Cherry Tomatoes

This morning my son, Ethan, noticed a package of cherry tomatoes on the counter, his eyes lit up, he grabbed the container and turned to his mom,

Mom, may I ?!

First of all, what planet is this boy from? I couldn’t stand cherry tomatoes as a kid; it’s amazing to me how different he is than me in many ways. But second, I really appreciate that his default is to ask permission. May his heart remain teachable all his days.

One Law, Obligation & Distinction

Contrary to much of the propaganda within Hebrew Roots Christianity, the majority position of the Church throughout history has always been that the moral imperatives of God’s Law apply universally to all believers. While Luther produced a movement that introduced a strong dichotomy between Law and Grace, the overwhelming majority of Christians continued to insist that the third and primary use of the Law was to instruct believers in the proper way of living, to aid them in more closely reflecting God’s image. Only since the advent of dispensationalism did the idea that the Law has actually been annulled gain any popular consensus.

Much of the discussion surrounding whether we have an "obligation" to obey the Law focuses on whether we ought to condemn or judge those who strive to keep God’s laws differently than do we. Concerns over whether the law is legitimately split into civil, ceremonial, and moral categories are likewise often misdirected, though some have undoubtedly misused this conversation. The reality today, is that God does not consider those imperatives of the Mosaic Code that can be accurately described as pertaining to civil issues as binding on any secular government. Similarly, without a functioning Temple, without a ritually pure Aaronic priesthood, etc. no ceremonial imperatives regarding the practice of Temple-worship are presently applicable. So if, a Christian asserts, as does the London Baptist Confession of 1689,

The moral law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator, who gave it; neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.

we ought to heartily agree with them. They may define the contents of the “moral law” differently than do we, but that is a variance you will find among every believing community everywhere.

In reaction to struggles with the term "obligation" and with faulty human practice, some have recently suggested that while God holds his Jewish children to a standard of obligation regarding His Law, he does not oblige His Gentile children to the same standard of righteousness. While the specific demands of the law clearly vary based on sex, geography, time, sometimes even ethnicity, God’s general demand of obedience to His Law is universal and does not vary based on ethnicity. The Scriptural distinction is one of application not of obligation. When it comes to covenant participation/obligation the Holy Spirit, through the Apostle Peter was crystal clear:

“He [God] made no distinction between us and them,” (Acts 15:9a).

For sure, the demands of Torah differ depending on one’s relationship to Messiah, meaning that the “demand” of Torah to someone under the Old Covenant is condemning, while the “demand” of Torah to someone in the New Covenant is enlightening. I read somewhere recently that “Grace is the bridge from Law as mirror to Law as Lamp.” But still that obligation remains, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15; John 14:21; John 15:10; Romans 13:9; 1 John 5:2; 1 John 5:3; 2 John 1:6)

When it comes to an obligation to obey the eternal standard of God’s righteousness (Torah) all are on the hook; either to be condemned (if not in Messiah) or to be guided/instructed (if in Messiah), whether Jew/Gentile, Man/Woman makes no difference here… “all have sinned,” “be holy as I am holy,” these are universal indicators of obligation, reiterated to a mixed audience of Jew and Gentile in the New Testament lest we mistake their universal application.

The only proper distinction is secondary rather than primary. The motivation of the Apostles to mandate a grace-filled approach to law-keeping was practical (and an imitation of God’s approach), “tell the uneducated, new believers to be concerned with x,y,z.” These Acts 15 specifications for immediate observance would have prevented table fellowship, the common denominator of regular, daily life, and soon to be the central observance of the fledgling sect (after the destruction of the Temple).

The distinction the Apostles make between Gentile converts and Jewish believers doesn’t need to be “wrestled” with; it’s obvious. I expect my son to obey me in all things, yet I begin only with high-chair manners, and slowly add to the "burden" of obedience as his understanding progresses. When I say to my 1 year old, “eat your food” that does not mean I don’t also expect him to be kind to his sister as soon as he understands kindness, etc., etc.

Because I have a different standard of obedience for my 2-year-old than I do for my 9-year-old, does not mean that both are not obligated to obey.

To say, “we believe that God’s Law is still the binding and unchanging standard for the Jewish people,” is not scripturally accurate; it makes an unbiblical distinction that cannot be found in the apostolic writings. I believe that God’s Law is the binding and unchanging standard for His people, Jew and Gentile.

Now figuring out how to apply God’s Law in any given geographical or chronological place…that’s the topic of another post.