Discipleship Through the Mosaic Law

I find it interesting how the church has reached a place where the mere expression ‘we are no longer under the law,’ has somehow erased God’s moral standards as a prerequisite for living a holy and sanctified Christian life. In fact I believe it has led some into apostasy due to a lack of accountability, and has begun to present the world a church that looks very much the same.[i]

Having said that, I do understand that we are all on our own unique journey of transformation. Sin exists in the world and in our mortal flesh.[ii] And God is not presently expecting perfection, for that will come in time. But He is looking for hearts that are forever inclined towards His Son, Yeshua. For it is in Him that we find salvation and healing.

Yeshua has instructed us to make disciples; those who would follow Him in faithfulness and obedience.[iii] Barna reported in several studies that, “currently, only one out of every six people who attend a Christian church is involved in discipleship activities. Women are almost twice as likely as men to be involved.[iv] Less than one percent of senior pastors say that today’s ‘churches are doing very well at discipling new and young believers.’ And, six in ten said that churches are discipling ‘not too well.’”[v]

Some might disagree with these surveys, but my personal experience falls in line with their studies. Churches today—either by practical necessity or cultural expectation—largely focus on Sunday morning evangelism and topical teachings that provide some limited spiritual growth and biblical knowledge, mid-week bible studies, and small group fellowships. While these are contributory to the life of a believer, none of these is actually discipleship. Experts in the field largely agree that discipleship can only occur in small committed, gender specific groups that have a mature and seasoned leader that has been properly discipled.

Certainly, there is an important role for evangelism and corporate bible study. But what exactly should discipleship look like? The definition of a disciple is: “One who is a convinced adherent of a school or individual, in this case Yeshua. One who copies, mimics, resembles or imitates another person’s behavior and appearance. One who does things the same way by following a pattern, model or example. One who appears like and produces a copy of the same.”[vi] In other words, disciples imitate their leaders, and disciples make more disciples. The Apostle Paul said it this way, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1, NKJV).[vii] And we know that Paul made many disciples.

Discipleship establishes the way by which we are to live our lives for Yeshua. The Jewish sages distinguish between a ‘path’ (derech) and a ‘way’ (orach). A ‘path’ signifies a well-trodden track which has been cleared for common use, while a ‘way’ suggests a trail that is presently being blazed according to the spiritual needs of the individual’s divine service.[viii]

Yeshua said, “I am the way [the orach], the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 3:16). And He said, “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way [the common path, the derech] that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way [the newly blazed trail, the orach] which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

The new trail is difficult because God is taking us through a process of change; delving into the deepest parts of our soul and mind that need to be healed and transformed, and taking us from darkness into His marvelous light. Notice the root of the Hebrew word ‘orach’ is light. Yeshua is the light of the world and the life of all men.[ix]

It is not surprising to see that Paul and the other early disciples extensively quoted from the Old Testament. After all, it would take nearly 400-years for the New Testament to be fully canonized. However, I believe the more important realization is that the early church built upon the foundation that was given to Israel. Christianity was never intended to replace biblical Judaism, nor substitute the Jewish people with the gentile nations who would create a new religion around a Jewish man named Jesus.

Christianity was and is the fulfillment of every promise that was reserved for the nation of Israel—and also to those who would be grafted into God’s family—to join the Jewish people as fellow heirs and partakers of these same promises.[x]

You see, removing God’s moral law from Christianity is just another subtle form of supersessionism, i.e. replacement theology. It says that God has rejected everything of the old and started over, and has created a new nation called the church that replaces Israel as the foundation for God’s kingdom. It also implies that God’s Mosaic Law was somehow imperfect, for the perfect law of God can only be found in Jesus. And yet Jesus quoted the Mosaic Law, for it says, “The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul…” (Psalm 19:7).

But how exactly are we to approach the Mosaic Law? Yeshua said, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). If He did not abolish it then it remains for some purpose. Paul said, “for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Romans 3:20). And, “…I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet’” (Romans 7:7).

Yeshua is also, “the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel” (Hebrews 12:24). “But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts…” (Jeremiah 31:33).

We certainly cannot come back under the bondage of the Old Covenant, for with it came punishment and death. Yeshua took away the curse of the law by fulfilling the law of sin and death.[xi] He became our curse by dying on the cross. Therefore, we can now approach God’s law with grace rather than condemnation.

If and when we fail, God’s mercy prevails because the blood of Yeshua has already covered us. And still, His mercy and grace are not a license to sin.[xii] Scripture tells us of a time when many in the faith will depart because of sin, “[However,] 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 2:3).

If we are going to disciple a generation for Christ Yeshua, we will need His biblical instruction for life and transformation. We need God to write His law in our minds and in our hearts.[xiii] Yeshua said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15). “He who has My commandments and keeps them, it is he who loves Me. And he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him” (John 14:21). “If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love” (John 15:10).

The Mosaic Law is an incredibly complex fabric that established the moral and civil foundation for the nation of Israel. It includes God’s moral standards, His calendar and holy convocations, ceremonial laws, including those required for sin and sacrifice, civil code of conduct and punitive and compensatory damages that could be litigated in a court of law, and inheritance rights.

This resource deals primarily with God’s moral law, not other areas of the Mosaic Covenant such as circumcision, dietary laws, ceremonial laws, the feasts of the Lord, and the Sabbath. Included however are several spiritual topics that relate to the church and the priesthood of believers.

God’s moral law should serve a solid foundation for any Christian believer. And, this resource can be used for such instructional purposes—to install knowledge and wisdom—that through prayer and the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, will provide for our ongoing sanctification, piety, and living a life that is holy and set apart unto the Lord. It is intended to bring conviction, and not condemnation. Therefore, let us explore the words of Yeshua and Paul in the New Testament, and see how they reflected the Law of Moses as a foundation for Christian discipleship.

The study approach is simple. First, we read a commandment—an instruction that is quoted directly from the Old Testament, followed by a summary narrative[xiv] that is based on the translated writings of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Maimonides),[xv] and lastly we read a comparative scripture from the New Testament based on the teachings of Yeshua and His disciples, mainly Paul.

This flow is intended to provoke self-reflection, thought and discussion. Transformation begins when we transfer wisdom and knowledge to applied instruction in our personal lives, seeking the wisdom and strength of the Holy Spirit to redirect our thoughts, speech, and our actions towards the things of God. “Therefore submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

And for those who desire to be leaders in the church, let us follow this example so that others might imitate us: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, temperate, sober-minded, of good behavior, hospitable, able to teach; not given to wine, not violent, not greedy for money, but gentle, not quarrelsome, not covetous; one who rules his own house well, having his children in submission with all reverence (for if a man does not know how to rule his own house, how will he take care of the church of God?); not a novice, lest being puffed up with pride he fall into the same condemnation as the devil” (1 Timothy 3:2-6).

May we all be Yeshua’s disciples, For His Ruach [Holy Spirit] remains truly in our midst, within those of us who are bound to Him [through Yeshua], when He sees His children, i.e., His disciples, who embody the work of His hands, sanctifying God’s blessed Name. For His Name is magnified and sanctified when we walk in the straight path that He has shown us of His paths, and we will walk in His ways [His light and His orechim] forevermore.”[xvi]

[i] Ephesians 5:27.
[ii] Romans 7:17-20.
[iii] Romans 1:1-6.
[iv] Trend Analysis Report (2003). Barna Reports, May 9, 2000.
[v] Eekhoff Zylstra, Sarah. Pastors and Pews Vastly Disagree on Discipleship Success. Christianity Today. December 9, 2015.
[vi] Ibid Merriam-Webster.
[vii] All Scripture quotations are taken from the New King James Bible (NKJV) unless otherwise noted, Thomas Nelson Inc., 1982.
[viii] Lessons in the Tanya. Iggeret HaKodesh, beginning of Epistle 27—Sifrei (quoted in Rashi) on Devarim 6:7. Chabad.org.
[ix] John 1:4, 3:19.
[x] Ephesians 3:6.
[xi] Galatians 3:13.
[xii] Romans 6:1.
[xiii] 2 Corinthians 4:16, Ephesians 4:23, Colossians 3:10.
[xiv] Chabad.org. Today's Mitzvah: A daily digest of Maimonides’ classic work ‘Sefer Hamitzvot’. From ‘Sefer Hamitzvot in English,’ published by Sichos in English. Translated by Berel Bell. <http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/940209/jewish/Sefer-Hamitzvot-Translation.htm> <http://www.chabad.org/dailystudy/seferHamitzvos.asp?tdate=11/5/2016>
[xv] Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon—Talmudist, Halachist, physician, philosopher and communal leader, known in the Jewish world by the acronym ‘Rambam’ and to the world at large as "Maimonides.
[xvi] Lessons in the Tanya. Iggeret HaKodesh, beginning of Epistle 27— Zohar (Part II, p. 215a; and Part III, end of Parshat Kedoshim. Chabad.org.