What Laws Must a Christian Follow?

The tension between the Law and the Gospel and how they relate to each other is the key to understanding Christianity.


The themes of law and grace are central to Christianity. Sorting them out gets to the very heart of the gospel message. Yet, many people inside and outside of the Christian community are unclear on what laws Christians must follow, what laws are no longer applicable, and why.

Perhaps, more importantly: is that even a question we should be asking? Someone recently posted the following question to a group to which I belong on social media:


I get the message of we are not under the law but under grace. But if we live through Christ we will follow the law. How do we know what law to follow? Does this go as far back as to not mix fabrics? 

Obviously everyone says we’re no longer under the law, but ”faith without works is dead” so I am confused. 

How do we know which laws to follow?


Human tendency is to want a list of rules to follow so we can check them off. The rich young ruler demonstrates that human tendency when he came to Jesus one day and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16)

We also have a tendency to want to quantify rules, and to simplify them to make them easier to follow. Perhaps, that that is what motivated the Pharisees one day to ask Jesus, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” (Matt. 22:36)

Or we go the other direction: we add rules on top of rules on top of rules to make sure that we don’t miss anything. The Pharisees demonstrated this approach in how they handled the commandment to observe the Sabbath. The created a list of “work” that was forbidden including, among other things: sowing, plowing, reaping, binding sheaves, threshing, winnowing, selecting, grinding, sifting, kneading, and baking bread; twelve similar activities related to the preparation of clothing, from shearing sheep to sewing; and seven activities related to preparing the carcass of a deer for food or leather. (See What are some Sabbath Observance rules that the Pharisees made?)

Moses started with ten commandments. By the time the books attributed to Moses were completed, there were 613 commandments!

The Torah (the Five Books of Moses – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy) focused on laws. That focus carries through the entire Old Testament. Though the observance of those laws can be seen more in the breach, than in the observance thereof!

The same focus continued into the New Testament. We see it in the question asked by the rich young ruler and the Pharisees’ questions to Jesus. We see it in the tension that threatened to divide the early church between Paul and Peter over whether believing Jews must follow the Law and what laws believing Gentiles must follow.

This is the tension between the Law and the Gospel. If we understand only one thing about the Gospel message, the relationship of the Law to the Gospel might be the most important thing! I have written about it often, including How the Moorings of the Gospel Were Secured.

For the sake of brevity, I won’t restate everything here. You can click in the links in the last two paragraphs to get an overview from the articles linked there. Understanding what Jesus meant when he said he didn’t come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, is key.

If you are not a Christian, or you are a Christian, but you are not sure you understand these things, please do not just gloss over them. The tension between the Law and the Gospel and how they relate to each other is the key to everything.

It was the focus of almost all of Paul’s writings. It is the major theme in Romans. Take some time now to wrestle with it. Don’t stop until it makes sense to you!

Hopefully, the rest of my thoughts in this piece will help.

Continue reading “What Laws Must a Christian Follow?”

People Are Enslaved to Whatever Defeats Them

God saves us to set us free from sin. We are meant for a freedom that empowers us to be good, knowledgeable, self-controlled, enduring, godly, filled with brotherly affection and with love.

The words that have become the title of this blog piece struck me in my daily Bible reading this morning. They are pulled from 2 Peter 2:19. I highlighted them in my digital Bible app.

We may tend to focus on the more encouraging provisions of the Bible and gloss over provisions like the one I am quoting here, but the Bible is a double-edged sword. It sometimes cuts to the marrow. It discerns and reveals the thoughts and intents of the heart. It is living and active… if we let it in to our hearts to do its job.

I am convicted today, as I should be, and I am encouraged, because God, the Father, disciplines His children whom He loves. God watches out for the ones He loves. He warns us when we are straying into dangerous territory.

If we are paying attention and willing to respond, these warnings will protect us. If we rush headlong ahead, not heeding the warnings, as we are apt to do, we find ourselves entangled in difficulties that can threaten to undo us if we fail to repent and turn around.

Even then, the going can be difficult. Bad habits are easy to form and very difficult to break. If we go too far down the road with them, we find reversing course to be very difficult, indeed. Forming new, good habits is many times more difficult than the path we followed into those bad habits.

Bad habits are easy to form because they come from a place that is instinctual. They are outgrowths of natural tendencies of people who simply do “what feels good”.

Bad habits form from desires that are common to people – not necessarily bad desires. Evil isn’t a thing in itself. Evil is the corruption of good. Bad habits for when we seek to satisfy our desires in the easiest, most accessible, self-centered and least beneficial ways.

For instance, loving God and loving our neighbors – the two greatest commandments of God – are wrapped up in loving ourselves. If we don’t love ourselves, we have a hard time loving others. If we love others, we usually have an easy time loving ourselves. Loving God and loving people are intimately related to loving ourselves.

The popular idea of “self love”, getting some “me time”, and “focusing on myself”, however, can be a corruption of what is basically good. We are naturally self-centered. We naturally love ourselves more than others. When Jesus told us that we should love our neighbors as ourselves, he was implicitly acknowledging the fact that we are naturally focused on ourselves and our needs.

We instinctually love ourselves and seek what is best for us. We have to be purposeful, intentional and self-sacrificing to consider others, and especially to consider others ahead of ourselves. It isn’t natural, and, therefore, it isn’t easy.

Loving others isn’t hating ourselves; it’s learning to love others on the same level as we love ourselves. It is thinking of others on the same level as we think of ourselves.

Many people today are self-loathing, which is also a corruption of what is good. People who loath themselves are equally as self-absorbed as people who are corrupted in self-love.

We are made in God’s image, so to loathe ourselves is to loathe the very image of God. We shouldn’t confuse loving our neighbors as ourselves with loathing ourselves.

Self-loathing is a kind of self-centeredness. People who are self-loathing are self-absorbed in a negative way. Self-absorption and self-focus are a corruption of what is good, regardless of whether the result is pleasurable or painful.

The words of Jesus are transcendent. They direct our eyes away from ourselves to God and to others. When Jesus says, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light”, he is speaking to the reality that our self-focus (the burden of the self) traps us into unhealthy and ultimately destructive behaviors that are more of a burden than a help to us.

Such is the burden of sin. When we are unable to overcome sin, we are enslaved to it. As Peter says, “We are enslaved to whatever defeats us.” And so, I have come back to the focus of this blog piece: these words in 2 Peter 2:19.

Continue reading “People Are Enslaved to Whatever Defeats Them”

Who Is God? How Can We Approach Him? What Do the Answers Mean for Us Today?

Many things to which we devote our energies are good, but they become idols when they become our “ultimate things”.

Who will approach God? Who is the King of Glory? These are questions David poses in Psalm 24, one of the Messianic Psalms.

He begins with recognizing who God is. God is the creator of everything there is, and He possesses and has authority over all that He created.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.

Psalm 24:1-2

Though the nations all around David had their own gods in various images and likenesses, David recognizes that there is only one, creator God. One God made the heavens and the earth, and there is no god like Him. In that context he asks the question:

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?

Psalm 24:3

How does one approach a God like that? How do created beings, such as ourselves, approach the God who created us? David understands that we can only approach such a God on His own terms:

The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

Psalm 24:4

Only a person with clean hands and a pure heart can approach a God like that. Only a person who trusts in such a God, alone, can approach Him. Only a person who understands truth and is free of deceit.

Can any of us say that we meet these conditions?

If we think honestly on these things, we have to realize that we don’t. The truth is that no one is righteous, not even one person. (Psalm 14:3; Psalm 53:3; and Romans 3:10)

Think of David, the very person who wrote this Psalm. He didn’t meet those conditions, and he certainly knew it. He is one of the most flawed people of all the people of faith in the Bible. He knew where he stood with God.

The problem: we want clean hands and a pure hear; we want to trust in God alone, and we want to hold to nothing but the truth. The truth is, though, that no one meets these conditions. No one can approach a holy God!


Yet, this Psalm exalts in the anticipation of connecting with such a God – a God who made and possesses the universe, a God who can only be approached with cleans hands, a pure heart, with singleness of devotion and in the fullness of truth. This is because David anticipates something. And this is where the Psalm shifts:

They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob.

Psalm 24:5-6

The resolution to the problem is that we do not approach God: He approaches us. We must receive from God his blessing and vindication. It is nothing we can ascend to, nothing we can achieve.

God knows this well, and He provided a way. As with Abraham for whom God provided a ram caught in the thicket to sacrifice in place of his son, Isaac, God has provided for us what is necessary to clear the way for us to receive Him. Through Christ, we are made holy, clean and new.[i]

The Psalm is considered “Messianic” because David anticipates our need for God to come to us, to provide for us. He says:

Lift up your heads, you gates;
    be lifted up, you ancient doors,
    that the King of glory may come in.

Psalm 24:7

Thus, David exalts not in the prospect that someone might ascend to heaven, but in the anticipation that God will descend to us. God meets us where we are. But there is more to this than God simply meeting us where we are: we need to be ready to receive Him.

Before the church service that inspires this article this morning, I read an article in my newsfeed: How the Capitol attacks helped spread Christian nationalism in the extreme right, from the Religious News Service. It may seem like a strange tie in to Psalm 24, but I hope you will stick with me to see the connection.

Continue reading “Who Is God? How Can We Approach Him? What Do the Answers Mean for Us Today?”

Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part III

Abraham’s faith was more than naked belief; it was belief that prompted him to act in trust in God.

“All Scripture is breathed out (inspired) by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness….” (2 Tim. 3:16)

I was prompted in reading Psalm 1 to focus on the distinction between “the righteous” and “the wicked” in Who are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part I. As I began to dig into it, I observed that only God is righteous, and our righteousness depends wholly on our relationship to God. If we believe (trust) Him, he credits His righteousness to us. (See Part II) Abraham is our example: when he believed God, His faith in God was credited to him as righteousness. (Gen. 15:6 & rom. 4:3)

This is all very fundamental to Christianity. It might prompt us to make the assumption that people who merely believe God, believe the Bible (and go to church) are righteous. There is a fly in that ointment, however; and James identifies it in his letter.

James acknowledges that Abraham believed God, and his belief was counted to him as righteousness (James 2:23), but James digs a little deeper into what “the righteousness that comes by faith” (Rom. 3:22) really looks like. After all, even demons believe in God (James 2:19), but they aren’t righteous! The difference between the righteous and the wicked, therefore, involves something more than merely believing in God

We explored the idea that righteousness is something that flows from God, out of His very Being. It is not something God decreed, but something that God is in His very nature. Righteousness is not an abstract ideal that God lives up to; God is righteous. We don’t describe God in respect to righteousness; we know righteousness by knowing God.

It helps, perhaps, to take morality out of the equation and to look at it through a more scientific lens. Just as gravity is what it is and operates the way it operates (because that is how God created the universe), righteousness is simply what it is. Righteousness, however, isn’t something God created, like gravity; righteousness flows from the very nature and character of God.

To put it very simply: God defines righteousness by who He is, and righteousness is defined in relation to God.

Thus, we can only know righteousness in relation to God. We can’t be righteous, because only God is righteous. God credits His righteousness to us who believe (trust) in Him, but that is only the beginning.

Christians might call this being born again. We believe God; God counts us righteous; and, thus, He welcomes us into relationship with Him. A birth, however, is only the beginning.

When we dig deeper, as James did, we see a specific characteristic to the belief that Abraham by which God credited it to him as righteousness. That characteristic is something more than bare belief. Demons, who also believe, don’t have that characteristic (otherwise their belief would be credited to them as righteousness too). This characteristic is what James is getting at when he says that “faith apart from works is dead”. (James 2:26)

Abraham’s faith prompted him to action. James says that Abraham’s “faith was active along with his works”, and his “faith was completed by his works”. (James 2:22) Thus, Abraham’s faith was more than naked belief; it was belief that prompted him to act in trust in God.

Having some understanding of what makes a righteous person righteous, and what doesn’t, is essential to our relationship with God.

Faith that doesn’t prompt a person to action is not the kind of faith Abraham had; it is not the kind of faith that is credited to a person as righteousness. Faith that only prompts feelings is not the kind of faith that leads to righteousness. (James 1:19) The faith that leads to righteousness is faith that prompts a person to be a doer of God’s word. (James 1:22-25) It is faith that prompts love for God and love for neighbor, and that love is active! (James 1:26-27)

Faith that doesn’t result in a change from the core of a person’s being that emanates out into a change of heart and change in action is not the kind of faith that can be described as being born again. It is not saving faith, and it is not the kind of faith that God attributes as righteousness to people. 

Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part II

Righteousness and justice are what they are because God is who He is.


Who are the righteous? Who are the wicked?

This was the question prompted in my heart recently as I read Psalm 1, which begins with a warning not to walk in step with the wicked, stand in the way of sinners or sit in the company of mockers. I describe how that question was prompted in Part 1 of this blog series.

Beyond equating the wicked with “sinners” and “mockers” (and speaking to the company we keep), Psalm 1 doesn’t go into much detail on the characteristics of the wicked (or the righteous). I realized as I responded to the prompting in my heart that I had some old assumptions about those things that might not be true, or at least not completely true, so I set out to dig a little deeper.

As Christians, we know that no one is righteous; we have all sinned and fallen short. We know that righteousness is credited to those who believe God and have faith (trust) in Him. We might assume, then, that there isn’t much more to it – that believing God, and the Bible and going to church is all it takes to make a person righteous; and, of course, that these things distinguish the righteous from the wicked.

This view, though, is only partly right. Even demons believe (Jam. 2:19), but that doesn’t make them righteous! We need to dig a bit deeper to develop a more complete understanding of what it means to be righteous. God, of course, is righteous, and our righteousness is gained only in relation to Him – by believing in Him – by what does that mean for us?

Continue reading “Who Are the Righteous and the Wicked? Part II”