To Keep or not to Keep?

To Keep or Not to Keep

This was originally a response letter to a brother who is questioning some of the big picture of keeping Old Testament commandments. I de-personalized it and made some references easier for the random reader to understand.

Dear Brother,

First, you didn’t go into much detail to when saying the law was temporary so I won’t go into much detail responding on that point. It sounds like you aren’t really interested in a detail by detail discussion of the theology anyway. So I’ll just mention what came to mind on the topic of the law being temporary.

If someone came to us and said that “everlasting life” is temporary because God changed his mind, would we believe it? Of course not! The Bible speaks of “everlasting life” around 50 times. In the same way, I can’t believe God meant the law to be temporary when He used the language of permanence for it. Around 100 times commandments are called, “perpetual,” “eternal,” “throughout your generations,” “for ever,” and “everlasting.” (Yes, it uses the same Hebrew word for everlasting covenant as for everlasting life.) If the law was temporary, in spite of the permanency language God used, then it stands to reason that “everlasting life” isn’t really everlasting either.

As far as some of the main thrust of your letter, I think you miss something when you set this up as an either or. Either keep the law OR minister to those in need of salvation. However, there are many passages that show that God wants both. For instance (and these are just some of the more obvious ones I could find quickly):

  • Matthew 23:23 Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.
  • Revelation 12:17 And the dragon was wroth with the woman, and went to make war with the remnant of her seed, which keep the commandments of God, and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.
  • Revelation 6:9 And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held:
  • 1 John 3:22 And whatsoever we ask, we receive of him, because we keep his commandments, and do those things that are pleasing in his sight.

I don’t think God looks as this as an either or. Maybe it is easier to see as a parable. A father tells his older children, “Take care of your baby brother and gather all the dirty dishes from around the house while I am gone.” If they leave the baby with soiled diaper crying in his crib while turning the house upside down to find every dish, they have ignored the weightier matters of the law. However, if they spend every moment with the baby and leave the dishes where they sit, they still haven’t obeyed their father. (Though admittedly this is better than ignoring the baby.)

If we pair the Matthew 7 “depart from me” with the Matthew 25 “depart from me,” we see a similar setup. It is possible to do mighty works in feeding the poor, and casting out demons from other’s lives and hear, “depart from me you worker of lawlessness.” It is possible to keep feast days and sabbaths and dietary laws to a tee and hear, “depart from me, you have not cared for the least of these.” God is merciful and I don’t expect that someone who missed some commandments or missed some opportunities to care for the least of these to be included in “depart from me,” but if our attitude is such that we willfully ignore one for the other, then we are in danger.

You asked why some giants of faith, such as Brother Yun, Corrie Ten Boom, and George Mueller have not “discovered these law keeping truths” implying that since they haven’t, God must not be interested in that. The same argument could have been made to Martin Luther. “If salvation by faith is really truth, then why have all the sincere and dedicated giants of the faith both contemporary and past not believed this?” There is no easy answer. We don’t get to know why God chooses a place and time in history to resurrect long lost truth.

We take baptism for repentance for granted now, but when God revived knowledge of that command during the middle ages, it spread like wildfire, because it resonated as truth. The same is true of “Hebrew roots” or whatever name you want to call looking back the commands of God in the Old Testament. The movement is growing at a remarkable rate and in many cases, (I personally know of a dozen or so) these believers came to the conclusion they should be keeping the commandments on their own, simply by studying the Bible. It is hard to explain that as anything other than a move of the Spirit. And it isn’t just a local or national phenomenon. I’ve met or contacted online those with the same testimony who are parts of churches who are turning back to keeping God’s commandments from all over the US, Canada, Australia, Great Britain and African nations as well. I’ve heard of the same thing in China, but don’t have first hand knowledge of it.

I could make my own list of those who do their best to keep the law and are dedicating their lives to the Gospel. Some are “illegally” distributing tracts in China, some have dedicated every spare moment to helping the fatherless and widows in their communities, some have started ministries bent on restoring the relationship between Christians and the Jewish people.

I don’t think there is a "pretense of religion" going on by those who follow Christ, but haven’t yet learned of keeping the law. Remember, Paul encountered sincere believers who hadn’t even heard of the Holy Spirit!

We are all Christ’s servants. If we look to each other, determine who we think is most spiritual, and pattern our walk after them, we will still fall short. There is only one example worthy of followers and that is Christ. We both know that Christ kept the commandments in the law and was still able to have the best ministry imaginable. Paul declares that he kept the law fully, and the culture he was called to minister to was mainly Gentiles. He didn’t think that law keeping was a detriment to his ministry either.

Atheists who get into debate with Christians, often see each other only as endless arguments because that is all they have been exposed to. I am afraid that you have seen only the arguments of the “Hebrew roots” people, but have not walked alongside them to see the whole picture. I wish you would come spend a week with a group of us and get a chance to fellowship and see Christ’s hand in their lives that has led them to where they are. (I’m serious, Feast of Tabernacles is coming up in September and I’d love for you to come hang out with the group I plan to keep it with.)

You wrote,

  • “Therefore, according to you and to your unstated implications, all of them (giants of the faith, persecuted Chinese Christians) are just pretenders who will be told to depart in the end.”

I can’t speak for everyone, but personally, this is not at all what I have heard or believe. Paul appears to say in Romans that “those who have not the law” are judged based on only the parts of the law they inherently knew. Peter said, “the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent.” I am not the judge of whether anyone else has heard a truth and I don’t determine who will receive what revelation when. That is up to God. I do know that I, having had it preached and revealed to me, am accountable to keep the commandments.

Hopefully this helps answer your questions.

May we both hear “well done thou good and faithful servant” on the final day.

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