The question that is most often asked in discussions about the Jewish roots of the Christian faith is, “Do we have to?” Everyone seems to be concerned with whether Christians should (or must) incorporate Hebraic practices into their lifestyles. This question is generally raised out of fear that some believers may be drawn under the yoke of bondage to “the law,” the dreaded specter of “legalism” or, worse yet, “Galatianism.”
There are clear and present dangers that people can be seduced away from the simplicity that is in Christ and even beguiled into the greatest of human deceptions, self-righteousness, by a mistaken view that they can somehow earn or maintain status before God by what they do, particularly if their works are seen as being obedient to God’s law.
The overriding fear of legalism that has been woven into the very fiber of Christian thought has, however, resulted in a conscious abandonment of the eternal truth that God is a holy God and that he expects his people to be a holy people, “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14). While guarding against one potentially fatal danger—legalism and self-righteousness—the church has often placed Christians at risk for an equally great danger—lawless and sinful lifestyles.
Following his powerful discourse in Romans 5 that righteousness (or status with God) is attained and maintained only by grace through faith, Paul made it clear in Romans 6 that the grace of God and faith in God must never be used as an excuse for a lawless lifestyle: “Are we to continue in sin so that grace may increase? God forbid. How shall we who died to sin still live in it?” (Romans 6:1-2).
The answer to the question, “Do we have to?” is simple: Absolutely not! There is no evidence in Apostolic Scripture that believers in Jesus are required to maintain punctilious performance of the entire Torah (law). As a matter of fact, just the opposite is the case. Paul unequivocally declares that believers are not to be judged “with regard to a festival, a New Moon celebration, or a Sabbath day.” Likewise, believers are not to be judged by what they eat or what they drink. (Colossians 2:16). The reason why such judgment cannot be exacted is the fact that all of these matters are shadows of what was to be manifest when the substance of all the Torah was manifest in the person of Jesus Christ (Colossians 2:17).
The word of the gospel is a call to freedom in Christ, to freedom from sin, and to freedom from self-righteousness. It is a gift of God’s grace wherein the righteousness of Christ is imputed to the believer for his faith. All those who come to faith in Jesus “have been called unto freedom.” However, they are also instructed not to use “freedom for an opportunity to indulge the flesh” (Galatians 5:13, KJV, NASB, NIV). The liberty that Christ has brought to all who believe is not just a freedom from the law but a freedom for faithfulness Christ.
Perhaps a better and more sound biblical answer to the question, “Do we have to?” is “No, we don’t have to, but we get to!” We are under no constraint in the face of eternal damnation if we do not maintain punctilious observance of the Torah, for Christ himself has fulfilled the entire Torah for us and in our stead. There is no constraint, however, if we do choose to observe God’s instructions. Indeed, we can even delight in the Torah (Psalm 119:174). We recognize, however, that our delight is in God’s empowerment through faith whereby we express our love for God by doing his will, as Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 15:10). We delight in our Lord’s provision, not in our own accomplishment.
One has to wonder why anyone who wants to be a Christian would not want to be Christ-like. The question, “What Would Jesus Do?” has a simple answer: Discover what Jesus did when he lived on this earth. He would be doing precisely the same thing today that he was doing then if indeed he is “the same yesterday, today, and forever.” Now, that’s so simple that it’s too simple!
Once observance is lifted out of the context of punctilious performance in some vain hope of impressing God with one’s works and is elevated to the plane of nonjudgmental celebration of God’s profound goodness, it becomes a joy and not a burden. It celebrates and honors God, not ritual or self-satisfaction. It fulfills the apostolic instruction of doing “all to the glory of God” (1 Corinthians 10:31), not to self-exaltation.
As believers, we should rejoice in the fact that God, through Christ, has made it possible for us to live in perfect freedom. We have been liberated by grace to let faith empower our lives for faithfulness to God and his Word.