ruach Ha-Kodesh (Holy Spirit) was being promised (cf. Ezek. 36:27). Because without the Spirit’s divine empowerment, divine commands basically function like a judge in the Olympics. They evaluate and grade our performance, but in and of themselves they do not and cannot change our actions.  For that reason, and because of the state of our present humanity, we need a supernatural resource uncorrupted by sin since the essence of sin is living independently of God as if He doesn’t exist.

It’s common knowledge that within both the messianic and the non-messianic Christian world the Law is a continually controversial topic.  And the crux of the issue is this: Are the commands given to ancient theocratic Israel the present day believer’s rule of life? In other words, in some way shape or form, are these Mosaic imperatives currently intended to function as a means of sanctification? Do they help us become more like Jesus in character and conduct? Most would answer this question with some expression of, “Yes, the Law operates in this manner.” However, such a conclusion reflects a flawed hermeneutic and in some cases misapplied Jewish loyalties.
With regard to hermeneutics, attempts to demonstrate that the Mosaic Law Code is operative today often presuppose a replacement paradigm that is exegetically untenable.  In this model the church is said to be the new Israel despite the preponderance of Scriptural evidence to the contrary which clearly demonstrates that there is a distinctive origin, nature, purpose, and prophetic destiny that defines these two presently parallel yet disparate entities.

 

Another hermeneutical consideration relevant to this discussion is the fundamentally all-inclusive nature of the Law. It is regarded as a holistic unit of revelatory instruction where the violation of one ordinance is equated with violation of the entirety of its ordinances (James 2:10). This means that delineations such as the moral, civil, and ceremonial aspects of the Law are man-made categories imposed upon the text rather than valid distinctions inductively derived from the text. It also means that God does not give one the option of picking and choosing what commandments they will obey. Obedience and disobedience is defined in absolute all or nothing terms. And this creates an interesting dilemma. Given that a significant portion of the Mosaic Law regulated the myriad of procedures associated with the Temple, Levitical Priesthood, and the entire sacrificial system; and given the fact that those institutions have not been functioning since the destruction of the second Jewish temple in 70 AD, even if one sincerely desired to keep the Law in its totality, today, it is simply impossible to do so!

 

Concerning the issue of Jewish loyalties and whether or not adherence to the Mosaic Law is a biblically required expression of messianic Jewish identity, the following points are pertinent:
• Jewish identity is not based on the Mosaic covenant. It is based on the Abrahamic covenant. The Mosaic Law was the covenant life instruction God gave to His covenant people miraculously redeemed from Egyptian slavery. Furthermore, Messianic Jews never cease to be part of the collective body of Jewish people by virtue of their dual identity as members of both the physical descendants of the Hebrew patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and the believing Jewish remnant (Rom. 11:1-5).

 

• The only aspects of the Mosaic Law that are mandatory for both Jewish and non-Jewish believers are those commands from the Law that are repeated in the New Testament as part of the Law of Messiah or the Law of Spirit and Life (cf. Gal. 6:2; Rom. 8:2).  As to what the “Law of Messiah and the Law of Spirit and Life” actually consist of, the organization of material in this article is quite helpful: http://www.middletownbiblechurch.org/christia/dutiestoc.htm.

 

• While it’s important for Jewish believers to publicly identify as Jews as a testimony of God’s faithfulness in keeping His promise of saving some of His covenant people in each and every generation (cf. Rom. 11:5); there is much freedom and room for individual convictions and preferences as to what the expression of one’s Jewish identity actually looks like.

 

Interestingly, this freedom and room for individual convictions and preferences can translate into observance of the Law for the purpose of worship. Here’s how it works. One is free to exercise their convictions and preferences with respect to the Law provided that one understands that their choosing to practice aspects of the Law does not contribute in any way toward their sanctification, but rather is a way of engaging in devotion focused on the person of God as revealed in the Word of God flowing from a heart of sincere and passionate gratitude. In fact, I think this freedom to incorporate aspects of the Law into one’s lifestyle for what could be broadly termed as a doxological purpose also extends to non-Jewish believers as well. I don’t see anything in the Scriptures that would prohibit that.  And so then perhaps this worshipful use of the Law is actually part of what Paul spoke of when he said that, “… the law is good when one uses it lawfully” (1Tim. 1:8).

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