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Should Christians keep Old Testament laws?

We receive many questions asking whether Old Testament Laws should continue to be kept by Christians on issues such as Tithing or the Sabbath.

Our response is that the moral laws of the Old Testament are never repealed, but that certain rules from the Old Testament have now been superseded by Christ's work on the cross.

Please read Colossians 2:13-17 below:
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having cancelled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
16 Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. 17 These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

With regard to the Old Testament Law we know that the rules concerning holiness only applied to Israel. Gentiles from other nations had no chance of joining with God’s people in His presence – they were left on the “outside” because they were “unclean”. One of the reasons Jesus came was to bring forgiveness and holiness to all who would believe in him. So the Apostle Paul goes as far as to say that Jesus abolished the law when He died on the cross (see Ephesians 2:15). What Paul means is that holiness is now given by God through faith in Jesus Christ rather than through keeping the commands of the Mosaic law.

This is good news for those of us who are not Jews as it means that we can come into relationship with Christ through the New Covenant that He has established. For example Christian men do not need to be physically circumcised in order to be part of God’s people. We become part of God’s people through faith in Christ and by receiving His Holy Spirit.

As the new believer learns to relate with the Lord by faith they begin to recognise that God's ways are right. The Holy Spirit provides help to enable the believer to choose to follow God's ways by teaching, guiding and equipping us.

This life in the New Covenant is very different from merely following the rules of the previous covenant God made with Israel. In fact those Jews who were called righteous in the Old Testament always did more than merely follow a set of rules. We read in Hebrews 11 that they acted in great faith yet even they did not fully experience God’s promise. They were waiting for the benefits of the new covenant:

39 These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. 40 God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect. Hebrews 11:39-40 (NIV)

So even the most prominent Jewish believers in the Old Testament realised the limitations of keeping the law and recognised their need of the Saviour. Faith in Jesus Christ is the only way to be right with God but once a believer is made righteous in God's sight through Christ they should be motivated to live His way!

In the New Testament it became clear to the leaders of the fledgling Christian church that it would be helpful to provide some guidance for new believers to live by:

Therefore we are sending Judas and Silas to confirm by word of mouth what we are writing. It seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us not to burden you with anything beyond the following requirements:
You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality. You will do well to avoid these things.
Acts 15:27-29 (NIV)

And as we've seen above (from Colossians) the Apostles also gave advice to the churches in their letters. Jesus himself confirmed that we are to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And Love your neighbour as yourself. Matthew 22:37-40 (NIV)

There are many good rules, and laws that we should obey. However, keeping any of these rules cannot add to the righteousness that we have been given through Christ Jesus.