One perennial debate in Christian circles is - “Is the Old Covenant Law for Christians today or do we live by different criteria”?
Debates can start with someone quoting Hebrews 8:13 and saying that the Law has not finally passed away, so we should be keeping it! So let's look at this.
This quote says there is a NEW covenant and that there is an OLD one, and that the OLD one is becoming obsolete.
So the point can be made that since there are two covenants why should one live according to the obsolete one? Can one still get the benefits of the Old Covenant? What are it's benefits? What is the downside?
According to the Old Covenant the way to get your sins covered was for a priest to kill a lamb or dove, etc., on your behalf. One cannot do that now. The ability to cover ones sins in this manner has vanished away and is totally obsolete!
We do not sacrifice Jesus each time we sin! And in any case, Jesus is not a replacement for sacrifices under the OLD covenant. We accepted His sacrifice once, as a propitiation for all sins, under the NEW covenant, for all time!
Additionally, Paul points out quite clearly that once a participant in a covenant dies, the covenant is null and void.
7:2 For a married woman is bound by the Law to her husband while he
is living, but if her husband dies, she is released from the Law
concerning her husband.
Jesus who was the participant on God’s side in the Old Covenant, died. It is no longer binding on us; unless one chooses to keep it. If one does then Galatians 4:21-31 explains the situation and those living under Sinai will not inherit with those living under grace!
The covenant given at Sinai is like Ishmael (works). Christians live by the grace promise of Isaac.
As Paul points out, if righteousness could come by law keeping then Christ died for nothing!
But what was the Law given to Israel (and any others under it) for?
1 Tim 1:9-11 But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully, knowing this: that the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust.
Now, another scripture quoted in it's defence by 'keepers' of Old Covenent Law is Matthew 5:18.
Mat 5:18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is fulfilled.
The first point to make is that the law is stated in the New Testament to have a
role. It's to show liars, theives, murderers, profane and unholy people that they
need a Saviour. In other words if you are smart, it shows you how bad you are and
that you cannot help yourself!
He says over and over again that something fulfilled a prophesy and in history it was not to be repeated! In the same way Jesus fulfilled the law. We do not have to try to fulfil it ourselves. In fact we cannot! There is no-one that good, no, not one!
Another book often used to attempt to control through Old Covenant Law is Romans 10:12 which says there is no difference between Jew and Greek. In other words all are to live the same and keep the same laws!
But is that what that verse is all about?
In the church there is no difference between Jew and Greek. But, this is not replacement theology and it's not about law keeping.
If one were to read Romans Chapters 9, 10 and 11 one would see that the church is not the same as natural Israel; nor has it replaced natural Israel. If you believe we are grafted into natural Israel do remember that in the physical nation of Israel, Jews and Greeks are not the same! We are grafted into the Spiritual Israel.
In the book of John, Chapter 15 we find mention of Jesus as the true vine into which we are grafted. Not natural Israel nor the church!
We are in Christ and without him we cannot do anything. But fortunately we are never without Jesus, since He and the Father and Holy Spirit are in us and we in Them, forever! By we I mean Christians – not just anybody! He said He would never leave us, His disciples, or forsake us.
Christians are individuals from every tribe of Israel and gentiles who are the greater portion. They are different to natural Israel. God tells us through Paul that He will turn His attention back to natural Israel when the full number of gentiles has come in. (See Romans 9, 10 and 11)
Jesus also said that the Israelites would not see Him again until they say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord”. Taking the gospel to all the world is not the only criteria for Christ’s return! Israel calling for her Saviour, Jesus, is also one of them! There is a major role for natural Israel in God's future. The gifts and calling of God are without repentance!
Let's take a look at a small portion of Romans 11 to see some of this role. We can take the verses from v17 – v24.
First some background. In Romans chapters 9, 10 and 11, Paul is showing how God has not forgotten His national people, natural Israel, and will call them all, although for a while their (that is, most of them them, not all) hearts are hardened.
The gospel came to the Jew first and then to the Greek (or nations). Because the Jews stumbled the gentiles received salvation, but this was to make the Jews jealous and want their Saviour Jesus. And in the end all Israel will be saved.
But what is the root of the olive tree we have been grafted into? It’s the root of grace. And grace is a person. Jesus the Christ!
We are Abraham’s children not Moses’. We have not been grafted into physical Israel! That is spiritually of the line of Ishmael, as we can see by reading Galatians 4:21-31.
We, on the other hand, have been grafted into the promises God gave to Abraham and through Isaac! Israelites before the time of Jesus could be permanently attached to the spiritual olive tree by faith. All stay in that olive tree only because of faith not by keeping the law
Romans 11:20 They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith.
Now all people can be grafted into this spiritual olive tree. Their sins are forgiven on the cross. They have access to this forgiveness and to stay, only when they accept Jesus as Lord and Saviour. Just as Abraham did; His faith was reckoned to him for righteousness. Ours has been! Theirs will be also!
This chapter, Romans 11, cannot be talking about the physical nation, natural Israel, and keeping the law, because the law is not of faith (Galatians 3:12)!
So finally can we give reasons why we do not observe the Law”? Do we have a basis for living by faith?
First - The law brings death, not life. Romans 7:10; 2 Cor 3:6; Romans 4:15;
Second - The purpose of the law was to increase sin. Romans 5:20-21; Romans 4:15
Third - If you live under the law and fail to keep all the law you are under a curse. Galatians 3:10-11.
Fourth - The law was a guard keeping us prisoner under sin until Christ came and we could be declared righteous by faith. Now faith has come we are freed! Gal 3:22-25.
Fifth - I died to the Law in Christ (Romans 7:4). Since I am dead to the law, if the law gives me a command, as I am dead, I do not respond!
Sixth - If you break even the least part of the Law, you have broken ALL of it! (James 2:10).
Seventh - The Law was not meant for righteous people! It was given for unholy, unrighteous, ungodly, sinners; not Christians! (1 Tim 1:8-11).
On the other hand I am alive in the spirit. So if Holy Spirit says, “Do this!”, I say, “Yes Sir!”
We are to be led by the Spirit. We listen to Jesus not Moses. Romans 8:11-14. Mark 9:7.
I hope we all realises that Holy Spirit (of whom Jesus said it would be better for Him to come rather than Jesus staying on earth) is a better guide than they themselves trying to follow the law!
Why would one choose to do things that bring death and increase sin when there is a better covenant with a better guide who is just like Jesus?
The Old Covenant allowed killing disrespectful people by fire from heaven (as Elijah did), but this does not mean that it’s according to the heart (Spirit) of God! Jesus told the disciples that those thoughts actually were from another spirit! Which one do you think?
In the same way the Law Covenant was given to people without the Holy Spirit, to make them sin more and realise they could not do it, but needed a Saviour. The problem is that although the bible tells us this, they thought that they kept it, like the “rich ruler”, or that the killing of a dove, etc made it OK.
Nowadays the Christian equivalent says he/she is keeping the law and when they fail they run to the grace covenant and ask for forgiveness, but instead of continuing with grace they abandon it and run back to the Law!
we are saved by grace through faith and should stick to grace
thereafter. The law cannot save us and it cannot help us to live
godly lives. Only grace does.
Now which spirit would want us to live by an obsolete covenant that brings death and actually increases sin, when there is the better 'grace covenant' available which saves us and sustains us in righteous living?
Galatians, 3:1-29 is well worth reading to get the whole context of our life in Christ!
There's lots more one could say but I hope this is adequate as a starter for your own studies.
Best wishes for grace and the peace of Jesus.