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One of the most enduring arguments among religious scholars is “Which part of the Old Testament law has been done away with, and what parts are we still obliged to observe?”
The answer to that question is not “either / or.” Let me explain.
The Old Covenant Law was a complete package consisting of 613 civil and religious laws and regulations for Israel. It was designed to separate them from the world and lay a spiritual foundation that would lead to faith in Christ. It was, as the New Testament says, a shadow of the reality to come.
It was not so much “done away” as “fulfilled” in the Messiah, Jesus Christ. Christians are not under the Mosaic law. Rather, they are subject to the Law of Christ, expressed in love for God and fellow humans. The New Covenant is personal, spiritual, and relational in nature.
During his earthly ministry, Jesus did observe the religious customs and traditions of the Jewish people, but with a flexibility that often surprised even his supporters. For example, he upset the religious authorities by the way he treated the strict rules for keeping the Sabbath. When challenged, he explained that he was Lord of the Sabbath.
The Old Testament is not obsolete, it is an integral part of the Holy Scriptures. There is continuity between the two testaments. We can say that God’s covenant has been given in two forms: Promise and Fulfillment. We now live under the fulfilled covenant of Christ. It is open to all who believe in him as Lord and Savior. It isn’t necessarily wrong to observe the Old Covenant regulations pertaining to the specific forms of worship and cultural practices if you want to. But doing so does not make you any more righteous or acceptable to God than those who do not. Christians can now enjoy their true “Sabbath rest” – freedom from sin, death, evil, and alienation from God – in a relationship with Jesus.
That means that every obligation we have are obligations of grace, ways of living in and under the gracious covenantal promises of God and his faithfulness. All such obedience then is the obedience of faith, of trust in God to be true to his Word and faithful in all his ways. Our obedience is never meant to condition God to be gracious. He is gracious and so we want to live in ways that keep us receiving his grace extended to us daily in Jesus Christ.
If our salvation depended on our fulfilling the law, we would all be doomed. But thankfully, Jesus shares with us his fullness of life in the power of his Spirit.
I’m Joseph Tkach, Speaking of LIFE.