New Testament Christian Debate: Not Under Mosaic Law? Really?
J. Davila Ashcraft
“But we know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully.”- 1 Timothy 1:8
The question of the Mosaic Law and its relationship to the New Testament Christian is one that has been debated from the earliest days of the church. It was just such a question that brought the Apostles together for the first council of the church in Jerusalem recorded in Acts 15. Subsequently the issue continued to surface in response to both Jewish factions of the early church and heretical teachings and sects such as the Ebionites. Eventually, as the gap between the church and the Jewish community at large began to widen, those who insisted on observance of the Mosaic Law broke away from the church and became known as “Judaizers”.
Today this same spirit of Judaizing exists in the form of the Hebrew Roots Movement; a movement that demands observance of the Mosaic Law by disciples of Christ in precisely the same manner as Orthodox Jews. Thus they expect disciples to be circumcised, to keep kosher, to wear tzitzit (fringe), to observe all of the traditional holy days of Judaism, and essentially to live an Orthodox Jewish lifestyle. On the other end of the spectrum we have Christians leaders who teach that we have no connection to the Mosaic Law whatsoever, and that we are not under the law, but under grace, and that the law was done away with.
This Antinomian approach is, like its polar opposite (Judaizing), antithetical to the teachings of Sacred Scripture on the issue. Paul tells us in his first epistle to Timothy that the law is good if we use it lawfully. As Dr. Allan Brown points out in his unpublished paper Not Under Law, But Under Grace:
“The apostle Paul, the man who wrote the phrase, “not under the law, but under grace,” rejects such an interpretation of his words. He wrote to Timothy and said, “We know that the law is good, if a man use it lawfully” (1 Tim.1:8). In other words, the Law of God—the Old Testament—has continuing relevance in this New Testament dispensation if it is used properly. Paul’s statement in 2 Timothy 3:16‐17 supports this claim. Writing under inspiration of the Holy Spirit long after the New Covenant was inaugurated, Paul asserts that the Old Testament is still profitable for “doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness.” This means there is a proper use and application of the Old Testament for Christians today.”
Jesus Himself clearly held the Law in high regard. He rejected the notion that the Law was in some way done away with by His mission.
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.” – Matthew 5:17
Dr. Allan Brown writes:
“As Christ honored the principles of the Law, so are His followers to honor the principles of the Law. Thus, when Jesus speaks of His purpose “to fulfill the Law,” He is emphasizing the continuing validity of the Old Testament for His people.
This same principle is echoed in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, wherein he writes:
“For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believeth.”- Romans 10:4
Paul is not stating that the Law is done away with, but that Christ is the goal of the Law. That is, He is the example of the person the Law intends us to be. As Dr. Allan Brown explains:
“The term “end” (telos) in this context does not mean “end, termination, cessation,” but rather the goal toward which the Law is directing us. Christ is the end of the law in the sense of
being the “goal” of the Law for righteousness.”
Christ made it very clear that the Law has not been done away with in the gospel when he said:
“For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”- Matthew 5:18
Clearly heaven and earth have not passed away (which may be a reference to the end of days), and so the Law remains in effect.
The Purpose and Function of the Law
The purpose of the Law is basically twofold. First, it reveals the heart of God. It informs us of what He thinks. Second, it reveals how to live a proper human life. It functions on eight basic levels. Dr. Allan Brown explains that the Law:
- Imparts wisdom to us so we can know the truth and please God.
- Psalms 119:98– Thou through thy commandments hast made me wiser than mine enemies: for they [are] ever with me.
- Psalms 119:142-Thy righteousness [is] an everlasting righteousness, and thy law [is] the truth.
- Deuteronomy 4:6– Keep therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the nations, which shall hear all these statutes, and say, Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.
- The Law reveals Christ.
- Luke 24:44– And he said unto them, These are the words which I spake unto you, while I was yet with you, that all things must be fulfilled, which were written in the law of Moses, and in the prophets, and in the psalms, concerning me.
- Galatians 3:24-Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
- It teaches us how to be saved by faith and does not teach salvation by the works of the Law.
- Psalms 19:7– The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul: the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
- Romans 7:10– And the commandment, which was ordained to life, I found to be unto death Galatians 3:24- Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.
- Galatians 3:21– Is the law then against the promises of God? God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, verily righteousness should have been by the law.
- Romans 9:31‐32:- But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness. 32. Wherefore? Because they sought it not by faith, but as it were by the works of the law.
- Romans 3:28-Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law.
- It encourages faith in God and obedience to His commands.
- Joshua 1:7‐8– Only be thou strong and very courageous, that thou mayest observe to do according to all he law, which Moses my servant commanded thee: turn not from it [to] the right-hand or [to] the left, that thou mayest prosper whithersoever thou goest. This book of the law shall not depart out of thy mouth; but thou shalt meditate therein day and night, that thou mayest observe to do according to all that is written therein: for then thou shalt make thy way prosperous, and then thou shalt have good success.
- 2 Kings 21:8-Neither will I make the feet of Israel move any more out of the land which I gave their fathers; only if they will observe to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the law that my servant Moses commanded them.
- It teaches us how to love God by fearing Him and keeping His commandments.
- Deuteronomy 10:12– And now, Israel, what doth the LORD thy God require of thee, but to fear the LORD thy God, to walk in all his ways, and to love him, and to serve the LORD thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul, (13) To keep the commandments of the LORD, and his statutes, which I command thee this day for thy good?
- Deuteronomy 11:1– Therefore thou shalt love the LORD thy God, and keep his charge, and his statutes, and his judgments, and his commandments, alway.
- Deuteronomy 11:13– And it shall come to pass, if ye shall hearken diligently unto my commandments which I command you this day, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul,
- It teaches us how to be blessed and happy.
- Psalms 1:2– But his delight is in the law of the LORD; and in his law doth he meditate day and night.
- Psalms 40:8– I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.
- Psalms 119:1– Blessed [are] the undefiled in the way, who walk in the law of the LORD.
- It reveals the sinfulness of sin and helps restrain man’s sinful tendencies.
- Romans 3:20– For by the law is the knowledge of sin.
- Romans 5:20– Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound.
- Romans 7:7– What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet.
- Galatians 3:19– Wherefore then serveth the law? It was added because of transgressions, till the seed should come to whom the promise was made; and it was ordained by angels in the hand of a mediator.
- I Timothy 1:9– Knowing this, that the law is not made for a righteous man, but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers,
- It brings a sense of guilt and condemnation to those who willfully violate God’s law.
- Romans 3:19– Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God.
- Galatians 3:10– For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.
- Galatians 3:13– Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed [is] every one that hangeth on a tree:
Clearly then the Mosaic Law fulfills a very specific purpose in the lives of Christians.
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