MORAL, CEREMONIAL, OR LAW OF CHRIST?

MY PICTURE SM
Moral Law
Ceremonial Law
or Law of Christ
Which do we follow today?
James C. Guy

COMMON BELIEFS

There is often much confusion among some religious groups as to which law we are bound to follow today. Some believe we are to keep both the Old and New Testaments fully. Others believe we are to follow only the New Testament. Still others believe we are to follow the New Testament and only part of the Old Testament. Those who believe this often separate the Old Testament into what they call the "moral law" and the "ceremonial law." They believe the moral law contains commandments that are for all people of all times, and the ceremonial part of the Law that was binding only for the Jews living prior to the time of Christ.

When we speak of a law being "binding," we generally mean that we are obligated to obey that law. We must consider the people who are bound by the law, the purpose of the law, and the period or time of the law. If any of these three are fulfilled or ended, the law ceases to be binding.

PEOPLE OF LAW

If we live or visit a particular country, we are bound by the laws of that country as people of that country. When children are living under the authority of the parents, they are bound by the law of their parents, but the parentís laws are not binding on another parentís children.

When God gave a specific command to a specific person or group of people, that law was only binding to that group as well. When God told Abram to "Get out of your country, from your family and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you" (Genesis 12:1), He did not mean that everyone for all times should leave their country. This was a command given only to Abram.

Because the Law of the Old Testament, including all the things some consider a separate "moral law," was given only to the children of Israel, it was never binding upon any other people. There are moral principles that are based on the righteousness of God, and that all, including the Gentiles, we to do "by nature" (Romans 2:14-16). But, they are not binding as a specific law as the Law given to the Israelites through Moses.

One of the commands given in the Law of Moses was to "Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy" (Exodus 20:8). Some believe that this is a moral law that was given prior to the Law of Moses to all people. However, NOWHERE in the Bible do we see those who lived before the giving of the Law of Moses keeping the Sabbath holy. NOWHERE in the Bible do we have any command to keep the Sabbath holy prior to the Law of Moses, nor as a part of the New Testament after Christ died. Genesis 2:2-3 does say that God blessed the seventh day and sanctified it. But, it nowhere gives any command for any human to do anything different than any other day. The Sabbath law was not given until Exodus 20 in the Law of Moses, and was given only to the people of Israel. It is also a specific law, not a moral law for all people.

Furthermore, we see in the Bible where God specified that the Sabbath and other Old Testament laws were given specifically to Moses and the children of Israel, not to people of all times. Exodus 31:12-18 tells of God giving the Sabbath laws to Moses for the children of Israel. Verse 17 says, " It is a sign between Me and the children of Israel forever..." Even though it has reference to the Sabbath day of creation when God rested, the Sabbath laws of keeping it holy, etc. were only given as a covenant sign to the children of Israel at the giving of the Law of Moses.

In Deuteronomy 5:3, Moses says, "The Lord did not make this covenant with our fathers, but with us, those who are here today, all of us who are alive." Then, he again gives them the Law. So, this specifically says that the Law of Moses, including the Sabbath law, was given specifically and only to the children of Israel.

PURPOSE OF THE LAW

Another limitation to the binding of law is its purpose. When we understand the purpose of the entire Law of Moses (Old Law), we can further understand that it is not binding on people today because the purpose has been fulfilled. In Galatians 3:16-29, it tells of the promise made to Abraham before God gave the Law of Moses. Then, it explains that this law was given until the "Seed" would come, and that Seed was Christ. It is called the "tutor" to bring the Jews to Christ, who is also called "faith." Verse 25 says, after the faith (Christ) came, they were no longer under the tutor, or the law. This passage shows that the need and purpose for this law was fulfilled in Christ. It does not distinguish between any moral and ceremonial law. It simply refers to the whole law as being fulfilled in its purpose.

As we see in Galatians 3, it was given for the purpose of bringing this specific people to the time of Christ. Though it is often called the Law of Moses in the Bible, Exodus 20:1 tells us that it was God who spoke the words. Exodus 24:4 calls the message "the words of the Lord." There is no distinction made in the Bible between the moral and ceremonial laws, nor between the Law of Moses and the Law of the Lord. The Law of Moses IS the Law of the Lord given to the children of Israel in its entirety, and the purpose is the same.

Jesus said that He came to fulfill that law. In Matthew 5:17-18 He says, "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled." So, the law was not to pass away until it was fulfilled. When Jesus died, He nailed it to the cross in a sense (See Ephesians 2:14-16; Colossians 3:14). Because the purpose of the Old Law was to bring the Jews to Christ, when He came, the purpose was fulfilled and the Law was fulfilled.

PERIOD OF LAW

One other element that limits the binding of a law is the time period the law is to cover. We have already noted that the Old Testament Law was given in its entirety for the people of Israel, and for the purpose of bringing them to Christ. This also limits the Law to a time. This is because the people of Israel no longer exist as Godís special chosen people. Their time as a people has ended. Rather, all are made one in Christ (Ephesians 2:11-16; Romans 2:28-29). Galatians 3:26-29 tells how everyone, regardless of their physical race or nationality, can be one in Christ by faith. It says, "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ's, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise." So the time period for God to have a special physical nation has ended.

We must understand that laws sometimes change or end. That does not mean that the law was bad, but it may have been meant for a certain period of time. When children get older, move to their own house, and start another family of their own, they are no longer "bound" by the law of their parents in most societies. This does not mean the law of their parents was bad or wrong, or that their parents have changed. It simply means the law of their parents as it relates to the children is not longer needed. It has served its purpose and period, and has therefore been fulfilled. The same is true with the Old Testament Law.

LAW AND GRACE OF CHRIST

We have already learned that the Law of Moses was for a temporary time, and temporary purpose, to a limited group of people. It was fulfilled at Christís death. The Law of Christ is a better, eternal, and perfect covenant. This is because it is not based on being justified by our obedience of law, rule, and regulation. James 2:10 says, "For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all." Since we do not keep the whole law perfectly (Old or New), the grace of Christ is necessary to be saved.

Those under the Old Law did not keep it perfectly either, but were saved through the same element of faith that came through Christ (Hebrews 9:15; 11:1-40). The Old Law was simply given to bring them to the point of Christís sacrifice. Hebrews 7:18-22 says there was an "annulling of the former commandment because of its weakness and unprofitableness...,there is the bringing in of a better hope, through which we draw near to God...by so much more Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant." We can never be saved by keeping any law perfectly because we are not perfect. We are made to be perfect though the forgiveness that Christ offers, not though the keeping of law.

Does this mean that God now allows people to break what are sometimes called the "moral" laws such as adultery and worshiping false gods? No, but they are not bound by them because of the Old Testament law. Rather, they are only bound by them where they are a part of the moral law of God that is not based on specific commands, dates, times, or actions. That is a law of the heart that follows after what is good and right, sometimes called the "Law of Christ."

All of what we call the "10 Commandments" in the Old Law are also principles identified in the New Testament EXCEPT the keeping of the Sabbath. We do have the principle of worshiping God in the New Testament, but there is no command to do that on the Sabbath nor to keep the Sabbath holy in any way in the New Testament. The moral principle of worshiping God is there, but, there is no command to keep either the Sabbath holy, nor to keep the first day of the week holy as the Israelites were commanded with the Sabbath.

If you attempt to be justified by keeping of any law, you are depending on yourself for salvation, and the Bible says you do not have Godís grace (Galatians 2:21; 5:3-4). If you attempt to be justified by keeping the Old Testament Law, you attempt to bind yourself in two ways: You attempt to be justified by your own works; and you attempt to be justified by a law that is no longer binding.

Why not accept the grace that Christ offers and have your sins washed in His blood as the perfect and eternal sacrifice. Then strive to walk in His light (I Peter 3:18-21; I John 1:7). If we can help you with further study, and to find your way in Christ, please contact the address on the front of this brochure.

2004 © copyright James C. Guy



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