“You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.” – Deuteronomy 22:11
In the Old Testament, there are many commandments that seem odd to the New Testament believer. Are Christians supposed to obey all the Old Testament Laws? If so, then why do Christians seem to disregard so many? And if not, what is the Christian’s responsibility to the Old Testament Law? Though Christians have disagreed on this subject over the years, I believe Scripture clearly explains the relationship between the Christian and the Mosaic Law.
First, it is important that we understand the purpose of the Old Testament Law. The nation of Israel was a monarchy functioning as both a religious and political entity. God made a covenant with the people of Israel and gave them the Mosaic Law. Since Israel was chosen by God to bring Christ into the world, they were given the Law to set themselves apart from the other nations. Additionally, the Law was not meant to serve as the permanent authority, rather it was a temporary authority meant to lead us to Christ. Galatians 3:24-25 states, “Therefore the Law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” The primary purpose of the Law was to convict Israel of sin and call believers to faith. As we recognize our inability to obey the requirements of God’s Law, we come to the revelation that we are in desperate need of a savior. Matthew 5:17 states, “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” Jesus came and fulfilled the Law so that He could be our representative and pay our moral fine.
However, some brothers and sisters in Christ have attempted to divide the Mosaic Law into three distinct categories: the civil, ceremonial, and moral law. With this distinction, some Christian theologians have claimed that the civil and ceremonial law were specifically for the people of Israel, while the moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments) are still binding for the Christian today. The problem with this view is that Scripture never makes a three-part distinction of the Law. In fact, the moral laws given to Israel were regularly given in the very same context as the civil and ceremonial. One may even wonder what distinguishes a “moral” law from a “civil” or “ceremonial” law. Is not every command given to us by God a moral obligation? Indeed, every command in the Law is moral. Even if the three-part distinction were biblical, would the Ten Commandments even constitute as being part of the moral law? The Fourth Commandment reads: “Remember the Sabbath Day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord your God.” (Exodus 20:8-10). Do Christians observe the Saturday Sabbath and refrain from working? No. Some Christians may note that Christ is our Sabbath (our spiritual rest) and that we no longer are required to observe a literal Sabbath. But does that not make my point? Though there is an application of the Sabbath for Christians today, Christians are not submitting to the original meaning of the Fourth Commandment. An analogy might be helpful. Consider a man moving from one country to another. Though both countries may hold some of the same fundamental principles, the country is distinct from the other. I believe this is where the Christian finds themselves in relation to the Mosaic Law and the New Covenant. Though the Old and New Covenant possess overlapping precepts, they possess unique qualities with different applications. Thus, Christians are not under the Law, rather they are under grace. Romans 6:14 states, “For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under Law but under grace.” When Christ died on the cross for the sins of the world, He instituted the New Covenant of grace. Matthew 26:28 states, “For this is My blood of the New Covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins.” Christ’s substitutionary atonement via His death on the cross has offered the world the gift of salvation by grace through faith.
So, does that mean that the Old Testament Law has no purpose or application for Christians today? On the contrary, the Mosaic Law offers us divine insight to the character of God. The Bible says that Jesus Christ never changes (Hebrews 13:8). Though we may not be under the Old Testament Law, every commandment given by God displays a universal principle rooted in His unchanging character. This concept is known as principlism. Christians can learn godly principles through careful study of the Old Testament Law, while then applying these teachings accurately in the context of being within the New Covenant. Thus, we are not bound by the Law of Moses, but the Law of Christ. Galatians 6:2 states, “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the Law of Christ.” Christians are called to obey the Law of Christ. What is the Law of Christ? LOVE. Jesus commands His followers to love God and love others. Matthew 22:40 states, “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Love has always been the guiding principle for God’s people. As we look to the New Testament while considering the Old Testament Law, believers can rightly understand how to serve God and others in love.
Let us rejoice that we are no longer under the Law but are under grace because of Christ!