Many Christians I talk to have a lot of questions about how to interpret and understand the Old Testament. Since the arrival of the New Testament, they ask why we need the Old Testament in our Bibles. But without the Old Testament, we wouldn’t understand or appreciate the New Testament.
People especially have problems with Old Testament law. They don’t understand which parts of it Christians must still follow and which parts they must not. I’ve talked about this in other blog posts. But I want to focus on how Jesus changed the law.
The New Testament describes Jesus in several ways related to the law of Moses. These illuminate our understanding of what God expects from us concerning Old Testament law. Let’s take a look at three ways the New Testament defines Jesus’ role with the laws of Moses.
The Law Is Our Guardian (Galatians 3:23-29)
One of ways Paul describes the laws that it is a guardian for us until Christ came. He describes the situation before Christ. Before we knew Christ, we were held captive by the law. We couldn’t keep all of its overbearing regulations and rules.
But in a way, before Jesus gave us his teaching, people had to rely on the Old Testament law. It was the only way they knew to be righteous before God. Holiness gave them the opportunity to be in his presence in Israel.
Paul treats the law like a guardian. Now a guardian back then kept the inheritance of the sun until the sun became of age. Before we became of age in Christ, and put our faith in him, we could only rely on the law.
But it was more like a taskmaster than a guardian to us. It told us what we were doing wrong, but it couldn’t fix anything. It was more like an examination than a cure. It guarded us from doing wrong. But it couldn’t change us so that we didn’t do wrong anymore.
God didn’t leave the Israelites with just the law and its commandments. It told the Israelites what to do and not to do, and then it showed the penalty for when they didn’t do things the way God expected. Instead, he also gave them the sacrificial system.
The sacrificial system allowed them to offer animals in their place. These animals had to be perfect, without blemishes. They had to be the best of the best that the people could offer. The priest sacrificed the animal right in front of them so they understood that their sin caused its death.
That’s why we need Jesus. The law could justify the people if they followed it. And the sacrificial system kept them from suffering the penalties of the law. But Jesus is the perfect sacrifice, offered once for all. We no longer need to offer animals as sacrifices.
We don’t need the guardian anymore because Jesus is now our Guardian. And he offers us final justification. We gained the inheritance of being God’s children, part of his family. Through faith in Jesus, instead of trying to do all of the works of the law, we have put on Christ and he is our righteousness.
Being part of God’s family means that everything that divided us before is no longer an issue. There is no separation between Jews and Gentiles, slave and free, male and female. It doesn’t mean that we are no longer these things. But it means that they do not matter according to our family heritage, being God’s children.
Even though we are different on the outside, our spirits are new together as spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. We are united under Jesus. We gain the inheritance of the promised Son Jesus. There’s no need to look at our differences because we look at our new family ties.
Christ Fulfilled the Law (Matthew 5:17-20
Often times we talk about the Old Testament law no longer applying to us. After all, we are New Testament Christians. What does the Old Testament have to do with anything that we do? But Jesus didn’t say that he got rid of the law. He said he fulfilled it.
He starts out by talking about not abolishing the law. The writer of Hebrews says that he made the law “obsolete” (Hebrews 8:13). This doesn’t mean it has no more authority or is no longer. It means that there is a greater and better covenant, the new covenant, mediated by Jesus.
The law will last until the end of time. It will always be there. The difference is that we trust in Christ instead of trusting in our own ability to obey the law. As we follow Jesus, his teachings and his commandments, we fulfill the law through him.
Through obedience to the Holy Spirit, we fulfill the law, God’s expectations for us. In fact, as we teach others to obey God’s law through Jesus, he considers us greatest in his Kingdom. After all, moral laws like, “Thou shalt not kill,” are still in place for Christians.
Our righteousness must exceed that of the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed that they completely fulfilled every letter of the law. But they missed the spirit of the law by miles. We can’t rely on our own righteousness. Isaiah tells us our own righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
This is why Jesus becomes our righteousness (Romans 3:21-22; Philippians 3:9). We put on Christ (Galatians 3:27). His sacrifice covers our sins and makes us holy, the goal of the law.
Christ Is the End of the Law (Romans 10:4)
When Paul spoke about his fellow countrymen, the Jews, and how he wanted all of them to be saved in Christ, he described Jesus as the end of the law. The Jews in his day were trusting in their own works of the law.
Paul reminded the Jews that Jesus is the end of the law, the righteousness of God that they sought so hard on their own. No one can fulfill the entire law. Anyone who tries is responsible for every single one of the 613 laws.
We can’t gain a righteousness of our own before God that pleases him. We must trust in the righteousness of Christ that covers us the moment we believe. This is why he is the end of the law. The goal of the law is righteousness before God. And only Christ can give us that.
Through faith in Jesus and hearing the gospel, the good news that Jesus brings, we don’t have to trust in the works of the law. We can rely on Jesus to fulfill the law and cover us with his righteousness. Then when God the Father sees us, he sees the righteousness of his perfect Son.
Why work for your own righteousness under the law that will not result in pleasing God? Instead, we trust in Jesus, the perfect sacrifice satisfying God’s laws, the fulfillment of the law, and the goal of the law in righteousness.
We have seen how Jesus makes it easier for us to please God in righteousness. Then he sends the Holy Spirit to guide us and keep us on his path. Unlike in the Old Testament where God’s presence only to dwell with them when they were obedient to the law, we have the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit in us.
Jesus has done the hard work, the heavy lifting, for us. All we have to do is trust in his sacrifice, his fulfillment of the law. Leave a comment and tell me how you feel about what Jesus has done for us.