Are We Obligated to Keep the Law?
- November 17, 2019
- Jared Odenbeck
The question I address, “Are we obligated to keep the Law?” is not new. In recent years, however, the emergence of “new,” “updated,” and “modern” doctrine threatens to cast off biblical mandates. Some question the relevance of Old Testament Law and the commandments that date before Christ. Thus, the integrity and validity of Old Testament Law and its commandments presents as the issue at hand.
There are three components of biblical Law found within the Old Testament – ceremonial, judges, and moral. It would be difficult to find a person who identifies as a Christian, yet does not believe in the validity of New Testament commandments. Or, a person that does not proclaim to follow the teachings of Jesus. We will see, then, that this widely held position seems to validate the Old Testament.
Now, I must say that I do not seek to make a law. I especially do not aim to require works as a means of salvation, for that would be biblically inconsistent. However, I do seek to honor Scripture. I want to first look to the Old Testament to discover why we ought to keep the Law. I think there are at least three reasons. I am sure there are many more.
God created the Law
The Law is for our good (sin destroys us, our lives, the world).
Jesus kept and affirmed the Law.
Keeping the Law is not a means of salvation.
First, God gave us the Law in his word. Anything that God has given is good, for it proceeds from him. He is pure goodness. His word and his Law is truth, and it sanctifies his saints. God, in his providence, created the Law so that we might recognize his holiness and our need for redemption and for the forgiveness of sins in light of his perfection and our chronic iniquity. If we are of God, we ought to do and obey what he says. “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous…And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments.” (1 John 1, 3). In one sense, the mark of a Christian is one that knows his own righteousness fails before the LORD, so much so, that his one hope in life and in death is in the risen Christ. In another, perhaps simultaneously, we can only say that we know him so long as “we keep his commandments.”
Second, the Law exists not just for the sake of creating an awareness of God’s holiness and our sinfulness, and therefore our utter dependence on him, but also so that we can become like him. Our Lord kept the Law perfectly. If you want to be formed into the image of Christ, keep his commandments. Jesus cared so much for the integrity of the Law that he rebuked the Pharisees for adding their own commandments to the Law and creating stumbling blocks for Israel (Matthew 12:1-14). Jesus also affirmed the Law. “For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished” (Matthew 5:18). And, he commanded obedience unto it. “If your righteousness does not exceed the scribes and the Pharisees…” (Matthew 5:20). In fact, Jesus’ set an impossibly high standard for obedience to the Law and for righteousness. “Be perfect, therefore, as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48).
Last, the Law is for our good. Scripture gives us life, it refines us, and it teaches us about the heart and nature of God through his commandments. God’s commandments are nothing more than a call to become as he is in nature and in goodness. So, what does the Law accomplish in us so that the LORD grants good gifts to us?
First, the Law is a landing place in a time of trouble. “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes. The law of your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces” (Psalm 119:71-72). Affliction leads us to the Law. When we learn the Law, we inherit true riches, better than any riches in this world. Second, commandments fill the soul with life, in that we discover what we were made for, and also that the Law purifies our living. “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (Psalm 119:93). Third, wisdom proceeds from the Law. “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me” (Psalm 119:97-98). Those who meditate on the Law inherit wisdom. Fourth, those who love the Law know security. “Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble” (Psalm 119:165). The Law and commandments of the LORD are a true refuge for those who cherish them. Those that embrace the Law with their whole mind and soul and strength, as our LORD did, do not cower in the face of temptations, but rather, they run a race of confidence and assurance with a single focus.
The Word, then, including the Old Testament, is vital to the believer. All components of the Law conform the saint into the image of Christ, and draw them one moment nearer to Glory and Paradise.
“Sanctify me by the truth, your Word is truth” (John 17:17). Allow the Law to measure you. Allow it to expose your sin. Allow it to teach you. Allow it to give you hope in a Christ that fulfilled it for you.