I’ve been told, “but the moral law still applies”. I’ve heard many times the Old Testament had moral law, ceremonial law, and civil or judicial law (punishment for sins). Judicial law is no longer needed because Jesus took the punishment on the cross. Ceremonial law is no longer needed because Jesus was the perfect offering, the sacrifice that took our place. Moral law is the same before and after the cross because God doesn’t change his mind on right from wrong. Have you been told this as well?
Did you know that this teaching is not from the bible? The belief that the Old Testament had moral, ceremonial, and judicial law is called the tripartite theology of law. It’s a medieval era Catholic Church teaching that is still taught in the Catholic Church today. It has carried over into many Protestant churches as well and is applied in social expectations throughout Christian culture (ex. “You’re not supposed to do _______ because Leviticus says _______.”). Introduced in the 1200s by famous theologian and highly influential Catholic priest, Thomas Aquinas, this theology was his personal opinion on the relevancy of the law and the different categories of law. Earlier theologians such as Augustine (354-430AD) had similar perspectives on the law being dividable and its relevancy for Christians as moral guidance. Martin Luther (1483-1546), John Calvin (1509-1564), and John Wesley (1703-1791) all brought similar theologies into Protestantism. This begs the question: Does this theology align with scripture?
The Old Testament made no division of moral, ceremonial, or civil/judicial when teaching the law. What does the New Testament say? What did Jesus say? What did the apostles teach in the early church? Let’s take a look at the scriptures.
“Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished. (NASB)
Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (NIV)
Now He said to them, “These are My words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things which are written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” (NASB)
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (NIV)
“Therefore, my friends, I want you to know that through Jesus the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you. Through him everyone who believes is set free from every sin, a justification you were not able to obtain under the law of Moses. (NIV)
Acts chapter 15 particularly verses 5, 10-11, and 19
Verse 5: But some of the sect of the Pharisees who had believed stood up, saying, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to direct them to observe the Law of Moses.” (NASB)
Verse 10-11: Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we are saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, in the same way as they also are.” (NASB)
Verse 19: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God. (NIV)
For no one is declared righteous before him by the works of the law, for through the law comes the knowledge of sin. But now apart from the law the righteousness of God (although it is attested by the law and the prophets) has been disclosed— namely, the righteousness of God through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. But they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (NET)
For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. (NASB)
For Christ is the end of the law [it leads to Him and its purpose is fulfilled in Him], for [granting] righteousness to everyone who believes [in Him as Savior]. (AMP)
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (NIV)
But the scripture imprisoned everything under sin so that the promise could be given—because of the faithfulness of Jesus Christ—to those who believe. Now before faith came we were held in custody under the law, being kept as prisoners until the coming faith would be revealed. Thus the law had become our guardian until Christ, so that we could be declared righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (NET)
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. (NIV)
The Old Testament promised a savior. Jesus came and bore the cross for us. He fulfilled the promise. He fulfilled what was spoken about him. We are under the law no more. We are under grace now, living in a new covenant. Commanded to love God and love others, this should be what we live out.
The Old Testament is still a sacred text. There is certainly wisdom in the Old Testament. There is the history of God’s people. There is encouragement and inspiration. I find it important to read and understand. There is right from wrong, good from bad. It is in the New Testament that we come to a greater understanding of righteousness and holiness. The commandments and the righteous guidelines of morality are summed up in the New Testament’s greatest commands to love God and love your neighbors. Do no harm. Love others. Such is righteousness. Love is our moral compass.
I do not remember when I was first taught this tripartite theology of law. I know it was early on after my conversion to Christianity. I accepted it as truth because it made sense in my youthful understanding of righteousness and grace. I was taught bondage. Christ revealed freedom to me. There is liberty to be had in letting Jesus cover what he is supposed to cover and staying on the path that is intended for those following Jesus. There is protection in not straying into olden ways. Random verses from the Old Testament books of the law, particularly Leviticus, are often still taught as mandates in conservative circles. These cherry picked verses are scattered among fields of gospel and New Testament principles, littering our walk with God and causing us to stumble. They are ball and chains we drag along as we pick up our cross and carry it. We consider these things sin and willingly take on extra yokes to carry on our necks as if more yokes award boasting rights of self-sacrifice and religious dedication. When these random verses are thrown at people like weapons, people justify it by calling it moral law. This does not match scripture.
Christians need to let go of Old Testament law. It’s legalism. It’s bondage. Unbound – that’s what we are intended to be when we are under the cross. Let go of legalism. Stop cherry picking from the books of the law. Stop chaining yourself with unnecessary yokes as religious dedication. Stop holding it over the head of anyone living exclusively in the New Testament that you don’t do x y z because blah blah blah. That’s the kind of thing the snobbish Pharisees would do. Stop threatening people with damnation if they commit an Old Testament abomination. Stop. This is not the liberty in Christ we are supposed to receive. This is not liberty. It’s legalism, and it needs to be called out. Walk away from it. Don’t be held in bondage to the law before Jesus took the cross. We are free in Christ. The teachings of the New Testament are enough. We need not add to it or take away from it or chain it down with yokes impossible to bear.
Faith . . . Grace . . . Righteousness . . . Liberty . . . Love . . .
Be free from legalism
In Christ alone
Welcome to blog 4 in the series on my faith journey.
Click here to read the first 3 if you’d like.
Part 1: My Journey
Part 2: Why I Was Atheist: Reflections of a Christian Convert
Part 3: Why and How I Became Christian
Nearly 14 years have passed since I became a believer. I’m still here. I’ve seen many leave or lose the faith. I’ve seen people who were raised in church with all the right religious upbringing wilt because they had no roots of their own. I’ve heard it said you can’t go to heaven on your grandma’s apron strings. I’ve seen people be grafted in who come from all walks of life, often rough backgrounds where they found themselves crying out for God in the midst of their darkness. Even ministers and leaders have dried up and disappeared. I’ve seen devout Christians become atheist. And here I am: the atheist turned Christian. Why? Why am I still here despite all the problems within Christianity? Quite simply, Jesus.
Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.
That’s why I’m here. I’m here because of who he is. I’m here because of who I am in him and the way I’ve grown in him. I’m here because he’s been good to me. His people aren’t always good to others, but He is.
I’m here because I crave his presence. I crave the peace that comes from being near him. I crave understanding his word. I crave Him. It’s not a casual love. I love him deeply.
God is always there for me. That might sound silly or cliché, but he is the one I reach out to in the middle of my rough times. And he is the one I praise in the good times. And he is the one I put my trust in, knowing that things may not turn out the way I want them to but he is with me no matter what.
I’ve felt his presence. I can never walk away from that.
I’ve seen his power.
I’ve seen miracles. I’ve seen God do the impossible. I've seen lives be transformed. I’ve seen healings that science can’t explain. I myself have had healing in my body several times in ways that no logical explanation can cover. My church has an abundance of testimonies of healings. They are real. They aren’t just stories. I know many of these people. God still heals.
He is my healer.
He is my comforter.
It’s his name I cry out when I am in despair. Jesus. Jesus. Jesus. To be vulnerable, it’s his name I literally cry out when I have panic attacks. Jesus. JESUS. Jesus. Come here. Come to me. Stay with me. Don’t leave me. I need to feel your presence. I need your peace. It’s his name I cling to when my anxiety is bad. It’s him who I fall at the feet of when depression takes hold of me. I’ve known darkness. I’ve known the depths of suffocation. I’ve had more than my share of demons. I’ve battled tremendous anxiety that made me suicidal. For years I battled, and He kept me going. He was always with me in the fire. It’s so different than darkness was when I was atheist or agnostic. That darkness had a coldness to it that words can’t utter. Struggling with dark things like depression, anxiety, grief, trauma, heartache, hopelessness….. it’s very different as a Christian. The darkness is there, but the light is always with me. I may feel surrounded, but he comes into those spaces and wraps his arms around me. I do believe he fights for me. I absolutely believe he protects me. I am his. He brings his light into even the darkest of nights. That doesn’t mean that real Christians don’t go through dark places in life. It means that we won’t be alone when we do. He’s not afraid to come into whatever your darkness is. He’ll walk with you through fire. He’ll protect you from the flames.
He is my Jehovah Jireh. He is my Way Maker. When he hasn’t made a way yet, he’s with me in the waiting room.
He loves me despite my imperfections, my brokenness, my darkness, my flaws, my sin, my shortcomings. He knows my scars and every wound and the depths of my darkest times; yet he still wants me. That’s a powerful love.
I know him and I want to be with him. Sometimes it’s really that simple. Through the good times and the bad times and the hurt times and the hopefulness and the brokenness and the blessings, I want to be connected to God. Through the frustration with his people, I still want to follow him. Through the heartaches of life, I still talk to him.
We all have seasons of growth. Some seasons I am closer to him. Other seasons he seems far. I am not a perfect follower. I am sassy and stubborn. I can be rebellious. I question everything. But my love for God has never faded. My understanding has evolved. I’ve gone through times of confusion. I’ve traveled through deep forests of seeking truth in the fog. I’ve had revelations and breakthroughs. I’ve had stumbling blocks. At times I am more of an ambitious student of the scriptures than at other times. But my roots in Christ are so deep nothing can tear me away.
In a way, it’s much like family. It’s a choice to believe in God. It’s a choice to follow Jesus. It’s a choice to want to be connected to Him. It’s a choice to be dedicated. And I choose it daily. No regrets. Not once have I ever regretted being a Jesus follower.
I want to know him. I want to be with him. I want to learn from him. I want to understand his word and his will. I want to walk with him. I want to be in his presence. I want to stay in the light. I want to be like him. I simply and deeply and truly want Jesus. I love Jesus. And that is why I’m still Christian.
That may sound like an overly simple answer, but love is a powerful force. I love Jesus, and I’m not walking away from him no matter how hard the Christian walk gets. I’m here to stay.
My conversion was a slow one. I spent a long time thinking things over and exploring. It wasn’t like a person shared the gospel with me and I accepted it on the spot. Seeds take time to grow.
I explored a bunch of different religions. I stayed pretty solid in my atheism. I’m a science and logic person. I don’t believe in things I cannot see, experience, or analyze.
READ part 2 of this blog series: Why I was atheist
I felt drawn to explore Christianity. I had explored other religions. This wasn’t much of a different approach. This was a major religion. This was also the religion and its people that fueled my atheism. I thought I could prove it wrong. It wasn’t logical to me.
I had a Christian friend I asked questions to. I had a million questions. I wanted to understand. I was heavily skeptical. I pondered these thoughts for months. I tried reading the bible to understand this Christianity thing – should I choose to be interested in it. I was more interested in proving it wrong. The historical factors tugged at me. Over time, my desire to prove it wrong turned more into considering that it might be right. Could it be true? If it were, why would God want anything to do with me? Months passed and I mulled through a forest of questions and meditation over all these things.
And then things were different. It was November of 2005. I experienced something that I didn’t expect that I didn’t know how to explain. I felt God. I felt his presence. And it was like I met someone. Almost like when you connect with someone’s energy and there’s this cord there you can’t scientifically prove, but it was so much stronger. I’m a facts and logic and science person. I’m not an emotional person. I wouldn’t call myself much of a spiritual person, but I’ve always believed in energy and vibes and auras and intuition. And I believe in those things because I feel them, undeniably felt deep in my core… a connection. This presence… it was God. I couldn’t see him. I couldn’t bottle this presence up and analyze it in a lab. The only way I know to explain it is it’s like love. We all know love is real. Not only is it real, but it’s a powerful force. We can feel it. We know deep within us when we love someone. Yet it’s not a physical structure in front of us that we can fully explain. But it’s real. Love is real. And it was like that… that kind of strong, that kind of valid, that kind of real. It was experienced. I felt God’s presence and I knew he was real. It’s that simple and that unexplainable and that powerful and that consuming and that convincing. It is that. It’s real. It’s a force that can’t be contained or fully comprehended, especially as a brand new believer. But with that undeniable presence I felt, I believed.
Once I came to know without doubt that Jesus is real, the decision to follow him was a compelling one. I didn’t know if he’d want me, but I knew I wanted him. I became a believer. I became a Christian.
I believed and decided to follow. To me, that’s what makes a person Christian. I prayed, though I wasn’t very good at it. I tried to read the bible, though it confused me greatly. I did not have a church or go to church for over a year after becoming a believer. Part of me wanted a church and part of me didn’t. I tried to be more Christ-like, though my understanding of him and his ways were very introductory. I stumbled, but I continued the walk. And with time, I grew.
READ part 4: Why I’m still Christian (nearly 14 years later)
From hardcore atheist who couldn’t stand Christians to being a devout Christian is nothing less than a powerful transformation. This is my story.
I was raised in a home with Christian parents of different denominations. We didn’t have a church. We did have bibles. We didn’t do bible studies or Vacation Bible School or anything like that. They taught me about God through their faith, and I accepted it as fact when I was young. By middle school the science and logic part of me had kicked in and I didn’t believe in things I couldn’t see. Around 14 I started exploring different religions. I’ve always liked to study religion. That’s certainly not a bad thing. I found Christians at school to be jerks. They were so rude to anyone who wasn’t like them. I made some non-Christian friends and went through a Wiccan phase my freshman year of high school. I liked the earthy natural feel, but the belief in it didn’t last. Again, I don’t believe in things I can’t see or experience. I felt like there could be or maybe should be a god out there, but didn’t find a religion to fit me or that felt right to me. Perhaps my biggest turn off to Christianity was the Christian youth I encountered and their treatment of people who weren’t like them. Whether that be atheists or any non-Christian, the goth crowd, the queer community, or even their own kind with a different subcategory label (denomination), they had no tolerance for the diversity of humanity. From time to time, Christians will ask me about my atheist years or my conversion to Christianity because they want to share the gospel with someone. There were several reasons I was atheist. I’ll share them here. Please do continue in the blog series on my faith journey to hear the rest of the story about why and how I became Christian, why I’m still Christian, and chapters of my story unfolded.
Why I was atheist:
Jesus makes me want to be Christian.
Important note: There are many good Christians out there. They represent Christ with their love and their character. I do not want to sound like I’m bashing all Christians. Many are good people who live out their faith righteously. Sadly, the bad fruit can turn a person away from the whole tree. Please know that I’m not bashing the good while I acknowledge the bad here.
And, again, not all Christians are like this. Not everybody does these things. No one is perfect. Nevertheless, a lot of these bad behaviors/perspectives are more common than we care to admit. They can also do more spiritual damage to a person than we care to admit. The way we treat people matters. We represent Christ. We represent our churches. We have the power to build up and we have the power to destroy. Be thoughtful about your messages and your communication techniques.
Though I am absolutely a believer in Jesus and an imperfect follower covered by His perfect grace, there are often times Christians remind me why I was atheist. I always see both sides. I see the Christian side of things because I am Christian. I see the non-Christian side of things because I was once among that crowd. I’m going to share here the things I see going on in Christian circles that turn people away from God. I hope that Christians will consider these things without offense and give consideration to how they come across, particularly to non-believers.
I've repeatedly encountered all of these issues in the bullet points above (except the church history one). This is my experience. I've also experienced loving Christians. I've experienced Christians who are welcoming, inviting, friendly, truly kind, compassionate, patient, and have the fruit of the Spirit in their lives. Those experiences matter too . . . but I'd be lying if I said the issues in the bullet points above didn't affect my Christian walk.
It is not easy to be Christian. It is downright difficult to be Christian. Can I be honest? It’s actually easier to be atheist – well, socially. The hard thing about being Christian is not the challenges of following Jesus, although it can be rough to pick up your cross (your sacrifice) and follow in His ways. The hardest part of being Christian is not the self-discipline of denying your flesh (or worldly desires). The hardest part of being Christian is being among the Christians in the bullet points above. Those Christians – those churchy religious folk who mistreat others – push me away from church and Christian circles . . . but they can’t push me away from God himself.
Despite all this, I came to know Jesus and felt compelled to follow Him. Nearly 14 years later, I never lost my faith. I am His. He is mine. And I love God with the depths of my heart. My journey to him may not be your typical way to go about it, but my roots in him are firm. I will not let go; neither will he. To read about why and how I became Christian, read the next blog in the series here.
Homosexuality & same sex attraction: