How Should Christians View the Law? Jesus & the Law (Part 1)

By Melissa McLaughlin

I have wondered about the tension between Christianity and the Old Testament Law for some time. I observe some Christians who live as if we have a license to sin because we are saved by grace and no longer under the Law. While on the other hand, I know some Christians who strive to follow the Old Testament Law in its entirety.

  • Do Christians have to follow Old Testament Law?
  • Do we pick and choose the parts we like and avoid the ones we don’t like?
  • What did Jesus say about the Law?
  • What does the New Testament teach about the Law?

These are complex questions that deserve more than a knee-jerk response.

To gain a more complete Bible-based understanding of this topic, we must study the whole counsel of God, including scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments.

What is God’s Law in the Old Testament?

Let’s begin with a brief review about God’s Law in the Old Testament.

The 10 Commandments – An Overview

God provided the 10 Commandments when He met with Moses on Mt. Sinai, after delivering His people, the Israelites, from slavery in Egypt.

The 10 Commandments are considered a condensed overview of God’s Law.

  • The first 4 Commandments teach how to love and honor God. (Exodus 20:1-11)
  • The remaining 6 Commandments teach how to love and honor others. (Exodus 20:12-17)

Understanding More of God’s Old Testament Law

These 10 basic laws were later clarified and elaborated upon in the books of Exodus, Leviticus and Deuteronomy. God’s expanded version of the Law covered many areas. This expanded Law is also known as the Mosaic Law, since God provided these commands through Moses.

Two Overarching Categories of Mosaic Law

One way of categorizing Mosaic Law is thinking of it in two overarching categories. This helped me better understand God’s expanded commands in the Old Testament. The two categories include: Laws to be Set Apart and Laws of Morality.

1.Laws to be Set Apart as a Holy Nation

God’s people, the Israelites, were called to be holy, or set apart for a special purpose. To be distinct from other nations. God provided the Israelites with special Laws to be His special people. These included the following.

Ceremonial Laws – The form of worship, feasts and festivals were designed to keep them holy and pure. They were to avoid worshiping idols, sacrificing children, drinking blood and many other practices of the pagan world. Instead their worship was centered on the Holy God who made them and cared for them. In addition, these ceremonial laws foreshadowed Christ.

Sacrificial Laws – These laws helped the people understand God’s holiness, the seriousness of our sin against Him and the need for a sacrifice, offered in our place, to atone for sin. Once again, these laws pointed ahead to our Savior.

Health and Hygiene Laws – God taught His people about physical cleanliness in matters of eating, washing, illness, etc. These laws kept the people healthy and set them apart.

2.Laws of Morality

Civil Laws – God provided instruction about what is just, fair and right as people relate to one another. Do not murder, do not steal, do not lie. God’s Laws protect the poor, vulnerable, orphan, widow and foreigner. Included are laws allowing a person to hire oneself out as a slave (or servant, bondservant) in order to pay back personal debt. However, according to Mosaic Law, those who had sold themselves into slavery were set free after 7 years. This is unlike the modern usage of the word “slavery,” which the Bible actually describes as “man-stealing” or “kidnapping.” Man-stealing/kidnapping is against God’s Law. (Exodus 21:16)

Family Laws – God established laws about how to live in purity and relate to one another within the family. Children are to respect their parents. Sex is reserved for a husband and wife within marriage, according to God’s created order and standards. This protects children from incest, neighbors from adultery, people from having sex when there is no true marriage commitment (fornication) and other types of relationships that were not ordained by God. The family is the foundational structure of God’s people. Further, marriage between a husband and wife represents the relationship between Christ and His church. The Bible begins with a marriage (Adam and Eve) and ends with a marriage (Christ and the Church). Therefore, these relationships are held sacred.

What is the Point of God’s Law?

Unlike human laws, which are ever changing to serve shifting cultural opinions, God’s Laws are issued by God. God’s Laws reflect His divine nature- holy, pure, righteous, just, true, compassionate and merciful.

God’s Laws are based on these two things:

1.God is Creator. God is God. God is holy and perfect. Each person owes his or her existence to God. And so we honor Him.

2.Respect for human life because we are made in His image.

Should Christians Obey the Old Testament Law Today?

When we look back over God’s Old Testament Laws, I wonder which law do we find so offensive?

1 John 5:3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.

What Did Jesus Say About the Law?

The 10 Commandments were taught by Jesus in the New Testament. In this verse the 10 Commandments are encapsulated:

[Covering the first 4 commands.]“Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’

[Covering the remaining 6 commands.] The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Mark 12:28-31

Jesus Upheld and Taught the Law

Jesus taught and upheld God’s Law. – “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.” Matthew 5:17-20

In fact, Jesus went beyond the letter of the Law, penetrating into the heart, in order to address the spirit of the Law as seen in Matthew 5:21-48.

Jesus Upheld Family Law

When questioned about marriage and divorce, Jesus directed people back to the beginning of the Bible, to the book of Genesis, where God created His divine order for families. Jesus also commended celibate singleness as another Godly option through His life and His teaching. (Matthew 19:3-12)

Did Jesus Ever Break the Law? What About the Sabbath Law?

Jesus’ handling of Sabbath Law is one area that often raises questions. The Pharisees condemned Jesus’ actions of healing and eating grain on the Sabbath.

It is critical to note that the Pharisees added to God’s Law with their OWN traditions and oral embellishments of God’s Law. Therefore, they reprimanded Jesus based on THEIR oral law, not on God’s written Law, as exposed in Jesus’ rebuke of their man-made ceremonial washing rules. (Matthew 15:1-7, Mark 7:8-13)

Jesus pierced through their arrogance to highlight the truth of God’s Law.

When questioned by the Pharisees about healing on the Sabbath, Jesus pointed out that God’s Law allowed one to help animals on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:11) and to do good, not harm (Luke 6:6-11). Therefore, God’s Law most certainly allowed one to help a human being by healing them.

When the Pharisees accused Jesus and His disciples of breaking the Sabbath by gathering grains of wheat at the edge of the field while they walked, Jesus cited the scripture where David fed His men with bread from the Temple. Obviously Jesus and His disciples were not harvesting an entire field on the Sabbath, which would break the Law. However, Jesus demonstrated His deity and authority in His response. (Luke 6:1-5)

You can be sure of this, if the Pharisees could find a way to prove Jesus broke the Law, they would have done so. In the end, the only charge they could bring against Christ was His claim to be the Son of God. And this, of course, was true. (Mark 14:61-64)

Scripture records that Jesus was sinless. Therefore, no Law of God was ever broken by Jesus. (2 Peter 2:22)

Jesus Fulfilled the Law

To understand Jesus’ teaching of the Law, we must read Jesus’ words carefully. He came NOT to abolish the Law or the Prophets, rather TO fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17-20).

How did He fulfill them?

Prophecy – Jesus’ birth, life, death and resurrection fulfilled hundreds of Old Testament prophecies with staggering accuracy.

Moral Law – Jesus fulfilled the Laws of moral and civil righteousness. He was sinless.

Ceremonial Law – Jesus fulfilled the ceremonial Laws. The sacred feasts, festivals and Temple worship all pointed ahead to Christ with stunning clarity.

Sacrificial Law – Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial Laws. He died once-for-all, as the final sacrifice for sin. (Romans 6:10)

For the Love of Jesus

Jesus fulfilled the Law. At the same time Jesus also pointed us to the Law, love God and love your neighbor. (Mark 12:28-31) Further, Jesus described the cost of following Him, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.Matthew 16:24

As Christians, we follow Jesus’ teaching and example not to obtain our salvation but because we love the One who did.

*This discussion is continued in my next post entitled How Should Christians View the Law? New Testament Teaching (Part 2). Join me as we dig a little deeper into God’s Word!

Additional Resources:

What Should Christians Learn from Mosaic Law? By

The Power of Sin is Broken! Past, Present and Future! By Melissa McLaughlin

The Sacrificial Lamb – Why Did Jesus Have to Die? By Melissa McLaughlin

What is the Main Message of the Bible? By Melissa McLaughlin

Epistle to Romans By

20 thoughts on “How Should Christians View the Law? Jesus & the Law (Part 1)”

  1. A weighty topic to sift through and address. You covered this in depth with plenty of explanatory content. Good job on explaining so many strong points.

    This year, I spent many weeks studying and writing through Paul’s first epistle—Galatians. The question of whether the OT law must be kept and why or why not was addressed in great depth. Circumcision is no longer required for people of faith, and the laws pertaining to food restrictions and Jewish holidays are no longer pertinent for Jesus fulfilled the requirements of the Law.

    Messiah has come! He did indeed come to fulfill these Laws, so that we have the freedom to focus on the commands of Christ and the instructions we find in the New Testament that still apply to believers in Christ. Moral laws always apply, whether OT of NT, for the Lord is consistent throughout. Believers are free and forgiven in Christ.

    • Thank you, Melinda, for taking the time to read and add such thoughtful insights. I have been observing more contention around this understanding of grace vs. law. As I sorted and sifted for myself, I discovered more layers than I first thought. So in order to answer fairly and fully, this topic took a bit more time than usual.
      It is truly awe-inspiring to ponder the fullness of what it means that our Messiah has come! To think He fulfilled the Law in every way and so we are forgiven and free! As you say, yes, the moral laws still apply, for God is consistent. However, now we walk in the power of His indwelling Spirit, which enables us to follow after Him, the One we love!

      • Yes, Melissa! The fact that we NEED and indeed cannot live the Christian life without the Holy Spirit was the big takeaway, for me, from that entire study of Galatians. He convicts. He enables. He transforms. He informs. He comforts. He changes everything. NT Jewish believers thought they had to continue keeping all of the Law, particularly circumcision, but the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives puts us in a safe place of care, protection, and conviction above and beyond an outward marking like that. We must beware of legalism, for the Spirit of God fills us. He keeps us in line.

      • Absolutely, Melinda. The Holy Spirit of our resurrected LORD makes all the difference. He empowers, He convicts, He corrects, He teaches, He illuminates scripture to enable us to walk humbly with our God. Thank you for all your faith-filled, scripture-based feedback here! God bless you!

  2. To borrow from Aristotle–the Golden Mean is the virtue between the vice of licentiousness and the extreme of legalism. Virtue is the mean, the middle between two vices, that calls us to strive for the perfection of the moral law but with the understanding that we are flawed and in need of grace. Virtue, by this definition, allows us joy in our pursuit of righteousness rather than enslavement to a list of rules.

    Christ came for Jews and Greeks (and all else). He came with love and grace–with justice too. There is always a balance.

    • Nancy, this is an excellent way of expressing the balance between licentiousness and legalism. “Virtue, by this definition, allows us joy in our pursuit of righteousness rather than enslavement to a list of rules.” Because of Jesus all the laws are fulfilled, we are made right with God and out of gratitude we can seek to follow after Him with joy, not enslavement. Jesus makes it all possible!

  3. This Is just a fantastic, FANTASTIC, article! I cannot stress that enough. Bravo! Love Love Love every last drop!
    There is one small thing I would love to share with you and present for your consideration
    The 10 commandments….2 tablets. I present to you this…..a mysterious thing. While these on the surface appear to be a 6-4 split, they are in fact a 5-5 split.
    Let me explain.
    The first tablet deals with the God/Man relationship.
    The second deals with Man/Man relationship.
    How then does Honor your father & mother found on the God/Man relational tablet? This is deep so hold on to your seat!
    Note first that this is the only commandment that bears a promise….so that you may have a long life.
    Just as God designed marriage relationship to be a mirror of Christ and the Church, the wife must reverence her husband as unto the Lord and husband must love his wife as Christ loved the church gave Himself for it, God designed the child parent relationship to mirror our relationship to Him…our Father.
    Creator- parent. Creature/ the created – child.
    The child is to honor/reverence their parent in the same way we, our Father God.
    The practically of this in child rearing is astounding. If we fail to command and demand respect and honor from our children, they will grow into adults who will struggle to respect and to acknowledge and accept any authority over them, be without gratitude, reverence and conversely struggle with these in relationship with God having not been taught these. These are even the foundation of worship itself. And keep in mind also, that this is at the heart of the very fall of man, the tactic the enemy used as bait…..moral autonomy. To decide for our-SELF what is right or wrong, SELF government and SELF service.
    I do believe you have inspired me to write on this fascinating and multi faceted topic! Again Bravo!

  4. So much thought provoking content in the depths of this wonderful message. Thanks for all the great encouragement and information. Thanks Melissa

  5. Thank you, Melissa. You unpacked this so well and covered many of the controversies surrounding the Old Testament Law with Christianity. I like how you not only explained the 10 commandments and how they were expanded, but also that you brought out how the first and second commandments Jesus taught about captured the full 10 commandments.

    And God calls us to live the crucified life and walk in his commands and ways. This is what helps us live the holy, pure, and godly life the Lord meant for us to live.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    • I appreciate your kind encouragement, Karen! There are many controversies surrounding the Old Testament Law and Christianity. I pray that this small article will help provide clarity for anyone who is feeling lost, confused or overwhelmed by it all.
      I love your words: “And God calls us to live the crucified life and walk in his commands and ways. This is what helps us live the holy, pure, and godly life the Lord meant for us to live.”
      Jesus has done it all… fulfilled the Laws and then empowered us to follow His commands and ways, by HIS Spirit within. Holy Spirit, help us live a life worthy of the name we carry, Jesus Christ!

  6. You have chosen an exceptionally relevant theme and covered all related Biblical teachings to bring out a clear and concise insight. “We are under grace and not the law” is a sentence often used to undermine the Old Testament. Christianity is an Abrahamic religion. It is the continuation of the Old Testament. The two testaments can not be separated. The Old Testament is needed to understand fundamental doctrines like sin, the depravity of mankind, and the blood of Christ. We know that Jesus is who he claims to be, the Messiah, because of the Old Testament. In the end, we are left with tears of gratitude with the question, “What is man that You are mindful of him?”

    I am refining my writing on “Types and Shadows of Christ in the OT” which is much similar to the usage of the Old and New Testaments.

    Thank you for sharing your works. Blessings.

    • Thank you for reading and sharing your insights here, Selie Visa. I have noticed the same issue you mention, many Christians desire to discard the Old Testament and walk in the ways of the world, rather than living as God’s special people, set apart and growing in the image of Christ. I appreciate your points about how the testaments cannot be separated. Truly each portion of God’s Word defines, reveals and completes the other. When we take the time to learn the fullness of scriptural truth from both the Old and New Testaments, as you say “we are left with tears of gratitude, asking ‘What is man that You are mindful of him?'”
      I look forward to reading your article on “Types and Shadows of Christ in the OT.” Please let me know when it is complete. May all Christians seek to grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, according to His Word, our final Authority.


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