The Rule of Life and Spiritual Maturity

 In Topics

By Dr Arnold G Fruchtenbaum

Introduction:

God’s Word is full of rules, laws, and commandments, and if we are honest, most of us like it when we are being told what to do and which rule of law is applicable to our lives. However, when reading the Scriptures, one quickly notices that the laws God gave to man did not apply at all times and to all people. To find out which rule of law is applicable to believers in Messiah Yeshua and how it affects their spirituality, this article compares the rule of life in the Hebrew Scriptures and today.

The Believer’s Rule of Life in the Hebrew Scriptures

The Hebrew Scriptures make a distinction between two time periods: the pre-Mosaic period and the Mosaic period itself. The pre-Mosaic period covered 2,500 years. During this period, four dispensations provided different rules of life for the believers: the dispensation of innocence, the dispensation of conscience, the dispensation of human government, and the dispensation of promise. During the first three of these dispensations, the rules of life were imposed upon all humanity. However, the rule of life in the dispensation of promise only applied to one people: the Jews. The dispensation was based upon the Abrahamic Covenant, which contained promises and responsibilities. The promises were unconditional, and the Jewish responsibility was to remain in the place of blessing. The Mosaic Law, which came later, was an addition to the promises of the Abrahamic Covenant.

While it is obvious that the Mosaic Law was a rule of life with very specific and detailed commandments, the divine method of government from Adam to Moses did not manifest itself in a code of law. Yet, even when there was no specific code spelled out, it is obvious that God expected people to follow some type of rule of life. For example, even in his state of innocence, Adam was given rules and regulations. Noah and Abraham were given other commands. It is obvious, then, that God expected man to understand his responsibility and to follow specific rules. He therefore provided a rule of life for the Old Testament saints even before Moses. He expected obedience from humanity in general, but from believers in particular. With each dispensation, there was also a covenant, and each new covenant contained a specific rule of life. The dispensation of innocence was based upon the Edenic Covenant, which spelled out rules and regulations. These became the rule of life for that period. After the fall of man, between Adam and Noah, came the dispensation of conscience, which was based on the Adamic Covenant. It also contained a rule of life to be followed. The dispensation of conscience came to an end with the Noahic flood. Following the flood came the dispensation of government, which was based upon the Noahic Covenant. The details of this dispensation are given in Genesis 9. Once again rules and regulations were spelled out, and a rule of life was given. Finally, with Abraham came the dispensation of promise, which was based on the Abrahamic Covenant. The covenant was not imposed upon all humanity, but only upon the Jewish nation, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Jewish history existed for four centuries before the Law of Moses was given. Yet, it is evident that God had a rule of life for Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to follow. The Mosaic period lasted about 1,500 years. Throughout this time, the Law of Moses was the rule of life, and to visibly show spirituality, one had to obey this law.

There were many purposes of the Mosaic Law, but for this study we will limit the scope to purposes related specifically to the spiritual life. First, the law was not a way of salvation (Rom. 3:20; Gal. 3:11). Second, the purpose was to provide the Jewish people with a rule of life in all areas of the human experience. The obligations of the believer before God were all contained in the Mosaic Law. However, the law was not intended to bring people to redemption, but to provide a rule of life for them after having been redeemed. Third, the law was to serve as a tutor (Gal. 3:24). The Greek word for “tutor” is the origin of the English word “pedagogue.” It literally means “a child disciplinarian.” This is what the Mosaic Law was: a tutor whose goal it was to lead a Jewish person to the Messiah.

As to its content, the Law of Moses contained a complete system, setting forth the entire will of God for the individual Israelite as well as for the whole nation. It dealt with specific areas of life, and these are identified by three different terms. It included commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). These are normally, though not exclusively, related to the moral issues of the Mosaic Law. It also contained judgments (Ex. 21:1-24:11). These were concerned with civil issues. And there were ordinances, which covered religious issues (Ex. 24:12-31:18). Finally, the Law of Moses contained a conditional element or an element of merit (Deut. 28:1-68), which means that there were blessings for obedience, but curses for disobedience.

Altogether, there were four ramifications of the Mosaic Law. As far as application was concerned, the first ramification was that it was for Jews only. This confuses many Jewish and Gentile believers who feel they must be under just some parts of the Law or under a great part of it or, in some cases, under the whole law except for the sacrifices. But as far as the application of the law is concerned, it was given to Jews onlynot to the world at large, and most certainly not to the church at large. The following verses confirm that the law was applicable only to the Jewish people: Deuteronomy 4:8; 5:1-3; Romans 2:14; 9:4-5; and Ephesians 2:11-12.

The second ramification of the Mosaic Law is that it was applicable to proselytes. If a Gentile converted to Judaism, he obligated himself to keep the whole law. A third ramification is that the Mosaic Law did not serve to institute a right relationship between Israel and God. It was a rule of life for a believing Israelite; it did not serve as a means of attaining a relationship with God. However, once an Israelite had obtained a spiritual relationship with God by faith, then the law was his rule of life. In cases of failure to do what it demanded, sacrifices became the means of restoration, both individually and nationally.

The fourth ramification is that the Mosaic Law was an addition (Gal. 3:19). In order to augment sin with the characteristic of transgression and to show “the exceeding sinfulness of sin,” the law was added to the Abrahamic Covenant. The law is righteous (Rom. 7:12-14), but it also provokes sin (Rom. 7:8). As a rule of life, it also became a curse (Gal. 3:10), leading to condemnation (II Cor. 3:9) and death (Rom. 7:10-11).

The Believer’s Rule of Life Today

The law began with Moses at Sinai (Ex. 19:3-8; Deut. 5:1-3) and ended with Yeshua’s death on the cross (Gal. 3:19). 1 With the Law of Moses having been made obsolete by the death of Messiah, what is the believer’s rule of life today? Before discussing the topic, a short note must be made on the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are part of the Mosaic Law. Consequently, along with the other 603 commandments, they became obsolete when the law was rendered inoperative. As will be seen, believers today are under the Law of Messiah and are required to obey only the commands of this law. However, when a commandment is found both in the Law of Moses and in the Law of Messiah, they must obey it. Of the Ten Commandments, nine are repeated in the Law of Messiah and are therefore obligatory for the believer today.

The first commandment, which forbids idol worship, is found in the Law of Messiah in Acts 14:15. The second commandment, which is against images made to be worshipped, is found in I John 5:21. The third commandment, which forbids taking the name of the Lord in vain, is repeated in James 5:12. The fourth commandment of keeping the Sabbath is not part of the Law of Messiah. Therefore, the believer today has no obligation to obey this law. The fifth commandment demands that one’s parents be honored, and this is also taught in Ephesians 6:1. The sixth commandment, which forbids murder, is taught in I John 3:15. The seventh commandment, which is against adultery, is found in I Corinthians 6:910. The eighth commandment, which forbids stealing, is found in Ephesians 4:28. The ninth commandment, which is against bearing false witness, is found in Colossians 3:9. The tenth commandment, which forbids coveting, is found in Ephesians 5:3.

The Law of Messiah

The believer today is under the law of Messiah (Gal. 6:2). Just as the Law of Moses was known by other names, such as the law of God (Josh. 24:26; Neh. 8:8; Rom. 2:23; 8:7) and the law of Jehovah (II Kg. 10:31; I Chron. 16:40; Ps. 1:2; Is. 30:9), so the law of Messiah also has other names in the New Testament. In Romans 8:2, it is called the law of the Spirit of life. In James 1:25, it is called the perfect law of liberty, and in James 2:12, a law of liberty.

It is called “the law of Messiah” because it was given by Messiah Yeshua. It is called “the law of the Spirit of life” because the indwelling Holy Spirit enables the believer to live according to its demands so that he can live the spiritual life. It is called “the perfect law” because it does not contain the flaws of the Mosaic Law. According to the book of Hebrews, the Mosaic Law was flawed by weakness in that it was unable to provide the Old Testament saint with the power to keep it. It is called “the law of liberty” because it liberated the Jewish people from the curse of the Law of Moses. Just as the Law of Moses had many commandments, the Law of the Messiah also has many commandments.

There are a few principles of the Hebrew Scriptures that are eternal. This means that they are still obligatory even for today’s believers. One example of an eternal principle is that God will always punish sin. Also applicable to today are the laws found in the Noahic Covenant, the Adamic Covenant, and the Abrahamic Covenant. Furthermore, the poets of Israel taught many such principles in the books of Psalms and Proverbs, and many truths in the Prophets are not rooted in the Mosaic Law, but in eternal principles. These are still as obligatory as they ever were.

1 For more details on this subject, see the author’s book Faith Alone: The Condition of our Salvation (San Antonio, TX: Ariel
Ministries, 2014).

Therefore, there are two bases for today’s rule of life: the Law of the Messiah and the eternal principles of the Old Testament.

Divine Enablement

The rule of life for believers today is guided by divine enablement. It is promised to the believer in a manner not provided for the Old Testament saint (Acts 1:8; Rom. 5:5; 6:4; 8:3-4, 9; I Cor. 2:1-13; 6:19; 10:3-6; Gal. 3:2; I Thess. 4:8; I Jn. 3:24; 4:13). This divine enablement is made possible by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, whose ministry today is different from what it used to be during Old Testament times. This is clearly brought out in John 7:37-39. The Hebrew Scriptures do report that some people were indwelled by the Spirit, but II Kings 2:9-12 teaches that this was not universal among believers. Furthermore, the indwelling of the Holy Spirit was not permanent, as it is today. For example, in psalm 51:11, King David prayed: take not your Holy Spirit from me. The Holy Spirit did indwell David, but He could also leave him. David’s prayer was therefore a valid Old Testament prayer, but it is not a valid New Testament prayer, since every believer is indwelled permanently by the Holy Spirit.

Manner of Life

The believer today need not wonder what manner of life he should choose. The New Testament clearly admonishes him to imitate Yeshua. Doing so will produce the likeness of the Messiah.

For example, Romans 8:29 states: For whom he foreknew, he also foreordained to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. According to this verse, the believer’s goal is to be conformed to the image of the Son of God. We are to have the likeness of the Messiah. Later, in Philippians 2:5, Paul admonished us to have this mind in us, which was also in Messiah Yeshua. We should have like-mindedness with the Messiah, which means being like Him.

A similar point is made in I Peter 2:21: For hereunto were ye called: because Messiah also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that ye should follow his steps. The context of this verse is suffering. Since the Messiah was willing to suffer, we should be willing to suffer for the faith; He is our example.

One more example is found in I John 4:17: Herein is love made perfect with us, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment; because as he is, even so are we in this world. Just as Yeshua was in the world but is no longer of the world, even so, we are in this world but are no longer of it. Once again, the emphasis of this issue is likeness to the Messiah.

The Grace of God

While we are to imitate the Messiah and become like Him; it is the grace of God that produces this in the believer. This is consistently taught in the Scriptures of the New Testament, and the following references are just some examples:

✡ Romans 12:3-8, 15:15
✡ I Corinthians 1:4, 3:10, 15:10
✡ II Corinthians 1:12, 4:15, 6:13, 8:1,6-7, 9:8, 12:9
✡ Galatians 2:9
✡ Ephesians 3:28, 4:7, 29
✡ Philippians 1:7
✡ Colossians 3:16, 4:6
✡ II Thessalonians 1:12
✡ II Timothy 2:1
✡ Hebrews 4:16, 12:15
✡ James 4:6
✡ II Peter 3:18

All these verses emphasize that it is the grace of God that produces the likeness of the Messiah in the believer.

The Areas of the Believer’s Rule of Life Today

Just as the Law of Moses once covered many areas of the believer’s life, so the Law of Messiahpertains to many areas of life today, three of which will be surveyed here. The first area is the relationship to human government. There is both a proper and an improper subjection in this area. As long as the civil law does not command us to do something that contradicts Scripture, we should obey. It may neither be our way of doing things nor follow our own particular political frame of reference; yet, if the civil government passes a law that does not violate Scripture, we are to obey it. This is proper subjection to human government. Some examples of this are found inRomans 13:1-7, Titus 3:1, and I Peter 2:13-17.

There is also improper subjection, when we are expected to comply with something that clearly contradicts the Word of God. Biblical examples of improper subjection include Acts 4:19-20 and5:29. If the government tells us that we cannot preach the gospel, then we disobey that law. If the government says we need to have an abortion, we disobey that law. When the Nazi government in Germany passed resolutions that Jews should be exterminated, no German believer shouldhave obeyed that law.

If subjection to human government allows for certain actions to change a law we feel contradicts Scripture, we should take advantage of it. Paul did so in Acts 16:3740, when he lawfully protested an official action by the civil authorities. Another way of properly using the law is for gaining rights (Acts 22:25-29; 23:1-10; 25:10-12; 26:32). Where the law allows us to gain our rights, we should use it.

The second area pertains to the believer’s relationship to work. The New Testament clearly expects believers to work for a living. In I Thessalonians 4:11-12, Paul admonished the believers to work with [their] hands. In II Thessalonians 3:10, Paul taught the principle: If any will not work, neither let him eat. While the local church does have a responsibility to help meet the needs of a member who is out of work because of circumstances beyond his control, it is not obliged to help anyone who is unwilling to work. If a believer chooses not to work or refuses a job because it is not to his liking, the church has no obligation to him. A believer is responsible for supporting his own family. If he cannot find a job to his liking, then he should work at something not to his liking. The church has no obligation to meet the needs of a lazy believer.

A third area is the believer’s relationship to the church. Here, the New Testament makes at
least six points:

1. There must be submission to the elders of the church (I Thess. 5:12-13; Heb. 13:7, 17).

2. The church is responsible for carrying out evangelism (Acts 1:8; Rom. 1:14, 16;
II Cor. 5:18-20), and it must be to the Jew first (Rom. 1:16).

3. The church is responsible to love the brethren (Jn. 13:34-35; Rom. 12:9-10; Eph. 4:1-3;
5:2; I Thess. 4:9; Heb. 13:1; I Pet. 3:89; 4:8-9; I Jn. 3:14, 17; 4:7, 11).

4. Believers have obligations to their brothers and sisters (I Cor. 12:26; Eph. 4:3132; 5:21;
6:18; Phil. 2:3-4; Col. 3:12-13; I Thess. 4:6; 5:11; Jas. 4:11; 5:16; I Pet. 5:5).

5. Strong believers have special responsibilities toward weak believers (Rom. 14:1-23).

6. The spiritual believer has responsibilities toward erring believers (Rom. 16:17-18). He is to mark them out and make sure they cause no divisions. He is to seek their restoration (Gal.6:1). He is to admonish them (I Thess. 5:14). And he is to withdraw from them if they persist in their erring ways (II Thess. 3:6, 11-15).

Conclusion

The rule of life of believers today combines the eternal principles of the Hebrew Scriptures with the Law of the Messiah. While following rules is not the deciding factor of regeneration, which is based on grace through faith alone, knowing the rules and following them will lead to spiritual maturity. The mature believer possesses a knowledge of the Word of God (I Cor. 3:1-3; Heb. 5:14). Anyone who does not have knowledge of Scripture cannot be considered spiritual. The believer’s spirituality will also show itself in his attitude. He will be characterized by a spirit of thanksgiving (Eph. 5:20) and unity of the Spirit with other believers (Eph. 4:3) and will have developed certain similarities to the Messiah (Gal. 2:20, 5:22; I Pet. 2:21; Jn. 15:4). Finally, the maturity of a spiritual believer will be evident in his day-to-day conduct (Eph. 4:1-16; Phil. 3:12-16; I Tim. 1:3-6). Unlike the carnal believer, the spiritually mature believer readily submits to the Law of Messiah.

This article from Dr Fruchtenbaum appeared in the Ariel Magazine Fall 2019 / Volume 1 / Number 32

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