Should Christians Practice the Old Testament Law?

Recently I was asked, “What parts of the Old Testament Law are (Christians) still to follow and what parts have been abolished?” Here is how I replied:

The short answer, as I have come to understand it, is that, if you could break down all of what could be considered “the Law” from the Old Testament into categories, while Jesus fulfills them all, we are to live them out in essence, not in practice. For example, the civil and ceremonial laws with all their sacrifices were forever fulfilled in the atoning sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. So we don’t need to continue the practice of sacrificing bulls and goats. However, the essence of those laws was the reality of atonement, which Jesus fulfilled in his body and we are to live out by faith. The faith we have in Jesus is the same faith the Jews had in their sacrifices. It is faith in the fact that God looks upon atoning sacrifice and forgives sin and restores communion. Jesus’ was the ultimate sacrifice that all previous sacrifices pointed to. He is the true propitiation for our sins, and by faith we live in that reality. Furthermore, the moral laws of the Old Testament, namely, the Ten Commandments, were never invalidated by Jesus. They are more than just some arbitrary set of rules picked out of thin air to make people act a certain way. They reveal the character of God and create the parameters for a meaningful, proper, and blessed way of living life. Jesus never abolished the Ten Commandments. Instead he summarized them in the Great Commandment: Love for God and one another.

So, as a general rule of thumb, Jesus fulfills and therefore “abolishes” the old ceremonial practices of the law, and we are called to live out the moral essence of the law. In sum: Jesus “abolishes” the civil and ceremonial practices, and consolidates the moral. Make sense?

Let me add one more thing on this topic of “abolishment.” Read the following words of John Zizoulas – a Greek Orthodox bishop, and my favorite author – on this topic,:

Nothing was created perfect from the beginning. Everything, including especially the human being, was meant to grow into perfection; their truth lay in the end, not in the beginning. The Old Testament Law was not evil. It was good, yet only in so far as it led to the future things of which it was a foretaste and a preparation. The arrival of the future for which the past things of the Law existed brought about their ‘abolishment’. But this ‘abolishment’ was no annihilation; it was rather confirmation and affirmation, since the truth of these past things, their ultimate being, their ‘ontology’, we might say, consisted in the future from which they drew their meaning. With the arrival of Christ, the Old Testament Law fulfilled itself: this is the meaning of its abolishment…The Greek Fathers describe the Old Testament as shadows of the things to come, attaching reality to what follows, not to what precedes in historical events.

I don’t know about you, but I find that terribly helpful.

For further reading on how the Old and New Testaments relate, see my article “The Unity of Scripture” at the bottom of my academic portfolio page. It doesn’t deal exactly with this specific topic, but rather the issue of how to theologically unify the OT and NT as a whole. Consider it side reading if you are interested.

Black Holes and the Infinite

Over the last year or so I have grown incredibly interested in the world of astronomy and theoretical physics. I’ll watch or read anything that has to do with space, time, theories of relativity, quantum mechanics, etc. Nerdy? Perhaps. But I came across something fascinating the other night that even the most unnerdy of my visitors might enjoy.

There are two scientific realms of study that seek to understand the universe. Einstein’s theory of General Relativity (GR) helps us to understand the universe on a macro level, like when it comes to gravity and motion. Quantum mechanics (QM), on the other hand, explains the universe at atomic and sub-atomic levels. Independent of the other, each realm of physics is completely adequate, predictable, and precise in its own right, but once physicists attempt to combine the two they run into some serious problems. Nowhere else in the cosmos is this illustrated more perfectly than at the center of a black hole.

The theoretical existence of black holes literally fell out of Einstein’s GR decades ago. But it has only been in the last 20 years or so that their existence has been proven. In fact, it is now believed that at the center of every galaxy in the universe exists a supermassive black hole. Furthermore, the presence of these supermassive black holes is not accidental to the formation of their galaxies, but rather essential to it. In fact, the size of any given galaxy’s supermassive black hole at its galactic center is directly proportionate to the overall mass contained in the galaxy. Fascinating? Indeed. The cosmos just oozes of order and design.

But check this out.

It is believed that at the core of any given black hole is what is called a gravitational singularity, covered by an event horizon (the point beyond which nothing can escape the black hole’s immense gravitational pull, not even light itself). It is in this singularity where all our theories of physics completely break down. A singularity is a point in space and time of infinite gravity. Infinite. That is very interesting. Put in mathematical terms, when you plug GR and QM into one single equation, the result you get is ∞ (infinity), or, more accurately, ∞ + ∞ + ∞ +∞…for infinity! While these results boggle the mind of the physicist, to the theologian it couldn’t make more sense. I’m not suggesting that God lives in the center of a black hole. What I am suggesting is that, despite our best efforts to understand the universe from a strictly naturalistic perspective, the fact that the universe was created by something (or Someone) beyond itself is an unavoidable reality.

I bring all this up simply because I find it interesting. I’m sure there are flaws somewhere in my understanding of these complicated disciplines. But my point is justified. The universe points to its Creator. This is by design. The Bible reveals that the heavens declare the glory of God (Psalm 19:1). He built into its very structure, from the most massive galactic cluster to the tiniest sub-atomic particle, signals of His existence. Everything we see in the universe has intrinsic beauty and order and screams for us to acknowledge that we are not here without a purpose. No, instead the universe had a specific moment in which it began, and everything in it is being pulled foward by a future defined by purpose and fulfillment. Our job, then, is to acknowledge this reality with how we live every moment of our lives.

The Beauty of Personhood

As I sit here watching my 2 year old daughter marvel over the play-doh “snake” that I just made for her, I am struck at the amazing, complex, and beautiful nature of human personhood.

I am Sean Scribner. I am the same person I was yesterday, two weeks ago, and 10 years ago. And yet I’m not. What has changed? The change in my life is not just a matter of history. I am not different today simply because I am further along a linear path of time that now has a greater amount of history than any time before it. I was Sean Scribner in the past, and I will be Sean Scribner even after I die. Even if I change my name I will still be the same unique individual I have always been. Nothing can change that fact.

Yet as I look at my daughter in light of who I am I realize that, while I am the same person as I was before I met her (i.e. a concrete and unique individual who is completely non duplicable), I am not the same person I was before. She has forever changed who I am, i.e. my personhood. This change is not simply abstract, but real, something, dare I say, mystical. The same can be said in regards to my wife. She has forever altered my personhood. She has not made me into a different person (as in the sense of someone else altogether), yet she has forever altered my personhood in a real, unique, and permanent way. That is amazing to me.

I don’t purport to exhaustively know everything there is to know about the human person. You can only know so much about such a mysterious thing from reading a book. Truth is, you have to be a person to begin to really know what a person is. And since in every moment of every day, in every situation, and especially in every relationship you have, your personhood is constantly being redefined, live life with a continued sense of wonder, awe, and appreciation of the fact that you are a human being, created in the image of God, who is forever three Persons in perfect loving union. Won’t that make life that much more meaningful and exciting?

Vomit-Loving ‘Christians’

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go to Hell.

Yes, I am a Christian. I have been convicted, have repented, have been saved, etc. And I believe in the certainty and security of God’s loving, redeeming, and saving work in my life. But, while there is security in Christ, there is no security in sin.

Consider the words of Saint Peter in his second epistle (2:20-22):

For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world by the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled in them and are overcome, the last state has become worse for them than the first.

For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.

It has happened to them according to the true proverb, “A DOG RETURNS TO ITS OWN VOMIT,” and, “A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire.” (NASB)

Peter, of course, is talking in the immediate context about the so-called ‘false prophets’ of his day, who, knowing the gospel, pervert it with their destructive heresies (2:1), denial of authority (2:1), pursuit of sensuality and lust (2:2), and greediness (2:3). But the essence of this lesson is that, regardless of what you believe about Christian ‘security,’ the fact remains that no one is safe in sin. In fact, it appears as though the level of punishment for the sinner is directly proportionate to his/her knowledge and experience of grace. Yikes! That’s a terrifying prospect.

Too often I think Christians live any way they want to just because they have experienced ‘salvation.’ Sure, we have to at least try to live godly lives, but, after all, who’s perfect? All that matters is that God is our heavenly Father and we can always find forgiveness in Him. Right?

Well, God is our Father. And, like a loving Father does, He forgives. But there is a huge difference between those who live their whole lives in Christ and err verses those who live in deliberate willful sin and presume upon God’s grace. I, for one, do not want to presume anything. Assurance? Yes. Security? Yes. But not in sin.

So let this be a lesson for all of us. Seek holiness with all of your being. Do not be content in sin, for “the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (3:10). With this in mind, what kind of lives ought we to live? Godly lives of holy conduct and godliness (3:11); spotless and blameless (3:14); growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus day by day (3:18).

I don’t want to be a vomit-loving Christian who’s going to Hell because I desired the flesh instead of God’s holiness. I take these warnings literally and seriously. What about you?

Sermon on John 17:1-5

Below you can listen to a sermon I preached in chapel at Wesley Biblical Seminary on September 17th. The sermon text is John 17:1-5. I invite you to listen, but, more importantly, I invite you to share your thoughts on my interpretation of the text, especially verse 5. So stream it with the embedded player or download it directly here and post your comments below.

I Trust Thee Now

-From The Christian’s Secret of a Happy Life, by Hannah Whitall Smith:

Lord Jesus, I believe that thou art able and willing to deliver me from all care and unrest and bondage of my Christian life. I believe thou didst die to set me free, not only in the future, but now and here. I believe thou art stronger than sin, and that thou canst keep me, even me, in my extreme of weakness, from falling in its snares or yielding obedience to its commands. And Lord, I am going to trust thee to keep me. I have tried keeping myself, and have failed, and failed, most grievously. I am absolutely helpless. So now I trust thee. I give myself to thee. I keep back no reserves. Body, soul and spirit, I present myself to thee as a piece of clay, to be fashioned into anything thy love and thy wisdom shall choose. And now I am thine. I believe thou dost accept that which I present to thee; I believe that this poor, weak, foolish heart has been taken possession of by thee, and that thou hast even at this very moment begun to work in me to will and to do of thy good pleasure. I trust thee utterly, and I trust thee now.

Do you believe that God can be a present help in your wage against sin in your life? Is He strong enough? Is He able? I would challenge you this day to consider whether God, who spoke the cosmos into existence, is strong enough to conquer sin in your heart at this very moment in time.

Perhaps the question isn’t whether or not God is able, but rather are you willing to let Him.

Funny Lessons From a Funny Girl

I’ll never cease to be amazed by how many lessons I have learned from my (now 8 month old) daughter, Savannah Grace. It’s funny, because here I’m supposed to be the one training her. Yet I find myself nearly every day learning from her some new truth about what it means to be a person pleasing in God’s sight.

Lately my family has been dealing with a bit of cold. Runny noses, stuffy heads, and sore throats have made their rounds in the Scribner home. Poor Savannah. She got so stopped up the other night that she could barely breathe. She couldn’t fall asleep, and then she got so tired that she couldn’t stay awake. It became a vicious and frustrating cycle for her. She was essentially caught between two powerful impulses at war with one another due to the alien presence of overwhelming sinus drainage. And while that in itself could be a vivid object lesson, the point of this post is quite different altogether.

The lesson I learned the other night was what it means to be pure in heart like a child. Yes, I do believe in inherited sin. I do believe in absolute depravity. But I also believe in the simplicity and innocence of a baby. There is quite a difference between an inherited disposition that blossoms into a full-fledged self-centeredness with the development of the human will and the inherent innocence of a baby due to the absence of a history of personal sin. Savannah simply has not acquired depravity like you or I have as adults. She is simple. She is innocent. And this simple innocence is something beautiful.

As Savannah struggled the other night with simultaneously wanting to sleep and not being able to breath, something amazing in her surfaced before my very eyes. This poor little baby, so tired, sick, and frustrated, looked at me and smiled. Through her red, teary eyes she saw her daddy’s face, and it filled her with glee. In the midst of bodily chaos and turmoil, the pure love of a child emerged.

Jesus teaches us to have the faith of a child. But is it a stretch to suggest that this includes the type of simple, innocent attitude of love evidenced the other night by Savannah? In the midst of our world-weary lives, as we struggle from day to day with all the agitations and annoyances of life, could Jesus be asking us to resist the temptation to grumble and wallow in self-pity and focus on the Father instead? Can we peer up at His face through our tired, blurry eyes and somehow manage a smile? That smile will speak volumes of the character and inner content of your heart. That smile might just mean more than all our eloquent words and fancy speech.

This is my challenge to you and to myself this day: love God simply, innocently, and purely. Keep your eyes fixed upon His face. David prayed for one thing: “to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple” (Psalm 27:4). Take a cue from the funny face of my funny little girl, who loves her daddy with all that she is capable of and never wallows in self-pity.

Faith’s Components

I don’t know what your church background is, but hopefully you attend a church that recites a creed every week. The question that precedes these sacred recitations is one that all Christians must consistently ask themselves: Christians, what do you believe?

I believe in the Trinity. I believe in the Incarnation. I believe in the bodily resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Yet belief, no matter how proper or orthodox it is, is not the equivalent of faith.

The Christian life is built upon a set of beliefs that revolve around the person and work of Jesus Christ. But belief alone does not constitute saving faith. After all, we know that even the demons could properly identify Jesus and his relationship to the Father (Matt. 8:29; Mk. 5:7; etc.) and believe in one God (Jas. 2:19). And James is quite clear that faith must be accompanied by good works, for it is otherwise dead (Jas. 2:17). But what faith itself is is a significant question, and I’m afraid that too many Christians merely assume that it is just right belief.

After the last several months of my life, I have been forced to acknowledge that there is more to faith than belief. After all, I have spent the last 8 years of my life committed to learning what orthodox Christian beliefs are and how to properly articulate them to others. But faith is quite another thing altogether. Proper belief is only the starting point of faith, not its sole component. For belief to be faith, it must be accompanied by the following two things: trust and obedience.

No one lives life in a vacuum. Throughout all of life’s circumstances, Christian faith consists of proper belief, trust, and obedience. What good is proper belief if you don’t trust the one you say you believe in? What good is trust if you’re not willing to obey the one you trust? Belief, trust, and obedience all feed into and are incomplete without the other.

Adam and Eve knew God in the garden. They believed He existed, but they neither trusted nor obeyed Him. Likewise you and I in our Christian experience know God. We believe He exists and we (rightfully) affirm the creeds. But unless you are willing to trust Him in the difficult times and obey Him no matter what the cost, you do not have the fullness of faith that God desires from you.

The song* is old, but its message rings true:

Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.

The fifth verse stands out the most to me:

Then in fellowship sweet we will sit at His feet.
Or we’ll walk by His side in the way.
What He says we will do, where He sends we will go;
Never fear, only trust and obey.

What is lacking in your Christian life right now? Chances are it can be traced back to your definition of faith. Don’t rely simply on proper beliefs, as crucial as they are. Allow God to form in you a spirit that is both trusting and obedient.

*Trust and Obey, John H. Sam­mis, 1887.