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The Relationship Of The Spirit-Filled Believer To The Old Covenant And Its Laws and Practices

A chapter from Temples and Tithes


This chapter is a very brief tour of the topic that takes up the rest of the book and lays some foundations for all that follows

The Spirit-filled believer is not under the Law

The terms used are absolute. The New Testament is unequivocal about it. We have been separated from the authority of the Old Covenant in the most radical of ways. The believer has died to the Law (Romans 7:4) is discharged from the Law (Romans 7:6) and is set free from the Law - (Romans 8:1-6). The Law and its demands have been nailed to the cross and taken out of the way. (Colossians 2:13-15)

(Rom 7:6 NRSV) But now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.

The Law does not make us righteous but serves to convict us of sin. It is, at best a tutor to lead us to Christ. Once it has done its job of convicting us of sin and leading us to Christ it is finished with.

(Rom 3:20 NKJV) Therefore by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin.

(Rom 7:7 NRSV) What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet."

(Gal 3:19 NRSV) Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator.

(Gal 3:24-26 NRSV) Therefore the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian, for in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.

Observance of the Law cannot perfect the Spirit-filled believer in holiness. It is never faith + law but from faith to faith.

(Heb 7:19 NRSV) (for the law made nothing perfect); there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.

(Gal 3:1-5 NKJV) O foolish Galatians!... This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?..Therefore He who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you, does He do it by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?;

(Gal 2:16 NRSV) yet we know that a person is justified not by the works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law.

(Gal 5:4-6 NRSV) You who want to be justified by the law have cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

We are sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus and as sons and heirs we enjoy a freedom that is based on direct relationship with our heavenly Father and not on religious fear and punctilious observance of detailed religious regulations.

We are not given a spirit of fear and slavery but of freedom - (Romans 8:14-21) and are not to live in fear and dread of spirits, taboos and legal observances but rather to live in joyous relationship with our "Abba Father". This freedom is an essential part of the gospel and is not to be compromised as Paul says it is for freedom that Christ has set us free, we are not to be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1-11)

This freedom is the responsible freedom of sons. We sons of God through faith in Christ (Galatians 3:26) and we are also sons of Abraham through faith. (Galatians 3:6-9)as sons we are disciplined for righteousness (Hebrews 12:5-13). We do not live under a yoke of fear as slaves do but in a disciplined but essentially loving Father-Son relationship of great freedom.

The Law as a system of religious observances required for righteousness has been torn down by Christ and if we rebuild it we are labeled transgressors.

(Galatians 2:15-21) Some of the things (both Jewish and Gentile) that are no longer required or effective for righteousness include:

The entire burden of the law of Moses including circumcision, diet and all the miscellaneous Laws. (Acts 15: 5-29, 1 Corinthians 7:17-19, Galatians 5:1-11). Observance of days, months, seasons and years (Gal 4:9-11). New moons, festivals, or Sabbaths. (Gal 2:16, Heb 4:1-11). Matters of food or drink (Galatians 2:16, Rom 14:1-6, Mk 7:18-23). Paying religious taxes (Matthew 17:24-28). The offering of animal sacrifices (Hebrews 10:12-18). The Aaronic priesthood / human mediators (Hebrews 4:14-10:18). Ritual washings and cleansings. (Matthew 15:1-20). Categories of clean and unclean foods and clean and unclean persons. (Acts chapters 10,11 and 15) Taboos such as don't handle, don't taste, don't touch! (Col 2:20-23) Severe treatment of the body (Colossians 2:20-23) Worship of angels, mysticism, visions (Colossians 2:18) Self-abasement, self-imposed piety, an exaggerated humility (Col 2:18-20) Imposed celibacy - forbidding marriage (1 Timothy 4:3) Compulsory abstaining from foods (1 Timothy 4:3)

We will spend most of this book looking at the outworking of these practical details in the Christian life.

Those who seek to reinstate the Law or even some of its more major observances as means of attaining righteousness are in big trouble they are:

Transgressors (Galatians 2:15-21)

Under a curse. (Galatians 3:10)

In danger of losing their salvation (Galatians 4:9-11)

Cut off from Christ and have fallen from grace. (Gal 5:1-11)

Preaching another gospel and anathema (Gal 1:6-9)

Some of the most severe language in the New testament is used here and the chapter on holiness will explore why Paul was so concerned about a little bit of circumcision and a few feast days.

The New Covenant

We are under a new agreement with a holy God who places His laws in our hearts and we are to be holy as He is holy. Our obedience is not to of the letter but to of the Spirit. We are not in obedience to laws on stone tablets but to the Holy Spirit who writes the law on our hearts. We are to use grace as a means of attaining perfection and holiness, not as a license to sin. We fulfill the law by obeying the royal law of love in the power of the Holy Spirit.

(2 Cor 3:6 NRSV) who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of letter but of spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.

The new covenant is more glorious than the old - (2 Cor 3:16-18)and brings life and liberty (2 Corinthians 3:16-18). It operates through personal knowledge of Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit and transforms the believer from glory to glory - (2 Corinthians 3:17,18).

The new covenant is written on our hearts - (Hebrews 8:10-12)and in contrast to the performance based Old Covenant it is a covenant of forgiveness of sins.(Hebrews 8:12). However this does not allow us to be slack. The new covenant is holier in that is made in the blood of Jesus Christ - not the blood of bulls and goats and therefore it must be treated much more carefully - (Hebrews 10:29) Grace is given to lead us to righteousness not to allow us to sin - (Romans 6:1-23, 8:1-14)

The Holy Spirit is our teacher under the new covenant - (1 John 2:20,27, 1 Corinthians 2:10-16, John 14:26, Matthew 23:8) and if we love one another in the power of the Holy Spirit we will fulfill the righteous requirements of the Law. (Romans 13:8-10, Matt 22:37-40)

The new covenant is superior to the old conferring upon Spirit-filled believers far greater privileges, status and responsibilities. (Matthew 11:11-13, Eph 2:4-10, Heb 12:18-29)

The Law is holy, righteous and good and useful for instruction in righteousness provided we use a Christo-centric hermeneutic. It is useful for unbelievers to convict them.

We can't just throw the Old Testament away. It is still useful for teaching and for instruction in righteousness (1 Timothy 1:8-11, Matthew 5:17, Romans 7:12, 2 Timothy 3:16). However it is primarily a tool for evangelism to convict unbelievers of God's standards and how far they fall short. It is a tutor to lead us to Christ. It is useful for "murderers and slave-traders" as Paul tells Timothy. It is also "the Bible Jesus read" and Paul uses it constantly in his epistles however he interprets it according to the gospel revealed in Jesus Christ. Therefore we must pass the OT through the cross and not impose its observances on Spirit-filled believers but learn its principles.

However this chapter probably raises as many "but what about" questions as it has just answered and the rest of the book will seek to answer them. First of all we have to look at how the Old Covenant operated using blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. To bring it to a point of understanding I will use tithing as the practical example as we often hear it preached as a source of blessing. Please read on.

This article may be freely reproduced for non-profit ministry purposes but may not be sold in any way. For permission to use articles in your ministry, e-mail the editor, John Edmiston at johned@aibi.ph.