Now this is a sticky question about the Law. Am I supposed to keep the Law? As Christians have sought to interpret the Old Testament laws and commands, we come across an interesting challenge. I actually know of several books with the premise that if we want to live a life that is blessed and in a country that is blessed we must return to keeping the laws of God. But, if we are to keep all the Laws of the Old Testament then we have lots of life changes to make. For example, we must get rid of all the 50/50 shirts in our wardrobe (Leviticus 19:19), stop eating bacon an shrimp, and no rounding off the beard or sideburns (Leviticus 19:27). But this often is the objection of those who don’t believe, that we as Christians pick and choose the laws we want and expect everyone else to keep those laws but not the rest. The most common response to that claim by Christians is that the Old Testament has three types of laws, civil, ceremonial, and moral. Civil laws are laws given to them as a nation to rule from a governmental standpoint. Ceremonial laws are those given to them as a religious worshiping people showing them how to live as Jews. These would include commands for circumcision, the Sabbath, sacrifices, and festivals. The moral law were commands given to give them the rules to live as God’s people. Now, I will be the first to agree that there is some truth to this. The Law of God was given in covenant to the Hebrew people who were a nation with a government, a religious people with a temple, and a redeemed people who were to live holy lives. The problem is that nowhere in the text of Scripture does the Law designate which laws were civil, which were ceremonial, and which were moral. So that still leaves us as arbiters over the Law who have to determine which Laws fit which category. In fact, the very categories are not found in the Old Testament, nor are they really elaborated on in the New.
So here is my radical (maybe not so much if you keep reading) response. I do not think the Christian should try to keep the Old Testament Law on any level, including the 10 Commandments. Now, before you jump on me as a heretic, we are still to love the Law, and God has given the Law as an act of grace intended to lead us to knowledge of our own sin and the need for Christ (wrote extensively on this in previous blog here). But I do not think the Old Testament Law is in effect for the follower of Jesus. Rather, I believe we are to read the Old Testament Law as something that has been fulfilled, completed, swallowed up in Christ. Paul says it this way in Romans 10:4, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” In other words, the appearance of Christ, his life, his death, and his resurrection has done something to the Law that absolutely changes our relationship to it. Jesus says the same basic thing in Matthew 5:17-18 when He says, ““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.”
The something Christ has done is that he has fulfilled the Law for us. The word fulfill here means to fill up, render full or complete. Jesus did not abolish the Law, but he did render it full and complete in his life. What this means is that for the New Covenant believer the Law has already been fulfilled for you in the life of Jesus. As God took on flesh and entered humanity he had a record of written requirements that were necessary in order for a person to live in righteousness. The Law gave the Old Testament people incredible clarity as to what this would look like. But the story of the Old Testament people also showed the absolute incapability of the people to keep the Law. Then, Jesus is born in Bethlehem and his parents were careful to follow all the Jewish laws about circumcision and the dedication of their first born to the Lord, things required by the Law. Then Jesus lives in obedience to his parents honoring them throughout his childhood (Luke 2:51). He grows up in a small town where he works as a carpenter alongside his father and among his brothers. Once he begins his ministry he continues to demonstrate a life perfectly fulfilling the Law of God and pleasing God the Father. Jesus is directly tempted by Satan after fasting for 40 days and nights. He is physically and emotionally vulnerable, but in each temptation Jesus responds to Satan by quoting Scripture and maintaining humble obedience to the commands of God. He attends the commanded festivals and participates in the Jewish community. He keeps all the moral aspects of the Law, and goes way beyond observing the mere letter but fulfills it to the core of his being with his internal attitudes and values. He also, on multiple occasions gives people the opportunity to accuse him of sin. This includes the people of his hometown, the Jews in Jerusalem (John 8:46), the Sanhedrin on night of his trial, and the Roman governor Pilate. All he ever gets accused of is blasphemy, because Jesus claimed to be God. Now, let me be clear here, blasphemy is a sin if you are not God. But for Jesus it is not a sin because He is God. So even in his death, when every religio-political group is trying to find something to use in accusation, they can find no fault in him. I say all of this to explain that Jesus perfectly kept the Law in his humanity. But his keeping the Law was so much more than God giving us some example to follow. By keeping the Law Jesus was actually fulfilling it, bringing it to its intended conclusion.
This is important because it speaks to the very core message of the Gospel. Jesus fulfillment of the Law accomplished His representative obedience for us. If all we have in Jesus is an example as to how we should live, then his life is nothing more than another weight put on us adding to the weight of our responsibility to keep the Law. But what Jesus actually accomplished in fulfilling the Law is that He fulfilled it for me! And since he lived a perfect life and therefore did not fall under the eternal consequences of sin Jesus died my death which took the penalty for my failure to keep the Law. When a Christian asks whether or not he or she should keep the Old Testament Law or tries to point out which Laws we are to keep, he is denying the central truth that in Christ I have already kept the Law. Christ’s substitutionary death paid the penalty for my law-breaking, and his representative life provides the entire basis for me to stand before God as a law-keeper. A follower of Jesus is fully and completely righteous before a holy God. But the righteousness he has is not his own, not on any level. It is a foreign righteousness, the righteousness of Christ imputed to him as a result of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Attempts to keep the Law on top of this are actually a denial of the finished work of Christ.
This is important for a second reason, and it is this. If as we read the Law we are trying to figure out how we are to be keepers of the Old Testament commands, then we are asking the Law to change us. I believe this issue is the core argument Paul is making in Romans 5-8. The Law shows us our guilt, but it is completely unable to render any remedy for that guilt. We are not changed by trying to figure out which laws we should be keeping or seeking to build up our inner discipline so we could keep those laws. Never worked, never will. If you don’t believe me, try going to a first grader who keeps getting in trouble and giving him or her a clear set of rules that they should follow. All the Law will do is give clarity to the child of how badly the mess up. But knowing the Law and adding rules to the Law has never really changed someone. Gospel transformation will never happen until you understand the Gospel and rest in the finished work of Jesus on your behalf. Transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit as we rest in the finished work of Jesus is what Paul refers to as the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus.
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
(Romans 8:1-4 ESV)
The mind set on the flesh in this passage is the person who is trying to discover how they can keep the rules and live by them. But the mind set on the Spirit realizes that the law was weakened by the flesh rendering me unable to do what it demands. But the Spirit of life has set me free because of Christ Jesus and has literally fulfilled the requirement of the law in us. Not just for us, but in us. So, rather than trying to figure out which laws to keep and what exactly the keeping of those laws might mean (should we take Saturday off or Sunday to honor the Sabbath), what we need to know is that our focus must be in the Gospel and the power of the Holy Spirit in us to transform our character from the inside out. We are not lawless people, we are people who have had the Law fulfilled for them, and in them. And we live in gracious obedience to Christ who saved us.