I fought the law... and the law won part 1

I'm going to put up a few posts over the next few days about the role of the Old Testament Law in our lives as Christians. I first started thinking about this subject in detail after reading A year of living biblically by AJ Jacobs in which the author tries to follow every command in the Bible for an entire year (It's not done fro a Christian perspective but I would still recommend the book). That got me thinking about two questions that we need to be able to answer:
  • Do Christians just pick and choose what to believe? (eg. we follow "do not murder" but don't follow the laws about bodily discharges in leviticus chapter 15)
  • What is the point of us reading the law? (aren't we better off sticking to the New Testament?)
In answer to the second point, we should look at the couple of bible studies that Jesus leads between his resurrection and ascension in luke 24...
luke 24 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. 44 He said to them, "This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms."
When they refer to the law and/or Moses, they are refering to the first 5 books of the Bible, although we don't find much of the actual laws in genesis. There are approx 613 distinct laws in those books and by the time of Jesus, the Pharisees had added clauses and other laws to bring it up to a total of over 1500. So what are we to make of some of the more obscure sections? Eg. the laws for cleaning households in leviticus14:33-57, which are basically - pray about it, and if nothing changes knock the house down! It's definately a man's way of cleaning! Firstly it's helpful to recognise that there are 3 categories of laws in the Old Testament. Moral (eg. see the 10 commandments Ex 20), civil (eg Ex21-23) and cermonial (cleanliness) (eg see the laws for offerings in Lev1-7) This first part will look at the "easiest" of the 3, the Moral law:

The most well known example of this would be the 10 commandments, found in Ex20:1-17. So, do we as Christians have to abide by the Moral law? In a word, No.
21But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Paul makes it clear that the Law does not save us. So is it pointless? Again, the answer is no.

Romans 7:7-12 7What shall we say, then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! Indeed I would not have known what sin was except through the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, "Do not covet." 8But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead. 9Once I was alive apart from law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. 10I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death. 11For sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, deceived me, and through the commandment put me to death. 12So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good

The law shows us what sin is. We know that murder/adultery/idolatry is sin because of the law. We have all sinned. We all try to fight the law, and the law wins every time!
What does Jesus say about the moral law?

Matt 5:21-30
21"You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, 'Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.' 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brotherwill be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

23"Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift.

25"Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still with him on the way, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. 26I tell you the truth, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.

27"You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' 28But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell

Jesus throws the net even wider so we know we're all sinners. The Pharisees (and us) can mistakenly think we're doing alright when comparing ourselves to the 10 or the 613 laws. Jesus says that its about our hearts as well - and therefore we are all guilty.
Romans 8:3-4 gives us the solution:

"3 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit."
In response to the two original questions:
  • Do Christians just pick and choose what to believe? - No, we believe that the moral laws show us what sin is.
  • What is the point of us reading the moral laws? - To recognise our sin and show us our need for Jesus.
The law is useful to us to show us our sin but is not the way out. Jesus is.

2 Cor 5:21
21God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

He became our sin. We get his righteousness. Jesus did not break any of the moral laws in the OT. His righteousness is transferred onto us. Use the moral law as a guide, but don't kid yourself that you can live a holy life apart from Jesus.