Updated: Aug 18
Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. John 8:36
Recently, I had become engaged in a rather heated conversation on Facebook about whether we as Christians should go back to keeping the Mosaic Law. Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge fan of Moses. However, there seems to be a growing desire amongst those who avidly support Israel, to want to reconnect back to the roots of our common faith. While perhaps well intended, it is problematic given the slippery nature of legalism and our new relationship in Christ.
Christians attempting to add the Mosiac Law back into our post-Calvary, new covenant faith is like the newly liberated Hebrews creating a golden calf after having just been delivered from their bondage in Egypt. It is nonsensical and dangerous. It is a form of idolatry that begins to turn one's attention from Jesus Christ, back to keeping the Law. Again, I believe that some in these groups have good, but misguided intentions in their efforts to grow closer to God; but they risk the narrow gate for a system that can neither save nor sanctify.
Not as widely known or as structured as the Emergent Church movement (which openly advocates licentiousness, ecumenicalism, and apostasy); the Hebrew Roots is more of a grassroots movement. To me, they are on the opposite end of the spectrum in their zealousness to the Law, as the Emergent groups are to antinomianism. In other words, they are the outer extremes on the same measuring stick. It’s as if we have our modern-day church age equivalent of the Sadducees and the Pharisees.
Although they profess salvation is by grace through faith, they claim by keeping the commandments in the Torah, a Christian demonstrates their real love for and faith in Jehovah. But it’s hard to lump this movement in altogether because some go to more extremes than others in terms of their legalism. For instance, in the Sacred Name group, if you claimed that your salvation is in Jesus Christ, you are not really saved because you are really following a false god since ‘Jesus’ (Iēsous), which they claim is a Greek variation of the name Zeus...a false god. They are further divided over whether its Jehoshua, Yeshua, Yahshua, etc.
While the numerous factions and sects vary in terms of their willingness to follow the tenets of the Torah, at a minimum, they generally agree the Trinity is not biblical, keeping the kosher dietary restrictions, the Feasts as laid out in Leviticus 23, and observing the Saturday Sabbath.
Now, this reintroduction of keeping Mosaic laws is not a new argument by any stretch of the imagination. There have been attempts to reinsert the law since the beginning of the Church Age; an attempt to ‘blur the lines’ so to speak between identifying Christianity with Jewishness. The Apostles and the early church elders dealt with this as it pertained to circumcision in the 1st-century church:
And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, “Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” Acts 15:1
Seeing as the New Testament was still in the process of being written, Peter, filled with and sealed by the Holy Spirit, asked the question...
Now therefore, why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? Acts 15:10
Good question indeed. But later, we see the slippery slope of legalism appealing to the flesh, seep in and even Peter and Barnabas are caught up in what Paul called’ hypocrisy. For this, Paul rebuked them to their faces for being hypocritical about keeping the kosher dietary restrictions in certain company (Gal. 2:11-13). Paul, who, being a Jew of the Tribe of Benjamin, trained by Gamaliel, was zealous for the law, and early persecutor of the Church, recognized the futility of attempting to keep the Law as a means to demonstrate our own righteousness.
We who are Jews by nature, and not sinners of the Gentiles, knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified. Galatians 2:15-16
The main problem these Hebrew Roots groups and those like them have is that instead of the New Testament superseding the Old, the Old Testament is the foundation by which the New Testament has to be measured. It is for this same reason that I believe Michael the Archangel contended with Satan over the body of Moses. Had Satan got a hold of the body, he would have enshrined it in some idolatrous manner, which he would have later used to cause the Jews to further stumble and turn their affections more to a lifeless body than to the God who gave Moses the Law. Even the pole with the bronze serpent was worshipped and it was just a stick, imagine what they would have done with Moses or his tomb.
For these Hebrew Roots-type groups, the Law trumps everything, and they disregard further revelation by Jesus and the Apostles if it conflicts with what the Mosaic Law states. They ignore the fact that the Bible only has one author, and that it is God the Holy Spirit who moved men to write what they wrote.
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. 2 Timothy 2:15
Dispensationalists are unique amongst the Christian evangelicals in that we have long held a strong bond and support for the nation of Israel. We understand their role in God’s over-arching plan for the Ages as well as our own. We can differentiate between the church and Israel by rightly dividing the Word. It’s not merely a matter of opinion, but for one to have a consistent and accurate understanding of the Bible, you have to know what applies to whom. The Hebrew Roots movement is just Replacement theology in reverse.
Instead of replacing Israel with the Church, they have replaced the Church with Israel. One big problem they have is that there is no consistency in how they interpret the Bible. When pressed, they do not agree that we should still be stoning rebellious children or those who are caught in adultery but with the same breath mandate that the Sabbath and the Feast must be observed. So who gave them the authority to decide which rules to follow and which NOT to follow? Jews under the Mosaic Law didn’t get the luxury of picking and choosing which laws to keep, and which to ignore. They had to obey them all. James gives some sober warning to those who would place themselves back under that burdensome yoke. It was burdensome because one had to obey ALL of the Law, not just parts and pieces.
Israel has three different components to its identity: ethnic, political, and spiritual. As a Dispensationalist, I recognize these three components. I understand that the Law was given to Israel at Mt. Sinai as a nation; to separate them from the pagan peoples in they lived amongst. But the Law, which sits at 613 separate commandments from God, served another and more meaningful purpose, which was to point the Israelites as a schoolmaster, to the need for a Savior. There was absolutely NO WAY that they could keep those laws, which is why in God’s grace a sacrificial system was emplaced to temporarily atone for the sins of the people.
The Law in the Old Testament revolves around the Ten Commandments. Any violation of these commandments had to be rectified by a sacrificial system in order to atone for sins; otherwise, there would be absolutely no hope for the nation. So really, the sacrificial system of bulls, sheep, and goats made it possible for them to meek out an existence under such a cumbersome yoke.
The fact that Christ Himself did away with the need for such a sacrificial system, speaks volumes about the necessity for the rest of the Law, on which everything hinged for there to be a way to make restitution.
How these groups skirt the most fundamental of issues is that they still claim salvation comes by grace through faith. They point to Revelation 12:17 for an example that links both the commandments and faith together. But to do this, one has to do great damage to the identities of who is who in this passage. The caveat in their salvation by ‘grace through faith’ is that one can only demonstrate ‘true’ salvation by keeping the Law because in so doing, one is demonstrating their love for God through obedience. Ironically, this is very similar to what the Mormons (LDS) teach in 2 Nephi 25:23 that you are "saved by grace through faith," BUT only "after all, you can do."
This obviously conflicts with many New Testament passages such as Philippians 1:6; Galatians 3:3, Hebrews 10:10-14. Since sin requires sacrifice to atone, then the Law exists solely to show us our inability to keep it.
Even John the Baptist (whom Jesus called the greatest of the prophets), states that our salvation comes through our belief in His (Jesus Christ) sacrifice, not in obedience to the Law or through any kind of works.
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him, and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! John 1:29
Clearly, the New Testament teaches that keeping the Law does not save a man, nor is he made more righteous or sanctified by keeping the Law. Only through faith in Jesus Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, can one obtain the ‘Righteousness of God’.
Israel & the Church
The church is distinct from Israel. The church does not replace or continue Israel, and is never referred to as Israel..."In the book of Acts, both Israel and the church exist simultaneously. The term Israel is used twenty times and ekklesia (church) nineteen times, yet the two groups are always kept distinct." (Source)
Dr. Andy Woods has done the yeoman’s work on compiling twenty clear distinctions between Israel and the church. For brevity’s sake, I’ll just list the top five that I see, but you can read all twenty in his hyperlink.
1. Israel gave birth to Christ (Revelation 12:1-5)
-Christ gave birth to the Church (Matthew 16:18)
2. Israel had a priesthood coming from the tribe of Levi and the line of Aaron.
-The Church has no priesthood because it IS the priesthood (1 Peter 2:5, 9; Rev 1:6)
3. Israel is a nation with borders and a capital (Psalm 147:20) and is always portrayed as an independent nation among the other nations of the earth.
-The Church is not a nation (Romans 10:19) but is composed of people from ALL nations (Galatians 3:28; Ephesians 2:11-22, 3:6, 15). The Church is a pilgrim in this world system (1 Peter 2:11)
4. Christ rescues Israel at the end of the Tribulation upon their national conversion (Matthew 23:37-39)
-Christ rescues the Church before the Tribulation at the Rapture (John 14:1-3, Revelation 4:1-2)
5. Israel was a direct party to the Biblical covenants (Jeremiah 31:31-32)
-The Church was not party to these covenants since they were not in existence when they were made.
The first person called a Hebrew in the Bible was Abraham. (Gen 14:13). Abraham is the Father of the Jewish nation, and through him, came Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and the rest of the 12 Tribes of Israel. Seeing as he was the first person to be identified as a Hebrew, and Abraham’s father was a pagan (Josh 24:2), should lead one to believe, that he indeed was the first.
Christians by the very definition could not exist until Christ lived and died (Hebrews 9:17). The moment He died on the cross, the temple veil was torn in two, signifying that the Dispensation of the Law had come to a pause and that a new one was to begin. Understanding Daniel 9:26, we know that the Law was not completely done away with, but will find it’s fulfillment in the final seven years of Daniel’s 70 Week prophecy when after the removal of the Church at the Rapture, God turns His attention back to the Jews and the nation of Israel.
Legalism is an extremely dangerous and slippery slope and always leads people to measure other people’s righteousness on their own. Don’t believe me? Ask the Pharisees who condemned Christ to the cross. Their hearts were hardened and condemned because they held sincere convictions that they were absolutely right in their cause. As Christians, our righteousness doesn’t come from our own behavior, but from Christ’s. Christ called us to spread the Gospel, not the Law of Moses and the Apostle Paul clearly lays out what the Gospel is, and he also clearly states those that preach ‘another’ gospel will be accursed.
We do share a common faith because out of the Old Testament, came the New. The Old Testament’s example after example points to the coming of Jesus Christ in what is known as Typology. The Old Testament is so rich in typology because it was meant to show us, Jesus. On the road to Emmaus, a resurrected Jesus points this out in detail to his disciples who had still not grasped it.
But it’s not only about ‘rightly dividing’ the word, but we also need to let the word divide us, and so doing, let the Holy Spirit guide and direct us, break us and rebuild us, to truly become the people that God has called us to be. Not doers of rules and regulations, but a people who are in this world, but not of this world. Our hearts and minds, fixed on the things above, not on things of this life. The Law was a shadow of the things to come and this world is drawing to a close, so we need to be busy about sharing the Gospel to a lost and dying world, not seeing how righteous we think we can make ourselves. That’s not our job...that’s Gods.