Today, there is a great discussion occurring over the Christian’s obligational relationship to the Old Testament and the Law of Moses and the Prophets (Old Law). This issue is especially important because of Christ’s role in the Old Law and the bringing of the New Covenant.
In Romans 7:1, Paul states: “Do you not know, brothers and sisters—for I am speaking to those who know the law—that the law has authority over someone only as long as that person lives?” Paul then concludes with “So, my brothers and sisters, you also died to the law through the body of Christ, that you might belong to another, to him who was raised from the dead, in order that we might bear fruit for God. For when we were in the realm of the flesh, the sinful passions aroused by the law were at work in us, so that we bore fruit for death. But now, by dying to what once bound us, we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”
Here we see Paul referencing the fact that the believer is dead to the law because they died as Christ brought them unto Him. Gary Hill and Andrew Burge state, “Christ’s death broke the power of the law, which, when it encountered sin (which it always does), resulted in death. As believers in Christ have died to the law, they no longer belong to the law, and thus they are free to belong to someone else, namely, to God.”
Does this mean the Christian has no relation to the Old Law? In Matthew 5, Jesus addresses several of the Ten Commandments and expands them to fully explain what they entail. Of the Old Law specifically, He states: “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 tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.”
When Christ came, He was the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy reaching as far back as Genesis 3:15 in Scripture. Some may even argue that the plan for Christ’s arrival was already in place prior to the Fall of Adam and Eve as God creates all things to glorify Himself. Regardless of where the plan for Christ’s arrival initiated, the fact remains He fulfilled it as it was an element of the Old Law and the embodiment of the principles which it taught.
When we think of the Old Law, we must be careful. There is the side of the Law which contains the Ten Commandments and then there is the side of the Law which contains ritual and ceremonial practices. It should be clear to any Christian that Christ abolished the ritualistic side of the Old Law. This is due to the fact He Himself was sacrificed for the sin of mankind as a metaphorical slain lamb. Christ did adhere to certain Jewish customs, but He was more the perfect embodiment of the Ten Commandments themselves. He never came against them and was slain for man’s failure to do the same. Jesus goes as far as to encompass the Ten Commandments into two that serve as a foundation for the others. In Matthew 22:37-40 He states: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Paul speaks many times in his writings about man no longer being under the Old Law, instead being under the “law of Christ”. Where the Old Law plays into this New Covenant varies depending on who one asks. The most compelling answer comes from Douglas Moo as he discusses Romans 7. He states, “The believer has been set free from the commanding authority of the Mosaic law-period. What this means in practice is that no part of the Old Testament law stands any longer as a direct and unmediated guide to Christian living.” Another way of looking at this is that the law no longer condemns the believer to death because Christ has sacrificed Himself for the shortcomings on man under the law and set them free.
We should be careful to recognize that nine of the ten commandments are addressed by writers in the New Testament (Sabbath command excluded) and thus the Ten Commandments themselves still stand as revelation of God’s moral will which should be obeyed. Also, it is important, as Moo points out, that we recognize the need to refer to the Old Testament for defining what certain offenses are such as “unlawful sexual conduct” which is just an example of a law that is not defined in the New Testament, but is detailed in the Old and this was clearly in the minds of the writers of the New Testament. I referenced Matthew 5 above and it is important to continue the emphasis that Jesus alluded to the Ten Commandments in this Chapter and addressed them in detail. If this were not important in the New Covenant, He would not have done so.
The necessary inclusion of the Ten Commandments in the life of every Christian is inescapable. In Matthew 17, Jesus again references the Ten Commandments when addressing a rich man who wants to enter Heaven. He specifically references murder, adultery, theft, false testimony, honoring parents, and loving all. This moral law has been given to us by God and because it has come from God it stands binding on all persons whether they are believers or not. This moral law also serves as a sort of baseline for the government mankind conducts. It is the duty of every Christian to uphold this revelation of God’s continuous Moral Law.
It becomes clear that the Old Law is condemning, but the New Covenant from Christ is a blessing for all believers and an atonement for sin. Yet, Christians are still called and obligated to uphold God’s moral law in their lives and do works that glorify Him. God has recognized man’s inability to perfectly keep His commands and He should be honored and praised for the gift of salvation through Christ alone. Jesus is the fulfillment of the Old Law.
Romans 7:4-6, NIV.
Gary M. Burge and Andrew E. Hill, The Baker Illustrated Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2012): p. 1245.
Matthew 5:17-18 NIV.
Galatians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 9:21.
Douglas Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000): pp. 223-224.
Douglas Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans. p. 224.
Ergun Caner and Ed Hindson (eds.) The Popular Encyclopedia of Apologetics: Surveying the Evidence for the Truth of Christianity. (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2008): p. 354