Megachurch guru Steven Furtick recently created a bit of a theological firestorm by declaring that God loved us so much he “broke the law” in order to save us. Not surprisingly this elicited a passionate response from many Christians who bristle at the idea of God being accused of “breaking the Law.” Tim Challies wrote a response in defense of God by declaring that the Law is perfect and thus God would never break it. This, Challies claims, would be contrary to God’s nature. In examining the position of both of these men, I think in some ways they both miss the point. Here’s why.
Furtick’s greatest error on this particular point, is to elevate self above God. He is by no means the only preacher to do this; as it is a common practice among many, both great and small. The mantra of “God needs me so bad he’d do anything to get me” is appealing to the sinful pride of men and women who long to be fawned over. The idea that God Himself fawns over us is attractive to some. It’s also blasphemous, for God needs no one to be complete. He’s not a lovesick teenage boy longing for acceptance. He is the God of the Universe. Furtick’s “touchy feely” portrayal of a weak God is unbiblical. With that said, Furtick is right about one thing. The Law does not, nor did it ever, have the power to save. Old Covenant Jews who received the Law could not be justified by it. Many erringly thought otherwise and were thus thrust into a deluded life of self-righteousness. Saul of Tarsus was once like this, but came to know better by the grace of God. Of the Jews, Paul wrote: “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:2-4 NASB)
Another ironic error that Furtick makes is to declare that "God gave us the Law for our good." A statement that I assume Challies would heartily agree with. The problem here is that God didn't give "us" the Law. He gave Old Covenant Jews the Law. By the time we came along the Law had been fulfilled for two millennia. To really study the Law in context is to study how it exposed sin in the Jews of Israel. It was their "tutor" to drive them to Christ. But it was not a tool given to the Gentiles. Certainly not 21st century ones. It seems both Furtick and Challies are confused on this chronological aspect of the Law.
In his rebuttal, Tim Challies errors concerning God’s relationship to the Law as well. Challies argues that God would never break the Law because the Law is a reflection of His perfect character. The problem in this argument is that it assumes that God Himself is “under the Law.” That God is “bound” by the Law. This is a common mistake made by Reformed Covenant Theologians who elevate the Law of Moses far beyond what it was ever intended. They declare one aspect of the Law (the ten commandments) to be eternal and unchanging. Then they promptly change the Sabbath from Saturday to Sunday. This blows a massive hole in their own argument. An argument, by the way, that the Bible never makes. The Ten Commandments are not God's "eternal and unchanging" moral code. Some still stand, based on New Testament confirmation. Some don't (like the Sabbath). Challies's rebuttal doesn't come so much from the Bible, but more from the traditions of Covenant Theology and assumptions forced upon the text of Scripture. Challies doesn't quote Jesus. He quotes Sinclair Ferguson. I like Ferguson, but what saith the Scriptures? If Furtick’s mistake is to elevate sinful man above God, Challies mistake (at least potentially) is to elevate the Mosaic Law above God. Both are wrong.
To Challies, I would pose the questions: Is a refusal to eat pork a reflection of God’s perfect character? What about a refusal to wear clothes made of two different materials? These are both injunctions that are a part of the Law of Moses. Is God bound to abide by these injunctions? For that matter, are we? Covenant Theologians will argue that these are “ceremonial laws” that are no longer in effect, but that God’s “moral law” still is. Of course the Bible itself never divides the Mosaic Law into these nice and neat categories, instead dealing with the Law as a complete unit. A unit that has been fulfilled in its entirety by the work of Christ.
The arguments of both Furtick and Challies are non-sensical. Furtick says God broke the Law. Challies argues that God obeys the Law. They both seem to miss the point that God isn’t under the Law, but rather He transcends it. He is the one who gave it to Israel. He is the one who declared it fulfilled in Christ. What if God "murdered" someone? What if He took a life without cause (hypothetically speaking)? Would He be charged as a law-breaker? When considered from this perspective, the lunacy of the argument shines forth. God can kill anyone He wants. He does everyday, for all deaths are ordained by a sovereign God. He's God. Laws don't exist for Him. But for man. God doesn't break the law, nor is He bound to obey it. He transcends it. And the Son of God fulfilled it. Of course the theological waters are muddied somewhat when we consider God becoming a man and being born “under the Law.” (Galatians 4:4) Jesus was a Jew. What was His posture toward the Law and the Jewish leaders of His day?
Jesus fulfilled the Law and attained the righteous standard that no one else ever could. Neither the Jew who had the Law, nor the Gentile who did not have the Law, could live a life of sinless perfection. Jesus did and grants the credit for His perfection to all who come to Him by faith (2 Cor 5:21). Nevertheless, Jesus was frequently accused of not revering the Mosaic Law. It is interesting to consider what Jesus argued when He was accused of breaking the Sabbath, for example. Rather than saying, “Oh I would never break the Sabbath!” Jesus instead declares Himself to be “Lord of the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:8) Can you imagine any other Jew making such a claim? Of course not. They would get stoned. He didn’t. He was God and thus His divine character transcended any Law given to sinful men. Be they Israelite or not.
Jesus also shockingly declared to the Jews, “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father; the one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me, for he wrote about Me." (John 5:45-46) In other words, stop elevating Moses and placing your hope in him and the law. Instead, submit to Christ and put your hope in HIM and the cross. For this is what even Moses himself did. Moses and Jesus are not equals before God. And the Father made that abundantly clear on the Mount of Transfiguration when Peter wanted to build an altar for Moses, Elijah, and Jesus. No sir! God the Father declared, "THIS is my beloved son, listen to him!" (Matt. 17:1-7) Let Moses and the Law stay in retirement where they belong. Look to Jesus and His greater Law as your standard. And don't assume that even God Himself is bound to obey Moses. That is absurd.
The Law of Moses was a temporary code, given to a specific group of people (Israel), at a specific time (under the Old Covenant). The Law is no more, having been fulfilled in Christ. The primary point of the Sabbath was to foreshadow a “rest” that believers would have in Christ (Colossians 2:16-17). When Christ came He fulfilled this typological picture that the Sabbath painted. The Sabbath was a shadow; Jesus was the substance. As LORD of all, Jesus was also LORD of the Sabbath. God supersedes the Law, and we tread on shaky ground when we assume God Himself to be under certain rules He gives to His creation.
In closing, I don’t endorse Steven Furtick and think he’s wrong on many other issues beyond this. He elevates man too high and brings God down too low. I do think highly of Challies’s work, but answering error with a different form of error ultimately is counterproductive. Jesus was NOT a follower of Moses. Jesus was the fulfillment (and Savior) of Moses. Don’t elevate sinful man. Nor the Mosaic Law. But instead, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you.” (1 Peter 3:15) Both Furtick and Challies are wrong to some extent. Jesus is right and He is Lord of all things, including the Law. Use discernment regarding any human teacher and let the word of God be your standard. All gurus are subject to correction and have the ability to be wrong. So make Jesus your guru. He is always right.