Published February 27th, 2018 by Dirk Waren
There are quasi-Christian groups and denominations today whose goal is to put New Covenant believers under the Old Testament Law (also known as the Torah or Pentateuch). A prime example is the Hebrew Roots movement, who have infiltrated many churches and seminaries.
The questions we want to answer in this article are: What was the purpose of the Old Testament Law? Are believers “under” the Law, like Old Testament saints were? If we’re not under the Law, are we obligated to fulfill it? If so, what parts? And how exactly do we fulfill it if we’re not under it? Also, how does the Law relate to the New Testament believer?
False teachers who try to put believers under the Law are nothing new. They’ve been around since the beginning. A good example from the Bible is the Judaizers who infiltrated the Galatian assemblies for the purpose of putting the believers back under the Old Testament Law, along with other religious traditions (See Galatians 2:3, 5:2-3 and 4:10).
Yet notice how clear the New Testament is about believers not being under the Mosaic Law, the Torah:
But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.
For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace.
…we have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.
In the New Testament era we’ve been released from the Law—the Torah—to “serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.” We’re “not under Law, but under grace,” meaning we’re under God’s graciousness—favor—through the work of Christ wherein we obtain spiritual regeneration and are reconciled with the LORD & indwelt by the Counselor, the Holy Spirit.
What does being “under the law” mean? It means putting the Law in front of you and trying to force your flesh to comply. This never works. In fact, it will actually increase the sin problem. Why do you think Paul said, “The law was added so that the trespass might increase” (Romans 5:20)? This was the reason the Law was given to humanity—to increase the sin problem and drive us to the Savior in whom we can have spiritual regeneration. The Law “is holy, righteous and good”—no doubt—but God uses it to illustrate humanity’s miserable sinful condition and drive us to Christ (Romans 7:12).
Since believers are justified in God’s sight by faith we are no longer under the supervision of the Law:
So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.
‘Guardian’ is translated as “tutor” in some translations and as “schoolmaster” in the King James Version. The original Greek word refers to a household servant or slave whose job was to tutor and oversee male children until they came of age whereupon they took on the responsibilities and freedoms of adulthood. Are you getting this? Believers are no longer under the supervision of religious law. Since we are spiritually regenerated and have the Holy Spirit we are liberated to function in the responsibilities and freedoms of spiritual adulthood.
While New Testament believers are not under the Mosaic Law, we are under the law of Christ:
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law.
1 Corinthians 9:19-21
As you can see, the apostle Paul was “under Christ’s law,” not under the Mosaic Law. He only became “like one under the law” on certain occasions in order to “win those under the law,” meaning he did so to win Jews over to the superior New Covenant. We’ll look at what makes the New Covenant ‘superior’ momentarily.
So believers are not under the Old Testament Law, but rather “under Christ’s law.” Here’s another passage that verifies this:
Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
But what is the law of Christ? Neither of these verses defines it. Yet this isn’t a problem because Scripture interprets Scripture and the rest of the New Testament shows us what the law of Christ is. Notice how Jesus answers an Expert in the Law who sought to test him:
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”
37 Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
“The law and the prophets” is a reference to the Old Testament Scriptures; and, specifically, to the moral law since the dietary and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament were foreshadows of Christ and were fulfilled in Him:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
The passage is addressing the dietary and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament: “what you eat or drink” refers to dietary laws and the others refer to ceremonial laws. We are not to allow legalists to judge us negatively by these things. In fact, all of them—dietary laws, the Jewish festivals, the New Moon celebration and the Sabbath day—were mere shadows of what was to come, meaning Jesus Christ, the Anointed One. “A shadow” means a foreshadow, which is something that testifies to the reality to come. The real thing, however, is not the shadow. “The reality is found in Christ” and if you’re a believer YOU are “in Christ.” Are you following?
Everything in the Law and Prophets from Genesis to Malachi were types and shadows of the true reality, which is Christ and the spiritual rebirth that comes through his seed and the corresponding indwelling/empowerment of the Holy Spirit.* More than 600 laws were given to the Hebrews in the Old Testament and Jesus fulfilled every one of them; he completed or stopped each one of them, including the Sabbath. This is why Scripture blatantly says “Christ is the culmination [end] of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 9:4).
* ‘Seed’ is “sperm” in the Greek; compare 1 John 3:9 and 1 Peter 1:23.
So the dietary and ceremonial laws were fulfilled in Christ and thus we are “released from” them (Romans 7:6). Of course, we are released from the moral law as well since the Messiah also fulfilled the moral law. As such, we’re not under the moral law. Now, some dubious believers might think that this gives them a license to sin, but Paul dealt with this same question in the 1st century and notice his response:
What then? Shall we sin because we are not under the law but under grace? By no means!
So, while believers are not under the moral law, we uphold it:
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.
How exactly do we uphold the moral law; that is, establish it and fulfill it? Observe…
so that the righteous standard of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the spirit.
Romans 8:4 (BSB)
The “righteous standard of the Law” refers to the moral law, which is fulfilled in believers “who do not live according to the flesh, but according to the spirit.” This means learning to live out of your new spiritual nature as led of the Holy Spirit:
So I say, walk by the spirit,* and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.
* Since there is no capitalization in the original Greek text, translators have to determine if the word for “spirit,” pneuma, refers to the human spirit (un-capitalized) or the Holy Spirit (capitalized). Either/or works in this case since the believer’s spirit (un-capitalized) is indwelt and led by the Spirit (capitalized).
You see? Walking in the spirit is the key to fulfilling the moral law for the New Testament believer. This is one-in-the-same as “participating in the divine nature” (2 Peter 1:4). It means being spirit-controlled rather than flesh-ruled and is the automatic result of loving God, which is the primary part of the law of Christ and includes “coming near to God” (James 4:8). If you are “near to God” that obviously means that you have a close relationship. So relationship with the LORD is key.
Let’s get back to the Messiah’s statement in Matthew 22:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
All the Old Testament moral laws can be condensed into two basic rules with three applications: LOVE GOD and LOVE PEOPLE as you LOVE YOURSELF. When you do this you automatically fulfill all the moral law of the Old Testament, which is verified by several passages:
“In everything, then, do to others as you would have them do to you. For this is the essence of the Law and the prophets.”
Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. 9 The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” 10 Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
The entire Law is fulfilled in a single decree: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”
The law of Christ or law of love is also referred to as “the royal law” in Scripture:
If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing right.
By the way, loving others means walking in tough love when necessary just as much as it means walking in gentle love. There are several clear examples in Scripture of both Jesus and the apostles walking in tough love when appropriate (e.g. Matthew 23:13-35, Mark 11:15-18, Acts 8:17-24 & 13:8-12).
As noted earlier, the New Covenant that believers have with God is superior to the Old Covenant that the Israelites had:
They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” 6 But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises…
13 By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.
The New Covenant is “superior” because we’ve been released from the Law—the Torah—as shown in Romans 7:6. We serve in the new way of the Spirit wherein we receive spiritual regeneration (Ephesians 4:22-24) and not in the Old Covenant way of the written code, i.e. the Law. This is great because “the letter [the Law] kills, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
Humble repentance and faith are the conditions for entering into the New Covenant (Acts 20:21 & Hebrews 6:1) and the terms are “faith working through love,” which means faith is activated by love (Galatians 5:6 Amplified). When we walk out of love (1 Corinthians 13:4-7) we walk out of faith and thus negate it, which isn’t good because faith is the foundation of our covenant. Why is “faith working through love” so important? Because love is the fulfillment of the moral law. It’s the law of Christ, the law of love.
Needless to say, if you come across a church, a group or any Christian in general who advocates putting believers under the Old Testament Law—including observing the Saturday Sabbath—flee for your spiritual welfare. These types adhere to a “different gospel” (Galatians 1:6). Some obvious modern examples include: The Hebrew Roots movement, adherents of Armstrongism (e.g. the United Church of God and the Philadelphia Church of God) and the Seventh-Day Adventists.
For important details on this topic see the article THE LAW and the Believer.
This article was edited from Dirk’s 2018 book Legalism Unmasked, which you can purchase here for a low-price (292 pages).
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