Discovering Religion: Episode 18 – God’s Law vs. Christ’s Grace
When asked to describe the basis of morality, most Christians will initially default to the Ten Commandments, given to Moses directly from God. However, upon further investigation one will discover a vast majority of Christians “cherry pick” from God’s other commands found throughout the many Books attributed to Moses.
For example, you would be hard pressed to find a single Christian that supports Leviticus chapter 20 verse 9, which prescribes the death penalty for anyone that curses their mother or father. However, many Christians wholeheartedly agree with what it told just 4 VERSES away, regarding homosexuality. Indeed, this verse is believed in so strongly that Christians use it to deny the liberties of fellow tax-paying, American citizens.
Christians brazenly attempt to “have their cake and eat it too”, by reciting verses, such as Romans 6:14, when trying to distance themselves from parts of the Bible seen to promote crimes against humanity, while in the same breathe proudly championing any Biblical verse that confirms their preconceived notions of moral righteousness. But as we will soon discover, such moral acrobatics not only contradict the clear teachings of Jesus Christ, but serves to negate the very foundation of a Bible-based morality.
Moses dedicated a large portion of his writings to outlining God’s laws and the proper method by which to follow these commands, such as the laws regarding moral behavior, punishment for infractions of the law, and atonement for breaking God’s laws, which usually involved the sacrifice of an animal, grain, or first fruit.
From the story of Cane and Able up to the appearance of Jesus Christ, the act of sacrifice played an integral role in the atonement of sin, and the Bible outlines in great detail the rituals that must be performed in order to successfully absolve one’s wrongdoing.
Leviticus Chapter 1 describes the process of “The Burnt Offering”. Where one must select a goat, sheep, or bull that is without defect, to be slaughtered on the north side of an alter. Next, its blood must be sprinkled on all sides of the alter, then its body is to be cut into pieces, properly washed and arranged in order to be burned. An aroma, Moses claims, is pleasing to the lord.
Leviticus Chapter 2 goes into similar tedious detail regarding the “The Grain Offering”:
“Every grain offering you bring to the LORD must be made without yeast, you are not to burn any yeast or honey in an offering made to the LORD by fire… Season all your grain offerings with salt. Do not leave the salt of the covenant of your God out of your grain offerings; add salt to all your offerings.”
When offering fine flour to the LORD, Leviticus Chapter 2 instructs that one must first pour oil and place incense on it, only then can it be burned. Additional stipulations are given if the grains are baked in an oven, prepared on a griddle, or cooked in a pan.
Highly detailed descriptions of how to perform the rights of sacrifice are also given in:
Leviticus 3, which describes the “Fellowship Offering”. Leviticus 4 details “The Sin Offering”. Leviticus 7 explains “The Guilt Offering”, and as well as prohibits the consumption of dead animals and the drinking of blood.
In addition to these rights of sacrifice, the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy describe a wide range of laws given to Moses by God. Such as those regarding:
The keeping of Slaves and Personal Injuries
Protection of Property and Social Responsibility
Laws of Justice and Mercy
Clean and Unclean Food
Purification After Childbirth
Cleansing From Infectious Skin Diseases
Unlawful Sexual Relations
Punishments for Sin
Going to War
And many more.
In fact, so many laws are detailed throughout these books there is insufficient time to list them all. To an objective viewer, these laws may seem a little out of place in the context of a religious tome intended for spiritual enlightenment. Not to mention God’s comical preoccupation with insignificant details regarding food offerings, which may or may not contain yeast, honey and salt.
Although portions of scripture written by Moses do not convey a strong spiritual message, the sanitation, economic, and social guidelines these books contain are in place for an important reason. God is providing the early Jewish people with instructions on how to maintain a healthy, law-biding society. And through these books, God also dictates his standard of morality, so that we may correctly walk in his ways through our unwavering obeisance to God’s commands.
Before his death, Moses provides one of his final and most important instructions:
“The LORD your God commands you this day to follow these decrees and laws; carefully observe them with all your heart and with all your soul. You have declared this day that the LORD is your God and that you will walk in his ways, that you will keep his decrees, commands and laws, and that you will obey him. “
Yet despite all the moral, social, and dietary laws, the early Jewish people must have found a strict adherence to God’s complicated sacrificial laws to have been a tedious and burdensome task, that is, until Jesus Christ arrived on the scene.
Christian’s believe a little over 2,000 years ago God sent Jesus Christ to redeem the sins of humankind. Apparently, God viewed his policies on sacrifice to be insufficient and in desperate of revision, because God decided to finally do away with His intricate and time-consuming rights of sacrifice by consolidating the future destruction of all animals, grains, and fruits into a single, perfect sacrifice to end all sacrifices.
“And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
“For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.”
However, God seized upon the opportunity to modernize the archaic rituals of atonement by devising an even more barbaric plan, to brutally torture and execute an innocent human being, in accordance with the blood thirsty rituals he was attempting to replace.
“God’s law requires nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”
In fact, Jesus is often compared to a sacrificial animal, in emphasis of this notion. In 1st Corinthians chapter 5 verse 7 Paul claims “Christ, our Passover lamb, has been scarified.” And in John chapter 1 verse 29 Jesus Christ is called “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
As we discussed in episode 3, the purpose of Christ was to re-establish the covenant between God and humankind that was originally broken by Adam in the Garden of Eden.
“For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance – now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.”
We are also explicitly told in Hebrews 10 that through Christ’s sacrifice we have been forgiven and a “sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”
“This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds. Then he adds: ‘Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.’ And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.”
Although God’s plan allowed Jesus to become the new and improved atonement for sin; we must keep in mind, the purpose of Christ was not to redefine the actual meaning of sin. In Matthew Chapter 5 verses 17 and 19 we are told of Christ’ role in God’s Law:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them… Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Matthew 5:17, 19
However, an apparent conflict arises in Romans Chapter 6 verse 14, where Paul claims, “For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.” To understand what Paul means, we must understand the relationship between law and sin, given in 1st John Chapter 3 verse 4: “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” Understanding this relationship is so important, for it becomes clear Paul was not referring to the Mosaic laws of morality, because this relationship designates sin cannot even exist without first having an established law. In other words, one cannot sin by breaking a law if no laws exist. Paul cites this fact in the Romans chapter 4 verse 15: “because law brings wrath. And where there is no law there is no transgression.”
In one of his most iconic speeches, the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus can even be observed reinforcing God’s moral laws that were previously established under Moses, where Jesus expounds on such issues as Murder, Adultery, and Divorce.
In fact, the teachings of Moses are held in such high esteem that throughout the gospels Jesus constantly references the law-giving patriarch in an effort to lend great credibility to his own message.
“If you believed Moses, you would believe me, for he wrote about me.”
John 5: 46
“Has not Moses given you the law? Yet not one of you keeps the law. Why are you trying to kill me?”
John 7: 19
“If they hear not Moses and the prophets they would not be persuade by someone that rose from the dead.”
Luke 16: 31
“They have Moses and the prophets let them hear them.”
Luke 16: 29
“Offer those things that Moses commanded.”
Mark 1: 44
“What did Moses commanded you, is because of the hardness of your hearts.”
Mark 10: 3
“…have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, ‘I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob’?”
Mark 12: 26
“For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.”
Mark 7: 10
“All who curse their father or mother must be put to death. They are guilty of a capital offense.”
It is evident through the very words of Jesus Christ himself that he both fully accepted and revered the commands of Moses.
Therefore, in Romans 6 when Paul claims we are not “under law, but under grace” he is specifically referring to the Old Testament laws of sacrificial atonement, a burden that Jesus, the proclaimed savior of humankind, took upon himself. However, there is some question among Christians as to official stance on certain Jewish traditions, such as Circumcision, Dietary Laws, Feast Days, Work on the Sabbath, and so on.
“Yet, because Moses gave you circumcision (though actually it did not come from Moses, but from the patriarchs), you circumcise a child on the Sabbath.”
John 7: 22
Yet, despite what debate remains about cultural, Jewish observances, which for the purposes of this discussion are irrelevant, the New Testament makes it abundantly clear that Jesus does not abolish God’s pre-established moral laws, but rather, reinforces them, specifically the Mosaic laws of morality found in Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy.
If Christians desire to follow the instructions of Jesus and “be called great in the kingdom of Heaven”, they are morally obligated to refrain from breaking any of the least of God’s commands found in the books of Moses.
“Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Now that we have set the stage by establishing which of God’s laws are pertinent for Christians to follow, we may get a sense of what an American theocracy might look like by examining Islamic countries that follow Sharia law, as many of the moral codes found through the Bible strongly parallel laws found in the Koran.