or Law of
Which do we follow today?
James C. Guy
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
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
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
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