Hebrews 8v8-13 (quoting Jer 31v31-34)
"The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they did not remain faithful to my covenant, and I turned away from them, declares the Lord.
This is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord. I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.
No longer will they teach their neighbors, or say to one another, 'Know the Lord,' because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest.
For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more."
By calling this covenant "new," he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
'Obsolete' is a very strong word. I've looked into it and the Greek word used here is also a strong word which kind of suggests 'redundant through old age'. The word translated 'outdated' here has more or less the same connotations. By using both words together, the author of Hebrews is really pushing his point home - the Old Covenant is no more, you are not bound by it, you do not need it.
So why do we have the Old Testament in our bibles today? A couple of times in the teaching from 'The Meeting House' (who I may have mentioned before) they assert that the story of the Old Testament is kind of like a history of what doesn't work. Its (apparently) a bit like an alcoholics anonymous programme, where before you get to discussing the things that do work, very often the group discusses all the things they've tried that don't work. So we need the Old Testament as a warning, showing us the sort of thinking and lifestyle and decisions that do not work.But, we are not bound by it. The laws in there do not apply to us. We live by grace, not by law.
So, does that mean we can do what we want? Fundamentally yes! If our hearts are right, having been written on by God, we won't want wrong things.
If only it were that easy though, 'what about our "sinful nature"?' I hear you cry. We're not perfect yet. OK, yes, things aren't that straightforward, but that doesn't need we need to return to law-based living. We have been freed from that 'burden'.
If you think about the amazing statement from Hebrews (and Jeremiah) above, and then look at the teaching and attitudes of much of the church, you'll realise that we are not living as God intended. There's still an awful lot of law in our Church. Sometimes it looks as if someone decided 'we no longer need those laws, what we really need are these new laws...'
No! Jesus died 'once for all' to get rid of all that!
A quick aside: The clearest example of the legalist mentality in the church in my experience came when I was 13. It was Christmas 1983 and the present that 13 year-old boys most wanted was the Sinclair ZX Spectrum. Stocks were limited, most of us that wanted them didn't actually get them in time for Christmas (mine arrived in January), but one of my friends (from a good, well respected, Christian family) got one on Christmas day. A Sunday. The sabbath. The day on which any form of TV watching was forbidden in his house. And in those days you needed to plug the Spectrum into a TV to use it. So he was given the thing he most wanted in the world, and then was told he had to wait until the following day to use it, because of the rules. Law, not grace. You could give and recieve presents on the sabbath and play with them - unless they involved switching on a TV...
So what's the deal with the old laws? Why did God give them?
Well, this is an imperfect analogy, but its the best I can offer...
I have a 6 year old daughter. I have imposed two 'laws' on her with regard to sleeping. She is to go to bed before 8pm and is not to get up until after 7am. The reason I have done this is that I know (although she does not) that if she doesn't have about 11 hours of sleep at night, she'll be too tired to get the most out of the day that follows and will often get grumpy and upset - with no apparent cause. Now, there is nothing special or magical about 8pm or 7am, but those are just the best times that fit our household lifestyle. Furthermore, these 'laws' will undoubtedly change as she gets older (and needs less sleep), and ultimately I hope she will learn the value of sleep and will begin to self-regulate her sleeping, such that no laws from me are needed anymore. It will take time and growth in maturity for her to internalise the principle, but she will get there one day.
In general terms, I see the same in the Old Covenant laws. There are a great many principles that the people of God need to internalise, but once we have - once they're written on our hearts - then we no longer need the laws, many of which draw lines in the sand that do not correlate to 'special' or 'magical' standards.
For example, there are laws in the OT clearly prohibiting inter-racial marriage. Not only would we reject that today (OK, not everyone would), but even in the context of the OT we see grace rather than law at work there - look at Rahab, look at Ruth, notice how they both feature in the genealogy of King David and ultimately in the genealogy of Jesus. The principal was there for a purpose - to preserve the uniqueness of the people of God - but sometimes the law needed broken (or disregarded) in God's plan. Even Moses - the law giver - had a non-Jewish wife!
So, once you've internalised the essence of the law, you can disregard the written law and even, in some instances, do the opposite of what it actually says because you realise that it doesn't apply in this situation. Don't work on the sabbath, but if you're a doctor and you see someone injured on the sabbath the right thing would be to attend to their needs, and disregard the law.
And we have internalised some of the principles, but we (by which I mean Christians) still have laws that are supplemental to the laws of the countries in which we live. We still haven't fully got it.
So, many of us are free and easy with sabbath observance (yes, we take a day off at least one day in seven, but I did drive about 20 miles in total yesterday (Sunday) and I did go to a supermarket and buy food for dinner. Most of us are dismissive of dietary laws (many of which were quite sensible before fridges and freezers were invented, but are obsolete now) and laws regarding what we wear. But we are still rigidly adherent to the letter of the law on some issues, particularly with regard to sexuality. That was the point of my last post, and I'll re-address the issue in another one soon.
Feel free to say 'yes, but...' now: