Are we to obey the Law of Moses? From one perspective, the answer would seem to be “no,” since we are no longer under the Law:
· For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. (Romans 10:4; ESV)
However, even though we are no longer under the Law, this does not settle the question. Why not? For one thing, the New Testament often quotes from the Law as if it is still normative for us. Here is just one small example:
· Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (2 Corinthians 13:1; referencing Deuteronomy 19:15)
Besides, the New Covenant does not legalize crimes like murder and adultery. In fact, it seems that the teachings of Jesus embody much of the wisdom of the Mosaic Covenant like:
· But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:28)
We therefore are left perplexed. It seems that we are no longer under the Law but it also seems that we still have to obey it. And this perplexity is not new. Manfred T. Brauch, formerly a professor of biblical theology, had commented of Romans 10:4:
· This radical word about Christ as the end of the law—and similar expressions in other letters of Paul—have been the object of intense discussion throughout the history of the church. (“Hard Sayings of Paul,” IVP, 1989, 56)
Brauch is correct. Paul had often taught that we are no longer under the Law. Here are just a few references:
· For he himself is our peace…abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace. (Ephesians 2:14-15)
· 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 7:6)
· And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
However, Paul wasn’t alone in insisting that the Law had come to an end. James also suggested that we are now under a new regime, the “law of liberty”:
· For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. So speak and so act as those who are to be judged under the law of liberty. (James 2:10-12; also see Hebrews 8:13)
Although James was not as direct as Paul in declaring the Law null and void, he suggested that we are no longer under the Mosaic Law. Jesus was even more cryptic about this:
· “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 5:17-18)
When was the Law “fulfilled” and “accomplished?” When Jesus proclaimed “It is finished” on the Cross” and the veil, which had separated us from the symbolic presence of God within the Holy of Holies was torn in two indicating that God’s plan had been accomplished. The way had been opened for us to boldly come into the presence of God.
Jesus had been secretly preparing for this moment all along:
· And he said to them, “Then are you also without understanding? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him, since it enters not his heart but his stomach, and is expelled?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) (Mark 7:18-19)
In contrast, under the Mosaic Law, certain foods and external contacts would make us unclean. However, Jesus revealed that these laws were only symbolic and, therefore, temporary. Consequently, Mark commented, “Thus he declared all foods clean.”
Besides, Jesus initiated the New Covenant:
· And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the [New] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:27-28)
Under the New Covenant, sins would now be utterly eradicated (Jeremiah 31:31-34). Under the Mosaic Law, they had been “forgiven” but not eradicated. Consequently, the consciences of the Israelites had never been cleansed, God had never been propitiated, and the Israelites could not enter into His presence (Hebrews 9:13-15; 10:19-23). This was why Jesus came to initiate the New Covenant in place of the Old, which failed to bring about any real forgiveness and cleansing (Malachi 3:1-3; Hebrews 10:5-10).
Clearly, we are no longer under the Mosaic Covenant. Instead:
· 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. (Romans 7:4)
However, this does not resolve our confusion. It seems that we still must uphold the Mosaic Law:
· Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)
But why? We are no longer under the Law. Why then uphold it? At this point, we must make a critical distinction. We are no longer under the Law, but many of the stipulations of the Law are eternal, like not murdering, stealing, or bearing false witness. These laws do not suddenly become irrelevant under the New Covenant. However, now we fulfill them in a new way, by the Spirit:
· For while we were in the flesh, the sinful passions, which were aroused by the Law, were at work in the members of our body to bear fruit for death. But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:5-6; NASB)
Besides, the new way of following the Lord, we also have been given a new and richer understanding of the Law, illuminated by Jesus:
· And he [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40)
Notice that these two great commandments do not invalidate the teachings of the Old Covenant. Instead, they summarize them. The Law and the Prophets are all about love, and we still need them to educate us about how love is to be expressed. The Prophets of Israel have shown us that love can take many forms, even through denunciations and the severest of warnings. They also teach how to love God:
· And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8:3)
Jesus quoted this against the Devil during His temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:4). According to Jesus, loving God was a matter of living by His every word.
Therefore, the Old Testament remains the Word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17), even those highly symbolic passages that had been fulfilled by Jesus. However, since they have been fulfilled, we need not follow them as the Israelites had:
· Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)
Since Jesus is the reality which fulfilled the shadows, we should now focus ourselves on Him. However, studying the shadows brings understanding and confidence in the faith.
Brauch suggests that the Mosaic Law taught salvation by good deeds (by obedience to the Law):
· [Jesus’] coming signals its [the Mosaic Covenant] end with regard to the attainment of righteousness (that is, right relationship with God). (61)
Instead, we find that no one had ever been declared righteous by their obedience to the Law. Abraham had been considered righteous because he had believed God (Genesis 15:6). King David, perhaps Israel’s most obedient king, found blessedness, not through his own attainments but through the mercy of God (Psalm 32, 51).
In contrast with the hope of attaining our own righteousness (Romans 10:3), the entire Mosaic sacrificial system declared that Israel depended upon the mercy of God. King Solomon affirmed this when he consecrated the Temple:
· “If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to the land of the enemy, far off or near, yet if they turn their heart in the land to which they have been carried captive, and repent and plead with you in the land of their captors, saying, ‘We have sinned and have acted perversely and wickedly’”… (1 Kings 8:46-47)
Israel’s blessedness depended upon the mercy of God through faith/repentance, not their meritorious good deeds, as the Psalms repeated proclaim:
· If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?...O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities. (Psalm 130:3, 7-8; 143:2)
God would graciously pay the price (redeem) for all of Israel’s sins. Why? This is the only way that any of us could ever make it into heaven.
Consequently, Israel misunderstood their own Scriptures in believing that they could attain the goal by their own virtue:
· Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone, as it is written, “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense; and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:31-33)
Israel refused to recognize their sinful and unworthy state and, therefore, thought that they could attain righteousness through their own efforts. For them, the mercy of God and His Messiah were irrelevant.
However, the main purpose of the Law was to lead to the Messiah rather than to prove that we didn’t need one. How?
However, the main purpose of the Law was to lead to the Messiah rather than to prove that we didn’t need one. How?
· Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. (Galatians 3:23-24)
How would the Law lead us to Christ? By showing us our dire need:
· Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin. (Romans 3:19-20)
If properly understood, the Law should stop any boasting and show us that we are under condemnation (Deuteronomy 27:26) apart from the mercy of God. To not see this is to sinfully repress the truth (Romans 1:18-20). It is also to reject the one hope that God has made available.
Although we are now under Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20), we have no choice but to respect the Hebrew Scriptures as God’s actual words. Jesus certainly did and quoted from them as if to say, “If Scripture says it, that settles it.” How then do we uphold them? Through the guidance of the New Testament!