Barry Newman's Blog

August 10, 2009

Freedom (part I)

Filed under: Uncategorized — barrynewman @ 5:03 am
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Christianity is well known for its many customs, regulations and rituals. To what extent are these obligatory? To what extent are we free to make choices? In order to answer these questions we will need to examine the Scriptures. We will need to understand the Old Testament Law – its nature, purpose, fulfilment and enduring character.  It will be necessary to understand the Gospel and the work of the Spirit.  It will also be helpful to examine what Paul writes about freedom and the observance of circumcision, food laws and special days.

The Law

In the modern world we are subject to a large number of laws.  As circumstances change however, some of the laws change.  Some become obsolete.  New ones are introduced.  They vary a great deal. The breaking of some laws is far more significant than the breaking of others. What was the purpose of the Law of God – those commandments given to Israel through Moses?  What was their role?  Have they changed? Has any of them become obsolete?  What are their more significant features?

The Nature of the Law

There was a commandment, originally given to Abraham, for males to be circumcised.  There was the select group of Ten Commandments, though they were never referred to as the commandments of God.  There were commandments involving sacrifices and offerings, commandments about keeping certain feast days and various Sabbaths, commandments dealing with marriage and divorce, diseases and death, and commandments on how to live with one’s fellow Israelite and how to treat slaves and foreigners.  We might distinguish ceremonial or ritual laws from moral or ethical ones but that was not a neat distinction made in the Old Testament. There were however laws that clearly referred to one’s relationship with God while others clearly referred to one’s relationship with a fellow Israelite.

The Purpose of the Law

What was the purpose of the Law?  It was certainly intended to educate. By the Law the people of Israel, the ones whom God had chosen and by whom blessing would come to the world, would come to understand the character of God, his holiness, righteousness, justice, love and mercy and that he alone was to be worshipped. And they were being instructed on how to live. Additionally, by the Law the Israelites would come to recognise the existence and extent of their sinfulness.  As Paul, the great Apostle to the Gentile world, declared, by the Law, the Jew and all who are confronted by the Law become conscious of sin (Rom. 3: 20).  The Law brings sinfulness to the fore (Rom. 5:20).  Sin finds its strength in the Law (1 Cor. 15: 56).  Furthermore, he writes that the Law was given to the Jew – to take care of him, to be his custodian, to be his supervisor (Gal. 3: 24, 25) otherwise his behaviour would have been no better than that of the Gentiles. The Law instructed, exposed sin and curbed the sins of God’s chosen people.

Yet it had a further purpose.  The people of Israel were placed under the charge of the Law to lead them to Christ (Gal 3: 24). It was never an end in itself.  People could only ever be justified by faith and with the coming of Jesus that faith was to be faith in him. The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ so that we might be justified by faith, not by the Law (Gal. 3: 24).  Has the Law now had its day?  Has it fulfilled its role?

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