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Has God’s Law Been
Done Away With?
Many Christians claim that Christians are not required to keep God’s law; that it was ‘nailed to the cross’ and therefore is no longer in effect. They will also claim that by accepting Christ we are saved and that there is nothing more required of a Christian. Is this true? Has God’s law been rendered null and void by Christ’s life and death? Are there any requirements that a Christian is obligated to at least try to obey? These are important questions; one might say that it is a matter of life and death. Recall that we are commanded by God to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 NKJV unless noted otherwise); prove it he tells us, not just accept what someone may tell us. We are commanded to look at what God says in his written word, the Bible, and hold to what we find to be true.
Some cite scriptures in the Bible, mainly found in the New Testament, to show that the law has been done away with or that we are not obligated to keep it. But one can not point to a single scripture to prove a point; as the Bible says, For precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little… (Isaiah 28:10)and the reason God conceals things; It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings (Proverbs 25:2 NIV). So it is through diligent study of God’s words, coupled with an open mind, that we may learn what God has to say. With this understood shall we begin our quest to see what the Bible says about the law and whether it still applies to us or not?
Breaking the Law of God
Breaking any law is not a wise idea, there are consequences for such action, usually unpleasant, but breaking God’s laws has very dire results. Also with God in this matter it is all or nothing; he doesn’t overlook a transgression because you’ve obeyed his other laws; “Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19) and “For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10).
In this matter God says we all have failed, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”(Romans 3:23); “For there is not a just man upon earth, that doeth good, and sinneth not”(Ecclesiastes 7:20) and “If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (I John 1:10).
So according to God we are all guilty of breaking his holy law, we therefore need to see what the penalty is for breaking his law. God makes it quite clear what the penalty is and that is death!
God says that breaking his law is sin, “Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness” (I John 3:4). The result of sinning? “But of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you may not take; for on the day when you take of it, death will certainly come to you”(Genesis 2:17), “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die…20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die”(Ezekiel 18:4, 20), “Then when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death”(James 1:15) and “For the wages of sin is death”(Romans 6:23). For a more in depth look at this death penalty I suggest you see my article titled, What Has Jesus Done for You?
It is obvious that God does not tolerate sin; in fact the ultimate punishment for our sins is that it cuts off from God himself; “But your sins have come between you and your God, and by your evil doings his face has been veiled from you, so that he will give you no answer.” (Isaiah 59:2)
The matter is quite clear; 1, we all have sinned, 2 our sins have cut us off from God and 3, because of our sins we shall die. Also recall, “For I am the LORD, I change not”(Malachi 3:6)
We now need to understand exactly what the law is and also the purpose of the law before we try to determine if it is still in effect and if so if the death penalty still hangs over us?
What do we mean the Law?
We need to understand that ‘the law’ can have a couple of different applications. When a Jew in Jesus’ time referred to ‘the law’ there were three possible items they could be referring to. The first was the Law of Moses, the laws and statutes that God gave to Moses, who was acting as a mediator between God and the nation of Israel, at Mt.Sinai. They could be referring to the first five books of the Old Testament; the Torah or they could be referring to the whole collection of writings that now compose the Old Testament. To illustrate this recall the incident where the man asked Jesus what is the greatest commandment in the law? Christ said that the greatest commandment in the law was, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself.” He then said that upon these two commandments all of the law and the prophets hung (Matthew 22:35-40). One will not find either of those two commandments listed in the Ten Commandments, which most people think is the only law. The two commandments mentioned by Christ as being the greatest are found in Deuteronomy (6:5; 11:1; 19:9; 30:6, 16, 20), so when we find reference to ‘the law’ we had best determine exactly what is being referred to.
We shall assume here that the law being referred to is the rules that God gave to the Israelites at Mt.Sinai. Most believe that only the Ten Commandments were given there but that is not correct. Actually God gave to the Israelites a number of laws and ordnances at Mt. Sinai the Ten Commandments was just the core item; the other items provided were, in a sense, clarifications of aspects of the Ten Commandments. Also the entire book of Leviticus was given to Moses and he in turn relayed it to the nation of Israel at Mt.Sinai (Lev. 27:34) but the book of Leviticus was intended for the priesthood and not the nation.
So were the Ten Commandments, along with the ordinances, nailed to the cross and therefore no longer in effect? Or are they still in effect and possibly with an expanded application? Before we address this aspect we should first look at what the purpose of the laws is and the effects that breaking the law causes.
History of the Law
Many erroneously believe that God’s laws did not exist prior to Mt.Sinai however there is evidence that his laws were known and observed well before the Israelites were encamped at the foot of Mt.Sinai.
We find that the reason God blessed Abraham was because he “obeyed my voice, and kept my charge, my commandments, my statutes, and my laws.” (Gen. 26:5) Further when God sent manna to feed the Israelites in the wilderness he commanded them to gather enough for the coming day but on the day prior to the Sabbath they were instructed to gather twice as much for there would be none the next day (i.e. the Sabbath) and the reason for this? So God could “prove them, whether they will walk in my law, or no.” (Ex. 16:4) When some Israelites refused to do as God had commanded and went out on the Sabbath to gather manna God asked Moses “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws?” (Ex. 16: 28)
A short time later Moses’ father-in-law brought Moses’ wife and two sons to him (Ex. 18:1-5) While he was there he saw how the people would come to Moses and ask for his decision on different matters and he asked Moses why he was doing this (Ex. 18: 13-14) Moses explained that “When they have a matter, they come unto me; and I judge between one and another, and I do make them know the statutes of God, and his laws.” (Ex.18:16) Jethro then instructed Moses to “teach them ordinances and laws, and shalt show them the way wherein they must walk, and the work that they must do.” (Ex. 18:20) The issuing of the Ten Commandments does not occur until Chapter 20 and the writing of them in stone does not happen until chapter 31.
Many claim that the dietary laws found in Leviticus and Deuteronomy were created for the nation of Israel but this does not appear to be totally correct. The knowledge of clean and unclean animals existed long before those laws were given. Notice what God directed Noah after he had built the ark; “Of every clean beast thou shalt take to thee by sevens, the male and his female: and of beasts that are not clean by two, the male and his female.” (Gen 7:2)
So it would seem that God’s laws were known and followed, albeit by a very few, prior to Mt.Sinai. It may be claimed that they were not written down until Mt.Sinai but they apparently did exist.
Traditions of Men
When God’s law was originally written down for the Israelites it consisted of the Ten Commandments and a series of judgments (Ex. 21) that essentially expanded on some of the Ten Commandments. By the time Jesus lived the law had grown massively. For example in Jesus’ time the priests had drawn up a total of 39 acts that would constitute breaking the Sabbath.
According to orthodox Jewish tradition, there are 613 commandments in the Law of Moses. These are divided into 248 affirmative laws and 365 negative laws. The Mosaic Law is usually divided into three parts: the Ten Commandments (often called the moral law), the ordinances, and the judgments. The ordinances regulated Israel’s religious life and the judgments civil life. These divisions, while sometimes helpful for analysis and study, have no Scriptural authority.
Jesus himself said these manmade additions were an unnecessary burden on the people of God, “1 Then came together unto him the Pharisees, and certain of the scribes, which came from Jerusalem. 2 And when they saw some of his disciples eat bread with defiled, that is to say, with unwashen, hands, they found fault. 3 For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, except they wash their hands oft, eat not, holding the tradition of the elders. 4 And when they come from the market, except they wash, they eat not. And many other things there be, which they have received to hold, as the washing of cups, and pots, brazen vessels, and of tables. 5 Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands? 6 He answered and said unto them, Well hath Esaias prophesied of you hypocrites, as it is written, This people honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. 7 Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men. 8 For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, as the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do. 9 And he said unto them, Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition. 10 For Moses said, Honour thy father and thy mother; and, Whoso curseth father or mother, let him die the death: 11 But ye say, If a man shall say to his father or mother, It is Corban, that is to say, a gift, by whatsoever thou mightest be profited by me; he shall be free.12 And ye suffer him no more to do ought for his father or his mother; 13 Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.” (Mark 7:1-13)
So we see Christ condemning the manmade additions to God’s law but he in no way condemned God’s law. In fact elsewhere he says that God’s laws are eternal; “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled. Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”(Matthew 5:17-19).
If Jesus had come to do away with the law one is hard pressed to explain his statement “Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets”?
Was there a reason God revealed his laws to Israel and through them the whole world? Remember God is not the author of confusion (I Corinthians 14: 33) so there must be a reason why he provided us with these laws.
Purpose of the Law
Was the purpose of the law just to restrict or control our behavior? Was it intended to protect us or possibly guide us? Was it designed to educate us? An honest answer would be all of the above -- to one degree or another.
Let us see what the Bible says the purpose of the law is. First off we are told that “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:” (II Tim. 3:16) So we see that part of purpose of the law is to educate us but can we be a little more specific as to what it is to instruct us on? We find the answer to this in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he says “…by the Law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 3:20). He further amplifies this point by saying “…I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (Rom. 7:7) This is further developed in his letter to the Galatians “Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.” (Gal. 3: 24)
So we see that the purpose of the law is to instruct us as to what sin is and to guide our lives. But the law was never intended to be a path to salvation; it is clear that it is impossible for anyone to gain salvation by their own efforts. Paul makes this clear “no one is justified before God by the Law” (Gal. 3:11).
The writings of Paul
Many, when claiming that the law has been done away with, point to the writings of Paul as proof. But is that an honest claim? Did Paul say that the law of God was no more, that a Christian is not obligated to obey God’s laws? What of the other New Testament writers, do they too say that God’s laws have been done away with?
Many find Paul’s writings difficult to read and this difficulty is not a modern complaint for example Peter himself wrote; “Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, 16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.”(II Peter 3:15-16). So we must examine Paul’s writings carefully and see if they or rather what some say they say is supported by other scriptures. Context is also another important element, not just in examining Paul’s writings but all scripture.
The commonly cited scriptures that people tend to say /prove’ that God’s laws have been done away are:
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Galatians 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
Galatians 3:10-13 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree:
Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace.
Romans 6:14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace.
Galatians 3:23-25 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed. 24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.
Colossians 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
At first glance it would seem that these scriptures are at least implying that the law has been done away with but is that really the case? We shall examine these scriptures one at a time to see if they really are saying that the Law of God has been done away with.
Ephesians 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God. The key word in this scripture is ‘grace’ and we need to look at the meaning of the Greek word that is rendered here as grace.
The Greek word rendered here as grace is ‘charis; it is defined as: 1. a winning quality or attractiveness that invites a favorable reaction, graciousness, attractiveness, charm, winsomeness . . . 2. a beneficent disposition toward someone, favor, grace, gracious care/help, goodwill . . . 3. practical application of goodwill, (a sign of) favor, gracious deed/gift, benefaction . . . 4. exceptional effect produced by generosity, favor...
In the context of the above mentioned scripture it would appear that Paul is speaking about God’s forgiving attitude towards mankind. It is due to his forgiving nature that allows us to gain forgiveness and nothing, absolutely nothing, we can or have done that gains us this.
Galatians 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain. The Greek word translated as “justification” is in other versions rendered as “righteousness.” It is defined as “(1) righteousness, uprightness, generally denoting the characteristics of δικιος (righteous, just) (MT 5.6); (2) legally justice, uprightness, righteousness (PH 3.6); (3) as an attribute of God righteousness, integrity (RO 3.5); (4) of the right behavior that God requires of persons righteousness, good behavior, uprightness (MT 5.20); (5) in Pauline thought of the divine action by which God puts a person right with himself and which then becomes a dynamic power in the believer's life making right(eous); state of having been made righteous (RO 1.17).” Here it means to be “justified” or made “righteous” in the sight of God.
What Paul is saying is that if someone could keep the Law good enough to atone for prior sins, then the sacrifice of Jesus is needless. Forgiveness can only come through our acceptance of Christ’s sacrifice.
Galatians 3:10-13 For as many as are of the works of the law are under the curse: for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them. 11 But that no man is justified by the law in the sight of God, it is evident: for, The just shall live by faith. 12 And the law is not of faith: but, The man that doeth them shall live in them. 13 Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us: for it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree. In verse 10 Paul comments about those who are relying “on the works of the Law” being “under a curse”. It must be understood that the ‘curse of the Law’ is not the Law itself, but rather the penalty for breaking the Law; that is the death penalty. He points out that to avoid the death penalty one has to keep the Law perfectly. But as Paul has said elsewhere that all have broken God’s Law and therefore because of this infraction no one could be justified in God’s eyes, regardless of one’s subsequent behavior. It is only through Christ’s sinless life and death on the cross could our breaking of God’s Law be annulled.
Galatians 5:4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; ye are fallen from grace. Paul is not condemning the Law or even obeying it, rather he is condemning those that believe they can obtain salvation solely through their obedience to the Law. Indirectly condemning the belief or practice of salvation through works. Again there is nothing we can do of our own accord to achieve salvation; it is only through Christ that we may obtain this.
Romans 6:11-18 Likewise reckon ye
also yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus
Christ our Lord. 12 Let not sin
therefore reign in your mortal body, that ye should obey it in the lusts
thereof. 13 Neither yield ye
your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves
unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as
instruments of righteousness unto God. 14
For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but
15 What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. 16 Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. In verse 14 Paul says that we are not under the Law any more, we are no longer under the death penalty because of God’s grace. As Paul asks in verse 15 shall we continue to sin and he emphatically answers no; for if we do yield ourselves to sin we are once more subject to the death penalty. He urges us to make ourselves slaves to righteousness.
Galatians 3:21-25 Is the law then against the promises of God?
God forbid: for if there had been a law given which could have given life,
verily righteousness should have been by the law. 22 But the scripture hath concluded all under sin, that the
promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe. 23 But before faith came, we were kept
under the law, shut up unto the faith which should afterwards be revealed.
24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith. 25 But after that faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster. Paul in no way disparages God’s laws; in effect he praises it. He also points out that the Law does not give life and if it did there would be no need for the sacrifice of Christ. But as Paul points out in verse 22 that all have sinned and it is only through faith in Jesus that one is saved.
As Paul points out in verse 23 that before faith came we were kept under the Law. The rendering ‘schoolmaster’ is actually misleading as to the purpose of the Law. The Greek word rendered ‘schoolmaster’ is paidagogos and it means “‘boy-leader’, the man, usu[ally] a slave, whose duty it was to conduct a boy or youth to and from school and to superintend his conduct gener[ally]; he was not a ‘teacher’...When the young man became of age, the [paidagogos] was no longer needed...”
So apparently the original intent of the Law was to act as our guardian but now that Christ has come we are no longer in need of this guardian.
Colossians 2:14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross. So what exactly was nailed to the cross? Was it the Law or something else? We need to understand what is meant in the original language of the word that is rendered as “ordinances”. The Greek word is dogma and refers generally to opinions, judgments, and decrees. It should also be pointed out that Paul says these ordinances were against us if one attempts to say that he is speaking about the Law one must explain his comments in Romans “ Therefore the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good.” (Rom. 7:12)
So what exactly was nailed to the cross; as was pointed out the Greek word dogma refers to opinions, judgments, and decrees and recall that according to the Law we are all guilty. Further, “Who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed.” (I Peter 2:24) and “For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” (II Cor. 5:21) Therefore it was our sins or more correctly the charges against us that were nailed to the cross.
Is the Law still in effect?
So since Paul says that until Christ the Law was our guardian and it is through our faith in him that we are saved does that mean we are not obligated to obey God’s Laws? Further Psalm 19:11 tells us; “Moreover by them [God's commandments and statutes] your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward” This is echoed throughout the Bible that those who love God will follow God’s instructions—His ways, His paths (Romans 2:23; Ephesians 6:2-3; Exodus 20:12; Deuteronomy 5:16; Hebrews 10:16; James 1:25; 2:11; 8-26; 1 John 2:3-4, 24; 3:22; 5:2,3; 2 John 6; Revelation 22:14). The law was never meant to save—only to guide.
For those that insist that we are not obligated to try and obey God’s laws they are hard pressed to explain the following scriptures;
Circumcision means nothing, and uncircumcision means nothing; what matters is keeping God's commandments. (I Cor. 7:19 NAB)
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, 20 idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, 21 envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. 24 And those who are Christ's have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. 25 If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.(Gal. 5:16)
By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous. (1 John 5:2)
Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law. (Romans 3:31)
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this; Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself (Gal. 5:14)
Love worketh no ill to his neighbour: therefore love is the fulfilling of the law(Romans 13:10)
Ron Mosley’s book The Spirit of the Law sums up the purpose of the Law:
1. To teach the believer how to serve, worship and please God (Psalm 19:7-9; Acts 18:13, 14).
2. To instruct the believer how to treat his fellow man and have healthy relationships with him (Leviticus 19:18; Galatians 5:14; Galatians 6:2).
3. To teach believers how to be happy and prosper here on earth by manifesting the power and authority of God’s reign in their lives (Joshua 1:8; Psalm 1:1-3; Luke 12:32).
4. The Law was given, not to save, but to measure man’s deeds both toward God and his fellow man, straightening out all matters contrary to sound doctrine (I Timothy 1:8-10; II Timothy 2:5; I Corinthians 6: 1- 12; I Corinthians 3:13; Romans 2:12; Revelation 20:12, 13).
5. The Law is a schoolmaster showing that we are guilty and then leading us to Christ our Messianic justification (Galatians 3:21-24; Romans 3:19).
6. The Law gives us both the knowledge and depth of our sin (Romans 3:20; Romans 4:15; Romans 7:7, 8; Luke 20:47 - greater damnation).
7. The Law reveals the good, holy, just, and perfect nature of God and serves as the visible standard for God’s will (Romans 2:17, 18; Romans 7:12; II Peter 1:4).
8. The Law is to be established or accomplished by our faith, therefore, it is called the Law of faith (Romans 3:27; Romans 3:31).
9. The same Law today is written on our hearts, and through God’s Spirit we can delight and serve the Law of God (Romans 7:6-25) (Mosley 1996).
 Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature; http://www.herealittletherealittle.net/index.cfm?page_name=Grace-Law