Applying the Law of Moses to the Christian Life

Applying the Law of Moses to the Christian Life

The biblical authors view the law as a unified whole, that the Sinai legislation is inextricably bound up with the Sinai covenant, and that it comes to the Christian therefore not directly but mediated through the accomplished work of Christ.

The Need for Proper Balance

Discerning how to apply the law of Moses to the Christian life proves challenging because the law of Moses appears to be both rejected and received in the New Testament. At times the biblical authors will critique the law as impotent and obsolete (e.g., Heb. 7:19; 8:13), whereas at other times the biblical authors will praise the use of the law for Christian instruction (e.g., 2 Tim. 3:15–16). More than that, seeking application for the law is fraught with danger. On the one hand, if we overemphasize redemptive-historical continuity, we run the risk of, like the “foolish Galatians” (Gal. 3:1), losing the gospel. On the other hand, if we overemphasize redemptive-historical discontinuity, we run the risk of ignoring divine covenantal instruction and thus finding ourselves awash in a sea of antinomianism.

To achieve the biblically faithful balance, we must recognize that there are elements of continuity and discontinuity between the law of Moses and the Christian life. Whole books have been written on this subject, but in what follows I will offer two ways to apply the law of Moses to Christian life.[1]

The Law as Pointer to Christ’s Finished Work

First, Christians rightly apply the law of Moses to their lives when they trust in Christ’s finished work of fulfillment and covenant ratification on their behalf. Christ fulfilled the law through his perfect obedience and through his death that ratified the new covenant. His finished work should lead Christians to trust afresh in Christ as our only hope for righteousness before God.

Throughout Jesus’s life he kept the commandments and thus fulfilled the law. At his birth he was circumcised on the eighth day, and his mother and adoptive father kept the law of purification associated with birth (Luke 2:21–24). As a boy, he exemplified a life of wisdom and attentiveness to God’s will, while maintaining submission to his parents (Luke 2:40–52). As a man, unlike Adam and Israel, Jesus as God’s son exhibited covenant loyalty to God in his time of testing (Matt. 4:1–11; cf. Deut. 6:13, 16; 8:3). Throughout his ministry he embodied the twin summary commands of love of God and love of neighbor, thus fulfilling the true intent of the law. On account of his life of righteousness, Jesus is “the Righteous One” on our behalf (Acts 22:14; 1 John 2:1; cf. Matt. 3:15).

Not only did Jesus fulfill the law in his perfect life, but he also brought it to its intended conclusion, ratifying the new covenant through his death. Many New Testament texts speak of the planned obsolescence of the Sinai covenant and its accompanying legislation. In Jesus’s teaching, he did away with the food laws, as well as the temple tax the law required (Matt. 17:24–27; Mark 7:19; cf. Exod. 30:11–16; Lev. 11:1–47). At the Last Supper, Jesus interpreted his death as inaugurating the new covenant, replacing the old (Luke 22:20). Paul and Hebrews call the Sinai covenant “old” in contrast with the “new” covenant Jesus ratified (2 Cor. 3:14; Heb. 8:6). For Paul, the Sinai covenant was in force only until the arrival of the Messiah, and at his coming he abolished the law in its entirety, such that it is no longer binding for Christians as covenant legislation (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:15–4:7; Eph. 2:15).

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