Literally hundreds of Christian churches are found in America. All profess Christ, yet there is little agreement among them regarding doctrine and administration. One church says one thing, and another says the opposite. What is the problem? Why is there such disagreement and inability to understand the Scriptures in the same way?
Jesus promised His disciples that they would know the Truth. He said: ” . . . My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself” (John 7:16-17). “And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). And of that Truth, Jesus said this: ” . . . It is written; Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). What are some of the fundamental reasons Christians disagree over the Truth that Jesus revealed, and why there are so many differing viewpoints?
No Relationship Between the Old and New Testaments
When Jesus said: “. . . Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” what did He mean? He meant that the Old Testament Scriptures must be included in understanding and obeying God’s Truth. The Old Testament Scriptures are Truth. An angel appeared to Daniel the prophet and said: ” . . . I will shew thee that which is noted in the scripture of truth . . . ” (Dan 10:21). There was no New Testament written at this time; this is why Daniel was told was that the Old Testament Scriptures are Truth. Yet many professing Christian today discard or almost completely discard the Old Testament Scriptures. They see no relationship between the Old and New Testaments. Yet who was the One who spoke these inspired Scriptures? The answer: None other than Jesus Christ Himself. The Apostle Paul said so. “Moreover, brethren, I would not that ye should be ignorant, how that all our fathers were under the cloud, and all passed through the sea; And were all baptized unto Moses in the cloud and in the sea; And did all eat the same spiritual meat; And did all drink the same spiritual drink: for they drank of that spiritual Rock that followed them: and that Rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:1-4). Jesus Christ was the Rock of the Old Testament-the God of the Old Testament!
The notion that Christ came to “do away” with the Old Testament is sheer folly. He said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill [Gk. fill full]. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18). Heaven and earth are still here, and so is God’s Law. Christ came to expand the law, to raise it to a spiritual level. “The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it [glorious]” (Isa. 42:21).
If Christ came to do away with the Old Testament, so that it has no relationship for us today, why did He say: “Ye have heard that it was said by them of old time, Thou shalt not kill; and whosoever shall kill shall be in danger of the judgment: But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment . . . ” (Matt. 5:21-22)? The fact is: When Christ magnified the law, He raised it to a spiritual level so that even hating one’s brother is as bad as killing him. This same amplification of the law is shown in verses 27-28, 31-32, 33-34, 38-39, and 43-44. In each case the letter of the law required during the Old Testament period was expanded to a spiritual level and accountability. Now one is not only held accountable for an act, but for the attitude behind that act. This is why Christ said: “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19). This text does not mean that those who impugn the Law of God will be in the Kingdom of Heaven, but will be called the least by those that are there.
Jesus Taught Spiritual Obedience Only
Martin Luther advocated this teaching. The quote below was taken from the website ourworld.compuserve.com/ and reflects the teaching of most Protestant churches. In a modern paraphrase on Luther’s Works for the Old Man-Grace for the New, we read the following.
When we think of righteousness, we think of such things as obeying the laws of our government, following the rules taught by our parents and teachers, and keeping the Ten Commandments.
But there is a type of righteousness that is above all these; it is the righteousness of faith — Christian righteousness. Not only is it different from these, it is completely opposite to them.
The first type of righteousness consists of our works (Let’s call it “works-righteousness”), and may be accomplished by our own strength or by God’s strength working in us. There is nothing wrong with works-righteousness. In fact, it is a gift of God.
But Christian righteousness is different; it is passive. We do nothing to obtain it. We receive it from God by just allowing Him to do the work.
While both these types of righteousness, active works-righteousness and passive Christian-righteousness, are good, the Christian must strictly keep each one in its own territory.
Christian righteousness must rule the new man, the spiritual man, while the righteousness of the law must rule the old man, the flesh . . . . The righteousness of the law is earthly and by it we do good works. But no matter how well we keep it, it has no eternal value unless we first possess Christian righteousness, which is heavenly and passive. Again, we do not earn Christian righteousness; we simply receive it by faith from heaven.
Is there nothing we can do for this heavenly righteousness? No work at all?
I answer: Nothing at all. For the nature of this righteousness is to do nothing, to hear nothing, to know nothing whatsoever of the law or of works, but only to know and to believe this: that Christ has gone to the Father, that he is our high priest entreating for us and reigning over us in grace.
Based on what he had experienced in the Catholic Church, Luther was so antagonistic toward the idea that works were required for Christian believers he rejected sections of the Bible. He dismissed the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelation. He regarded the book of James as an “epistle of straw.” Nor did Luther have much regard for the Old Testament, viewing the book of Job as an “argument of a fable.” Also, he wanted no part of the book of Esther or the book of Jonah. And, he thought that both Paul’s and Peter’s books were better than the first three gospels.
Luther held the view that all one needed to do to achieve salvation was to read and study John’s gospel, the books of Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, and the first Epistle of Peter. To him the Bible was full of flagrant contradictions, yet he insisted that it represented the sole principle of faith. He dismissed many of the New Testament books because they disagreed with his own idea of works versus grace.
The quoted sections above clearly reveal that according to Luther Christians really need only to obey “spiritually,” which meant doing nothing except to believe. No wonder Luther rejected the first three gospels. How could he argue against Jesus statement that man shall live by every word of God? (Matt. 4:4) Luther’s view required him to neglect John 10:35, which states the Scriptures cannot be broken, that is, they do not contradict. By rejecting these texts Luther clearly revealed how little he really understood about the Scriptures and the requirements for salvation.
Jesus said this in John 6:63: “It is the spirit that quickeneth; the flesh profiteth nothing: the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life” (John 6:63). What Jesus meant was the letter of the law, practiced by ancient Israel, was inadequate because only the Spirit of God could bring about a change of the heart and mind. This is why the Apostle Paul said of ancient Israel: “But with many of them God was not well pleased: for they were overthrown in the wilderness” (1 Cor. 10:5).
There is a relationship between obedience and righteousness, and the need for God’s Spirit. “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.” (Rom. 8:3-4). Can one obey the Law of God spiritually while at the same time disregarding it physically? To truly obey God, the heart and mind must reflect the spiritual intent of the law. Therefore, it would be impossible to keep the law spiritually while violating it physically. One could not murder his fellow man without harboring hatred in his heart. Execution of criminals does not meet these criteria because God is the one who established the death penalty. Consider this: Can one “keep the Sabbath spiritually” while at the same time breaking it physically? Hardly. The problem during the Old Testament period was that the Israelites did not have access to the Spirit of God, and, therefore, were unable to keep the law in heart and mind. The entire lesson from the Old Testament illustrates Israel’s failure to live up to what is required. It is an object lesson for us today (1 Cor. 10:11). The Apostle Paul explains why physical obedience only is bound to fail.
Here is what the Apostle Paul wrote:
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people. (Heb. 8:7-10)
“For he is not a Jew, which is one outwardly; neither is that circumcision, which is outward in the flesh: But he is a Jew, which is one inwardly; and circumcision is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God” (Rom. 2:28-29). An examination of Matthew 5:21, 27, 31, 33, 38, and 43 clearly demonstrate that obedience to the spiritual law requires obedience to the physical law. This is because the spiritual intent of the law is based upon the letter of the law.
When Martin Luther spoke of the “righteousness of faith,” he referred to passive righteousness. He rejected the book of James because of these words:
What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him? If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food, And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit? Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone. Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” (Jas. 2:14-20)
So what did Luther really do? He picked and chose Scriptures that seemed to agree with his views, and then rejected the clear cut Scriptures that stated the opposite. In brief, to avoid making the Scriptures contradict his view, he discarded the books that disagreed with him!
No Need to Keep What is Not Commanded in New Testament
Since some have accepted the idea that Jesus taught “spiritual obedience” only, the corollary is that there is no need to keep anything not directly commanded in the New Testament. Yet all the Ten Commandments are found in the New Testament. The last five are found in Romans 13:9, the first two commandments are found in Matthew 4:10 and 1 John 5:21. The third commandment is found in 1 Timothy 6:1, and the fourth is found in Hebrews 4:9. The word “rest” in this verse is from the Greek word sabbatismos and means a “keeping of the Sabbath.” The fifth commandment is found in Matthew 19:19.
Keep in mind that Israel during the Old Testament period was a theocracy. The Ten Commandments were the basis for that theocracy, and since the Holy Spirit was not yet given, direct laws or commandments were necessary. The New Testament Church is a spiritual organism, not a theocratic state. There is no civil government to enforce the Ten Commandments. New Testament obedience to the Law of God comes from the heart and mind. The whole purpose of Old Testament law was to lead men to Christ-to bring about a change of heart and mind whereby men would desire to keep the Commandments of God. Today converted Christians are the “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16).
During the Old Testament period, the Holy Spirit worked with the prophets, but it was not in them as an earnest or down payment. To enable Christians to obey God from the heart, the Holy Spirit was given on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4). The Apostle Paul wrote: “For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). David, a man of God’s own heart, one who had the Holy Spirit with him, said: “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart” (Ps. 40:8). David had this to say after his sin with Bathsheba. “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts: and in the hidden part thou shalt make me to know wisdom . . . . Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps. 51:6, 10). David knew that true obedience to God came from within and could not be accomplished by offerings sacrifices or conforming to a physically law.
Those who believe that we need not obey what is not commanded in the New Testament need to take a closer look. Jesus said man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. To repeat: This word includes the Old Testament Scriptures, which, in the Bible, is called the Scripture of Truth (Dan. 10:21). At the time Jesus gave His instruction there was no New Testament, so He specifically referred to the Old Testament Scriptures. As noted earlier in this article, Jesus said: “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matt. 5:17-18). He magnified and expanded the law to a spiritual level. The law, outlined in the Old Testament, is the basis for New Testament obedience. An examination of the Sermon on the Mount will quickly verify this.
Paul Freed Us from the Jewish Yoke
This reason, a corollary to the one above, is often used to convince Christians that they need not obey anything in the Old Testament. The Old Testament is regarded as “Jewish” and does not apply to Christians. Nothing could be farther from the truth. The first Christians were from the Jewish community of Palestine, immersed in Jewish dogma. Christ was a Jew. His criticism of the Jewish leaders was because they had substituted the traditions of men in place of the Scriptures. At that time the only Scriptures were those of the Old Testament. The Apostle Paul, a Jew, trained in the learned schools of Judaism, had advanced to a high position within the religion of the Pharisees. When he was struck down on the road to Damascus, and Christ revealed, he became a changed man overnight. He then went to Arabia where he was taught by Christ (Gal. 1:15-17), and after three years went up to Jerusalem to confer with the Apostles. He compared the gospel he had received from Christ with that of the Apostles (vv. 18-19) and was given the hand of fellowship (Gal. 2: 9). Paul said: “But contrariwise, when they saw that the gospel of the uncircumcision was committed unto me, as the gospel of the circumcision was unto Peter; (For he that wrought effectually in Peter to the apostleship of the circumcision, the same was mighty in me toward the Gentiles)” (Gal. 2:7-8).
The fact is: The gospel that Paul was commissioned to preach to the Gentiles was the same as that preached to the Jews. Christian converts of the Dispersion were both Jewish and Gentile. Paul did not require the Gentiles to be circumcised or offer sacrifices. The only Jewish requirements placed upon the Gentiles was the need to observe certain customs, such as avoiding pollutions of idols (i.e., meat sacrificed to idols), committing fornication (a part of heathen worship), eating animals that had been strangled, and eating blood (Acts 15:20-21). These customs were observed by Jewish synagogues in the Gentile world, and the book of Acts shows that most Gentile converts of the Dispersion attended Jewish synagogues. To not have observed these customs would have caused intense turmoil in the Christian churches of the Dispersion. Christianity for many years could be truly labeled as Judaistic-Christianity.
The Jewish yoke Peter referred to in Acts 15:10 was the requirement to be circumcised and to keep the Law of Moses. This required offering sacrifices (v. 5). After the crucifixion of Christ, both Jewish and Gentile Christians were not required to offer sacrifices, and there is no record that any did. The sacrifice of Christ was the supreme sacrifice made for the sins of the world, and the sacrifice of animals was no longer necessary.
The Matthew Henry Commentary states in Acts 15:1-5
Many of the Jews, who embraced the faith of Christ, yet continued very zealous for the law, Acts 21:20. They knew it was from God and its authority was sacred, valued it for its antiquity, had been bred up in the observance of it, and it is probable had been often devoutly affected in their attendance on these observances; they therefore kept them up after they were by baptism admitted into the Christian church, kept up the distinction of meats, and used the ceremonial purifyings from ceremonial pollutions, attend the temple service, and celebrated the feasts of the Jews. Herein they were connived at, because the prejudices of education are not to be overcome all at once, and in a few years the mistake would be effectually rectified by the destruction of the temple and the total dissolution of the Jewish church, by which the observance of the Mosaic ritual would become utterly impracticable. But it did not suffice them that they were herein indulged themselves; they must have the Gentile converts brought under the same obligations. Note, There is a strange proneness in us to make our opinion and practice a rule and a law to every body else, to judge of all about us by our standard, and to conclude that because we do well all do wrong that do not just as we do. (From Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: New Modern Edition, Electronic Database. Copyright © 1991 by Hendrickson Publishers, Inc.)
This is why the Apostle Paul wrote: “But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us” (Heb. 9:11-12). The Jewish yoke is often referred to as “the curse of the law,” so that when we were “freed from the Jewish yoke” we were also freed from “the curse of the law.” The question we need to ask is this: What is the curse of the law? Is it the law itself, or does this refer to something else? The Bible tells us. We read in Deuteronomy 27:26: “Cursed be he that confirmeth not all the words of this law to do them. And all the people shall say, Amen” (Deut. 27:26). According to the Bible the curse of the law was the refusal to keep the law, not the law itself. Paul explains further: “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree” (Gal. 3:13 and Deut. 21:22-23). In Hebrews 8:7-8 Paul explained the problem with the Old Testament and why it was necessary for Christ to bring the New Covenant.
But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people” (Heb. 8:6-10).
Because the people of Israel were unable to keep the law, they were under a curse. For certain infractions of that law, that curse was death. What Christ freed us of was the curse, not the law. The Law of God is forever: “The works of his hands are verity and judgment; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness” (Ps. 111:7-8).
We Are Saved by Grace, Not by Works
The argument often leveled against those who believe in obeying God’s commandments is this: “We are saved by grace, not by works; works are not of faith.” Many do not understand the meaning of the word grace. Grace refers to the favor and kindness of God without regard or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that person deserves. Grace refers to undeserved acceptance and love of God which provides salvation to the sinner. Grace, therefore, does not give license to disobey God. Here is how the Apostle Paul describes it: “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Being justified [the guilty passed erased] freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus . . . . Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law”(Rom. 3:23-24, 31). “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?” (Rom. 6:1-2) “But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)” (Eph. 2:4-5). But look what Jude wrote: “For there are certain men crept in unawares, who were before of old ordained to this condemnation, ungodly men, turning the grace of our God into lasciviousness [license to do evil], and denying the only Lord God, and our Lord Jesus Christ” (Jude 4).
It is true that one cannot be justified, that is, have his guilty passed erased, by works. “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). The purpose of the law is to reveal sin. If one decides to keep the law, this will not erase his guilty past. Only the shed blood of Christ can do that. But once one repents, can he continue in sin? Absolutely not! This is why Paul wrote that we are justified [guilty passed erased] by the grace of God-His undeserved, unmerited pardon upon our repentance. Only the shed blood of Jesus Christ can justify [erase] our guilty past. “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him” (Rom. 5:9). “But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Gal. 3:11). Faith is believing in Christ and accepting His sacrifice for our individual sins.
“But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law. For they stumbled at that stumbling stone” (Rom. 9:31-32). That stumbling stone was Jesus Christ- the One the Jews rejected. “Brethren, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. For Christ is the [aim or purpose] of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth” (Rom. 10:1-4). “But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5).
Jesus taught the “Tail- end” of Judaism
This notion touts the idea that the Bible teaches “progressive revelation,” that is, the latest Scriptural writings in chronological time order are the most important and the ones to follow. Their view is that since there were many writers who added to the Canon after the time of Christ, the Gospels do not reflect the latest revelation. Therefore, the Gospels represent the “tail-end” of Judaism. The writings of the Apostles Paul and John should be highly valued, especially those of John since he was the last of the New Testament writers. So what Christ taught during His ministry should be generally disregarded.
This idea that Jesus represented the “tail-end of Judaism is completely fallacious. The entire teaching on the Sermon on the Mount repudiates this notion. This Sermon on the Mount is the heart and core of Christianity. Christ quoted sections of the Old Testament law and elevated it to a spiritual level. To repeat, the prophet Isaiah said that Christ would do this very thing. “The LORD is well pleased for his righteousness’ sake; he will magnify the law, and make it honorable” (Isa. 42:21). Honorable indeed! Jesus taught that one is held accountable not only for the letter of the law, but for the intent of the heart and mind.
Jesus made the following facts clear: “He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my words, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48). He told His disciples: “He that heareth you heareth me; and he that despiseth you despiseth me; and he that despiseth me despiseth him that sent me” (Luke 10:16). When Jesus said that man must live by every word of God, He referred to both the Old and New Testament Scriptures. . Jesus was God (1 John 5:20, Titus 2:13, 1 Tim. 3:16, 2 Pet. 1:1). The last part of 1 Peter 1:1 should read, “through the righteousness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.” Therefore, the words He spoke during His ministry were the words of God.
The reason the teachings of Jesus are largely rejected by the notion that He taught the tail-end of Judaism is an unwillingness to accept what Christ taught-the need to keep the Commandments of God. Those who advocate holding to the writings of the Apostle Paul do so because, as Peter wrote, Paul’s writings are difficult to understand (2 Pet. 3:16). In this way they can interpret them to suit themselves, thus believing what they want to believe. The Apostle John is a convenient choice because he emphasized “love.” Since all Christians have to do is “to have love,” there is no need to really obey God’s Word. Little do they realize that the Bible definition of love is keeping God’s Law (1 John 3:4).
To the Christian who truly wants to obey God and live by His every word, the above reasons for misunderstanding the Bible will be recognized for what they are. True Christians will practice what was done by those of Berea. “These were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts 17:11).