A Series of Answers to Common Questions
Paul spoke rudely of Gods Law when he wrote in Hebrews 7:18-19, 8:13 that it was obsolete and weak, thereby contradicting Psalm 19:7 which says that the Law is perfect.(1) Isnt Paul slandering the very Old Testament which Jesus confirmed as Gods revelation when he makes such statements?
Paul wasnt denying that the Law was perfect. On the contrary, Paul expressly wrote elsewhere that the Law is pure, holy and good. Pauls point was that the Law was made ineffective by mans wickedness which prevents him from doing what the Law requires:
"as it is written: None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes. Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. Romans 3:10-20
"What then shall we say? That the law is sin? BY NO MEANS! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, You shall not covet. But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead. I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. So the law is HOLY, and the commandment is HOLY and RIGHTEOUS and GOOD. Did that which is good, then, bring death to me? By no means! It was sin, producing death in me through what is good, in order that sin might be shown to be sin, and through the commandment might become sinful beyond measure. For we know that the law is SPIRITUAL, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin." Romans 7:7-14
"Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine, in accordance with the glorious gospel of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted." 1 Timothy 1:8-11
This is why God sent his Son, the Lord Jesus, to save us from the wrath we deserve for failing to obey his holy commands:
"Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." Roman 7:4-6, 15-25
"There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, WEAKENED BY THE FLESH, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace. For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God's law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God." Romans 8:1-8
Paul was simply repeating and reiterating what the OT itself says regarding the inability of a person to carry out the laws to Gods satisfaction:
"And the LORD said to Moses, Behold, the days approach when you must die. Call Joshua and present yourselves in the tent of meeting, that I may commission him. And Moses and Joshua went and presented themselves in the tent of meeting. And the LORD appeared in the tent in a pillar of cloud. And the pillar of cloud stood over the entrance of the tent. And the LORD said to Moses, Behold, you are about to lie down with your fathers. Then this people will rise and whore after the foreign gods among them in the land that they are entering, and they will forsake me and break my covenant that I have made with them. Then my anger will be kindled against them in that day, and I will forsake them and hide my face from them, and they will be devoured. And many evils and troubles will come upon them, so that they will say in that day, "Have not these evils come upon us because our God is not among us?" And I will surely hide my face in that day because of all the evil that they have done, because they have turned to other gods. Now therefore write this song and teach it to the people of Israel. Put it in their mouths, that this song may be A WITNESS FOR ME AGAINST THE PEOPLE OF ISRAEL. For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant. And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their offspring). For I know what they are inclined to do even today, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give. So Moses wrote this song the same day and taught it to the people of Israel. And the LORD commissioned Joshua the son of Nun and said, Be strong and courageous, for you shall bring the people of Israel into the land that I swore to give them. I will be with you. When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD, Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the LORD your God, that it may be there for A WITNESS AGAINST YOU. For I know how rebellious and stubborn you are. Behold, even today while I am yet alive with you, you have been rebellious against the LORD. How much more after my death! Assemble to me all the elders of your tribes and your officers, that I may speak these words in their ears and call heaven and earth to witness against them. For I know that after my death YOU WILL SURELY ACT CORRUPTLY AND TURN ASIDE FROM THE WAY THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU. And in the days to come evil will befall you, because you will do what is evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger through the work of your hands." Deuteronomy 31:14-29
"Now therefore fear the LORD and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness. Put away the gods that your fathers served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD. And if it is evil in your eyes to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your fathers served in the region beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD. Then the people answered, Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods, for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our fathers up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight and preserved us in all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed. And the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God. But Joshua said to the people, You ARE NOT ABLE to serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. 20If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good. And the people said to Joshua, No, but we will serve the LORD. Then Joshua said to the people, You are witnesses AGAINST YOURSELVES that you have chosen the LORD, to serve him. And they said, We are witnesses. He said, Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your heart to the LORD, the God of Israel. And the people said to Joshua, The LORD our God we will serve, and his voice we will obey. So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and put in place statutes and rules for them at Shechem. And Joshua wrote these words in the Book of the Law of God. And he took a large stone and set it up there under the terebinth that was by the sanctuary of the LORD. And Joshua said to all the people, Behold, this stone shall be A WITNESS AGAINST US, for it has heard all the words of the LORD that he spoke to us. Therefore it shall be A WITNESS AGAINST YOU, lest you deal falsely with your God. So Joshua sent the people away, every man to his inheritance." Joshua 24:14-28
"Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then also you can do good who are accustomed to do evil." Jeremiah 13:23
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds." Jeremiah 17:9-10
The Hebrew Bible further testifies that the Levitical priests failed to carry out their duties and actually perverted Gods Law and corrupted his people:
"Her priests have done violence to my law and have profaned my holy things. They have made no distinction between the holy and the common, neither have they taught the difference between the unclean and the clean, and they have disregarded my Sabbaths, so that I am profaned among them." Ezekiel 22:26
"Hear the word of the LORD, O children of Israel, for the LORD has a controversy with the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or steadfast love, and no knowledge of God in the land; there is swearing, lying, murder, stealing, and committing adultery; they break all bounds, and bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who dwell in it languish, and also the beasts of the field and the birds of the heavens, and even the fish of the sea are taken away. Yet let no one contend, and let none accuse, for with you is my contention, O priest. You shall stumble by day; the prophet also shall stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge; because you have rejected knowledge, I reject you from being a priest to me. And since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they increased, the more they sinned against me; I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of my people; they are greedy for their iniquity. And it shall be like people, like priest; I will punish them for their ways and repay them for their deeds. They shall eat, but not be satisfied; they shall play the whore, but not multiply, because they have forsaken the LORD to cherish whoredom, wine, and new wine, which take away the understanding. My people inquire of a piece of wood, and their walking staff gives them oracles. For a spirit of whoredom has led them astray, and they have left their God to play the whore. They sacrifice on the tops of the mountains and burn offerings on the hills, under oak, poplar, and terebinth, because their shade is good. Therefore your daughters play the whore, and your brides commit adultery. I will not punish your daughters when they play the whore, nor your brides when they commit adultery; for the men themselves go aside with prostitutes and sacrifice with cult prostitutes, and a people without understanding shall come to ruin." Hosea 4:1-14
"And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the LORD of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the LORD of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the LORD of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the LORD of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction." Malachi 2:1-9
It is therefore quite evident that even the Hebrew Bible agrees with Paul and the NT writers that the Law couldnt make anyone perfect or righteous in Gods sight due to the wickedness and sinfulness of the people. This is precisely why God promised in the Old Testament that he was going to make a New Covenant which would be unlike the one that Israel consistently broke:
"Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the LORD. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, Know the LORD, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more." Jeremiah 31:31-34
The reader may be wondering at this point that since the OT itself says that Israel wasnt capable of carrying out Gods Laws then what was the purpose of giving such laws to them in the first place?
Paul gives us the answer:
"Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring should come to whom the promise had been made, and it was put in place through angels by an intermediary. Now an intermediary implies more than one, but God is one. Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian," Galatians 3:19-25
He makes this same point in Romans 7 which we quoted above:
"I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree with the law, that it is good. So now it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh. For I have the desire to do what is right, but not the ability to carry it out. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin." Roman 7:15-25
The Law was given in order to specifically show Israel, and the world, that they needed a Savior to deliver them from their wickedness and Gods wrath since none of them were righteous enough to carry it out:
"Truth is lacking, and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey. The LORD saw it, and it displeased him that there was no justice. He saw that there was no man, and wondered that there was no one to intercede; then his own arm brought him salvation, and his righteousness upheld him. He put on righteousness as a breastplate, and a helmet of salvation on his head; he put on garments of vengeance for clothing, and wrapped himself in zeal as a cloak. According to their deeds, so will he repay, wrath to his adversaries, repayment to his enemies; to the coastlands he will render repayment. So they shall fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun; for he will come like a rushing stream, which the wind of the LORD drives. And a Redeemer will come to Zion, to those in Jacob who turn from transgression, declares the LORD. And as for me, this is my covenant with them, says the LORD: My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children's offspring, says the LORD, from this time forth and forevermore." Isaiah 59:15-21; cf. 63:1-6
"You meet him who joyfully works righteousness, those who remember you in your ways. Behold, you were angry, and we sinned; in our sins we have been a long time, and shall we be saved? We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away. There is no one who calls upon your name, who rouses himself to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have made us melt in the hand of our iniquities. But now, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand." Isaiah 64:5-8
Once they understood that they could not satisfy God by carrying out his laws and injunctions, and were under his wrath because of it, they would be prepared to accept Gods provision of salvation made available by his grace through faith in the Lord Jesus Christ:
"But some men came down from Judea and were teaching the brothers, Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved. And after Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and debate with them, Paul and Barnabas and some of the others were appointed to go up to Jerusalem to the apostles and the elders about this question. So, being sent on their way by the church, they passed through both Phoenicia and Samaria, describing in detail the conversion of the Gentiles, and brought great joy to all the brothers. When they came to Jerusalem, they were welcomed by the church and the apostles and the elders, and they declared all that God had done with them. But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses. The apostles and the elders were gathered together to consider this matter. And after there had been much debate, Peter stood up and said to them, Brothers, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith. Now, therefore, why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will." Acts 15:1-11
"But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. Then what becomes of our boasting? It is excluded. By what kind of law? By a law of works? No, but by the law of faith. For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law. Or is God the God of Jews only? Is he not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since God is one. He will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith. Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law." Romans 3:21-31
"Brothers, my heart's desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved. I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God's righteousness. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness that is based on the law, that the person who does the commandments shall live by them. But the righteousness based on faith says, Do not say in your heart, "Who will ascend into heaven?" (that is, to bring Christ down) or "Who will descend into the abyss?" (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame. For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:1-13
With the foregoing in perspective, we can now more fully appreciate the point that the inspired author of Hebrews was making. Let us first examine the specific contexts of the passages raised by the questioner to see what the writer of Hebrews intended to say:
"Now if perfection had been attainable through the Levit'ical priesthood (for under it the people received the law), what further need would there have been for another priest to arise after the order of Melchiz'edek, rather than one named after the order of Aaron? For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well. For the one of whom these things are spoken belonged to another tribe, from which no one has ever served at the altar. For it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. This becomes even more evident when another priest arises in the likeness of Melchiz'edek, who has become a priest, not according to a legal requirement concerning bodily descent but by the power of an indestructible life. For it is witnessed of him, You are a priest for ever, after the order of Melchiz'edek. On the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness (for the law made nothing perfect); on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. And it was not without an oath. Those who formerly became priests took their office without an oath, but this one was addressed with an oath, The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind, "You are a priest for ever." This makes Jesus the surety of a better covenant. The former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office; but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues for ever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, unstained, separated from sinners, exalted above the heavens. He has no need, like those high priests, to offer sacrifices daily, first for his own sins and then for those of the people; he did this once for all when he offered up himself. Indeed, the law appoints men in their weakness as high priests, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect for ever." Hebrews 7:11-28
The reader should note here the authors appeal to the OT writings to prove his point. The inspired writer quotes Psalm 110:4 to show that this change in priesthood had already been announced centuries prior to the coming of Christ. Here is what that particular Psalm says:
"The LORD says to my lord: Sit at my right hand, till I make your enemies your footstool. The LORD sends forth from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes! Your people will offer themselves freely on the day you lead your host upon the holy mountains. From the womb of the morning like dew your youth will come to you. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, You are a priest for ever after the order of Melchiz'edek." Psalm 110:1-4
The author even refers to Gods promise in the Old Testament that he would make a New Covenant to establish his case:
"Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man. For every high priest is appointed to offer gifts and sacrifices; thus it is necessary for this priest also to have something to offer. Now if he were on earth, he would not be a priest at all, since there are priests who offer gifts according to the law. They serve a copy and shadow of the heavenly things. For when Moses was about to erect the tent, he was instructed by God, saying, See that you make everything according to the pattern that was shown you on the mountain. But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion to look for a second. For he finds fault WITH THEM when he says: Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. For they did not continue in my covenant, and so I showed no concern for them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws into their minds, and write them on their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And they shall not teach, each one his neighbor and each one his brother, saying, "Know the Lord," for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest. For I will be merciful toward their iniquities, and I will remember their sins no more. In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." Hebrews 8:1-13
"And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds, then he adds, I will remember their sins and their misdeeds no more. Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin. Therefore, brethren, since we have confidence to enter the sanctuary by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way which he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water." Hebrews 10:15-22
This reiterates the claim we made earlier that the NT wasnt introducing anything new in its claim that the OT has been set aside.
Moreover, since the OT sacrifices and priesthood could not make anything perfect due to the imperfection of the priests and the temporary and finite value of the animals being sacrificed, it isnt surprising that Hebrews could say that they have been replaced by something superior:
"For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices which are continually offered year after year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered? If the worshipers had once been cleansed, they would no longer have any consciousness of sin. But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sin year after year. For it is impossible that the blood of bulls and goats should take away sins." Hebrews 10:1-4
The priesthood and animal sacrifices served as shadows pointing to the ultimate reality that alone could make individuals perfect in the sight of God, namely Jesus Christs priesthood and his once and for all atoning sacrifice:
"Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure. Then I said, "Lo, I have come to do your will, O God," as it is written of me in the roll of the book. When he said above, You have neither desired nor taken pleasure in sacrifices and offerings and burnt offerings and sin offerings (these are offered according to the law), then he added, Lo, I have come to do your will. He abolishes the first in order to establish the second. And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, then to wait until his enemies should be made a stool for his feet. For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified." Hebrews 10:5-14
The prophet Isaiah echoed the above statements when he mentioned by inspiration that Gods Servant, the Messiah, would usher in salvation through his sacrificial death:
"Who has believed what they heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for sin, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors." Isaiah 53:1-12
To summarize the point being made by Hebrews, as well as the entirety of the NT: although the Law is pure, holy and perfect, it was made ineffective and obsolete due to mans corrupt nature, a nature which prohibits a person from carrying out its directives.
Yet God, in his infinite love and mercy, sent Christ to do for us what we could not do for ourselves, namely, live a sinless life in perfect obedience to the Law and to take the punishment we deserve for failing to carry out Gods commands.
Moreover, once a believer is saved by trusting in Christs work on his/her behalf s/he is then empowered by the Holy Spirit to live a life of holiness and obedience to Gods Law as explained and defined by the Lord Jesus and his followers:
"Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age." Matthew 28:19-20
"If you love me, you will keep my commandments Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him Jesus answered him, If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father's who sent me." John 14:15, 21, 23-24
"For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them." Ephesians 2:8-10
Thus, neither the writer to the Hebrews nor the NT introduced anything novel, but simply reaffirmed the claims and promises made by the OT scriptures, i.e. God was going to replace the Old Covenant and sacrificial system with a new one since the old one had been made obsolete as a result of mans depravity. The inspired NT writings are a record of the fulfilment of those promises which Christ Jesus, Gods beloved Son, brought to pass.
(1) This particular article is written in response to the assertions raised by Bassam Zawadi in his rebuttal to me: http://muslim-responses.com/Obeying_the_Law/Obeying_the_Law
Zawadi believes that Paul wrote Hebrews, a view shared by many Christians so we will not debate or contest that point here.
Zawadi also refers to one particular Christian who tried to reconcile the statements of Hebrews with the claim of the Psalmist that the Law is perfect. He then provides his answer to this unnamed Christian. Here, we want to respond to some of the specific points made by Zawadi.
God does not expect us to be perfect.
The Muslim god may not expect Muslims to perfect, but the true God of the Holy Bible surely does:
"You shall be blameless before the LORD your God," Deuteronomy 18:13
"You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Matthew 5:48
Moreover, the Holy Bible says that we are to love God wholeheartedly, completely, and unconditionally:
"You SHALL love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might." Deuteronomy 6:5
Notice that the text doesnt say you should try to love him completely, but that you are to love him with your entire being. This is something that no human being, apart from the blessed Lord Jesus Christ, can ever say they have done as long as they have a sinful nature.
God further demands that we be holy as he is holy, something that no human can say he has achieved (with the exception of Christ of course):
"For I am the LORD your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the LORD who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy." Leviticus 11:44-45
The above examples make it abundantly clear that God demands perfect obedience and complete holiness. And, to repeat the point we made earlier, the reason why he does so is to show man that he is incapable of satisfying an infinitely holy God and therefore needs a Savior to do for him what he cannot do for himself.
Zawadi denies that believers are perfect in Christ:
Do you really think that you and all Christians are perfect? Of course your not perfect. Believing in Jesus' crucifixion and his dying for your sins has not made you perfect.
He is contradicted by the very teaching of Gods Word:
"For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified." Hebrews 10:14
Zawadi somehow thinks that Christians cannot be perfect because they continue to sin:
You still commit sins. You still repent to God. So if the Law is "weak and useless", (which I personally think is an offensive way to talk about God's law) because it cannot make you perfect then similarly the whole crucifixion ideology should also be "weak and useless" since it has not made you perfect as well. This is the conclusion to reach if we want to be consistent So nothing really has changed. The crucifixion has not resulted in making sinless people or stopping the corruption of the world. It has not offered us anything that the Law hasn't.
This, more than anything, exposes Zawadis gross misunderstanding of the Biblical teaching.
The Holy Bible teaches that Christ came to live a perfect life for us and to die the accursed death that we deserved. The reason why Jesus did this is so that he could merit eternal life for those who trust in him, thereby sparing them from Gods wrath:
"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man's trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. And the free gift is not like the result of that one man's sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. For as by the one man's disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man's obedience the many will be made righteous. Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 5:9-11, 15-21
"But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering. For he who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one origin. That is why he is not ashamed to call them brothers, saying, I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will sing your praise. And again, I will put my trust in him. And again, Behold, I and the children God has given me. Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham." Hebrews 2:9-16
"Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him," Hebrews 5:8-9
The Holy Bible further teaches that the moment a person turns from his/her sins to Christ, and puts his/her trust in him, God then credits Jesus perfect life of obedience to that individuals account. Once this transaction is made God no longer views that particular individual as a sinner under his wrath, but as one who has completely satisfied Gods righteous requirements:
"He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, whom God made our wisdom and our righteousness and sanctification and redemption." 1 Corinthians 1:30
"that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that IN HIM we might become the righteousness of God." 2 Corinthians 5:19-21
"Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found IN HIM, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith-- that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead." Philippians 3:8-11
It is in this sense that Christ has made a believer perfect in Gods sight.
As we mentioned previously, God then empowers the believer by his Holy Spirit to embark on a path of personal holiness, to start becoming and living out that very perfect holiness that has been credited to his account by faith in the Lord Jesus:
"You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although the body is dead because of sin, the Spirit is life because of righteousness. If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh. For if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live. For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, Abba! Father! The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs--heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him." Romans 8:9-17
"But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another." Galatians 5:16-21
Thus, Christ has offered us everything that the Law couldnt!
"Let it be known to you therefore, brothers, that through this man forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you, and by him everyone who believes is freed from everything from which you could not be freed by the law of Moses." Acts 13:38-39
Finally, Zawadi may not call the Law weak and useless since he says worse things than that, i.e. it has been corrupted, that it contains wicked and immortal teachings etc. (here).
Zawadi also stated that:
He knows we will crack and commit sins and that's why God asks us to repent. This same thing happens even in Christianity. Jesus asks you to repent to the Father. Why if your debt as has been paid already?
Yet for God to simply forgive someone who repents without demanding that his justice be satisfied makes him less than completely holy and just. But praise be the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ for sending his blessed Son to satisfy his infinite holiness and justice so that God can have a basis to forgive repentant sinners without having to compromise his standards of holiness and justice:
"whom God put forward as a propitiation (hilasterion) by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus." Romans 3:25-26
"Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation (hilaskesthai) for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted." Hebrews 2:17-18
"In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation (hilasmon) for our sins." 1 John 4:9-10
To propitiate means to appease God, to satisfy his justice thereby taking his wrath away completely (*; *; *).
What these passages are basically saying is that God can now forgive sinners because his wrath has been appeased and his justice satisfied by the life and sacrifice of his Son.
Furthermore, the reason why repentance is necessary is because this is the means (along with faith) by which a person appropriates forgiveness and receives the benefits of Christs life and death. In other words, it is through our repentance (as well as our faith), our acknowledging to God that we have sinned and fallen short of his righteous standard, that God forgives, and does so on the basis of the salvation wrought by the Lord Jesus.
It is precisely because of Christs life and death that believers have complete confidence to approach God boldly and the full assurance that God will indeed forgive their sins:
"Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need." Hebrews 4:14-16
"But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us." 1 John 1:7-10
"My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation (hilasmos) for our sins, and not for ours only but also for the sins of the whole world." 1 John 2:1-2
Moreover, Zawadis comments presuppose that Christs death somehow means that Christians are free to live immoral lives, which is not what the Holy Bible teaches. As we saw in the first section of our article, Christ came to ransom a people from their wickedness in order that they might live holy lives pleasing to him:
"And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Acts 2:38
"But what God foretold by the mouth of all the prophets, that his Christ would suffer, he thus fulfilled. Repent therefore, and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, and that he may send the Christ appointed for you, Jesus, whom heaven must receive until the time for restoring all the things about which God spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets long ago God, having raised up his servant, sent him to you first, to bless you by turning every one of you from your wickedness." Acts 3:19-21, 26
"to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith IN ME. Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance." Acts 26:18-20
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works." Titus 2:11-14
It is simply Zawadis ignorance and gross misunderstanding of Biblical teaching that makes him think that repentance is somehow incompatible with Jesus death for sinners.
In light of what we have read throughout this article, is it any wonder that Paul could call the Gospel of Christ the power of God for salvation seeing that it is on the basis of Jesus life and death that God grants individuals liberation from the dominion of sin and death?
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek." Romans 1:16
"For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart. Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God." 1 Corinthians 1:18-24
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