Are Christians expected to obey the Old Testament law?

The Old Testament Law is comprised of those guidelines and statutes given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai. The Law can be sorted into three main categories. The moral law, such as rules against adultery and theft, define the behavior and actions God requires. The civil law, like restrictions against weaving two materials into one fabric or breeding mules, was designed to set apart God's chosen people from the environment around them. The ceremonial law, including all the regulations on sacrifices, explained what the Israelites needed to do to maintain their spiritual relationship with God.

Some believe all the Old Testament Laws are still relevant to all aspects of society. They hold it is the church's responsibility to develop a one-world kingdom that adheres to God's law before Jesus can return to rule over the Earth. This view, post-millennialism, is held by those who believe the church has taken the place of Israel in prophecy, a patently incorrect interpretation of Scripture. While some say that all of the Old Testament laws will return, others hold that the expression of those laws has changed. For instance, the observation of the Passover has altered slightly into Christian communion.

Most Christian theologies, however, agree that Christians are not required to fulfill the civil and ceremonial laws. The civil laws were given specifically to Israel to ensure their culture stood out from that of their pagan neighbors. Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection fulfilled the ceremonial laws—His sacrifice replaced all the sacrifices given in the Old Testament. Many, however, believe that the moral law is still active, some going so far as to say following the Ten Commandments is a requirement for salvation. Another popular belief is that the moral law still applies to Christians except for observing the Sabbath (Colossians 2:16-17). They argue that with Jesus' sacrifice, we no longer need to labor to keep the law, so we no longer need to rest—Jesus is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:9-11).

The problem with these explanations is that in no way did God differentiate between moral, civil, and ceremonial when He gave the Law to Moses. The Law was a cohesive whole, given to the nation of Israel for their use. Jesus' sacrifice established a change in the way we interact with God. "Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian" (Galatians 3:23-25). Jesus fulfilled the law and culminated the requirement of following it (Romans 10:4). In its place, we have the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2), which is expressed in Matthew 22:37-39: "love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself."

Do Christians need to obey the Old Testament Law? No. However, the Old Testament Law does provide guidelines for living the Christian life. The "moral" laws given to the Israelites describe practical ways to love God and others. It is as if the Israelites were given the rules for soccer and Jesus changed the game to a team marathon. Both sports require similar basics (moral laws), including good health and the ability to run. And both require devotion to the Coach and the team. But the rules (civil laws) are different—soccer having ten times as many—and the scoring (ceremonial laws) is changed. Instead of continually trying to rack up enough points to win, we runners simply run for the joy of it, knowing that Jesus already won and His victory is credited to our team (Romans 5:18-21).


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