If you were to ask people what the difference is between Christianity and Judaism with regard to salvation, what kind of a response do you think you would get? I have found in my relationships with people that most Christians believe (at least pragmatically) that before Jesus arrived in human history, Jews were saved by observing the commandments of the Law of Moses, whereas people are now saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ to become Christians. Thus they tend to believe that the Law is no longer in force because of what Jesus did on the cross, and all one has to do in order to be saved is to believe that they are a sinner; to believe that Jesus died on the cross for their sins and rose from the dead according to the Scriptures; and to confess that fact with one's mouth (and, in some denominations, by subsequently being baptized in water and/or obeying other church sacraments).
Christians gain this doctrine mainly from the Apostle Paul’s vehement declarations throughout his letters in the New Covenant Scriptures (New Testament) that a person is not saved by obedience to the Law, but by grace given to us by God in the New Covenant through our faith in Jesus’ sacrifice—which I am not disputing, by the way. A very definitive example of such statements is in Ephesians 2:15 where Paul says that Christ abolished the Law in His flesh with its “commandments and regulations”. In many other letters, Paul point blank states, "We are no longer under the law." (Romans 6, 1 Corinthians 9, almost the whole book of Galatians, etc.)
However, consider Jesus’ words in Matthew 5:17-20:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear (emphasis mine), not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven."
Who is right—Jesus or Paul? The Jewish writers of the New Testament create a seeming paradox by discussing the Law the way they do: Paul often talks about the Law being abolished, and yet our need to live by the Law of the Spirit or the Law of Christ; he says when the Gentiles do the things of the Law, they become a Law unto themselves, yet the Gentiles are outside the Law; Jesus here is speaking about the Law being fulfilled and simultaneously required, etc. The following passages are examples; just let go of any previous interpretations you might have for a moment and read these—don't try to figure them out, and just listen to the language as it rolls off your tongue:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.—Romans 8:1-8
To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.—1 Corinthians 9:20-21
The Law of God, the Law of Christ, the Law of the Spirit, the Law of sin and death—what is all this? Why does Paul do this to us?
The Bible is very clear that the Torah is unified. What I mean by this is that every truth, every word, every commandment is just as important as all the rest. James 2:10-11 tells us that even if we stumble at just one point of the Torah and yet keep all the rest, we still are guilty of breaking the Torah. When Jesus began His ministry, and certainly upon His death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, however, He and His disciples seemed to sanction a deviation from some of the Torah's commandments—which is the main reason for the controversy surrounding this subject from that time until today. It is a very significant detail that causes many Jews to dismiss the claims that Jesus is the Jewish Messiah.
The key to explaining this apparent contradiction is found in Hebrews 7:11-25. The writer of the book of Hebrews was enlightening his readers in previous chapters on how Jesus was qualified to be our Eternal High Priest and concludes with the following information:
If perfection could have been attained through the Levitical priesthood—and indeed the law given to the people established that priesthood—why was there still need for another priest to come, one in the order of Melchizedek, not in the order of Aaron? For when the priesthood is changed, the law must be changed also. He of whom these things are said belonged to a different tribe, and no one from that tribe has ever served at the altar. For it is clear that our Lord descended from Judah, and in regard to that tribe Moses said nothing about priests. And what we have said is even more clear if another priest like Melchizedek appears, one who has become a priest not on the basis of a regulation as to his ancestry but on the basis of the power of an indestructible life. For it is declared:
‘You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.’ The former regulation is set aside because it was weak and useless (for the law made nothing perfect), and a better hope is introduced, by which we draw near to God.
And it was not without an oath! Others became priests without any oath, but he became a priest with an oath when God said to him: ‘The Lord has sworn and will not change his mind: ‘You are a priest forever.’’ Because of this oath, Jesus has become the guarantor of a better covenant. Now there have been many of those priests [Levitical priests], since death prevented them from continuing in office; but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.
Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
We see here some very definitive parameters: first, the writer's conversation is about the priesthood. Most Christians today jump straight to verses 18-19 (the second highlight in the passage) and say, "See! The Law has been abolished, because it says, '...the former regulation has been set aside...'" But wait a minute—what regulation is set aside? The subject here is about the priesthood, not about the entire Torah. Of course, the passage declares that the Law was changed as a result of Jesus' Eternal High Priesthood—exactly what was changed? Well, the priesthood, of course. There is no discussion here about morality or other regulations—just that Jesus is the perfect priest, the perfect sacrifice, and the guarantor of the New Covenant.
Granted, this in and of itself is groundbreaking; because the Jewish understanding of the Torah is holistic, it is difficult to wrap the mind around the idea of a holy, perfect, unchanging God making any change in His decrees; in fact, this seems impossible. So for Jews, the question is centered around how this change can happen and still not violate the holiness of God. Yet most Christians believe the Law has been completely thrown out like bathwater—indeed, the idea is actually celebrated in some quarters. For Christians who believe the Torah has simply been abolished, let me ask the question: is God's commandment to refrain from murder still in force? How about the mitzvah not to steal, or to honor one's father and mother? What about laws requiring sexual purity? Any person should obviously see that these commands from the Torah are still required of us—simply by virtue of the fact that these weigh on the conscience. But what about the dietary laws, Sabbath observance, or agricultural mandates? Some people arbitrarily draw a line at the Ten Commandments, saying we need to keep them, but it's ok to ignore all the rest of the Torah—yet they do not honor Shabbat, which is the Fourth commandment in the list. When one tries to split the Torah, they run aground into moral relativism; we have to use the Bible's own declarations to explain this issue without error, and here we find the true, reliable path between the Jewish and Christian assertions.
This leads us to the second nugget we find in this passage: the reason why Jesus' atonement for our sins is permanent is because He still lives—making this atonement a continually active event. A common theological camping point of Christians is to say that the Law was abolished when Jesus said, "It is finished!" on the cross. No, what was finished was His sacrifice, which is only part of His fulfillment. His priesthood was just beginning! When Jesus is talking about fulfilling the Law, He means its priestly requirements, commands concerning sacrifices, and penalties for sin, because everything related to these issues has fallen squarely on His shoulders; and it is a continuous fulfillment. When Paul later speaks of the Law being abolished, he’s talking about how Jesus’ sacrifice and priesthood effectively nullifies the necessity to practice the Law's priestly requirements for access to God’s presence by default as a result of their fulfillment in Christ. Seeing this, we understand that the word 'change' in Hebrews 7 does not mean a complete 180° turn of direction based on a simple—possibly arbitrary—decision; instead, the 'change' in the Law is a metamorphosis—a natural outcome occurring from the satisfaction for these commandments having been transferred to Jesus, and that being applied to us by our faith in Him and what He has done for us. Jesus fulfilled the Law's commandments surrounding sacrifices and penalties for sin once for all when He died on the cross; He is currently fulfilling the Law's commandments surrounding the priesthood as He continually brings that sacrifice before the Father on our behalf.
But the Torah itself is far more than just these mechanical, priestly requirements of sin and death: thanks to the Greek word nomos ('law') that is used throughout the Bible to approximate the Hebrew word Torah ('instruction'), we have a slightly bent understanding of the term. The Torah is not just a legal code; it is the description of His righteousness, it is God's wisdom to us—His handbook for successful living, the teaching of how things work, and the pouring out of His heart to us. Why would God just throw that away? With regard to righteousness, Jesus goes on in the following sections of Matthew 5 to reiterate the moral commandments of the Law and how righteousness over and above the Pharisees’ righteousness is required in the kingdom of God; so when Jesus is saying that the Law remains until heaven and earth pass away, He is describing our necessity to adhere to the Law's moral requirements even though He fulfills the priestly ones in Himself: were it not for Jesus, we still would be presenting sacrifices to God to shield our sin and would still be waiting on a Savior.
And this emphasis on the necessity of keeping the morality of the Law does not go unnoticed during the rest of Jesus' ministry, either: He is consistent throughout. When asked what the two greatest commandments of the Law are, Jesus replied, "'Hear O Israel, the LORD our God, the LORD, is one. Love the LORD with all your heart, with all your soul, [with all your mind], and with all your strength'; and the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself'. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:34-40, Mark 12:28-34, and Luke 10:25-37, referencing Deuteronomy 6:4-5 and Leviticus 19:17-18) Paul showed his consistency with this idea in Romans 13:8-10, proving that he is not teaching the complete abolishment of the Law:
“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.”
If Paul was unconditionally, definitively stating that the entire Torah was abolished in Jesus' death, he would not bother reiterating the commandments here. Instead, he shows their fulfillment in love. This moral debt is what remains outstanding in our observance of the Torah.
So where does this leave us? If we just love everyone, are we in the clear? According to whose definition? Ahh, here's the rub. If love is the fulfillment of the Law, it stands to reason that the Law is the definition of love. Only by God's definition in His Word can we understand what love really is—and this points back squarely at the Torah. Many a supersessionist will say, "Oh, no you don't—JESUS is the definition of love shown by what He did on the cross for us." Absolutely. And what do you think He was fulfilling when He did that? The TORAH! How is Jesus equated in John 1:1? He is the Word of God. He is the essence of what God has spoken—the very definition of the fulfillment of the Torah. The Torah shows us how to love, and Jesus is its embodiment. In message, they are one and the same. We can take the Law of Moses and study the life of Jesus to see how the Law should be properly interpreted—both in letter and in principle.
Jews may take a look at this and think, "Well, that's a very convenient New Testament opinion, but I don't see such a change in priesthood in the Tanakh." Actually, however, beside the original appearance of Melchizedek and subsequent prophecy in the Psalms, there are many passages in the Tanakh providing us with clues that the priesthood would indeed change. One very obvious section is in 1 Samuel 2:27-36:
Now a man of God came to Eli and said to him, “This is what the Lord says: ‘Did I not clearly reveal myself to your ancestor’s family when they were in Egypt under Pharaoh? I chose your ancestor out of all the tribes of Israel to be my priest, to go up to my altar, to burn incense, and to wear an ephod in my presence. I also gave your ancestor’s family all the food offerings presented by the Israelites. Why do you scorn my sacrifice and offering that I prescribed for my dwelling? Why do you honor your sons more than me by fattening yourselves on the choice parts of every offering made by my people Israel?’
“Therefore the Lord, the God of Israel, declares: ‘I promised that members of your family would minister before me forever.’ But now the Lord declares: ‘Far be it from me! Those who honor me I will honor, but those who despise me will be disdained. The time is coming when I will cut short your strength and the strength of your priestly house, so that no one in it will reach old age, and you will see distress in my dwelling. Although good will be done to Israel, no one in your family line will ever reach old age. Every one of you that I do not cut off from serving at my altar I will spare only to destroy your sight and sap your strength, and all your descendants will die in the prime of life.
“‘And what happens to your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, will be a sign to you—they will both die on the same day. I will raise up for myself a faithful priest, who will do according to what is in my heart and mind. I will firmly establish his priestly house, and they will minister before my anointed one always. Then everyone left in your family line will come and bow down before him for a piece of silver and a loaf of bread and plead, “Appoint me to some priestly office so I can have food to eat.”’”
These are very harsh words—foreshadowing what would happen when Jesus was raised up as our eternal High Priest. But Jesus had no children—so who comprises this priestly house that will minister before the Moschiach? The original mandate given to the people of Israel is that they would be "...a kingdom of priests and a holy nation..." (Exodus 19:6). In his first general letter, the Apostle Peter says this about those who trust in Jesus (1 Peter 1:4-10):
As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him—you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”[Isaiah 28:16] Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. But to those who do not believe, “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,”[Psalm 188:22] and, “A stone that causes people to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.”[Isaiah 8:14] They stumble because they disobey the message—which is also what they were destined for. But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.
These are all the people who trust in the sacrifice and High Priesthood of Jesus—we are made into His priestly house! And what are these 'spiritual sacrifices' that we offer? Paul lays this out for us in Romans 12:1: "Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship." Our very selves are the sacrifice we offer—in whatever parameters that takes: sometimes, it means being inconvenienced to love someone who needs it; other times, it means literally dying so that another might live. Always, it is a denial of our own agenda for the reconciliation of God to others—this is what it is to be a priest.
Ok— so how do we know this is not just Peter's interpretation? The Tanakh prophecies that God would make a new covenant with Israel in Jeremiah 31:31-34 (there is a companion passage in Ezekiel 36:22-38):
“The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the LORD.
“This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my Law in their minds and write it on their hearts (emphasis mine). I will be their God, and they will be my people. No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the LORD,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the LORD. “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Here we see the direct prediction by the prophet Jeremiah that God will make a new covenant with the people of Israel. The word 'new' means 'repaired', 'refurbished', 'upgraded', etc. It does not mean a completely separate replacement item; the New Covenant fits over the First as a glove fits over the hand—it is not the chopping off of the hand to replace it with another. The covenant is with the people of Israel and Judah, not a completely new people (though we who are Gentiles that trust in Messiah are grafted in as full citizens—see Romans 11). The covenant will not be like the First Covenant—how? The Law will be internally written on the minds and the hearts of the people (the companion passage in Ezekiel says, "I will put my Spirit in you and move you to obey My laws"). No longer will there be a need for a priest to give instruction because all will know God, from the least to the greatest.
Jesus referred directly to Jeremiah 31:31 using the cup of redemption at Passover when He said, “…this cup is the new covenant in my blood...” tying His sacrifice to the inauguration of the New Covenant—His identity (as the 'Son' of God [in the Afikomen], the Messiah, [in the Passover Lamb], the bringer of redemption to the nation [in the cup]) to the change in priesthood, granting all the people to the same access to knowledge of God and causing everyone to be moved to obey His Torah.
So we see that these changes in the priesthood, and subsequent changes to the corresponding commands in the Law, were predicted in the Tanakh itself and find their continuous fulfillment in Jesus; yet, the Torah remains unbroken—how can a person explain this? The Biblical writers use the language they do because they are being very careful not to give the impression that one can just pick out which commands from the Law one wants to obey and those they can ignore; and so their explanations, from a Western point of view, often come across cryptically or paradoxically. Instead of saying, "Well, we're splitting the Law down this line—you can follow these commands over here, but these you don't have to worry about,"1 they attempted to approximate concepts within like the law of Christ, the law of God, the law of the Spirit, the law of sin and death, etc. Historically, this led to a gross misinterpretation of Paul's writings which bolstered anti-Jewish sentiment among Gentile Christians in the 2nd century and has persisted to this day. Even as Paul's letters were circulating among the churches, the Apostle Peter recognized that this misunderstanding was occurring and spoke to it:
So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him. Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction.
Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position. But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen.—2 Peter 3:14-18
He recognizes that Paul's writings are Scripture, he attests that Paul teaches us to make every effort to be blameless (he does), and that those who are Law-less are in error. This is a very different message from what we often hear coming from churches today. If you ask the majority of Christians what they believe the theme of the New Covenant Epistles is, you will hear, “grace.” But when you read the New Covenant, you find that the vast majority of the content is about how we should live in view of the fact that we have received this grace—and that answer is, “love, love, love, love, love, love, love.” If the Torah is abolished, why would anyone care how we act? No, the Torah is very relevant and applicable today, and so we should study it just like any other portion of the Scriptures.
When we look at the Torah as a simple legal code, we misunderstand the purpose of the Law—and this misunderstanding occurs with both Christians and Jews. It is easy to conclude that it is (or was) the means of salvation for the Jew. This is what the Apostle Paul was reacting to—particularly in the Book of Galatians, where a group of believers from the party of the Pharisees were coming to the Gentiles and continuing to insist that they must undergo ritual proselyte conversion to Judaism (by circumcision) in order to become a follower of YHVH. His language, very specific in its context, was to show them that they were saved by grace through faith in Yeshua's (Jesus') sacrifice and priesthood, and not by keeping the rituals of the Torah. The Scriptures tell us that salvation has always been by our heart of worship: our faith in God as our Redeemer, which prompts God to give us grace, and which produces obedience in our life. Job, a character in the Tanakh who was considered the most righteous man outside of Jesus Christ, said in Job 19:25-27, “I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!”
Job understood that it was God Himself who would redeem him; not his own righteousness. Furthermore, his heart of worship is reflected in his yearning. In Hebrews, chapter 11, we see a litany of Old Testament Biblical characters who by faith acted as they did; and this worship was credited to them as righteousness. Furthermore, Hebrews 10:3-4 says that the blood of bulls and goats can never take away sin. So, the commands in the Torah surrounding priesthood and sacrifice were not given to atone for our sin; they were given to allow us fellowship with God in spite of our sin. Until Jesus changed the priesthood, they were the means of communication by which the people of God gained access to Him.
The morality within the Torah show us God's nature, which in turn displays His expectations for how we should live (Leviticus 11:45, 1 Peter 1:16). When His perfect Law and our behavior are held up side by side, the Law acts as a mirror, showing us that there is a serious discrepancy between the two. It can’t do anything to fix our problem—it only shows us that we have a problem. The moral Law is a measuring stick used to show how we compare to God’s standard.
What we do with this information depends on our context of worship. If we are true God-worshipers, this drives us to seek out God for salvation; because while we desperately want to be right with Him, we realize our sinful limitations. If we are absorbed in self-worship, however, then the Law simply becomes a body of rules by which we can make ourselves look better and attempt to make everyone else look worse—which is what Jesus and His disciples were reacting to in their discourse.
What is great is that we see in the Jeremiah 31 passage that the Holy Spirit comes into us and causes us to obey the Torah by this process (the lost word among Christians today is sanctification): we arrive at a choice to obey the Torah, and lean on God to help us; the Spirit reminds us of what God has said (John 14:26), and gives us power to do God’s will (Acts 1:8); and in the partnership of our saying, "Yes, LORD", He is making us more like Christ. What has been denied to us Gentile Christians due to the misunderstandings of history is that the Holy Spirit is using the morality of the Law of Moses to form us and shape us—He is etching it permanently on our hearts. The Law remains a measuring stick; however, in the Holy Spirit—and Him alone, it has become a shining beacon of destiny instead of a shameful reminder of our failure. It has become the goal that we are aiming for—not as the product of our own effort to produce salvation, but so that we can walk out our relationship with God and be changed to resemble Him. It is primarily by our obedience to the Torah that we partner with God in advancing His kingdom in us and through us to the rest of the world. It is the tool that God the Holy Spirit uses to change us from being self-worshipers to being God-worshipers. Our obedience to the Torah shows that we are redeemed, true worshipers of God.
It is no coincidence that the Law of Moses and the Holy Spirit were given to mankind on the same day almost 1500 years apart—the Jewish festival of Pentecost. There was a rebellion against Moses on the day the Law was given to the Israelites, resulting in the deaths of 3000 people; on the day that Pentecost was fulfilled in the book of Acts, 3000 people were raised to life spiritually through their belief in Christ and their receipt of the Holy Spirit. The Law of Moses and the indwelling Holy Spirit of God fit together like a lock and key, which work in tandem to make us more like God.
Our part in the partnership is to yield to the work of the Holy Spirit by applying ourselves to what we know He wants of us; in order to know what He wants of us, we need to understand how to interpret the Law of Moses taking the priesthood of Jesus into account. Here are four 'filters' that we can use to help us apply this correctly:
1. First, we need to use the lens of love. As Jesus said, love for God and love for neighbor is paramount and ultimately fulfills the moral Law. So in everything, love for God and others needs to be our motivation. If we find ourselves doing anything out of a selfish motivation, regardless if it is ‘good’ or ‘bad’, we need to stop and adjust. As an example, if I give the firstfruits of my income out of the desire to look good in front of others or to get more back from God, this is self-worship. But if I give simply because I love the Lord in thankfulness for what He has given me, then this is an act of true God-worship.
2. Second, when we are reading about something in the Law of Moses, we need to ask ourselves the question, ‘What does this pertain to? Is this a command directed toward sacrifice or how we should live? If the passage in question concerns a moral behavior, it applies to the Christian without question. Otherwise, we need to ask ourselves HOW this applies to us: even if the actual practice is covered under the sacrifice and priesthood of Jesus, is there a deeper principle that God is looking to teach us? An example here would be the command to pray wearing blue tassels on your clothing, which led to the traditions of the tzitzit and tallit. When we analyze this command, we see that it has to do with how we interface with God; therefore, it is fulfilled in Jesus’ priesthood. The way is open—God will hear me whether I am wearing blue or red or nothing at all. But, the reason why the command was given is plainly spelled out in the Torah—it was so the people would not forget the commands of God. In the New Covenant, the Holy Spirit brings to our remembrance all the commands of God. Now I am not saying you can't wear a tallit when you pray—you just don’t have to; and if you find yourself judging others because they don’t (or because they DO), you need to refer back to point #1 above. If one wears a tallit or tzitzit because they want to boost the appearance of their holiness factor, I would contend they are actually sinning by doing so; but if one does it simply because it really helps them focus on God and His commandments, great—go for it!
3. Third, what is the context behind what is being said? We need to remember that the Bible, and subsequently the Law, was written to the people of Israel; and so therefore it makes sense to take into consideration the original language (Hebrew), the traditional Jewish cultural interpretation (and sometimes the interpretation of the surrounding Semitic cultures as well), and any general overarching principles that might be deduced from what is being said in the context of that culture. A good example here is the celebrating of the Jewish festivals. God designed each one to be a picture of His redemptive work, and they fit together like pieces of a puzzle. There are many things in the New Covenant Scriptures that can only be understood in the light of what God said through the Feasts. I would encourage people to celebrate these—the Scriptures will unfold for you like the petals of an amazingly beautiful flower. But again—do everything from the lens of love. If you try to do this from a position of making yourself look more holy, you will miss the point entirely, and it will be worthless to you.
4. How did Jesus interpret the Law? Obviously, as followers of Jesus, we would apply His viewpoint of the Law as primary. A perfect example is the kosher dietary laws. Jesus said that what makes us unclean is not what goes into our stomach, but what comes out of our heart. The Gospel of Mark records that by saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean—period. Some people try to shove this away in a corner, trying to say that this was Mark's interpretation or that it even is some added comment that was not originally in Scripture. I become wary when people try to tell me that the Bible does not say what it clearly says or vice versa. What I believe Jesus was attempting to show in this passage is why the dietary laws were put in the Torah in the first place. Many commands, such as these, were given to the Jews in order to keep them safe from disease (Deut. 7:12-15)—not because they are a statement on morality: He did not come to save us from bacon and shrimp, but from hate and malice. If there is any spiritual uncleanness to this, it has been taken care of by the sacrifice and priesthood of Jesus. When Jesus made these statements recorded in Matthew 15 and Mark 7, He was reacting to the Pharisees' overemphasis on kosher eating as a measure of morality—particularly surrounding ritual hand washing.2What Jesus did not say in the passage is, "So let's all go out and consume large quantities of pork to celebrate." It is important for us to understand that even though pork and shellfish will not send a person to hell, God did not choose these animals as unclean in the Torah arbitrarily; one can get some nasty diseases from eating pork or shellfish that is not properly cooked, and science is showing that the flesh of these animals retains toxins that are passed onto us when we eat them, even if they are properly cooked. Perhaps it might be best to avoid these foods for health reasons. But again, if we find ourselves judging others on the basis of food, we are operating out of self-worship and need to re-adjust according to the lens of love (see Romans 14).
Finally, everything we do should be from the context of relationship. Be sensitive in prayer with God about your conduct. Like David, read the Torah and ask Him if there is anything (thoughts or actions) that He would have you change, being open to hear God's answer. View everything as an opportunity to spread God’s love to others. I will close with the words of Paul in Philippians 2:1-11:
Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Blessed are you, YHVH, King of the Universe, who made all things exist according to your Word. Amen.
1A Christian here might bring up Acts 15, the oft-named Jerusalem Council, in which all the early leaders of the church gathered to determine whether Gentile Christians should go through ritual proselyte conversion in order to be saved. They made a compromise based on Jewish tradition that Gentiles should hold to the Noahide Laws, a rabbinic invention based on God’s instruction to Noah after he left the ark. The Jewish sages to this point declared that this was all the Gentiles had to keep in order to be considered ‘righteous among the nations’. However, this was not a carte blanche declaration that the entire Torah was null and void for the Gentile, and in fact, many note that the idea was to have the Gentiles learn the rest of the Torah as they began to sit in the synagogue with the Jews. It is interesting to note that while all were in agreement at the council, this compromise did not ultimately appease everyone: some from the party of the Pharisees continued to insist that Gentiles should go through proselyte conversion, while Paul declared that eating food sacrificed to idols was fine if a person's conscience was ok with that.
2The reason why Jews have traditionally been extra-sensitive to pork—treating it as the most unclean meat among unclean animals—is because of the Maccabean Crisis, which occurred about 150 years before Jesus' birth, in which the Hellenized Syrians often persecuted the Jews by attempting to force them to eat pork under pain of torture and death. (Unfortunately in later centuries, the various Christian churches did the same thing.) During Jesus' day, kosher eating was particularly fresh in the Pharisees' minds as a symbol of national identity, made especially so by the memory of this conflict. Jesus was reminding them of the true reason for these mitzvot and spurned their making of this into a moral issue.