Do Christians Have to Follow the Old Testament Law of Moses?
Why Return to Bondage?
January 1, 1863, saw the Emancipation of enslaved people in the South. According to the historian Eugene Genovese, about fifteen percent of enslaved people stayed with their enslavers. After God had released the children of Israel from their bondage in Egypt through the miraculous intervention at the Sea of Reeds, many longed for Egypt.
And the mixed multitude that was among them fell a lusting: and the children of Israel also wept again, and said, Who shall give us flesh to eat? We remember the fish, which we did eat in Egypt freely; the cucumbers, and the melons, and the leeks, and the onions, and the garlic: But now our soul is dried away: there is nothing at all, beside this manna, before our eyes.
My point is that some people long more for the bondage of their past than they do the freedom of their future. Longing for this bondage is where some of the members of the church in Galatia where. Their pastor Paul was not happy about it.
So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.
Paul says to them that they have been set free in Christ and warns them not to get tied up again in slavery. Even today, we sing and celebrate our freedom in Christ with great enthusiasm. So why do I see so many Christians leading by (and attempting to lead others with) the law of Moses?
Blessings and Curses
Blessed by ALL
There’s a song that we sing in black churches. The song is so impactful, that all I have to do is say, “We’re blessed in the city…” and most of us can keep on singing. At one point in our church, we sang the song every single Sunday. But unlike most songs that we sing on repeat, I’ve never tired of this one. “Blessed” by Fred Hammond is a lovely song of encouragement and it’s based on the Word! But have you ever actually read the verse that it comes from?
“Blessed” is based on Deuteronomy 28:3-6. This chapter lists all of the blessings that are going to overtake us!
Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field. Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl. Blessed shall you be when you come in, and blessed shall you be when you go out.
But here’s the thing: you don’t automatically get these blessings because you are a Christian. You don’t automatically get them because you pray for them. You aren’t even automatically guaranteed these blessings if you give for them (check on my article “Should Christians Tithe?”). There’s only one way that all of these blessings are going to come upon you and it’s found in verses 1 & 2 of Deuteronomy 28:
If you will only obey the Lord your God, by diligently observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth; all these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the Lord your God
The only way to partake in the blessings outlined in Deuteronomy 28 is to follow ALL of the laws of Moses. There are 613 in total. Everything from how to deal with murderers to how to deal with women on their menstrual cycle.
Cursed by ONE
Not only that, when we’re singing “Blessed”, we are leaving out the latter part of Deuteronomy 28 starting at verse 15:
But if you will not obey the Lord your God by diligently observing all his commandments and decrees, which I am commanding you today, then all these curses shall come upon you and overtake you: Cursed shall you be in the city, and cursed shall you be in the field…
You see, we cannot claim the blessings of the Law without also acknowledging the potential for curses. He says if you don’t obey ALL of the commandments, then you’re gonna have to change the words of Fred Hammond’s song to “We’re cursed in the city…”
Why is this significant? Because James 2:10 says
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.
So, if you desire to follow the Law of Moses and you keep 612 of the laws, but mess up on 1. You are therefore guilty of all 613 and the curses are yours!
Behavior vs Heart
It’s a Gift
A lot of Christians understand this basic concept, but end up missing the bigger picture. The Law of Moses attempts to deliver salvation based on the behavior of the people. As long as you behave a certain way, then you can experience the joy, presence, and salvation of the Lord. But Ephesians 2:8-9 says
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
There’s nothing that you can do to experience the salvation of the Lord. It’s God’s gift to us. All we have to do is receive it because it is a gift!
Laws Don’t Change Lives
Jesus understood this. He understood that attempting to adjust behavior was insufficient. He recognized a very important truth: Laws Don’t Change Lives! God seems less interested in behavior changes than in changes of the heart.
In “The Christian Response to Injustice”, we examined Jesus’s Sermon on the Mount. Jesus made it clear that the laws attempt to change behavior was unimpressive to God. The thing that God cares about is the heart.
Jesus would say, “You have heard it said…” then give some direct quote from the Law of Moses. Then, he would say that just thinking about doing that thing is just as bad as actually doing it. Matthew 5:27-28
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’. But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
He was saying that if the only reason why you’re not doing something is because of some law, then you’ve basically already done it. The Law is insufficient. Jesus is basically saying, I’m not worried about your behavior, I’m worried about your heart.
So What Does This Mean for the Church?
If laws don’t change lives and behavior doesn’t move God’s emotional needly, then why do so many churches and Christians spend so much time trying to change behavior?
I wonder when the church got into the business of trying to change behavior? When we do, we push the false idea that there is something we can do to earn God’s salvation, favor, grace, and mercy.
The church should not be in the business of attempting to change behavior. The truth is, only God can do that. The only thing the church must do is push Jesus. When we push Jesus and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, then the Lord will adjust the behavior to His liking (not to ours).
What About Sin?
I was having this conversation with a friend of mine and he asked, “So why don’t you go cheat on your wife? Since the “Law” says that we shouldn’t commit adultery and we don’t have to follow the “Law”, go cheat!”
His argument was basically, what about sin? To this, I say: Matthew 22:36-39
One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”
I don’t cheat on my wife. Not because I’m afraid of offending the Law of Moses. I don’t because it would not be an expression of loving my wife (my neighbor) as myself. To preach that committing adultery would offend God and make the Lord upset with me because I violated the Torah’s command against adultery is fear-based pandering. I choose not to commit adultery because of the love I have for my wife, not because of the fear I have of God.
So What Do You Think?
Should the church and Christians be trying to get people to change their behavior?
Should we be lobbying for laws to get people to stop doing certain things?
If someone has a desire to sin but they don’t actually do it, are they safe?
Are Christians required to follow The Old Testament Law of Moses?
Sound off in the comments below.