As a Christian, am I supposed to obey the Ten Commandments and all the other laws in the Old Testament? Just some of them? Or can I pretty much ignore them? Many Christians that I know would say yes to the first question, until you looked at the materials tag on their clothing, then they would change their answer to a yes to number 2. Few would likely admit to a yes to the third question, yet in reality I think most of us really do in practice. It appears like we follow some subset of the Old Testament law, but I suspect that is more coincidence than by design. Most likely what we are really doing is following the moral standards of the culture we grew up in, which for me was somewhat similar to the moral teachings of the Old Testament.
But regardless how we actually respond to the initial questions; how should we respond? I’m going to go out on a limb here and say #3, I can pretty much ignore them. After all Paul told me that I am no longer under the law, but am under grace; and he belabored the point quite extensively in Galatians.
Fulfilling the Law
But, you might ask, what about Jesus statement, in Matthew 5:17-19, that he came not to destroy the law, but to fulfill it? This is often times used to argue that we should still be living in accordance with the Old Testament Law, of which the Ten Commandments are a subset. But is that really what he meant by this statement?
Look at the rest of Matthew 5 and see what Jesus says. Six times you see him saying something to the effect of “You have heard that it was said … But I say to you …”. Some of these were concerned with traditions, but many of them were dealing with OT laws, including two of the Ten Commandments. While Jesus is not countermanding any of these laws, he does give fresh meaning to them and does it as one who has a higher authority than the Law, as one who is not bound by it.
Let’s look at another of Jesus teachings concerning the OT Law. In Mark 7:14-19 Jesus shares what it is that makes a man unclean, and notice that it does not include the food he might eat. The conclusion made by the author of Mark is that Jesus has declared all foods as being clean. And one does not have to read much of the OT Law do know that this statement is in serious conflict with the dietary portions of that law. If Jesus was demanding adherence to the OT Law, surely he would have not told us we could eat what we wanted.
How could Jesus be both fulfilling the Law, and negating part of it? Unless fulfilling the Law meant something other than advocating that we should still be living under that Law. Maybe, just maybe, Jesus meant that what the Law was intended to do, he himself actually accomplished; he fulfilled the intent of the Law.
So just what is the intent, or purpose, of the Law? Paul has a very interesting discourse concerning the purpose of the Law in Galatians 3:19-25. In this passage he says that the purpose of the Law was because of our sinfulness and was to be in effect until Christ had come (3:19). In verses 21-22 he says that the Law was put in charge to lead us to Christ, so that we might be justified by faith. And now that faith has come we are no longer under the Law.
So if the purpose of the Law is to bring sinful man to faith in Christ, and its purpose has been fulfilled when one comes to faith, then has Christ not fulfilled the Law for me? Indeed, the Law is still about, it is not abolished. But it is no longer applicable to me; it has accomplished its purpose and is no longer in charge.
A significant requirement of the OT Law was concerned with animal sacrifice, with a significant amount of that dealing with sin and its forgiveness. When I would break the requirements of the law, sacrifice was required to bring me back into a right standing with God.
The first 18 verses of Hebrew 10 discuss these OT sacrifices and compares them to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. Of most significance is that the blood of bulls and goats was unable to really deal with the sin in our lives, resulting in the requirement that they be offered repeatedly. And this is unlike the sacrifice of Jesus, made one time, and able to permanently deal with sin. And now, with my sin dealt with by the blood of Christ, there is no longer any need for sacrifice.
Here again we see a fulfillment of the Law. The OT sacrificial system was simply pointing ahead to the more perfect sacrifice of Jesus. And once that had been made, the OT sin sacrifices, an integral part of the Law, no longer had any value.
The Jerusalem Council
One of the early conflicts in the new church dealt with the question of applying the Law to Gentile believers. Just exactly what was required for a Gentile to be in relationship with God? Was faith alone sufficient, or was adherence to at least some part of the OT regulations required, in particular circumcision. While circumcision actually predates the Law and is not actually a part of it, the issues is still a valid one for this discussion. Need I be concerned with the requirements of the OT? Or not?
Acts chapter 15 finds the early church wrestling with this problem. And the result of this council is the recognition that circumcision, and the OT Law, are not applicable to Gentile believers, which includes me. Other than a handful of suggestions to keep them from being offensive to Jewish believers, there are no additional requirements imposed on the Gentiles, either to come to faith, or to live as believers.
So What About It?
All this is not to say that I am free to do whatever I want as a believer. I don’t believe that at all. But as a disciple of Jesus, it should be sufficient for me to follow his teachings. And they are, interestingly enough, summed up in a pair of passages from the OT:
Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as yourself.
Rather than get hung up with a bunch of rules to live by, simply seek to love God with all I am, and look out for the best interests of those around me.
For what it’s worth, I have no argument with any of the Ten Commandments, although I do with some of the rest of the Law. In my life I generally do fairly well with keeping this set of commandments, even though it is not done intentionally as a way to be acceptable to God. But I find it disturbing that so many people get bent out of shape over them being removed from court houses and schools. And most of those folks probably couldn’t even tell you what all 10 even are. Let’s focus on loving God, and our neighbors, and not try to enforce, or advocate, a code of conduct that we ourselves don’t follow for the most part.