Similar to Christians in ages before, Christians today struggle with the significance, permanence, and place of the Old Testament Laws in our lives. This is compounded by those outside, namely from the homosexual community, whose consistent response to Christian objection to immoral behavior is that we are picking and choosing which laws to follow. We enforce some, regarding homosexuality for instance, and fail to enforce others, regarding mixed cloths, shellfish, and menstrual purity.
Those detractors raise and interesting point, because in one sense they are correct. It would be really bad and wildly inconsistent if we arbitrarily picked a randomly selected set of verses and made them obligatory while simultaneously randomly selecting another set of verses declaring them no longer binding. To their credit, I agree that this kind of pick and choosing would be terrible and inconsistent.
However, from one simple read through of the Old Testament every person knows that things have changed for Christians today. We no longer offer sacrifices. We no longer have a Temple. Not only so, but the New Testament explicitly lays those things out as changed. A large portion of the New Testament is about the controversy of what fulfilling the Law means now that Christ has come. Anyone who has the thinnest acquaintance with the Bible knows that fundamental things changed between the Old and New Testaments. And yet, anyone who has the thinnest acquaintance with the Bible knows there are some things that are exactly the same in the Old and New Testaments.
There is no doubt that we God desires us to be obedient to his Law. God makes that clear in the Old Testament and Jesus echoes that message in the New. But the question is what does obedience look like for us today?
Traditionally, when talking about what laws are different and which are the same Christians have talked about the threefold, or tripartite, divisions of the Law (moral, ceremonial, and judicial). While agreeing with this, I think there’s a better way of framing the issue. I’d prefer to divide them by Creation Law and Redemption Law.
For example, there are Laws in the Old Testament that when obeyed today will look exactly the same as they did in the Old Testament. These are creation laws. These laws are a part of the created order and obedience to them looks the same today as it did to Adam and Eve. Obedience to “Do not steal” looks the same today as it did in 1200 BC. Another example is found in Proverbs 12:10. “Whoever is righteous has regard for the life of his beast.” Obedience to this looks the same today as it did back then. Moses would have objected to animal abuse back then on the same grounds that I would today.
On the other hand, there are laws in the Old Testament that when obeyed today will look different than they did in the Old Testament. These are redemption laws. The New Testament teaches that Christians have been redeemed from the letter of the law and delivered to the spirit of the law. Ultimately, obedience is still what God desires, but it will look different today than it did then. For example, if someone asks if Christians obey and observe Passover, our answer should be a resounding “Yes!” God commanded his people to celebrate Passover. We shouldn’t just ignore this law by writing it off or abolishing it. We should obey it, but obedience for us looks different than it did in the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians 5:7-8, Paul even says Christians Passover celebrations will look different. In 300 BC, to celebrate the Passover they rid the house of actual yeast and prepared an actual lamb. In 2015 AD, we rid our house, the Church, of the yeast of malice and evil and gather around the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. We still keep the Law, but it has been fulfilled in Christ so our obedience looks different.
For Jesus, obedience looked like keeping Sabbath, celebrating feast days, not cutting the corners of his beard, having tassels on the corners of his garment, and not wearing mixed fabric. But it also looked like not stealing, not murdering, not coveting, not envying, and loving God with his whole heart.
So the question, “Should Christians obey the Law of Moses?” is a fundamentally flawed question. The question should be phrased, “How should Christians obey each of these specific commands within the Law of Moses?” The first step to answering that question is determining whether or not we are dealing with a Creation Law or a Redemption Law.
This begs the question, “Why? Why did God demand obedience in the minutiae of the lives of the Israelites and tell them to command all people to obey only to somehow change the rules in the middle of the game?”
In Galatians, Paul calls the Law a schoolmaster that was designed to bringing us to Christ. This means that majority of the Redemption Laws in the Old Testament would have served as a large-scale acted out audio/visual aid that was used to teach the people of God, both then and now, the concept of holiness. Essentially, God was teaching that we should distinguish and separate and He cares about those divisions. God is teaching us, through the Law, this rudimentary lesson that He cares about how things are done and that we obey and follow instructions.
When elementary teachers teach children to write, they give them fat, stubby pencils and special paper with the extra wide margins that has the silhouette of the letters they are making already printed on it. The elementary teacher does this full well knowing that when those children have matured and grown up, they will not be writing that way. But as it is now, they need to learn the basic concept.
When the military prepares troops for battle, they send them to boot camp where a drill sergeant will scream his head off about how their shirts are folded and how their bed is made. This seems strange because, as we all know, the military doesn’t actually care how you fold your clothes or make your bed. Boot camp is not the place all clothing retail workers are sent because it’s not really about the folding. Boot camp is the place where all the people who want to be in the military are sent because it’s really about following instructions no matter how small or insignificant. Because during the heat of battle when they say, “Do this. Go here. Shut that,” the last response they want to hear is, “Why?” So they find out whether or not you can follow instructions with shirts and bedding.
I believe this is what God is doing and majority of the laws we see in the Old Testament are Redemption Laws that were designed to teach God’s people that He cares deeply when we fail to follow instruction. However, if the two prior analogies are to be considered accurate and not faulty, we should see the Israelites mature and leave these visual aids behind. I believe that’s exactly what we see in people like Samuel, David, Jeremiah, and Hosea to name a few.
And Samuel said, ‘Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.’ (1 Samuel 15:22 ESV)
For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.
(Psalm 51:16-17 ESV)
For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:6 ESV)
Stand in the gate of the LORD’s house, and proclaim there this word. . .Do not trust in these deceptive words: ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ . . . Behold, you trust in deceptive words to no avail. Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, make offerings to Baal, and go after other gods that you have not known, and then come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, ‘We are delivered!’—only to go on doing all these abominations? . . . Behold, I myself have seen it, declares the LORD. Go now to my place that was in Shiloh…and see what I did to it because of the evil of my people Israel. And now, because you have done all these things, declares the LORD, and when I spoke to you persistently you did not listen, and when I called you, you did not answer, therefore I will do to the house that is called by my name, and in which you trust, and to the place that I gave to you and to your fathers, as I did to Shiloh. And I will cast you out of my sight. (Jeremiah 7:2-5, 8-15 ESV)
With maturity, these men were already beginning to distinguish between the outward, external, audio/visual aid and the true purpose of the lesson God was trying to teach them. These men understood what God was going to be doing in Christ. In the person of Christ, we have seen the Law lived out and perfectly fulfilled, so we don’t need the stubby pencil any more. We don’t need boot camp any more. We still need the lessons and principles that we were taught by our schoolmaster, the Law, but now that the schoolmaster has delivered us to Christ, we have reached full maturity and can put those rudimentary things away.
Now that Christ has come, we don’t have to keep the visual aid, but we must retain the principles. And Paul goes to great lengths in many of his letters in the New Testament to show us this. For instance, Moses said, “Don’t muzzle the ox while it treads out the grain,” (Deut. 25:4). Paul says, “Look at the principle and you’ll see God was actually concerned about Christian ministers and pastors back in Deuteronomy,” (1 Corinthians 9:9-11). That point was in there from the beginning. And those who were wise in the time of the Old Testament understood it.
God’s principles have never changed. His desire is obedience. He called Abram out and told him to obey. He brought Israel out of Egypt into the desert to teach them to obey. He kept them from going into the Promised Land because they failed to obey. Once in the land, the successful kings were the obedient ones and the destructive kings were the disobedient ones. God sent prophets to his people calling them to repent and obey. He removed them from the land and destroyed it because of their disobedience. Enter Jesus. In the New Testament. Giving the exact same command. Obey.
Jesus’ invitation is not, “Let me do all the obeying for you so you can go live how you want and then get to Heaven and say, ‘Oh. I didn’t need to obey. Jesus did that for me.’ “
Jesus’ invitation is, “I have come to show you what it means to perfectly obey the Law. If you want to be in my Kingdom and a part of my movement and catch onto this wave of the Holy Spirit, obey the Law with me and teach others to do the same.”
Jesus’ warning is, “One surefire way to know you aren’t in my Kingdom and a part of this movement is if you diminish, disregard, cancel, abolish, invalidate, repeal, annul, overrule, or usurp even the smallest of God’s commandments and teach others to do so.”
The Christian life is one of active, assured obedience. I don’t obey to obtain what I have already been given, a restored relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ, but I obey because it’s what my rabbi, my teacher, my leader, my God taught me to do…because it’s what He did.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations. . .teaching them to obey” – Jesus (Matthew 28:19-20)
This is Christianity.