Are we still obligated to keep the Law?

Moses with the tablets of the Ten Commandments...

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Question: A friend of mine says that he thinks Jesus says we should still uphold the Law, even though we aren’t justified it. I believe the verses my friend cites are Matthew 5:17-20. Is this what Messianic Jews rely on to validate their denomination of Christianity? And why don’t other Christians believe this way?

Answer: The Law was never a means of justification. In Romans 4 Paul argues clearly that Abraham was justified by faith, not by works of the Law. In 3:20 he says, “No one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law.” It is permissable for Jews to observe the Law (or anyone for that matter) as long as they don’t do it as a means of justification or view it as giving them a superior spirituality to others.

Jesus fulfilled the Law which makes many of its requirements obsolete. We no longer need to sacrifice, of course. He also interpreted the true intent of the Law. For example, keeping the Sabbath was never intended to exclude people from doing good things for others or providing their basic needs (Matthew 12:1-14). Tithing was not intended to be viewed as more important than mercy (Matthew 23:23,24). There are aspects of the Law that are timeless. The 10 Commandments give us God’s moral requirements for all time (with the exception being that the Sabbath is relegated to the seventh day, Saturday, whereas Paul indicates that it can be observed as a principle applicable to every day, Romans 14:5,6).

Messianic Jews don’t necessarily keep all the Law, though they see in it the fulfillment in Christ that He was talking about in Matthew 5.

Randall Johnson

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11 thoughts on “Are we still obligated to keep the Law?

  1. The applicability of the Law as not been changed as testified by Matthew 5 and Acts 15, among other places. Paul himself was intending to engage in the full requirements of the Nazarite vow, which meant he had to offer an offering. There are many other examples of Jews in the New Testament keeping the Law. It was to the Gentiles, however, that they discouraged the same following of the Law, because it was not given to them to follow in the same physical manner.

    I would therefore disagree with the notion that the Law is optional or that it is simply permissible for Jews to observe it today, but rather required. I would also generally discourage Gentiles from trying to follow the Law in the same physical manner as Jews.

    • 1 Corinthians 9:19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

      Galatians 3:23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

      Galatians 2:11 When Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. 13 The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. 14 When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?

      These passages indicate that Paul felt free to not obey the Law of Moses, as did Peter, but were nonetheless under the law of Christ. So even Jews are free to live as Gentiles, meaning the Law is no longer required for anyone. If someone, Jew or Gentile, chooses to keep the Law it must be only because it is a personal choice and not a requirement of God and especially not as a requirement for justification.

      • This interpretation of Paul’s writings would set him against what God said previously. For example, Exodus 31:16 explains that Sabbath observance is for Israel throughout their generations. This cannot be altered from God’s Word, since the Word of God cannot be broken. Therefore, it must still be required.

        There must be a way to reconcile both what Exodus says and what Paul says in the New Testament. If it cannot be done, Exodus wins by default, since the Law takes precedence over even prophets that have an accurate track record with signs and wonders, as stated in Deuteronomy 13.

      • There is more than one way to observe the Sabbath rest and even though the Law of Moses describes a Saturday observation God is more than authorized to alter how it is observed in coming generations. Besides, this is the old covenant of God with Israel and He has created a New Covenant (Jeremiah 31) that takes precedent over the old.
        Deuteronomy 13 does not give the Law victory by default over attested prophets but the truth about who Yahweh Himself is and His uniqueness as the only true God. You are more right in my estimation when you argue that Exodus and Paul must be reconcilable.

  2. One problem with that view is that God never, in any place in the Bible, indicated that he changed the Sabbath in any way.

    Jeremiah 31 is a large topic, but the signs of which it speaks as being associated with the New Covenant have not occurred as of yet. While we can agree that the final sacrifice has been made that would cause this to happen, it is hard to say based on Jeremiah 31 and the world around us that the full effect of the New Covenant has arrived.

    • We do not have to argue that the full effect of the New Covenant has arrived to hold that it has been instituted (Hebrews 8 makes it clear that it has) and that what once applied to members of the covenant community has now been altered. Yes, once the fuller aspects of the New Covenant are achieved (in the kingdom of Christ on earth) the Jews will be given their land in perpetuity and will reign with Christ and all other believers in His millennial kingdom. But even then keeping the Law of Moses will not be a requirement but rather a voluntary thing.

      • Zechariah 14 indicates that later on at the end, even those of the Gentiles who have survived must keep the feast of tabernacles. If obedience to the Law is voluntary at that moment then there would be no punishment for failing to obey. Nevertheless, the failure of Gentiles to comply at that particular time will generate a failure of the clouds to rain water on the disobedient.

      • This is fascinating DavidC99! I appreciate your pointing out this passage. But your interpretation of it seems to go against your previous point that Gentiles should not try to practice the Law of Moses. It is interesting that Zechariah does not say anything about obeying any other portion of the Law and the emphasis here seems to be more on worshiping Yahweh as king. Could it be that the Feast of Tabernacles will be an opportunity for all in the millennial kingdom to worship Christ as King, a special requirement of all earth’s inhabitants without there being a requirement for all earth to keep all the laws of Moses?

  3. Oh, I still agree that Gentiles should not attempt to keep the Law today, but I see no contradiction in saying that at a later date God would command to the Gentiles to observe, at the very least part of, the Law that had previously not applied to them. Similarly, prior to arriving at Mount Sinai, the children of Israel did not need to follow the entirety of the Mosaic Law to be righteous, but mainly those parts that applied to Gentiles and Abraham’s seed (ie. circumcision, for example, applied to the latter but not the former). It was only when God commanded the entirety of the Law to be relevant to their physical observance that they were required to follow it. I think the same applies to the Gentile observance of the Feast of Tabernacles in the end times — it’s not needed up and until God commands it.

    And yes, maybe it’s only the Feast of Tabernacles and no other commandments of the Law that are added for the Gentiles to fulfill. I personally believe that this new requirement of observing the Feast of Tabernacles is a forced acknowledgment on the part of the Gentiles that God is God, Israel is God’s people, and the Law of Moses is God’s Law. These three things the world would have been protesting in deed as they were attacking Israel in warfare earlier in Zachariah only to be stopped by God himself.

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