Is a believer obligated to follow the Old Testament Law? For me, the easiest way to think about it is in terms of Constitution, Contracts and Patent leather shoes. Really!
Is a British citizen obligated to follow the U.S. Constitution? No. Are there good principles in the U.S. Constitution that are beneficial for everyone? Absolutely!
Of all the common interests, traditions, and activities that bind the people of the U.S. together as a people, there is one item that reigns supreme—the U.S. Constitution. This document delineating the role of government and the rights of the people is the foundation for the United States as a people group. It has been so significant that it enjoys the prestige of being the oldest written constitution still in use by a current people.
What the U.S. Constitution is to the American people today is precisely what “The Law” was to God’s people in the Old Testament. “The Law” of Moses (which is the first five books of the Bible) contained Israel’s history as a people, its government structures, its religious structures, and yes, specific commandments.
But since the spread of the Gospel to all the nations of the world, God’s people are living under different governemental structures. We are not united across the globe in one governing constitution or document. Therefore we cannot be under Israel’s constitution. We are united by one King, however, and one Spirit.
In fact, New Testament Israel was not even under its own constitution. Israel was under Roman Rule. When the Pharisees came to Christ and ask Jesus to fulfill the OT penalty for an adulterous woman (John 8:3-5) Jesus caught them in two dilemmas by saying, “Let Him who is without sin cast the first stone” (John 8:7). First He exposed their self-righteousness–which is a topic for another day. Second, He put the responsibility of execution on the leaders to perform—which they could not even perform under Roman Rule. Do you remember where the Pharisees had to go to execute Jesus? The Roman authorities.
The name of the two sections of our Bible is derived from this concept—Old Testament (i.e. covenant) and New Testament (i.e. covenant). In a previous post, I detailed a bit more about the OT covenant. The OT Mosaic Law was a covenant or contract between them and God that marked them as a nation, a people, a treasured possession of God (Exodus 19:6). God promised to be with them, and they promised to be loyal to Him and represent Him to the world. The 10 commandments in Exodus 20 are simply a “readers digest” summary of the covenant between God and His people.
The Old Testament Covenant was a model of how God interacts with His people—in covenant. He makes promises to them to be their God, and they (we) strive to follow Him and represent Him who redeemed them (us) from the slavery and penalty of sin by the blood of His Son—making a New Covenant with all who believe from every nation (Matt. 26:26-28; 1 Peter 2:9-12).
Case Law—Patent Leather Shoes
Did you know there is a law still on the books in Cleveland making it illegal for women to wear patent leather shoes? What?! Why?! That law makes no sense! Really? If you understood a bit more about the historical context of that law then maybe it might make more sense. In an age long past when women used to wear a lot more dresses (say the 1950’s), the reflective nature of patent leather shoes provided unscrupulous men with a little peep show (more on this law).
That particular law (if true) may not constitute the height of American Jurisprudence. But with a bit more historical context, you were able to see that law was an application of a greater moral principle—a concern for the protection of the fairer sex. This is case law—real applications, in real time and history of greater moral principles.
“If an ox gores a man….the ox shall surely be stoned (Ex. 21:28).” What?! “But I don’t own an ox!?” No, but what if your pit bull maims a child? Do you get it now? The “ox goring” laws are simply applications of the greater moral principle of being responsible with your property out of concern for your neighbor. We have liabilities case laws today.
The Old Testament Mosaic Law is filled with applications of God’s universal moral concerns (God’s righteousness) which can be summarized as LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF. We don’t always immediately perceive this in the list of laws in the OT because we do not share their historical context—i.e., think patent leather shoes.
There are a staggering 613 stipulations given in the Mosaic Law. Even with that amount there is certainly still not enough case law to codify and exhaust ALL of God’s righteousness for every circumstance in every time period and in every culture that ever existed. But God ultimately provided something better than codification of His righteousness in 613 laws, He incarnated it in Christ—whom we are called to be like now as believers.
A believer today is not bound to the Old Testament Mosaic Law, just as a British citizen is not bound to the U.S. Constitution. We are united across national, constitutional, and geographical boundaries as God’s people in a new covenant established by our one common King, empowered by our common life giving Spirit, and called to manifest the one true righteousness of God’s, found supremely in Christ, testified to and discerned in all of Scripture in loving our neighbor in real time and in real situations.
Remember the three C’s –Constitution, Contract (Covenant), and Case Law (Patent Leather shoes).