This is a pretty long one, but I think the subject is pretty important, so take the time to read this if you're unsure about whether the law is relevant for a Christian today.
Before we do much else, we need to answer two questions. "What is the law?" and "what is the gospel?". Martin Luther was very into the subject, but he was not at all the first to write about it. In the word of God, we find lot of writings about this - and since the word of God is what should form us, we should read those passages before reading anything else. Of course it is not wrong to read the works of Martin Luther, the works of John Wesley, the works of the so-called "church fathers" or anyone else, but the bible, read and interpreted by the Holy Spirit who is living in each one of us who are born-again, must of course be of higher authority than anything else.
Now, let's get on to the first question. "What is the law"? Well, the word occurs 459 times in my bible (whereas "gospel" occurs 98 times). Does this mean the law is more important than the gospel? Of course not. "The law was our schoolmaster [to bring us] unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith", Paul writes in Gal 3:24.
But nevertheless, the subject of "the law" - referring to the law of Moses - the relationship we as believers of Jesus the Messiah should have to it, seems to be a very divisive question in the body of Christ today. Some people are very legalistic (but then, you could ask if they're really a part of the true body of Christ?) and others are saying the law is of no value any more. Yet, the answer is neither of these extremes.
Anyway, I have not really answered the question "What is the law?". There are actually (at least) two answers to this question. The Jews (including our master Jesus) divided the old testament in three basic parts: the law (Genesis to Deuteronomy, or the five books of Moses), the prophets (all prophetic books) and the psalms. Now, any aware person will know that this is a somewhat incomplete list - it doesn't include the book of Joshua for example. I think these books (they include other historic books like first and second Kings and the Chronicles) could simply be put into a fourth category called the "historic books". They contain the history of the Jewish people, like an American history book contains the history of the American people. They are not at all unimportant - we can learn a lot about the people of Israel by reading them, and about the God of Israel (who is also our God through Jesus Christ of course).
The second answer, which I believe to be more correct, and what I believe Paul and others referred to most of the times they wrote about the "law" (torah in Hebrew, nomos in Greek) is the Mosaic law, which is what makes up most of the books of Moses. This law is what was given by God to Moses on the mount of Sinai in Exodus 20, and further on during the walk in the wilderness, until the people of Israel finally entered in to the promised land; a land "flowing with milk and honey" (Ex 3:8, Deut 26:9). This meaning of the word "law" can be seen in 1 Cor 9:9 for example. ("For it is written in the law of Moses...")
Fair enough. Now, what is the gospel? Paul writes in Rom 1:16 that "...it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth...". In Matt 24:14 Jesus is talking about "this gospel of the kingdom" (referring to the kingdom of God). In Mark 1:15 we are encouraged to "repent and believe the gospel". But all of these quotes have one thing in common, and that is the fact that they presume that the reader knows what "the gospel" is. Well, "the gospel" simply means "the good news". What good news? Well, if you have not read the start page of my home page, please do so - it talks alot about the good news. But in short: the good news is that Jesus came to the word, and took back all the power of the devil (who is "the god [theos, the same word that is used when talking about the real God] of this world", 2 Cor 4:4) that man gave him when we abandoned God in the garden of Eden (Gen 3). You see, when God created man, he gave him his full authority of this world (Gen 1:26 and 1:28). The word "dominion" used in this verse literally means "to rule", the way a king rules over his people. It means total control. The way God rules heaven, he intended man to rule this world. But we all know it isn't like that any more. And the reason to this is because we, mankind, gave this dominion over to Satan when we chose to obey him rather than God. Anyway, when Jesus died for you and me, he regained this power over the world, that Satan was posessing. He completely defeated that old serpent. Glory to God! This is why Jesus said "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth" right at the end of the gospel according to Saint Matthew. He didn't say it before he had died - because he didn't have the power then! But more about this in some other article.
But this is not all. Jesus doesn't take this authority back only to keep it himself. No, he is giving us authority (Luke 10:19). He wants us to sit with him on the right hand of the Father and have glory and power (Rev 3:21, see also 1 John 4:4). Praise God!
Yes, this is truly great news indeed. You don't have to wait until you get to heaven until you can say "hallelujah", you can just as well say it right now!
Anyway, I think you're pretty well-aware of what the law and the gospel is now. So, back to what this article really is about: Is the law (of Moses) relevant to me, as a member of the new covenant (Matt 26:28. The word "testament" is also translated "covenant" elsewhere. For more information about what a "covenant" is, see another article"). Before I go any further, I want you to think about one thing. If the conclusion of this study will be that the Christian should follow the commandments of the law, would you be willing to do so? If not, I do not think you should read further - you are obviously not interested of letting yourself be formed by the word of God.
It is obvious by reading the letter to the Galatians that circumcision (which is actually not a part of the law of Moses, but the covenant sign of God's covenant with Abraham, Gen 17:11. However, Moses brought this to the people as well, John 7:22) is "nothing" (1 Cor 7:19). What really matters is whether you are a "new creation" (Gal 6:15 and 2 Cor 5:17) or not; being a new creation is the same as being "born again" (Joh 3:3). Does this mean that the Jews that have come to faith in the messiah (sometimes called "messianic jews") should not circumcise their children? Well, I don't think so. In Gen 17:13 the covenant between God and the Jewish people and is said to be "everlasting" - and circumcision is the sign of this covenant. See verse 11. It is very clear that we, who come from a gentile background, do not have to be circumcised but I think it is equally clear that people from a jewish background should have their children circumcised. Not to gain favor from the Lord or anything like that, but because God has commanded them to do so.
In Matt 5:17-18 (a very famous piece of scripture) Jesus says: "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled."
What does this mean? That the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus in the atonment fulfilled the law? Well, in one way it did, and yet again, it did not. You see, Jesus walked completely without sin (Heb 4:15) - not because he could not (if he couldn't, he wouldn't really be human) but because he chose not to. Jesus once and for all defeated sin, the very basic problem that had been hunting humanity down ever since the fall. Glory to God!
So, Jesus did really fulfill all the requirements of the law of Moses. Not in the eyes of the pharisees (for example, when he healed people on the sabbath) but in the eyes of almighty God, which really is the one who has final say in this matter!
Does this mean that we, as believers of the same Jesus, the Messiah, the Anointed One of God, are free from the law? Yes and no. Yes, we are absolutely free from the "law of sin and death" but we are instead of the "law of the Spirit of life" (Rom 8:2). We have been completely cleansed from all our sin, all our shortcomings, all our mistakes. It was all done away with by the wonderful blood of our Lord Jesus Christ.
If you are born-again, if you have the Holy Spirit living within you, you have God's moral code, his law (the hebrew word, "torah" means instruction, direction, teaching) written on your heart (Jer 31:33. I do not believe in replacement theology; this prophecy has yet to be fulfilled for the Jewish people. However, I believe it can be applied to the born-again believers as well). When you commit sin, the Holy Spirit will let you know what you have done wrong. Either by showing it to you in your conscience, in the Word of God or in some other way. For example, when I look on a woman in the wrong way, God instantaneously tells me that this is not what a Christian should do.
It is very important here to talk about the two kinds of righteousness: self-righteousness ("if I can [legalistically] follow these instructions, I will be righteous") and the righteousness of God ("I trust in God. I do not trust in myself. I am nothing without Him and His righteousness."). You see, the law of Moses was never given to make people righteous. You may get that impression if you read some bible translation (Rom 10:6 in King James and most other translations is the biggest example) but it is completely wrong! Gal 2:21 is very clear on this. "If righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain". The true righteousness has always been of faith! Read about Abraham. Was he righteous before or after he had himself circumcised? Before! (Rom 4:10) The circumcision was merely a sign that he already was righteous in the eyes of God.
We are not "under the law", the bible says. David Stern (who is a messianic jew) has translated this like this: "We are not under legalistic observance of the torah". This is not a very literal translation, but it shows the true meaning of the verse.
When a Jew comes to the saving knowledge of Christ, do you expect him to start eating unclean food? Do you expect him to suddenly stop celebrating the festivals, and observing the sabbath? Such thinking is based on the lawlessness mind-set of the people of the World. We have to free ourselves from such ways of thinking.
When the apostles got concerned about the question of whether the Christians who come from a gentile background should keep the law of Moses, they wrote this (Acts 15:19-20): "Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God. But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood.".
I do not believe in preaching a legalistic gospel, with a lot of "dos" and "donts". But if you are a spirit-filled believer, you should be concerned about what the will of God is. Just because we can do everything certainly does not mean that we should. In other words, murder, theft and adultery is still very wrong - as well as evil thoughts. Read the sermon on the mount (Matt 5-7) if you want to know what Jesus has to say about this.
We who used to be gentiles are not supposed to get circumcised. Nor are we supposed to follow the food regulations - even though I think it may be good for us. Food experts say, for example, that pig is really not a good animal for food. This seems reasonable. God ought to know what is best for man, right? After all, he is our Creator.
The law of Moses is a good thing. The law of Christ is even better, because the Holy Spirit gives us the power to follow it! Christianity is certainly not lawlessness, but a victorious life with the law of Christ in our hearts.