The Present Role of the Law (Torah)

Even the Apostle Peter said that St. Paul’s writings were difficult to understand, and throughout history Christian men (and women) have often found them difficult to align congruently with the rest of Scripture.

In the past 150 years it has become fashionable to act—and even believe—that the Law was done away with by Messiah’s sacrifice. In a certain and specific sense that is true; but the way in which it has commonly come to be understood is blatantly and grievously erroneous.

Dispensationalism was largely responsible for spreading this unfortunate idea; an idea that is in many ways responsible for the present deplorable state of Christian morals in America (see Barna’s recent report). What I find so astounding, however, is the degree to which the dispensational approach to Paul’s writings have so profoundly influenced those who would vigorously protest any suggestion that they are dispensationalists.

But more to the point, or at least to my point, is this assertion: it has been the predominant, historic, and orthodox Christian belief that every believer is beholden to keep God’s commandments as they exist in both the Old and New Testaments.  Attempts to figure out how to walk out that obligation vary widely, and I have my own opinion. The point, however, is that varying applications aside, we must agree that, as Article 7 of the Articles of Religion state:

…no Christian man whatsoever is free from the obedience of the Commandments which are called Moral.

Granted, that begs the question, “Which commandments are moral?” But I leave that for another discussion.

Allow me, finally, to arrive at the quote which I originally set out to blog upon.

The following was written between 1832 and 1863 by Charles Simeon, the father of Anglican evangelicals, fellow of King’s College, Cambridge, and vicar of Holy Trinity Cambridge.

He begins with stating the objection urged against the Gospel; “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” And then he answers it at large; and affirms, that the covenant of grace, so far from invalidating our obligation to good works, absolutely secures the performance of thema….[1]

[Christ, our incarnate Lord, has fulfilled every part of God’s law; enduring its penalties, as well as executing its commands: and this he has done, as our Surety: so that, if we believe in him, we may plead his obedience unto death in bar of all the punishment it denounces against us; and may even plead it also as having procured for us a title to all its promised blessings. Our blessed Lord, in fulfilling the law, has abrogated it as a covenant; and has obtained for us a new and better covenant, of which he himself is the Suretyb. As a rule of conduct, the law does, and ever must, continue in force; because it is the transcript of the mind and will of God, and contains a perfect rule for the conduct of his creaturesc: but as a, covenant it is dissolved; and is, in respect of us, dead; so that we have no more connexion with it than a woman has with her deceased husband: our obligations to it, and our expectations from it, have ceased for everd.[2]


a Rom. 6:14–16.

[1]Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 15: Romans(London, 1832-63). 165.

b Heb. 8:6, 8, 13.

c 1 Cor. 9:21.

d Gal. 2:19.

[2]Charles Simeon, Horae Homileticae Vol. 15: Romans (London, 1832-63). 166.

Piper’s 12 Theses #5

This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit by faith is not a perfect love in this life (Rom. 7:15, 19, 23–25; Phil. 3:12).

Agreed.

By the way, if you’re wondering what these posts are related to you can check out the rest of the pertinent posts at:

Wright, Piper and the Justification Controversy

Fulfilling the Law

Piper’s 12 Theses #1

Piper’s 12 Theses #2

Piper’s 12 Theses #4

This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit is rendered by faith, that is, by being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ and him crucified—the perseverance of the same faith that justifies (Gal. 3:5; 5:6; 1 Tim. 1:5; Heb. 11:6, 24–26; 10:34).

Yes, it is rendered by faith and through faith, but it is critical to recall that the Hebrew word for “faith” and for “faithfulness” is emunah. One of the ways that the fulfillment of God’s law is rendered in us is by our obedience to it, in our walking.

…that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

according to the Spirit, who is after all writing that very same law on our hearts.

Piper’s 12 Theses #3

This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others is rendered not in our own strength but by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:13–16, 22–23).

I am in total agreement with this thesis, after all it agrees completely with the role of the Spirit as listed in Jeremiah 31:33,

…I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts….

Learn to Worship from Leviticus?

Have you ever begun reading through the Bible from cover to cover only to get bogged down in Leviticus? That is, if you made it through the genealogies in Genesis! Well, then this article is for you—to inspire you with new interest in the book of torat kohanim, a title that can be translated both “instruction for the priests” and “instruction by the priests.”

You may wonder, what was the over-arching purpose behind these instructions both for and by the priests? Leviticus is designed to teach a holy people how to live in fellowship with a holy God. But more than that, by gifting Israel with laws that secure their well-being, God enables His people to be a blessing to the nations.[1]

I’m struck by the sacramental nature of this description. Do we understand the role of God’s commandments, wherever they might appear in Scripture, as existing to train, teach, and prepare the people of God to be His instrument of grace to an observing world? We are to be visible signs of an invisible grace, imparted to a called-out people as we walk according to the Holy Spirit and submit our minds to the Law of God (Rom. 8:1-7).[2]

As the perennial Passover story reminds us, God was intent on securing a people; a people who would reflect His character to the world. This would require a series of laws, teachings and instructions designed to distinguish God’s people from the teeming masses. His holiness dictates that any approach to God must acknowledge the yawning gulf between the character of God and the flawed nature of humanity. The distinctions of Leviticus help mortals realize that God is un-approachably different from His creation.

It is only after apprehending a proper fear of God that we can begin to comprehend Him as a loving and benevolent Father. “My son, if you receive my words and treasure up my commandments with you…then you will understand the fear of the LORD and find the knowledge of God.”[3] It is often recalled that knowing in the Hebraic sense implies intimacy, so we should understand that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of an intimate relationship with Him.

Paradoxically, by emphasizing His radical otherness God prepared His people for their world mission; the task of revealing a totally holy but completely loving Father. As our Creator, God realized we would be tempted to short-circuit our relationship with Him. We want to re-make Him as a glorified buddy; we want all the ooey-gooey and none of the wonder; all the blessing and none of the consequence. Leviticus reminds us that God’s divine transcendence requires He be separate from sin, and calls His followers to be likewise holy. Yet every call for distinction is accompanied by a way of re-establishing connection, displaying God’s mercy.

These thoughts prompt us to ask a rather obvious question. Given that there is no Aaronic priesthood, no earthly Temple, no Theocratic government, how are we to set about applying the instructions of a book like Leviticus? King Messiah Fellowship’s Statement of Foundational Beliefs suggests the following approach:

We believe the Bible is a revelation of the righteousness of God, and a description of the lifestyle of the redeemed community throughout history. While God’s commandments are to be considered prescriptive, we acknowledge that they require adaptation from generation to generation.

But what does that look like? I suggest you begin by contemplating the idea that the laws of Leviticus should somehow apply to you. As you meditate on God’s laws, He will begin to make clear to you how they might be made use of in your day-to-day existence. We have a wonderful treasure in the traditions of the Jews; the record of a people who have wrestled with how to practically obey God’s laws for centuries. We can mine their history and culture for suggestions on what a particular obedience might look like.

True worship is where the external forms of religion meet the day-to-day activities of life. And God wants us to understand that day-to-day is the greatest opportunity to sanctify ourselves as we partner with Him in the repair of the world. How do we repair the world? By finding and celebrating the image of God that is reflected in those around us. As for you, and as for me, let’s be distinct—so the reflection of God is easier to spot!

Remember, Leviticus is designed to prepare God’s people to accomplish their world mission—to display God’s character to the watching world. How will a bit more wonder change your life?


[1] Kaiser, Walter C., Jr. “The Book of Leviticus: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections.” (The New Interpreter’s Bible – Vol. 1, ed Keck, Leander. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994) 987, 998

[2] Note that “walk” and “mind” indicates that there must be a whole life commitment; one cannot separate mental acknowledgement from practical outworking.

[3] Proverbs 2:1,5 (ESV) cf. Job 28:28

Piper’s 12 Theses #1

Pastor John Piper wrote:

Fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law in Romans 8:4 refers to a life of real love for people (Rom. 13:8–10; Gal. 5:13–18; Matt. 7:12; 22:37–40).[i]


[i] From the list of some of the Ten Commandments in Romans 13:8–10 we may infer that the law that love fulfills is primarily thought of as the moral law of God, which finds its chief historical summary in the Ten Commandments, which are tailored for Israel’s situation. The focus of our fulfilling the law is not on all the Jewish-specific laws, such as circumcision and sacrifices and food laws and feast days. However, when Jesus says in Matthew 22:40 that “all the Law and the Prophets” hang on the love commands, he may indeed see love as, in some sense, the source and goal of even the more Jewish-specific laws. Either way, the point is that the law was pointing to Christ and to a life of love lived in dependence on him. 

I would have written:

Fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law in Romans 8:4 refers to a life of real love for God and for people; the first of which cannot be accomplished absent the second.

God indicates in Scripture that our relationship with Him is demonstrated through our relationship with our neighbor (1 John 4:21). So far, so good. I’ve clarified Pastor Piper’s statement, but otherwise we are saying the same thing. However, in his footnote a serious oversight appears; an oversight that will color subsequent statements, in such a way that I agree with the statement but find myself worried by the language chosen and not chosen.

The 10 Commandments may have been tailored for Israel’s situation but that does not in any way lessen their universal application. Certainly I agree that the law pointed to Christ and to a life of love for God and love for man lived in dependence on Messiah. Also, I would readily affirm, where Piper hesitantly affirms, that the entire law can be summarized in Yeshua’s quoting of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: i You shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Matthew 22:37-39 (ESV)

What concerns me is the labeling of certain laws as “Jewish-specific.” The feast days in particular are not called the Feasts of the Jews, but “The feasts of the Lord.” These are “my appointed feasts,” God says (c.f., Lev 23:2 and others). Furthermore this seems to ignore broad statements found in multiple places but notably in reference to the Passover and in Numbers 15 where the topic of sacrifices is under discussion.

14 And if a stranger is sojourning with you, or anyone is living permanently among you, and he wishes to offer a food offering, with a pleasing aroma to the Lord, he shall do as you do. 15 For the assembly, there shall be one statute for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you, a statute forever throughout your generations. You and the sojourner shall be alike before the Lord. 16 One law and one rule shall be for you and for the stranger who sojourns with you.  Numbers 15:14-16 (ESV)

Since Ephesians 2 makes it clear that all who believe (to reference Galatians 3:7) are sojourning with Israel it seems evident that we are to consider there to be one statute for both Jew and Gentile in Messiah.

To summarize, then, I heartily concur with Theses 1, but I am suspicious of the attempt to lessen the theses’ impact by the caveat found in the footnote.

Fulfilling the Law

What does Paul mean in Romans 8:4 when he says that the aim of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection is that “the righteous requirement of the Torah might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”?

Wait a minute! Isn’t Christ the fulfillment of the Law? Why does it say fulfilled in us?! In Appendix 6 to his latest book, The Future of Justification, John Piper sets out to answer this question.

Some take this to mean that Christ fulfilled the law for us when he obeyed it perfectly and died as the perfect sacrifice on our behalf.[1]

Piper agrees that this is true, “but,” he goes on to say:

I don’t think that is the point of verse 4.

Piper goes on to point out that the text does not say that the law is fulfilled for us but in us. He observes that the text indicates this fulfillment will take place by way of walking or doing, by way of living it out. (What, we must ask, is the antecedent of “it”?) In verse 4 it says that the fulfilling will take place in those who walk “according to the Spirit.” We would be remiss, however, not to note that walking in the Spirit is contrasted with walking in the flesh, and the fleshly person is described as one who “does not submit to God’s law.” (verse 7). As opposed, it is clearly inferred, to those who walk in the Spirit and therefore do submit to God’s law.

So Piper sets out to answer the obvious question:

What does it mean to fulfill the requirement of the law? And specifically, how can any of my “walking” by the Spirit—which is always imperfect in this life—be said to fulfill God’s law, which is holy and just and good?[2]

He then sets down 12 theses on the Law in an attempt to answer these questions. His 12 theses follow. I will be engaging each of them in subsequent blogs (they’re pretty good, actually).

1. Fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law in Romans 8:4 refers to a life of real love for people (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:13-18; Matt. 7:12; 22:37-40).

2. Our fulfilling God’s law in loving others is not the ground of our justification. The ground of justification is the sacrifice and obedience of Christ alone, appropriated through faith alone before any other acts are performed. Our fulfilling the law is the fruit and evidence of being justified by faith (Rom. 3:20-22, 24-25, 28; 4:4-6; 5:19; 8:3; 10:3-4; 2 Cor. 5:21).

3. This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others is rendered not in our own strength but by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:13-16, 22-23).

4. This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit is rendered by faith, that is, by being satisfied with all that God is for us in Christ and him crucified-the perseverance of the same faith that justifies (Gal. 3:5; 5:6; 1 Tim. 1:5; Heb. 11:6, 24-26; 10:34).

5. This fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit by faith is not a perfect love in this life (Rom. 7:15, 19, 23-25; Phil. 3:12).

6. But this fulfilling of God’s law in loving others through the Spirit by faith will become perfect when we die or when Christ returns, and we will live in the perfection of love forever (Rom. 8:30; Phil. 1:6; Heb. 12:22-23).

7. Even though we will one day be perfected in love, the totality of our existence, from conception to eternity, will never be a perfect one, because it will always include the first chapter of our fallen life. We will always be forgiven-that is, we will always be those who have sinned. We will always be in need of an imputed, alien righteousness and a sin-bearing Substitute for our right standing before God. In this way, Christ will be glorified forever in our salvation. We will forever lean on his righteousness and his sacrifice (Heb. 7:25; Rev. 5:9-10; 15:3).

8. Even though imperfect, this Spirit-dependent, Christ-exalting love (which is essentially self-sacrificing gladness in the temporal and eternal good of others, 2 Cor. 8:1-2, 8) is the true and real direction of life that God’s law requires. In this life, we have new direction, not full perfection. This direction is what the law demands on the way to perfection (cf. texts under #1).

9. This fulfilling of the Old Testament law in the loving of others through the Spirit by faith is sometimes called “the law of liberty” (James 1:25; 2:12) and “the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 6:2).

9.1. When the fulfilling of the law is called “the law of liberty,” it means that, in the pursuit of love, Christians are free from law-keeping as the ground of our justification and as the power of our sanctification. Instead, we pursue it by the “law of the Spirit of life . . . in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:2). We look to the Spirit of Christ for transformation so that love flows by power from within, not pressure from without. We are dead to law-keeping and therefore at liberty to bear fruit for God in the newness of the Spirit (Rom. 7:4, 6). The law of liberty is the leading of the Spirit, and “where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17) (Jas. 1:25; 2:10-12; Gal. 5:1; Rom. 7:4, 6; 2 Cor. 3:17-18).

9.2. When the fulfilling of the law is called “the law of Christ,” it means that our pursuit of love is guided and enabled by the life, word, and Spirit of Jesus Christ. The law of Christ is not a new list of behaviors on the outside, but a new Treasure, Friend, and Master on the inside. He did give us “a new commandment” (“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also are to love one another,” John 13:34). But this standard of love is the life and power of a person who indwells us by his Spirit (Rom. 7:4; 8:11). We pursue love as “the law of Christ” by looking to Christ as our sin-covering sacrifice, our all-sufficient righteousness, our all-satisfying Treasure, our all-providing Protection and Helper, and our all-wise counselor and guide (Rom. 7:4; 8:9, 12-14; 1 Cor. 9:21; Gal. 2:20; 6:2).

10. The Old Testament law can be understood narrowly as a set of commandments, or more broadly as the entire teaching of the Pentateuch, or even as all the instruction of God in the Old Testament wherever he gives it.

10.1. In the narrow sense, one may think of the law as commanding perfect obedience that, if we could perform it (the way Adam should have) by depending on God’s help, would be our righteousness and the ground of our justification. But, because of our sin, the law does not lead to life in this way (Gal. 3:21), but shuts us up to look away from law-keeping to Christ so that we might be justified through faith in him (Gal. 3:21-25).

10.2. In the broader sense of the whole Pentateuch or the whole Old Testament, we may think of the law not merely as making demands, but also as offering justification through faith by pointing forward to a Redeemer who would provide the ground of that justification, and in whom Jews and Gentiles would be counted righteous because of his blood and righteousness (Gen. 15:6; Rom. 4:3; Rom. 3:19-22).

11. When the law is understood in its entirety, its aim is that Jesus Christ get the glory as the one who provides the only ground for our imputed righteousness through faith (justification) and the only power for our imparted righteousness through faith (sanctification) (Rom. 5:19; 10:4; 2 Cor. 5:21; Phil. 1:11; 3:8-9).

12. Therefore, I give a summarizing three-part answer to the question, “How can our imperfect obedience and love fulfill the perfect law of God?”

12.1. First, our imperfect love is, nevertheless, real, God-dependent, Spirit-enabled, Christ-exalting love that flows from our justification and is not a means to it. And therefore it is the new direction that the law was aiming at and what the new covenant promised. In short, Christ-exalting love as the fruit of faith is what the law was aiming at.

12.2. Second, our imperfect love is the first-fruits of a final perfection that Christ will complete in us at his appearing. Romans 8:4 does not say that the entire fulfillment of the law happens in us now. But our walk by the Spirit begins now, and so does our fulfillment of the righteous requirement of the law.

12.3. Finally, our imperfect love is the fruit of our faith in Jesus who is himself our only justifying perfection before God. In other words, the only law-keeping we depend on as the ground of our justification is Jesus’ law-keeping. His was perfect. Ours is imperfect. And so we will never (even in eternity) have a whole life of perfection to offer God. The acceptability of our lives to all eternity will always depend on the perfection of Jesus offered in our place. Our imperfect love now and our perfect love later will always be the fruit of faith that looks to Jesus as our only complete perfection. In the end, the law is fulfilled in us everlastingly because it was fulfilled in him from everlasting to everlasting. Our imperfection and need is a pointer to his perfection and all-sufficiency; and that pointing-that exaltation of Christ-is the aim of the law.

 The entire book may be read online here.


[1] Piper, John. The Future of Justification. (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 2007), 215[2] Ibid, 216