If you are still wondering what I am going to be discussing in the post, then my (probably unnecessary) overbearing title failed to fulfill its duty. So, when talking about Christians, the Old Testament law, and the relationship between the two, there are usually a couple of comments said. This is usually how the conversation goes.
Skeptic: “If you believe the Bible, then why don’t you have to sacrifice bulls and not eat shellfish and everything? You’re a hypocrite!”
Christian: “No, the Old Testament law does not apply to us anymore as Christians. We are part of a New Covenant.”
Awesome. But, then something else is added.
Skeptic: “Okay, then why do Christians use the Old Testament to back up certain moral laws?”
Christian: “That’s because, as Christians, we are still bound to the moral laws, but simply not the ceremonial laws or civil laws. Jesus fulfilled all of those so we don’t have to.”
And this is where it becomes problematic. There are a few problems with this line of thinking.
- No Distinction —There is no actual evidence that the Jews actually distinguished between the laws and broke them up into this kind of category. The Bible certainly does not make the distinction. Many times, it is something that the reader reads into the text. This is a big reason why tattoos are still a problem with very intelligent with great Bible knowledge. The only place tattoos are even mentioned are in Leviticus as a prohibition. Some think this is a moral law, while others think that it is a ceremonial law. There is no way to know, or any reason to think that it has to be one or the other, for the distinctions are presuppositions one has when approaching the text.
- Fulfilled, or Not? — As I alluded to in the conversation, most Christians who follow this line of thinking agree that Christ every part of the law. However, despite their claim that Christ perfectly fulfilled this law, they claim that Christians are still bound to part of it. Not only are the law type distinctions questionable, but now the logic behind these claims don’t seem to make sense. Often times, these people will point to Matthew 5:17 when Jesus says, “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.” They look at that and say, “Do you see! Christ didn’t come to abolish the law or get rid of it anything.” However, they look at the first part and totally miss the point of the passage. Christ is not saying that He didn’t come to abolish the law and thus, you are still bound by it. No. Rather, He is saying that He is not abolishing the law, but perfectly fulfilling it! He isn’t coming and throwing the law out of the door. Jesus is saying that He is going to do what no one could ever do, and perfectly carry it out, thus, releasing us from the law. This leads to the last point.
- Freed from the Law — The most important problem with thinking that Christians are still bound by any part of the Old Covenant is the fact that the New Testament constantly reminds believers that they are free from the old law! Romans 7 says it most emphatically. Paul creates a metaphor that explains how a wife is only bound by the law of marriage while her husband is alive and, once he dies, she is free from that law. He then explains, “Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God… But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.” (Romans 7:4, 6 emphasis mine). Can it be any more clear? We have no relationship to the law, because we are now in relationship with Jesus Christ. We are not walking in the way of the law anymore, but in the way of the Spirit.
We are freed from the old convenant, the old law. However, we trade this old law for a new law. And not only is this a new law, but it is a new type of law. The Old Testament could tell you what to do, but it couldn’t help you do it. They were given in grace to those rules within the covenant people of God, just as the new law is. However, the new law works in a completely different way. Romans 8:2 describes this new law, “For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death.” The new law is the law of the Spirit of life. It is a law that is marked by walking in the Spirit (Romans 8:5-8).
In other places, such as Galatians 6:2, this can be referred to as the “law of Christ”. Jesus was known for teaching not a message of conformity, but of transformation. Paul addresses this in Romans 12:1-2. He focused on the heart, rather than merely the action. One does not follow the law of Christ or of the Spirit simply by doing, but by being. It is largely not about following a list of do’s and don’ts, but walking in an intimate relationship with the Spirit. He transforms you from the inside out. The old law has no bearing on Christians, lest we consider that Christ was only partially effective in fulfilling the Law.
This can be rationalized in the idea of serving a God who is unchanging in character, but whose law in the Old Testament met people where they were at. Remember, the main purpose of His instituting the laws of Israel were not so that they could earn their salvation (for they were already in the covenant), but to set Israel apart from the other nations. But, when Jesus came, He turned things upside down. On numerous occasions, preceded His teachings with “You have heard it said _____, but I say to you…” And many times, that blank was God’s law from the Old Testament (such as “an eye for an eye”). This denotes a huge discontinuity between the two sets of “laws”. And I believe this is exactly what God intended. Jesus presents a new way of approaching God through the new laws that He began to teach. He demonstrates as the Word of God (John 1:1) and the one by whom God is speaking today (opposed to the prophets and the law, Hebrews 1:1-2) the manner by which the covenant people of God should live in response God’s grace toward them. Christians are completely, absolutely, and unquestionably free from the law.