ARE WE UNDER ANY LAW? (BY MARK OVERTON)
Copyright © 2019 by Mark Overton.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved. I highly recommend the NKJV as it’s easy to read and my Greek-checks show it’s as accurate as the NASB.
Why should you resist sin? When you are suddenly tempted, do you quickly respond, “No way, it’ll wreck my life!”? Probably not. We Christians have been taught several doctrines that give the impression that we are not under any law. We get the impression that sin will not bring us pain, making it difficult for us to firmly resist temptation. If we believe that we are under no law and that sin will not bring us pain, how can we resist it? Few of us will firmly resist something that brings pleasure with no pain. We are confused about God’s law, making us weak when tempted.
Under the Old Covenant (the Old Testament), God gave many detailed laws to Israel, which we call “the Law of Moses.” Under the New Covenant (brought by Jesus Christ), God split the Law of Moses, making the moral part of it stricter, and discarding most of the remainder. Thus, we are still under God’s moral laws, and God will punish us for violating them, giving us a strong motivation to resist sin.
Table of Contents
Suppose you are suddenly tempted to sin. Why not go ahead and sin? Temptations of sex and dishonesty are frequent and strong. What is your quick and effective response to counter the temptation? You probably have no response. Instead, you will probably think something like, “We’re not under law but under grace, so maybe it’s okay to sin.” You thought maybe. That maybe shows that you are confused about God’s law, and this confusion makes you an easy prey to Satan’s temptations. We need something to give us a strong “no way!” when tempted. Your belief about God’s law will make the difference between yielding to sin or living in victory over sin. Your belief about this is crucial.
Much Christian teaching says that we are under no law, despite Jesus saying, “But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). Elsewhere, Jesus said, “Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:19). Other statements in the Bible such as “you are not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14) and “For by grace you have been saved through faith … not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9) appear to contradict Matthew 19:17 and Matthew 5:19. The result of these paradoxes is that Bible teachers usually promote only their misinterpretation of faith/grace and ignore the other verses, instead of prayerfully seeking the underlying understanding of these paradoxes. Choosing one and shunning the other is to reject God’s word, leading to deception.
We are confused. Here are three paradoxes that illustrate today’s confusion:
- “Keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17) versus “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
- “…those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21) versus “God imputes righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:6).
- In Galatians 5:18, the apostle Paul states that “you are not under the law,” and then in the following verses he gives us a list of 16 laws we must keep.
Jesus said, “And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. For it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell” (Matthew 5:30). Jesus is telling us that if we sin, we will go into hell. That means we are under some laws. Therefore, this topic of God’s law is crucial. Let’s explore it more deeply.
The Law of Moses
Before proceeding, we should define “law”:
You should remember the phrase, constraint with penalty. For example, the speed limit is a law because it is a constraint on our behavior, and it carries the penalty of a fine.
Through the prophet Moses, God gave many laws to ancient Israel. These laws are given in the Old Testament in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy. When referring to the Law of Moses, I follow the accepted convention of capitalizing “Law”. Most of these laws fall into the following categories:
- Moral laws. These laws pertain to the way Jews treat each other. Such laws in the Ten Commandments include supporting parents, not being a false witness, and not committing adultery, murder, or theft. Additional laws found in Leviticus 18 and Deuteronomy 22 pertain to sexual matters. Others require honesty, and merciful treatment of the poor and widows. Others specify how justice is to be administered in response to various crimes. The phrase “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” is found in these laws (Exodus 21:24). The Ten Commandments are given in Exodus 20 and Deuteronomy 5. The moral laws are given in Exodus 20-23 and Leviticus 18. I recommend spending an hour reading these chapters.
- Laws of consecration. These laws require that the Jews devote themselves to God. In the Ten Commandments, they include keeping the Sabbath, having no other gods, creating no idol (“carved image”), and not taking God’s name in vain. Keeping the Sabbath (worshiping on Saturday) was particularly important to the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. Additional laws forbid sorcery and divination. God regards serving Him as similar to being married to Him, so He refers to sorcery and such as “prostitution” (Leviticus 20:6). Finally, Jesus said the greatest commandment in the Law of Moses is, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). This law is in Deuteronomy 6:5, and demands consecration to God.
- Sacrificial laws. The main purpose of the animal sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses is to forgive sins. For example, chapters 4 and 5 of Leviticus contain the phrase “and it shall be forgiven him” eight times, all in response to various animal sacrifices. Bible teachers sometimes claim that Christ’s death on the cross achieved a better forgiveness than the animal sacrifices. That is incorrect; repeating “and it shall be forgiven him” eight times shows that the animal sacrifices provided an effective forgiveness. Additional sacrificial laws were called “fellowship offerings,” which provided the Jews with an optional way of drawing closer to God.
- Symbolic laws. These detailed laws symbolize the Jews’ holiness and devotion to God. There were extensive laws specifying what a Jew was allowed and forbidden to eat (the Kosher laws). A major concern with the Jews was pork, as it was forbidden. Additional regulations specified how pots and pans were to be washed. There were seven major feast days that Jews were expected to participate in, and you have probably heard of one of them: the Passover. There were many regulations regarding the tabernacle and the temple, most of which symbolize various aspects of God’s program of redemption (Hebrews 9:9). In addition, circumcision was a ceremony which was given to Abraham, the father of all Jews (thus predating Moses), and symbolized a Jew’s separation from the world. Circumcision was so important that, in New Testament times, people would often say “circumcision” as a shorthand way of referring to all of the symbolic laws. You will find several references to “the circumcision” in the New Testament, representing those Christians who valued, obeyed, and promoted the symbolic laws. These people gave the apostle Paul much grief, and the book of Galatians is Paul’s response to a church that was influenced by these “judaizers”, as we Christians often call them.
- Health laws. These laws specify how various diseases are to be handled in the nation of Israel. They usually require that a priest determine whether a person should be separated from society based on observable symptoms. Leprosy was always a serious matter, and the Law of Moses contains detailed instructions about its diagnosis and handling. These instructions regarding leprosy and other diseases had the effect of stopping the spread of such diseases without quarantining people unnecessarily, showing us that these laws came from God. They are found in Leviticus 13-15.
God Split the Law of Moses
The coming of Christ, His atoning death on the cross and His bodily resurrection three days later represent the end of the Old Covenant (contract) with His people, and the beginning of the New Covenant. This change in covenant also caused the Law to change. But what aspects of the Law changed? Was it all dropped? Nowadays, people are ignorant of and confused about this issue. I am setting apart the next sentence because it explains how God changed the old Law into the new Law. Read this carefully:
God broadened and strengthened the laws that were based on His nature, and discarded the remainder, thus splitting the Law of Moses. The following table shows these changes in more detail.
|Category||How These Laws Changed|
|Moral laws||The moral laws are an expression of God’s nature, so He broadened and strengthened them. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus told us how God changed these laws. For example, Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever who looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). We see that the law against adultery has been broadened to include lust in the heart. This New Covenant law more fully expresses God’s nature than the corresponding Old Covenant law. Likewise with laws regarding murder and hatred: We must watch our hearts more carefully than was required under the Old Covenant.|
|Laws of consecration||God made these laws broader. They were enlarged enough that you could say God replaced these laws. For example, the law of the Sabbath required that we remember and worship God once a week, on each Saturday. But under the New Covenant, our entire life is devoted to God as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1). The Old Covenant required that we not create an idol consisting of a carved image, but under the New Covenant, anything we regard as more important than God is an idol, such as money (Colossians 3:5). Jesus said, “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24). This is an all-consuming law about consecrating ourselves to God that enlarges the greatest commandment (Deuteronomy 6:5) by adding self-denial and suffering.|
|Sacrificial laws||Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross for our sins fulfilled the sacrificial laws forever, making them unnecessary. Consequently, these laws have been discarded. In my opinion, the fellowship offerings have been replaced by obeying the commands of Jesus, which are the broadened laws of morality and consecration above. This opinion is based on John 14:23, in which Jesus says, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” Therefore, to gain fellowship with God, you must obey Jesus’ words instead of offering the fellowship sacrifices specified in Old Covenant Law.|
|Symbolic laws||The symbolic laws have been discarded. In Colossians 2:16-17, Paul states, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ.” Clearly, the symbolic laws of the Old Covenant such as foods and festivals are fulfilled in Christ, so we are no longer obligated to perform them. We can say that lightly, but the discarding of these laws was the controversial part of the transition to the New Covenant, and the understanding of this transition was given primarily to the apostle Paul. He fought diligently to prevent his churches from relying on the symbolic laws for salvation, and it’s in this social context that he wrote in Romans 3:20, “…by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight…”|
|Health laws||The health laws have been quietly discarded, as their purpose was not to reveal God’s nature, but to keep His people healthy. In Mark 7:1-5, we see that Jesus neglected the laws regarding various washings, causing some controversy. Also, God knew that modern medicine and understanding of bacteria and viruses were coming, and I will speculate that He stopped imposing the health laws for that reason.|
The detailed table above can be summarized as follows:
|Category||How These Laws Changed|
|Moral laws||Expanded (Matthew 5)|
|Laws of consecration||Expanded (Matthew 16:24, Romans 12:1)|
|Discarded (most were fulfilled in Christ)|
It’s clear that under the New Covenant, God split the Law of Moses into three pieces, expanding the laws of morality and consecration, and discarding the rest of the laws.
Dr. Robert B. Thompson explains in his booklet, The Eternal Law of God (free download here), that “An abridged, covenantal form of the eternal law was given to Moses…” Thompson is saying that the Law of Moses is narrow and incomplete (abridged) and that it was designed for the context of the Old Covenant (covenantal). The enlargement and strengthening of these laws in Jesus makes them more fully reflect God’s nature, as seen in the above detailed table for the laws of morality and consecration. The sacrificial and symbolic laws were purely covenantal, and thus were discarded.
We are not under the Ten Commandments. Some people teach that God split His Law into the Ten Commandments and the remainder, saying that we are still under the Ten Commandments. This is incorrect because the Ten Commandments includes keeping the Sabbath (the fourth commandment), which is no longer binding.
More Evidence of the Split
Below are a few more Bible passages that reveal that the Law of Moses has been split as described above.
Matthew 19:16-19 The following conversation occurred between Jesus and a rich young man:
Now behold, one came and said to Him, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” So He said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.” He said to Him, “Which ones?” Jesus said, “‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 19:16-19)This is a question about salvation, so we would have expected Jesus to tell this man that he must accept Christ, or follow Him. Instead, Jesus tells him that salvation comes by keeping the Law of Moses! This is a severe violation of modern Protestant doctrines, which is probably why you don’t hear this passage taught in churches. But an intriguing part is Jesus’ response to the question, “Which ones?” Jesus listed only the moral laws. He omitted everything else, even the socially-important Sabbath and circumcision. In effect, Jesus was saying that from now on, God is holding us only to His moral laws.
Galatians 5:18-21 In this passage, the apostle Paul states that “you are not under the law”, and immediately follows that with a list of 16 laws that we must keep. Examples include fornication (sex outside of marriage) and hatred. Remember, a law is a constraint with a penalty, and these are certainly constraints. Paul follows this list with the penalty, which is not inheriting the kingdom. With both constraints and a penalty, these 16 items are unquestionably laws. Yet Paul just said, “you are not under the law.” Did he contradict himself? No. A careful study of Paul reveals that when he writes “the Law”, he is usually referring to the many symbolic regulations in the Law of Moses, which are no longer obligatory. Yet Paul emphasizes God’s moral laws, so they are binding on us. We see that God split the Law of Moses, retaining and strengthening the moral laws.
Acts 15:6-29 Paul’s teaching that we don’t need to keep the Law of Moses caused an uproar in the early church, which culminated in a meeting of apostles and elders in Jerusalem. Acts 15:6-29 records this important council discussion about whether the Jews should require the gentile (non-Jewish) converts to keep the Law of Moses. Peter makes an important remark in verse 11: “But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.” Peter is saying that we are saved by grace (I discuss grace below) instead of by keeping the Law of Moses. At the end of the discussion, the apostles write a letter to the gentiles telling them to not keep the Law of Moses, but to abstain from fornication (a moral law) and some other items. In effect, the apostles agreed to split the Law of Moses, creating an essential moral component and dropping most of the rest. I say “most of” because the council was unable to free itself from a couple of regulations, which it turns out were dropped over time. Their decision was imperfect, but they accomplished the difficult and important job of splitting the moral law from the bulk of the Law of Moses.
Romans 2:26, Romans 8:4 Both of these verses describe those who keep the “righteous requirements of the Law.” These verses are describing an alternative to keeping the symbolic laws. Thus, the “righteousness of the Law” is the apostle Paul’s term for the moral portion of the Law of Moses, thus splitting it.
Matthew 5:19 In this verse, quoted above, Jesus says that whoever does and teaches the commandments will be great in the Kingdom. That sounds like Jesus is telling us to keep the entire Law of Moses. But in the next verse, Jesus says that our righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, telling us that He is discussing righteousness. Righteousness is defined as right behavior toward people, which is morality, so Jesus is referring to the moral laws (which we must keep), thus splitting the Law of Moses.
The Important Result
God requires that we keep His moral laws! We will be punished if we don’t. We are not under most of the Law of Moses. But we are under God’s enhanced laws of morality and consecration.
I know there are many doctrines out there saying that we do not need to keep His moral laws. These lies include:
- We are under no law but the law of love.
- We are saved by faith and not by works.
- We are constantly sinning and God is constantly forgiving us.
- Grace unconditionally forgives all our sins, past, present, and future, regardless of our behavior.
- Once saved, always saved.
- God sees us through Christ.
- As long as we are in the flesh, we have to sin.
There are more. All of these doctrines are false. They are based on our confusion about what law God is imposing on us. They are also based on confusion about other topics, such as faith, grace, and works. The teachers and promoters of these doctrines don’t understand that God requires that we keep His moral laws, and that if we deliberately break such a law, Christ’s atonement will not help us and we will be facing God’s wrath (Hebrews 10:26-27). Hebrews 10:26-27 is such an important antidote to the above lawless doctrines that I’ll quote it below:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries.
I suggest that you memorize this passage because it exposes the lie in many modern doctrines. I discuss some of these errors below, along with the true definitions of terms like faith, grace, and works.
How can we keep God’s moral law?
Grace is primarily God’s power, help, and ability. “Grace” is an archaic word found in the King James version of the Bible. It’s seldom used nowadays, except in Christian circles. In the New Testament, you can usually substitute “power” or “help” or “ability” wherever you see “grace”, and the result will reveal the original meaning. For example, “great grace was upon them” makes no sense to modern ears, but “great power was upon them” reveals the meaning. In the broadest sense, grace is God’s blessing, but that’s vague, so I prefer power/help/ability as they are specific.
This power, help, or ability is administered by the Holy Spirit dwelling in you. Modern false doctrines define grace as primarily forgiveness, but that’s only a small part of grace. Yes, forgiveness gives us a fresh start when we repent, but the main work of grace is helping us to serve God. We see this in Acts 4:33: “And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all.” The “great grace” here is referring to supernatural power. It does not mean that the apostles were having sex with the girls and therefore needed constant forgiveness.
As a second example, II Corinthians 8:6-7 uses the phrase “this grace” twice in the context of giving money. Why? Because God was empowering the Corinthians to give. Another example is Ephesians 3:8: “To me … this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ.” Here, grace is the God-given ability to preach. One of the clearest verses is Hebrews 4:16: “…that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Grace here is clearly God’s power. I suggest that you examine every occurrence of the word “grace” in the New Testament. In the cases where the context defines grace, it usually refers to God’s help or power or ability in obeying His laws or in serving Him.
Having more grace (power/help/ability) is what makes the New Covenant better than the Old Covenant. Under the Old Covenant, the Jews kept the many laws by their own fleshly ability, which was futile, as Paul explains in Romans 7. Obtaining this additional grace requires that we “walk in the Spirit”, as Paul states multiple times in his epistles. And with that grace assisting us, we don’t have to sin. Paul says this in Romans 8:12: “…we are debtors—not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh.” He is saying we don’t owe the flesh anything. We don’t have to obey its lusts. We don’t have to sin. If you are being tempted severely, cry out to God for more grace (power) to avoid sinning.
I refuse to wreck my future!
Knowing that we are under God’s moral law is a strong motivation to resist the temptation to sin. But those laws are only the constraints. To be laws, their violation must carry penalties, and the following verses reveal those penalties:
- For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. (Hebrews 10:26-27)
- If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:29)
- But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
- For the wages of sin is death… (Romans 6:23). Note that this was written to Christians summarizing why we must not sin.
- For if you live according to the flesh you will die… (Romans 8:13). Note that this and the prior verse are not referring to the death of the human body.
- …those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Galatians 5:21)
- For this you know, that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. (Ephesians 5:5)
- For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord… (II Corinthians 5:10-11)
- Here is a blessing that sin will cause you to lose: If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (John 14:23)
I started this article by asking, “Why not?” Temptation can hit you suddenly and strongly, and you need a quick and strong defense against it. You can respond, “I refuse to wreck my future!”, while keeping the verses above in mind. The first three of those verses say that sin will put us in hell. The popular lies all have one logical conclusion: Sin won’t bring you pain. This common feature of those lies tells us that they are demonic. Satan is trying to destroy the Christian Church by removing its resistance to sin, thus causing Christians to sin, knowing they will be disqualified and punished, posing no danger to Satan’s rule.
Rule-book. Obey the written laws. Your salvation starts with obeying the rules. As Jesus said, “Keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). If you have been worldly, and have recently repented and started serving God, you don’t know God’s moral laws, because nobody taught them to you. And our conscience is incomplete. For example, the consciences of most people do not warn them against fornication. So you must learn the written laws and obey them. They are contained in the Ten Commandments, and in other Old Testament passages mentioned above. In addition, Jesus broadened them in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), and the apostles expounded on them in their epistles. For example, the apostle Paul says this about sex outside of marriage: “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you” (Ephesians 5:3). Galatians 5:19-21 is a good summary of God’s moral laws. Revelation 21:8 (quoted in the list above) lists eight behaviors that will put you in hell. These are eight constraints with a severe penalty, making them laws. Don’t forget that grace is available to help you, so ask God for help in keeping His laws. The apostle Peter says, “And so we have the prophetic word confirmed, which you do well to heed as a light that shines in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts” (II Peter 1:19). Peter is saying that you must obey the rule-book until the nature of Jesus has grown in you.
Laws in your heart. After obeying the rules a while, they grow in you. You begin to know them by heart, and they become part of your nature, ever deeper as the years go by. You will obey God’s moral laws by nature because these laws express your new nature, as well as God’s nature. At this stage, most of your effort is spent seeking and petitioning God and Jesus in prayer, and you spend little time thinking about the written laws. But you always keep them—by nature. Actually, God is quietly writing His laws in your heart, in fulfillment of Jeremiah 31:33: “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts.” This passage is saying that the New Covenant is the writing of God’s laws on your heart; it is not “accepting Jesus in your heart,” as is commonly taught nowadays.
Prayer. Prayer is important. I recommend that you get in the habit of praying frequently about everything you do throughout the day. As I Thessalonians 5:17 says, “pray without ceasing.” If people are around, you can pray silently in your mind. In addition, you should dedicate some time each day solely to prayer. By immersing your life in prayer with an attitude of seeking God, you will be living in God’s presence, even if you feel no different. As Paul wrote, we are to “live according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:5), and such statements are usually in the context of avoiding sin. A similar Old Testament verse is, “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it,’ whenever you turn to the right hand or whenever you turn to the left.” (Isaiah 30:21). God will correct you in this manner when you are veering left or right toward sin, as I have experienced. But you must be praying and obeying His laws to the best of your knowledge. If you are doing these things and God is not talking to you, it probably means you don’t need correction—you’re doing fine.
Also, as part of writing His laws in you, God also removes sin from your nature. The urges of sin should weaken and become less frequent over the years. I don’t know how it works, but I believe that this formation of God’s law in you is part of the growth of the divine nature in you. After all, being born again means that God’s nature was implanted in you. And it grows, provided that you seek Him in prayer and obey His laws. You are becoming like Christ in a deep way, having the same nature. You are becoming a mature son of God, suitable as a companion and servant of God in His kingdom.
Traps. To help people follow God’s laws, some churches have lists of do’s and don’ts. That’s fine, as it helps new Christians, because Step One is obeying the written laws. I once attended a church that had a couple of pages on the board near the entry showing what was acceptable and unacceptable dress. They were needed because many people don’t know what is modest. The trap is that such lists can specify matters with excessive detail and precision, such as depths of necklines on women’s blouses, heights of their dresses, widths of men’s moustaches, and other minutia, measured in inches or millimeters. The danger of having such detailed rules is that they draw our attention off Jesus and onto the rules. Churches with such distractingly detailed rules are said to be “legalistic.” Nonetheless, dress codes are necessary, so we must keep a proper balance, communicating the components of modesty, which is one of God’s moral laws, without being overly detailed.
Another trap is believing the words of a false spirit that’s pretending to be God. When a spirit speaks to you, you will hear words in your mind, or you will recieve an impression or sense or knowledge about something. Test that spirit, especially if it’s ordering you or somebody else to do (or not do) something. Don’t be afraid to challenge it. If the spirit responds with something like, “If you challenge this, you’ll be blaspheming the Holy Spirit,” reject that spirit because it’s avoiding being tested. The Bible says:
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God. (I John 4:1)These verses show us that spirits (and all religious phenomena) need to be tested, so I doubt that God will threaten you or make you feel guilty for testing a spirit that spoke to you. And whatever you do, never say “God told me…” unless others have tested you for years and agree that you are reliable. Otherwise, humble yourself and be truthful about your uncertainty of the spirit by saying, “I think the Lord is saying…”
Test all things; hold fast what is good. (I Thessalonians 5:21)
A similar trap is a false spirit that gives you a false conviction of sin. It will be over something that neither God nor man regards as sin, such as stealing a pen from work or yelling at your child or feeling attracted to the opposite sex. But the false conviction will make you feel guilty and push you away from God, which is Satan’s goal. Reject the guilt; it’s not from God. Bring the issue before God in prayer, and examine it and decide whether it substantially violates any written law. If it doesn’t, it’s probably not sin and you need not be concerned about it. A good record of traps is the unabridged version of War on the Saints, by Jessie Penn Lewis with Evan Roberts available for free and available at amazon.com.
The Present Lie
The apostle Peter mentions “the present truth,” referring to the truth needed at that time. Satan also has what I call “the present lie,” which is what he is promoting at this time. The present lie is this: “Sin will not bring you pain.” Satan teaches this through many doctrines. You can identify them because they all leave the impression that you can sin and not suffer for it. They all imply that you do not need to obey God’s laws. Many of his lies consist of redefining words used in the Bible. Let’s look at some examples:
Repentance. Satan has redefined repentance to mean feeling sorry. It actually means to change both your mind and behavior, like a car making a U-turn. Feeling sorry might not help because you can feel sorry without deciding to change your behavior. The good news is that you can repent of fornication or lying, for example, without any feelings at all. That’s true of me. I never felt sorry. But I was concerned, so I changed. Instead of feelings, God requires that you decide about your sin, “Never again.” You must decide to make a U-turn in your behavior. Repentance is your decision to change.
Grace. Satan has redefined grace to be only forgiveness, and not supernatural help in serving God. You might have even heard that the letters g-r-a-c-e stand for “God’s riches at Christ’s expense.” And it’s taught that we are now in a “state of grace.” As you know by now, these doctrines are false. Neither the words “state of grace” nor that concept are in the Bible. I pointed out above that Acts 4:33 and other verses equate grace with God’s assistance. So being “saved by grace” means we would have failed without God’s assistance. Romans 6:14 says that with the help of grace we don’t have to sin: “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.” Knowing this causes Ephesians 2:8-9 to make sense. That passage ends with “lest anyone should boast.” After considering the following verse (Ephesians 2:10), we see that this passage is saying, “Yes, you folks are saved from sin and living righteously, but you can only do so with God’s help, so don’t become proud about it.” Forgiveness is a part of grace because we need forgiveness to give us a fresh start when we repent, and after we have unwillingly sinned. (Hebrews 10:26 states that there is no forgiveness for willful sin, which is why I wrote “unwillingly”). But the New Testament puts greater stress on grace being God’s help, so that’s what we should stress.
Here is a popular doctrine: “God gave us strict laws that we cannot keep, such as the Sermon on the Mount, to show us our need for forgiveness through the Savior’s blood.” This is yet another satanic doctrine that subtly says that it’s okay to sin. The Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5) indeed contains strict laws. Examples include loving your enemies, turning the other cheek, and being perfect as the Father is perfect. Keeping these stricter laws appears hopeless, and it would be hopeless in our own human strength. But God also supplies us with more grace under the New Covenant which empowers us to keep the stricter laws. We can obey God’s laws with the help of His grace.
Sin. Satan makes the standard for our behavior either too low or too high. It’s too low when Satan whispers, “It’s okay because everybody’s doing it, so go ahead.” He is encouraging you to sin by claiming that sin won’t bring you pain. It’s too high when Satan claims that insignificant things are sin. This is the trap of false conviction of sin described earlier. Also, Satan will claim that temptation is sin. If you are tempted to sin, but don’t commit the physical act, have you sinned? After all, Jesus said that “whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). Does that mean that being attracted to the opposite sex is sin? No. I believe God’s principle is this: If you intended to sin but were blocked by circumstances, then you have sinned in God’s sight because you chose to violate His law. But if that’s not true of you, be at peace, because temptation is not sin. However, don’t foolishly walk into tempting situations. And remember to pray each day, “do not lead us into temptation” (Matthew 6:13).
Faith. Satan has redefined faith to be a mental belief in facts about God and Jesus. Faith is actually confidence that Jesus is correct. Faith is believing that what Jesus said is true. Jesus said that sin will put us in hell (Matthew 5:29-30). If we believe that, we will be careful to not sin. So faith in Jesus compels us to obey His words. God gave Dr. Robert B. Thompson a superb analogy that reveals what faith is: If you have faith in a doctor, you will obey him. So if the doctor tells you to take some costly pills with miserable side-effects in order to recover from a deadly illness, and you say to yourself, “It won’t be that bad, so I won’t take those pills,” then you don’t have faith in that doctor. You lack confidence that he is correct about your dying. Likewise with Jesus. You will do what He said, being confident that He was correct about both the rewards and punishments. Obviously, because such faith drives people to godly behavior, Satan has redefined faith to something that implies that we can disobey God’s laws and still be fine. The apostle James expressed the worthlessness of such mental faith in this colorful way: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!” (James 2:19)
An important part of faith is confidence that God will keep His promises. If you have confidence that God is correct, then you will also be confident in His promises, knowing that if you do your part, He will keep His word.
Belief. Belief is the same as faith. If you believe in Jesus, then you are confident that His teachings about the necessity of good behavior are correct, so you will obey Him. That’s faith. Thompson’s analogy of a doctor shows that belief is faith: If you believe in your doctor, you will be confident that he’s correct, so you will obey him. Likewise with doctor Jesus. Consider this statement: “…whoever believes in Him will receive remission [forgiveness] of sins.” (Acts 10:43). Modern doctrine says that we are forgiven based on believing in facts about Jesus, but knowing the proper definition of “belief”, we see that this verse is saying that if we obey Christ out of confidence in Him (i.e., believe in Him), our sins will be forgiven. It might help to say it the other way around: If you are disobeying Jesus, then you do not believe in Him because you don’t believe His sayings about penalties (and your sins are not forgiven, so you will face those penalties).
Works. Note that “works” is often translated as “deeds”, which is its modern synonym. Satan says that “works” refers to righteous behavior, and that because we are not saved by works, we are not required to behave righteously. But in the New Testament, the word “works” is used in two ways. The first usage refers to our actions. For example, you have probably had Ephesians 2:8-9 hammered into you, but the next verse, Ephesians 2:10, uses “works” to refer to our actions as follows: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works…” The second usage of “works” refers to following the symbolic laws in the Law of Moses. For example, Paul wrote that, “For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the Law” (Romans 3:28, ESV). When Paul writes “works of the Law” or even just “works”, he is usually referring to the symbolic laws. Some people in Paul’s day were trying to obtain salvation by obeying the symbolic laws, and Paul and others taught that that’s not possible, and that we must instead have faith in Christ. Remember, faith is confidence in Christ’s correctness that causes us to obey Him. Therefore, if we lack the works of obedience to Jesus, we are not saved. God requires these works, but not the works of the symbolic laws. In Revelation 2-3, God repeatedly said, “I know your works.” He said this to every Christian church addressed in Revelation, referring to their actions. God requires works of righteous behavior.
Now that we have the proper definitions of faith and works, we can understand the difference between them. Satan teaches that we are saved by a mental belief in facts (faith), and not by righteous behavior (works). The Bible teaches that we are saved by obeying Christ out of confidence in Him (faith), and not by obeying the symbolic laws (works). Satan’s doctrine implies that sin won’t bring you pain, whereas the scary truth in the Bible pushes you into righteous behavior.
Law. This word is similar to “works” in that it usually refers to the symbolic laws in the Old Testament. But it sometimes refers to God’s moral laws as well, so you must determine the kind of law from context. Churches often teach that “there is no law but the law of love”, and this is technically true (refer to Romans 13:8-10). The problem is that we don’t know what love is. Our western culture thinks that love means good feelings toward others, but with God it means caring for others with our actions. If we care with our actions, then we are fulfilling God’s moral laws. But if we think of love as good feelings, then this doctrine leaves the impression that God doesn’t care about our actions, thus giving the impression that sin won’t bring us pain. The truth is that God requires that our actions obey His moral laws.
Here are two verses in Romans regarding law that are only a few sentences apart, and yet they appear to contradict each other:
|the doers of the Law will be justified (Romans 2:13)|
|by the deeds of the Law no flesh will be justified (Romans 3:20)|
How can you reconcile these two statements? Most Bible teachers don’t. Instead, they fasten on their favorite verse, and ignore the other. This is a path to deception, because such a person is rejecting God’s word. The correct response is to dig deeper. In addition, it helps to realize two things about the writings of the apostle Paul. First, his writings are difficult to understand, as Peter noted when he remarked that “…in which are some things hard to understand…” (II Peter 3:16). Second, as the above two verses reveal, Paul relies heavily on context. The above two verses can be reconciled by a careful study of their contexts. The first verse refers to the fact that God judges those who are ignorant of His law based on their conscience, so Paul is referring to moral law in this context. The second verse refers to the entirety of the Law of Moses, which cannot be kept fully due to its lack of grace, as Romans chapter 7 explains. We must be very careful and prayerful when studying Paul’s writings.
Twisting Paul. In fact, II Peter 3:16 (partially quoted above) goes on to say regarding Paul’s writings, “…which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction.” Many of today’s false teachings are based on twisted perversions of Paul’s writings. With diabolical help, theologians have ignored Peter’s warning, to the destruction of both themselves and those who follow today’s doctrines. They are fulfilling this prophesy in I Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons.” Today’s perversions of Paul are the teachings of demons. These demonic perversions include all of the doctrines listed here in the section titled “The Important Result” above, as well as the diabolical redefinitions of terms such as grace, faith, belief, etc. described in the paragraphs above. You are surrounded with cunning lies. Be careful.
Here is a cunning doctrine that is part of the present lie: “Those verses referring to laws and penalties in the New Testament are for the Jews. They are Jewish ground, and do not apply to us gentiles (non-Jews). The Jews get laws. We get forgiveness.” Firstly, this doctrine is not in the Bible. The New Testament does not differentiate between Jew and gentile, except when Jesus referred to gentiles as “dogs.” The Bible states that God is equally willing to graft both gentiles and Jews into the olive tree (Romans 11:17-24). It also states that God has broken down the wall of hostility between Jews and gentiles, and made “one new man” out of both (Ephesians 2:14-15). Paul states twice that “There is neither Jew nor Greek…” (Galatians 3:28 and Colossians 3:11). From these verses, we see that God makes no distinction between Jew and gentile. There is no Jewish church and gentile church (that’s another popular error). There is only one church. It consists of Jews and gentiles, and God treats them identically. So being strict on the Jews and easy on the gentiles is an antisemitic error. Note that this false doctrine contains the common sign of error that I mentioned earlier: It implies that sin will not bring you pain.
Faith versus works. I mentioned this topic of faith and works above, but it’s a source of so much confusion in the churches that it deserves further discussion. Consider the following passage which is central to the confusion:
But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness, just as David also describes the blessedness of the man to whom God imputes righteousness apart from works: “Blessed are those whose lawless deeds are forgiven, and whose sins are covered; blessed is the man to whom the Lord shall not impute sin.” (Romans 4:5-8)
Does the word “works” above refer to our behavior or to keeping the symbolic laws in the Law of Moses? At first glance, it appears to refer to moral behavior because the phrase “lawless deeds” soon follows it. However, Romans 2:12 through 5:2 are focused on the Law of Moses, and on circumcision in particular (a symbolic law). Much of this discussion contrasts faith with following the Law, and Paul’s main point in this long passage is that faith in Jesus is superior to following the Law of Moses. In fact, Paul contrasts the Law and faith up to Romans 8:4. The verses around the well-known Romans 3:23 prove that “all have sinned” because following the Law does not prevent us from sinning (due to its lack of grace, the Law exposes and even worsens sin, and doesn’t prevent it). Because Paul’s entire train of thought in the region around Romans 4:5-8 is focused on the Law of Moses and circumcision, “works” in this passage is not referring to moral behavior. Rather, it refers mainly to keeping the symbolic laws. Romans 4:5-8 is saying that when you decide to have faith in Jesus, God will forgive your past sins, even though you are not obeying the symbolic laws (making you “one who does not work”).
Titus 3:5 completes the picture of salvation: “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” This verse is saying that we cannot be saved even by keeping the moral laws (much less the symbolic laws), because “all have sinned,” as Paul plainly states in Romans 3:23. First, we must repent of those sins. Then we must rely on His grace to keep from sinning again. So we cannot boast that we saved ourselves.
Boasting. As a side-topic, we see that boasting is an issue with God because Paul mentions it three times in the discussion leading to Romans 4:5-8, in the following verses: Romans 4:2, Romans 3:27, and in Romans 3:19 which states “that every mouth may be stopped.” Ephesians 2:9 also mentions the issue of boasting, and all of these verses mention it in the context of grace and our behavior. I will speculate that such self-righteous boasting is related to Satan’s rebellion against God which he expressed by saying, “I will be like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:14). I suspect that Satan and other high-ranking spirits have been boasting against God, and that they are trying to get man to join them in their rebellion. By boasting, you might be making yourself a god in competition with God, which He won’t tolerate. Perhaps part of the reason that God allowed man to sin was to humble us and prevent us from boasting like Satan. We will never be able to boast about our righteous life, because we would have failed if God had not pulled us out of the sinful mud and helped us along the narrow path. So all of our righteous behavior in life was done by His grace (i.e., with His help, starting with forgiveness). Always remember that God requires righteous behavior from us, and that we will suffer if we sin deliberately. Don’t fall into the trap of using a perversion of Romans 4:5-8 or any other passage as an excuse to sin.
Are We Under Any Law? We Christians are often taught (or given the impression) that we are under no law. We believe that God discarded the entire Law of Moses. That’s wrong. God discarded only part of that Law. But He retained and broadened the parts of the Law that express His nature, which are the laws about morality. In addition, He replaced the laws of consecration. Thus, God split the Law into pieces. And He requires that we keep the updated laws of morality and consecration. We will suffer if we don’t.
Near the beginning of this article, I presented three paradoxes in the Bible that illustrate today’s confusion about God’s law. Before proceeding, I suggest that you scroll up and try to resolve those paradoxes yourself. Here are their resolutions:
- Paradox: “Keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17) versus “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14).
Resolution: In Matthew 19:17, Jesus referred to only the moral commands in the Law, and not the entire Law. Romans 6:14 is saying that we are not obligated to keep the symbolic laws in Law of Moses, but rather we have God’s help to keep His moral laws.
- Paradox: “…those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:21)
versus “God imputes righteousness apart from works” (Romans 4:6).
Resolution: The “such things” in Galatians 5:21 refers to violations of God’s moral laws. The works in Romans 4:6 refers to keeping the symbolic laws (stressing circumcision). These two verses are referring to different sets of laws.
- Paradox: In Galatians 5:18, the apostle Paul states that “you are not under the law,”
and then in the following verses he gives us a list of 16 laws we must keep.
Resolution: This passage says that we are not under the symbolic laws, but that we are under the enhanced moral laws (which are listed).
Another paradox. In this article, I claim that God split the Law of Moses, enhancing part of it and discarding the rest. But the apostle Paul stated in the following verses that we are no longer under the Law, implying that God discarded all of the Law, not just part of it:
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? (Romans 7:1)
What purpose then does the law serve? It was added because of transgressions, till the Seed should come… (Galatians 3:19)
Therefore the law was our tutor [or guardian] to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. (Galatians 3:24-25)
Yet, in the following verses which you read earlier, Jesus told us to keep the commandments:
But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments. (Matthew 19:17)
Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:19)
Are Jesus and Paul contradicting each other? I don’t believe so. There are two ways of thinking about what God did with the Law:
- God retained part of the Law and enhanced it. This article takes this approach, as did Jesus when He said “keep the commandments,” but made them stricter in the Sermon on the Mount.
- God discarded the entire Law, and replaced it with new laws. Paul’s statements quoted above are based on this approach to the Law, and I hinted at this approach in the table when I stated that the enhanced laws of consecration “are so much broader that you could say that God replaced these laws.”
Further reading. I have identified over 40 satanic lies that are commonly taught in Christian churches, and I have exposed and refuted them in this article. In addition, Dr. Robert B. Thompson has written hundreds of books and articles based on the many truths that God revealed to him. All are available for free download here.
(“Are We Under Any Law?”, 4353, 20190329)