Here’s a guest post from my friend, Dan Tsouloufis:
As Christians living in the New Covenant era, it is quite common for people to wonder what role the Mosaic Law plays in the life of the believer. One may ask such questions as: “Is the law even relevant today?” “Is the law outdated and useless after Jesus came?”
What should be our biblical response to such queries? Below I will offer a brief overview of the law from a New Covenant perspective.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he was revealing to the Jews that, notwithstanding his own commitment to observing the law (i.e. the Mosaic Law), he had come to realize that he was condemned – not saved – by observing the law. Secondly, Paul was revealing to the Gentiles that even though they were not “under the law” (i.e. under the Mosaic Law), they were nonetheless condemned due to their sin and rebellion with respect to God’s holiness and justice. In their wickedness, both Jews and Gentiles were deserving of God’s wrath due to their sin, since they had violated God’s standards as reflected in His law. Their inability to keep the law, not the law itself, was the source of their broken relationship with God.
The law was put in place as a guardian (Gal. 3:24, and in some translations: schoolmaster or tutor) until Christ would come to fulfill the law (Matt. 5:17-20). The law served to point us to Christ and His righteousness, which is the only righteousness that could impart life to us (Gal. 3:21). Thus, the law was never meant to save us. Rather, we are saved by Christ’s righteousness that we receive by faith, which then becomes our righteousness, since we now live according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:3-4). The law was a shadow that pointed to Christ’s ultimate sacrifice on the cross, which Christ endured in order to cleanse us from our sin and unrighteousness due to our failure to keep the law (Heb. 10:1-4). Therefore, the ceremonial laws and the laws pertaining to the tabernacle and temple are no longer needed/required (Heb. 9:11-15). This should be an indication to us that Jesus came to fulfill the law, rather than do away with it completely.
I believe the law still exists, but we are no longer “under the law” with respect to the Old Covenant, but are under the “law of the Spirit” (Rom. 8:2) with respect to the New Covenant. The law is still holy, righteous, and good (Rom. 7:12-13) because the law is a reflection of God’s holy character, and it serves to reveal our sin. Therefore in its general sense it remains relevant for us, even though we are no longer bound by its ceremonial and dietary precepts. For example, the law had functioned (in part) to separate Israel from the Gentiles. But with the coming of Christ in the New Covenant, this brought Jews and Gentiles together under one gospel of grace, as the Gentiles were grafted into the same olive tree with Israel (Rom. 11:11-24). Certainly, this function of the law is no longer required.
Under the New Covenant, I believe the primary purpose of the law for the Christian is that it serves to guide the believer in sanctification and obedience. In this sense it serves a moral purpose, but not a salvific one, since we are no longer condemned by the law. In Reformed theological circles, this is known as the “third use of the law.”
Since we now live according to the Spirit (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:25), we should seek to please God and worship Him out of a sense of gratitude for the mercy He has given us through Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross (Rom. 12:1). Our response to God’s grace should be one of faithful obedience and good works that are motivated by gratitude. As the late theologian R.C. Sproul keenly put it, “The sum of theology is grace; the sum of ethics is gratitude.”
Lastly, I would say that as Christians, we cannot obey God’s Law merely on our own power – we need His help. As Jesus declared, “If you love me, keep my commands. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate to help you and be with you forever – the Spirit of truth” (John 14:15-17). Further, Jesus said, “Unless I go away, the Advocate will not come to you” (John 16:7). “But when he, the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth” (John 16:13).