Ask RC: Should Christians obey the Old Testament law?
Of course. Well, wait, it’s complicated. Most Christians agree that we are not to obey what Bible scholars call “the ceremonial law.” The notion that a believer must be circumcised was a critical battle while the New Testament was being written. And the apostles were clear that such was not only not required, but that those who did require it preached another gospel. Paul even wished that those who taught that view would emasculate themselves (Galatians 5:12). Christians disagree about the responsibility of the state to enforce the civil law that God gave to His people Israel. This is that portion of the law that called for the state to punish evil-doers.
What then, of the moral law? There are moral laws in the Old Testament that were neither ceremonial (part of the sacrificial system) nor civil. When, for instance, God forbids coveting our neighbors’ goods, there is no ceremonial instruction as to what should be done with those who do covet. Neither is there given a punishment from the state. Coveters were not, in Old Testament Israel, subject to jail, fines or flogging under the local sheriff.
All Christians are indeed required by God to obey His moral law, even that which He gave in the Old Testament. Some Christians, however, object. They say we are under grace, not law. That Christ, not Moses, is our law-giver. They argue that the law is a school teacher that drives us to Christ. To which I heartily concur. As long as we are careful. We are under grace, and not under law. That is, our Father is pleased with us already, because His Son lived a righteous life for us, and suffered the wrath of His Father in our place. The law can no longer condemn us. But, we do not in turn sin all the more that grace may abound (Romans 6:1). Christ is, likewise, indeed our law-giver, and as our lawgiver He tells us that not one jot or tittle of the law shall pass away until the heaven and earth pass first (Matthew 5:18).
And finally the law is, as stated, a school-teacher. It powerfully exposes our own inability to please God. It reveals our sin. It is the mark that we so dreadfully miss. How this truth, however, could lead us to believe that we therefore don’t have to obey the law dumbfounds me. If we have no obligation to keep the law, how does the law drive us to Christ? If it shows us our failure, are we then not called to succeed? Not only do I not understand why someone would feel the need to toss one use of the law (telling us what God requires of us) in order to protect a second use (showing us our need for Christ) but I don’t see how one can even be preserved without the other.
Of course the Old Testament doesn’t come color-coded, with ceremonial laws highlighted in red, civil laws in blue and moral in yellow. As I said, it can be complicated. But as we wrestle with these issues, let’s guard against our own antinomian temptations as zealously as we guard against our Pelagian temptations. Let us ever and always confess that we do not obey His law, and that we ought to.