… in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed; Because that Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws. (Genesis 26:4-5)
I don’t know where we, Evangelical Christians, have gotten the idea that the Old Testament laws no longer apply. A few years ago, Dr. Charles Swindoll came out with a book entitled Grace Awakening where, I think, he attempts to assuage the guilt some Christians bear due to unnecessary legalism and encourage Christians to take joy in the freedom found through Christ. I have a great deal of respect for Dr. Swindoll. He is a far greater scholar and theologian that I can ever hope to be, but I think he unintentionally opened the door to liberalism here.
Swindoll rightly affirms that salvation, i.e., “justification” cannot be achieved through the works of the Law (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9), but then he unintentionally, I hope, implies that the Christian is no longer subject to the law. Here it is that we part ways, because the results of “grace living,” from my observation, are “carnal” Christians. The result is that modern Evangelical Christians are indistinguishable from the world around them, except on Sundays, when they are at their worship services.
Here is the truth: no one can be saved – be justified, have eternal life – through any act or effort of their own (Galatians 2:16, Ephesians 2:8-9). It is only through grace – the unmerited favor, the free gift – of God. It is all God’s doing, and it happens the instant one believes – places his trust – in the saving work of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection (John 1:12; 3:16, 36). Once that takes place, the matter is forever settled. One does not have to keep a long list of laws to come to that point. One does not need the proper theological understanding to come to that point. In the words of the children’s chorus, “Jesus loves me this I know, for the Bible tells me so.” Salvation takes place the instant one believes. That one act settles the matter. Now there remains the matter of “living” the Christian life. Here is where the Law comes to play.
Before I develop that point, let me preface the keeping of the Law by assuring the believer, especially the new Christian, that keeping the Laws of God is not accomplished through our own effort. At the moment we are saved, God’s Spirit comes to reside in us (1 Corinthians 3:16). God says, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts” (Jeremiah 31:33). Jesus said, “Take my yoke upon you … For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light (Matthew 11:29-30). The “burden” of the Law, for the Christian, is born supernaturally, so that the Christian should not suffer undue stress over keeping the law; however that does not mean no effort is required. Jesus said, “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15), so obviously some effort is involved on the part of the Christian, but that effort is aided by the Holy Spirit that dwells within us.
So, what are those commandments, i.e. the laws, which the Christian must keep? Simply speaking, they are the same laws God has always maintained. God’s laws are eternal. God says, “I am the LORD, I change not” (Malachi 3:6, emphasis mine). Jesus said, “For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled” (Matthew 5:18, emphasis mine). In our beginning verse above (Genesis 26:4-5), Abraham lived about 500 years before the Mosaic Law was given, and yet God says of him, “Abraham obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws” (emphasis mine). When Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17, emphasis mine). By fulfilling the Law, He did not negate God’s law. Rather, by perfectly keeping God’s law, He qualified Himself to be the perfect, sinless sacrifice for our sins, so that we don’t have to – not that we could ever keep God’s law perfectly. As His followers, we are still responsible to keep His commandments.
How does the Christian accomplish that? Jesus gave us the simplest way to accomplish this. He said, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind … And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matthew 22:37-40). This is good for beginners, but as the Christian grows in the faith, the “heart, soul, and mind” will want to do more out of love for “the Lord thy God.”
Love for God implies love for God’s Word – all of God’s Word, which includes the Old Testament. There the Christian will find the Law of God in the first five books of the Bible. Obviously some of those laws no longer apply. For example, we no longer have to offer animal sacrifices, because the blood of Christ is the ultimate sacrifice. Most of us Christians are Gentiles, so the dietary laws no longer apply, although, following them might make us healthier. Some of the dress code does not apply to Christians, however the principal behind such laws is still in effect.
Many of those laws were given to distinguish God’s people from the heathen nations around them. God said, “Now therefore, if ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people: for all the earth is mine (Exodus 19:5, emphasis mine). That word “peculiar” in the Hebrew implies something “special” that is “shut up” and treasured. In another place, God said, “For thou art an holy people unto the LORD thy God, and the LORD hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth” (Deuteronomy 14:2, emphasis mine). “Holy” means to be set aside as consecrated or sacred. In fact God demands holiness from His people: “Sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy: for I am the LORD your God” (Leviticus 20:7, emphasis mine). For those who think that the Old Testament no longer applies, that command is repeated in the New Testament (1 Peter 1:15-16).
God’s people are to be distinct from the world. They should be set apart. They should be holy. God’s people should reflect God, not mimic the world. The way we do that is to follow God’s laws. Will we be able to follow God’s laws perfectly? Don’t count on it, and don’t be disheartened when you fail. But that does not mean that we don’t try. When we do fail, we can find comfort in knowing that “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). We can still be joyful knowing that God loves us and has forgiven us even when we fail to keep His laws perfectly. But don’t think for one moment that God’s laws can be discarded by the Christian. Indeed, Paul, that great advocate of grace said, “Wherefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy, and just, and good” (Romans 7:12) because it gives us a standard that we can follow. It helps us to recognize sin in our lives and it guides us to holy living. But on the day we stand before God’s throne, we will not be judged by the Law, but by the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for us.