Once during a conversation with an adherent to the Hebrew Roots Movement* about how the Law of Moses is past tense he exclaimed, “So you’re saying the Law of Moses is passed? Does that mean I am now free to steal your stuff, or even kill you?” No, it doesn’t mean that. To think that is to fall into a false dichotomy logical fallacy.
The fact that the Law of Moses is past tense is stated all over the NT with many different words, some very strong. “Fulfill,” “until the Seed,” “our schoolmaster until Christ,” “no longer under it,” “not under Law,” “died to the Law,” “released from the Law to serve in a new way,” “changed,” “obsolete,” “ready to disappear,” “abolished,” and more.
How can this be? Jesus stated clearly in Matthew 5:17 that He did not come to abolish the Law, and then backs that up with emphatic statements about the validity of the smallest marks and a warning against not neglecting to teach every little bit of the Law. However, note the words that Jesus contrasts. He does not contrast “abolish” and “observe,” which would imply a continuation of the Law. Instead He contrasts “abolish” and “fulfill,” which implies an end of some kind. There is a bigger picture unfolding here, the coming of a new administration of law altogether, a new kind of law altogether. The law of Moses has not been abolished or “voided” in any way, it has been fulfilled in the purpose of creating new men who love God and love their neighbor, naturally. And this is how…
Laying Down Our Rights – The End of the Law
“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil.” (Matthew 5:38–39a ESV, or “do not resist an evil person” – NASB) See also Luke 6:27-31.
The Law of Moses outlines our rights in cases of wrongdoing. If anyone kills an animal, he shall make it right; life for life. If anyone injures another person, the same shall be done to him; fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, life for life (Leviticus 24:17-22, Exodus 21:24, Deuteronomy 19:15-21). Under the Law we have the right to justice; to limited retaliation. This system keeps sinful men under control by acting as a deterrent, it satisfies the offended and is good and right as the basis of civil law.
This teaching was preached until John the Baptist. Then came Jesus, teaching about the way of the Kingdom of Heaven; the way of the born again people (Luke 16:16). Jesus teaches us not to resist an evil person, not to seek justice for ourselves, not to claim our rights. Yes we have rights! But we are to follow the example of our Master and willingly lay them down, and in so doing, just like our Master, we will overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21).
If, as the HRM asserts, the Law of Moses still applies to born-again citizens of the Kingdom of God today, then this concept of laying down our rights is a problem. On one hand we have large sections of the Law of Moses dealing with civil matters, describing and upholding our rights in great detail. On the other hand, Jesus is teaching us not to prosecute. Placing these commands side by side in a single verse, for example, would be as if, for the sake of argument, Deuteronomy 19:21 really said, “Your eye shall not pity. It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot. But if someone knocks out one of your teeth, let him knock out another and do not bring him before the judge to demand that he lose one of his teeth. (i.e. Do not resist an evil person, give him your coat, etc.)” By combining the command of the Law of Moses and the command of Jesus on the very same topic, we make a contradictory statement.
On the surface it would seem that the teaching of the Kingdom of Heaven contradicts the teaching of the Law of Moses. But this is not the case. It is not that Jesus is teaching a different law, or that the Law of Moses is wrong on this point and He is correcting it. Rather He is showing that the Law of Moses can only go so far. Jesus is pointing out its limitations and showing how the Way of the Kingdom does what the weakness of the Law could not do (Romans 8:3). The power of the Way of the Kingdom picks up where the power of the Law of Moses stops. This is why Jesus says in both Luke and Matthew that the Law and the Prophets were preached until John, but now the Kingdom of God is preached.
This is like a picture of an orange blossom giving way to the orange itself. The orange is the fruit of the blossom. It has the same DNA. The same is true of the new law of the kingdom. It is the fruit of the Law of Moses, coming from the same DNA, but surpasses it in glory and sweetness (Hebrews 8). And like the blossom, the Law of Moses fades into the background, its purpose having been fulfilled.
The Law of Moses can only go as far as the limited mindset of the spiritually dead, fleshly man, which is focused on dos and don’ts and claiming rights. The Law of Moses is targeted at natural, spiritually dead men (Galatians 3:19), and it leaves them as dead as it finds them. The key is this: The Law has no power to change the heart, only to convict. It reveals our sin. In fact, the Law is in partnership with our sin (Romans 7:4-12, esp. 4), pointing out how we cannot, with a fleshly mindset, accomplish the purpose of the Law, which is love (Romans 13:10, Galatians 5:14, etc.). Therefore Paul calls the Law a tutor that instructs us about our sin and our need for a Savior (Galatians 3:24). This is as far as the Law can go, and it is good and right in doing this (Romans 7:12). My friend Eb Roell puts it this way: The Law is a mirror by which we can see our true sinful selves. In it we can see that our faces are dirty. We then turn away from the mirror to wash with water and soap, which is Jesus. Mirrors don’t clean.
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. (Romans 8:5–8 ESV)
What does it mean to have a fleshly mindset? Simply, to think of things according to dos and don’ts and rights. Or, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians 3:3, to think of things as “mere men,[NASB wording]” meaning no better than the natural, fleshly man. For example, if a man is cheated out of a lot of money, then he may take the offender to court (go to law) and sue for repayment and damages. This is his right. Paul addresses this subject in his letter to the Corinthian believers who were exercising their rights to go to law with one another. He criticizes them for not working out their differences with fellow believers. But the deeper criticism comes at the end of his argument, where he expresses the underlying Kingdom-of-God thinking and echoes Jesus’ command to “not resist an evil person.”
To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? (1 Corinthians 6:7 ESV)
Paul is saying that if a person were to go to the courts and win his case, he would still be a loser as a believer. As a child of God he was defeated before the trial even began. Why are the Corinthians suing each other in the first place? Because they have a fleshly mindset. A born-again child of God should be operating in a spiritual mindset. It is better to ignore the offense, lay down our rights, and turn the other cheek. In this we live out Romans 12:21 and overcome evil with good.
The approach of the fleshly mindset to the Scriptures is to comb through them looking for dos and don’ts, proof texts, and loopholes (Titus 3:9). It was the fleshly mindset of the First Century Jewish leaders that had erected legal fences around the Law of Moses to such an extent that even healing a woman sick for 18 years on the Sabbath was scandalous (Luke 13:10-16). What other dangers lurk for those stuck in this mindset today?
Consider how our Lord Jesus laid down His rights. There are many examples, but think of a time at the end of His life. He and His disciples were in the garden and His disciples began to resist arrest. Peter cut off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus commanded them to stop and said that the Father would supply twelve legions of angels if He so desired. That is upwards of 72,000 superhuman troops! This is a powerful statement. Jesus, as the human embodiment of the Creator, had every right to not be wrongly arrested, abused, tortured, and killed. He could have brought an end to the unfolding events with trivial ease. As God, He would not have even needed to use military might. He could have simply and quietly caused His enemies do what He wanted. But that would not have been victory. It would have resulted in a harsh kingdom of serfs ruled by force.
Here is the point: In laying down His rights, He became the Victor over compulsion. He is the Conqueror of a fleshly mindset that can only be controlled externally by rules or force. He has undone the Law of sin and death, which says that if we break the rules we die (which is still true for those who refuse His gift). He has inaugurated a new way, the way of the Kingdom, the way of peace. Instead of ruling humanity by external means–whether that be the force of Law or physical force–He has made a way to make new men–born again men–who, without compulsion, willingly choose good. This is the purpose of the Law fulfilled.
For Christ is the end (Gr. telos) of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4 ESV)
Strong’s Concordance says that telos means, “end, as in point of time marking an end,” or “result of an event or process,” or “purpose, intent, goal.”
The Nature of the Law vs. The Nature of the Kingdom
A perspective focused on law is a mind misled by legalism. Consider the following facetious examples.
Thou shalt not hit your sister with a spoon.
Thou shalt not hit your sister with a fork.
Thou shalt not hit your sister with a rolling pin.
Thou shalt not hit your sister with a dish scrubber.
“Okay, but since I really want to hit my sister, I see by the list that I can hit her with a frying pan, because that is not prohibited.”
Because the focus is on the dos and don’ts, the spirit behind the law is masked by the rule-keeping perspective. I once was in a discussion with some HRM brothers about the woman caught in adultery described in John 8:1-11. Their assertion was that Jesus let the woman off because of a legal technicality. In other words, He was a better lawyer than the woman’s accusers. I argued that He was operating out of a deeper spirit beyond the law–the spirit of forgiveness, self-sacrifice, and reconciliation. When the focus is on law, then everything is seen through legal mechanisms, technicalities, and loopholes. The story’s theme of forgiveness from sin and deliverance from the just requirements of the law is echoed in the parable of the prodigal son where forgiveness is the focus, not the keeping of Deuteronomy 21:18-21 (which stipulates that rebellious sons should be stoned to death), nor in some complex legal technicalities that absolve the father of keeping the law regarding his rebellious son. In both stories, the woman caught in adultery and the prodigal son, the offended party chose to lay down the right of prosecution in order to conquer evil, in order to be a peacemaker. This can be boiled down to one simple concept. The Law cannot allow for mercy. Mercy sets aside the just requirements of the Law. Mercy is what God has shown us, while we were still Law-breakers (sinners) (Romans 5:8)!
The purpose of the gospel is to cause men to be born again and therefore to be made in His image. The purpose of the gospel is not to make us better lawyers.
The mindset of the Kingdom is completely different from the mindset of law. It goes beyond law because it begins where the Law stops. It does what the Law is powerless to do. This is the message of Romans 8.
The central theme of the Kingdom is love–self-sacrificing, giving love. Evil is overcome with good when someone relinquishes his rights for the sake of making peace. God, in His Son, led by example (John 3:16, John 15:13, 1 John 4:9-10, etc.). The contrast between the nature of the Kingdom and the nature of the Law can be illustrated by trying to combine the two. What if two of the Kingdom rules of Jesus such as 1, “Do not resist an evil person” (Matthew 5:39) and 2, “If he takes your shirt give him your coat also” (Matthew 5:40) were enshrined in civil law?
Imagine the following scenario: A woman is walking down the street with a large purse hanging over her shoulder. A man runs up and grabs the purse. She resists his pull and their eyes meet for a second and she yells, “Hey! That’s my purse!” With another tug, the man gets the purse free and runs off. Later that day the thief is caught and the police call the woman in to identify him, which she is easily able to do.
The case goes to court. At the end of the trial, the judge slams down his gavel and gives his judgment, “According to the law you must forgive the man, let him keep your purse, and also give him your diamond bracelet.” Imagine! What kind of law penalizes the victim? This would be unjust for the woman and would encourage men everywhere to steal purses. Finally, while the man would get her purse and her bracelet, he most likely would not get her genuine forgiveness, even though the judge commanded it.
But now consider the scenario according to the nature of the Kingdom. What if, when she looks into the man’s eyes, she cries out, “Wait! What are you doing?” This causes the man to pause and relax his grip on her purse. Then the woman prays inwardly, “Lord Jesus, what would you have me do?” Then what if the woman were able to hear the man’s story and understand what moved him to this desperate act? What if, in light of this knowledge and with heavenly compassion and forgiveness she said, “Take my purse. Oh, and here, take this bracelet too. Please sell it and provide for your needs. I give it to you in Jesus’ name to show you how much He loves you and will care for you if you will turn to Him (repent) and be His child.” Yes, it is still unjust for the woman. But she has the opportunity to voluntarily lay down her rights in order to demonstrate God’s love, in order to overcome evil with good. This sounds crazy, [A critic may argue that my scenario is unrealistic. But there are many examples in history like this, such as Ashley Smith of Atlanta, GA who was able to share the Gospel with her would-be captor. See her book Unlikely Angel: The Untold Story of the Atlanta Hostage Hero. Another favorite is the story of Enrico Dipazzio**.] but this is precisely the kind of thing Jesus did for all of us, only at much greater cost. The Law cannot command this and be just. It is therefore by its very nature powerless to overcome evil. That’s because evil cannot be overcome until someone takes the first step as a peacemaker, and lays down his rights (inferred Kingdom rule 1) and gives of himself (inferred Kingdom rule 2).
The key to the contrast between the nature of the Law and that of the Kingdom is compulsion. The Law cannot justly compel the woman to give up her property, but love can. Love is the law of the Kingdom. The Law of Moses can compel a man to perform acts of righteousness, but it cannot compel him to want it. Love creates a righteous heart which naturally results in acts of righteousness. The Kingdom of God, filled with born again children, produces this fruit naturally. This is why the administration of the Law had to come to an end in the Kingdom of God. That is why it’s administration was only “until John.”
Of course the administration of the Law remains in force for anyone who does not submit to what came “after John,” which is Jesus and His work of Love, for in the end we all will face judgment. It’s the fleshly mindset that makes a man think he is basically a good person and that God will surely acknowledge this in the end. The Law rightfully destroys this delusion, the result being death, which is the true ministry of the Law (2 Corinthians 3:7). Paul calls the Law the ministry of death! In contrast, the new law of the Kingdom results in life, in new creatures, in born-again men.
On the day of the feast to celebrate the giving of the Law of Moses (the Day of Pentecost), the new paradigm of the Kingdom was inaugurated with the “new law” of the Holy Spirit. On that day 3,000 new believers were born again, given new life, and added to the Kingdom. This is in contrast to the day the Law of Moses was given in which 3,000 people were slain. Brother Yun points this out in his book Back to Jerusalem, “The launch of the church brought life and salvation to three thousand people on the very first day, in stark contrast to the introduction of the Old Testament Law, which had brought the death of three thousand people on its first day (Exodus 32:25-28).” Truly this is a vivid example of the “ministry of death” and “condemnation” that Paul writes about in 2 Corinthians 3.
The Law is Fulfilled, Not Voided, Not Contradicted, Not Abolished
It is critical to restate that the Law of Moses has not been contradicted by the teaching of the Kingdom of God. As we can see from each of the “You have heard it said” statements in Matthew 5, all of the moral commands within the Law of Moses such as do not kill, do not lie, do not commit adultery, etc. are not only affirmed, but are strengthened. In fact, the “law” of the Kingdom is stricter than the Law of Moses. Jesus’ words on divorce are a good example.
If a fleshly person is seeking to shirk the “harsh” commands of the Law of Moses by placing himself under the seemingly simpler laws of the Kingdom, he is in for a rude shock. For example, if a person looks at the Beatitudes as a new set of laws to keep, he will soon despair of the impossibility. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God,” is not a command that can be obeyed even by the most sincere. And yet, for the one who is so pure in heart as to see God, he has fulfilled every Law command about not having other gods, adultery, coveting, killing, stealing, lying, and he is busy about loving the foreigner, building a guardrail, and so on…naturally.
The key is that the Beatitudes and the rest of the fulfillment of the Law in genuine love cannot be humanly accomplished by any amount of obedience. It can only be realized as the fruit of God’s spiritual DNA working within a new man, a born again man. It is God who expresses His purity in us after we have died to ourselves. He is actively finishing His work of making us, and the Beatitudes describe the fruit of that work.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV)
It is worthwhile to note that the teachings of Jesus are of a different quality than the black and white, “jot and tittle” of the Law of Moses. Moses was speaking to obstinate children (Galatians 3:19) who needed every little thing tediously enumerated so they wouldn’t find a loophole for themselves. Jesus is speaking to friends (John 15:15) who are filled with His own Spirit, and so He can speak with larger concepts and leave His friends to understand what He was saying. We see this dynamic clearly as the story of Jesus and His disciples unfolds in the Gospels and is punctuated in Acts. For example, I have read HRM discussions where people are arguing about why Jesus only listed a few of the Ten Commandments in Matthew 5, or why He picked the various Law examples that He did. The truth is that He is trusting the born-again ones to be able think and walk in the Spirit and to extend His concepts, because they have ears to hear.
So when my HRM friend says, “There is not one passage of scripture that says that God’s law has been ‘completely fulfilled in Jesus by the making of new men…’” he is choosing not to see the bigger picture at play. What does it mean that the Law and the Prophets were preached until John? Well, it’s not obvious on the very face of it. But the answer unfolds as we take in the entire picture of the Kingdom teaching. In other words, like my college Physics professor used to say, the answer is left “as an exercise for the reader.” Consider Scriptures about the divinity of Jesus. While there are a few that we believers see as black and white, most of the verses we have that speak to His divinity are left for those “who have ears to hear.” For example, the disciples, the ones who are with Him daily ask, “What kind of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey Him?” Jesus didn’t tell them plainly, in black and white, “Hey, stop worrying about the storm. I am God, the One who made the universe, so I can handle this.” The Scriptures give us His actions, and He points to His actions as testimony, because words are cheap. So I am asking my HRM friend to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of the Kingdom of God, and how born-again ones relate to “law” in general. To see that picture is to see why the Law of Moses, with all its minutia, must cease to be over the born-again ones of the Kingdom, while at the same time it shows how the born-again ones walk in complete obedience.
* The Hebrew Roots Movement is based around the idea that the Laws of Moses continue into the New Covenant and are binding on followers of Jesus, just like they were on the Jews.
** There is an amazing story of a WWII-era French-Italian named Enrico Dipazzio.
Walking around a corner, Enrico Dipazzio saw a truck parked outside his carpenter’s shop. Two men were busy loading Enrico’s lumber onto their truck.
He stopped walking and prayed, “Lord Jesus, what would you have me do? Should I call the police?”
The Lord answered Enrico in his heart, “No, show them you love them.”
So Enrico went to the men and helped them to load his lumber onto their truck! When they finished, Enrico asked the men if they liked wine. Of course they did, so he told them to wait because he knew where to find some really good wine. In a few moments Enrico returned with an expensive bottle from his own collection and a loaf of bread.
After they finished their refreshment one of the men said, “Man, you’re a good thief!”
“What makes you say I’m a good thief?” said Enrico.
“Well, because you helped us steal that lumber and you know where to steal the best wine.”
“No, I’m no thief. That was my lumber and that was my wine.”
The two men stared in terror. Who is this guy? Is he insane? Is this a police trap?
Seeing their concern, Enrico said, “Peace. Peace. Everything is okay. Jesus loves you. I love you. I’ll tell you what, you can keep my lumber.”
The two men looked dumbfounded.
Producing some cards from his shirt pocket, Enrico said, “But fellas, would you do something for me? My wife and I have a meeting at this address every Tuesday night. Would you come and hear about this great love that Jesus has for you and for me?”
The two men did come. And they came again and again until they both entered into the Kingdom as born-again children of God. Enrico’s lumber and food was a small price to pay for two souls!
It is interesting to think about Enrico’s prayer and the Lord’s leading, which is an illustration of walking by the Spirit. Would it have been wrong to call the police? I don’t think so. Definitely not if the lumber had belonged to Enrico’s neighbor. Perhaps God’s plan to reach those men could have been for them to be in jail for a while and hear the gospel there, which is a pretty common story. If that were to be the case, then Enrico would surely have had that leading from the Lord. But in this case, Enrico had a perfect opportunity to show love to these men by allowing them to take his shirt and giving them his coat also (Matthew 5:40). Since it was his lumber to do whatever he wanted with, he was free to “spend” it on the opportunity to make brothers of those men. This is an example of a man who lives according to the Spirit and has set his mind on the things of the Spirit (Romans 8:5b). It is a counter example of one who lives by laws and rights; one who lives by the flesh (Romans 8:5a).
Enrico Dipazzio laid down his right to not be robbed. His action was totally unexpected by the thieves and opened their hearts to hear about what kind of God could do this in a man. Enrico took the risk to trust God and overcame their evil intent with the goodness of the Spirit. Clearly Enrico was a son of God and was being made into the image of Christ. Note that these Kingdom of God actions–to give up his rights and spend his own possessions on an evangelistic opportunity–are not even remotely commanded in the Law of Moses. By laying down his rights, Enrico was serving in the newness of the Spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter (Romans 7:6).