Do Christians have to obey the Old Testament Laws?

And when it comes to applying the Bible today, there are many, many commandments in the Bible. And should Christians obey them all? We think of all these commands, for instance, in the Old Testament. And some people charge us as Christians with being inconsistent. They’ll say, you follow the commandments you happen to agree with, but many other commandments in the Bible, you choose to ignore. For example, the Bible says, don’t wear a garment with two different kinds of cloth. So don’t wear a garment with polyester and cotton. I mean, we have all kinds of commands like this in the Bible. Don’t boil a goat in its mother’s milk. I mean, nobody thinks about that commandment, maybe some of you haven’t even heard of that command. So clearly, I would say, as Christians, we’re not the first Christians to think about these things. Clearly, Christians have argued, even if you’re not aware of this, no, we’re not required to obey all the commands in Scripture. So the question is, is that arbitrary? Is that whimsical? Do we have a reason? Do we have a foundation for what we’re saying? And I’d say we do have a reason. We do have a foundation, there’s a good reason. 

And that good reason is, we have to read the Bible in terms of its storyline. We have to read the Bible in terms of its covenantal development. So there are many covenants mentioned in the Bible, but for our purposes here, there’s an Old Covenant made with Israel. That covenant made with Israel, they had certain requirements. And those requirements that were given to Israel set them apart from the nations. It distinguished Israel from the nations. So we have an Old Covenant, and then we have a New Covenant in Jesus Christ. That New Covenant is prophesied in Jeremiah 31, Ezekiel 36, other passages as well. When we read the whole Bible, when we read the Old Covenant in light of the new, we see that that Old Covenant has passed away. Christians are no longer under the Old Covenant. They are no longer under the stipulations, the commands, the prescriptions in that Old Covenant. The New Covenant is new. So none of the commands, I would argue, none of the commands in the Old Testament are binding in and of themselves, because that whole covenant has passed away as a package. We’re under the New Covenant entirely. So really, the question is, why do we keep any of the commands of the Old Covenant? Not, why do we avoid some, but why do we keep some of them? And we do keep some of them, don’t we? 

Some of them are repeated in the New Testament. Don’t commit adultery. Honor your father and mother. Don’t murder. Don’t steal. Don’t lie. And some other commandments as well. Is there a rationale in what the New Testament writers are doing? And I think the most helpful way to think of it, actually, is that New Testament writers, I think, argue that we are under now, what Paul calls the law of Christ, in Galatians 6:2, We’re not under the law of Moses, we’re under the law of Christ. What is the law of Christ, fundamentally? Galatians 5:14, the law of Christ is the law of love. And that’s what Jesus taught too. That’s in Paul, Galatians. But Jesus taught, Matthew 22, how do you summarize what the law’s about ethically? It’s about loving God and loving your neighbor. And then both Jesus and Paul and other New Testament writers unpack what that love is. What does love look like? Well, if you love, you honor your father and mother. If you love, you don’t steal. If you love, you don’t murder and you don’t commit adultery. So some of those commands, it’s not surprising, is it? Some of those commands from the Old Testament pass over. Some of those commands, they’re still required for today. But they’re not required because they’re part of the Old Covenant. They’re required because the New Testament indicates that they’re part of the law of Christ. 

So I think, actually, when we read the Scripture, we’re not being arbitrary, we’re not being whimsical. We’re just picking out the commands we want to obey, we’re actually being faithful. We’re being faithful to what the Bible, as a whole, teaches us. We’re reading the Bible in light of the whole story. In light of the fulfillment that’s in Jesus Christ. The nation of Israel, it was intended to be enforced for a certain period of time. It was a state and a church. But now the Church of Jesus Christ is in every nation and every people group. And the commands, the laws that are required, they’re different than the laws for a small little nation that was a political and church entity. What God requires of us in the new covenant is clear. I mean, it’s fundamentally, what he fundamentally calls us to is to love one another. It’s pretty remarkable when we read the New Testament, that the New Testament isn’t filled with detailed regulations. The New Testament focuses on love of God and love of neighbor. And then it kind of sketches in for us, okay, here’s what love looks like in broad strokes. But we’re fundamentally called upon to imitate Jesus Christ, to follow in his footsteps. We see what the love of God is like in the cross of Jesus Christ and His self-giving love for others. And that’s what God calls us to as Christians.