We Cannot be under Law and under Grace

Prof. Johan Malan, Middelburg, South Africa (September 2008)

Scripture quotations are from the NKJV unless otherwise stated.

Among Christians in various parts of the world an extremely dangerous spiritual movement is under way, where people in many respects revert back to the Old Testament law. They do so under the deceptive supposition that the outward observance of the law would add to the grace of Christ to make them better Christians. The converse situation, however, is more likely to be true, as this practice may jeopardise people’s salvation.

An objective study of the law in the New Testament (NT) – not quoting selectively only those sections which support one’s own view – clearly indicates that, in the time after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit, we are no longer under the law:

·       “Sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). We are not convicted of sin by the law, but by the Holy Spirit who ministers the grace of Christ to us and instils His image in us. Everything which is in conflict with the nature of Christ is sin. The NT fully informs us about the works of the flesh (sin), as well as the fruits of the Spirit which represent God’s righteousness (cf. Gal. 5:16-22).

·       “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4). Christ’s work of grace, as well as the example of His perfect life (1 John 2:6; 1 Pet. 2:21), calls and enables us to reach loftier heights in our spiritual life. The faithful following of the Lord Jesus leads to more complete sanctification than was possible through the law. That is why Paul said that his righteousness was not from the law but through faith in Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:9).

·       “If righteousness comes through the law, then Christ died in vain” (Gal. 2:21). The law renders all people guilty before God (Rom. 3:19), since no person can comply with the demands of the law to be saved through it. The law only brings us knowledge of sin but cannot save us. We can only be saved by accepting Christ’s atoning death and then surrender ourselves to be guided into all truth by His Spirit.

·       “You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace” (Gal. 5:4). Any Christian who tries to supplement the grace of the Lord Jesus by observing the law – even if it is only the legalistic observance of the Sabbath – actually says by this action that Christ is not sufficient for him, thereby undermining the gospel of the cross. We cannot be under law and under grace at the same time!

The reference to observance of the law in Matthew 5:17-19 was relevant to that particular time, since Jesus had not yet made atonement for our sins, and the Holy Spirit was not yet poured out to convict people of their sin. The law fulfils the function as a tutor to Christ as only He can save (Gal. 3:24). The relevance of the law as a tutor to Christ still prevails, but in the period after Christ it can only be applied to unsaved sinners: “… knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane” (1 Tim. 1:9).

In their Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 732), Profs. Walvoord & Zuck comment as follows on this scripture: “The law is designed to show people their sinfulness. Thus the law is not for one who had already recognized his sin and turned to Christ. That person is no longer under the law but should now walk in the Spirit (Gal. 5:13-26). The law is intended for those who remain unconvinced of their sin.”

“But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor [the law]” (Gal. 3:25). The only law to which we are subjected is Christ’s New Testament law of love: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). If we love God and our neighbour we have fulfilled the entire law (Matt. 22:37-40; Rom. 13:8-10). That includes the command on the Sabbath as well, because in Christ we also enter the rest of the Lord. There is nothing wrong in observing a weekly day of rest (Sunday), thereby honouring and upholding a long-standing Christian tradition, but there are no laws pertaining to this day of rest in the Bible.

The love of God was poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5) and enables us to live spiritually on a higher level than the law. There is not the slightest possibility that the liberty from dominion by the law, which we have in Christ (Gal. 5:1), can lead to a life of licentiousness. We have a clear command to holiness, and also a high calling of God in Christ Jesus. Reverting to the law will in no way help us to attain a higher level of sanctification.

Why do so many Christians return to the weak and insufficient elements of the law by observing days, months, seasons and years? (Gal. 4:9-10). These practices refer to weekly Sabbaths, new moons, sabbatical years and other Old Testament (OT) Jewish festivals. It is unthinkable that believers would try to gain additional merit before God by pursuing the shadows of the law after having received the final fulfilling of God’s work of grace through Jesus Christ in the NT. Is Christ, the Holy Spirit, and God’s love not sufficient to them? Do they want to supplement it, thereby detracting from grace? Let it be far from us to lapse into this heresy.

Hebrew roots or Christian roots?

The Hebrew Roots Movement is one of various movements committing themselves to exploring the roots of our faith in Israel’s language, culture and religious institutions. They use the image of the olive tree in Romans 11 as biblical justification for their movement. They see the olive tree as Israel, and the grafting in of the wild olive branches as the salvation of Gentiles, who then become part of a “spiritual Israel.” Having been grafted in, Christians from the Gentile world should then be spiritually edified and nourished by the sap which is offered to them from the trunk and roots of the olive tree (Israel).

In the process, many of these [Christian] believers develop a strong Jewish orientation by referring to themselves as spiritual Jews or Israelites, while also observing Jewish feasts and Sabbaths. They prefer to use Hebrew names and terminology – particularly the Hebrew names of God and Christ. Eventually they reduce themselves to no more than a Christian sect of Judaism, and try to live under the law and under grace.

Believers who think they have been grafted into Israel, actually imply that they were grafted into a nation who were dispersed during the past 2000 years because of rejecting the Messiah due to their unbelief and ignorance on Messianic prophecies in the OT. Now that this nation, still in unbelief, is restored to their land and again started keeping their feasts and Sabbaths in which Jesus is denied as Messiah, many Christians are participating with them!

The Hebrew Roots Movement is mistaken by their statement that the whole olive tree is a symbol of Israel. Actually, only the branches of the tree represent Israel – and they were broken off because of unbelief. We were not grafted into the severed branches of the tree, but into the trunk of the tree. The trunk and roots of the olive tree spiritually represent the Messiah. He is described as “the seed of Abraham”, who is the biological progenitor of Israel:

“And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the nations by faith, preached the gospel to Abraham beforehand, saying, in you all the nations shall be blessed. So then those who are of faith are blessed with believing Abraham … Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us … that the blessing of Abraham might come upon the Gentiles in Christ Jesus, that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith … Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He does not say, ‘and to seeds,’ as of many, but as of one, ‘And to your seed,’ who is Christ” (Gal. 3:8-16).

The spiritual blessing which we obtain is not from the Jewish nation, but from the seed of Abraham, which is Christ. He is “the Root and the Offspring of David” (Rev. 22:16), in other words the origin and King of Israel who also came to be the Light and Salvation of the whole world (Acts 13:47). In John 15 similar symbolism is found of the stem and root which allude to Jesus, while the believers are the branches that are put in a position to bear fruit: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit” (John 15:5). The branches are pruned in order to bear more fruit. Ongoing sanctification and an unbroken relationship with the Lord Jesus should be pursued: “Abide in Me, and I in you” (John 15:4). We should, therefore, not become more Jewish, more inclined towards Old Testament institutions, and more legalistic - but more Christ-like, more oriented towards the New Testament, and more Spirit-filled.

The Old Testament is indeed important for spiritual edification and knowledge on God’s counsel for humanity. It also contains many prophecies on the first and second comings of the Messiah, including events that will follow the second coming of Christ, particularly the thousand-year reign of peace – when spiritually regenerated Israel will dwell in their land during the revealed kingdom of the Messiah, to be a blessing to the whole world. The NT is the fulfilment of OT promises; it is the substance of OT shadows (Col. 2:16-17). It would be foolish to revert to the shadows of the law and the prophets after having obtained the glorious fulfilment of these prophetic promises in the Lord Jesus, and having been empowered by the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. We have not been commissioned to become like Israel, but to lead spiritually blinded Jews to Jesus! Make use of OT prophecies to convince Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is indeed the Messiah and Saviour of the world.

Hebrew names

An inherent part of the Judaising of Christianity is the use of Hebrew names for God and the Lord Jesus. This is known as the Sacred Name Movement although their ideas are based mainly upon ignorance and false suppositions. Some of them even go so far as to contend that Greek names for God – from which the sacred names in other languages are also derived – all refer to idols. It is, for instance, alleged that Jesus is derived from Je-Zeus, which means Son of Zeus (a well-known pagan god in Greek mythology). In order to clarify this controversy we need to investigate the use of different languages in biblical times.

During the Assyrian and subsequent Babylonian captivity of Israel, and also during the ensuing period, most Jews had lost their knowledge of Hebrew. They started using Aramaic and Greek as colloquial languages. Aramaic was the lingua franca in the entire Middle East, being used by many different peoples. It was a mixture of Syrian and Hebrew. The biblical name for Syria is “Aram”. During the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the common language in Israel. Jesus and His disciples spoke a Galilean dialect of Aramaic. Knowledge of Hebrew was confined to educated Jews, e.g. the rabbi’s and the scribes.

Jesus Christ was referred to in Aramaic as Eashoa Msheekha, in Hebrew as Yashua (or Yeshua) Ha Mashiach, and in Greek as Iesous Christos (Iesous being pronounced as Yesous). All books of the New Testament were originally given in Greek by inspiration of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21), and in these books God is rendered Theos, Lord is described as  Kurios, and Jesus Christ is referred to as Iesous Christos. To allege that these are the names of idols derived from a non-Jewish culture is heretical. The Greek names for God (Theos and Kurios) had already been established for more than two centuries by then and were also generally used in Israel. They were never controversial.

The nouns God or gods can, however, be used as generic terms to refer to idols, other gods or foreign gods, depending on the context in which they are used. The devil can, for instance, be described as the god (theos) of this age (2 Cor. 4:4). The same rule also applies to Hebrew, where Elohim may both refer to God and to idols or other gods. In Exodus 20:2-3 God says: “I am the Lord (Yahweh) your God (Elohim) … You shall have no other gods (elohim) before Me.” Both the Greek and Hebrew personal names and nouns were originally used by the Holy Spirit while inspiring the authors of the Bible, and it is wrong to allege that the Greek names are poor translations of the Hebrew names.

In the time of Jesus, Aramaic was the common language in Israel. The statement in Acts 21:40 that Paul addressed the people “in the Hebrew tongue” (KJV), should have been translated more accurately as “in the Hebrew dialect” – in this case Aramaic. The Amplified Bible and the Modern King James Version say: “… he spoke to them in the Hebrew dialect.” The rendering of the NIV is as follows: “… he said to them in Aramaic”. In their Bible Knowledge Commentary (p. 417), Profs. Walvoord & Zuck comment: “When Paul was granted permission to speak to the mob, he addressed them in Aramaic, the common language of Palestinian Jews, used throughout the Middle East at that time.” Many of those were also able to speak Greek.

Septuagint

The Septuagint is a Greek version of the Old Testament which was translated in the third century BC in Alexandria, Egypt, for use by Greek-speaking Jews. It was widely used by Hellenistic Jews who were spread throughout the Greek empire and who gradually stopped using their Hebrew language. This translation also gave many non-Jews insight into Israel’s history, culture and religious development. Septuaginta is the Latin word for 70 and refers to the 70 Jewish scholars who did the translation. For this reason it is sometimes abbreviated LXX. Other sources state that there were 72 translators – six from each of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Following this tradition, all the books of the New Testament were originally written in Greek. For this reason we often find expressions like: “… which is translated …” (see Matt. 1:23; Mark 5:41; 15:22; 15:34; John 1:38; 1:42; Acts 4:36; 9:36). Reference is made to certain Aramaic and Hebrew words which were translated into Greek. The authors mostly quoted from the Septuagint, and occasionally from the Hebrew or Aramaic. There is extensive evidence in the Gospels that quotations were made from the Septuagint, and not from the Hebrew text of the OT.

Hebrew text contains no vowels, and was vowelised very much later. That is one of the reasons why the so-called “Bible codes” cannot work. Aramaic words are also encountered in the NT, such as Pharisee and Abba. Authors quoted from the Greek Septuagint, as that was the medium of instruction during the writing of the NT.

General consensus among scholars of the original languages is that the authors of the NT mainly quoted from the Septuagint. The OT sections from which Romans 3:13-18 and Hebrews 1:6 quote, do not even appear in the Hebrew texts and are only found in the Septuagint. The following, among other comments by them on Heb.1:6, is said by Profs. Walvoord & Zuck (ibid. p. 782): “The reference is to the Second Advent when the kingly prerogatives of the Son will be recognized with open angelic worship (cf. Ps. 97:7 where the LXX rendering ‘angels’ correctly renders the text).”

In light of these facts it is not possible that the sacred names should only be used in Hebrew. In any case, nobody knows exactly how God’s Name should be pronounced in Hebrew. The Tetragram YHWH can, in vowelised form, be pronounced in many different ways, e.g. Yahweh, Yehowah and Yahuweh. Consensus also lacks on how the name of Jesus should be pronounced in Hebrew – Yeshua, Yahshua or Yahushua.

Conclusion

Theologically we are on safe ground when using the names God, Lord, and Jesus Christ, which were derived from the Greek words. The Hebraic rendering of names and religious terminology often leads to a theological orientation where aspects of the OT law and covenants with Israel are emphasised at the detriment of the all-sufficiency of Jesus Christ and His work of grace in the NT. Whenever the church or any group of believers see themselves as Israel, theological room for erroneous teachings of this nature is made.