Is any aspect of the Mosaic law binding on Christians?
It must be a real source of comfort and encouragement to every Christian to know that, in these days of upheaval and insecurity, our God is consistent and unchangeable. This glorious fact is declared in several verses throughout the Bible. In the last book of the Old Testament, we read ‘For I am the Lord, I change not’, Mal. 3. 6. Hundreds of years later, James wrote, ‘Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning’, Jas. 1. 17. These and other verses present to us the immutability of God’s eternal nature.
However, the fact that God is immutable as to His nature does not detract from His sovereign prerogative to operate in different ways in His governance of mankind. The various dispensations found in the Bible are clear examples of the variety of means God has chosen, both to reveal His character and to impose His rule over people. Many Bible teachers believe that there are seven distinct dispensations and it is the fifth one of those, the dispensation of law, which is being referred to in the above question.
In one sense, the phrase ‘the Law’ embraces three different components. There was the ceremonial law that related to the sacrificial offerings and the functions of the priesthood. There was the civil law, where God set out His decrees for Israel to follow in their daily lives relative to their judicial system, etc. Then, there was the moral law that we commonly refer to as the ‘Ten Commandments’. These three aspects formed ‘the Law’. However, when people refer to the law they are primarily thinking of the moral law, as given to Moses on Mount Sinai and which was written on tablets of stone.
In the early years of the church age there was much contention between Jewish teachers and Gentile Christians. Even converted Jews found it difficult to let go of some of their former practices and customs and this led to tensions in the church at Rome as well as elsewhere. In addition, adherents to Judaism sought to infiltrate assemblies and tell Gentile converts that, in order to be saved and blessed by God, it would be necessary for them to be circumcised. In particular, the Epistle to the Galatians highlights this problem.
Throughout Galatians chapter 3, the Apostle Paul contrasts the law with the promises of God contained in the gospel and shows that the law was intended to be temporary, ‘Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made’, Gal. 3. 19. Later in the chapter, we read, ‘Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster’, vv. 24, 25.
The opening six verses of Romans chapter 7 present further help in respect of our position as Christians in relation to the law of Moses. Space does not permit an exposition of this section but, in summary, the apostle is teaching that we, having died with Christ, are no longer liable to the claims of the law, ‘ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ’, Rom. 7. 4. When Christ died on the cross, He satisfied the requirements of the law that had highlighted our sinful state and He met the holy demands of God. This truth applies to every Christian; it is not a state we are to aspire to, but a positional truth that relates to all who are in Christ.
Whilst it is clear that the believer’s salvation owes nothing to law-keeping or ritual, what of the believer’s sanctification and personal walk? The law established that there should be love towards God and towards each other and these instructions are now presented to us in the New Testament, not as aspects of the Mosaic law, but as God’s requirements for His people today. Therefore, we should seek to carry out these imperatives, not as law-keepers but as Christians adhering to the teaching of our Saviour. Galatians chapter 5 also indicates how we should seek to carry them out, ‘If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit’, v. 25. It is only the Spirit of God that can empower us to do what is pleasing to God and if we are led of the Spirit we ‘are not under the law’, Gal. 5. 18.