The Law and the New Covenant Believer



The law has been a contentious issue among believers for hundreds of years. How we, as New Covenant believers, relate to the Law and how the Law relates to us is very important. There is a balance that we need to achieve between legalism (that is, seeking to be justified by the Law) and lawlessness (that is, not having any law or a false idea of liberty that leads to transgression of the Law).

The misunderstanding of the Apostle Paul’s writings have led many into both legalism and lawlessness. So, the first thing we need to see is the heart of Paul concerning the Law.

Acts 24:14 – “But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the Mighty One of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets:”

Paul is speaking to governor Felix. The conversation took place after most, if not all, of Paul’s epistles were written. He tells Felix that he believes all things written in the Law.

The Greek word translated “believing” in this verse is the same Greek word translated “believes” in John 3:16 – For [Yahweh] so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” The word is “pistyoo-o” and it means, “to have faith (in, upon, or with respect to, a person or thing); to entrust (esp. one’s spiritual well-being to Messiah)”. In other words, Paul is saying that he has faith in and trusts in all things written in the Old Covenant Law; the same kind of faith and trust he has in Messiah, but not for the same reason. Paul’s faith was not in the Law to save him, as it was in Messiah, but he had faith and trust in the Old Covenant Law to keep him on the straight and narrow path.

Paul understood the words of David, in Psalm 19, that the law of Yahweh would convert his soul; that Yahweh’s testimonies or Ten Commandments would make him wise; that Yahweh’s statutes would bring rejoicing to his heart; and that Yahweh’s commandments would enlighten his eyes.

Two years after his meeting with Felix, Paul met with Festus. Let’s turn to Acts 25:7-8 to see how Paul defended himself.

” And when he was come, the Jews which came down from Jerusalem stood round about, and laid many and grievous complaints against Paul, which they could not prove. While he answered for himself, Neither against the law of the Jews, neither against the temple, nor yet against Caesar, have I offended any thing at all.”

Paul said he did not “offend” any point of the law of the Jews (that is, the Old Covenant Law). In case you’re questioning if the law of the Jews is the Old Covenant Law, several times in the New Testament it says, “the Jews’ Passover”, or “the Jews’ Feast of Tabernacles”, or the “Jews’ preparation day”. These days were not Jewish, but commandments of the Almighty. So, the law of the Jews’ is a reference to the law of Yahweh and not to laws devised by the Jews.

The Greek word for “offended” is the same Greek word commonly translated “sin” or “transgress”. Paul says he did not sin against any point of Old Covenant law. Bear in mind that he said this towards the end of his life.

Now, the question arises, “how can it be that Paul did not sin against any Old Covenant Law? The answer is simple. He believed all things written in the law and he obeyed all things written in the law, just like Abraham, as it says in Genesis 26:4,5;

“And I will make thy seed to multiply as the stars of heaven, and will give unto thy seed all these countries; and in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.”

Both men lived by faith. Both were justified by faith, and both obeyed the law.

Let’s turn to 1 Timothy 1:8-10 to see how Paul instructed Timothy concerning the Law.

“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine;”

The law is good, if a man use it lawfully. To obey the law, is to use it lawfully. To disobey the law is to use it unlawfully and it is contrary to sound doctrine. Obedience to the law is sound doctrine. When Paul says “the law is not made for a righteous man . . .,” we can understand this better with a modern analogy. The United States has a law that prohibits people from murdering others. Who was that law made for? It was made for murders. The “righteous” American citizen would not do such a thing, but those with no morality would. The same holds true for any law. Laws are made to clarify unacceptable behavior and to hopefully deter it. The same is true of the Almighty’s laws. When we destroy His law codes, we open the door for unacceptable behavior to become acceptable behavior. Sabbath desecration was unacceptable in Messiah’s day, but now it is acceptable to work on Sabbath because Christianity has destroyed that law. Eating swine’s flesh was unacceptable in the mind of Yahweh for thousands of years, but now it is acceptable because ignorant teachers have destroyed Yahweh’s law. They have made void the law, a concept the Apostle Paul tried to prevent in his discourse on faith. Romans 3:31 reads:

“Do we then make void the law through faith? [Yahweh] forbid: yea, we establish the law.”

The same problem existed in David’s day prompting him to write,

“It is time for thee, Yahweh, to work: for they have made void thy law” (Psalm 119:126).

Let’s diverge for a moment to read a few passages from James that will help to understand some of Paul’s writings.

James 1:22-25 – “For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. But whoso looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

What is the perfect law of liberty? First, Psalm 19 says the Law of Yahweh is perfect. It is a perfect law. Secondly, James 2:8-12 tells us what the perfect law of liberty is.

“If you fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself, you do well: But if you have respect to persons, you commit sin, and are convinced of the law as transgressors. For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill. Now if you commit no adultery, yet if you kill, you are become a transgressor of the law. So speak you, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”

The law of verses 8-11 is the Old Covenant law. In verse 8, James is quoting the second greatest commandment which is actually an Old Covenant commandment found in Leviticus 19:18. In verse 9, the law he is referring to is the Old Covenant law. Verse 10 is often used by those opposed to obeying the Old Covenant laws. They say, “if you break one law you’ve broken them all, so why even try to keep the law?” So verse 10 is also speaking of the Old Covenant law. Of course, verse 11 is quoting two of the Ten Commandments which are also Old Covenant laws. In verse 12, James is saying that people are going to be judged by that same law. So, in order to receive a good judgment, speak and do according to those laws.

Paul said the same thing in Romans 2:12,13, “For as many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law: and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law; For not the hearers of the law are just before the Mighty One, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” Not that the law justifies us. We are justified by grace through faith. However, a saving faith will be evidenced by good works, among which include obedience to the law.

Why does James call the Old Covenant law “the law of liberty”? Well, there are two reasons. The first has to do with obedience. When the law is lawfully used, when it is obeyed through the motivation of love without seeking to be justified or saved by it, we walk at liberty.

Let’s look at Galatians 5:13-16;

 “For, brethren, you have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. But if you bite and devour one another, take heed that you be not consumed one of another. This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

Paul then goes on to list the works of the flesh in vss. 19-21, all of which are transgressions against Old Covenant law. However, if we obey the law through the Spirit and through love, the law cannot put us in bondage. If we walk in the Spirit, we walk in freedom and liberty.

Now, if we transgress the law and sin, the second reason why the Old Covenant law is the perfect law of liberty comes into play. It has to do with what Paul said to the Galatians in 3:24, “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Messiah, that we might be justified by faith.”

In other words, one of the functions of the law was to lead us to Messiah in order to be liberated from sin. Our disobedience to the law drives us to Messiah and to freedom and liberty from sin through him. We were once imprisoned on death row because of our transgressions against the law. But now, the law has led us to Messiah and liberty. Once we are free from sin, Messiah then drives us back to obedience to the law through faith. We become doers of the word, or as Paul says, “doers of the law”, and not hearers only.

How do we know Yeshua is driving us back to obedience to the law through faith? Once again, Romans 3: 30,31 says;

“Seeing it is one Mighty One, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. Do we then make void the law through faith? The Mighty One forbid: yea, we establish the law.”

Why is the law being firmly established? Because Messiah is driving us back to obedience to it. This verse is a direct contradiction of the doctrine that the law is abolished. I’ll address more about faith and grace a little later.

Now let’s get back to James 1:22-25 and reread those verses with understanding.

“But be you doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves. For if any be a hearer of the word, and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a glass: For he beholds himself, and goes his way, and straightway forgets what manner of man he was. But whoso looks into the perfect law of liberty, and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed in his deed.”

James is saying the Old Covenant law (which, incidentally, Jeremiah prophesied would be written in our hearts as part of the New Covenant) is like a mirror. When you look into the mirror of the law and have failed to obey the law, you see the filth of sin on your face. Some people see their filth and walk away failing to wash away the filth. Others are driven to Messiah for a thorough washing away of sin.

Now, here is the tricky part. What happens if you look into the mirror of the law , but the mirror is broken? And right where you should be seeing the filth of Sabbath desecration on your face, you see nothing because the law is no longer there. It was broken off the mirror. If you have been transgressing the Sabbath and then look into the mirror of the law and you don’t see your sin because the Sabbath law has been broken off, then you will ignorantly go your way and fail to wash away the filth.

1 John 3:4 says, “sin is the transgression of the law” and Romans 3:20 says, “by the law is the knowledge of sin.” If you remove any particular law, you remove your knowledge of sin when you break that law. If, for example, Christianity was teaching, “Thou shalt not commit adultery” was abolished and you committed adultery, you would not have sinned because there is no law against it. Over the course of time adultery would become acceptable. We see this happening today concerning homosexuality. Christianity is becoming more liberal in accepting homosexual ministers and homosexuality in general. This is causing that abominable practice to become more and more acceptable in the eyes of society.

What is Satan’s primary objective? To get us to sin or transgress the law so he can accuse us before the Almighty. He hates commandment keepers. Revelation 12:17 says, “And the dragon (Satan) was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of the Mighty One, and have the testimony of Yeshua Messiah.”

Posing as an angel of light, Satan has managed to remove the Sabbath, Feast days, and dietary laws from the law. He has broken the mirror so the majority of Christians don’t know they are sinning. Yet, if we will look into the perfect, unbroken mirror of the law, and continue therein, being a doer of the law, we will be blessed indeed. And through obedience to the law, we will maintain our freedom from sin.

2 Corinthians 3:1-18 – This is a favorite passage of antinomians or those opposed to the Law of Yahweh. Paul begins by edifying the Corinthian believers. He says the Corinthians themselves are epistles or letters. They are living epistles. The Old Testament Scriptures are like an epistle from Yahweh. That epistle was made flesh in the person of Yeshua. He is the living word or the living epistle. All believers should be living epistles. One of the most powerful ways to witness the good news or to witness the Torah is to live it or to be a living epistle to the unbelievers around us.

However, our epistle cannot be written on our hearts simply by reading the Word or reading the letter of the Ten Commandments. We cannot just have a head knowledge of the Sabbath, for example, and begin obeying it. It must be written on our hearts by the Spirit, as it says in verse 3. That Spirit is revealed to us, in vss.14-18, as the Spirit of Messiah or the Spirit of the Master Yeshua.

Ezekiel 36:26,27 tells us about this.

“A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and you shall keep my judgments, and do them.”

It is the Spirit that causes us to keep the Sabbath, for example. It should not be our own flesh that causes this.

Now let’s look at verses 7-9 in 2 Corinthians 3;

“But if the ministration of death, written and engraved in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not steadfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? For if the ministration of condemnation be glory, much more doth the ministration of righteousness exceed in glory.”

What is the “ministration of death, written and engraved on stone” that caused the face of Moses to shine? Let’s look at the original account in Exodus 34:29-33;

“And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses’ hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that Yahweh had spoken with him in mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a veil on his face.”

The Ten Commandments and all the other commandments that Yahweh had spoken were so glorious that they caused Moses’ face to shine, so much so that he had to veil his face.

So, in other words, “the ministration of death” is not only the Ten Commandments, but all of Yahweh’s commandments that comprised the Old Covenant. The Old Covenant is identified as “written and engraven on stone” because the Ten Commandments were the heart of the Old Covenant.

In verse 7, the italicized word “glory” is not in the Greek text. The addition of the word “glory” leads one to believe it was the glory that was done away with. The translators undoubtedly added the word glory to prevent the reader from erroneously believing the Ten Commandments were done away with.

What Paul is really saying in verse 7 is that the Old Covenant is done away. The Greek word for “done away” means to become entirely idle, cease, be abolished, or vanish away. Hebrews 8:13 says the same thing;

“In that he says, a new covenant, he has made the first old. Now that which decays and waxes old is ready to vanish away.”

Paul is saying the Old Covenant is a ministration of death and condemnation, but something else was to replace it; the ministration of the Spirit and of righteousness. This is the New Covenant which is far more glorious than the Old Covenant because it is established on better promises, a better priesthood, a better sacrifice, and a better way of administering the covenant itself. The Old Covenant was administered through the letter. The New Covenant is administered through the Spirit. The Old Covenant law was written on stones and scrolls. The New Covenant law is written on our hearts. However, the Law of Yahweh cannot be written on a person’s heart until their veil of blindness is removed through the acceptance of Yeshua the Messiah as one’s Master and Savior.

Paul dealt with the issue of the Old and New Covenants in Galatians 4:21-31 as well. He teaches the Galatians the same thing he taught the Corinthians; that the Old Covenant is to be “cast out”. We are children of the freewoman or the New Covenant, not the bondwoman or the Old Covenant.

Please do not misunderstand. The Old Covenant law was not “cast out.” The Old Covenant itself was. The law, however, was written on the hearts of those entering the New Covenant.

Now, let’s look at faith. The common teaching is that, now that faith has come we are no longer required to obey the Old Covenant laws. We saw, in Romans 3:31, that the law has not been made void through faith, but established through faith. Faith is not something new that replaces the law.

Let’s look at Matthew 23:23.

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”

In addition to obeying tithing laws and other less weightier laws, Old Covenant participants were required to do the weightier matters of the law; judgment, mercy, and faith. Faith is actually a pillar of the law, not its replacement.

Envision, if you will, an inverted pyramid. (An upside down pyramid). At the very bottom of the pyramid, at its point, is love, upon which the entire law has its foundation. Right above love is judgment, mercy, and faith. Above those three are the Ten Commandments, and above them, all other Old Covenant laws, except, of course, those laws that were fulfilled by Messiah like animal sacrifices.

This is why Paul said, “love is the fulfilling of the law.” This is why Paul said the law is established through faith. And this is why Paul said in Romans 8:4, “That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

When a person obeys the law, he fulfills the righteousness inherent in the law. The law has a righteousness because it is founded on love; love for Yahweh and love for one’s neighbor. Those living under the Old Covenant were living life after the flesh and they approached the law as if it were an upright pyramid with love at the top. They tried to keep every commandment from the bottom up in the flesh and never made it to the weightier matters of the law.

Now that Yeshua has come and we have the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we can begin to fulfill the righteousness of the law through the Spirit by beginning at the foundation, love, and working our way up through faith, through mercy, through righteous judgment and then onto the laws of lesser weight.

Romans 8:6-8. – “For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against the Mighty One: for it is not subject to the law of the Mighty One, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please the Mighty One.”

What Paul is saying here is, the carnal mind, or the mind of a person who is living after the flesh, cannot be subordinate to or obedient to the law of Yahweh and therefore, cannot please Yahweh. However, those who walk after the Spirit can and will submit to Yahweh’s laws and will, therefore, please Him by their obedience.

Romans 7:14 says, ” For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin.”

Some people have this backwards. They believe the law is carnal and they are so spiritual. It takes a person walking in the Spirit to obey a spiritual law. The flesh simply can’t do it. The flesh of a New Covenant believer, or the old man, or the old nature, has been crucified with Messiah. The flesh is dead. The carnal mind is dead. Now we can live after the Spirit. Now we can submit to Yahweh’s laws. Now we can fulfill the greatest commandment; to love Yahweh with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. How? 1 John 5:3, “For this is the love of [Yahweh], that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous.”

I would like to conclude by addressing the issue of grace. Again, the common teaching is that we no longer have to obey the Old Covenant law, because we are under grace. This teaching is primarily arrived at by a misunderstanding of Romans 6:14; “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.”

What is sin? “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4). Let’s repeat this passage in Romans substituting the definition of sin for the word “sin”. “For your transgressions against the law shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.” Verse 15, “What then? Shall we transgress the law because we are not under the law, but under grace? [Yahweh] forbid!” In other words, we must not transgress the law because we are under grace. We must obey the law, especially now that the law has been firmly established through faith.

Romans 6:16-18 – “Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But the Mighty One be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.”

What is righteousness? Deuteronomy 6:25 – “And it shall be our righteousness, if we observe to do all these commandments before Yahweh our Mighty One, as He has commanded us.” And Psalm 119:172 – “My tongue shall speak of thy word: for all thy commandments are righteousness.”

There is a righteousness inherent in the law. It is not the kind of righteousness that leads to salvation or justification, but the kind of righteousness that leads to a holy, set apart, sanctified life.

1 Corinthians 15:34 says, “Awake to righteousness and sin not.” “Awake to righteousness and do not transgress the law.”

Grace exists because the law has been broken. Grace is imparted because the law exists. Look at Romans 6:1,2 – “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? [Yahweh] forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?”

Shall we continue to transgress the law so that grace may abound? Yahweh forbid! Paul is saying that even though grace abounds, sin still exists. That means the law still exists!

Grace doesn’t replace the law. It simply removes the penalty or condemnation for broken laws.

President Bush has the power to pardon a murderer on death row. He extends unmerited grace to the murderer and sets him free. Can or should the murderer then commit murder again so that grace may abound? How do you think President Bush would feel if a murderer he set free by grace committed murder again?

Yeshua died because of our transgressions against Yahweh’s Holy law. He died for our adulteries; for our Sabbath desecrations; for our thefts; for our consumption of abominable swine’s flesh, etc. We cannot continue to transgress these laws because we are under grace. We are, however, expected and required to obey these laws through faith, unto righteousness.

I would like to close with Yeshua’s words in Matthew 5:17-20 – “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.

There are many things yet to be fulfilled. In the meantime, the law will continue to exist. May we all learn to use it lawfully.

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