Ah, but a man’s reach should exceed his grasp,
Or what’s a heaven for?
-Robert Browning, Andrea del Sarto
Andy Stanley’s now infamous 2018 Aftermath series ignited a controversy over the role of the Bible, the Old Testament (Old Covenant), the New Testament (New Covenant), and our place among their teachings. In Unhitched Part 1: A Man’s Reach, I revisited his sermon series and refreshed our memories on what he was trying to get across.
We left off last time asking if what Stanley was saying was true and that’s where we’ll go in this part.
Now, to make this point…I was going to put a screen up here: “In other words, that means thou shalt not obey the ten commandments.” But I want you to hear me say it. Here’s what the Jerusalem council was saying to the Gentiles: You are not accountable to the Ten Commandments. You are not accountable to the Jewish Law. We’re done with that. God has done something new. -Andy Stanley (Aftermath Part 3 31:48)
So, is it true?
Yes, we are not accountable to the Ten Commandments or the Jewish Law.
You are accountable to God.
And that means accountable to Christ as He is your representative in God’s presence, our ‘high priest forever.’
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
I have the power to give it up and the power to receive it back again, just as my Father commanded me to do. John 10:18
So Christ has now become the High Priest over all the good things that have come. He has entered that greater, more perfect Tabernacle in heaven… With his own blood…he entered the Most Holy Place once for all time and secured our redemption forever. Hebrews 9:11-12
Therefore He is able to save completely those who draw near to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them. Hebrews 7:25
Then what does ‘accountable to Christ’ mean? Well, in everyday life if we are accountable to anyone, it means we do what they tell us to do and uphold what they have told us to uphold.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. John 15:9-14
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
Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Matthew 5:19
Remember, we are not accountable to the Law and the Prophets: We are accountable to Christ. In being accountable to Christ, believing that He is the Son of God and that He was the final sacrifice for our sin, and following His commands, we fulfill the Law and the Prophets through Christ.
We don’t fulfill the Law and Prophets: Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets.
It’s a C.S Lewis deeper magic kind of thing.
I’m still confused. Jesus says practice and teach the Law and the Prophets.
Ah, now we’re getting to it. First, we must look at Jesus’ response when asked what the greatest commandment was:
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Think about the last sentence for a bit: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
It is not saying that they replace the Law. Jesus already said he hadn’t come to abolish the Law but to fulfill the Law.
What Jesus is saying is that if you do love God and your neighbour, truly, you will be fulfilling the Law and the Prophets, by and through Jesus because Jesus fulfills the Law and the Prophets.
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. Matthew 5:17
All the Law?
You’re a quick one, aren’t you. There are the Ten Commandments and then there are 600+ additional laws involving mostly civil, dietary, cleanliness, and other requirements. Will I really be upholding all of them?
Firstly, you can’t uphold any of it in your sin but Jesus in His power, His redemptive work by salvation on the cross, and His resurrection and everlasting Priesthood, fulfills it for you.
Furthermore, we must understand the Law and the Prophets were given to the Jewish nation, Israel, very specifically and particularly, in covenant fashion, and not to the Gentiles (non-Jews). That is first and foremost why, for example, while we might follow the Ten Commandments, because we find value in them, non-Jews do not wholly follow the rest of the Law: That is, they were not given to us.
Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” Exodus 19:3-6
The 19th chapter of Exodus, quoted above, immediately precedes the Ten Commandments, given in Exodus 20, and many other laws in the following chapters.
So, then, why do we still follow the Ten Commandments? The most fundamental reason is because they are basically universally acknowledged as one of the best, most complete, and simplest moral codes ever followed by humans, surpassed only by the Greatest Commandment, given by Jesus, love God and neighbour, which itself is in reference to the Law and the Ten Commandments.
We also follow the Ten Commandments because we observe a distinct and categorical difference between them and many other Old Covenant laws: The Ten Commandments deal with morality where many of the other laws deal with civil, dietary, cleanliness or other issues.
Some of the other laws do actually deal with morality like treating foreigners well and loving your neighbour. Leviticus 19, as well as many chapters throughout Leviticus, mix moral, civil, dietary, cleanliness, and other laws.
When a foreigner resides among you in your land, do not mistreat them. The foreigner residing among you must be treated as your native-born. Love them as yourself, for you were foreigners in Egypt. I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:34
The Law and the Prophets were given to the Jewish nation for a specific covenant, for a specific purpose, for a specific period (until the Old Covenant prophecies were fulfilled in Christ), and the Law was given to separate out a people for God and make them Holy (separate, sanctified) until that time.
Why, then, was the law given at all? It was added because of transgressions until the Seed to whom the promise referred had come. Galatians 3:19a
I am the Lord your God; consecrate yourselves and be holy, because I am holy. Do not make yourselves unclean by any creature that moves along the ground. I am the Lord, who brought you up out of Egypt to be your God; therefore be holy, because I am holy. Leviticus 19:44-45
You must therefore make a distinction between clean and unclean animals and between unclean and clean birds. Do not defile yourselves by any animal or bird or anything that moves along the ground—those that I have set apart as unclean for you. You are to be holy to me because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own. Leviticus 20:25-26
Non-Jews are not under the Old Covenant of any of this, including the Ten Commandments, but we are under the New Covenant in Christ. We follow the moral laws because we follow the greatest moral law: The Greatest Commandment, to love God and neighbour.
So, yes, we uphold the Law and the Prophets through Jesus by following the Greatest Commandment because He, Himself, fulfills the whole Law and the Prophets for us if we remain in Him.
As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. John 15:9-10
Okay, it sounds true. But what does it all mean?
Here’s where it gets real. Real frightful and real liberating.
Here’s what the Jerusalem Council was saying to the Gentiles: You are not accountable to the Ten Commandments. You’re not accountable to the Jewish law. We’re done with that. God has done something new. Besides, he [Paul] would say to them and he would say to you, thou shalt not obey the Ten Commandments because those are not your commandments. Yours are better. And yours are far less complicated, but they are far more demanding. -Andy Stanley (Aftermath Part 3 31:48)
You’re in uncharted territory now. Gone is the well-established and often deep-dived order of a Ten Commandments-based morality you thought was the be-all and end-all and now you’re left with the chaos of an ill-established and infrequently taught love God and neighbour-based faith.
With order comes the confidence of the known but also the constraint of the limits. With chaos comes the fear of the unknown but also the freedom of the possibilities.
To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
They answered him, “We are Abraham’s descendants and have never been slaves of anyone. How can you say that we shall be set free?”
Jesus replied, “Very truly I tell you, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.“
Here in John 8, Jesus is talking to the “Jews who had believed him” who were still clinging to their Abrahamic, Old Covenant heritage, which included Moses, the Law, and the Prophets, while professing to believe Jesus. Jesus was introducing the New Covenant but they were having a hard time with it. They were in the chaos but they were also in the space of possibilities.
Jesus is telling them they are sinners and therefore slaves in what they thought was their own family under Abraham (Old Covenant). And slaves have no permanent place. He’s telling them they are lost following the Old Covenant.
But Jesus is also telling them that a son can set a slave free: And if the Son sets you free, you are no longer a slave to sin (the Old Covenant), and now you have a permanent place in the true Family (the New Covenant).
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” John 8:31b
Forgive a momentary paraphrase, if you would, but it might be helpful to switch out the word “truth” for the word “Son” just as an exercise to highlight what Jesus would say Himself in the next few verses (“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”):
Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the [Son], and the [Son] will set you free.” John 8:31b
So maybe we are ‘unhitched’ from the Old Testament. Maybe we do a have a better and more demanding set of commandments. Where do we go from here? How do we decide what’s right and wrong in everyday life if Jesus’ teachings are now the standard?
The Ten Commandments says “don’t kill”, so what do we do about war? The Ten Commandments says “don’t give false testimony”, so what do we do about lying to those wanting to harm us or others? The Ten Commandments says “Keep the Sabbath Day” but what about Gentiles who don’t have the Jewish Sabbath? The Ten Commandments says “Honour your parents” but what if honouring your parents looks to others like dis-honouring them?
We’re finally going to get into how the New Covenant in Jesus gives us the wisdom to navigate these questions in Unhitched Part 3: A Man’s Reach Should Exceed His Grasp, or What’s a Heaven for?