Leviticus and Jesus

Leviticus is full of instruction. It contains a labyrinth of laws, many of which we no longer follow. Yet God says, specifically at the end of Leviticus 19 "Keep all my decrees and all my laws and follow them. I am the Lord".  I am currently wearing a cotton/polyester blend T-shirt (v19), I eat medium-rare steak (v26), and the last time I looked in the mirror, I didn't even have a beard to not trim (v27). To make matters worse, if we fast forward to the book of James, it says this: "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (2:10). Uh oh! What are we to do?

To fully understand what's happening, we need to find a Gospel approach to unpack this apparent dilemma.

But First, a word of caution. As soon as we look at Leviticus (or any other part of the Bible) as a holy instruction manual or as a holy scouts guidebook we are supposed to follow, we will miss the Gospel. Every time. Leviticus is a book of moral codes the Israelites were supposed to follow. We have it for posterity, because as much as this law was good (telling the truth is good, not cheating people: also good), this law was a shadow of the reality which is found in Christ (Col 2:17).

In Christ, we in fact have a new law. This new law is not at all like the old law. It's even a new kind of law - not written on stone tablets, but on human hearts. It is the law of Christ; the law of Love. Incidentally, the entire old testament law can be summed up in one command: love your neighbor as yourself. No one can follow it perfectly. And yet, according to the old law, even if you Love your neighbor as yourself consistently and perfectly, yet wear clothing made of two types of material, you have broken the whole law, "For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." - James 2


So while there is some continuity between the old law of sin and death and the new law of Christ, the continuity stops at what we must do in order to be saved. According to the old law, we must follow every last command in order to be saved and offer sacrifices in perpetuity for our failure to follow the law. It's a burden too heavy for us to bear, and the Bible is honest about that. See here for 37 verses about the law. According to the new law, salvation comes through Jesus alone. No amount of striving can save us, and no amount of sacrificing can atone for our failings. It's not even necessary.


Furthermore, Paul writes in Galatians that we have died to the law. Again, the book of Hebrews tells us that the old covenant is obsolete and will soon pass away (8:13). Jesus doesn't therefore just help us keep an old dead law, as some have concluded. Jesus breathes new life into our spiritually dead bodies, which are still enslaved to that old dead law. In giving us this new life, we are not just enabled to follow an old, dead moral code, we are set free from both the law and the consequences of the law. This is the dangerous, beautiful Gospel.

The question we could ask then is: set free into what? If we continue in the ways we were walking before we found this freedom in the gospel, then have we been set free only to enslave ourselves again? No, we have been set free to Love.

But how are we to love? Are there rules? This is where well meaning Christians can slip back into morality mode as they devise do and don't lists for what it means to be loving. Let's not do this here. We have been set free, and we also have a provider who gives us gifts of the spirit for building up and encouraging one another. These gifts of the spirit are the new "rules of engagement" in the new law.
But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. (Romans 7:6)
Try to stop asking "what must I do" for a change, and start asking "What spiritual gifts have I been given, and how can I develop and use them to encourage, build up, support and sharpen the Kingdom of God?" There are many spiritual gifts, but one spirit. Test it out, find your gifts and start using them joyfully for your neighbors, and for your brothers and sisters in Christ. There is no law against doing such things.

But of you find you are doing things that are contrary to what is reasonable, don't be afraid to be brutally honest with yourself about it. You are a new creation, unchained from your past. The gospel allows us to be brutally honest about our failings because the gospel shows us the sheer width and depth of the God's love for us. We can find forgiveness by simply asking. No strings attached. Then, we are free to move on and move up into deeper and deeper relationship with God ... for all eternity.

The dangerous part of course is that some people will abuse this freedom. It is to be expected, but we should not throw away our freedom in Christ just because some people, bent on feeding their own desires, keep themselves chained and salves to the old ways of sin or law keeping. In fact, by throwing away freedom and focusing more on morality, we will invite people to sin all the more since the law was brought in so that trespasses might increase. (Romans 5). So instead of shrinking back and reverting to law when we see people abusing grace, let us preach grace all the more and challenge one another to fully live in an economy of grace, where the abuse of grace cannot survive. Let us overcome evil with good.

I've been asked on a number of occasions about when I "got right with God". My answer is this: I never got right with God. How could I assume that it was possible for me to reconcile myself to God? No amount of striving on my part could accomplish that. But in his mercy, God reconciled me to himself when Jesus died in my place for the consequences of my sins. All I did was recognize it as a fact. I did nothing, and Christ did everything.


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