Do Christians have to follow the Old Testament law?


Though God’s law never passes away, and all must be fulfilled, Jesus came to fulfill the law for us (Romans 8:3-4). Only in Him can the righteous requirement of the law be fulfilled. The law was like a mirror that shows us how incredibly short we fall. That’s what the gospel is all about—the reality that Jesus lived the life we can’t live and offered to trade places with us, becoming our sin so we might become the righteousness of God in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21). This was a huge issue in the early church, because many of the Jews who came to faith were convinced they still needed to keep either the whole law or some measure of the law. In Acts 15, we see this episode of the church’s early life play out. Peter realizes that they’ve made a mistake in trying to teach new converts to keep the law, saying, “… why do you test God by putting a yoke on the neck of the disciples which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved in the same manner as they.”” (Acts 15:10-11).

Paul then walks through this with the church of Galatia, giving us a stronger sense of what God’s heart is for us on this issue. It would be beneficial to read the whole letter or at least Galatians 3 onwards, but Paul’s conclusion is this: “For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”  But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for “the just shall live by faith.” (Galatians 3:10-11). He then says, “Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor. For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:24-26).

Paul walks through this more as the book continues, in chapter 4 actually getting upset with the Galatians for observing days and months and seasons and years. And though that part might seem a little unclear, Paul goes into the same issue with the Colossian church with more clarity, saying Jesus’s finished work canceled the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands by nailing it to the cross (Colossians 2:14-15), and he goes on to say in the next verse, “So let no one judge you in food or in drink, or regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths, which are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ. ” (Colossians 2:16-17). The very next chapter goes on to make clear what sort of holy lifestyle God’s people are called to, so this message from Paul is not a message of license to sin, it’s simply a message of freedom in Christ from the law to serve God out of a renewed spirit rather than pressure to meet requirements.

In summary, Christians no longer live under the law, which was put in place to show God’s people their need for Christ. Believers in Christ have received the righteousness of God through faith. However, that does not give us a a free pass to do whatever we want; we as Christians are called to called to live in a way that pleases the Lord, with the motivation and power that comes from the Holy Spirit who lives within us.

Alex McFarland

Alex has preached in over 2,200 churches throughout North America and numerous more internationally. He also speaks at Christian events, conferences, debates, and other venues to teach biblical truths and preach the gospel.

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