This is probably the clearest and most understandable article I have read on the Law of God. This article should liberate the confused. by James Fowler.
God instituted the Law with planned obsolescence. There was a divinely determined termination of the Law. There is Scriptural evidence for the finality of the Law and the awareness that "Christ is the end of the Law..." (Rom. 10:4).
Jesus was "born under the Law" (Gal. 4:4)
and circumcised according to the Law (Luke 2:21).
He went to the temple at twelve years of age (Luke 2:42), apparently to become a "son of the Law."
During His ministry He was agitated at the Jewish leaders and lawyers who "neglected the commandment" (Mark 7:8),
"set aside the commandment" (Mark 7:9),
"transgressed the commandment" (Matt. 15:3), and
"invalidated the word of God" (Mark 7:13; Matt. 15:6),
by setting their own religious traditions and interpretations ahead of the Law.
On the other hand, we observe Jesus disassociating Himself from the Law. When speaking to the Jews He referred to "your Law" (John 8:17; 10:34). When speaking to His disciples of the Jews, He refers to "their Law" (John 15:25).
On occasion He seems to reinterpret the Law. Repeatedly in Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus contrasts the statement of the Law and His own statement. "The Law says....., but I say.....," thereby reinterpreting the Law.
The relativity of the Law is indicated in Mark 10:2-12 when Jesus explained that it was "because of your hardness of heart that Moses wrote this commandment" granting the right of divorce.
Jesus violated the Law of the Sabbath repeatedly (Matt. 12:1-14), and explained that "the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."
Despite the admonition not to "add to" commandments (Deut. 4:2; 12:32), Jesus does just that, saying, "A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another as I have loved you" (John 13:34).
Having disassociated Himself from the Law by referring to "your Law" in John 10:34, Jesus goes on to quote their Law from Psalms 82:6. In His explanation of the use of this quotation Jesus makes a parenthetical comment, "and the Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10:35). Those who assert the inviolability of the Law use this verse to affirm the continuation of the Law. It is more likely that Jesus is being somewhat facetious and sarcastic, throwing their superstitious hermeneutical attitudes about the Law right back into their faces. His intended meaning seems to be, "You want to take every detail of the Old Testament in a direct, physical, literal sense; and if you do so, using your hermeneutics, then you cannot object to My calling Myself, God." He was exposing how religion so often reveres the Law, deifies the Law, and uses it for its own purposes.
On another occasion just after explaining the historical parameters of the Law "until John" (Luke 16:16), Jesus goes on to say, "But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail" (Luke 16:17). Skirting around the contradiction with the preceding statement, some have used this verse as a proof-text for the continuation of the Law. The context, once again, lends itself to the understanding that Jesus was caricaturing the rigid religious hermeneutics of the Pharisees. "It is more likely that the sky will fall down in a cosmic melt-down, than that you fellows will give up on a single point of your traditional and invalid Law-interpretations, which you use for your own self-justification (vs. 15); and what you do with the Law is detestable in the sight of God (vs. 15)."
The most popular proof-text of those who argue for the continuity of the Old Testament Law is Matthew 5:17-20. A more prolonged explanation of these verses is therefore in order.
"Do not think that I came to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I did not come to abolish,..." (Matt. 5:17). The Greek word for "abolish" is kataluo, which has a root meaning "to set loose." Jesus was fully aware than He was inaugurating a "new covenant," radically different from the old covenant and the purpose of the Old Testament Law. But neither was it His purpose to disconnect or detach the old from the new. The same God was acting perfectly from the beginning. Jesus did not come to be an iconoclast, a Law-basher! He did not come to set loose the Law from its moorings in the activity of God. He did not come to set the Law adrift as a meaningless "social experiment" in religion and morality from the past. He did not come to "trash" the Law, to denounce it derisively as God's disaster of the Old Testament. He did not come to discount and devalue and defame the Law of the Old Testament as a failure, a fiasco, a "dud," a "raw deal," a plan that did not work. He did not come to write the Law off as God's mistake, as wrong, useless, having no good purpose. He did not come to demolish and tear down the Law in contempt and disgust. He did not come to denigrate, deprecate, depreciate, or decimate the Old Testament Law with disdain and derision. Jesus knew that the Law had served God's good purposes historically, both essentially and instrumentally.
Jesus then continues, "I came to fulfill the Law" (Matt. 5:17). In other words, "I came to fill the Law full; to bring to full fruition all that the Law pointed to pictorially and custodially." "I came to fulfill the Law, by being the dynamic directive of God, the living Torah, in the lives of His People." To "fulfill" means more than just to fulfill the promises and the prophecies historically. It carries with it the theological meaning of completing, actualizing, consummating the Law by becoming its full intended content.
"Until heaven and earth pass away, not iota or even one stroke of the Law shall pass away..." (Matt. 5:18). God's purposes for the Law are as firmly positioned as the heaven and the earth. There is a definite purpose for how the earth turns in the heavens. There was a definite purpose for the Law. But they both "come around" (parerxomai) to a "new day."
The Law does not "pass away until all is accomplished." The Greek word for "accomplished" is ginomai meaning "to become, to happen, to take place, to come to pass." When did all that God intended for the restoration of His creation in mankind happen or take place? In the death, resurrection, ascension and Pentecostal outpouring of Jesus Christ. God's purposes for the Law were accomplished in Jesus Christ. God's purpose for the restoration of His life to man was accomplished.
"Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19). Christians are participants in the "kingdom of heaven." (Luke 17:21). A Christian who "sets loose" (same Greek word, kataluo, as was used in vs. 17) to the Law, who discounts, devalues, derides, denigrates or disconnects the Law from the perfect activity of God, shall be called "least" because he is doing a disservice in misrepresenting God's perfect activity in human history.
"...but whoever keeps and teaches the commandments of God shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:19). How are we as Christians going to keep the commandments? The essential intent of the commandments is kept as Jesus functions as the Law-keeper in and through the Christ, manifesting the character of God by the grace of God. Those who live by grace and teach grace shall be called "great" in the kingdom of heaven.
"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matt. 5:20). Righteousness does not come by the law (Rom. 3:20,28; 10:4; Gal. 2:16,21; 3:11; 5:4). Human efforts to keep the Law produce only pseudo-righteousness, self-righteousness, unrighteousness. Such was the religious striving of the scribes and Pharisees. The righteousness that God desires in the Christian "comes from God on the basis of faith" (Phil. 3:9). It is the result of Jesus Christ, "the Righteous One" (I John 2:1) living in us. Righteousness in Christian behavior is the fruit (Eph. 5:9) of the Spirit of Christ manifesting His divinely righteous character in our behavior, evidencing "good works" which "glorify the Father in heaven" (Matt. 5:16). Such righteousness certainly surpasses the so-called righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees and evidences that we are participants in the kingdom of heaven.
In this important passage Jesus has affirmed the historical purposes of the Law but has not necessarily "confirmed" the continued efficacy of the Law. Much of the misunderstanding and misinterpretation of the import of Jesus' words is due to mistranslation of key words such as "set loose" and "fulfill."
Continuing then, we shall consider the affirmation of the Law in other passages of the New Testament.
Writing to the Romans Paul rhetorically asks, "Do we then nullify the Law through faith? May it never be! On the contrary we establish the Law" (Rom 3:31). Those who advocate continued application of the Law are quick to affirm that "the Law is not nullified," rather "the Law is established." Paul uses the Greek word katargeo, which is here translated "nullified." At the root of this word are two other Greek words, a meaning "no," and ergeo meaning "work." Paul is asking, "Are we saying that the Law did not work, that it was a failure historically? Most definitely not. We establish that the law served God purposes. We affirm that the Law "stands" within its historic purposes and validate the Law as having fulfilled its purposes." Contextually, Paul seems to be making the point that the disengagement of the Law does not necessarily crate an antinomianism which would allow for behavioral chaos in lawlessness, as would have been the assumption of Jewish thinking.
In Romans 7 Paul affirms the Law and its purposes in several verses. "The Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good" (Rom. 7:12). "The Law is spiritual" (Rom. 7:14). "...I agree with the Law, ...that it is good" (Rom. 7:16). Obviously Paul is not equating God and the Law as some seem to do, and thus in effect deify the Law. God is good and holy and righteous. Nothing else can be said to be "good and holy and righteous, in the same sense that God is essentially good and holy and righteous. Attributes of God are not to be attributed to something else. The statement that Paul makes here in Romans 7 must mean that the Law serves a beneficial purpose that is good, holy and righteous. Contextually, Paul is making the point that the Law is not to be faulted for our sinfulness. "Is the Law sin? May it never be (Rom. 7:7). The Law is good. There is nothing wrong with the Law. It served an instrumental purpose to expose our indwelling sinfulness (7:17). The Law is "spiritual." Not that it provided the indwelling dynamic of the Spirit of Christ, but it was used by the Spirit of God to serve the purposes of God. It was used instrumentally for a spiritual purpose, so that the law-directive of God might be internalized in out spirits (Heb. 8:10; 10:16), rather than just externalized in directives for external behavioral activities.
In Romans 8:4 Paul explains that "the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit." Walking by the Spirit, allowing the Spirit of Christ (8:9) to live in and through us, allows the character of God in Christ to be expressed in our behavior. This is what the Law required, but it did not provide the necessary enabling to fulfill.
I Cor. 7:19 is another text which affirms the Law but is often used to confirm the continued application of the Law. "Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God." Using the man-made categories of Law, some argue that the ceremonial Law does not matter, but what matters is keeping the commandments of the moral law. Such employment of arbitrary categories for Biblical exegesis is illegitimate. It is more contextually appropriate to recognize that Paul was combatting the legalism that was being introduced into the Corinthian congregation by false teachers in contradistinction to his gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Why would Paul capitulate and say that we should keep some of the Law, but not all of the Law, when he notes the inconsistency of such elsewhere? (Gal. 3:10;5:3) Paul is eschewing the keeping of all law and indicating that since we are "joined in one spirit with the Lord Jesus Christ" (6:17), what really matters is allowing the divine directive of the Lord Jesus Christ to function in and through us to manifest the character of God.
"Is the Law then contrary to the promises of God? May it never be!" (Gal. 3:21) Paul is arguing that the promises given by God to Abraham (3:16) 430 years prior to the giving of the Law to Moses (3:17), have precedence over the Law. This does not mean that the Law is to be disdained or discounted as contrary or contradictory to the promises of God. The Law simply served its historical, instrumental purpose "until the seed" (Jesus Christ) should come, concerning whom the promise had been made.
James writes, "...if you judge the Law, you are not a doer of the Law, but a judge of it" (James 4:11). Some have claimed that to teach the inefficacy of the Law for Christians today is to "judge the law" as invalid, and thus to violate the intent of God. James is writing to Christians within a new covenant context. He explains that when we set ourselves up as self-appointed arbiters to criticize, condemn, find fault and judge our Christian brother, we set ourselves up to "play God," to "play Holy Spirit" in the life of another. This is an attempt to usurp the role of the Lordship of Jesus Christ in the life of our brother. There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the Savior, Jesus Christ. We must never set ourselves above Him, attempting to judge or criticize or find fault with how He wants to implement His activity and character in another Christian brother. Instead, we are responsible to allow the "royal law" (2:8) of God's love, the "perfect law" (1:25), to be expressed in our behavior.
Another favorite proof-text of those advocating continued efficacy of the Law is I John 2:3,4 - "We know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, 'I have come to know Him,' and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him." "Keeping His commandments" is not synonymous with keeping all the commandments of the Old Testament Law. All that Jesus inculcated by way of commandment in all of His imperatives, carry with them the understanding that He, Himself, is the keeper of His own commands, the dynamic of His own demands. The behavioral outworking of the character of Christ evidences that we "know Him" in personal relationship, union, communion and intimacy with the Lord Jesus Christ, and that the personal Truth of Jesus Christ (John 14:6) dwells in us, which is the only way anyone can manifest the character of God.
John later writes, "Everyone who practices sin also practices lawlessness; and sin is lawlessness" (I John 3:4). Those who advocate continued law-keeping usually define sin as the failure to keep the Old Testament Law, and that because they have effectively equated Law with God and deified the Law. Sin is not to be defined merely as violation of Law, but as that which violates and is contrary to the character of God, which the Law was used to reveal partially in its essential purpose. The "mark that is missed" in sin is not a Law target, but the character of God. This verse is set in the context of explaining the incongruity of sinful behavior in the Christian life, because it is misrepresentative of the character of the One who indwells the Christian.
Again in I John 5:2,3, John urges Christians to "love God and observe His commandments. This is the love of God, that we keep His commandments." The keeping of God's commandments is fulfilled in the outworking of Christ's life in Christian behavior. Loving character is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom. 13:8,10; Gal. 5:14). The character of the "God who is love" (I John 4:8,16) is manifested in the Christian. The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom He has given us" (Rom. 5:5).
In the sequences of Scriptures we have quoted concerning the affirmation of the Law, we note that the Old Testament Law is affirmed throughout the New Testament by Jesus, Himself, and by the New Testament writers. The Old Testament Law is affirmed as having been enacted, and thus the activity of a perfect, righteous God. There is nothing wrong with the Law. The Law is not sinful (Rom. 7:7). The Law is not to be denigrated or deprecated. These verses affirm God's historical purpose in using the Law as His instrument. They affirm that God accomplished what He wanted to accomplish with the Old Testament Law. It was not a failure or a disaster. It is not to be denounced and discounted as having had no good purpose.
What these verses do not affirm is the necessity of the continued use of the Old Testament Law today. They do not confirm the contemporary and/or perpetual efficacy of the Old Testament Law. Those who insist on the continued implementation of the Old Testament Law so often wrest their proof-texts from the context of the Scripture passages where they are found. These interpreters reveal an inadequate understanding of the new covenant provision of the grace of God in the risen Lord Jesus.
The Old Testament Law is affirmed as having been used historically by God, but not confirmed as continually efficacious. The next series of Scripture references explain the abrogation of the Law, that the Law has been repealed, annulled, abolished and rescinded.
The Law was inadequate to restore God's intent for man. The Law did not have a vital or functional purpose. It could not impart life (Gal. 3:21), and could not make anyone righteous either in spiritual condition or behavioral expression (Rom. 3:20,28; Gal. 2:16,21; 3:11; 5:4).
The Law could not free man from that which held him in bondage. Paul refers to "all of the things, from which you could not be freed through the Law of Moses" (Acts 13:39).
There was no perfection through the Levitical priesthood and the Law (Heb. 7:11), therefore "a change of law" was required (Heb. 7:12), which involved "setting aside the former commandment" (Heb. 7:18), the Old Testament Law, invalidating the Law because of it weakness and uselessness. "The Law made nothing perfect" (Heb. 7:19). It was unable, inadequate, deficient to bring about God's intended objective to restore mankind by the presence of God in the man.
The Law was inadequate. "If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no occasion sought for a second" (Heb. 8:7).
The Law was also temporary. It was not established as a permanent basis of relationship between God and man. The Law and the Levitical priesthood were temporary, whereas Jesus Christ "abides forever, and holds His priesthood permanently" (Heb. 7:24).
The temporality of the Law is explicitly revealed in Heb. 8:13 - "He made the first (covenant) obsolete." The writer of Hebrews explains the obsolescence of the Law by using the Greek word palaioo, meaning "to make old, antiquated, out-moded, out-dated, a thing of the past." It was growing old, decaying, falling apart, and ready to vanish, disappear, be abolished. The service of the Law "fades away" (II Cor. 3:11) and no longer has glory. God "takes away the first (covenant) in order to establish the second (covenant)" (Heb. 10:9). The old is rescinded, removed, repealed, revoked.
An important verse for our consideration is Romans 10:4 - "Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." It has already been noted that the Law was not an end in itself, but an instrumental "means to an end." That "end" is Jesus Christ. The Greek word for "end" is telos. This word can mean terminal-end, objective-end, or completion-end; terminus, objective or fulfillment. It could be argued that in Christ Jesus God intended the termination of the law being used to try to establish religious righteousness. We know, of course, that the Law continues to be misused by religionists to establish righteousness. Jesus Christ was the end-objective of the Law, the One to whom the Law was pointing in its instrumental purpose. Jesus is therefore the fulfillment and completion of the divine objective for the Law, thereby terminating the purposes thereof. The temporality of the provisional purposes of the Law were fulfilled, so that Christ is seen as the end-objective of the Law.
The Scriptures also indicate the abolishing of the Law. Paul wrote to the Ephesian Christians of Jesus Christ "abolishing...the Law of commandment in ordinances" (Eph. 2:15). Jesus idled the Law. He unemployed the Law. He "laid it off," terminated its work. He disengaged the services of the Law, discharged the Law. Its job, its purpose was abolished.
The occasion of Christ's negating the effectual employment of the Law is revealed in Colossians 2:13,14 where Paul refers to Christ's "having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us...", that on the cross. "Canceling out" translates the same word used in Heb. 7:18, "setting aside." The word was used as a legal term and meant to annul, to repeal, to revoke, to rescind. It implies that the Law was abrogated and invalidated. The behavioral requirements of the Old Testament Law were "set aside," "canceled out," made void, vacated, negated, terminated and displaced. Jesus "paid the price" and "redeemed us from the curse of the Law" (Gal. 3:13), "redeeming those who were under the law" (Gal. 4:5).
Disassociation from the Law is also evidenced in Romans 3:21, when Paul explains that "now apart from the Law, the righteousness of God has been manifested, having been witnessed to by the Law and the prophets." Jesus Christ, "the righteousness of God," has been manifested by His incarnation. This was prophetically witnessed to be the Law and the prophets, but Jesus has come without any association with the Law to bring righteousness by God's grace.
The subjective implications of the abolishment of the Law's authority in the lives of Christians are explained in several New Testament passages.
In the beginning verses of Romans 7 Paul uses the analogy of a wife no longer subject to a dead husband, but subject to a new husband. The point he makes is that Christians are no longer subject to the Law. "You were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ, that you might be joined to another, to Him who was raised from the dead, that we might bear fruit for God" (Rom. 7:4). The Law no longer has jurisdiction in the Christian's life. We are spiritually joined to the Lord Jesus Christ who has all jurisdiction in our life. L.S. Chafer writes
"The Christian is now under obligation to Christ. He is 'inlawed' to Christ. He has only to fulfill 'the law of Christ.' Certainly it is most unreasonable to propose that a woman should try to be obligated to two husbands at the same time: yet this is the divine illustration of the error of co-mingling the teachings of law and the teachings of grace. Spiritual polyandry is offensive to God."9
Continuing his argument Paul writes, "We died to that (the Law) by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter (of the Law)" (Rom. 7:6). The Law binds people up in rule-keeping. Christians are no longer bound to the law regulations, but are free to serve "in newness of the Spirit," in the spontaneity of the activity of the Spirit of Christ operative in us. Paul contrasts Law and Spirit indicating that they are mutually exclusive. There can be no combination or integration of the two.
The same either/or distinction is seen in Galatians 2:19, "I died to the Law that I might live to God." If one has not died to the Law, then he cannot live to God. If a Christian has not rejected the Law as having any efficacy in his life as a Christian, then he cannot live to God. All faith must be in Jesus Christ with no allowance for faith in the Law. This is why there is so little "living unto God" in Christian lives today. They have not accepted that they have died to the Law, and that they must therefore abandon and forsake all law-keeping. When there is any continued adherence to the Law, the Christian will not understand what Paul writes in the next verse: "It is no longer I who lives, but Christ lives in me" (Gal. 2:20). Thus it is that we "live to God" (2:19) by the "grace of God" (2:21), as the dynamic of the Christ-life is lived out through us. To fail to put all faith in the efficacy of the life of the indwelling Christ is to nullify the grace of God (2:21). Grace is rejected, negated, invalidated whenever the Christian in any way accepts that righteousness has any relation to law-keeping.
James S. Stewart explains the alternative like this:
"Nothing could be more explicit than the clear-cut alternatives presented to the Galatians: either the law, or Christ -- you cannot have both. A Christianity cramped in its action by the accoutrements of legalism was as little fit to face the world as David in Saul's hampering armour was fit to face Goliath. And any Christianity which hankered after the law was virtually denying the finality of Jesus. Were men slow to realize this? Bluntly Paul would force on them the question, Has Christ done all, or has He left something undone? You say, He has done all: then go on and draw the obvious conclusion -- the law can add nothing."10
One other verse may pertain to "dying to the Law." In Colossians 2:20 Paul refers to the Christian "having died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world." The concept of "elementary principles" may correspond to the Old Testament Law in Paul's thinking. (Cf. 2:16)
Christians have also been "released from the Law." Rom. 7:6 - "We have been released from the Law." In a subjective way Christians have been discharged, disengaged, "laid off" from the operational effect of the Law. The Law is not our boss! We have been released, let go, from any employment of the Law. We must not "go to work" for the Law any more. Such would be to reject our Lord Jesus Christ.
Several Scriptures indicate that Christians are not "under the Law." They are not under the jurisdiction of the Law and therefore not subject to the Law.
Using the analogy of the paidagogos for instrumental purpose of the Law, Paul explains that "we are no longer under a paidagogos" (Gal. 3:25). Christians are no longer under the directives and disciplines of the Law serving as a child-leader. We have "come of age" as full-grown "sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus" (Gal. 3:26), and are subject only to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
In I Corinthians 9:20 Paul again indicates that he, himself is not "under the Law," but the Jews, who had not received Jesus Christ, were still in a self-imposed, religiously imposed subjection to the Law. Paul continues to explain that he is "under the law of Christ," subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.
To the Romans Paul writes, "You are not under law, but under grace. Shall we sin, because we are not under law, but under grace? May it never be!" (Rom. 6:14,15). Christians are not subject to the Old Testament Law and its requirements. Does that mean that we become antinomian and revel in lawlessness, and run off into all sorts of sordid sin? No! Such would be to misunderstand "grace." Subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, Christians become "slaves of righteousness" (Rom. 6:16-22) as God activates His character of righteousness in our behavior by the dynamic of the life of the risen Lord Jesus. "Living under grace" will not lead to sin. The righteous character of God is contrary to all sin and will not manifest sinfulness in our behavior (I John 3:9).
Once again to the Galatians, Paul writes, "If you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." To be "led by the Spirit of Christ" is to be living "under grace," subject to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That dynamic of living is incompatible with being subject to the Law, and trying to keep the commandments of the Old Testament Law. Paul's argument here in Galatians chapter 5 is to explain the radical dichotomy of either being "under obligation to keep the whole Law" (5:3) or "walking in the Spirit" (5:16). He warns the Galatians Christians that they are mutually exclusive, entirely incompatible. There can be no merging, no integrating of Law and grace. It will be one or the other, and such will be evidenced either in "deeds of the flesh" (5:19-21) or the "fruit of the Spirit (5:22,23).
This sequence of Scriptural evidence seems to make abundantly clear that the Law has been abrogated and abolished for Christians. Though the Law if affirmed in its historic purposes, it is abrogated as God's means of relating to mankind.
Finally we must consider the application of the Law. Does the Law of the Old Testament have any application today? If it does apply, to whom does it apply, and what are its purposes?
What purpose would the Old Testament Law serve if it were still in effect? It might be said that the essential purpose of the Law is still served as the character of God is still revealed by the written Law. The essential purpose of the Law has been so far superseded by the superior revelation of the character of God by the Son, Jesus Christ, as to be severely limited and unnecessary. The "Son...reveals Him" (Matt. 11:27); "He has explained Him" (John 1:18); "Christ is the image of God" (Col. 1:15; II Cor. 4:4). If one wants to know about the character of God, he should look to Jesus, not to the Law.
The essential and instrumental purposes of the Law have both been served historically. Based upon the essential purpose of revealing the character of God, the Law served to reveal the sinfulness of man. Looking at the life of Jesus Christ serves as a far better revelation of God whereby man can recognize that sin is everything contrary to the character of God as revealed in the perfect life of Jesus Christ. The awareness of sinfulness is made in many other ways other than by the Old Testament Law. Self-centeredness, selfishness, narcissism, self-effort, inadequate performance, self-sufficiency, dysfunctionality, negativism, controlling tendencies, unlovingness, unhappiness, bitterness, resentment, anger, the inability to meet our own expectations, obsessions, compulsions, addictions, etc. are revealed to man over and over again by his own failures. It does not require Old Testament Law to reveal man's sinfulness today.
The preparational purpose of the Law has been completed. The pictures have become reality. The custodian is unemployed because the "people of God" have "come of age" in Jesus Christ. Only when the paidagogos is mistakenly cast in to the role of teacher or tutor does the misunderstanding of the analogy issue forth in the false projection of the Law as still having an educative, didactic or instructional purpose.
The Law never did have a behavioral or functional purpose, and it does not have such today. There is no dynamic for the doing of God's demands in the Law. The Law did not have a vital purpose. Life and righteousness and salvation are not a result of the Law. There is no valid purpose for the Old Testament Law to serve today.
To whom would the Old Testament Law apply if it did have a purpose?
Does the Law still apply to Jews? Is it still the basis of Judaism? The Law had a valid historical purpose for the Jewish people only from Moses until Jesus Christ. On the cross, Jesus exclaimed, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The preliminaries of the Law and of Judaism were terminated. The Jewish people, as an ethnic race, have disappeared. This is verified by the Encyclopedia Britannica: "The findings of physical anthropology show that, contrary to the popular view, there is no Jewish race."11 The religion of Judaism is but the shell of an antiquated religion that was rendered useless from Jesus Christ onward. God loves the people who still call themselves "Jews," whether on the basis of race, religion or nationality, but the Law has no application for them, and they must receive Jesus Christ by faith in order to be "God's People," spiritual "Israel."
Does the Old Testament Law apply to non-Christians? The Old Testament Law was intended originally and historically only for the Hebrew people of the Old Testament era.
Throughout history, social moralists, politicians and religionists have attempted to use the Old Testament Law as a universal standard that can be held up before, and "held over," societies of natural, fallen, sinful men to attempt to regulate their behavior. The Old Testament Law is thus cast as a divinely given "natural law" to be imposed on natural men and utilized for social constraint. How often have you heard someone say: "If men would just live by the Ten Commandments, we would have a just society."? False. It will never work. Laws, no matter what they are, "are of no value against fleshly indulgence" (Col. 2:23). Morality may be legislated, but it will never produce righteousness.
Is it wrong then to "use" God's Law as the basis of a "natural law" to control a natural society of natural men? Should the Old Testament Law be used for purposes other than those for which the Law was originally intended? When the Law of God is not used supernaturally by God for His own divine purposes, then the use of the Law by any other is a "natural" use of the Law, rather than God's supernatural use of the Law. If God is not utilizing His divine Law by His supernatural activity for His divine purposes, then the natural use of the Law is a misuse and abuse of the Law. If God is not using the Law in accord with His revealed purposes, then any other use of the Law is not of God. If the use of the Law is not derived out of God, ek theos, then it is necessarily Satanic, diabolically motivated to "control" other people, to put people in bondage, to manipulate people, to make them feel guilty and condemned and shamed. So the "use" of God's Law as "natural law," whether utilized as church law, governmental law, parental law, moral law, etc. is an "abuse" of God's Law, for it does not serve God's intended purposes for the Old Testament Law. God's Law used apart from God's purpose and function will never produce God's intents. Jacques Ellul comments,
"The desire to create a universally binding law on the basis of the law of God or even on the basis of the Gospel is undeniably heretical. Such an attempt presupposes the possibility, for non-Christians, of accepting the will of God or of living a Christian life."12
Some would claim that to use the Old Testament Law for social behavioral constraint allows the Old Testament Law to continue to serve an instrumental purpose, an educative, tutorial, didactic, instructional teaching purpose to expose sinfulness and the inability of behavioral righteousness. This thesis is based, as we have noted, on a misunderstanding of paidagogos. It does not coincide with the historical purposes of the Law. It still suffers from the false premises of "natural law."
There is one New Testament passage that does seem to allow for the use of the Law as a basis for governmental law regulating social conduct. In I Timothy 1:8-10 Paul refers to "using the Law lawfully, realizing the fact that law is made for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murders and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnapers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound teaching." It should still be noted though that political, social and religious usage of the Law does not necessarily serve the intended purposes of God for the Law.
The next question we must ask is whether the Old Testament Law has any application to Christians today? Remember, the historical parameters of God's purposes of the Law were from Moses to Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:19), pertaining to the Hebrew peoples.
Christians who develop their theology around the man-made behavioral categories of the Law, and fail to grasp the historic purposes of the Law, often end up with a misplaced reverence for the Law that quickly degenerates into a deification of the Law, and makes them liable to such labels as "law-lovers," philonomists or nomophiles. Outlandish assertions are often made which evidence that they regard the Old Testament Law to have both vital and behavioral contemporary purpose.
Walter J. Chantry asserts that
"the moral law and the gospel are the two major instruments in the arsenal of the Spirit...,"13
"grace and moral law walk hand in hand throughout Scripture."14
Greg J. Banhsen writes that
"the law displays the demand of God upon our lives as men...what is required of men if they are going to imitate their Creator...be like God."15
"The law guides the sanctification of the believer...sets down the pattern of God's holiness for our lives..."16
Kenneth L. Gentry Jr. concurs with their statements, saying,
"The Law guides sanctification (and)...provides an objective standard for the Christian so that he might know what God expects of him.17
"Paul...upheld the "Jewish" Mosaic Law as an ethical ideal for God's people.18
"God's Law outlines specific moral behavior, eliminating the guesswork from moral conduct.19
"Having a revealed and objective standard takes the guesswork out of righteous living."20
To thus advocate that the Law is the basis of righteous living is but a blatant denial of Paul's writings which indicate that the Law does not make us righteous.
Other writers hold an entirely different opinion of the application of the Law to Christians today, denying that the Old Testament Law is still applicable. D.R. De Lacey explains that
"..Paul does not ground his ethical imperatives in the statutes of the Old Testament, but in the fact of the indwelling Spirit." ...Paul saw an inappropriateness in appealing to the law in the context of the New Covenant."21
"Paul deals with the Christian's relation to sin. He refuses to discuss this in terms of obligation to the law, choosing rather to base his case on the new relationships found in Christ... Paul refuses to discuss Christian conduct in terms of obligation to (the Law)."22
In his article on the "Law" in the Dictionary of the Bible, James Denney asks,
"What is the relation of the Christian to the Law?...the Christian has nothing more to do with law in any way. ...law only enslaves to sin; but grace gives the quickening spirit and liberates. In the Christian religion, as St. Paul understood it, nothing statutory could have any place. To give a legal authority to any formal precept, ethical or ritual, is to shut the door of hope, and open again the door of despair. Legalism, in short, and Christianity (life in the Spirit) are to St. Paul mutually exclusive ideas. ...the idea that the existence of Christianity depended upon them (laws) could only have seemed to him a fatal contradiction of all that Christianity meant."23
Reginald E. Showers states very clearly that
"..Christians are not under the Mosaic Law. From the time that God met with Israel at Mount Sinai to the time of Christ's death on the cross, God employed the Mosaic Law as His way of administering His moral absolutes over Israel. But when Christ died, God stopped employing the Mosaic Law; He dissolved His relationship with it; He put the Law out of business. Since God stopped employing the Mosaic Law as His way of administering His moral absolutes over Israel when Christ died, believers since the cross have not been under the Mosaic Law even as a moral rule of life. ...Since Jesus abolished the Mosaic Law...it can be concluded that Christians today are not under the Mosaic Law. ...if a person places himself under the moral aspect of the Mosaic Law, he obligates himself to keep the entire Law (including the civil and ceremonial aspects). ..the Christian is not under any aspect of the Mosaic Law."24
In the book entitled Grace: The Glorious Theme, L.S. Chafer makes the following statements:
"Since law and grace are opposed to each other at every point, it is impossible for them to co-exist, either as the ground of acceptance before God or as the rule of life. ..the Scriptures...both assume and directly teach that the law is done away. Consequently, it is not in force in the present age in any sense whatsoever. The present nullification of the law applies not only to the legal code of the Mosaic system,...but to every possible application of the principle of law."25
"..the whole Mosaic system was fulfilled, superseded, and terminated in the first advent of Christ."26
"...it is both unscriptural and unreasonable to apply the teachings of the Mosaic system directly to the children of grace."27
"We may conclude, then, that every aspect of the reign of the law has ceased with the death of Christ and the introduction of the reign of grace. There is no longer any obligation to do the things which are written in the law... There is perfect liberty and victory in the priceless provisions of grace."28
In unison with these last authors, I must conclude that the Biblical evidence indicates that the Old Testament Law has no applicable purpose and no jurisdiction in the new covenant community of Christians. None of the categories and none of the purposes of the Law apply to Christians.
The Scripture passage most often used to justify continued application of the Law for Christians is Romans 7:7-14. Is this autobiographical passage to be taken as typical of every Christian's experience? Or is this passage just Paul's personal experience in that transitional period of early Christianity? Paul had been a Pharisaical Jew, totally committed to the Old Testament Torah. The Law had an effect on him that is not necessarily effected in every Christian in every age, although the repetitive patterns of sin, of the "flesh," that Paul mentions in 7:15-8:2 are generally experienced by all Christians.
Even though the Law does not apply to Christians, how should Christians view the Old Testament Law?
First, we must always recognize the historical connection of that preparatory period when the Law was employed by God in the Old Testament with the fulfillment of God's intent in Jesus Christ as recorded in the New Testament. The Old Testament and the New Testament, and the themes of law and grace, must never be disconnected or detached or disassociated. There is an indissoluble connection in the flow of God's dealings with man from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation. Christians must never seek to do away with the Old Testament, to cut it out, sever it from their Bible. Such would leave the New Testament hanging in mid-air without its essential historical foundation.
Secondly, Christians should appreciate God's preliminary dealings with the Jewish people in the Old Testament, using the Law to point to Jesus Christ. In Romans 3:2 Paul explains that the Jewish people "were entrusted with the oracles of God." There is a "heritage" that Christian peoples should appreciate as they look back at the Hebrew peoples and the Law of the Old Testament. Torah served the divine purposes that God intended as a prelude to Jesus Christ, and "is entitled to an honored emeritus status in the household of Christian faith."29 Christians should not denounce, disclaim, disdain, denigrate, deprecate or depreciate the Old Testament Law of God.
Christians should also constantly beware of the two extremes of de-emphasizing the Law and over-emphasizing the Law. It requires a delicate theological balance to keep the Old Testament Law in its Biblical perspective. Misemphases of the Law have led to such radical extremes as historical revisionism, legal recon-structionism and racial rejectionism.
In what ways is the Law of God fulfilled in Christians today?
God's intent has always been to restore mankind to His created intent so that the character of God could be displayed in the behavior of man by the grace of God unto the glory of God. The Law of God given to the Jewish people was a prelude to that over-arching salvific and sanctifying intent of God.
So it is that Paul can say in Romans 8:4 that "the requirement of the Law can be fulfilled" in Christians who "walk according to the Spirit." The character of God is expressed in our behavior by the grace of God, by the life of Jesus Christ lived out through us. More specifically, the character of God's Love is to be evidenced in the behavior of Christians. "God is love" (I John 4:8,16). Paul explains that the manifestation of God's Love is the fulfillment of the Law (Rom. 13:10). "He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the Law" (Rom. 13:8). To the Galatians Paul writes, "the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself'" (Gal. 5:14). In so loving our neighbor, we will "bear one another's burdens and thus fulfill the Law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).
By referring to "the Law of Christ," Paul brings the concept of Torah all the way around to its original meaning of "the divine directive." The living Lord Jesus who indwells Christian people is the Living Torah! Jesus Christ is the dynamic divine directive in the lives of God's People. Jesus Christ is Lord, implying the authoritative direction and guidance of God in the lives of Christians. The static written Law has come to the completion of its purposes so that the dynamic directive of God in Christ, "the law of Christ," may be operative in Christian behavior. Thus it is that Paul speaks of himself as being "under the law of Christ" (I Cor. 9:21), and exclaims with gratitude the Christian liberty of functioning by "the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus" (Rom. 8:2).
The writer of Hebrews quotes from Jeremiah, indicating that new covenant Christians have God's laws "put into their minds and written on their hearts" so as to become the People of God (Heb. 8:10; 10:16). Jesus Christ, the living Torah, does indeed live in the Christian to become the divine directive in his life and to manifest the divine character.
James writes in his epistle of "the perfect law" (James 1:25). The Greek word translated "perfect" is teleion derived from telos, the word used by Paul in Romans 10:4 to describe Christ as the "end" of the Law. The end-objective of God in the Old Testament Law has been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who now becomes the "perfect law," divine directive brought to its divine end, allowing God to function within man according to His created intent, God's perfect order restored. Christians can "fulfill the royal law" (James 2:8) as the King, Jesus, reigns in their hearts and manifests God's love toward others. What a privilege to not have to live by a law of bondage to external regulations but by "the law of liberty" (James 1:25; 2:12), enjoying the freedom to be and do all that God wants to be and do in us.
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