Question:

Hi there. I really like your work and biblical analysis. I read your answer on "Which scriptures are applicable today?" and I have some questions to ask.

  1. I am currently dealing with which sins are applicable to life today. I have to, of course. check myself that I am not motivated to discard these sins as "Old Testament" sins as to justify my selfish ambition. Therefore, what sins would you confirm as sins applicable today? I am aware it might be a long list, so brief points would be fine too.
  2. There are some scriptures in the Old Testament such as the Ten Commandments that command us not to murder, lie, etc. Do these commands then take place even if the are in the Old Testament? I have been wondering if:
    1. they take place because it was part of the Ten Commandments
    2. they take place ONLY because it is synonymous with commandments found IN the New Testament
  3. How would you answer if someone said that God mentioned in His word that our was are not His ways and that He is never changing? Why then would a God change his view of certain sins like working on the Sabbath?
  4. Relating to the Old Testament sins and how they are applicable? I have always wondered about this question that is always debated among pastors: Are tattoos a sin?

Answer:

You raise several good questions that I would like to focus upon. With that in mind, there are some preliminary issues which need to be covered, so I invite you to first read "Why We Don't Follow the Old Testament." This way I won't repeat things and can spend the rest of this letter addressing the issues you raised.

If God doesn't change, then why a change in law?

You refer to two different passages.

"Seek the LORD while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return to the LORD, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon. "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways," says the LORD. "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts. For as the rain comes down, and the snow from heaven, and do not return there, but water the earth, and make it bring forth and bud, that it may give seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:6-11).

In essence, God is declaring that He knows what He is doing even when men don't understand. People are constantly trying to put words in God's mouth and God is saying that people can't comprehend what He is doing.

I see this constantly. People will commit fornication and declare: "We're in love! Surely God won't condemn us for expressing our love." Yet, they are ignoring that God said, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God" (I Corinthians 6:9-10). Rather than justifying sin, people should accept that God understands sin and, therefore, they should leave sin alone.

The second passage you allude to is:

"And I will come near you for judgment; I will be a swift witness against sorcerers, against adulterers, against perjurers, against those who exploit wage earners and widows and orphans, and against those who turn away an alien - because they do not fear Me," says the LORD of hosts. "For I am the LORD, I do not change; therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob"" (Malachi 3:5-6).

The point being made here is that people will not escape punishment because God is somehow like fickle humans. He doesn't declare something sinful one day and not the next depending on His mood.

So the question is did God change His mind about the Law of Moses. What many people refuse to see is that the answer is "no." In the law, God stated very clearly that the Law Moses brought to the children of Israel was a temporary one (even though from man's view it did last about 1,500 years). "Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah - not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day that I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, though I was a husband to them, says the LORD" (Jeremiah 31:31-32). As the writer of Hebrews points out, "In that He says, "A new covenant," He has made the first obsolete" (Hebrews 8:13).

God's plan from before the creation of the world was to rescue mankind from sin. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He has made us accepted in the Beloved" (Ephesians 1:3-6). The Law of Moses was a step in God's plans to bring salvation to the whole world.

In the process of reaching that end, God selected one nation out of the world and gave them a law to live by. "For what great nation is there that has God so near to it, as the LORD our God is to us, for whatever reason we may call upon Him? And what great nation is there that has such statutes and righteous judgments as are in all this law which I set before you this day?" (Deuteronomy 4:7-8). That law, of which the Ten Commandments serve as a preamble, was given just to the Israelites. "And Moses called all Israel, and said to them: "Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your hearing today, that you may learn them and be careful to observe them. The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb. The LORD did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive"" (Deuteronomy 5:1-3).

But in saving the world from sin, a law to one nation was never intended to be the end of the matter. "Indeed He says, 'It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob, and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also give You as a light to the Gentiles, that You should be My salvation to the ends of the earth'" (Isaiah 49:6). The change in scope required a change in law. And that change was always a part of God's plan.

Why are some things, which were sinful under the Old Testament, are no longer sinful under the New Testament?

I suspect that you actually agree that there are changes because I am positive that you don't keep the Old Law. For example, the Old Law required that you bring an offering to the priests each time you sinned. "If he brings a lamb as his sin offering, he shall bring a female without blemish. Then he shall lay his hand on the head of the sin offering, and kill it as a sin offering at the place where they kill the burnt offering. The priest shall take some of the blood of the sin offering with his finger, put it on the horns of the altar of burnt offering, and pour all the remaining blood at the base of the altar. He shall remove all its fat, as the fat of the lamb is removed from the sacrifice of the peace offering. Then the priest shall burn it on the altar, according to the offerings made by fire to the LORD. So the priest shall make atonement for his sin that he has committed, and it shall be forgiven him" (Leviticus 4:32-35). Failure to do this would mean you would still remain unforgiven of your sins under the Old Law.

Usually when I point this out, someone objects. "Christ has become our offering for sin!" That is true. I agree. "So Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many" (Hebrews 9:28). And thus you agree that what was once considered sinful is no longer sinful because of changes that God has made.

It was sinful for an Israelite not to be circumcised. "And the uncircumcised male child, who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people; he has broken My covenant" (Genesis 17:14). But Paul stated that under Christ's law, "Indeed I, Paul, say to you that if you become circumcised, Christ will profit you nothing. And I testify again to every man who becomes circumcised that he is a debtor to keep the whole law. You have become estranged from Christ, you who attempt to be justified by law; you have fallen from grace" (Galatians 5:2-4). The reason for the strong words is because to be circumcised is to declare that God's next step in saving the world did not take place. Physical circumcision was replaced with a spiritual one. "In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Colossians 2:11-12).

The Old Law could not save without the coming of Christ (Hebrews 9:15). But the coming of Christ of necessity required a change in the Laws so that all the world could be saved. "Therefore remember that you, once Gentiles in the flesh--who are called Uncircumcision by what is called the Circumcision made in the flesh by hands -- that at that time you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation, having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity" (Ephesians 2:11-16).

Many sins remain sinful because the very nature of the action is wrong. Murder, lying, stealing, idolatry, sex outside of marriage, etc. are by their very nature sinful. Yet there are also some things which are wrong merely because God said not to do those things. Eating isn't a sin, but it became a sin for Adam and Eve because God told them not to eat of one particular tree. Hitting a rock isn't a sin, but it became a sin for Moses because God didn't command him to do it. God often told the Israelites to take the spoils of the nations they conquered, but it became a sin for Achan because God said that this one city was to be dedicated to Him.

The same is true in under the Law of Christ. There are some things which become sinful solely because doing or not doing becomes disobedience to a command of God. For example, Christians must partake of the Lord's Supper. "Most assuredly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink His blood, you have no life in you" (John 6:53). Normally there is nothing wrong with choosing not to eat something. But because the meal memorializing Jesus' death on our behalf is commanded, to disobey is to sin. Yet, the Israelites never sinned under their law because they did not eat of the Lord's Supper -- it wasn't a command given to them.

What About the Sabbath?

There is nothing intrinsically sinful about working on the last day of the week (the Sabbath day). Prior to the Law of Moses, people had be working on the Sabbath day. We know this because it took effort on God's part to get the children of Israel to obey this particular command.

The Sabbath day was selected as a day of rest because it had particular meaning to the Israelites. They were slaves in Egypt and the Sabbath day was a constant reminder that God freed them from slavery. "And remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day" (Deuteronomy 5:15). To remember their constant toil in Egypt, the Israelites were commanded that they must take a day off and not work. The day selected was the same day that God rested from His work in the Creation.

But this doesn't apply to the rest of the world. Our ancestors were not slaves in Egypt. As Christians we were given other things to remember -- the death of our Savior on the cross and his resurrection. Thus, we too remember our salvation, but that memorial takes on a different form. "And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. Having disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Colossians 2:13-17). The Sabbath keeping, like the food laws, the old festivals, and the new moon celebrations, were all mere foreshadows of the reality that is found in Christ's law. The shadows were replaced with reality.

For more on this topic, see: "Were the Ten Commandments Nailed to the Cross?"

In regards to tattoos see: "Are tattoos or plastic surgery sinful?"