Are Christians required to live by the Old Testament Law, or are we free from the Law because of the sacrifice of Jesus?
If we’re not required to keep the Law, how far does that go?
Are we free from keeping the 10 Commandments?
If we’re required to keep the 10 Commandments, then are we required to keep to the dietary restrictions of Law God gave Moses?
These are all questions and arguments that have been raised for many years, and that I continue to see in online discussions and debates.
Whenever the discussion comes up about an Old Testament law, keeping the Sabbath, or tithing; those who don’t hold to these standards shoot back with comments about wearing mixed fabrics or eating shellfish.
So who is right?
In our Good Morning Girls study through the book of 1 Kings we read God’s words to Solomon:
“…if you walk in My statutes, execute My judgments, keep all My commandments, and walk in them, then I will perform My word with you, which I spoke to your father David. And I will dwell among the children of Israel, and will not forsake My people Israel.” 1 Kings 6:12-13
“Now if you walk before Me as your father David walked, in integrity of heart and in uprightness, to do according to all that I have commanded you, and if you keep My statutes and My judgments, then I will establish the throne of your kingdom over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your sons at all turn from following Me, and do not keep My commandments and My statutes which I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land which I have given them; and this house which I have consecrated for My name I will cast out of My sight. Israel will be a proverb and a byword among all peoples. 1 Kings 9:4-9
Are Christians Under the Law Or Under Grace?
Do New Testament Christians have to keep the Law?
Throughout Paul’s letters to the churches we read that we are not under the law but under grace. But what does that mean?
Does this mean we are no longer obligated to keep the law?
1. The God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament haven’t changed.
As Christians saved by grace, we cannot divorce the New Testament from the Old Testament. Though many Christians try – and some Christians only read the New Testament, or read the Old Testament with a measure of reserve, the Old Testament is still valid for us today!
I remember this little quote from Bible school:
The Old Testament is the New Testament concealed
The New Testament is the Old Testament revealed
Jesus Himself 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
Jesus death, burial, and resurrection did not make the Old Testament, or the Law, irrelevant to us today. Jesus fulfilled the part of the Law that was a foreshadow of Him.
But the same God that gave the Law to Moses is the same God that reinforced the Law in Matthew 5, which we will look at in point 3.
2. There are three parts to the Law, Jesus fulfilled only one.
There are three parts to the Law God gave Moses in the desert
The Civil Law – This is the law that instructed the Israelites in how they were to interact with one another. It is the part of the law that instructed them how to respond when an ox got loose and destroyed someone’s property, when someone was murdered, or when a child was rebellious. It also dealt with justice in commerce and taking care of the poor, among other instructions pertaining to day-to-day life.
The Moral Law – This is the law that instructed the Israelites in how they were to live morally and this part of the law that instructed them in how to worship God and how to respond when another Israelite was engaged in pagan worship, adultery or fornication, and was caught stealing or lying.
The Ceremonial Law – This is the part of the law that deals with the various sacrifices and cleansing rituals. This part of the Law was fulfilled by Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. His blood cleanses and purifies us forever and His sacrifice was the final sacrifice required, so we no longer have to abide by cleansing rituals and bring sacrifices. That has been done once and forever.
And while parts of the civil and ceremonials Laws may have been affected by Jesus’ fulfillment of the ceremonial law (in particular, putting to death those caught in the act of adultery), these laws pertain to today.
And I think we could all agree that they simply require polite and just behavior in society!
3. Keeping the commands of Christ is harder than you think
Many of those who say “We are not under the law, therefore the Old Testament Law no longer applies to us” will also agree that we are required to keep Christ’s commands.
But here’s the thing: It’s harder to keep Christ’s commands than the 10 Commandments!
Read the words of Jesus (my emphasis is italicized)
Let’s begin with Jesus’ intro to His commands given in Matthew 5:
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
These are extremely sobering words!
In other words, we have to live with a greater degree of righteousness than those who are simply religious. But the good news in that comes in point 5!
Here are just a few of Christ’s commands:
You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ “But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire.
You have heard that it was said to those of old ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ “But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, Matthew 5:21-22, 27-28, 43-44
Jesus also said, Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. Matthew 22:37-40
Jesus summed up the entire Law and prophetic books in these two commandments.
He didn’t give us a new law, rather He reinforced the Law given to Moses and even took it a step further. Now, we don’t keep the Law out of duty, we obey God from the depths of our heart – a cleansed and purified heart!
4. The Old Testament and the New Testament have a difference
The Old Testament and the New Testament do have a difference, though and that difference is the motivation from which we keep the Law.
In the Old Testament we see that God promises Solomon (just as He promised David) that if they kept the law that He would bless them and dwell among them.
And while we can draw parallels to today by saying that if we maintain a deep and abiding relationship with God, He blesses us and dwells in us, there is still a significant difference.
We don’t keep the Law so God likes us; so that He will dwell in us, and so that He blesses us.
We keep the Law because we love Him; because we’re in relationship with Him and we don’t want to do anything that would somehow break or alter that relationship!
In the Old Testament, perfection was required and any deviance from perfection in keeping the law required arduous, specific, and very costly sacrifices.
And while our sin was very costly and painful for Jesus, we’ll see what this looks like for us today in this next point.
5. There is grace for us when we fail
“My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” 1 John 2:1
The greatest difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament is Jesus’ sacrifice.
It’s not Jesus Himself. The Bible is clear, and states in many places, that Jesus was present at Creation and all throughout the Old Testament, even appearing to people such as Abraham.
The difference isn’t Jesus Himself, but His sacrifice that fulfilled the ceremonial Law and purchased for us perfection.
But here’s the thing: the biblical definition of perfection differs greatly from our definition of perfection.
Jesus said, “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.” Matthew 5:48 The Greek word for perfect here is teleios and means finished, complete, and mature.
The grace that is poured out to us today, that wasn’t available when God gave Moses the Law, is a completeness that takes our imperfections and brokenness and pours the grace of Jesus all over them, filling in the cracks!
The equation is now: Broken, incomplete, imperfect I + Perfect, Resurrected Jesus = The Perfection of God
That’s the glory of grace!
6. This doesn’t absolve us from from the Law and doesn’t give us license to sin
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not!” Romans 6:1-2, 14-15
Just because Jesus’ sacrificed fulfilled the ceremonial laws, and just because His blood and grace bring us perfection, does not mean that we are absolved from keeping the Law.
It doesn’t give us license to live however we please!
Let’s look at what the writer of Hebrews has to say about this:
For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment, and fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries. Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The LORD will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. Hebrews 10:26-31
He is saying that if the Law of Moses demanded severe consequences on the testimony of two or three witnesses for habitual and intentional sin, how much worse will the punishment be for us who have taken the precious sacrifice of God’s Son and trampled it under our feet.
Made it seem trivial.
Made it seem unimportant.
Made it seem like trash or animal dung that we just walk all over and then wash off at the end of the day, letting it go down the sewer like filthy water.
If we value Christ’s sacrifice even a little, we’ll take great care to do those things that please Him, and not do those things that displease Him.
And He’s clearly told us both what pleases and displeases Him in the Bible – both Old and New Testaments.
An important reminder for all Christians
No, our salvation, our acceptance by God, our adoption and sonship, God’s love for us – none of these are contingent upon us keeping the Law.
God loves us because He loves us.
God accepts us because He accepts us.
Our salvation hinges on one thing alone and that is the blood of Christ.
By grace alone
Through faith alone
In Christ alone
However, our maturity as believers is directly tied to how willing we are to submit to the entirety of Scripture – Old and New Testaments – and allow it to utterly and completely shape and define our way of life and world view.
Here is where you can find our online Bible study group: Good Morning Girls in the Word