Should Christians Keep Israel’s Feasts?

Recently I got detailed questions from someone connected with the movement that believes Christians should keep the Law of Moses. Below I summarize the incoming question (with supporting verses) and then give my point-by-point response:

The core of your questions is this: “I am wondering why Christians don’t celebrate the Lord’s feasts.” You raise several points in favor of our doing so:
a. God says the feasts are a “perpetual” command (e.g. Lev. 23:14). You favor the assumption that it also applies to Christians since we have been grafted in (Rom. 11:17) and are now part of the people of God.
b. Jesus observed the feasts (e.g. John 10). You say we are to be like him.
c. You dismiss Col. 2:16-17 by referring to an Aramaic/English Bible and an interpretation from it that Paul was referring to pagans judging Christians.
d. You cite Acts 20:16 [“he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem,if possible, by the day of Pentecost” (NIV)], Acts 18:21 [“I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem” (KJV)], John 10:22-23 [“Then came the Feast of Dedication at Jerusalem. It was winter, 23 and Jesus was in the temple area walking in Solomon’s Colonnade” (NIV)], and John 12:20 [“Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast” (NIV)]. You use these quotes in support of two ideas: (1) “the apostles did celebrate the feasts after Jesus’ ascension” and (2) “it would be right” to celebrate the feasts as Jesus did.

I will try to deal briefly with each of the points. However, even at this point I must say that I seriously doubt that you or any other Christian can possibly be keeping these feasts in accordance with the Law of Moses because you are not making all the required sacrifices, have no earthly High Priest to perform some of the steps, and have no Temple standing at which to perform the appropriate worship. These are serious problems! James says, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10, NIV 2011).

Now let’s take your points one-by-one:

Claim: God says the feasts are a “perpetual” command (e.g. Lev. 23:14). You favor the assumption that it also applies to Christians since we have been grafted in (Rom. 11:17) and are now part of the people of God.

Response: The short answer here is that we are not Jews. The fact that Paul uses the metaphor of grafting a wild branch into the olive tree does not mean that the wild branches are the same as the natural branches. If they were, what would be the point in naming two different types of branches and talking about how God is dealing with them differently?

You are correct in saying these feasts are a “perpetual” command, but the verse says “it is a statute forever throughout your generations in all your dwellings” (Lev 23:14, ESV), and the “your” is not a reference to Christians either historically or now. This involves the Jews.

Claim: Jesus observed the feasts (e.g. John 10). We are to be like him.

Response: The key here is that these events all take place before Jesus died on the cross in satisfaction of all that God required. His death changed everything profoundly, and we live after his death not before it. Jesus obeyed the Law of Moses because that was what was required of him. It does not logically follow that all that was required of Jesus is required of us as well. For example, Jesus died for the sins of the world. Must we do so as well? Jesus lived in Nazareth. Must we do so as well? Being like Jesus has serious limits.

Claim: You dismiss Col. 2:16-17 by referring to an Aramaic/English Bible and an interpretation derived from it that Paul was referring to pagans judging Christians.

Response: Actually it does not matter who was doing the judging. What matters is that we as Christians are not to be involved in those practices mentioned in Col. 2:16, and the reason is simple. Col. 2:17 says, “These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (NIV 2011). The feasts were part of the “shadow of the things that were to come,” but Jesus did come! So, now we put aside the shadow-things in favor of the reality found in Christ. As I said before, his death and resurrection changed everything.

As a person who studies Bible translations closely, I do not recommend you rely on an Aramaic translation of the NT. The NT was revealed to us in Koine Greek, and the Greek text is hard enough to translate into English. Putting Aramaic into the picture makes matters worse, not better.

Claim: Your next points all involve the apostles allegedly observing feasts after the ascension of Jesus. [I am leaving out the verses about Jesus in John 10 and John 12 because I have previously covered the fact that these events happened before Jesus’ death.]

Response: You cite Acts 20:16 [“he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem,if possible, by the day of Pentecost” (NIV)]. So far, so good. However, this verse does not state that Paul was doing that in order to observe the feast like the Jews. It is far more likely, in light Paul’s theology and mission, that he wanted to be in Jerusalem at Passover because there would be a maximum number of Jews to whom he might proclaim Christ. In any event, he did not observe the feast due to violence plotted against him.

In a similar case, I have been to the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City, but that does not mean I went there to worship like a Mormon. We must be careful about assumptions.

Claim: You cite Acts 18:21 [“I must by all means keep this feast that cometh in Jerusalem” (KJV)].

Response: No modern English translation retains that clause because it is not supported by the best Greek manuscripts of the NT. Thus, it is not a valid basis for Christian doctrine.

Summary: Although it is true that the feasts have many interesting analogies in relation to Christ, we now have Christ himself and no longer need the analogies.

Hebrews 3:1–3: “Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. 2He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. 3 Jesus has been found worthy of greater honor than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honor than the house itself.”

[For further information on this topic, I suggest you read the two posts that begin here.]

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide.

 

A Model for Christian Life – Part 3 (end)

[This post ends this three-part series. Be sure to read the first two parts!]

Our Identity in Christ: “New Man”

A second aspect of our identity is that of the “new man.” Consider the following verses from the Bible:

“Do not lie to one another, since you have put off the old man with his practices 10 and have put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of his Creator” (Col. 3:9–10, HCSB[1]).

“you took off your former way of life, the old man that is corrupted by deceitful desires; 23 you are being renewed in the spirit of your minds; 24 you put on the new man, the one created according to God’s [likeness] in righteousness and purity of the truth” (Eph. 4:22–24, HCSB).

“knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:6, NKJV).

The person-you-were-before-salvation died with Christ, and that person is the “old man” or “old self” (NIV) that Col. 2:9 says we have stripped off. The person-we-became-after-giving-our-allegiance-to-Jesus is the new man that Col. 3:10 says we have put on.

Romans 6:6 states a crucial truth about the old man when it says, “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin” (NKJV). We learn here the crucial facts that our old man was crucified with Christ, and the purpose was to break the dominion of sin by rendering it powerless.

I draw your attention to the fact that the “new man” language refers to both men and women in Christ. As we find in Gal. 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

Our Identity in Christ: “People of God”

While the previous two aspects of Christian identity take on an individualistic hue, the fact that we are part of “the people of God” is plainly relational. The “people of God” language is key to 1 Pet. 2:9–10. However, in 1 Cor. 12:12–14 and Eph. 4:4–7, 15–16, we find that we are corporately called the body of Christ. Consider as well that of the hundreds of commands to believers in the New Testament, almost all are given in verbal forms that are second-person plural. In other words, we are responsible as the people of God to carry them out.

The Touchstone: Pleasing Christ

As life-managers, new men and women in Christ, who together comprise the people of God, we should make decisions and take actions with only one principle in mind: pleasing Christ. Consider the following verses:

“So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad” (2 Cor. 5:9–10). See also Col. 3:17.

Resources for Our Journey

As we think about the resources we have for living to please Christ, we must start with the knowledge that, by God’s kindness, we lack nothing:

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. (2 Pet. 1:3)

Our first resource is knowledge of the Word of God. See 1 Pet. 1:23–25; Col. 1:9–10, 3:10; 2 Tim. 3:14–16; Heb. 4:12; Matt. 7:24. Remember that Jesus said, “The scripture cannot be broken” (John 10:35).

The Holy Spirit indwells us to provide a constant infusion of insight, power and protection. See John 14:26; 2 Cor. 3:17–18; Rom. 8:13; Gal. 5:16.

By Christ’s powerful sacrifice to win us access to God, we may approach God with our prayers at any time. See Heb. 4:16; Col. 4:2; Phil 4:6.

We also enjoy the company of the people of God as our companions on the journey. See Eph. 4:1–13 and the numerous “one another” commands.

Context for Life-Management

God has given us a great deal of information about the context in which we live out our Christian lives. First, it is not a monastic life of individualism (“just-me-and-God”) but a shared life of shared joy and challenge (Eph. 4:1–13).

It is also a life of continuous transformation. Sometimes the Word speaks of this change as something being done to us by the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:18), but in most cases this transformation is embodied in a command to us (Rom. 12:2; Phil. 2:12-13; Eph. 4:23).

While the transformation process has many elements, several deserve special attention. First, there is growth in knowledge (Col. 1:9–10; Eph. 4:13–14). Second, there is our exercise of faith as an active, open response to the truth (Matt. 9:17–22; Luke 8:4–15; Heb. 4:2, 11:6; James 2:22; Gal. 5:6). Third, we are expected to manifest active love (Gal. 5:6; 1 Cor. 13; John 13:35; Matt. 25:40). Fourth, we are reminded that the purity of our perception makes a profound difference (Matt. 6:22-23; Col. 3:2–3).

Another major element in the context of our life journey has two sides. On the one hand, we are dead to sin, and so we can and should refuse to commit acts of sin (Col. 3:5; Rom. 6:11; 1 Pet. 2:24; Rom. 8:13). On the other hand, we are free to serve God, making the members of our bodies weapons for righteousness in his hands (Rom. 6:18, 22; 1 Pet. 2:16).

Finally our life-management takes place in a setting of spiritual warfare and suffering (Eph. 6:11–12; 1 Pet. 2:11; John 16:33).

To sum up, we live in a shared setting of continuous transformation, spiritual warfare and suffering, while we refuse any expression of sin and live lives of love and righteousness to glorify God.

Responsibilities of Life-Management

We have already seen that the context of life-management includes both the Holy Spirit’s action as well as our own. In this section the focus is on what Christ expects of us.

Perhaps the hallmark of Christian life is obedience (John 14:15; Matt. 7:24; Matt. 28:20; Rom. 6:17; Heb. 5:9; Phil 2:12). Jesus said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? (Luke 6:40). It is fitting to note that this obedience often occurs through acts of love and kindness.

Among those commands we are to obey, a wise manager should take note of the great commandments (Matt. 22:36–39; Matt. 7:12) as well as the great commission (Matt. 28:18–20. We should emphasize what our King emphasized.

Another critical area of obedience is to actively cooperate with the transformation process (Phil. 2:12–13; Rom. 6:13, 8:13). Give attention to maximizing things like exposure to the truth, the active exercise of faith and love, and refusal of sin.

Next, our Lord requires us to remain alert at all times, because he may return at any moment (Matt. 24:36–44). We are to watch, not wait, for his return

Expectations That Motivate

Every manager lives with the knowledge that his or her management will come under review, and our life-management for Christ is no exception. We live today knowing that our deeds will be judged for reward (2 Cor. 5:9–10; 1 Cor. 3:12–15).

We live for Christ, knowing there is no greater cause! We look forward to receiving glory and honor in his service (Rom. 2:9–10, 8:17, 8:30; Phil. 3:21).

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.


[1] HCSB means Holman Christian Standard Bible.

 

A Model for Christian Life: Part 1 of 3

Long ago, when we were children, someone taught us how to assemble a puzzle. It was hard at first, frustrating. In time we learned that each piece has a specific shape that fits a hole somewhere. That helped, but it still took a while to try out each piece in the hole.

Finally our minds developed to the point where we could use the biggest clue of all — the picture on the front of the puzzle box. That made things so much easier! Soon we were able to do the whole puzzle without even using the picture. Our minds had learned a pattern, a picture of wholeness.

Our Christian lives are a puzzle of staggering complexity. Many spend a lifetime trying to bring the many parts into a coherent whole. That’s where this article fits in. It gives a sketch of the picture on the puzzle box—a vision of wholeness and maturity in Jesus Christ.

Toward a Better Conception

What many Christians desperately need today is a change in their frame of reference. To understand what I mean by “frame of reference,” consider an example from history. Until the sixteenth century scientists shared the belief that the earth was the center of the solar system with all other heavenly bodies moving around it. But then Copernicus and Kepler found that astronomical observations matched the assumption that the sun was at the center rather than the earth. That totally changed people’s frame of reference.

The important point is that the old earth-centered system was eventually replaced by a new, different and more useful one. But that didn’t happen easily or quickly.

Like those who wrongly believed the earth was the center of the solar system, Christians often reach a block in their growth because they are still using some simplistic frame of reference for their Christian life, a frame that cannot integrate the complexity of their lives. Seemingly useful alternatives such as “let go and let God” or “you must die to self” eventually lead to disappointment for many Christians. Other inadequate alternatives include perfectionism and the teaching that a second work of grace makes you mature in Christ. I do not accept these alternatives as the biblical means for achieving maturity in Christ.

Other ideas divide the nature of man into either two or three parts. The first approach is often expressed as a two-part model of body and soul. The three-part model is usually expressed as the combination of body, soul and spirit. In my view, these concepts lead to psychological/spiritual speculation that cannot be adequately supported by biblical revelation. Instead, I find it more useful to view redeemed man as a whole person, the “new man” of Colossians 3, Ephesians 4, and Romans 6 (more on this later).

A Metaphor To Express Our Life Situation

All of us take cues from our situation to help us know how to behave. A football player acts one way and a chess player quite another. A gardener exhibits certain behaviors and a father holding a new baby shows totally different actions. People who get their situations and behaviors mixed up (e.g. a football player trying to dance at the forty yard line) usually wind up in institutions. So it’s vitally important to fit our behaviors together in a sensible way with our context.

I believe that Christians can use one, central metaphor that will describe all their activities. This single metaphor provides a master conception that will guide our behavior in situations where limited formulas about Christian life break down. The guiding metaphor for Christians is that we have been appointed life-managers on behalf of Christ.

The biblical basis for this metaphor starts with Gen. 1:26–28. Jesus imposed this duty on his followers while they await his return (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27).

Naturally, the life you manage is your own, although as a parent you may help manage children’s lives for a time. Even our physical lives come as a delegated resource from God. He also provides “everything we need for life and godliness” (2 Peter 1:3), which includes such resources as the Holy Spirit, the Bible, our own capable minds and our Christian relationships.

Though our first priority is to love God, he redirects our attention toward obedience and the expression of love. As life-managers for Christ, we enjoy wide latitude of choice and action. Part of our responsibility includes the active pursuit of Christian growth, but the most frequent focus of our management falls on the expression of love toward others, whether by kindness or evangelism. By using all these resources wisely, we bring lasting benefit to Christ’s kingdom and ourselves. And he generously rewards us for such efforts. On the other hand, any disobedience or sin results in discipline from our Master.

Life-Management during Christ’s Ministry

During Christ’s earthly ministry, the practice of managing another person’s wealth or estate was common. We can best view the arrangement as a capital-services partnership with one partner supplying the capital and the other partner providing the expertise in making a profit.

A servant could function as his master’s financial manager and the servant’s actions were legally binding on his master. In other words, the servant/manager had broad authority to act on his master’s behalf.

In those times it was entirely possible to turn a minimum profit of 100%, and even 1000% was not beyond reason. A servant who returned no profit at all would actually represent a loss to the master who was paying for the servant’s daily living expenses. A servant who made a profit would share in that profit and would likely be given even more to invest or manage in the future.

These typical arrangements stand behind the parables Jesus told about stewards: the parable of the talents (Matt. 25:14–28 and Luke 19:12–27), the parable of the shrewd steward (Luke 16:1–15) and the parable of the unmerciful servant (Matt. 18:23–35).

Approaching Our Goal

No one starts Christian life as an effective life-manager for Christ. Over time, God intends that we move from spiritual infancy into adulthood (Gal. 4:19; Eph. 4:13).

We can illustrate the development of Christian faith with a journey metaphor. No one ever took a journey by standing still! First, a person accepts the need for the journey and then moves out. But even that is not enough. Without an accurate map, a person can wind up farther from his intended destination than when he started; which leads us directly to the role of truth in spiritual development.

Truth and Spiritual Development

It will also prove helpful to use the metaphor of a map for our journey toward Christian maturity. First, we can imagine the reality in which we exist as a vast land. Our mental “map” represents our understanding of that terrain.

We all have such a map. For example, our map contains the concept of grocery stores. Unlike people in some parts of the world, we do not fish, hunt or raise crops to get our food because we know we can get it at the grocery store. But if we tried to use that part of our map while traveling in central Greenland, we would be in for a rude shock!

Sticking with the metaphor, I can define “truth” as God’s map of the terrain. The challenge each Christian faces is to get his internal map to look more like God’s. This happens by transforming our minds (more on that later) and by gaining a greater understanding of what God has revealed through Christ and the Word of God.

Part 2 will show how God helps us correct our “map” of reality.

Copyright © 2011 by Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide.