Ask Ivor

Mary asks:

"Are Old Testament commandments still binding on Christians?"

Some of the early Christians answered this question with an emphatic yes. They claimed that all the Old Testament laws were still incumbent upon believers: circumcision, sabbath observance, dietary restrictions, blood sacrifices, etc. Others answered just as emphatically in the negative. The Marcionites, for instance, felt that the Old Testament God was not the God of love preached by Jesus, and they claimed that the entire Old Testament had no bearing on Christians. Some went as far as to claim that believers were not subject to any moral standards whatsoever.

The orthodox Christian position has always lain between these two extremes. In response to legalists, Christianity insists: "A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ.... Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law" (Gal 2:16; 3:25). But in response to those who would altogether reject the Old Testament commandments, Christianity says: "Do we, then, nullify the law by this faith? Not at all! Rather, we uphold the law.... The law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good" (Ro 3:31; 7:12). Jesus said: "Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them" (Mt 5:17).

The Christian attitude toward the Old Testament commandments is this: "Through the law we become conscious of sin.... All have sinned and fall short" (Ro 3:20,23). Legalists make the mistake of thinking that it is possible to observe the law, but in fact they are at best following only the letter of the law, not its spirit. Jesus called such people hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, vipers, blind fools, sons of hell, and so forth (Mt 23:13-33). Those who proclaim freedom from moral standards are also in error: "Do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature" (Gal 5:13); "Faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead" (Jas 2:17); "We know that the law is good if one uses it properly" (1Ti 1:8). What is the proper use of the law? To understand its purpose: "The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ" (Gal 3:24); and to strive to follow its spirit: "Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law" (Ro 13:10).