The Mosaic Law and the Christian
Series: The Old Testament’s Relation to the New Testament Believer
Preaching PM Service July 1, 2012
TEXT: Colossians 2:12-14 – “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.”
There is much confusion in the minds of Christians about the New Testament believer’s relationship with the Old Testament. We know that when the New Testament came, it superseded the Old Testament. Yet we know, or have heard, that we should read and study the Old Testament just as we read and study the New Testament.
Here are some questions people ask about the Old Testament:
• What benefit is the Old Testament to the Christian today?
• Is there any sense in which believers are still under the Mosaic law?
• Is the Christian under the Old Testament as a system of justification?
• Should the Christian look to the Old Testament for guidance regarding the work, worship, and organization of the Lord's church?
• To what degree should the Christian see the Old Testament as binding in their personal lives or their personal walk with God?
• If there is little or nothing that is binding upon the New Testament believer from the Old Testament, why even bother with reading and studying the Old Testament?
Before looking at how the Old Testament is to be viewed by the New Testament believer, let’s first deal with the question of the relationship of the Mosaic law in the life of the believer.
Many people are confused about the relationship of the Christian to the Old Testament law (also called the law of Moses, or the Mosaic law, or usually simply, the law) specifically, so let’s deal with this question this week, and next time we meet, we’ll consider how the believer should view the Old Testament overall.
Let me warn you again, as I did when I announced this subject in this morning’s service, that we are going to be feasting on some of the meat of the Word. This is not easy stuff, or information filled with quaint illustrations. It’s going to be pure Bible, and lots of it. But I think you will find it very helpful in answering this question about the Christian’s relation to the Old Testament law that crops up at regular intervals by astute students of the Word.
1. First off, let me point out that GENTILE Christians were NEVER under the law of Moses in the first place. The Mosaic law, usually just referred to as “the law,” was a part of the Old Covenant, a covenant made between the Israelites and God at Mt. Sinai, and no other people groups, ethnic or spiritual. – Deuteronomy 5:1-2 – “And Moses called all Israel, and said unto them, Hear, O Israel, the statutes and judgments which I speak in your ears this day, that ye may learn them, and keep, and do them. 2 The LORD our God made a covenant with us in Horeb.”
There are many scriptures in both the Old Testament that say essentially the same thing as the text we just read, so we will not belabor this point.
2. Even Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, etc.—that is, those who came before the Israelites—were not under the Old Covenant – Deuteronomy 5:3 – “The LORD made not this covenant with our fathers, but with us, even us, who are all of us here alive this day.”
3. Therefore Gentile Christians were not required to be circumcised or keep any part of the law according to the decision of the Council of Jerusalem, a decision made under the guidance of the Holy Spirit in Acts 15.
Acts 15:24, the Jerusalem Council declared, “Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment.”
However, out of deference to the sensitivity of the Jews, Gentile believers were asked—though not required—to avoid certain practices that were particularly offensive to Jews. – Acts 15:28 – “For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; 29 That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.”
4. In addition, JEWISH Christians have been delivered from the law of Moses by being made members of the body of Christ – Romans 7:4-6 – “Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ; that ye should be married to another, even to him who is raised from the dead, that we should bring forth fruit unto God. 5 For when we were in the flesh, the motions of sins, which were by the law, did work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death. 6 But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.”
5. In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus said that He came to complete or put an end to the Law “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven.”
Jesus is not saying that the law was to continue in force as binding for all ages for the people of God. Quite the opposite, in fact. He’s saying that he was come to bring it to its fulfillment, or completion.
Vines Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words gives the following definitions for plēroō (πληρόω), the Greek word translated “fulfill” here: “complete, accomplish, fill up, end, finish, expire.”
Strong’s gives the following definitions for this word: “make replete, satisfy, execute, finish, verify, accomplish, complete, end, expire, fill (up), fulfill, fully preach, supply.”
The idea of COMPLETION is in view here, not destruction. How did he fulfill or complete the law? He did so by keeping all God’s law perfectly, and on the cross paying the penalty of the law in our place.
When we accept the free gift of salvation by grace through faith, we are “in Christ,” who is the fulfillment of all the law’s demands. Thus, the law was not destroyed or done away with, but fulfilled in Christ and therefore for the believer, it has no further function.
It still has a function for the lost though, as we’ll see when we look at the purpose and function of the law a little later. We’ll see that one function is to define sin for lost mankind and condemn sinners. Therefore, the law is never destroyed; it still functions for the purpose for what it was given.
It’s just that that function ceases to have any relevance for the believer who is in Christ who fulfilled all the law to perfection, and who paid the penalty of the curse of the law.
6. Thus, Paul teaches in Ephesians 2:14-16 that by His death on the cross, Jesus brought the Old Testament covenant to an end: “For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby.”
7. So Paul really does mean it when he says 1 Corinthians 6:12 – “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient [beneficial]: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.”
Paul unequivocally states here that all things are lawful to the believer (from the standpoint of the Mosaic law). Paul really means it, and he really means that the believer is free from ALL the law!
But he of course does not mean the believer can live any way he pleases. With the Holy Spirit inside him empowering him and giving him godly desires, he says, “Something may be legally lawful, but if it’s not beneficial to me spiritually or to others, I should choose not do it.”
In the second part of the verse he says, “Yes, all things are lawful from the standpoint of the law of Moses, but if something brings me under its power, that is, it is addictive in modern terminology, that is, it is something that controls me rather than the Holy Spirit controlling me, I should choose not do it.”
8. Later, in chapter 10, verse 23 of 1 Corinthians, Paul says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.”
He reiterates all things concerning the law are technically lawful, but if something is not beneficial or helpful, we should choose to avoid it. In the second part of the verse, he says that things that do not edify others or myself, I should avoid it.
The point is that Paul really does see the law as completely finished and filled up or accomplished or brought to completion through Jesus Christ, and thus the Christian is FULLY free from the law. There are no “laws” in the New Testament the believer must keep. However, there are commandments in the New Testament that we obey voluntarily out of love for Christ, not by compulsion.
Jesus said in John 14:15 – “If ye love me, keep my commandments.” Did you notice the change in focus in Jesus’ tone from that of the Ten Commandments? The Ten Commandments say, “Thou shalt…” or “Thou shalt not…”; Jesus says, “If you love me….” That’s a huge difference!
Even the motive for treating our fellow man well, which was part of the Ten Commandments too, is love. Paul said in Romans 13:8 – “Owe no man any thing, but to love one another: for he that loveth another hath fulfilled the law. 9 For this, Thou shalt not commit adultery, Thou shalt not kill, Thou shalt not steal, Thou shalt not bear false witness, Thou shalt not covet; and if there be any other commandment, it is briefly comprehended in this saying, namely, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. 10 Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.”
So there is a new energizing factor powering the conduct of the believer: love for God and man, not compulsion.
9. Well, what then was the purpose of the law? In Romans 3-7 and Galatians 3, Paul teaches that there were two basic functions of the Old Testament law:
• In Romans 3-7, Paul teaches the universal purpose of the law to show mankind, Gentiles in particular, their sinfulness before God.
Let’s look at three scriptures in Romans in particular:
In Romans 3:19-20, he tells us that the law was given to show what sin was, and to show mankind that they are guilty before God – “Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.”
Paul says essentially the same thing in Romans 5:20 – “Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.”
And in Romans 7:7, Paul said, “What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
And at the end of verse 13, Paul says, “…that sin by the commandment might become exceeding sinful.”
So what is Paul teaching in these verses? In all of these scriptures, Paul teaches that one of the primary purposes of the law is to show what sin is so that the lost would see its lost and condemned condition before a holy, just God. The law reveals the holy character of God, something that is eternal for it is intrinsic in God’s nature as infinitely holy.
When a lost person reads the Ten Commandments, he is stricken with conviction, and his mouth is stopped from proclaiming his goodness and he realizes that he is guilty before such a holy God.
Illus. – I remember giving the plan of salvation to a South African woman when we were ministering in England. When I read Romans 3:23, I asked her, “Fiona [not her real name], do you recognize that you are a sinner?”
She said, “Oh, no, I’m not a sinner.”
Taken aback, I said, “You mean you’ve NEVER sinned?
“Oh, no. Never.”
So I went to Exodus 20 and went through each of the ten commandments, explaining each one and adding what Jesus added about how hating was murder in our hearts and lust was equivalent to God with committing adultery in our hearts. By the time I got to command 6 or 7, she bust into tears and said, “Oh, I’m guilty of ALL those sins. What am I going to do?”
Her heart was now prepared to be told about Christ as the remedy for her sin when the law condemned her.
The law shuts the mouths of sinners from proclaiming their goodness. It was given as a spiritual mirror to show us how dirty we are before God and how far short we have fallen from God’s standard of perfect holiness.
Illus. – I remember when our son Chris was about two or three years old. He was invited to a birthday party and he was all excited about it. Susan had gotten him all washed up and dressed in the cutest little solid-white sailor outfit you ever saw. When she got him ready, she went to get herself dressed.
In the meantime, Chris wanted to go outside, so without thinking (typical man), I let him go in the back yard for a few minutes to play. Big mistake! You see, Chris had a strange passion for DIRT! And when I came out to check on him, his face and that cute little white sailor outfit was covered with dirt. When he saw me, he said, “We go birfday party now?”
I said, “Chris, I can’t take you like that! You’re covered with dirt from head to toe! I’ll have to wash you up and change your clothes.”
Thinking he was going to miss the party, he said, “No, I not dirty. I clean.”
“No, you’re not. You’re dirty. You’ve got to get cleaned up.”
“Uh-uh, I clean.”
“No, you’re dirty as you can be.”
He started to cry and kept saying, “I not dirty! I not dirty! I clean!”
So I took him to the bathroom and put him up before the mirror, and when he saw himself—that stopped his mouth—just like God’s Law stops our mouth from saying how good and clean we are.
That’s what the law does. It’s a mirror to stop the mouths of the unbeliever from denying his dirtiness before a clean and holy God.
But see, here’s the problem: the law doesn’t offer a solution to mankind’s sin; it only reveals guilt. In fact, it COMPOUNDS guilt, for we saw earlier how Paul said ‘the law entered that the offence might abound”. This is why Paul said in Romans 3:20 – “Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight…” You can’t be saved by the law; it only condemns and curses.
This function of the law—to reveal man’s sinfulness before God—apparently continues for that purpose for lost Gentiles even in the New Testament era, but note that this is solely a function for NON-BELIEVERS, not believers since they are in right standing before God as justified.
• Paul tells us in Galatians 3, that the purpose of the law for THE JEWS was to lead them to Christ by showing them that they could not save themselves by obedience to the law.
This is the whole thrust of this chapter, but let’s look at two passages in particular:
In verse 19 Paul says, “Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made…”
Its purpose was only until the seed should come, speaking of Jesus. That is, it always was meant to be temporary.
Then Paul says in verses 23-25 – “But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.”
A schoolmaster is the Greek word paidagōgós (παιδαγωγός, Strongs 3807) A paidagōgós was not, as commonly thought, a teacher or a principle. He was a servant whose responsibility it was to lead a boy to his teacher. But when he was brought to the teacher, the paidagōgós job was done. His job was not to teach the child, but to bring him to the teacher.
Again, this function for unsaved Jews is not for the New Testament believer, but for the lost Jew who was seeking to be justified by the works of the law.
As I said before, the law does not offer a solution; it only condemns. No Jew could fully keep the law, though many tried mightily. Yet James says that if a person keeps the whole law, but offends in one single solitary point…he is guilty of the WHOLE law. Thus, Paul says, the law was designed to show the lost Jew his need for Christ so that he could be justified by faith. It was his paidagōgós whose task was to bring him to Christ by faith.
In conclusion, taking all this into consideration, it is abundantly clear that the Old Testament law is not binding or even helpful for saved people IN ANY SENSE (except as a guide to believers to understand the holy character of God). Rather, the law is FOR LOST PEOPLE, to reveal their sinfulness and their need for a Savior.
Several scriptures tell us this very thing:
1 Timothy 1:8 – “But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully; 9 Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, 10 For whoremongers, for them that defile themselves with mankind, for menstealers, for liars, for perjured persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine.”
Paul makes it quite clear here that trying to apply the law to the New Testament believer is “unlawful,” that is, it is not allowed. The law is ONLY for the unsaved sinner to reveal his sin and corruptness.
Paul says to the believers in Romans 6:14 – “For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.”
In Galatians 3:10, Paul says that anyone under the law is under a curse: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” – Why is a law-keeper under a curse?—Because that’s all the law ever was MEANT to do: to condemn and curse the lost Gentile as well as the religious, self-righteous lost Jew so that they would see their sinfulness and helplessness to save themselves by obeying the Law, and recognize their need for Christ to save them from their sins.
Finally, Paul tells us in Galatians 3:14 that the believer is redeemed from the curse of the law – “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.”
The curse of the law is that condemnation and guilt that the law inevitably brings. But Jesus bore that curse and that condemnation and that guilt on Him so we who are saved by faith in Jesus Christ are free from both the law and the curse of the law and are free to live in the liberty of the believer governed by the law of love.
Hence, Paul says in Colossians 2:12-14 that through faith, the Colossian believers were made alive with Christ and forgiven of their sins and then he says this of Christ’s death on the cross: “Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross.”
THIS is how Jesus fulfilled, completed, accomplished, finished the law for the believer. He nailed it to the cross; making it obsolete for the believer, for once the believer has recognized his guilt before the holy God and placed his faith in Christ for salvation, the law has no further function for him.