This episode is part of my podcast series DEAR ATHEIST… If you prefer, LISTEN NOW.
Hi guys, how are you doing?
So, I started a podcast this month. I published the first post on it on the 2nd of March, and I have been sharing select articles addressing atheism, from my blog, on it. Yes, the podcast is dedicated to Atheists and unbelievers, as a free, audio resource to minister to those who prefer listening to reading. I’ve been sharing it with friends via WhatsApp mostly, and I’ve been encouraged by the feedback.
Thanks to everyone who has listened and who is listening. Even if you’re not an Atheist; maybe you’re Muslim or from another faith, or maybe you already believe in Jesus, I believe the podcast will also equip you to know how to respond to issues commonly raised by Atheists against belief in God. If you’d like to, check it out here – https://anchor.fm/ufuomaee
Anyway, so, one of my contacts, I don’t know if he actually followed through to listen in, but because of my evangelistic or apologetics effort, reached out to me about an issue that bothers him about Christianity. He is not an Atheist, but a Muslim. He asked me to consider Genesis 17, where God made an everlasting covenant with the Israelites, commanding that every male child be circumcised as a sign of the covenant. Then he quoted Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5, when Jesus said that He didn’t come to destroy the law, but to fulfil it, and that anyone who changes the law and teaches others to do so would be called the least in the Kingdom of Heaven. Finally, he referenced Galatians 5, where Paul taught the Christians that circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but if they believe they must be circumcised and go ahead to circumcise themselves in order to be saved, Christ’s sacrifice will have no value for them.
Hmmm… Looking at it, as a Christian, it is easy to explain away what my unbelieving friend sees as Paul contradicting Jesus and teaching us to break God’s covenant. I’ve noticed that this isn’t just an issue for Muslims, or people of other faiths, who do not understand Christianity. It is also an issue for Atheists.
I tried to answer him, first letting him know that the Bible speaks of two covenants, the old and the new (also regarded as the Better covenant). I shared Hebrews 8 (please read through for clarity) with him, which expounds on these two covenants, citing Jeremiah 31, when God talked about establishing a NEW covenant, where He will write His law in their hearts, such that no one will need to teach their neighbour… I also referred to other things Jesus said, which gives clarity and context to what He said about following the Jewish Law, like when Jesus taught a sermon, saying, “You have heard it said, but I tell you…” and when He said, “All the law and prophets is summed up in these two commandments…“, but my friend wasn’t happy about this, because he wanted me to explain the apparent contradiction without reference to other books or chapters in the Bible, apart from the three he had referenced.
That’s a really tough call! His case is that Paul is the false teacher Jesus warned us about, and by arguing against not continuing in Jewish Law, particularly with reference to circumcision, Paul is a false prophet. But this approach to understanding scripture is like finding three pieces of a puzzle with 1000 pieces, and thinking you can get an understanding of the whole picture from it, while rejecting others. I had to tell him that I couldn’t respond adequately within his limitation, especially as he wanted to disregard all of Paul’s teaching, assuming that by quoting Paul to explain the gospel, I would be exalting him above Jesus. He even asked if the Bible prophesied Paul’s coming.
Yeah, so…wow! How does one explain to someone, who hasn’t been taught about these things and who doesn’t want to be taught for fear of being misled?
I prayed about it afterwards, because it was a little upsetting that I wasn’t able to answer him satisfactorily. This is also something unbelievers have brought to me before, so I know I have stumbled on this stone before, but now, I needed an understanding on how I was able to continue in the faith after stumbling on it. At face value, it does look like Jesus is saying that the Law should still be observed today, and so, to the Jews, Christianity is the false religion that wants to do away with their everlasting covenant with God!
I think what we all need is to truly understand what Jesus was saying in Matthew 5:17-19… Let me quote Him:
Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.
I included verse 20 because it is contextual. It is my belief that most people do not understand what Jesus is saying here. When I prayed about it, God used the analogy of a marriage covenant to grant me understanding of the distinction Jesus was making. To destroy is to “end the existence of (something) by damaging or attacking it” (Google) Basically, to tear it down. Like what happens when you get an annulment on a marriage.
The annulment is not a recognition of the validity of the marriage, but a negative statement about the marriage – that it was invalid from the get go. It should never have happened. It was wrong, and must be dismantled, as though it never existed. Jesus wasn’t coming to do that with the Law. Jesus came in recognition of the Law, because of the Law, in order to FULFIL it. To make it COMPLETE. To bring it to a perfect end, not a bad end.
I don’t know if you’re getting me. So, both destroy and fulfil speak of the ending of something, but destruction is a negative ending, attacking or defiling what is being brought to an end, but fulfilment is the natural ending or a legally approved conclusion of the thing. It is good.
The natural ending of a marriage is by death. It has been fulfilled – that is, it came to pass (it existed, now it’s no more) – and the living spouse is no longer bound to the marriage. A divorce is a legally approved conclusion to a marriage that AFFIRMS that a marriage existed, but is no longer in existence, and both parties are now free from its obligations. Can you see the distinction between these and an annulment?
Now… While Jesus was still alive on Earth, the Law was not yet fulfilled. It was not yet finished, so He could not condone people teaching against submission to it. As you know, they were trying to trap Him with their questions. It was still in the process of fulfilment while He lived and taught them. But by HIS DEATH on the Cross, which was a legally approved ending by God, it became fulfilled. The Law was satisfied. The wrath of God was appeased. Our salvation was complete. It was finished.
And so, we read that: “…when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, “It is finished!” And bowing His head, He gave up His spirit” (John 19:30).
In another account, we learn that “…when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom…” (Matthew 27:50-51).
This tearing of the veil of the temple was God telling the Jews, “It’s over now. No more will I accept your sacrifices… I have made My own acceptable sacrifice to appease Me eternally, as I prophesied through My prophets... If you believe in Him, you too shall be saved.“
As it is written: “He saw that there was no man, And wondered that there was no intercessor; Therefore His own arm brought salvation for Him; And His own righteousness, it sustained Him” (Isaiah 59:16).
What that means for us in Christianity is that circumcision is no longer something we do to our flesh, but something we allow God to do to our hearts (Deuteronomy 30:6, Romans 2:28-29). Jeremiah, an old Testament prophet, also spoke of circumcision of the heart… (Jeremiah 4:4) This is removing the hardened flesh around it, so that we are sensitive to God. This is what God truly desires, above any sacrifice (Psalm 51:17). The truth is that circumcision predates the Law of Moses, but it was a sign of the covenant that would be fulfilled in Jesus Christ.
So, the spirit of the Law (Reconciliation), which was in Heaven before it was revealed on Earth through Moses, still stands in that WE NEED TO PRESENT A SACRIFICE TO GOD… The sacrifice we present to Him is Jesus Christ crucified. He is the perfect Lamb of God, who fulfilled the demands of the Law, so that He can be the substitute and stand in as the Advocate for all who believe in Him. The spirit of the Law (Worship) still stands in that we are set apart, holy people who are called to LOVE GOD WITH ALL OUR MIND, HEART, SOUL, AND STRENGTH. This we do through a personal relationship with Him, offering our bodies (and all we have) as a living sacrifice to Him, in response to His great love and mercy (Romans 12:1).
Jesus addressed the spirit of the Law (Love) in Matthew 22:36-40, when He was asked about the Law:
Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.
Jesus was telling us the spirit of the eternal Law, to which we are all still bound, whether believer or unbeliever. And Paul wrote, as he clarified to the Galatians, who were being compelled to circumcise and follow other Jewish practices, that “…all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.” (Galatians 5:14). For we cannot say we love God when we don’t love our neighbour… (1 John 4:20).
Paul wrote of the purpose of the Law, being a school master, required until the appointed time of fulfilment, when we will no longer be constrained by it (Galatians 3:24-26). It is a great analogy, but permit me to share another analogy, which I believe also makes clear the distinction between destroy and fulfil. The analogy is pregnancy.
The Law of Moses was like a pregnancy, which, if aborted (destroyed), would not have produced the fruit of salvation when fulfilled (at the appointed time) through Jesus. Rather than abort it, Jesus accomplished it… When He was crucified, our salvation was born, and the pregnancy was fulfilled… It had served its purpose. So, there is no more pregnancy, in the sense that the Law is no more functional. A new dispensation has come.
This is the dispensation of the New and Better Covenant. The dispensation of Grace and Truth.
Finally, let’s consider the contextual verse in Jesus’ statement – “except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).
The Scribes and Pharisees were known for keeping the rules according to their holy books, but missing the Spirit – LOVE – which is the bottom line. This legalism (and condemnation) is what Jesus came to release us from, to bring us into love and liberty. We will no longer be judged by how well we keep the rules, but by how well we love; something we are unable to do without the Spirit of God. By accepting Jesus’ sacrifice, receiving the Holy Spirit, and walking in love, we practice the only righteousness that exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees…the only religion that saves.
“For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ…” (John 1:17)
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Categories: Critical Thinking, Dear Atheist, Recommended, The Latest, True Religion
I think this is something that we need the Holy Spirit to truly understand. First we have to have faith that Jesus is the Son of God, then the Holy Spirit will illuminate the rest of the Bible. To be honest , I prefer John to Paul as far as evangelism . Paul is an advanced class. 😊 Tell your friend that his question can only be understood after he is born again. 1 Corinthians 2:14. People get stuck on trying to figure out God instead of having faith. Faith is the key . Without faith you can’t have love . Unbelief is the sin that block’s understanding. That’s why no one can really save anyone else. They need to believe in their heart that Jesus is the Savior, and God. I like your explanation . Circumcision is so odd to us, but it does make sense in that it was a visible proof of one’s belonging to God. Of course humans corrupted circumcision and did it to women which God never said to do! It’s evil! That’s how humans are when we separated from God. By the way I have an Anchor podcast, too. Good luck with yours!
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Thanks a lot for reading and sharing your perspective. I hope my friend reads your comment too. Faith does make the difference. But his question is valid, I do understand his struggle. I think it is a sincere struggle.
What’s the link to your podcast?