What OT Laws Apply to Christians?
This is Part IV in a blog series coinciding with Living Stones Churches' "Fight for Grace" sermons. Part I deals with the gift of faith, Part II discusses predestination, and Part III explains why obedience matters.
In the book of Exodus, Moses ascends Mt. Sinai and God gives him the Law.
This Law begins with the ten commandments, and includes additional commandments found in portions of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. It is often referred to as the "Mosaic Law."
The Mosaic Law is difficult to understand. On one hand, there are moral laws that we rarely question, such as no lying, cheating, or stealing.
On the other hand, there are laws that seem mind-blowingly irrelevant and/or ridiculous.
1) Do not mate two kinds of animals (Lev. 19:19)
2) Do not cut your beard (Lev. 19:27)
3) Do not touch a menstruating woman (Lev. 15:19)
And there are many other commandments that have inspired some amusing attempts to adhere to it fully.
But Christians are not seen trying to obey many of these requirements. Animal sacrifice is reserved for BBQs (Lev. 1:2), tattoos are so prevalent they have colonized Christians’ eyelids (Lev. 19:28), and the church has developed a peculiar fascination with bacon (Lev. 11:7), which is undoubtedly contributing to a global price increase.
Supply and demand, bacon lovers. Supply and demand.
My point is that this apparent disregard of several OT laws leads to the very popular accusation, most notably among the homosexual community, that Christians pick and choose which commandments to follow. And a very dangerous response is “Well, we follow the principles behind the commands,” because this usually receives the counter volley that within the Mosaic Law
1) Divorce is assumed (Deut. 24:1-4)
2) Slavery is assumed (Lev. 19:20)
3) The rights of women are unequal enough to make any feminist blow a forehead vein.
Why don’t we follow those "principles" anymore? Our inability to respond intelligently to this question makes non-Christians sizzle like the bacon we so adore.
With that introduction, this blog will deal with what biblical commandments apply to Christians today, and how we can understand the Mosaic Law.
First off, it is wrongly assumed that the Mosaic Law is bad, and that it was a burden on the Israelites. This was not even close to the case, as it’s pretty clear that the Psalmists liked the Law (Ps. 1:2; 19:7; 119:97). The Law was actually freeing for the nation of Israel because it
1) Gave clear instructions as to what God expected of them
2) Gave them clear instructions as to how to atone for sin and administer justice.
"But I thought Paul hated the Law?” When Paul decries the Law, he is doing so when it is being used as a means of justification before God. In that event, it’s a noose. This is how the good Law was abused, and instead of leading the people to faith in God it was used by some to brag that they were blameless before Him.
During his three year ministry on Earth, Jesus clearly stated that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, meaning that he came to bring the law to its “intended meaning.” No other man had been able to do this.
Jesus redefined divorce, sexual immorality, food laws, and the Sabbath.
By his death, Jesus became the perfect sacrifice, thus fulfilling the need for individuals to atone for their sins by offering grain and livestock.
Because he is our ultimate High Priest, there is no longer a need for a physical temple. It's curtain has been eternally torn, and the rituals associated with it are obsolete (Luke 23:44-46).
Because he has ushered in a new covenant community, his followers are no longer characterized by diet, dress, or nationhood - but by their likeness to Him, regardless of citizenship.
This is a relief, because whenever I try to grow a beard it looks something like this:
“There is unity between the Mosaic Law and the NT Law, and the uniter is Christ.”
During his lifetime, Jesus gave commandments for his followers, which other New Testament writers expand on. These commands have not discarded the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law, they’ve superseded it. The Mosaic Law pointed forward Jesus, the New Testament Law points back to him, so, just like the Mosaic Law, the NT Law is not a means of salvation, but is good, honors God, and obedience to it is characteristic of true, saving faith.
Christ’s commands flow from the principles of loving God fully, and loving others as ourselves, just like the Mosaic Law (Deut. 6:4-6). Loving God with “heart, soul, and mind” means with our
The most comprehensive explanation of this is found in Ephesians. Paul tells the church in Ephesus (and us by extension) to “Walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called (Eph. 4:1).” In Eph. 4:17-5:21, he lays out the basic groundwork for Christian living, which includes these commandments:
No deceitful desires
No unrighteous anger
Do honest work
No corrupting talk
Forgive one another
Do not be sexually immoral
No filthiness, foolish talk, or crude joking
No participating in “works of darkness”
Do not get drunk
Submit to one another
Does this seem like a lot? There are in fact tons of other commands elsewhere in the NT. One list counts 1050, although as a warning this list should be read with discerning eyes as some commands are taken way out of context (Jesus telling his disciples to "sit" isn't a command for us).
What are we to do with these? We don’t have a set code like the Israelites, and many of the commands are vague (“how bitter is bitterness, exactly?”).
That's exactly the point. The NT Law is deeper than superficial things like giving precisely 10% of your money, attending church every week, soup kitchen-ing, etc. Whereas the Mosaic Law was written on stone, the NT Law is written on our hearts (Jer. 31:33). The lack of distinct parameters in the NT means that we must be enjoying life with Jesus to obey his commandments, otherwise we will stray towards one of two poles:
1) Relaxing the commands (“Did I have sexual relations with that woman? It depends on what your definition of ‘is’ is.”)
2) Building imaginary legal fences (“NO kissing or I will sever your lips!”)
The NT commandments in and of themselves are nothing, and many people who don’t know Jesus can live by most of these principles. But if these commandments are followed as an extension of the salvation that comes in Jesus, then they are freeing. Remember, these are not commandments to get into the Kingdom of heaven, but are commandments for the members of the kingdom. Just as the Mosaic Law was given to a people already called by the grace of God, so too is the NT Law. Do not confuse the order! And do not impose them on non-Christians!
"The Mosaic Law was written on stone, the NT Law is written on our hearts."
For the believer, the commandments in the NT fulfill the same function as the Mosaic Law:
1) They are a representation of God’s character, which leads us to worship
2) They expose our sin, which leads us to repentance
3) They point to the need for Jesus to atone for our sins, because we so often disobey them
We cannot follow the NT Law without the Holy Spirit. Attempting to do so would render our souls about as complete as my beard.