Why We Do Not Follow The Old Testament Commandments
Christians who claim that the Old Testament laws are applicable for today, conveniently do so without giving any serious thought about how these laws are inherently derived from a primitive ancient Near-Eastern background and context. However, this blog post is not a discussion on why these Christians cherry pick Old Testament laws that suit them in a 21st century culture. Instead, this blog post is about why Christians ought not heed to the old covenant, or to the ancient Near-Eastern laws that are tweaked within it. Why? Because of Jesus' teachings in the New Testament, starting with: "If you love me, keep my commandments." (John 14:15)
Is Jesus referring here to the Decalogue, or all 613 commandments in the Old Testament? Neither. Jesus clarifies: "If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father's commandments and abide in his love." (John 15:10)
Thus, since Jesus is God, these are his New Covenant commandments. Just after Judas left the room, Jesus says: "I am giving you a new commandment to love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:34-35)
Those under the Old Testament would be known for rituals, whereas Christians under Christ would be known specifically for sacrificial love, as John writes: "This is how we can be sure that we have come to know him: if we continually keep his commandments." (1 John 2:3)
"And this is his commandment: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus the Messiah, and to love one another as he commanded us. The person who keeps his commandments abides in God, and God abides in him. This is how we can be sure that he remains in us: he has given us his Spirit." (1 John 3:23-24)
Two commandments are given:
1. Believe in the Messiah.
2. Love one another, as he commanded.
Even in salvation, John writes: "We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love one another. The person who does not love remains spiritually dead. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life present in him." (1 John 3:14-15)
"No one has ever seen God. If we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. This is how we know that we abide in him and he in us: he has given us his Spirit." (1 John 4:12-13)
Thus, it is obvious that a legalist would oppose these passages. After Jesus' ascension, John continues: "Dear lady, I am now requesting of you that we all continue to love one another. It is not as though I am writing to give you a new commandment, but one that we have had from the beginning. And this is what demonstrates love: that we live according to God's commandments. Just as you have heard from the beginning what he commanded, you must live by it. For many deceivers have gone out into the world. They refuse to acknowledge Jesus the Messiah as having become human. Any such person is a deceiver and an antichrist." (2 John 1:5-7)
What about Paul? He likewise affirms: "Practice carrying each other's burdens. In this way you will fulfill the law of the Messiah." (Galatians 6:2)
Thus, John clarifies what these burdens are in light of the law of Christ: "This is my commandment: that you love one another as I have loved you. No one shows greater love than when he lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you." (John 15:12-14)
James, the brother of Jesus, likewise agrees with this: "Nevertheless, you are doing the right thing if you obey the royal Law in keeping with the Scripture, "You must love your neighbor as yourself." But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and will be convicted by the Law as violators." (James 2:8-9)
When it comes to a faith involving works, salvation is now in the hands of the one who tries to hold to the Old Testament commandments, rather in the hands of the only one that can truly be holy before God. If you put your faith in a potential man-made rule that God accommodates in the old covenant (instead of Christ and his new covenant), then you are not reaching your potential in Christ.
So what is the new covenant? What is the dividing line between the old covenant and the new covenant? Jesus gives us the answer: "this is my blood of the new covenant that is being poured out for many people for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:28)
God, through Jeremiah, uttered a prophecy about this new covenant: "Look, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I'll make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It won't be like the covenant I made with their ancestors on the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt. They broke my covenant, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. Rather, this is the covenant that I'll make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD. "I'll put my Law within them and will write it on their hearts. I'll be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a person teach his neighbor or his relative: 'Know the LORD.' Instead, they'll all know me, from the least to the greatest of them," declares the LORD. "Indeed, I'll forgive their iniquity, and I'll remember their sin no more." (Jeremiah 31:31-34)
Here we see a reference to the Mosaic law. Thus, Paul utilizes Jeremiah 31 in a dramatic way: "However, Jesus has now obtained a more superior ministry, since the covenant he mediates is founded on better promises. If the first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one, but God found something wrong with his people when he said, "Look! The days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors at the time when I took them by the hand and brought them out of the land of Egypt. Because they did not remain loyal to my covenant, I ignored them, declares the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after that time, declares the Lord: I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people. Never again will everyone teach his neighbor or his brother by saying, 'Know the Lord,' because all of them will know me, from the least important to the most important. For I will be merciful regarding their wrong deeds, and I will never again remember their sins." In speaking of a "new" covenant, he has made the first one obsolete, and what is obsolete and aging will soon disappear." (Hebrews 8:6-13)
It is the blood of Christ (the new covenant) that is now fulfilled in Jesus' resurrection (Matthew 5:17). Thus, Paul warns anybody who tries to follow the Mosaic law: "Therefore, God will not justify any human being by means of the actions prescribed by the Law, for through the Law comes the full knowledge of sin." (Romans 3:20)
To summarize, the only thing that does come from the law is the knowledge of sin. Carrying out the law does nothing for humanity. The reason Christians love without it being a chore is simply due to the fact that Jesus first loved us. Here's another lesson from Jesus: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?" Jesus told him, "'You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.' This is the greatest and most important commandment. The second is exactly like it: 'You must love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:36-40)
With the Christian commandments now on the table, there is no reference from Jesus that we need to follow the Old Testament commandments. The only benefit we gain from them is in regards to the ancient Near Eastern context that God utilized in order to direct Israel toward a Messianic goal, pointing to what Jesus needed to do in order to fulfill the Old Testament. Thus, Christians do not need to do what Jesus already did for us. Again, if we proclaim that we love and follow Jesus, then we ought to keep his commandments. No one else.