One of the basic causes for religious division is a failure to distinguish between the Law of Moses and the gospel of Christ. At least three books in the New Testament (Romans, Galatians, and Hebrews) are devoted to proving that the gospel of Christ is a system separate and independent of Judaism. Many modern religions will go back to the Old Testament in an effort to find authority for people today to keep the Sabbath, practice infant membership in churches, tithe, and to use mechanical instruments of music in worship, just to name a few. These and many other false doctrines are taught by well meaning people simply because they do not differentiate between the law and the gospel.
There are several terms that must be used in our discussion of this subject. So it is proper for us to be sure that you are familiar with the meaning of these words.
1. “Promise” – This word as it is used in the New Testament refers to the promise made to Abraham (Gen. 12:1-3; Gen. 22: 18) that in his seed should all nations of the earth be blessed. This promise found its fulfillment when Christ, the seed of Abraham, came (Gal. 3:16). So we see that ultimately the promise embraced the gospel system.
2. “Law” – The Law is sometimes divided into three parts in the New Testament: the law, the prophets, and Psalms (Luke 24:44) Sometimes the word “law” refers to the 10 Commandments (Rom. 7:7; Ex. 20: 17). Sometimes the word “law” refers to the Pentateuch, the first five books in the Old Testament (Matt. 12:5; Luke 2:22, 23; Jno. 8:5). Sometimes the word “law” is used to refer to the Psalms (Jno. 10:34; Ps. 82:6). Sometimes the word “law” refers to the entire Old Testament system which began to be given at Mt. Sinai (Eph. 2:15; Rom. 7:4, 6; Gal. 3:23-25). The New Testament refers only to two great lawgivers, Moses and Christ. “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jno. 1: 17).
3. “Gospel” – The word “Gospel” refers to the entire system of truth as given by Christ, His apostles, and other men whom He inspired, and as is recorded in the New Testament. This system is called “the gospel” (Rom. 1:16; 1 Cor. 15-1-3); “the faith” (Jude 3; Gal. 1:23); “the word of faith” (Rom. 10:8); “grace and truth” (Jno. 1:17); “the perfect law of liberty” (Jas. 1:25); and “faith” (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 3:23, 25).
In Galatians 3, Paul teaches that God promised that He would bless all nations through Abraham’s seed, which is Jesus Christ (Gal. 3:16). Once God or man makes a covenant, it cannot be voided or changed. God made a covenant with Abraham to bless all nations through his seed. But 430 years after God made this promise to Abraham, God saw fit to give the law of Moses. Paul’s teaching in Gal. 3 is that the giving of the Law of Moses could not invalidate God’s previously made promise to bless all nations through Abraham’s seed (Christ). Redemption for all nations is therefore through the promise (Christ), and not through the Law of Moses.
The Purpose of the Law of Moses
If redemption or the inheritance is not through the law, then why was the law given, one may ask (Gal, 3:19). So Paul states some of the purposes God had in giving the law.
1. “It was added because of transgression till the seed (Christ) should come” (Gal. 3:19). “Through the law comes the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20); sin was “shown to be sin,” and therefore sin was shown to be “exceedingly sinful” (Rom. 7:13). During the 430 years, the people became sinful. So God gave the law to define sin, and to show its enormity, until “the seed should come.”
2. It held its subjects in bondage (Gal. 4:8); it shut them up under sin (Gal. 3:22.). All were under a curse who did not keep all things that were written in the law (Gal. 3: 10). But none did that. All sinned and fell short of God’s glory (Rom. 3:23). Under the law, the only provision made for remission of sins was the blood of bulls and goats, which could never take away sin (Heb. 10: 1-4). So “by the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16). It remained for the shed blood of Christ to free even those under the law from their guilt of sin (Rom. 3:21-26 ff; Heb. 9:15; Matt. 26: 28; Eph. 1: 7; 1 Jno. 1: 6, 7). The law therefore held its subjects in bondage to their guilt of sin.
3. The law was to “bring … unto Christ” those who were under it (Gal. 8:24). This was done in two ways. First, contained in the law were several hundred prophecies telling the people what the Christ would be like. These identified the Messiah for the people when He came (Jno. 5:39, 46, 47). Secondly, since the people were in bondage in sin, they were led to seek a Savior. Their lost state and guilt made them realize they needed help. A lost man who does not know he is lost seeks no Savior. Those under the law were made by the law to know they needed help. Hence the law led them to “the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world” (Jno. 1: 29).
The Nature of the Law of Moses
1. Weak – “For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh” (Rom. 8:3), God sent His Son to correct.
2. To be fulfilled – “Think not that I came to destroy the law or the prophets: I came not to destroy, but to fulfill!” (Matt. 5:17). When the law had been fulfilled (completed or ended), it had accomplished its purpose, and was therefore done away.
3. Temporary – “It was added because of transgression, till the seed should come” (Gal. 3:19). “Till” implies a termination point.
4. Could not provide complete forgiveness – “By the works of the law shall no flesh be justified” (Gal. 2:16; Rom. 3:20; Heb. 10:1-4).
5. Imperfect – “For if the first covenant had been faultless then would no place have been sought for a second” (Heb. 8:7).
Abolition of the Law
Seeing the law was temporary in its nature, we should not be surprised to learn that it served its purpose, and therefore was removed as binding today.
1. “For he is our peace, who made both one, and brake down the middle wall of partition, having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances” (Eph. 2:14,15).
2. “Having blotted out the bond written in ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us: and he hath taken it out of the way, nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:14).
3. “Wherefore, my brethren, you also were made dead to the law through the body of Christ” (Rom. 7:4).
4. “But now’ we have been discharged from the law, having died to that wherein we were held” (Rom. 7:6).
5. “For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law” (Heb. 7:12).
6. “He takes away the first (covenant), that he may “establish the second (covenant)” (Heb. 10:9).
7. “So that the law is become our tutor to bring, us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. But now that faith is come we are no longer under a tutor” (Gal. 3:24, 25). In other words, we are no longer under the law of Moses.
In these several passages we see that the law was intended to be done away, and that it was abolished. We learn that it was done away in the death of Christ, by His flesh, or it was nailed to His cross. Paul further discusses when the law was abolished in Heb. 9:16, 17: “For where a testament is, there must of necessity be the death of him that made it. For a testament is of force where there has been death: for it never avails while he that made it lives.” A testament is a will. There is a New Testament and there is an Old Testament. No one can’t have two wills binding at the same time. When the second will is written, it replaces the first one. When the second will of God was written, it made the first will (testament) old and of no effect. One’s properties (spiritual or material) cannot be dispensed according to the terms of two wills at one time, Disposition of goods can be made only on the terms of a single binding will. Ones will becomes effective at ones death. So did Christ’s. At His death the New Testament came into effect, the Old Testament having been nailed to His cross.
Consequences of Mixing the Old and New Testaments
1. Christ will profit you nothing – “Behold I Paul say unto you, that if you receive circumcision (a part of the law), Christ will profit you nothing” (Gal. 5:2).
2. You are a debtor to do the whole law “Yes, I testify again to every man that receives circumcision, that he is a debtor to do the whole law” (Gal. 5:3). For, having forfeited Christ by going back to the law, one’s only hope of salvation is to keep the law perfectly. But, no one can keep the law perfectly. Therefore:
3. You are “entangled again in a yoke of bondage” (Gal. 5:1).
4. You are fallen from grace – “You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified by the law; you are fallen away from grace” (Gal. 5:4).
5. It is sinful to mix the two laws. In Acts 15, the Jews sinned by trying to bind a part of the Old Testament (circumcision) upon people living under the New Testament.
Conclusion: I know of no one who attempts to go back under the law completely. If one really attempted to make the gospel and the law one law, he would offer animal sacrifices according to the terms of the law. Polygamy once more would be tolerated by God. It’s only when people are pressed to find authority for something the new testament never commanded or practiced do people seek to find authority for it in the old testament.
It is noteworthy that some laws were brought over to the new testament. For instance, the principles of the ten commandments are restated in the New Testament, with the exception of the Sabbath (The 7th day is changed to the First Day of the week, the Lord’s day) (Acts 20:7 f; 1 Cor. 16: 1, 2). However, we keep the principles of the Ten Commandments, not because they are found in the Old Testament, but because they are restated and strengthened in the New Testament.
Is the study of the law therefore now of no benefit to us, since it has been done away?” Surely, it is still beneficial to study the law. We learn of the patience of Job, the faith of Abraham, the courage of Elijah. In speaking of certain recorded Old Testament events, Paul says “Now these things happened unto them by way of example; and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages are come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Further Paul says: “For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that through patience and through comfort of the scriptures we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). So study of the law is still profitable for us, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. (Rom 3:20)
Remember, the Law of Moses had a purpose. It served that purpose, and was nailed to the cross of Jesus. We are now under the law of Christ, and not under the Law of Moses. “For the law was given through Moses; but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17).