What Do Christians Follow?
When we are trying to determine what law the Christian is under, it is difficult to find agreement among the denominations, for each is bound by their own creed books and none would agree to be bound by another's. The Roman Catholic church has its Catechism, the Methodist church has its Discipline, the Mormons have (among other books) The Book of Mormon, and other denominations are bound by various synods, councils, and articles of confession that outline what one must believe if an individual desires to be joined to that particular denominational group. One cannot be joined to the Mormon church by stating he believes the tenets of the Philadelphia Confession or that he believes one should strictly follow Luther's Small Catechism.
Even among those who reject the creeds of men, there is disagreement about which law the Christian is under. There is a great divide between those who hold to the Bible alone as to what part of it is binding to the Christian for his law, or authority; some want to say anything in the Bible is our authority (including the Old Testament), while others teach that the New Testament alone is our authority. Some reject both ideas and will go so far to say that the Christian is under no law, only grace. (When I hear such statements, I can't figure out why they still say they follow the Bible!) But which is right? What should the Christian follow if he desires to (1) be pleasing to God in all things, and (2) be judged as an obedient, faithful child of God?
First of all, if you are a Christian, that should give us a great big hint as to what we should follow. (Christ! You'd think that was a given, but it is not.) The term Christian means one who follows Christ and His teachings. And that is perfectly logical, for Christ commanded His apostles to go out into the world and make disciples of all nations, "teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you." (Matt. 28:19, 20) It is only natural that the disciples of a master would follow his teachings, and it is no different with the disciples of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus concluded the Sermon on the Mount, He said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." (Matt. 7:21) Then He said, "Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them " (v. 24), pointing to the fact that His words were the will of God, and they must be obeyed if one desires to enter the kingdom of heaven. This agrees with another statement of Jesus, when He said, "He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him; the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak." (John 12:48, 49) What we should learn from these passages is that the words of Jesus are equal to the will of God, and those words must be heeded, for they will judge us in the end.
In clear, simple terms, what the Christian should follow are the words of Jesus. That does not mean that we just read the "red letters" and those alone, but all the words of the New Testament. Before Jesus left this earth, he told those same apostles, "I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come." (John 16:12, 13) In the same way Jesus spoke the words of the Father, the Holy Spirit would guide the apostles in the words of the Father after Jesus left. That being true, whatever the apostles taught was equated with the words of Jesus, because the source was the same: God, the Father. (See also Luke 10:16 & Matt. 10:40).
Most accept that we should follow the words of Jesus, but some want to go further and say that we should also follow the Ten Commandments, some expanding that to anything found in the Old Testament. Could that be true? Can we go to both the New and Old Testaments for our authority?
In short: NO! Let us understand that the Old and New Testaments were two distinct covenants given by God, with some clear and unmistakable differences. Think of them as a wills, for that is what they are. The writer of Hebrews tells us that for a testament to be effective, the death of the testator must take place (Heb. 9:16, 17). Since the New Testament is the will of Jesus Christ, when He died, that testament (will) was put in effect. Since it is now in effect, the Old has been superseded and is no longer our authority. Anytime the testator writes a new will, whatever was written before becomes no longer effective, no matter how long it was in existence prior to the new one.
Another way to look at it may be to consider the testaments as codes. If I wanted to build a house in the county in which I live, I would have to build it according to the county code that is now in effect. If I went back to the codes of 1901, the inspector would soundly reject my building because my codes were outdated and obsolete. And that is exactly the terminology that the writer of Hebrews used when he spoke of the two covenants. He pointed back to the prophetic words of God (Jer. 31:31-34) that spoke of the new covenant, and then said, "In that He says, A new covenant, He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away." (Heb. 8:13)
The Old Testament is certainly still useful today (Rom. 15:4; 1 Cor. 10:11), but it is not our authority it is not our law. It was given to the Jews at Mount Sinai, not to us (Deut. 4:13, 14; 5:2, 3). Some want to go back to the Old Law for only certain things (instrumental music in worship, priests, etc.), but such goes against the will of Christ and is unlawful. Paul said to the Galatian brethren (Gal. 5:1-4) that if they held just one of the tenets of the Old law as binding (in their case, circumcision), they were debtors to keep the whole law. He further stated that when they did so, they were "estranged from Christ." I think we miss the true meaning of this phrase, for it literally means that Christ has become useless. I am fairly certain that those who go back to the Old Law for their authority do not want to make that statement!
What law do you follow?
By Steven Harper
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