The Law Has Set Me Free?

And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. [Jn 8:32]

We never miss a daily broadcast of the enduring, folksy teaching of Dr. J. Vernon McGee on his Through the Bible radio program. You can listen here to archived programs including the Sunday Sermon, weekly Questions and Answers, and the daily 5-year Bible Study. McGee’s Bible bus has been faithfully rolling on since 1967, but he once recalled how ignorant he felt upon entering the seminary:

I was the youngest in my class. I never saw a Bible, or heard a prayer recited in my home as a boy growing up in Texas; but I just felt that the Lord was calling me to do His work. A liberal, seminary professor told me one time that I’d do alright if I just talked about prophecy, and stayed away from the truth. I asked God to relieve me of this calling if I couldn’t be myself and preach the Gospel. One thing I learned in all my years of preaching is that some of the most unrighteous people you’d ever meet could be found teaching seminary, sitting in a pew, or standing behind the pulpit. One fella accused me of preaching my version of the truth. Well, friend, that’s the only version I know, and it was revealed to me by the Holy Spirit.

We absolutely love Vernon McGee! Incidentally, his initial “J” stands for “John”. He said that all the men in his family were named “John” so it was kind of confusing when someone called out for “John”. McGee said he started using the initial and going by his middle name “Vernon” just so he’d know if they were calling him. What a treasure and a blessing he has been to the body of Jesus Christ. We are sure that he is up yonder in heaven charming even the angels of God.

There’s a classic line in the movies, You can’t handle the truth, which explains why we never hear messages of sin and redemption in some of the popularly attended  mega-churches. A young woman told us recently that she attends a universalist church which is perceived by younger people to be more welcoming than the dogmatic, orthodox denominations which are seen as arrogant and irrelevant.

Barna Group survey revealed that 60% of young Catholics between the ages of 18-29 believe the church is out of step with this generation’s views regarding sex and birth control. Another study conducted by the USA Today revealed that 75% of young people fall away from the church after high school. These statistics are alarming, but not surprising. Simply look at the cultural influences that entertain our young people, and you will find the cause of this falling away. The Apostle Paul warned that the coming Day of the Lord would be preceded by a great falling away, or apostasy:

Let no one in any way deceive you, for it will not come unless the apostasy comes first, and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the son of destruction (2 Thes 2:3).

The world hates the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and many churches are afraid to speak the truth about culturally sensitive issues such as homosexuality and abortion because our children (who have been force-fed a doctrine of accommodation and tolerance) reject the bedrock Christian truths of justification (blood) and sanctification (Spirit). We have heard it said many times that Christians think they are better than everyone else. That is a false perception. Like the bumper stick says, We Are Not Better–Just Saved. It is a deception of the world–yes, Satan–that our righteousness is deemed to be arrogance. Confronting sin does not come from a place of boasting, but of love–much like the chastisement of a parent towards a child.

A number of young people have rejected the mainstream denominations not because of arrogance, but hypocrisy. These young prodigals have been the driving force behind the so-called emerging church. They have friends who are gay, or know someone who has had an abortion. In their social circle are people who struggle with alcohol, or drugs. They see the established church as being too judgemental regarding culturally sensitive issues.

The emerging church seeks to establish personal relationships with people much like Jesus did to the consternation of the religious leaders of His day:

Then it happened that as Jesus was reclining at the table in the house, behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and were dining with Jesus and His disciples. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to His disciples, “Why is your Teacher eating with the tax collectors and sinners?” But when Jesus heard this, He said, It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I DESIRE COMPASSION, AND NOT SACRIFICE,’ for I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners. [Mt 9:10-13]

This is probably the most positive attribute of the emerging church, but because it is an independent, non-affiliated movement it is difficult to define. Some groups within the church are faithfully aligned with essential Christian doctrine regarding the nature of God, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Other groups, however, have re-interpreted the Bible to make it more palatable to the world, but the Gospel they preach is so watered down that it is stripped of its power to save.
The emerging church, similar to the early church, typically meets in people’s homes. It is an informal movement that rejects the tradition of pews and pulpits, and seeks to “do church” differently. However, their desire to establish personal relationships sometimes clouds the greater need to establish a spiritual relationship with God.

There is still another group of young people who are drawn to the Hebrew Roots Movement. Messiah Gate has been characterized as a Hebrew Roots ministry. That is true in the sense that we believe there is value in understanding the Jewish roots of Christian faith, but we are not legalistic. We do not command anyone (Jew or Greek) to follow the 613 mitzvot (commandments) of the written Law.

We know a Christian sister who goes through the whole ritual of Passover including the selection of an unblemished lamb that is prepared for her family’s holiday feast. While the Passover sacrifice was commanded in the Torah (see Exodus chapter 12), it was only a shadow of the Lamb of God who was sacrificed at Passover for the sins of the world.

This is what distinguishes the messianic teaching of Messiah Gate from the radical, legalistic doctrine that is taught by Michael Rood, for example. The modern-day Pharisees can be silenced with one simple verse of scripture:

…by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight. [Ro 3:20]

And consider also:

You have been severed from Christ, you who are seeking to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace. [Gal 5:4]

YHWH established the saving grace of faith 430 years before the Law was given at Mt. Sinai. The Law was a curse that no one could abide:

For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO DOES NOT ABIDE BY ALL THINGS WRITTEN IN THE BOOK OF THE LAW, TO PERFORM THEM.” Now that no one is justified by the Law before God is evident; for, “THE RIGHTEOUS MAN SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.” However, the Law is not of faith; on the contrary, “HE WHO PRACTICES THEM SHALL LIVE BY THEM.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us—for it is written, “CURSED IS EVERYONE WHO HANGS ON A TREE”— in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Spirit through faith. [Gal 3:10-14]

The assembly at Galatia was troubled by the party of circumcision (Gal 2:12) who traveled from Jerusalem to command the Galatians that they must obey the Mosaic commandments–all 613 statutes–to which Paul replied:

You foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified? This is the only thing I want to find out from you: did you receive the Spirit by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith? Even so Abraham BELIEVED GOD, AND IT WAS RECKONED TO HIM AS RIGHTEOUSNESS. [Gal 3:1-6]

The Law was given not to redeem us, but to convict us. It was only a shadow of the righteousness fulfilled in Yeshua HaMashiach.

To our sister who observes the ritual of Passover we make no judgement. Paul admonished the Roman assembly to not be contemptuous of a brother who is weak in the faith. Some choose to eat meat, for example, while others–according to their conscience–are vegetarians. A brother may observe one day over another (Sabbath, for example) while some observe every day alike. Paul said that we must be fully convinced in our mind that our observance is for the Lord otherwise it is sin. We believe it is acceptable to observe these things in context of their fulfillment in Christ our Lord (Mt 5:17).

[You can read about the principles of conscience in Romans chapter 14.]

The Galatians, in contrast, were so confused by the party of circumcision that they believed they had to obey the ritualistic legalism of the Old Covenant to be saved.

[Editor’s Note: The “party of circumcision” is used in place of the offensive term “Judaizers” to describe the Jewish converts from Jerusalem who commanded that Gentile converts be circumcised and obey the Mosaic laws and statutes. See our post, When Paul Rebuked Peter.]

And so it is today that Christians are falling into the trap of the Hebrew Roots Movement that demands adherence to what Paul describes as the weak and worthless elemental things (Gal 4:9). Paul condemned the legalistic observance of days and months and seasons and years (Gal 4:10).

The Galatians were coming under bondage of the Mosaic system from which Christ has set us free. They were keeping the Sabbath; observing the feast days, New Moon festivals and Year of JubileePaul feared that he had preached to them in vain.

Friends, we are no longer in bondage under the law which was given by God to reveal the weakness of our flesh. It is not possible for any of us to keep all 613 mitzvot. That is why God sent His only begotten Son to die for our sins. If you choose to live under the law you will be judged by the law, and you will fall short of the glory of God (Ro 2:123:23). Years ago, when we evangelized door-to-door, people would tell us, “I don’t know Christ, but I’m a good person.” To which we quoted this scripture:

A ruler questioned Him, saying, “Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone. [Lk 18:18-19]

Being good is not good enough, and the Law will not set you free. But being free in Christ is being free, indeed.

[Editor’s Note: Is Christ telling the questioning ruler in Lk 18:19 that He is God?! Dr. Bob Utley, professor of hermeneutics, comments:

We must remember that this is not a theological passage dealing with the person of Jesus Christ. Many try to use this as a proof-text that Jesus did not consider Himself to be divine. This question and statement of Jesus reflects this man’s understanding about his ability to be right with God based on his own efforts. This passage is similar to Matt. 19:16, which reads teacher, what good things shall I do to obtain eternal life?

This really sums up the message of this post. Most people feel that they can be good enough to be saved. You can participate in charity walks, and donate time and money to worthy causes, but Jesus says it won’t be good enough. Though we are saved, by faith, to do good works–the work of Jesus Christ is all that is acceptable and pleasing to God.]

Suggested Reading: What is the Emerging Church?

Next: Your Faith Has Made You Well

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