- Do Gentiles have to become Jews?
- Do Christians have to follow the Law?
Some said Yes. Some said No.
When push came to shove, folks seemed to generally align in 2 camps:
Live Jewish and keep the Law as a prerequisite to being Christian
Live according to the leading of Spirit in the Freedom of Christ - whether previously Jewish or not.
The watershed for this choice was seen starkly around circumcision:
- if you were non-Jewish, did you get circumcised?
- if you were Jewish, did you encourage non-Jewish believers to get circumcised?
Under pressure to deal with this issue, the (Jewish) Christian leaders realized that folks didn't have to become Jewish to follow Jesus, but they felt the need to add a few caveats for acceptable behavior from non-Jews, a compromise, if you will:
abstain from food polluted by idols,
from sexual immorality,
from the meat of strangled animals
and from blood
To see read this story for yourself, see Acts 15.
I don't know how much these decision-maker(s) were in the will of God to choose this path, or not. It seems to me this ruling was made from CONCEPTS/pictures/hooks of the most onerous, unacceptable and un-Jewish behavior; these became the guidelines for non-Jews... But whatever, that is what was decided.
Notice, these are the only rules the Jewish leadership asked the non-Jewish Christians to follow. This is important to note, IMO, in the context of modern Christianity:
- not all the Law,
- not the 10 commandments,
- just 4 rules...
BUT as experience clearly shows, from that day til this, there continues to be struggle within Christianity on this point: the Law. Most folks take some kind of middle ground... which i find sad.
Paul was a Major advocate for Freedom, Grace, Living by Spirit, not by Law; for ALL being welcome to live in Christ, not just Jewish people. I really appreciate the place that Paul evolved to about this question. A LOT of what he wrote touches on this issue, because his ministry was TO the non-Jews... that would be almost all Christians, these days!
When I was finally brought to an understanding of this, back in college, my reading of the NT letters, changed. It all made a lot more sense to me. For those not aware of this information, perhaps this distinction will be useful for you as well.
For example, the entire book of Galatians revolves on this issue.
And it contains one of my favorite verses in the bible:
Paul invests almost the whole book saying WHY we are free from the Law, to live by Spirit of Life, in Grace, and then says in chapter 5:1:
It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.
Stand firm, then,
and do not let yourselves be burdened again
by a yoke of slavery.
From my perspective, and Paul makes clear - we have to CHOOSE:
live by LAW or live by SPIRIT;
as children or as mature, spiritual adults;
as slaves or as heirs...
Humanly, by the flesh/body living by the Law is ridiculously impossible!
On this point, I highly recommend the hilarious and insightful book by AJ Jacobs on this subject: 'The Year of Living Biblically' is about his quest to live the ultimate biblical life, to live under the Law. To follow every single rule in the Bible – as literally as possible.
So, we Must live by the Spirit...
BUT, from the flesh, from our physical point of view, we CAN NOT live by Spirit. It makes no sense to our intellect or our everyday experience, and it doesn't WORK to TRY or theorize about living as Spirit. Most Christians don't even have a useful concept about what living by Spirit MEANS.
TRYING from a physical perspective, to live a spiritual life, to live as as Christ lived, has been proven for at least 2,000 years, to not work.
I believe Chopra covers this untenable situation well in 'The Third Jesus', where he focuses on Jesus as the cosmic Christ who speaks to us who want to find God as a personal experience, to attain what some might call Grace, or God-consciousness.
SO, it is my strong opinion:
from a body-focused / flesh / intellectual perspective we cannot live by Law
... AND we cannot live by Grace.
What is to be done, then, to live as a disciple of Christ???
The church has tried to solve this paradox by pretending it doesn't exist.
Christianity has invested the last 2,000 years in trying to find some middle ground, to live by Law AND Grace, to live by Flesh AND Spirit.
From my perspective this is a ridiculous and offensive undermining of Jesus mighty gifts to us.
This makes for a toothless spirituality, a domesticated Christianity, a relationship to/with Jesus that is shackled by earthbound concepts and mundane limitations.
Do I feel strongly about this? You BET! Because there is a spiritual LIFE beyond the necrophilia that is preached as Christianity every Sunday.
Jesus had little patience with folks who pointed always to the flesh and not to Spirit! Jesus was all about the Kingdom of God, not the ways of people, religion, physical-focus; in the bible this often seen in Jesus interaction with the Pharisees.
If you want to see focus on the Law differently than we have been programmed about, falsely;
and let go of 'Jesus meek and mild' that we have been taught in Sunday school, I suggest doing a study on Jesus' relationship with the pharisees. Here is one source: I recommend skipping all the commentary and going 2/3 down the page to the listed verses.
Jesus' answer to this paradox of Law and Spirit was very different from ours.
HE constantly pointed to living as spirit, in spiritual reality: the Kingdom (Reign) of God/Heaven.
Jesus did not trip on the flesh, he did not trip on the LAW:
he operated Spiritually and exhorted us to do the same!
Jesus incessant focus, his core message was The KINGDOM: the Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom of God.
I believe the use of this translation ‘Kingdom’ diverts us from the truth with which Jesus was so committed to enlightening us.
I believe Young’s Literal Translation gives a much better picture for us about what he is pointing to. Let me give an example:
For Luke 17:20-21, the King James version, and most other translations, say something like this:
And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you.
But look how Young's Literal Translation translates the same verse:
And having been questioned by the Pharisees, when the reign of God doth come, he answered them, and said, 'The reign of God doth not come with observation; nor shall they say, Lo, here; or lo, there; for lo, the reign of God is within you.'
It is difficult to speak about the Kingdom/Reign of God - it is all too easy to be misunderstood. Many believe we are ALREADY on the path of Life; but for most of us, the FRUIT in our life seems to say otherwise.
The WAY of the Kingdom/Reign of God, as Jesus lived and taught, goes through a Death of the body, the flesh and physical-focus; and Awakening to True, Abundant Life and spiritual focus. The FRUIT of this process is very clear, in the fruit we see: are we living the life of Christ in us?
Jesus invested most of his ministry as 'a finger pointing at the moon' on this subject of the Reign of Heaven, by utilizing parables. At the same time, he actually taught his disciples spiritually, to LIVE and to ACT in the Reign of God: and they taught others, and the world caught on FIRE. But mostly we are left with the archeological remains of this fire - dry bones of The Way of Christ, with no LIFE in them.
Fortunately there are some with a spiritual perspective, and the Spirit of God is, of course, unstoppable. I have been blessed to find a path that serves me in this process and I have experienced this process watching and supporting many others. I pray that each of us does not STOP, until we each find our unique pathway to LIVING the Abundant Life that God has promised us; a life of ripening and spiritual fruition.
May we each leverage the Freedom that Jesus provides us, to live in Spirit an Abundantly Fruitful Life. If you need assistance or resources, Ask and Receive.
Want to read more, about the process of growing up - learning to walk spiritually?