Some people are far away from the kingdom of God (Ps 73:27), and some are not. (Mk 12:34) What’s the difference?
Salvation is far from the wicked, because they’re not seeking God’s statutes. (Ps 119:155) They’re at enmity with God because they aren’t subject to His Law (Ro 8:7); their very nature opposes it. (Je 13:23)
Thinking we’re saved, or that we even want to be saved while we’re committed to sin is a contradiction; salvation is from sin (Mt 1:21), not in sin. (Ro 6:1-2) If we intend to sin and are unconcerned about it, we don’t want to be saved from sin at all — just from the consequences.
Coming to God implies wanting to obey Him, desiring to be aligned with Him, to live in intimate fellowship with Him (Jn 14:21); there’s no salvation apart from this. (He 12:14) Regenerate souls delight in God’s Law(Ro 7:22); we keep it as well as we can (Ps 119:94), and ask God to quicken us so we can obey the rest. (Ps 119:35-37)
Spiritual life produces obedience(1Pe 1:2) in those who are God’s workmanship (Ep 2:10); those who hope in God’s salvation do His commandments(Ps 119:166), obeying unto the transformation of their souls. (Ps 19:7) This is how we identify the children of God. (1Jn 3:10)
Let no one deceive us here (1Jn 3:7-8): unless we repent and turn away from our sin to God we perish. (Lk 13:3) Those who are willfully disobeying or neglecting any part of God’s Law as a manner of life have no hope of eternal life (1Jn 3:6); they’re self-deceived (Ja 1:22) and will be trodden down by God. (Ps 119:118) Those who are dismissing Torah wouldn’t be persuaded to seek God even if someone came back from the dead to persuade them. (Lk 16:31)
One of the Ten Commandments is: “Remember the sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Ex 20:8) God’s telling us to remember a specific day of the week and set it apart, keep it special, dedicated for His intended purpose: this day is for rest. (Ex 20:11)
Noting the correct day is where we must begin; God sets apart the seventhday, Saturday, and calls it the sabbath day. (Ex 20:10) So, working on Saturday breaks the command; it’s inappropriate except under extenuating circumstances, where basic necessities, health or safety are at risk. (Mt 12:12) But God is calling us beyond simply resting on Sabbath: He tells us to remember it.
Remembering the sabbath is being systematic, intentional and deliberate about setting it apart; God’s telling us to think about it, anticipate it, prepare for it (Mk 15:42), plan for a complete change of pace. This is where the spirit of the command is critical: God hasn’t formally defined work, and this is no accident; what’s work for one soul isn’t for another.
Work varies by context, so we must careful and prayerful to get this right. For example, a consultant should intentionally forget about work on sabbath; going for a swim or a run, taking a hike or gardening a bit might be quite restful for a working mind on sabbath, but a manual laborer should focus more on physical rest. One who seldom cooks might enjoy making breakfast on sabbath, but a homemaker might prepare sabbath meals ahead to improve her sabbath rest.
While we must not be careless with the sabbath, treating it like any other day and doing whatever we like (Is 58:13), we also need to be careful not to make sabbath a burden, as did the Pharisees of old. (Mt 23:4) Becoming preoccupied, rigid and judgmental about what can and can’t be done on sabbath can destroy its spirit and purpose. Specifics are generally going to be a matter of individual conscience, and this is by design; we should each be careful to please our own master here. When the sabbath is no longer a delight, a true day of rest and peace unto our spirits and souls, we’re missing the whole point.
As a general rule or precept, we should stop laboring, pushing ourselves, doing what we normally do to provide for ourselves and those under our care. The daily grind, the routine, mundane chores and demands of life — these should be off-limits — so long as we aren’t violating the law of love: keeping sabbath shouldn’t cause us to neglect those in need. (Lk 13:15) Whatever facilitates rest and comfort for our selves, families and communities is within the spirit of sabbath.
Creatively obeying from the heart is how we find God’s heart in sabbath; He’s for our total health and well-being, and that’s why He made it. (Mk 2:27)
Christian liberty is God encouraging us to determine for ourselves how best to follow Him: we each stand or fall before our own Master. (Ro 14:4-5) He isn’t encouraging us to sin(Ro 6:15), to break His law (1Jn 3:4), but to apply His precepts in extra-biblical matters in ways we believe most pleases Him. It’s something He calls us to do from the heart as we follow Him, rather than blindly conforming to man-made tradition.
A very challenging scenario for early Christians was whether to eat food that might have been sacrificed to idols. (1Co 10:28-29) It wasn’t technically sinful, but many weaker souls didn’t understand, so extra-biblical discernment was required in each particular situation. When one was offered food in a public context, either in the open markets or at a particular feast, one couldn’t be sure if it had been sacrificed to an idol or not, and how others might view this.
For mature believers, knowing rituals can’t contaminate our food (1Co 8:4), Paul resolves this with a don’t ask policy (25); it isn’t actually a matter of sin since no food belongs to an idol. (26) But if someone points out that some food’s been dedicated to an idol, then abstain to avoid causing others with a weak conscience to stumble. (28) Love limits freedom for conscience sake, not for ourselves but for others.
Taken out of context, this principle might be abused to claim that God doesn’t care what we eat now; no matter what kind of food’s available – don’t worry about whether it’s God’s design for food, biblically clean, or not. After all, Paul does say in the same context, “All things are lawful for me.” (1Co 10:23)
Yet taking such principles literally in isolation produces absurdity. If “all things are lawful for me,” then murder, sodomy and blasphemy are fine now? Of course not! And even if we limit this to food, is cannibalism OK now? Or poisonous frogs, cockroaches and flies? Not at all. Contextually, it’s clear that Paul is saying every creature God has sanctified as food for us in His Word is lawful and good (1Ti 4:4-5), regardless what ritual has been performed over it.
When wrestling with passages like this, trying to understand the relevance of Torah in our lives, particularly dietary law, we must divide the word honestly, rightly harmonizing each text with the whole of scripture. It’s true that Paul doesn’t explicitly delineate how every single law in Torah is still relevant for both Jew and gentile, yet he shouldn’t have to: Jesus does, as clearly as it can be done – it’s all relevant for everyone for all time. (Mt 5:17-18) Saints are classified by our mind towards it (19), and all who break it as a manner of life are guilty without excuse. (Ro 3:19)
Paul never says Gentiles don’t have to obey certain parts of Torah, breaking God’s Law up into pieces, some of which are irrelevant. This can’t rightly be done (Ja 2:10); we get this mindset from those who’ve corrupted the Word. (2Co 2:17) Instead, Paul asserts that faith establishes Torah(Ro 3:31), and that it’s all good when used as God intended(1Ti 1:8), pointing out that our old man hates it (Ro 8:7) and our new man delightsin it. (Ro 7:22) Once we’re aligned with Paul, serving Torah(Ro 7:25), we won’t be asking which laws we mustobey, but which ones we’re allowed to.
As Noah departs the Ark after the Great Flood, God extends the general dietary principle, what He’s classified as food. In the Garden, He had revealed his provision of plants for nourishment (Ge 1:30), and now He’s allowing anything that moves to be eaten. (Ge 9:3)
What’s interesting to observe about God’s dietary revelation is that it’s very general; important, critical details are omitted. For example, we shouldn’t eat certain kinds of plants because they’re poisonous, yet God never explicitly tells us which plants to avoid and why.
As a general principle, plants are food, but each particular animal species should only eat certain kinds of plants. God gives each species instincts about what’s good to eat, and places Adam in a special garden stocked with a wide variety of edible herbs and fruit trees as a start. He also gives Man intelligence to figure out the rest, so with a bit of trial and error, we do just fine in the antediluvian world. The key point being this: just because something appears to be in the general category of food, doesn’t mean that we humans should be eating it. We need wisdom and discernment to be healthy.
The same appears to be true for eating animals; this dietary extension to eat flesh applies to certain animals as well as to humans, according to God’s design in each of His creatures. By nature, some creatures are merely herbivores and some are capable of being carnivores or omnivores. So, as Noah considers God’s extension of the dietary principle to include meat, as there’s a design apparent in certain animals that enables them to eat it, there’s also an obvious guideline for Man about which animals are good to eat, which Noah understands to be clean.
This concept of clean animals wasn’t new, it was well-known in the antediluvian world, even though we’ve no record of any direct revelation from God about it. Perhaps Adam discerned that certain kinds of animals were distinctly different from others in a way that made them suitable for humans to domesticate, even though we weren’t eating them. For example, Adam might have discovered that milk and wool from sheep were especially good, and taught his sons about it. Perhaps this is why Abel chose shepherding as his profession. (Ge 4:2)
In other words, Adam had not merely named all of the animals (Ge 2:19), but he may have observed enough about each species to classify it as cleanor unclean, and taught the rest of us how to distinguish between them. Perhaps this is why, when God told Noah to take into the Ark seven of each of the clean species of animals, and only two of each unclean species, He didn’t need to explain; Noah appears to have already known exactly how to do this. (Ge 7:2)
And as Noah is leaving the Ark, contemplating the spare of each of the clean animals, he perceives that God will be pleased with an enormous sacrifice (Ge 8:20), an expression of God’s ownership of all things, rejoicing in His pleasure in sparing life on the earth.
After the sacrifice, noting the remaining three pair of each clean animal species, and only one pair of all of the other animal species, as Noah was considering God’s expanded dietary principle, recognizing that eating any of the unclean animals in the near future would cause that species to become extinct, it was immediately clear which animals God intended for human consumption: the cleanones, especially those which we were already in the habit of directly managing.
But over time, this knowledge about which kinds of animals were good for us to eat seems to have deteriorated to the point that it was appropriate for God formally define it for us; as men began to rebel against God in every conceivable manner, the dietary principle was evidently no exception. So, in formalizing His perfect ways for Israel, God reminds them to not eat abominablethings (De 14:3), animals which He has not designed for humans to eat, clearly explaining exactly how to distinguish between clean and unclean animals (6) and giving us a number of specific examples of clean beasts (4) and unclean ones (7), edible fish (9-10) and unclean birds. (11-18) This wasn’t a change in the dietary revelation, or even a new concept, just a formalization of what He had already informally revealed in us to establish clarity and accountability.
God has progressively revealed His eternal ways over time; He hasn’t ever changed His mind about what’s good for us, nor has He been arbitrary in His commands: they’re righteous and very faithful, each and every one of them. (Ps 119:138)
Scripture is perfectly precise; it isn’t overly specific, nor is it inappropriately vague. The detail God has provided is both necessary and sufficient for us; we must not add to it, nor take away from it. (De 4:2)
Yet there are a great variety of circumstances in which we might find ourselves, and a body of law which explicitly detailed how to act in every conceivable setting would be enormous, unthinkably vast, anticipating the impact of undeveloped technologies and innumerable cultural/familial complexities. Composing such a paint-by-the-numbers standard is evidently untenable as we consider the great variety of possible cultural and societal forms that might evolve across time.
Even so, all we need to be fully equipped to please God in every circumstance of life is provided us in the Tanakh, the Old Testament. (2Ti 3:16-17) We may derive from its precepts how God would have us act in every scenario we could ever encounter. It is miraculously precise in this regard, a living Sword, discerning every motive and intent of our hearts. (He 4:12)
So, in extra-biblical matters, which are by definition beyond the scope and obvious spirit of the text of Scripture, we are required and encouraged to use our own judgement and understanding as to how best to follow God, discerning His way for us through the precepts embedded in His Word (Ps 119:104), which He must help us understand (Ps 119:27) as we meditate on them (Ps 119:15) in the Spirit. (1Jn 2:27)
Each of us may, indeed, being at varying points in our journey after God, see things a bit differently from those around us; this is both expected and healthy. God does not want us to blindly defer to others in these kinds of things by failing to seek His wisdom and discernment for ourselves, but to maintain a sense of individual responsibility to walk and to please Him. He tells us to be fully persuaded in our own mind (Ro 14:5), and to be happy in the freedom to obey according to our own conscience. (Ro 14:22)
This kind of spiritual autonomy and individuality does not promote lawlessness, where everyone’s selfishly doing what’s right in their own eyes (De 12:8) in spite of what God says, justifying absolutely anything they like. (Pr 21:2) Such is the way of the world. (Pr 30:12) This kind of liberty only works well in communities of saints, who delight in God’s Law as He is writing it in their hearts.
Neither should we permit our individuality to make us unteachable, disinterested in the insights, wisdom and challenges of others. (He 10:25) It is our great privilege to edify one another, seeking the living Christ in each other as we help each other follow Him. (1Th 5:11) This is the very foundation of spiritual community. (1Co 14:26)
And, to be certain, there are clear guidelines for this kind of spiritual liberty; we must not allow it to become a stumbling block to our weaker brothers. (1Co 8:9) When a brother or sister doesn’t have a mature understanding of God’s Way, and would be tempted to violate their untrained conscience through our example, walking in such liberty violates the law of love and sins against Christ Himself. (1Co 8:12) Further, insisting that others follow our particular understanding when seeking practical consensus in community is likewise stubborn uncharitableness. In such cases, deferring to others, especially the elder and more experienced, is simply wisdom. (Ep 5:21)
The dangerous alternative to God’s design here is to impose universal compliance in matters which God has not clearly specified, effectively adding to His Word through man-made tradition, which subtly — yet inevitably — corrupts our worship (Mk_7:7) and turns us from the truth. (Tit 1:14) It elevates a select group of men above the brotherhood into a place of unhealthy spiritual authority over others, oppressing the saints into delegating their responsibility to discern the optimal application of God’s Word for themselves to these select few. This is entirely contrary to God’s design for our spiritual life.
To be healthy in God, we must each retain a sense of individual accountability to God as our own Master (Ro 14:7-8), and encourage others to do the same. (Rom 14:4). We’re each individually responsible for how we live before Him; if we’re in any kind of error (Ja 1:16), or are misapplying God’s Word in some way, it is no one’s fault but our own.
The head of every man is Jesus Christ (1Co 11:3); we are to be looking unto Him as our Example in every facet of our lives (He 12:2), delegating no step of this precious, eternal walk to anyone else. (1Pe 2:21)
If we could go back to the early days of the Church, and observe the followers of Christ during the time of the Apostles, most of us would be surprised by their passion for Torah, the Mosaic Law. The early Christians were zealous of Torah and we’re keeping all of it diligently, as well as they possibly could. (Ac 21:20)
According to the Bible, the original twelve Apostles who lived with Christ, walked with Him in Person and heard His teachings for three precious years, whom He commissioned to make disciples of the nations (Mt 28:19), never understood that any part of Torah, the Law of Moses, was abolished. (Mt_5:18)
These devout men, who walked in intimate fellowship with God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ, declaring unto us God’s way so that our joy might be full (1Jn 1:3-4), continued keeping Torah their entire lives, as if our duty to obey Torah was perfectly consistent with the redemptive work of Christ. (Acts 21:24)
These spirit-filled men were also deeply familiar with the ministry (Ac 21:18-19) and writings (2Pe 3:15-16) of the Apostle Paul, and were convinced that he also kept Torah as well as he could, and that he believed, practiced, and taught men to follow Christ the same way they did. (Acts 21:24)
Further, both historians and theologians verify that the idea of Christian’s having liberty to ignore certain kinds of Mosaic Laws was contrary to the beliefs of the early Church, only becoming common several decades after these early leaders passed on to glory.
So, the early Jewish believers, under the constant guidance and instruction of these original, spirit-filled Apostles (Ac 2:42), were all zealous of Torah, and the Twelve Apostles as well as the Apostle Paul were encouraging them in this. (Acts 21:24)
They weren’t keeping Torah in order to be saved, trying to establish their own righteousness as their unbelieving Jewish brothers were (Ro 10:3); they understood that faith in Christ establishes the Law (Ro 3:31), affirming its centrality in our walk with God. (Mt_5:19)
In other words, the thought of Christ abolishing Torah, and relieving His followers of their obligation to obey any part of it, was rejected by the early Church: this was considered heresy by the men who were the first-hand witnesses and custodians of the teachings of Christ Himself, and also by their direct disciples. Further, aware that Paul was often accused of promoting this specific, anti-Torah mindset, being very familiar with Paul’s writings and ministry, the Twelve Apostles concluded that these accusations were false, and that Paul’s beliefs and practices were perfectly consistent with their own. They held to the Law as the very definition of sin(Ro 7:7), a blessing to all who keepit. (Ja 1:25)
How can these things be?
There is only one reasonable way to interpret these facts and remain consistent with both scripture and history: admit that Christ did notabolish Torah, concede that He explicitly tells us notto think this way (Mt 5:17), and acknowledge that the Apostle Paul did not believe or teach this either. (1Ti 1:8) This fundamental error was introduced by ungodly men seeking to corrupt the Christian faith, and they did so very early in Church history.
The Apostle Paul himself warns us that this will happen (1Ti 4:1) shortly after he completes his ministry, spreading deception and infecting the churches. (Ac 20:29-30)
And at the end of his life, the Apostle Peter himself, whom Christ especially commissioned to care for His sheep (Jn 21:16), precisely describes what we find here: some things Paul writes are very hard to understand, which the unlearned and unstable wrest to their own destruction. (2Pe_3:16)
So, those who aren’t zealous of God’s Law (Ps 119:20), who aren’t meditating in it day and night (Ps 1:2) and trying to obey all of it that they can (Ps 119:6), thinking Paul teaches us to live any other way, dismissing any part of Torah, are not rightly dividing the Word; they’re missing God’s heart, and why He gave His Law to us (1Ti 1:5): the Spirit of Christ in every true believer delights in Torah. (Ro 7:22)
The scriptures are essential to spiritual life (Ps 119:9); to depart from their precepts is to walk in darkness. (Is 8:20) They’re given by inspiration(2Ti 3:16) to make us wise unto eternal salvation(2Ti 3:15), providing more evidence of spiritual reality than any miracle ever could. (Lk 16:31)
But how do we know what scripture is? What documents should we consider to be inspired of God? How do we go about validating this? What tests should we apply? Several characteristics are common to all of the books included in the Bible, giving us ample clues.
To begin, we know that Jesus Christ, the greatest figure in human history, accepted the 39 books of the Old Testament cannon as scripture (Lk 24:44); He acted as if the Jews of His day had correctly identified all scripture, and only scripture, within these texts. (Jn 5:39) This is now a well-documented, historical fact.
And Christ’s Apostles identified certain new texts penned in their own era as inspired, the 27 books of the New Testament, which recorded the details of Christ’s teaching and ministry, the history of the early church, and how to rightly understand the ways and nature of God in light of all that had already been revealed. (2Pe 3:16) This is also a well-documented, historical fact.
All of these 66 texts in the cannon of Scripture, the Bible, have several unique qualities in common, which are to be expected from scripture:
All scripture is committed to the Jews, God’s chosen people (Ro 3:1-2), who have recognized each inspired text, acknowledged it as scripture, and committed themselves to preserving it for us all. Just as salvation is of the Jews(Jn 4:22), so also are the scriptures, which teach us the Way of salvation, of the Jews.
Scripture does not exalt any mere mortal to spiritual prominence or importance. The authors of scripture often did not even know that they were writing scripture; they did not do so in order to promote or enrich themselves. Those who did write any details about themselves admitted faults which implicated themselves as fallen souls, much in need of grace. There is no record of any author of any biblical text proclaiming that God had perfectly inspired the text through themselves. The assertion and confirmation of inspiration was made independently, through godly men and women who were not in any kind of league with the author to promote them. (Lk 14:11, (Pr 27:2)
Scripture does not contradict any truth of any kind; each text retains a perfect integrity with every other inspired text (Pr 30:5), with science (1Ti 6:20), and with history. (De 18:21)
All scripture is generally received by the people of God as the Word of God. (Ps 119:105) As a pillar upholds a roof and connects it with the ground, so the church upholds the truth of God as His Spirit reveals it to her (1Jn 2:27), and teaches her how to translate that truth into godly behavior. (1Ti 3:15) As a spiritual community, the early Jewish Christians recognized the spiritual power of the Word of God in the New Testament cannon and affirmed it, piece by piece, just as their fathers had recognized the Old Testament cannon of scripture.
All scripture is profitable for godly instruction (2Ti 3:16), teaching us how to walk with God. It glorifies God, not man (1Co 1:29), and feeds our spirits so that we grow up into the image of Christ. (1Pe 2:2)
There are only two orientations from which we might view God and His Law: distrust and hope. We either believe God is good, and therefore that His decisions, evaluations, ways, laws and judgments are perfectly righteous and just (Ps 119:128), and thus we delight in God’s laws, and expect perfect goodness to come from obeying them, regardless of appearance (Ps 119:75), or we distrust God in some way, and expect His ways might be less than optimal, that we might fare better apart from Him.
The former view aligns us with reality, the latter postures us as the ultimate judges of God and of His Word (Ja 4:11), of Being itself, and thus aligns us with lies, darkness and deception. (Pr 4:19)
So, the Psalmist can ask God to keep him in the way of truth becausehe has maintained a posture of hopeful expectation in God’s judgments (Ps 119:43); he is trusting God in the face of suffering and injustice, hoping in God’s Word (Ps 119:147), trusting God will reconcile all things, and hasn’t set himself up as the judge of Being.
The corollary is that the more we posture ourselves as judges of Being, disdaining God’s purpose in Creation, questioning God’s wisdom in allowing evil and suffering in this world, the more we forfeit our access to and alignment with the truth.
Trusting in the goodness and love of God is a process, growing in the grace and knowledge of God. (2Pe_3:18) Casting ourselves upon God, let’s be asking Him to give us this understanding (Ps 119:34), making us understand the way of His precepts (Ps 119:27), and inclining our hearts unto His ways. (Ps 119:36) And let’s ask in faith, nothing wavering (Ja 1:6), knowing God is pleased to satisfy those who hunger and thirst after righteousness. (Mt 5:6)
Our capacity for delight has a singular purpose: to enable us to enjoy a single Person — Jesus Christ. This is what we’re made for. (Re 4:11) As we discover Him, we’re willing to give up anything and everything for Him. (Php 3:8)
Christ is preciousto those who believe on Him (1Pe 2:7); in other words, those who don’t find Him precious haven’t yet found Him … they aren’t believers. Very few do find Him (Mt 7:14); these are the chosen of God. (Jn 6:44)
Christ Himself likens the disposition of the elect to a merchantseeking the finest pearls; trained to prize those of immense worth, he finds a single pearl of such incomparable value that he sells everything he owns to acquire it. (Mt 13:45-46)
We see the extreme intensity and degree of such passion illustrated in a sinful woman’s discovery of Christ; we’re told she loved much(Lk 7:47), and find her kissing His feet, anointing Him with extravagantly expensive ointment, weeping upon Him, washing His feet with tears and wiping them with her hair. (Lk 7:37-38) She is simply overwhelmed by Him; as are all who begin to truly apprehend the living God. (Php 3:12) Nothing compares to Him.
Of course, such love for Christ involves our sentiments, our emotions, the passion of our hearts, but it isn’t limited to this; such love engages our entire being: our wills, in obeying Him at all times and at all costs (Jn 14:21), our minds, in serving His Law(Ro 7:25) as it reveals His heart to us, meditating on Him and His ways day and night (Ps 1:2), and our bodies, as we spend ourselves in pleasing and glorifying Him. (1Co 6:20)
There’s a vast difference as well between cherishing Christ for what He’s done for us, and adoring Him for Who He actually is and what He’s like. A stranger’s generosity might bring forth passionate gratitude, but this is immensely different than finding unfathomable delight in another’s very nature. The former is merely self-interest in disguise, the latter a true cherishing of another soul. How might we distinguish between the two, if not in how we respond to God in our affliction? Are we after Him, or merely His gifts?
And how can we worship Him as He is if we misapprehend Him? If we’re not careful to understand Him, if we’re mistaken about His values, His nature and His ways? The enemy is constantly misrepresenting the divine Way and twisting His message to hide His true nature from us. (Jn 8:44) If we receive these lies about Christ, how can He be rightly precious to us? How do we rid ourselves of every false way(Ps 119:104), such that we’re free of these lying impressions and misrepresentations so we can value Jesus Christ as He truly is?
The documented life of Christ, His Words and ways as offered us in the Gospel narratives, provides a sweeping, panoramic view of His character, and we do well to ponder every detail. Yet a cursory, hit-and-miss sampling of His ways, dismissing parts we don’t understand or dislike, is misleading, incomplete, corrupting the word. We may easily misrepresent His heart if we aren’t deeply familiar with the context of His actions, and in the end receive another Jesus, a false one.
To know Him as He is, to find Himprecious, we must perceive this revelation of the nature of God in its rightful context; to see the fullness of Christ, we must turn to Mosaic Law, considering all His commandments, and observe that Christ loved this Law with His whole heart (Ps 119:97), delighting in the wondrous revelation of His Father (Ps 119:18) with unspeakable intensity. (Ps 119:20) We must interpret His behavior through this lens, or we will miss Him. (Mt 5:17-19)
It is impossible, ultimately, to decouple love for Christ with what He values. If He’s precious to us, we’ll be rejoicing in His heart, beholding His beauty, obeying His commands (Jn 14:21), cherishing His words (Jn 14:23), and seeking His face.
As Jesus is teaching in the temple early one morning, the scribes and Pharisees bring a woman to Him that they’ve captured in the very act of adultery. (Jn 8:2-3a) They set her down before the crowd, and start asking Christ if He’ll honor the Mosaic Law (Jn 8:4-5), which requires her to be stoned to death. (De 22:22)
Their motive in doing so is to accuse Him (Jn 8:6a); they’re setting a trap: if He sides with the woman, then the people will recognize He can’t be their Messiah (Is 8:20); yet if He sides with Moses, He’ll be in trouble with Rome. (Jn 18:31) No matter what Christ does, they think they have Him.
But Christ doesn’t answer them; He stoops down, ignoring their question, and begins writing with His finger in the dust on the temple pavement. (Jn 8:6b) His enemies, evidently energized by the thought of finally stumping Him, begin pressing Him for an answer (Jn 8:7a)
But then Christ does something striking: He rises up, publicly invites anyone who is sinless to go ahead and throw the first stone, and then He returns to writing in the dust. (Jn 8:7b-8)
Christ honors the Law, but in a way that’s fitting for their circumstance: lawful subjects of a foreign civil power. God gave the Law to Israel to enforce as a sovereign community, not as individuals living under pagan rule. But a sinless person acting on God’s behalf should be able to call on God to rescue them when the Roman soldiers storm the place. So, Christ effectively says, “If you feel you’ve got God on your side enough to defy Roman law, be My guest: go for it.”
As the accusers begin contemplating what He’s just invited them to do, and also noticing what kinds of things He’s writing in the dust, they scatter, every last one of them, being convicted by their own conscience. (Jn 8:9)
Exactly what Christ writes on the ground is a mystery, but the narrative suggests that He’s exposing the sins of the accusers, how they’re all presumptuously breaking God’s Law, and are worthy of death. (Nu 15:30) After all, they aren’t even following this particular law that they’re asking Christ to honor: in their ploy, they hadn’t incriminated the adulterous man, as the Law requires. (De 22:22)
The fact that Christ doesn’t enforce Mosaic Law here tempts many to claim this as evidence that He came to abolish it and give us a better one. Nothing could be farther from the truth: He Himself says so, explicitly. (Mt 5:17-19) Court is adjourned, not because God’s Law is obsolete, but because the community has opted out: there’s no one left to carry out the sentence. (Jn 8:10-11a)
Christ’s wisdom here lies in the fact that lawful punishment must only be carried out by recognized civil authority. Christ Himself is not obligated, as a single individual under Roman civil law, to enforce it, and He chooses not to. (Jn 8:11b) It’s the prudent choice, a testament to His infinite wisdom and discernment.