are Christians required to obey the old testament law?

The subject of Christianity and the Law of Moses is one that is dealt with extensively throughout the New Testament. However, there tends to be concerns among Christians of how much of the law deserves our attention and whether it is to apply to us at all. Thankfully, the writers of the New Testament grant to us amazing clarity on these issues.


Firstly, it is important to qualify what we mean when we say, “the law”. During the first five books of the Old Testament, Moses scribed what the Israelites would have called the “Torah”. Within these books we see over 600 laws and regulations from the Lord on how Israel was to govern themselves and relate to a Holy God. These laws can be divided into three main categories: moral laws, civil laws, and ceremonial laws. These distinctions are important as it will help us further understand what we are to do with the law as Christians.


Besides all moral and ethical laws (the 10 commandments and others), much of the regulations prescribed to the Jews were intricately cultural and for their own good. Many people question why God was so specific in the Old Testament regarding His rules for Israel. Most of these concerns are easily answered by the fact that God was creating His own distinct culture and society apart from all other people groups. Therefore, in abiding by the law everyone would know you belong to Israel and more importantly, the God of Israel.


The entirety of the law was given to the nation of Israel for the chief reason of making them a kingdom of priests and a holy nation as stated in Exodus 19:5-6. This means that the Lord desired that Israel would become completely set apart from every other nation of the known world. The law would not only correct their conduct in holiness but teach them how they are to love God wholly and love their neighbors. In fact, this is precisely how Jesus summarized the law in the New Testament (Mark 12:28-31). Given this context, we should understand that the law was foremostly given and demanded of the Jewish people of Israel and not all people. This is why it is called “The Old Covenant” for the fact that it would not be permanent but limited to a certain time and a certain people.


We read in the New Testament the introduction to the new and everlasting covenant that would replace this old system. This is not to say that the law was insufficient or a mistake. Rather, the law was needed to become a shadow for the greater thing that was to come in the person of Jesus Christ. If there was in fact no law and no system for holiness, the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Christ would have virtually no basis and so would Christianity. Therefore, the arrival of Christ dawns the perfect fulfillment of all the law and prophets (Matthew 5:17-18).


The coming of Christ also conveys to us the necessity for a saviour, first to the Jew and then to the gentiles. God knew that Israel would never perfectly live up to His law and in fact we read continuously of their failure to be faithful to the Lord in the Old Testament. This resulted in constant unrighteousness plaguing the people of Israel. It became far from the Holy Nation God previously desired and so Jesus Christ was the primary plan all along to fulfill this old covenant.

Jesus Christ came as a sinless Jew from the line of David and because He was God incarnate, He perfectly fulfilled the law. This is critical to the whole concern. Christ came to fulfill the law on our behalf because God knew of our complete inability to uphold His commands. If God wanted to make a Holy nation and preserve righteousness, He would need to exact this plan by Himself. Galatians 3:23-25 speaks greatly to this reality. By His grace, Christ came to deliver us from the penalty of the law that we would be finally able to please God in true and supernatural faith. “He is the culmination of the law so that there might be righteousness for everyone who believes” (Romans 10:4). Therefore, by believing in Christ you are attesting to His perfect ability to fulfill the law on your behalf. You do not claim your own righteousness and but instead glory in that righteousness which was imputed to you by Christ (2 Corinthians 3:14). The Book of Galatians, Hebrews and much of Romans gives a beautiful picture of this fulfilling reality.


With all of that being said, we return to our concerns at the beginning. How much of the law are Christians meant to follow? Christians no longer need to fulfill the civil and ceremonial laws that distinguished the Jews of Israel. However, we are to completely uphold the moral laws of the 10 commandments and other relevant ethical commands. God has invited all people into this new covenant through Christ and no longer desires to create a barrier to other nations with specific cultural regulations. In this time, we are to follow the commandments given to us by Christ and His apostles. These commands speak to the moral and ethical conduct of believers and beautifully reflect the loving faith of the Jews. We study the Law only to glorify the perfection and justice of the Lord and to see our own sinfulness. It is there that Christ makes the most sense to us. In this manner, we need not view the old covenant as useless but rather the necessary pulpit by which Christ can be truly exalted and preached.