By Melissa McLaughlin
I have observed many controversies surrounding Christianity and the Old Testament Law. In our previous discussion on this topic, we looked at How Should Christians View the Law? Jesus and the Law (Part 1). It is critical to consider the whole counsel of God, understanding the Bible as a whole. We will continue this study here by examining teaching found in the New Testament.
What Does the New Testament Teach About the Law?
Jesus reinforced the 10 Commandments, summed up in the two great commands stated in Mark 12:28-31.
The Early Church and the Law
After Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension, the early church began to grow. Since Jesus and His disciples were Jewish, naturally the first believers were Jewish Christians. It wasn’t long, however, until the gospel message spread to Gentile territories.
Should Gentiles Obey the Law?
Many congregations in the early church were comprised of Jewish and Gentile Christians worshiping side by side. One group was striving to obey the law while the other group was oblivious.
The question was raised… Should Gentiles, who are unfamiliar with Jewish law, be required to learn and obey it?
The Council of Jerusalem (Acts 15) determined that Gentile believers need only keep four basic laws that would protect them from merging their fledgling Christian faith with the widely accepted practices of the pagan world, which revolved around worship of idols.
The four New Testament laws for Gentile believers:
- abstain from food sacrificed to idols
- abstain from [drinking] blood
- abstain from meat that has been strangled [because it still contains the blood]
- abstain from sexual immorality [maintaining the basic structure of the family as ordained by God]
- (Acts 15:28-29)
Romans – A Jewish and Gentile Church
In the New Testament book of Romans, Paul tackled this issue at greater length in his letter to the Romans, a church with both Jewish and Gentile believers.
Paul proved that ALL people are sinners (Romans 3:23) including Gentile pagans (ch.1) AND Jews (ch.2). Paul reminded the Jewish believers that Abraham was justified by faith. Abraham believed God and it was counted to him as righteousness, for the Law of Moses had not yet been given. (ch. 4) Like Abraham, we are made right with God through faith. Faith in Christ. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
Since we are saved by grace, through faith in Christ… here’s the lingering question…
Should we go on sinning?
So Then What is the Purpose of the Law?
The Law teaches us what sin is.
The law is holy, righteous and good. The Law is given so that sin might be recognized as sin. (Romans 7:12-13)
How Do We Obey God? Not By the Law – By the Spirit
You are not controlled by the sinful nature but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. (Romans 8:9)
The Law Instructs – The Spirit Empowers
- The Law could not save us. Jesus Christ saved us.
- The Law cannot help us obey. The Holy Spirit helps us obey.
- The Law instructs. The Spirit empowers.
Righteousness that Comes by Faith
THEREFORE… Because of God’s Great Mercy, How Then Should We Live?
Because of this great mercy from God:
- sending His Son to fulfill the Laws of righteousness
- paying the penalty for sinners on the cross
- imputing Christ’s righteousness to believers
- sending His Spirit to empower us…
How then should we live? By the Spirit.
How Do We Live By the Spirit?
A Living Sacrifice
Under the law, an animal was killed as a sacrifice and laid on the altar to atone for sins. Now we symbolically lay our lives, our bodies, on the altar of God out of gratitude for Christ’s atonement on our behalf. Our lives become a living sacrifice offered for Him who saved us. This is the least we can do! (Romans 12:1-2)
What Does a Sacrificial Life Look Like?
Biblical love is defined for us here. Love is sincere. Hate what is evil. Cling to what is good. (Romans 12:9) This is nothing like the world’s lustful definition of love or indulgent approval of cultural opinions that oppose God. We submit to authorities (as long as they do not contradict God’s Word.) Romans 13:1-7
This passage once again teaches that love fulfills the law. The 10 Commandments are referenced in the verses “love God and love your neighbor.” Romans 13: 8-10
Live in the Light Christ
Put aside deeds of darkness, put on the armor of light. Live like Christ, the Light of the world. Romans 13: 12
What are the deeds of darkness?
The book of Romans spells this out. Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in carousing and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy. Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the flesh. Romans 13:13-14
How God’s Moral Law Helps Us Today
Clearly we see that an understanding of God’s Moral Law from the Old Testament helps us recognize our sin and recognize our Savior. Further, we gain instruction on how to live a life that is pleasing to God. Though we don’t follow God’s Law to earn salvation, by His Spirit our transformed hearts produce transformed lives.
Ceremonial Law – Sacred Days and Foods
In Romans chapter 14, the issues that sometimes separate Jewish Christians and Gentile Christians are addressed, namely ceremonial sacred days and foods.
Here the New Testament makes allowances for believers from either background, Jew or Gentile. Some may continue to follow the ceremonial festivals, Sabbath days and dietary laws, while others may not. Each one should be led by God’s Spirit.
Christians Who Uphold the Law Today
There are many Messianic-Jewish Christians today who practice the Old Testament Law, including ceremonial laws concerning sacred days and foods. I have found great joy learning about the Old Testament Feast Days which point ahead to our Messiah and learning about God’s purposes in sacred foods. I have been especially blessed by Jewish believers who then use these as opportunities to highlight Christ.
This should not separate us. We can learn from our brothers and sisters who carry the Jewish roots of our faith. Some may feel led by God to follow these traditions, remembering Christ as the fulfillment and substance of the shadows these ceremonial laws cast toward Him.
However, our salvation remains by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.
How Should Christians View the Law?
Following Jesus’ life, death, resurrection and ascension, the New Testament teaches:
- Sacrificial Law – Jesus fulfilled the sacrificial laws once and for all. No further animal sacrifices are needed.
- Ceremonial Law – These laws pointed to Christ and set apart God’s holy people. Ceremonial laws, including sacred days and foods are now directed by the Spirit.
- Moral Law – The New Testament teaches God’s Moral Law by reinforcing the 10 Commandments and Family Laws of sexual purity. NOT to earn salvation but as we desire to grow in the image of Christ.
Christians and God’s Law – Law of Love
- God’s Law reminds us to love God first, then love others with Biblical love. A Law of love.
- God’s Law teaches us right from wrong, according to God’s standards, not the world.
- God’s Law shows us we are sinners in need of a Savior.
- God’s Law shows us the perfection of our Messiah.
- God’s Law points us to Jesus!
Growing in Holiness
In these days of deception, God’s Law also helps us understand how to grow in holiness, living “set apart” for Christ.
- Not by personal striving, nor seeking to follow a system or set of rules but by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
- Not as an effort to earn our salvation, rather out of gratitude for this most amazing gift.
Jesus set us free from sin, fulfilling the Law, paying the penalty for our sin and earning righteousness for us. Now He empowers us through His Spirit to love God and love others in ever increasing measure. Against such things, there is no law! (Galatians 5:22-23)
Christians Are Led by the Spirit
- In our ceremonies and holidays (holy days), may we focus on Jesus.
- In our bodies, may we live as the Temple of His Spirit.
- In our civil life, may we carry out His justice, love, mercy and truth.
- In our family life, may we live with purity, honoring God and each other through God-ordained relationships, designed to shine a spotlight on Christ and His Church.
Jeremiah 31:33 – For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.