June 05, 2013

Are Christians Picking and Choosing?

This is what a "picking and choosing" search result pulled up. So now I share it with you. Consider yourself blessed.

So...the laws of the Old Testament...

Where do I even begin?

Some are weird. Some make me angry as a woman. And some make me crave bacon immensely.

In fact, if you've never read the Bible and have intentions to one day do so, this is my advice: Don't start at the beginning. Seriously. Go ahead, just hoppity-skip right over to the New Testament. For lack of a better similie, the Bible is more like a Choose Your Own Adventure: Prisoner of the Ant People than The Grapes of Wrath. (And if you have no idea what a Choose Your Own Adventure book is, first go to the library and read one, thank me for exploding your head with complete brilliance, then come back to the New Testament.) The big picture is crucial, but in my (unscholarly but moderately intelligent) opinion, the order in which you read it is flexible. And I tell you, folks, starting in Matthew/Mark/Luke/John is the way to go.

Okay, so flashback to Rob on the toilet, trying in vain to read about illegal ivory trade in National Geographic, and I'm interrupting his solitude with a sudden question that (for some inexplicable reason) took 34 years for me to ask: Why do Christians follow some laws of the Old Testament and not others?

(And if you're confused as to why Rob's on the toilet and I'm suddenly discussing non-funny things, clearly you missed the last blog post. So go read it HERE. It's cool. We'll all wait.)

So it seemed like we Christians were picking and choosing, the more I thought about it. I mean, should I be giving up juicy, delectable shrimp and wearing clothes made from only one type of fiber? Should I be put to death for writing an occasional blog on the Sabbath? Should Rob not take a Bic to his head? Do I have to endure THE BEARD once more? Please, dear Jesus, nooooooooooooo!!! But it's all there in the Old Testament! Was it the apparent weightiness of a certain law that made it stick or not? And I was also puzzled that the book of Romans in the New Testament discusses how we're not under the law and that we've been released from the law; however, Jesus himself said He didn't come to abolish or destroy the law. In fact, He reinforced the spirit of the law in His teachings. He took the 10 commandments and kicked them up a notch: he added the element of love. It became a matter of the heart.

So I wrote my cousin pastor (actually, I annoyingly wrote several people, but this particular person was on his game and sent me his notes from a class he and his wife taught in Uganda). And so this is a very short (and very simplified) summary of something that took me over an hour to (willingly) plow through and then three more days to actually digest. Hold onto your hats, folks - it's actually interesting!

So first some general assumptions of Old Testament laws:
  1. They were a set of conditional promises between God and the people of Isreal - He would protect them in exchange for their loyalty and gratitude.
  2. The laws benefitted the Israelites in other ways, too: even though they looked restrictive, they allowed the people to flourish; they were actually more just to slaves, women, and the poor than the law codes of other surrounding people groups at that time; the food laws kept the Israelites healthier for that time period in that climate and location; and the sacrificial laws pointed the way for Jesus.
  3. Jesus said he fulfilled the law, not abolished it. He affirmed it was true, but He changed the way we relate to it.
...which brought me to my question of How do we relate to it?

And here's the clincher: the laws fall under three types of law. And how we approach each of these categories is what makes it look like picking and choosing from a distance, for we don't handle them all the same way. The Old Testament laws are still the word of God to us, just sometimes not the command of God to us anymore. Ready? (Still reading? Keyboard still functioning from sleepy drool? GREAT!) Here, at last, is the answer: 

  • CEREMONIAL LAWS (sacrifices, purity and cleansing laws, food restrictions)? These are out the window. Poof! Read them and appreciate the way they point to Jesus to help us better understand what He did for us; however, because Jesus was the Once And For All sacrifice, they don't apply to us anymore.

  • CIVIL LAWS (governmental or cultural laws like circumcision, clothing laws, death penalty)? Nope. These are out. These laws were specifically given to the Israelites for civil purposes. We are no longer one nation of God's people, but rather a people of all nations with Christ as our king. 

  • MORAL LAWS (laws concerning proper conduct toward God and one's neighbor such as what we find in the 10 commandments)? This is the category that still applies to us. Some things always please/displease God, no matter the time and context, for He doesn't change. Jesus himself fulfilled these laws by following them perfectly, with no sin. However, even though Jesus fulfilled them for us by living the perfect life we couldn't live and He gives us his righteousness to stand justified before God, we still follow those laws because we know that is how God wants us to live. And we want to live for Him and please Him. In other words, we don't go to heaven by following these laws or by being a good person; rather, we follow moral laws as an expression of obedience and love to a God who put himself on the cross for us.

TA DA! If you're rocking in the corner and murmuring sweet nothings to yourself at this point, I understand. Really, I do. I will take full responsibility (and then turn to my brain and shake my fist). But really, it makes sense, no? And I'm a little ashamed, because it shouldn't have taken me so long to pin down why I live the way I do. Am I the only one out there who never knew all this "why this and not that"?? Now I just have to sit down and see if I agree that each of the 3231654 Old Testament laws falls into the category scholars say they do. And then discuss it with a toilet-trapped Rob. Who is now texting S.O.S. messages to the neighbors to come rescue him.

Love is patient [with your wife], Rob. Buck up. Just be glad I haven't discussed the notes my cousin sent regarding one way to approach the New Testament's teachings in regards to women (and their head coverings - or lack thereof - and their leadership positions within the church). Awwww, snap. Getting all fired up just thinking about it. Tomorrow, I promise. Meet you in the bathroom.

(Ooo! Sounds steamy! It's not. Actually it might scar your eyeballs.)

Weird monkey image courtesy of pakorn at FreeDigitalPhotos.net


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