Throughout his letters to the early churches, Paul taught that the whole world was under the jurisdiction of the law of God. He explained that the law was not only given for the Jews and abolished by Christ for Christians, but that all needed to keep it.
A misunderstanding arose within the church regarding the ceremonial laws. In Acts the 15th chapter, we read that there were some people who taught the Christians in Antioch that unless they were circumcised according to the manner of Moses, they could not be saved. It says, “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.’ Therefore, when Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and dispute with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas and certain others of them should go up to Jerusalem, to the apostles and elders, about this question” (verses 1, 2). Verse 5 says, “Some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, ‘It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses.’ ”
A council was held in Jerusalem amongst the church leaders and it was determined that it was not necessary to require the Christians to keep the law of Moses and to be circumcised. Paul then made some very strong statements concerning this in his letters, and as a result, some people have concluded that the apostle Paul taught that Christians no longer need to keep the law of God. The question is, however, which law was he referring to?
He wrote, “For He Himself [Christ] is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of division between us [the Jews and the Gentiles], 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. And He came and preached peace to you who were afar off and to those who were near” (Ephesians 2:14–17, literal translation).
Christ abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances. From this statement, people have said that if Christ abolished the law of commandments contained in ordinances, we do not need to keep the law of God.
However, in Colossians the 2nd chapter, it says, “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 [that is, in the cross]. So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or in regarding a festival, or a new moon, or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. Let no one cheat you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations [or ordinances] —‘Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle’ ” (verses 14–21)? He goes on to say, “These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh” (verse 23).
So, people have concluded that Paul taught that the law of God was not binding on Christians. Some people have qualified that a little bit and say that it is necessary to keep the seventh commandment because even though Christians were released from being circumcised and keeping the law of Moses, they required them to keep the commandment dealing with immorality. Acts 15:28, 29: “It seemed good to the Holy Spirit, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things: that you abstain from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”
None of the other commandments are mentioned. The nations of the ancient world knew that immorality was wrong. There were strict penalties against adultery, taking another’s wife, and all knew that was wrong, but many of them did not think that fornication was wrong. They thought there was nothing wrong in having sexual relations with somebody who wasn’t married. For that reason, the apostles pointed out to the Christians that the seventh commandment included all manner of sexual immorality.
(The apostles also prohibited the Christians from eating of blood. In fact, nowhere in the Bible is permission given to the follower of the Lord to eat blood, though millions of Christians throughout the world eat blood today when they are eating meat.)
Paul said it was the law contained of ordinances that was abolished, and not God’s commandments. He said, “Do we then make void the law through faith? Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law” (Romans 3:31).
Think that through. Can you abolish a law and establish a law at the same time? Paul is talking about two laws. Paul says that there is a law of commandments contained in ordinances that is abolished (Ephesians 2:15) and a law that is established (Romans 3:31). Notice, this is not some new law that was given in New Testament times; it is a law from the times of the Old Testament that by faith in Christ is established. Paul says that “Where there is no law there is no transgression” (Romans 4:15). He also says that if the law wasn’t there he wouldn’t even know what sin was (Romans 7:7), because, as John says, “Sin is the transgression of the law” (1 John 3:4 KJV).
Notice what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:3: “I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (literal translation). Why did Christ die? Christ died for our sins. What is sin? You would think that everybody in the world would know by now what sin is, but many do not. Sin, the Bible says, is breaking God’s law. If you don’t have a law, then there isn’t any sin. And if you don’t have a sin, you don’t need a sacrifice and there is no need for a gospel, for the gospel is to save men from sin. The gospel doesn’t save men in breaking God’s law; it saves men from breaking God’s law. Remember the words of the angel to Joseph before the birth of Jesus: “Thou shalt call His name JESUS: for He shall save His people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21 KJV).
So, there was a law that was abolished when Christ came, a law having to do with ordinances—concerning foods and drinks, feast days, and yearly ceremonies (Leviticus 23)—those things were done away at the cross of Jesus. Those were temporary laws that were given regarding things that would happen in the gospel dispensation in the future. But, the law of God, the Ten Commandment law, was not done away; in fact, Paul says, “It was established.”
Notice he says: “Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God” (1 Corinthians 7:19 KJV). Or many translations add the words, “keeping the commandments of God is what matters,” or “is everything.”
Circumcision is not anything; whether you are circumcised or not circumcised is not the issue. The issue is, do you keep the commandments of God, for that is what matters. “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1–4).
Paul said that the righteous requirement of the law will be fulfilled in those who walk according to the Spirit, those who are filled with the Holy Spirit. So what about the person who is not filled with the Holy Spirit? Paul says that person is not going to keep the law. In fact, he says, a person who has a sinful nature, who has not been converted or received the Holy Spirit, cannot keep the law of God. He says, “For to be carnally minded is death, But to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Romans 8:6, 7). Notice, he says, “the carnal mind,” the person who is not converted, that person is not subject to the law of God; in fact, it’s impossible, nor indeed, can that person be subject to the law of God. But then he goes on to say, that’s not your situation. You’ve chosen to follow Christ; you’re filled with the Holy Spirit. He said, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God” (verse 14).
Paul taught that there was coming a time in the future of the Christian church when multitudes of people considering themselves to be Christians would violate the law of God and still expect that they were going to go to heaven, regardless that they were living in deliberate violation of God’s holy law. Paul taught that an antichrist power would come that would enter the Christian church and cause Christians to break the law of God. He was not the first one who predicted this.
Daniel prophesied that this antichrist power “shall speak pompous words against the Most High, shall persecute the saints of the Most High, and shall intend to change times and laws. Then the saints shall be given into his hand for a time and times and half a time” (Daniel 7:25).
Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church: “Now, brethren, concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our gathering together to Him, we ask you, not to be soon shaken in mind or troubled, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as if from us, as though the day of Christ had come. Let no one deceive you by any means; for that Day will not come unless the falling away comes first, and the man of sin is revealed, the son of perdition …” (2 Thessalonians 2:1–3). Paul predicted that the Second Coming of Christ would not come in his day. He said that before that great event there would be a great apostasy, a falling away from the truth, and the antichrist would be revealed. He said that this “man of sin [or antichrist] … opposes and exalts himself above all that is called God or that is worshiped, so that he sits as God in the temple of God, showing himself that he is God” (verse 4).
In Ephesians 2, the church of God is likened to a temple. A temple is a building where a deity resides. The church is to be a temple for the indwelling of God, but the antichrist is going to sit in the temple; in other words, in the church. The antichrist is going to arise in the church and he is going to exalt himself above every god that is worshiped, and he is going to show himself that he himself is God. Paul says, “Do you not remember that when I was still with you I told you these things? And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until he is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed” (verses 5–8, first part).
Notice that the antichrist is described here as the lawless one. In Daniel the antichrist is described as a power that intends to change times and laws. Here it is described as a lawless power, a power that teaches people to break God’s law. This antichrist power is going to continue until Jesus comes in the clouds of heaven and then it will be destroyed. Paul said, “Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming” (verse 8).
He says in verses 9, 10, “The coming of the lawless one [the antichrist] is according to the working of Satan, with all power, signs, and lying wonders, and with all unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth, that they might be saved.”
Friend, do you love the truth? Paul said that if you don’t receive the love of the truth, you are going to be deceived by miracles that will be performed by evil spirits and you will think that they are being performed by the Holy Spirit. “For this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (verses 11, 12).
Those who believe the lie and have pleasure in unrighteousness will still lose their soul. They well may plead ignorance or that they were deceived, but they neglected to receive the love of the truth and had pleasure in unrighteousness. Having pleasure in unrighteousness is taking pleasure in sin, in breaking God’s law. Those people will all be condemned.
The book of Revelation reveals the startling fact that in the very last days almost the entire world will worship the antichrist power. This is a violation of the first commandment that forbids the worship of anyone except the God of heaven. The second commandment forbids a person to bow down to any image or idol but, “All the world marveled and followed the beast” (Revelation 13:3, last part). Then it says in verse 8, “All who dwell on the earth will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.”
We are coming to a time when everybody in the world, except those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, is going to worship the antichrist. Whom will you worship? In Revelation, it is pointed out that in the last days a line will divide the people of the world into two groups—on one side will be those who keep God’s commandments; on the other side will be those who worship the antichrist and the image of the antichrist (Revelation 13, 14).
Revelation 12:17 says that “The dragon [the devil] was enraged with the woman [God’s people], and he went to make war with the rest of her offspring, who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ.” The devil is enraged with those who keep God’s commandments and he tries to destroy them. He causes a law to be passed that all who refuse to worship the antichrist and the image to the antichrist will be killed (Revelation 13). The devil is going to try to destroy every person who keeps God’s commandments. But God’s children will still be keeping His commandments. Revelation 14:12 says, “Here is the patience of the saints; here are those who keep the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus.”
O, friend, we are headed toward a gigantic spiritual crisis that is going to divide the whole world into two camps—those who keep God’s commandments and those who do not keep God’s commandments. It is just that simple.
In the last chapters of the book of Revelation this warning is repeated. In fact, in the last two chapters it is repeated at least three times. Looking at one in Revelation 22:14 and 15, it says, “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral (7th commandment), and murderers (6th commandment), and idolaters (2nd commandment), and whoever loves and practices a lie” (9th commandment). You see, in the final analysis, whether you are on the inside or whether you are on the outside in the last generation depends on whether or not you are loyal to God’s law.
(Unless appearing in quoted references or otherwise identified, Bible texts are from the New King James Version.)
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.