Christians vs. Legalism

In the 9th chapter of I Samuel you will see how Sha’ul was chosen to become (what is usually called) the first King of Israel. However, in the Lord’s eyes, Saul wasn’t Israel’s first king; Saul was going to be Israel’s first human king. Yehoveh was Israel’s king from the moment He redeemed them from Egypt and not in a merely ethereal or idealized sense but in a fully legal sense. So in chapter 9 the Lord (through Samuel) told the leaders of Israel who were demanding a governmental change from a system of Judges to a monarchy modeled after their gentile neighbors, that they were essentially establishing a new legal arrangement and that this legal arrangement would be between Israel and the human king that they demanded. This issue of divine legality is a core issue in the Bible, Old and New Testament, and one that few Christians are particularly familiar or comfortable with.

The 10th chapter drags you (somewhat unexpectedly) into several deep spiritual issues some of which may sound (on the surface) like a review; however, it is going to be more of an expansion or maybe even an unveiling of sorts. Interestingly, Christians tend to tune out and have a knee-jerk ho-hum attitude when you start to discuss the biblical legal codes. It is the modern-day Believer’s mantra that we avoid the dreaded “legalism” that is the Church’s chief historical bogeyman. At the same time what the Church typically doesn’t realize is that our own Salvation is totally dependent on the biblical legal code because it is the fulfillment of these legalities by Yeshua that qualified Him to be our Messiah and Redeemer. Let’s start by addressing this broad issue of law and the biblical legal code by remembering something that Jesus said:

“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish, but to fulfill —Matthew 5:17

Our Savior says two very important things in this single verse that are central to our study (and also especially to any New Testament study). First He says that He did not come to abolish the Law (meaning the legal section of the Torah that Jews often call the Law of Moses), nor did He come to abolish the Prophets (meaning He didn’t come to discard or change what Yehoveh proclaimed would eventually occur regarding Israel’s future and mankind’s redemptive history). Second, He repeats (for emphasis, apparently) that while His purpose and mission isn’t to abolish, His purpose is to fulfill the biblical legal code as well as the many ancient prophecies of Scripture (especially as pertains to Him).

Many, many times I have talked about this passage (and the next three verses that further cement what I am about to tell you). I have explained to you that the sense of the word “fulfill” is not to “end” something (not to eradicate or stop something), which is the way we typically and erroneously explain what most denominations offer. Let me quote for you Webster’s New World College Dictionary as to the meaning of the word “fulfill.” 1) To carry out something that has been promised. 2) To obey. 3) To fill all the requirements. 4) To satisfy all the conditions. All four of these various definitions of “fulfill” are generally in line with what the Greek word that’s being translated (pleroo) intended. A 5th definition is offered and it’s to “complete or end” in the sense of finish writing a term paper, or deciding that your family is large enough so won’t have any more children. If you complete a term paper and turn it in, you haven’t abolished your term paper or the requirement to have one. The arrival of the last child you intend on having (or “completing your family”) certainly doesn’t mean that you have abolished your older children or discarded them in favor of something or someone else.

So just as He so plainly said, Christ didn’t end the biblical legal code; He obeyed it. Yeshua didn’t erase and discard the Laws of Moses; He carried them out to their ultimate purpose and accomplished every requirement. So was Jesus a legalist? Should we accuse Messiah Yeshua, His disciples, Paul the Apostle and others of legalism because they continued to obey the Law of Moses? Weren’t they “under grace”? Did the grace offered to them collide with their obedience to the Law? If someone is under grace does this, of necessity, separate a person from the obligation of obedience to God’s laws?

Let me ask you another question: are you committing “legalism” because you obey your community’s posted speed limits? Are you committing legalism because you pay your taxes? Are you a slave to the law because you don’t murder people or steal from them?

Here’s the point: the relationship that all disciples of Yeshua have with God is absolutely the result of Yahweh’s laws that are written down in His covenants. At Mt. Sinai the God of Israel established the basis of any relationship we might hope to have with Him, and it includes laws and a justice system that enforces those laws. God established and maintains a legal relationship with the people He redeemed, Israel. And that legal relationship continues with everyone who is spiritually grafted in to Israel: the Church.

Of course what entitles us and obligates us to that legal relationship between God and every member of His Kingdom is our faith and trust in His Son, the Messiah Yeshua. And ironically the legal relationship is formed from a mutual love between God and us, His worshippers. I didn‘t say that Salvation comes to us by following God’s Laws. Under-line that; write over it with a yellow hi-liter. What I am saying is that the legitimacy of Our Savior, Yeshua, indeed was established by His faithfulness to God’s Laws and bringing about what the Prophets foretold.

Let me illustrate another aspect of how it is that as Believers we have agreed to subject ourselves to a way of righteous living that is defined by and expressed in God’s laws and ordinances. As an American citizen living in whatever State you live in, do you have a legal relationship with England? No, you don’t, but if you go there, you will be subject to some of their laws. If you voluntarily become an English citizen (even a dual citizen of the United States and England) then you have established a legal relationship with England and are now subject to all of their laws. You will receive the benefits of that legal system as well as the consequences of violating its laws.

Yeshua is Our Messiah because He met all the biblical legal requirements. That is, He didn’t sin. What is sin? Breaking God’s legal code. Does obeying all of our American laws make you or keep you a citizen? No. Neither does obeying all of God’s laws make you or keep you a citizen of Heaven. But, there are varying degrees of consequences when you don’t obey God’s laws. Generally speaking, God’s grace offered through trust in Jesus mitigates those penalties so that we’re not eternally destroyed.

Now, from a legal standpoint, God has made it clear that He is king over those who He has redeemed. In turn, Israel agreed that God was their king. So those who are redeemed are subject to the laws set down by the king.

Doulos Studies

(I send out messages like this each morning in emails, and if you are interested in receiving them, send me your email address and I will add you—a to the list: Mail List)

I do thank you for your gifts. It is your faithful and continued support that makes these messages possible.

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