Why is it important to differentiate between God's ceremonial laws and moral laws? Are they equally relevant to believers today?
Does the Bible draw a distinction between its moral laws and ceremonial laws? Does the Bible clearly state that these two laws are different? Yes, absolutely.
The history behind two sets of laws
On Mount Sinai, Moses received two different sets of instructions: Moral laws (Ten Commandments), which were written by God on tablets of stone and the ceremonial laws which Moses wrote in the Book of the Law.
Moral laws (Ten Commandments): And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18).
Ceremonial laws: 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 (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).
In what ways are they different?
The Ten Commandments define what constitutes sin whereas the ceremonial laws set forth the solution to the sin problem—how to deal with sin.
Without the Ten Commandments, there was no standard or plumb line by which thought, word, and behaviour can be judged.
How was the sin problem addressed in the sanctuary? The Hebrew high priest’s duty was to minister at the altar, a function he shared with his fellow priests. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies once a year during the Day of Atonement, not without presenting a blood sacrifice (goats or bulls) first for himself and then for the sins of the people (Hebrews 9:7).
When Christ came, He entered the Holy of Holies, not with the blood of animals, but through the shedding of His own blood. Through a single sacrificial act, death at the cross, unlike the human priests who had to sacrifice repeatedly, He atoned for man’s sin for all time (Hebrews 9:11-12). Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
(The Holy of Holies refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle where God dwelt. The Tabernacle was the portable earthly dwelling place of God among His people from the time of their exodus from Egypt up till their invasion of Canaan).
Why is it important to differentiate between God’s ceremonial laws from His moral laws?
The reason is obvious. With the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross, the ceremonial laws (which outline the rituals needed to atone for man’s sins) have been abolished (Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9). Christ’s sacrifice is superior and final. He relieves human high priests of their ritualistic duties and makes animal blood sacrifices redundant. Thus, there is no scriptural basis for modern-day Christians to celebrate the Hebrew feasts, which are a part of the ceremonial laws of Moses and which belongs to the Old Covenant. http://bit.ly/2rpTCcu
Why moral laws superior to ceremonial laws
The first law—Ten Commandments—was written by God in stone, signifying that its precepts it would stand eternally. The second law—ceremonial laws—was written by Moses on parchment, implying that its precepts would be temporary.
The way these laws were placed also attests to differences in their significance. There were two sets of laws in the Holy of Holies—the Ten Commandments, written in stone by the finger of God, and placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, AND the ceremonial laws, written by Moses on parchment and placed outside the Ark.
After Christ’s death, the ceremonial laws were discontinued (Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9) because they foreshadowed the cross, but the moral laws (Ten Commandments) still remain. The latter is upheld in the New Testament and believers must continue to live by these laws. ***
To recapitulate, while the ceremonial laws have been abolished, God’s moral laws still stand. The latter, the Ten Commandments, have been simplified into two great commandments:
Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22: 37-40).
“The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.”
— Methodist commentator, Adam Clarke
“We are saved not by keeping the Law but by grace through faith. Though saved, we are still subject to God's moral laws but not the ceremonial and ritualistic laws. The foregoing sums up, in essence, the sticky debate on the role of the Law in the life of believers. Unless one differentiates between God's moral laws and ceremonial laws, one can be pretty confused. The ceremonial laws, such as circumcision, are no longer binding on modern-day believers.”
— Porridge for the Soul
CEREMONIAL LAWS VS MORAL LAWS—IN A NUTSHELL
The ceremonial laws of Moses, which belong to the Old Covenant, have been abolished (Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9). Paul also reinforced the fact that we are now living under grace and are no longer under the legalistic demands of these ceremonial laws, including circumcision (Galatians 5:1-6).
How about God’s moral laws? Are they relevant for believers today?
Paul stressed that we are justified by grace through faith (Romans 3: 21-24) BUT the law (God’s moral laws) still stands: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31).
Jesus echoes Paul’s teaching that God’s moral laws continue to be relevant today:
“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, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished?” (Matthew 5:17-18).
When Christ came, He simplified and condensed the moral laws of the Old Testament (The Ten Commandments) into two great commandments:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 37-40).
TEN COMMANDMENTS (ANCIENT MORAL LAWS) UPHELD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ***
After Christ’s death, the ceremonial laws were discontinued (Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9) because they foreshadowed the cross, but the ancient moral laws (Ten Commandments) still remain. The latter is still found in the New Testament and believers must continue to live by these laws.
Let’s now quickly run through the Ten Commandments and see how these Old Testament (OT) moral laws are upheld in the New Testament (NT):
In the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus upheld the first commandment (have no other gods) by refusing to worship Satan (Matthew 4:10).
Paul emphasised that no idolater will inherit God’s kingdom (Ephesians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 6:9), thus upholding the second commandment (do not make idols).
In the Lord’s Prayer, “hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9) means we must revere and honour God’s name, in keeping with the third commandment (do not take the Lord's name in vain).
In Luke 4:16, as was his custom, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, thus fulfilling the fourth commandment (keep the Sabbath day holy).
In Ephesians 6:1-3, Paul echoed the fifth commandment (honour your father and mother), adding that such obedience may lead to blessing and longevity.
Jesus told the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-20 that he must follow God’s commandments, including the sixth commandment (do not kill), in order to inherit eternal life.
Paul taught in Romans 13:9 that believers should not commit adultery, in line with the seventh commandment (do not commit adultery).
In Ephesians 4: 28, Paul taught that ex-thieves must stop stealing and find honest jobs, in keeping with the eight commandment (do not steal).
Paul exhorted believers to put away lying and speak the truth in Ephesians 4: 25, thus reflecting the ninth commandment (do not bear false witness).
In Luke 12:15, Jesus warned against covetousness, stating that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, in line with the tenth commandment (do not covet).
Thus, if we examine the NT, we find so many references that endorse the Ten Commandments of the OT. If God’s moral laws no longer apply to believers saved by grace, why are the Ten Commandments mentioned, directly or indirectly, in the NT?
The Ten Commandments in a Nutshell
Do not have any other god before God.
Do not make yourself an idol.
Do not take the Lord's name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
Honor thy Mother and Father.
Do not murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not bear false witness
Do not covet
GRACE AND LAW
Have God’s moral laws become irrelevant for believers saved by grace? Does grace do away with the Law? Has Jesus ever said “it’s all by God’s grace” and that the Law has been abolished for believers?
Prosperity is the prevailing mood during Chinese New Year. But does wealth equal genuine security?
Tis’ the Chinese New Year season once again! Caught up in its festive mood, Christians of Chinese descent often wish one another a blessed new year filled with peace and prosperity.
Actually, there is nothing wrong with wishing our friends and family members, “A Happy and Prosperous New Year”, for it is a socially acceptable greeting akin to what John wrote. “Beloved, I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers” (3 John 2).
Certainly, there is no inherent virtue in poverty. And we, in our right mind, would not wish that our family or friends remain poor like a church mouse.
But a rethink is needed. Is this emphasis on prosperity, which is ingrained in Chinese culture, correct in light of biblical teaching?
As believers, how much significance should we attach to prosperity?
Wealth is positive in many ways. It protects us and our family from danger and ill health. We can live in secure, guarded and gated homes. We can afford insurance, more nutritious food and better healthcare. It grants us opportunities to pursue tertiary studies and widens our options for work and leisure. Going on a holiday overseas, which would not be possible if we are poor, may help us to manage stress and improve our overall health.
The rich man’s wealth is his fortress, the ruin of the poor is their poverty (Proverbs 10:15).
A rich man’s wealth is his strong city, and like a high wall in his own imagination (Proverbs 18:11).
But if he is haughty and thinks that wealth makes him absolutely secure in life, he is wrong. In many ways, wealth is like a fortified city, but clinging to riches as our security blanket is most unwise.
Christ warns of the danger of attaching too much importance to wealth in the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:16-21):
Following a bumper harvest, a rich man thought that he should tear down his barns and build larger ones. He trusted in his wealth and told himself, “Soul, you have many goods laid up for many years to come; take your ease, eat, drink and be merry.” But God told him, ‘You fool! This very night your soul is required of you; and now who will own what you have prepared?’ Self-centered and covetous, he did not realise that wealth is transient, uncertain and will lose its value the moment he dies.
This reminds me of those who keep on accumulating freehold property, not realising that they themselves are “leasehold”. God holds the “title” (our life) in His hands and He can choose to terminate the lease period anytime.
Like the rich man in the parable above, those who find security in possessions are constantly driven to acquire stuff. Sadly, they are often insensitive to God’s calling on their lives or the needs of others. And when they die or their empire collapses, they lose everything they hope will grant them security.
Our riches won’t help us on Judgment Day; only righteousness counts then (Proverbs 11:4).
We are warned: "Do not toil to acquire wealth; be discerning enough to desist" (Proverbs 23:4). The principle here isthat we must be wise and not relentlessly pursue wealth. This does not mean, however, that it is wrong to make money through hard work and legitimate means—or even to have a lot of money. Money in itself is not evil; it is the love of money which is a root of all kinds of evils (1Timothy 6:10).
Those who are consumed by a desire for riches without God in the picture, neither consulting Him nor living for Him, are foolish from a biblical viewpoint. Why? We brought nothing into the world and we cannot take anything out of the world. Instead, we should demonstrate contentment, set our hopes on God, be generous and be rich in good deeds (1 Timothy 6: 7, 1 Timothy 6: 17-18).
Honest work and an enterprising spirit are good and bring honour to God’s name. In fact, businessmen and entrepreneurs can play a vital role in the marketplace by creating job opportunities and funding corporate social responsibility (CSR) projects. Laziness and indolence, on the other hand, should be condemned.
The danger lies not in the abundance of wealth we possess but how much the wealth possesses us. The issue is not how much money we have; it is the state of our heart—whether it is covetous/self-centered or God-centered.
A splendid example of a rich man who was unaffected by his wealth is Job. Though wealthy, Job was blameless, upright and feared God. Even when he was afflicted with many woes, including disease and the loss of his children and wealth, he did not curse God when pressured to do so by his wife.
In fact, he accepted his losses with a philosophical approach that reflected God’s sovereignty in His dealings with man:
“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there.
The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
“I know that You can do all things,
And that no purpose of Yours can be thwarted.”
How many of us (myself included) would be able to maintain our integrity like Job in the face of such monumental losses, pain, heartache and misery?
If our security is tied to money, things or self, we'll be badly shaken, even panicky, if one or more of these props are removed.
However, if God is the centre (not money, things or self), we know that His peace, presence, wisdom & strength are with us as we go through trials in life. “You will keep in perfect peace all who trust in you, all whose thoughts are fixed on you!” (Isaiah 26:3) http://bit.ly/2EkhpAm
Because of his integrity amid adversity, Job was vindicated. God not only restored his fortunes but blessed him with twice as much. He started a new family and died in fullness of age. Thus God blessed Job’s latter years more than his early days.
Here was a man who had absolute trust in God. He trusted not in gold; neither did he rejoice because his wealth was great (Job 31: 24-25). Even in the storms of life, he was not overwhelmed because he had deep spiritual roots. His security was primarily in God, not in money, things or self.
Is the prevailing mood of prosperity during Chinese New Year aligned with biblical values? Or is it mainly cultural?
Jesus came that we might have an abundant life. But we must not hastily equate abundance with material wealth. That said, Jesus also taught that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions and we are to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
‘Seek first’ does not just merely imply the sequence of things: We seek God and then we can do our own thing. Rather, ‘seek first’ means that we must give God the priority over our concerns, legitimate though they may be.
“I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly” (John 10:10b).
“Take heed and beware of covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of the things he possesses” (Luke 12:15).
“But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).
Let’s be reminded that when we love the world and the things of the world, our love for God diminishes. And we cannot love God and money to the same degree.
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father, but is of the world. The world and its desires are passing away, but the one who does the will of God lives forever" (1 John 2:15-17).
“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money"(Matthew 6:24).
“If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God"(Colossians 3:1-3).
Clinging to material wealth as our security blanket is unwise. We certainly do not want to be like the self-centered man in the Parable of the Rich Fool, whose end was most tragic.
During this season of celebration, let’s be reminded that while there is nothing wrong in greeting one another, “A Happy and Prosperous New Year”, we must not get carried away by the prevailing mood of prosperity, which is more cultural than biblical.
Wealth may make us more secure, but it doesnotmean prosperity will invariably guarantee security—now or in the hereafter.
FAITHFULNESS AND PROSPERITY
The life of Job is the embodiment of the following verses:
“The reward for humility and fear of the Lord is riches and honour and life.”
“Praise the Lord!
Blessed is the man who fears the Lord,
who greatly delights in his commandments!
His offspring will be mighty in the land;
the generation of the upright will be blessed.
Wealth and riches are in his house,
and his righteousness endures forever.”
(Psalm 112: 1-3)
How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,