How do we use the OT Law?

Sunday Leftovers

My wife and I have entered another new phase of life.  We have been told by our children when they have returned home (more than once!), “Dad, I don’t do that they way you and mom do…”  It seems the “house rules” that we established when they were young don’t all apply when they’ve gotten older.  And when those house rules (practices or habits might be better words) are about things like how the table is set, when we eat, how we track our financial expenditures and savings, when we exercise and go to bed, or how we do laundry, that’s perfectly fine.  It’s even fine if their practice of spiritual disciplines looks different than my practice of the disciplines — as long as they are spiritually disciplined.  But it’s not acceptable if biblical moral standards are ignored or shunned by either us or our girls.

That is to say, there is a line that can’t be crossed when we apply the rules and practices of a household to living.  Many things are negotiable; others are non-negotiable.  How we do things may be negotiable; what we do is often non-negotiable.

As we consider how the NT believer relates to the OT Law, those are helpful principles to keep in mind.  It is true that the believer has been released from the OT Law (cf. Rom. 6:14; 7:6).  It is no longer binding on us, but that does not mean it is irrelevant to us.  To the contrary, the OT, and specifically, the Mosaic Law is highly relevant to the believer in Christ.

The Old Testament Law reveals the nature and character of God (see 1 Pt. 1:15ff for an excellent example).  The Law exemplifies the holiness, righteousness, justice, wrath, grace, and mercy of God in loudest terms.  Every Law flows from the nature of God and thus reveals some aspect of God’s attributes.  Laws concerning the construction of the tabernacle (Dt. 12) reveal ways of worship that are worthy of God; the laws of the sacrifices reveal the wrath of God against sin (justice) and the provision of forgiveness for sin (grace) (Lev. 1-7; esp. 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7); laws concerning the Sabbath and various Sabbath rests (Dt. 15) reveal the trustworthiness and grace of God (15:6); laws concerning cities of refuge (Dt. 19) reveal the justice of God — including His protection of the innocent; laws relating to sexuality and marriage (Lev. 18-20; Dt. 21) reveal God’s essential morality and the unity and harmony that is found in Him and with Him; and laws concerning the harvest and non-harvest of fields (Dt. 23:24-25) reveals God’s compassion for the needy.

The Old Testament Law also reveals the nature of sin.  It reveals the reality of sin (Rom. 5:20; 7:9), the sinfulness of sin (Rom. 7:7), the guilt and condemnation from sin (Rom. 3:19; Gal. 3:19, 22), and it reveals the impossibility of man to ever fulfill the Law because of his sin nature and sin activities (Mt. 5:48).

But the Old Testament Law is not just revelatory.  It is also regulatory, instructing even the believer in Christ how to live.  No, the Law no longer has jurisdiction to mandate to the believer everything that he is to do.  The Mosaic Law is not given to us to regulate our conduct; but the Law does reveal what God believes is moral and immoral and those standards of His never change.  And in that way the Law tells us how to live in loyalty to God.

Here, then, are a few key principles about how to use the Old Testament Law as you read your Bible:

  1. Remind yourself, “This law is not my law and I am not legally bound by it because it was one of the laws God issued to ancient Israel as part of His covenant with her.” The OT Law is God’s inspired word for me, but it is not His direct command to me (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:16-17).
  2. Determine the original meaning, significance, and purpose of the law. Why did God institute the law? What were His motives in giving the law and what was the law intended to accomplish?
  3. Determine the theological significance of the Law. What does this law reveal about God and His ways? What does the law reflect about God’s mind, personality, qualities, attitudes, priorities, values, concerns, likes and dislikes, and the kinds of attitudes and moral standards He desires for those who love Him? Look at the Law (or ritual) as a means of revealing the nature and character of God who gave that Law as a means of caring for His covenant people. And remember that the essence of the Law is repeated throughout the NT, beginning with Jesus (Mk. 12:30-31; Jn. 14:34-35).
  4. Determine the practical implications of the theological insights gained from this law for your own NT circumstances:
  • What is revealed about the character of God? What do you learn about God’s attributes and actions and the things that are essential to Him through the Law?
  • What was the intent of the Law? Was God trying to protect someone or something through the Law?  Or provide for someone?  Or do good for someone?
  • Is there a NT corollary to the OT Law or the principles behind the Law?

No, the Old Testament Law is no longer directly applicable for the believer in Christ.  Our Savior has fulfilled the Law, accomplishing a righteousness that He has imputed to us that we could never do on our own.  But the Law is never to be nullified (Rom. 3:31).  Rather, we uphold and establish the Law by our submission to its revelation about God and us and the morality that is contained in the Law.

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