Is the Christian is required to keep the Law, more specifically the ten commandments? It is my position that, no, Christians are under no obligation to keep the Law of the old testament. On its face this is a controversial notion, but hopefully upon closer examination it should be clear and will make sense, and I believe it is in fact the biblical position.
When discussing the Law I will limit the scope to the ten commandments since it was God who commanded the ten as well as the other 600+ laws, which were established to set Israel apart as a peculiar people, and unless a specific distinction must be made the Law refers to the ten.
God chose Abram from among the people of the earth to bless, and from his descendants God would make a great nation (Gen. 12:2). Through Jacob, Abram’s (now Abraham) son who is now called Israel (Gen. 32:28) God made what was to come to be known as the Nation of Israel. Israel as a nation was a people chosen by God to be His people. They were a people set apart from the surrounding peoples and nations, which were notoriously depraved, committing regularly heinous acts upon themselves and others (Gen. 6:5). God had a specific purpose for the nation of Israel, the Messiah was to be an Israelite. To keep Israel apart from the other surrounding nations God gave certain commandments to the nation of Israel (Exo. 20:2) in order to keep them morally sound and to keep them from falling into the same treachery as their neighbors. The reason this is pertinent to this discussion is that the Law was given to Israel, specifically Israel. The reason this is important is that there are promises and consequences related to obedience and disobedience to the Law.
The Law is basically a contract with the nation of Israel. This contract like any other contract is valid and applicable only to the parties to whom the contract is given. I think Christians have a tendency to view new testament Christians as a continuation of or a replacement to old testament Israelites, and are therefore entitled to the promises offered to the Jews. Unless otherwise stated, promises and Laws to the Jews apply only to the Jews. Even Paul makes the point of making the distinction that the Gentiles, did not have the Law but did the things of the Law since it was written on their hearts (Rom. 2:12-14).
Is the Christian church a continuation of or replacement to the Jews? I’m not so certain this is the case, and even if it were would not be relevant or make the argument for required obedience to the Law. First there is an explicit separation of Israel and Christians. In Matthew chapter 16, Jesus and Peter are discussing who Jesus is. Jesus asks “who do the people say I am?” (Matt. 16:13), and then “who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter of course gives the correct answer, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus then responds by saying that God has revealed that truth and on that truth He, Jesus, will build His church. I think this is an important way of wording the answer, namely in the future tense. Jesus had not yet been crucified and resurrected which would be the event which ushers in the new covenant. The church Jesus is speaking of is not yet in place, however Judaism and the Law were currently in place. There is no mention by Jesus that the church is the same as the set aside nation Israel, though the first Christians were converted Jews. There is a distinction between the church which is to come, and the “church” which is present.
God’s plan was to bring about a new covenant which would be different from the original (Heb. 8:9), or old covenant, (Jer. 31:31, 32) which was broken by Israel. It would function in a new way. The old covenant was a written law, the new would be written on the hearts of believers (Heb 8:10). I take this to mean one’s conscience. I firmly believe a believer’s conscience does more to convict of sin then any written set of rules ever could. I take this notion of the Law being written on the heart to mean that before the new covenant was in place, the conscience was either non-existent, or radically different from what we experience today. I think most believers can attest to this, before becoming a believer you were a pretty good person, me too, but after you believed you are more sensitive to the little things you used to do with out a second thought. Even the unbeliever’s conscience informs them when they do wrong, and while everyone has an innate knowledge of God, it is suppressed and the source for their conscience informing them of wrong is purposely unknown (Rom. 1:21-23, Heb. 8:11). But the unbeliever’s conscience is not informative to the extent of the believer who has the benefit of the Holy Spirit who makes the believer more sensitive to sin. History can also attest to this. Before Christ came, life was very cheap and debauchery was rampant. People were slaughtered whole sale for any number of reasons including entertainment. Since the Advent, it has tapered off, people are looked upon with more value and debauchery was increasingly frowned upon as Christianity spread through out the world. There are of course exceptions to every rule, but reading through the old testament we see how depraved the peoples were that surrounded the Jews. So bad so that it showed no signs of stopping and as a result God ordered their extermination (Gen. 6:5).
Jesus, God Himself, would be the one to usher in the new covenant (Isa. 53:11-12; Psa. 22:25-29; Zech. 12:10; Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25). Once the new is in place, the old is done away with and obsolete (Heb. 8:13, 2 Cor. 3:6). This means is it done with, there is no more obligation to fulfill the Law (Rom. 7:6). There was even some debate in the early church, that some new believers had claimed it was necessary to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 15:5), and a letter was written in response claiming they, the Apostles, gave no such instruction (Acts 15:24), and advising they not be burdened beyond the essentials of abstaining from “things sacrificed to idols and from blood and from things strangled and from fornication; if you keep yourselves free from such things, you will do well. Farewell” (Acts 15:29). In fact, the Apostles questioned speaking of the Law of Moses, “Now therefore why do you put God to the test by placing upon the neck of the disciples a yoke which neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear?” (Acts 15:10). Certainly if obliged obedience to the Law was intended for the Christian church it would have been upheld here. Now that the new covenant is in place, not even the Jews, with whom God made the original covenant, are under the obligation to fulfil the Law. Jesus fulfilled the Law perfectly by not once violating the Law (Heb. 7:27), and made the required sacrifice once and for all.
Now some might take exception with this line of reasoning thinking I am advocating or defending the idea of “carnal Christianity”, not being obliged to the law means free reign to live a life of sin. Once a person has truly been regenerated becoming a believer, there is a desire to refrain from the life of sin to which he was once accustomed. By this I do not mean Christians do not sin, but the Christian is inwardly convicted of the sin he once abounded. The sensitivity to sin increases with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit and though the Christian may sin, he does not want to, feels remorse when he does, and has a desire to repent (Rom. 7:15-21). The Law then is kept accidentally. It is kept out of love and thankfulness to God for His redemption. Keeping the Law begins to come naturally, though not perfectly, after being born again. Jesus himself says “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments” (John 14:15). Jesus here is saying, if you are someone who loves Him, you will keep the commandments. This is a descriptive verse not prescriptive. Jesus is not saying that those who claim to love Him must keep His commandments, but rather that the people who do in fact love Him will keep them.
What about Matthew 5:17-18, “Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass from the Law until all is accomplished.“? In this passage is Jesus teaching the Law is in effect and will never pass away? It is true He did not come to destroy the law, which He did not, the Law was not abolished, it was completed. Before the crucifixion/resurrection the Law was still in effect and required to be obeyed by the Jews. Jesus was under the obligation to obey the law Himself (Gal. 4:4), which He did to perfection. Jesus’ perfect keeping of the Law, His being crucified for the sins of man, and His resurrection from the dead conquering the effects of sin is the “until all is accomplished” to which He is referring, remember His words on the Cross “it is finished” (John 19:30). The Greek word used in the passage, “tetelestai” is a word used in the first century to indicate that a contractual obligation has been fulfilled. It was a release of the debtee to the debtor, the old covenant is now finished and the new is in effect.
I believe it is widely overlooked by Christians that many of Jesus’ teachings, generally speaking, were to Jews. Jesus was not sent to the whole world, but only to the lost sheep of Israel (Matt. 15:24), therefore His message and His audience consisted mainly of Jews who were under the Law. Before Jesus death and resurrection the old covenant, which was the required obedience of the Law, was still in place. It is not until after His resurrection that the obligation is removed and abolished and the new covenant is under effect. It is for this reason that a passage like Matthew 22:35-40, And of them, lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And He 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 foremost commandment. The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments depend the whole Law and the Prophets.” is why it appears that Jesus is endorsing adherence to the Law. Now there are a few ways of looking at this. First, Jesus is answering a question posed to Him by an individual. I would answer that question the same way Jesus did. Just because Jesus answered the question that way, in that time, under that circumstance, does not mean it applies to us today. It was a Jewish man asking a Jewish teacher about the Jewish Law. One could ask me what the greatest traffic law is and I could give a similar answer. But traffic laws apply only to people who are driving. If I don’t drive, traffic laws don’t apply to me. Context is everything. Again pre-crucifixion/resurrection the Law was still in effect. The man inquiring of Jesus called Him “Teacher”, which implies the man was a Jew, I do not think a gentile would seek Jesus for religious or theological teaching of the Jewish Law, and thus Jesus’ answer makes perfect sense when the context is taken into consideration. See the parallel passage in Mark 12:28-33 where the man inquiring of Jesus references Deut. 6:4-5, further indicating it was in part a Jewish theological discussion.
The Christian is not obliged to keep the Law, but will out of love and conviction from the Holy Spirit. In the same way I am not obligated to rub my wife’s feet after a long day but will out of love for her; and she is not obligated to bake my favorite blue berry muffins for me, but out of love will. Likewise the believer keeps the Law out of love for God not obligation. The believer by being born again is given a new nature and is no longer a slave to sin. Having this new nature, he does the things of the Law because it is written on his heart and out of the love for God. It is not obedience to the Law I take umbrage with, after all not murdering and stealing are good things. It is the imposed obligation on the part of some believers. The Mosaic Law was a covenant made to a specific group of people, the descendants of Abraham, for a specific purpose. Now that a new covenant is in place, the old is obsolete and done away with, and even the Jews are under no obligation to it. Context is the key to understanding the promises of the bible, carefully reading the surrounding passages of a given text will help you to understand the theology of the bible.
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