The most popular view of the Mosaic law in the church today… is wrong
An argument inspired by John Piper that supports obeying God’s law out of faith in God’s promises
The Old Testament did not teach a different way of salvation
Paul clearly articulated, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9)
Hebrews 11 is dedicated to examples of individuals in the Old Testament that were made righteous by faith. And in every case, their faith was validated by actions.
Some teachers say the law did not call men to be justified by grace through faith. Rather, they say it demanded works and resulted only in demonstrating man’s total inability to keep the commands perfectly. I agree that the law demonstrated our inability to follow it perfectly. But that’s not all it was there to accomplish. God always meant for his law to be followed in the Spirit, from faith with the goal of love.
John Piper expounds this way: “…many Bible teachers will argue that the Mosaic covenant (made with Israel at Mount Sinai) is fundamentally different from the covenant with Abraham (made earlier) and the New Covenant (established at Calvary) under which we live. The difference, they say, is this: in the Abrahamic covenant and New Covenant salvation is promised freely to be received by faith apart from works of law. But under the Mosaic covenant salvation (or God’s blessing) is not offered freely to faith, but instead is offered as a reward for the works of the law. Since only perfect works could merit salvation from a perfectly holy God and nobody can achieve that, the law simply makes us aware of our sin and misery and pronounces our condemnation. This is probably the most popular view of the Mosaic law in the church today, and it is wrong. It makes a legalistic Pharisee out of Moses, turns the Torah into the very heresy Paul condemned at Galatia, and (worst of all) it makes God into his own enemy, commanding that people try to merit his blessing (and thus exalt themselves) instead of resting in his all sufficient mercy (and thus exalt him).“
John Piper offered a helpful flow of logic in an article on desiringgod.org called Why The Law Was Given.
His argument supports obeying God’s law out of faith in God’s promises. It goes like this:
- Love fulfills the law.
- Love is the fruit of faith.
- The law, in calling for love, calls for faith.
- The law is fulfilled by the obedience of faith.
There are many passages to support this flow of logic.
Love fulfills the law
Above all, the law is fulfilled when we love God and our neighbor.
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18)
“You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
“So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27)
“Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:8-10)
Notice that every commandment has love as its aim.
“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he 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 great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:36-40)
“And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these. And the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding and with all the strength, and to love one’s neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions.” (Mark 12:28-34)
“For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.“ (Galatians 5:14)
“Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ.” (Galatians 6:2)
“If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well.” (James 2:8)
Love is the fruit of faith
Love is the outworking of authentic saving faith. True faith always precedes the kind of love that fulfills the law. The origin of love is the heart of faith.
“For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.” (Galatians 5:6)
“Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)
Thus, love from faith is not something we conjure up. It is enabled by God. It is a fruit of the Spirit.
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.” (Galatians 5:22-23)
It is vital to stress that love is NOT work done to gain favor with God. Love results in service, but is not synonymous with service. It’s possible to do noble acts of sacrifice that don’t proceed from Spirit-driven love. One can even give their life without it being from faith-produced love.
“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
How does authentic love come about? Answer: By hearing with faith.
“Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—” (Galatians 3:5)
We must take care that outward acts of service are not internally attempts to gain righteousness. Instead we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to hear what was written in the Torah, trust that it’s right and be faithful to it. Sincere faith issues love.
“The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Timothy 1:5)
Love of your neighbor looks like this.
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-13)
The law, in calling for love, calls for faith
Therefore, the law did not call for meritorious works, but for obedience which flows from faith. If love is the aim of the law, and only faith can love, then the law must call for faith.
“What shall we say, then? That Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness have attained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith; but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:30-33)
Unfaithful Israel pursued the law the wrong way; “as if it were based on works.” The law has always called for faith in God’s promises.
“Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.” (Romans 3:31)
The law was about trusting.
“Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and in his servant Moses.” (Exodus 14:31)
With the Exodus from Egypt only months behind them, God began the Ten Words (we’re used to referring to them as the Ten Commandments) with a reminder that meant, “Trust me.” The Exodus was a sign to produce confidence that God would help his people in the future.
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.” (Exodus 20:2) See also Exodus 12:17, 16:3, 16:32, 32:4, 32:7-8, 32:11, 33:1, Leviticus 11:45, 19:36, 22:33, 23:43, 25:38, 25:55, 26:13, Numbers 15:41, Deuteronomy 1:27, 5:6, 5:15, 6:12, 8:14, 13:5, 13:10, 20:1, 1 Samuel 12:6, 1 Kings 12:28, 2 Kings 17:36, Psalm 81:10, Jeremiah 7:22, 11:4, 11:7, 32:21, 34:13, Daniel 9:15, Amos 2:10, Amos 3:1
Hebrews 11 argues that righteousness comes only through faith.
“Then I said to you, ‘Do not be in dread or afraid of them. The Lord your God who goes before you will himself fight for you, just as he did for you in Egypt before your eyes, and in the wilderness, where you have seen how the Lord your God carried you, as a man carries his son, all the way that you went until you came to this place. Yet in spite of this word you did not believe the Lord your God, who went before you in the way to seek you out a place to pitch your tents, in fire by night and in the cloud by day, to show you by what way you should go.” (Deuteronomy 1:29-33)
“And when the Lord sent you from Kadesh-barnea, saying, ‘Go up and take possession of the land that I have given you,’ then you rebelled against the commandment of the Lord your God and did not believe him or obey his voice.” (Deuteronomy 9:23)
“And the Lord said to Moses, “How long will this people despise me? And how long will they not believe in me, in spite of all the signs that I have done among them?” (Numbers 14:11)
“And the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)
The law of Moses made plain how God’s people would live if they truly believed that their future was secure in God.
The law is fulfilled by the obedience of faith
We obey because we already depend on his grace and trust that his commands will lead to full and lasting joy.
The law itself is powerless to produce this kind of obedience.
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Romans 8:3-4)
“Such is the confidence that we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are sufficient in ourselves to claim anything as coming from us, but our sufficiency is from God, who has made us sufficient to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life.” (2 Corinthians 3:4-6)
John Piper: “Thus Paul teaches that we should not leave the law behind, not reject the law for something else, but fulfill the law in the power of the Holy Spirit through faith which works itself out in love.“
John Piper: “…therefore, the Mosaic covenant is not fundamentally different from the Abrahamic and New Covenants, for we should obey the commandments of all three from the very same motive—not to win God’s favor, but because we already depend on his free grace and trust that his commands will lead to full and lasting joy.“