The Old Covenant Law and the New Covenant Christian
On my wife’s birthday, we both got matching tattoo’s – a ring tattoo on our ring fingers that had each others initial on it. I guess you could say we’re now branded for life!
But then I received a message from a sincere-hearted person asking how I could violate God’s law, specifically Leviticus 16:28, “You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves.” Ouch!
This raises a question that comes up a lot…
Are Christians required to follow the law given to Moses?
So, first let’s understand the law and ordinances given in the Old Testament. The laws were specifically given to the Jewish people as they entered the Promised Land. These laws were a comprehensive set of guidelines to ensure that the Israelites’ behavior reflected their status as God’s chosen people. They encompassed moral behavior, their position as a godly example to other nations, and systematic procedures for acknowledging God’s holiness and mankind’s sinfulness.
Let’s take a look at a few of those laws…
And the pig, because it parts the hoof and is cloven-footed but does not chew the cud, is unclean to you. – Lev 11:7
Everything in the waters that does not have fins and scales is detestable to you. – Lev 11:12
23 “When you come into the land and plant any kind of tree for food, then you shall regard its fruit as forbidden. Three years it shall be forbidden to you; it must not be eaten. 24 And in the fourth year all its fruit shall be holy, an offering of praise to the Lord. 25 But in the fifth year you may eat of its fruit, to increase its yield for you: I am the Lord your God. 26 “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it. You shall not interpret omens or tell fortunes. 27 You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard. 28 You shall not make any cuts on your body for the dead or tattoo yourselves: I am the Lord. – Leviticus 16:23-28
Part of the basis of these laws was because these were pagan practices God wanted Israel to separate from. The trimming of the hair, the beard, cutting, and tattoos were all connected with pagan rites of mourning.
If we were apply these laws to the New Testament Christian, then we couldn’t eat the fruit from a tree for three years, bacon and sausage are off limits, no shellfish, and men would be breaking the law by shaving.
In other words, some of the laws that were given to the Israelites were specifically targeted at cultural practices of that day. Some of these laws seem strange to us, because they are not common practices today. Deuteronomy 14 comes to mind:
“You must not eat anything that has died a natural death. You may give it to a foreigner living in your town, or you may sell it to a stranger. But do not eat it yourselves, for you are set apart as holy to the LORD your God. “You must not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” – Deut 14:21
An Israelite could not eat an animal that had died a natural death, but it was fine if they gave it to their Gentile neighbor! And who cooks a young goat in its mothers milk?
Now lets look at the difference between the Old Covenant
The Old Testament Covenant vs the New Testament Covenant
Hebrews chapters 9-11 deal extensively with the subject of the Old Testament Covenant of laws verses the New Testament Covenant of grace.
Hebrews 9 tells us:
1 Now even the first covenant had regulations for worship and an earthly place of holiness. 2 For a tent was prepared, the first section, in which were the lampstand and the table and the bread of the Presence. It is called the Holy Place. – Hebrews 9:1-2
9 According to this arrangement, gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper, 10 but deal only with food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body imposed until the time of reformation. – Hebrews 9:9-10
11 But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) 12 he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. – Hebrews 9:11-12
Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance… – Hebrews 9:15
The point? Jesus Christ came as the NEW High Priest, a perfect High Priest, and in His death and resurrection did away with the old covenant of laws, replacing it with the new covenant of His blood.
See, when Jesus went to the cross, He took the place of the Old Testament system of sacrificing animals to atone for the sins of man:
19 And he took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body, which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 20 And likewise the cup after they had eaten, saying, “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood. – Luke 22:19-20
As the writer of Hebrews agrees:
For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. – Hebrews 10:4
Since the church is not the nation of Israel, ceremonial rules and laws, such as the Feast of Weeks and Passover, would not seem to apply to Gentile believers. Galatians 3 tells us:
23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian… – Galatians 3:23-25
See, the old covenant, the law, was put in place to show man that he is unable to be righteous by following the law – who could never break a law? That’s why Paul wrote:
10 For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.” 11 Now it is evident that no one is justified before God by the law, for “The righteous shall live by faith.” 12 But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” 13 Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”— 14 so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promised Spirit through faith. – Galatians 3:10-14
21 Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law. 22 But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. 23 Now before faith came, we were held captive under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith would be revealed. 24 So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith. 25 But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian, 26 for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith. – Galatians 3:21-25
In other words the law was given so that we could recognize our need for a Savior.
Jesus fulfilled the law, thus abolishing the difference between Jew and Gentile “so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross…” (Ephesians 2:15-16). Thus, Christians are not under the law (Romans 10:4).
Yes there is debate amongst Christians as to how closely we are to follow the law of Moses. That debate existed in the early church as well, even though I would hold that the debate was among Jews who converted to Christianity.
The Jewish Christian vs the Gentile Christian
Scripture indicates that Jewish people who accepted Christ and joined the church in the first century did follow the laws of Moses. Why? Because they were Jews!
However, when Gentiles (that would be us) began joining the church, there was some confusion about whether Gentile believers should be required to become circumcised, among other things. So the church leaders held a council about whether or not Gentile believers needed to follow Jewish law. The result was given in Acts 15:
19 Therefore my judgment is that we should not trouble those of the Gentiles who turn to God, 20 but should write to them to abstain from the things polluted by idols, and from sexual immorality, and from what has been strangled, and from blood. -Acts 15:19-20
That’s a pretty short list.
If you take the New Testament epistles as a whole, the intent of the writings were to guide the New Testament believers in the practice and doctrines of the faith. Many of the laws in the Old testament are presented as “sin” (murder, drunkenness, fornication (sex before marriage), adultery (sex outside of marriage), and homosexuality, just to name a few.
But you notice that there are no Jewish ceremonial or purification laws are taught in the New Testament. This would lead us to conclude that the NT church, regardless of being Jew or Gentile, are no longer required to follow these laws. This did cause some confusion in the early church, which Paul addressed in Romans 15:
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. 6 The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. – Romans 15:5-6
In other word, some Jewish Christians were bothered by the apparent lack of other Jewish believers to “follow the law.” Paul went on:
13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding. – Romans 15:13-18
In other words, if you want to follow the OT law, fine. If you want to walk in your freedom in regards to the OT law, that’s fine too. But no Christian, Jew or Gentile, should judge another, or use his or her freedom in Christ to act in such a way that would stumble a fellow believer.
Paul stresses that our main focus shouldn’t be to try and please God through adherence to rules and regulations, but rather to always live in such a way that our love for God, and one another, would always guide our actions.
The main law we are called to obey is 1) to love God, and 2) to love one another, as Jesus taught:
36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:36-40
We can change the world, one life at a time…