I want to make some general statements regarding the Law of Moses, in hopes that I can shed some biblical light on the place of the law in our Christian walk.
When the Bible makes mention of “the law” it sometimes speaks to a specific order of laws or general application as in when the Apostle John speaks of “commands” or the Psalms speak of “Thy law is good” but there are really three different uses to the word “law” in the Bible and they are
- The 10 Commandments or sometimes called the Moral Law or the Law of God or the Law of Moses,
- The Ceremonial Laws given to the Israelite’s in their wilderness journey on procedure of health and sometimes sanctuary practices,
- The Torah Law referring the books of Moses, the Pentateuch, or in some context to the entire Old Testament.
I am going to lump all three aspects of the Old Testament law together because the New Testament application doesn’t alter how we should understand them in terms of our salvation, and you’ll see that as you read through to the end of this article.
Law vs Salvation
I once had a New Testament professor who suggested that when we read the word “law” in the epistles we could add the phrase “as a means of salvation” behind it and get a correct understanding of its theological intent. His explanation was that it was implied in the context anyway and doing that just made it clearer, preventing us from legalistic obsessions and getting off-track on theological tangents.
As followers of the Bible we are “saved by grace…not of works” (Ephesians 2:8-9) and then endeavor to follow God in both “spirit and truth” (John 4:24) because in practice we are commended to “walk by faith” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and “grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:19).
There are laws and practices instituted in the Old Testament that are meant to point to a New Testament fulfillment. The Israelite’s sanctuary in wilderness pointed us toward the sanctuary in Heaven, the feasts pointed toward the Messiah’s ministry, the sacrifice of perfect lamb pointed us toward the plan of redemption, and the Law at Sinai pointed us to the character of God and the behavior required of the children of God.
Law vs Fulfillment
A good way to understand the purpose of the law is to look at the way Jesus interpreted it. Jesus said that to kill means to hate (Matthew 5:21-22) and that adultery means to lust (Matthew 5:27-28) and from Matthew 22:36-40 we see that He interpreted the first 4 commandments to mean “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind” and the final 6 commandments to mean “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself.”
Jesus said “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill” (Matthew 5:17). The Apostle Paul puts it this way, “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” (Galatians 3:24-25).
When you were preparing to get your driver’s license, you studied the book, you referenced the book, you learned the law to not cross over a solid line or stop in the middle of intersection for a left-hand turn. But, do you carry around that same book these 10, 20, 30 years later and reference it every time you see a solid line or approach an intersection for a left-hand turn?
A member of the church I serve as pastor told me a story of their relative who cherished a photograph of her husband who was away fighting in WWII for over two years. She loved that photograph because with it she remembered her husband. When her husband returned, the photograph was no longer her attraction because she had the real thing with her.
The Law of Moses is like the driver’s rule book or the photograph. The book and the photograph is still valid, but with the actual real experience of driving or being in the presence of the person, the rule book and photograph have lost their prominence because they are not the real thing or the actual experience or relationship.
Law vs Faith
Paul says “no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith” (Galatians 3:11). The law, the principle of the law, is evident in our hearts and lives as we live by faith not in constant referencing, reviewing, and measuring. Those things won’t make us spiritual, but selfish. The more we fixate our focus on the do’s and don’ts the more we are focused on justifying ourselves.
The Law of Moses has sometimes been likened unto a mirror. A mirror can point out your flaws but it can not fix your flaws. Also, if you look at the mirror in the morning you don’t really need to keep looking at it all day long, because the more you look at the mirror the more we would all agree that you would be a bit vain. The same with always looking into the Law of Moses, it will quickly make the experience all about you.
The 10 Commandments, the Law of Moses, have a specific application to those who were brought “out of the land of Egypt” (Exodus 20:2). They were given so the chosen nation would have a behavior standard of righteousness different than the world and it stands a monument of the character of God, but they are not a means of being justified by God (Galatians 3:10-11).
Jesus said He did not come to destroy but to fulfill them (Matthew 5:17-20). He came to live them out and in His teachings He taught us that it is the spirit of the law where application gets fleshed out in our day to day life. Remember that
The laws and regulations given in the Old Testament were for a people who could not look back at Calvary or have the full measure of the work of the Holy Spirit. The Old Covenant law for the pre-Pentecost believer became the New Covenant faith for the post-Pentecost believer. John 1:17 says “For the law was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ.”
The Law of Moses cannot save it can only point out our sin, our shortcomings, or our need for a Savior. 2 Peter 3:18 tells us to “grow in grace” but if we were fully able to keep the law we would not need grace for the forgiveness of our sin and we would not need a Savior.
Law vs Grace
Jesus became sin for us because we could not keep the law for Him. If we could have kept the law, Adam would have because he was the original purest human, but even he disobeyed God’s command by eating the fruit. So Jesus came as the second Adam, and as our Savior, and as the spotless Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
In Galatians 2:21 we find assurance with these words from Paul, “I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose” (ESV).
Satan doesn’t care if miss Heaven because we fall off the left side of the road by living like a heathen and he doesn’t care if we fall off the right side of the road by living like we are saving ourselves through religious works. We can sin to the left or we can sin to the right, but as we go to Calvary for grace we grow more steadily to stay in Christ’s grace.
The Law of Moses has a purpose still and that is to point out our need to depend on Christ’s grace. Without the law we would not know sin (1 John 4:3) but let none of us be “ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth” (Romans 1:16) and that power is His grace, not Moses’ law.