Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Law, but we are under the Law of Christ.
“What is the Christian’s relationship to the Old Testament, or Mosaic Law?”
Not only is this one of the most common questions I receive, it’s also one of the most confusing. Since we’re under the New Covenant instead of the Old, this makes some people think we’re under no law whatsoever. This practically implies license to sin.
The Old Covenant Contained a Law and so does the New Covenant
As much as the Mosaic Law was the Law of the Old Covenant, the Law of Christ is the Law of the New Covenant:
- Galatians 6:2—If we bear one another’s burdens, we fulfill the Law of Christ.
- In 1 Corinthians 9:20-21 Paul said he was not under the [Mosaic Law], but he was under the Law of Christ.
The Law of Christ is summarized in three New Testament passages:
- Matthew 22:37-39—Jesus said, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
- Romans 13:8-10—He who loves another has fulfilled the law. For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not bear false witness,” “You shall not covet,” and if there is any other commandment, are all summed up in this saying, namely, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
- Galatians 5:14—All the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”
The Law of Christ is a condensed version of the Mosaic Law. Rather than try to remember 613 commands, Christians focus on loving God and loving others. In doing so we fulfill the Law of Christ.
If the Law of Christ condenses the Mosaic Law, why not simply follow the Mosaic Law? The Law of Christ drops the ceremonial commands found in the Mosaic Law. For example, the commands associated with tassels, gardening, clothing, farming:
Deuteronomy 22:9—You shall not sow your vineyard with different kinds of seed, lest the yield of the seed which you have sown and the fruit of your vineyard be defiled.
10 “You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.
11 “You shall not wear a garment of different sorts, such as wool and linen mixed together.
12 “You shall make tassels on the four corners of the clothing with which you cover yourself.
You Don’t Get to Pick-and-Choose
I’m always surprised when I meet people who are convinced Christians should observe the Mosaic Law, but they don’t have tassels on their clothes or they mix various fabrics together. They talk about obeying parts of the Law, which shows a flawed understanding. The Law was never meant to be kept that way. The New Testament states the Mosaic Law must be obeyed in its entirety. It should be viewed as a unit versus a buffet:
Galatians 3:10—[Those under the law] are under the curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue in (or obey) all things which are written in the book of the law, to do them.”
Paul quotes the Mosaic Law (Deuteronomy 27:26) to show that failure to keep any part of it brings divine judgment.
Galatians 5:3—Every man who becomes circumcised is a debtor to keep the whole law.
Parents can circumcise their sons out of preference, but if they’re doing so out of obedience to the Law they must keep the whole Law.
Romans 2:25—Circumcision is indeed profitable if you keep the law; but if you are a breaker of the law, your circumcision has become uncircumcision.
If you’re circumcised to keep the Law but you break any other part of it, it’s like you were never circumcised at all.
Romans 10:4-5—Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, “The man who does those things shall live by them.”
Paul quotes Leviticus 18:5 to show that if you want to keep the Law, you must keep it perfectly. You have to live by it!
James 2:10-11—Whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. For He who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” Now if you do not commit adultery, but you do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.
If you break just one command in the Law, it’s like you’ve broken all 613 commands. People who claim to be under the Mosaic Law but neglect some commands:
- Break a window and argue, “I broke part of the window, but there’s a lot of it that’s not broken.”
- Are pulled over by a cop and argue, “Yeah, but what about all the other laws I haven’t broken?”
The Law of Christ Sets a Higher Standard
Six times Jesus quoted the Mosaic Law saying, “You have heard that it was said…”, then adds, “But I say to you…” In each instance He sets the bar higher:
- Matthew 5:21-22—“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder (Exo 20:13; Deut 5:17) But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother shall be in danger of the judgment.”
- Matthew 5:27-28—“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ (Exo 20:14; Deut 5:18) But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”
- Matthew 5:31-32—“Furthermore it has been said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ (Deut 24:1) But I say to you that whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery.”
- Matthew 5:33-34—“Again you have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but shall perform your oaths to the Lord.’ (Lev 19:12; Num 30:2; Deut 23:21) But I say to you, do not swear at all.”
- Matthew 5:38-39—“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ (Exo 21:24; Lev 24:20; Deut 19:21) But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.”
- Matthew 5:43-44—”You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor (Lev 19:18) and hate your enemy.’ (Deut 23:6) But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”
What was previously:
- Sinful physically (murder and adultery) is now sinful when it takes place in the hearts
- Allowed (divorce, oaths, and retribution) is now forbidden
- Not commanded (loving enemies) is now commanded
We couldn’t keep the Mosaic Law. How much less can we keep the higher Law of Christ. Thank God for His love and mercy in providing a Savior. By grace through faith we receive forgiveness and righteousness we could never obtain on our own.
Discussion Questions to Answer in the Comments Section:
- Why do you think there’s so much confusion about the Christian’s relationship to the Law?
- Do you agree or disagree with this post? Why?
- Did you previously see yourself under the Law of Christ or the Mosaic Law? How do you see yourself now?