Do I have to keep the Old Testament law? The Ten Commandments? (part 2)

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**This is part two of a three part blog. You can read the first part HERE.

My answer to the question, “Do I have to keep the Old Testament law? The ten commandments?,” was no. Christians do not have to keep the Old Testament law, not even the ten commandments. In my last blog I tried to lay a foundation that will help the conversation along. In this blog I’m going to give you a biblical argument that supports my answer. I’m attempting to keep it short, so if you’d like more clarification please ask!

1.) The Old Testament law, including the ten commandments, was given to a specific people for a specific time. This point is simple but huge. The Old Testament law (the Mosaic or Old Covenant) was not given to every human on the planet, but to the nation of Israel. God commanded the Israelites to keep a conditional covenant in the promise land that would lead to either blessings or curses (see Deut. 28). Think about this: you are not a part of the group of people the commands were aimed at. Let me ask you, have you ever read God’s command to Noah to build and ark and thought, “I’ve got to get on it. God wants me to build a huge boat in my backyard.” Of course not! You recognize that the command to build a boat is a part of a larger story AND that the command was directed at an individual for a specific time. It’s the same with the Old Testament law. It is part of a larger story, directed to a specific nation for a specific time. We do the law a disservice when we separate it from its larger context and think, “God is commanding me to do these things.”

2.) Even if you were under the law, sharing in Christ’s death sets you free from it. In Romans 7 Paul makes an amazing argument to individuals who believe they are obligated to keep the Old Testament law. In verses 1 – 6 Paul reminds us that laws are only binding on a person while he or she lives. He uses marriage as a perfect example (the law to stay married is not in effect if one spouse dies). We can get this idea from our own experience. You can’t go to the cemetery and try to enforce laws on people who have long been dead. Here’s Paul’s kicker: if you believe in Jesus, you have died with Him. So even if you were under the Old Testament law at one point, because of sharing in Jesus’ death, you no longer are. You are dead to the law and alive to Christ, and so under Christ and not the Old Testament law.

3.) The early church already answered this question for us. In Acts 15 the early church, including the apostles, dealt with this question. Paul’s missionary efforts had seen hundreds of Gentiles come to faith in Christ. A controversy quickly arose over Gentiles and the law; namely, do they have to keep it (Acts 15:1, 5). The Gentile church came up with the great idea of sending a delegation to Jerusalem and asking the elders and apostles what they should do. Their conclusion: “My judgement is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood.” You can argue about why they prohibited these specific things (I believe it was to maintain fellowship between Jew & Gentile). What you can’t do is say the apostles taught Gentiles to keep the Old Testament law. They didn’t say, “Just keep the moral parts and you’ll be good,” or, “tell them to keep the ten commandments.” That quite settles the issue for me: I’m a Gentile and the apostles said, “it seemed good to the Holy spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden [than the aforementioned requirements].”

4.) The Old Testament law has an expiration date. If Acts 15 wasn’t enough to convince you then consider Galatians 3:23 – 29, especially verse 24. “So then, the law (notice lowercase ‘l’) was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith.” My favorite word in that verse is ‘until.’ This serves to reinforce the first point I made. God gave the Old Testament law to a certain group for a specific time. The law has an ‘until,’ an expiration date. It was never meant to be premaritally enforced. God gave it with a specific purpose and time period in mind. That’s precisely why the work of Jesus is called the New Covenant. It replaces the Old Covenant. The author of Hebrews puts it this way, “In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away” (Heb. 8:13)

In part three of this blog I’m going to try to wrap this up by doing three things: 1) explain why I believe there is so much confusion on this issue, 2) explain what law we do have to keep, and 3) explain what we are supped to do with the Old Testament law.

I’m a big believer in giving credit where credit is due. My thinking on the Old Testament law has been great impacted through hours of conversation with Jay Todd (one of our former pastors and current Assistant Professor of Philosophy and Religion at College of the Ozarks). Jay is a godly man, biblical scholar, and an expert in the book of Deuteronomy. You can listen to a sermon he preach at our church, “The laws: what do we do with them” HERE.

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