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Subjection to Ordinances

Have you ever found yourself in violation of or in conflict with a city ordinance? An ordinance is any law, regulation or directive put in place by a municipality for compliance by both government officials and citizens. An ordinance can cover anything from using parking meters to wearing seat belts to hiring practices for city contracts to posted speed limits. Ordinances are enacted for the public welfare. Those who live in compliance with local ordinances are considered good citizens. 

Ordinances were and are part of God's kingdom with both Israel and the Church. In the Old Testament, the word “ordinance” is the Hebrew choq, meaning “statute, limit, something prescribed.” In the KJV, it is variously translated, the most common being “statute” (87x). Its first usage is Exodus 18:20: “And thou shalt teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt shew them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” These were the words of Moses' father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian, which he spoke to Moses regarding his leadership of Israel. 

The Mosaic Law is an amalgam of ordinances, consisting of the Ten Commandments, the Passover and prescribed sacrifices, Sabbath days, feast days, festivals et al. The Lord directed Israel, custodians of that Law, as follows: “Ye shall do my judgments, and keep mine ordinances, to walk therein: I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 18:4). These ordinances applied as well to divine service rendered in the Tabernacle (Hebrews 9:1). They were also “carnal” ordinances (Hebrews 9:10), which means they were fleshly, earthly, natural as opposed to supernatural. 

It was the Lord's sovereign prerogative as Israel's Redeemer to demand compliance to his ordinances. When Israel was in compliance, they experienced God's blessing and protection. When they deviated from and forsook the ordinances, God brought his chastening hand. Every OT prophet brought stern and often cataclysmic messages for a non-compliant Israel. God's last prophet delivered these words: “Even from the days of your fathers ye have gone away from mine ordinances, and have not kept them. Return unto me, and I will return unto you, saith the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:7). 

No matter how bad things got on a national level, there was always a fellowship of the compliant. Four hundred years after Malachi concluded OT prophecy, Luke said this about Zacharias and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist: “They were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless” (Luke 1:6). Elizabeth was the cousin of Mary, who would bear Jesus the Christ. It's safe to say that Mary and Joseph were in that compliant fellowship as well. It's not within the scope of this article to discuss parenthood. But suffice it to say that parents who desire for their children to walk in God's paths must first walk aright themselves. Zacharias, Elizabeth, Mary and Joseph were justified by faith as was Abraham. God imputed righteousness to them in response to faith. Compliance to God's ordinances was an outgrowth of that faith.

This distinction is critical because the Mosaic Law could bestow neither forgiveness nor life (Galatians 3:21). Even if we assume that the natural man could one day achieve perfect compliance to the Law, he would still be spiritually dead and in need of forgiveness for sins past. The Law was our schoolmaster, to bring us to Christ (Galatians 3:24-25). Its divine design is to expose our spiritual destitution, prompt us to look outside ourselves, come to Jesus Christ by faith with empty hands and trust the Lord to save us. This is the lawful use of the Law (1 Timothy 1:8). The Law is holy, just and good (Romans 7:12).

Jesus came into this world to fulfill the Law. He lived a life of perfect righteousness and compliance to every ordinance. As the God-Man, he went to the Cross as the perfect satisfaction (propitiation) for our sins. In Ephesians 2:15, the apostle Paul wrote: “Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances, for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace.” The word “ordinances” is the Greek dogma (Eng. 'dogma', a degree, doctrine, judgment). The 'dogma' of the Law was abolished by Jesus in the process of bringing Jew and Gentile into one body. The verb “having abolished” is an aorist active participle of katargeo, meaning “to render useless, to cause a person or thing to have no further efficacy, abolish”). Literal translation: “One having rendered the Law useless.” 

The theme of the epistle to the Colossians is the total sufficiency of Christ for the believer. As Paul traveled throughout Asia Minor, he constantly encountered Judaizers, some of whom followed him from city to city, who sought to ill-affect the minds of believers regarding salvation. Their contention was that the Law was still binding, that faith in Jesus was not enough for a righteous standing before God. While Paul encountered these loyalists to Moses in nearly every place, he took the occasion of writing to the Colossians to address the problem directly with inspired text. 

In Colossians 2:16, we find some clues about what the Judaizers thought were essential ordinances that believers at Colosse were NOT observing (ordinances concerning food, drink, holy days, new moons and sabbaths). An alarming trend in Christendom today is a renewed compliance to Torah ordinances by some as an expression of righteousness. It's Colosse all over again. God nailed every OT ordinance to the Cross of Jesus Christ, including sabbaths (2:14). The trio of verbs is instructive. “Took it out of the way” is a perfect tense, indicating permanent results. It's modified by two past participles: “Having blotted out (erased) the handwriting of ordinances” and (2) “having nailed it to his cross.” Notice the “it” is singular. The “it” represents the totality of Mosaic Law as one unit. Paul said all the ordinances as outlined in the Torah are a “shadow” or mere shade (2:17). Spiritual nourishment and increase come as a result of “holding the Head” (2:19), NOT the shadow. There is neither spiritual substance nor sustenance to be found in Torah shadows. Paul NEVER intended a co-mingling of Christ and shadows. 

In Colossians 2:20, Paul asks a rhetorical question: “Why are you subject to ordinances when you died with Christ and to everything God nailed to his Cross?” This is the relevant question for every person who tries to make Torah compliance ancillary to Christ. The believer is “complete” in Christ (2:10), his head. This was Paul's whole purpose in writing this epistle. Interpreting the judgment of 2:16 as proof that the Colossian believers were being criticized for observing shadows is a total misread of the verse in its context. The Colossians, in accordance with Paul's teaching, left the shadow (Torah) on the Cross, where God nailed it. Judaizers criticized them for it. Why then resurrect what God erased in Christ, and call it righteousness? Being subject to Christ and subject to ordinances (shadows) at the same time is spiritual duplicity and a departure from apostolic docrine. What is a Torah follower expecting to get from a shadow that he cannot get from Christ?

Another verse needs clarification. In 1 Corinthians 11:2, Paul wrote: “Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” “Ordinances” here is the Greek paradosis (a giving over, tradition handed over from one person to another, either orally or in writing). What were these ordinances delivered by Paul? In comparing scripture with scripture, we can conclude with certainty that NONE of them pertained to the Torah. They probably included water baptism by immersion, the Lord's Supper (11:23-31), use of spiritual gifts (12:1-31) and the gathering of offerings on the first day of the week, the post-Pentecostal standard for Church worship (16:1-2). 

A false doctrine floating around these days is Replacement Theology, which teaches that the Church inherited from Israel all its privileges because of its rejection of Christ. This may or may not be a factor in worship driven by the Torah. That doctrine is false on its face. God has two distinct programs: Israel and the Church. When the Church Age ends with Christ catching away his Church, his program with Israel will resume (Daniel's Seveneth Week). One of God's major purposes for the Great Tribulation will be to draw Israel to himself in advance of his kingdom on earth. Failure to make this distinction between Israel and the Church opens the door to all manner of biblical error.

Consider Hebrews 10:19, which reads: "Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus." Entrance into the holiest, the very presence of God once reserved for the high priest alone behind the veil of the tabernacle/temple, is now the reality for every believer by the blood of Jesus Christ. This is the highest and holiest privilege for a believer, and ONLY the blood of Jesus makes this access possible. It's what the Cross of Christ was all about. Question: Does reaching back into the Torah and augmenting the Christian experience with OT sabbaths and holy days (shadows) improve or better facilitate entry into the holiest? Absolutelyt not! What then does a believer think he or she gains by adherence to OT ordinances? When a believer adopts the shadows that God nailed to the Cross of Christ as part of their Christian experience, he or she is like the owner of a Rolls Royce with gold-plated bumpers purchasing a $1.00 bumber sticker, affixing it to gold plating and thinking the bumper sticker has improved the value of their Rolls Royce. It's an insult to the blood of Christ.

Finally, the scripture proclaims: "For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth" (Romans 10:4). The word "end" is telos ("termination, the limit at which a thing ceases to be, that by which a thing is finished"). As far as scripture is concerned, at the moment God clothes a believer with the righteousness of Christ, the law ceases to have ANY relevance whatsoever other than for instructive purposes. For a believer to add Torah-based practices (sabbaths, feasts, et al) to his or her life as a way of 'fulfilling righteousness' is in fact a practical denial of Christ's sufficiency. 

For the believer who thinks he or she is really on to something with compliance to Torah ordinances, including worship on the Sabbath, they MUST be prepared to answer the following questions: (1) Why are you subjecting yourself to the ordinances that God nailed to the Cross? (2) What do you as a believer expect to get from a shadow that you cannot get from the blood and righteousness of Christ? (3) What part of "end" don't you understand?


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