FAITH OF OUR FAMILIES
Under the Rabbi's Microscope, Part Two
INTERSECT (Where the Bible Meets Life) is a regular column of ONE Magazine featuring Dr. Garnett Reid, a member of the Bible faculty at Free Will Baptist Bible College. Email Garnett email@example.com
Tattoos, Torah, and the Two Testaments
“Dr. Reid, do you think it’s a sin to __________________________________?” I get questions such as this fairly often. Just fill in the blank with a garden variety of issues related—or not—to Old Testament law, including: eat catfish, get a tattoo, marry someone who’s been divorced, get a body piercing, charge interest on a personal loan…you get the picture.
A.J. Jacobs bumped into many of these odds and ends when he attempted to practice “as literally as possible” the Bible’s laws over the course of a year. Read his story in The Year of Living Biblically (see previous column in the June-July edition). His efforts not only lead to some hilarious hijinks, they also raise a serious issue for Christians who take Scripture seriously. How does Old Testament law relate to New Testament believers?
The Wrong Battle
At the entry level of this discussion, one simple tip helps to steer us in the right direction. We must not fall into the trap of pitting law against grace. On the contrary, the law is all about what grace wants to accomplish in God’s plan. Often you’ll hear something like this: “The Old Testament is all about law, but the New offers grace.” Big mistake! The law Moses received is actually one of God’s most gracious provisions for us. That’s because in the law God is giving us a detailed profile of Himself. I’ll return to that fact shortly.
In addition, these legal codes serve like a mirror to reflect who we really are. Though we see God revealing Himself in the law, we also become keenly aware that we are not like Him. We “fall short” of His glory, as Paul put it (Romans 3:23). God’s Spirit then uses the law to convince us that we need His gift of salvation found only as we trust Christ. Now that’s the pinnacle of grace!
A New Testament Take on Old Testament Law
The New Testament itself reminds us of this gracious function of Old Testament law. Should we do away with the law since faith is the requirement to know God, Paul asked. “God forbid”—absolutely not—is his answer; instead “we establish the law” (Romans 3:31). In Galatians 2:21, the apostle added, “Is the law then contrary to the (gracious) promises of God? Certainly not!” Actually “the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).
Remember, too, that the law’s interface with grace prompts Jesus to tell us that He did not come to abolish the law, but to “fulfill” it (Matthew 5:17). Our Lord Christ embodies in Himself every good and right principle upon which the law rests. He therefore is the solution to our sin dilemma. After living a sinless life to meet the law’s demand for perfect righteousness, Jesus died on the cross to pay for the law’s insistence that sin receive punishment. What’s more, His death continues to pay for our sin.
Torah the Teacher
The law also provides us with instruction about God. Remember, I said that it offers a thorough profile of who He is. So Jesus not only fulfilled the law through His saving life and death, He also taught us how to live in such a way that reflects the very character of God Himself.
This role of the law’s instruction is often neglected by New Covenant Christians. The word translated law in the Old Testament is a Hebrew term you may know. Torah, also the title given to the first five books in the Old Testament/Hebrew Bible, has several shades of meaning. It can refer to a large body of laws; in that vein we talk about “The Law of Moses,” the collection of precepts associated with God’s revelation to Moses at Sinai and after. Torah can also denote a single law—the law of the Sabbath, for instance.
Yet this term often speaks in a general sense of teaching or instruction, of knowledge communicated to learners. At its most basic, “law” is simply God revealing Himself to us in a way that will transform what we believe and how we behave. As I will detail in the next column, Old Testament law set God at the center of life so that His people at least had the opportunity to immerse themselves totally in Him.
All those questions, then, about whether certain practices are sinful according to Old Testament law, actually take a back seat to the larger issue: who is God and what is His place in my life? We need both law and grace to help us with those answers.