If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.” ~ Saint Augustine
In my last article, “Half and half Christianity”, I talked about the fact that many people are making up their own version of Christianity by chopping away the uncomfortable or controversial aspects of our faith and, instead, just living out the newfound Religion Of Me.
This isn’t just a little Calvinism vs. Arminianism debate (i.e., something fun to talk about but really doesn’t matter in the long run). When people call themselves Christian but don’t believe in the resurrection of Christ or don’t believe in sin or hell, that is a real problem. Not least for themselves but also for the people they’re running around talking to, giving them a skewered view of Christianity. That article was aimed at people who are professing Christians yet deny key theological concepts of Christianity for whatever reason (in the name of “tolerance”, fear of rejection, etc.)
However, the article also brought forth some intriguing comments from skeptics. They are intriguing because for the past week I have been in a conversation with a guy who claimed that any Christian who does not adhere to the Old Testament’s laws and rituals is essentially “cherry-picking”.
I often make the mistake of believing that people know more about Christianity than they really do. For some reason I tend to assume that most people in America understand a lot of things about Christianity and I have to remind myself this isn’t true. This isn’t a fault of theirs at all. In fact, the idea that not following OT laws is “half and half Christianity” is probably yet another example of where Christianity has fallen, at least in America. We’re becoming more known for trying to put on the “good”, plastic face of perfection via self-righteousness and legalism.
Many Christians have become like the character Shirley on the hit NBC show, “Community”. I love this show to death. It cracks me up because of its random, goofy humor and lack of political correctness. But I’ve noticed how Shirley reminds me of some Christians today. She’s a devout Christian. She is really sweet and talks about Jesus but there is evidence that there is something else brewing beneath the surface. Her outbursts of anger/threats are points of humor in the show because of her generally meek and mild disposition. She has a checkered past that she wishes to hide from her friends. This comes to a head in the season two episode where the group goes out to celebrate one of their member’s 21st birthday. Earlier in the episode, Shirley protests to going to this specific bar and when they reach the door, the bouncer greets her by name and she pretends not to know him. Later, we see why: the bar has photos of its locals hung up all over the wall and there are some embarrassing photos of Shirley where she is clearly hammered-drunk. She begins a quest to tear the photos down and halfway through their outing she literally has a stack of pictures of herself in her hands. Unfortunately for her, her friends have already seen one and playfully tease her about it, but she is absolutely mortified that her perfect image has been sullied.
She is not a malicious person, and she truly is kind and sweet, but she seems to think that doing certain things, or NOT doing certain things, are the essence of her faith. She believes that looking perfect to everyone is of the utmost importance. Christians are like this in a lot of ways. So we don’t cuss, we don’t smoke, we don’t drink beer, we don’t see rated-R movies, we only listen to Christian music, etc., etc. and so that means we must be good, true Christians, right?
I think this kind of thinking projects to non-Christians that Christianity is about what we DO and DON’T do and following “laws” more than anything else. Then it becomes little wonder to me that people are now bringing up the fact that Christians don’t follow the laws of the Old Testament, because they have been exposed to a moralistic, legalist religion rather than real Christianity.
“The god of the universe – the creator of nitrogen and pine needles, galaxies and e-minor – loves us with a radical, unconditional, self-sacrificing love. And what is our typical response? We go to church, sing songs, and try not to cuss.” ~ Francis Chan
So is it really “cherry-picking” to not follow the Old Testament law? Are ALL Christians part of the “Half & half” movement because we don’t adhere to the rituals written there? Simply put… no. I will explain why and will try not to use “Christianese”, religious jargon so that everyone can understand.
The Mosaic Law of the Old Testament does not apply to Christians because Jesus fulfilled all its requirements through living a sinless life and dying on the Cross.
The Old Testament laws were given to a specific group of people (the Israelites) for a certain amount of time (until Christ came). In the OT we see laws about how to please God, how to atone for sin, and some of the laws were written to make the Israelites distinct from the pagan culture they were surrounded by. This is why they were instructed not to cut their beards/hair in certain fashions, or get tattoos or piercings, or wear certain kinds of fabrics together. This is why you see them having to sacrifice their best, purest lamb as atonement for their sins.
These practices were not arbitrary and meaningless. I’ve actually heard it said that they were precursors to what Jesus would accomplish later (blood sacrifice and death). They were necessary rituals for the time.
I’ve talked to a guy, a Christian, who claimed that he followed the laws of the Old Testament and the New Testament. What ensued was a lengthy discussion with me trying to convince him that absolutely no one can follow the Old Testament laws to a “T”, and not only that, but it is unnecessary for Christians to strive to do so. He acknowledged that fact but drew on the New Testament’s concept of God’s grace and mercy when people sin, and how he could repent for his inevitable missteps. It appears he failed to realize that if there is anyone out there right now (any Christian) who claims that they follow the Old Testament law, the Bible says they are obligated to follow the WHOLE thing and get it completely perfect… because if they don’t, they are condemning themselves.
James 2: 10—“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”
This guy also insisted that anyone who becomes a true Christian will want to go get circumcised. He failed to account for verses like this:
Galatians 5: 2-4—“Mark my words! I, Paul, tell you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no value to you at all. Again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.”
The purpose of the Old Testament law is to illustrate that no human being can follow everything in it without faltering, even just once. Even the 10 Commandments can’t be followed to a “T”. We may not have ever murdered someone in the traditional sense, but according to Jesus anyone who has ever said “You fool!” or harbored rage against their neighbor is committing murder in their heart. The 10 Commandments tell us not to lie, and we do that regularly (from “little white lies” to serious whoppers). This standard is IMPOSSIBLE for any normal human being to follow perfectly, which is what God required to satisfy his righteous anger at humanity’s brazen sinfulness. Every “good”, “moral” thing humans did was/is tainted by our sin.
In short, no matter what we do, no matter how many little old ladies we help across the street, it doesn’t matter. We’re cursed. Does that suck? Yeah, it does. Because it means God isn’t impressed with our “works” and He’s still ticked off. To our friends, family, and even to ourselves, we may be considered “nice, sweet” people and by society’s standards we may even be thought of as an “upstanding” citizen. But God’s standards are different than ours. He is holy, perfect, and completely good. Lest we forget the people who think you’re this warm, fuzzy saint are just as sinful and imperfect as you are. It’s like the blind leading the blind, really.
That’s where Jesus comes in. When the Bible says Jesus didn’t come to abolish the Law but fulfill it, he did just that. He did everything that we could never do. He was absolutely sinless and fulfilled God’s requirements for the Old Testament law. To top it all off, he died the death that we all deserve. Everything that needed to be done to satisfy God’s wrath was done on the cross.
Luke 22:20– “After supper, [Jesus] took another cup of wine and said, ‘This wine is the token of God’s new covenant to save you – an agreement sealed with the blood I will pour out for you.'”
Isaiah 53: 5—“But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.”
Through repentance and faith in Jesus, we get to be blameless in God’s eyes. The sins of our past are wiped away. This has absolutely nothing to do with anything we ourselves have done, and everything to do with what he has done.
Romans 10:4—”Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.”
Galatians 2:16—”Know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no one will be justified”
Galatians 3: 13—“Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”
So is it “cherry-picking” when Christians don’t “stone” those caught in adultery or who work on the Sabbath? Let’s look:
John 8: 2-11–“At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger. When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground. At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
“No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
See here that while Jesus shoots down the shady Pharisees, he does tell the adulteress to go and sin no more. He is not saying that what she did isn’t a sin, or down-playing that fact in the least. He clearly acknowledges that, forgives her, and lets her go on her way.
Mark 3: 1-6—“Another time Jesus went into the synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Some of them were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal him on the Sabbath. Jesus said to the man with the shriveled hand, “Stand up in front of everyone.”
Then Jesus asked them, “Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?” But they remained silent.
He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored. Then the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.”
In the above verse we see that Jesus actually becomes angry that the religious community is so wrapped up in looking good and “keeping the law” that they ignore the clear-as-day needs of someone right in front of them. And those very religious leaders (the Pharisees) run out and begin a plot to kill Jesus because of this.
Let’s move onto some of Paul’s writing in the book of Romans:
Romans 14: 1-9—“Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand.
One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God. For none of us lives for ourselves alone, and none of us dies for ourselves alone. If we live, we live for the Lord; and if we die, we die for the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ died and returned to life so that he might be the Lord of both the dead and the living.”
So it is not “half & half” or “cherry-picking” when Christians don’t stone adulterers or people who work on the Sabbath, or when we reach out lovingly to gay people because we recognize they are also created in God’s image. If they had dragged a gay person in front of Jesus instead of an adulteress, does anybody really believe his reaction to the gay person would’ve been different? So if we go by the events taking place in the above verses, we’re clearly following Jesus’ example of love and kindness.
The essence of Christianity is not about “laws”, rules and regulations. It isn’t about elaborate rituals and sacrifices and praying x amount of times a day. It isn’t about beating yourself up if you miss your devotional. It isn’t about not listening to secular music, not cussing, not drinking beer, voting Republican, etc. Moralistic legalism doesn’t change anyone. “Religion” doesn’t change anyone. It’s all about loving God and loving people.
Matthew 22: 35-40– “One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Apologies for the length but I hope I have cleared up some of the questions people had regarding Christians and the Old Testament laws. If I missed anything, let me know.
Why did Jesus heal on the Sabbath?
What does it mean that Christians are not under the law?