Travels of a Generic Christian

A Christian shares the joy of his walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.

Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. Do not scoff at prophecies, but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. Stay away from every kind of evil. 1 Thessalonians 5:19-22

Saturday, October 14, 2006

"In Christ" and "Not under the Law": Perfect Consistency

I recently had a revealing conversation with a good friend of mine who is an Adventist pastor. It started by him bringing up that he was going to preach from Colossians 2 in the near future, and that it would be difficult to properly explain this chapter (in which Paul essentially warns against cults). I told him that I like the chapter and am "fired up about it". That got the ball rolling...

We've been good buddies since high school and I hope and pray that we always will be. But, sadly, from the conversation, I came to understand that to most traditional Adventists, there will always be confusion about what it means to be "in Christ" but "not under the law"--as all new covenant Christians should be, according to the Bible (See Romans 6:14-15; Galatians 3:23 and 5:18). Part of this difficulty arises from the fact that most traditional Adventists do not think it is possible, or ever necessary at all as part of doing the will of God, to break a single letter of an old covenant law (one of the 10 commandments) without breaking the principle behind it.

Let me explain: I think everyone would agree to the inverse--that it is possible to break the principle or "spirit" of the law without breaking the letter. For example, most who call themselves Christians would agree that harboring hatred in one's heart breaks the sixth commandment (thou shalt not murder), as explained by Jesus, but that it does not break the letter of the sixth commandment. However, I have yet to meet a traditional Adventist who thinks it possible to break the letter of the old covenant law without breaking the bigger principle behind the law. They don't see how this is possible. And because they don't see how it is possible, the meaning of the phrase "walking in the Spirit" is somewhat confusing to them as well. After all, no situation could ever arise in which it might be necessary to break the letter of the law in order to obey the higher principle or Spirit behind the law. (Of course, with that attitude, why do we need the Spirit if we have the law? Yikes, that's a scary thought!)

I submit to you now two scriptural illustrations that prove that it is not only possible to break the letter of the law without breaking the larger principle behind the law, but that God Himself did it and commanded His people to do it!

Example 1

LETTER OF THE LAW Exodus 20:13 You shall not murder.

THE SPIRIT BEHIND THE LETTER OF THE LAW Matthew 5:21-22 21 “You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ 22 But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment! If you call someone an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse someone, you are in danger of the fires of hell.
1 John 3:15
Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (NASB)


Deuteronomy 7:1-2
"When the LORD thy God shall bring thee into the land whither thou goest to possess it, and hath cast out many nations before thee, the Hittites, and the Girgashites, and the Amorites, and the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, and the Hivites, and the Jebusites, seven nations greater and mightier than thou; 2And when the LORD thy God shall deliver them before thee; thou shalt smite them, and utterly destroy them; thou shalt make no covenant with them, nor shew mercy unto them:" (KJV)

Deuteronomy 20:16-18
“But of the cities of these peoples which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance, you shall let nothing that breathes remain alive, 17 but you shall utterly destroy them: the Hittite and the Amorite and the Canaanite and the Perizzite and the Hivite and the Jebusite, just as the LORD your God has commanded you, 18 lest they teach you to do according to all their abominations which they have done for their gods, and you sin against the LORD your God. (NKJV)

1 Samuel 15
Then Samuel said to Saul, "The LORD sent me to anoint you as king over His people, over Israel; now therefore, listen to the words of the LORD. 2"Thus says the LORD of hosts, 'I will punish Amalek for what he did to Israel, how he set himself against him on the way while he was coming up from Egypt. 3'Now go and strike Amalek and utterly destroy all that he has, and do not spare him; but put to death both man and woman, child and infant, ox and sheep, camel and donkey.'" (NASB)

… and if you continue reading 1 Samuel 15, you find that Saul received a severe rebuke for not completely fulfilling this command.

Can you deny the fact that God commanded genocide (mass murder) in the above cases in violation of the letter (but not the spirit) of the sixth commandment? I can't.

Example 2

LETTER OF THE LAW Exodus 20:4 Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth.

The rest of the second commandment goes on to expand and explain this apparent command against sculpting (which appears to be something of an extension of the first commandment):

5Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them, nor serve them: for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; 6And shewing mercy unto thousands of them that love me, and keep my commandments.

Exodus 25:10, 18-20
10 “Have the people make an Ark of acacia wood—a sacred chest 45 inches long, 27 inches wide, and 27 inches high...
18 Then make two cherubim from hammered gold, and place them on the two ends of the atonement cover. 19 Mold the cherubim on each end of the atonement cover, making it all of one piece of gold. 20 The cherubim will face each other and look down on the atonement cover. With their wings spread above it, they will protect it.


Numbers 21:8-9
Then the LORD said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a standard; and it shall come about, that everyone who is bitten, when he looks at it, he will live." 9And Moses made a bronze serpent and set it on the standard; and it came about, that if a serpent bit any man, when he looked to the bronze serpent, he lived. (NASB)

When I pointed out these examples to my friend, he said that I was "twisting scripture". What have I twisted? I can certainly tell you that if I were an Israelite that happend to have an ability for sculpting and I had just heard the giving of the law and the penalties to go along with it, there's no way I'd ever sculpt an image of any living thing without an explicit command from the Lord to do so!

Interestingly, my Adventist pastor friend was more than ready to admit that the 10 commandments and accompanying old covenant laws were given to "spiritual three year olds". But, for some reason, he seemed unwilling to admit that new covenant believers who are "a royal priesthood, a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9) not "under the law" (Galatians 5:18) may at times be required by the Holy Spirit to follow the above Biblical examples in breaking the letter of the old covenant law for the sake of upholding the greater principle behind the law. In fact, he wouldn't even admit that the examples presented above were, in fact, violations of the letter of the old covenant law. Unfortunately this kind of denial of plain Biblical facts is rampant among Adventists. It has to be in order for Adventism to be self-propagating.

Although it is not an exactly analogous example, we read in the Gospel of John that Jesus bypassed the letter of the law, with regard to the penalty for breaking the law in the case of the woman caught in adultery.

John 8:1-11
Jesus returned to the Mount of Olives, 2 but early the next morning he was back again at the Temple. A crowd soon gathered, and he sat down and taught them. 3 As he was speaking, the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in the act of adultery. They put her in front of the crowd.

4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

The Pharisees were correct about the due penalty for adultery given in the law of Moses. But Jesus, who is greater than the law--having the authority to do so--simply chose to forgive her. And she would be forgiven. The letter of the law of Moses was violated, but the Spirit behind the law was vindicated and glorified.

So you see that it is possible to break the letter of the law without breaking the larger principle behind the law. Unfortunately my generally lucid, critically thinking Adventist pastor friend simply refused to accept these clear Biblical examples laid out above; he thought I was somehow "twisting scripture"--and I suspect that most traditional Adventists would feel the same way--that is, that once we come to faith in Christ we begin keep the law (letter and all) as a manifestation of our faith. (Unfortunately for traditional Adventists, Galatians
3:12 says, "However, the Law is NOT of faith; on the contrary, 'he who practices them shall live by them.'" (NASB) Emphasis supplied. Read it in context here.)

But when you understand that it is somtimes possible to break the letter of the old covenant law (including the ten commandments) without offending the Spirit of the Law, then you know what it means to be "in Christ" but "not under the law". It's very plain and very simple. But until the true possibility that breaking the letter of the law without breaking the Spirit of the Law is acknowledged, there will forever be confusion about the consistency of being "in Christ" but "not under the law".