By Elias Ayala (MDiv & M.A.T.)
As is the case with a variety of theological issues, this is a hotly debated topic. I can do nothing more than share my opinion on the matter with the hopes that folks find it useful. To be simple, there is a sort of yes and no answer to this question. Let us consider first that when we speak of the “Law” we are not speaking of simply one “Law”. In the Old Testament there are 613 commandments that the Jews were to follow. Of these 613 commandments they are typically broken down into 3 categories consisting of the Moral Law, Civil Law, and Ceremonial Law. I will briefly walk through each explaining their relevancy to the modern believer.
The Moral Law pertains specifically to moral truths that reflect the unchanging character of God. Because they are based in God’s unchanging character they do not cease to be applicable to the lives of believers today. When God says “Thou shall not bear false witness”, that command is rooted in the unchanging fact that God is truth and hence, because we are called to image our creator, we too should reflect truthfulness in our conduct. Lying was immoral in the Old Testament and it is still immoral in the New Testament. So in one sense, the modern believer should still obey the Moral Law laid out in the Old Testament and is upheld also within the New Testament. An important caveat however, is that while we should obey the Moral Law, we do not do so for salvation. We are not saved by our ability to obey God’s Moral Law, but rather, we are saved by faith in Christ and Christ alone (Romans 4:5).
The Civil Law pertained to the theocratic government structure of Israel at that time. This aspect of the Law related to administrations, punishment, and governmental structures. It also involved the judicial aspect of the law which was an enforcement of the moral law by statutes and penalties. The Civil Law was an important part of how Israel functioned as a theocratic nation and there is much to learn from its principles, but Israel no longer functions in that capacity and as non-Jewish believers, we do not live within the context of a theocracy so we are not obligated to live under the strictures of that system which no longer exists in that capacity and is not the context for most believers today.
With regards to the Ceremonial Law, this pertained to the Old Testament sacrificial system offered by the priesthood. Effectively, this aspect of the Law was a foreshadowing of what Messiah would accomplish in his life, death, burial, and resurrection. Hence, when Christ came and fulfilled what those shadows alluded to, it was then no longer an aspect of the Law that believers were to follow. Indeed, we as Christians live in light of what Christ has fulfilled and we enjoy with great benefit the looking back and seeing how Christ made the Law complete on our behalf.
So should believers today obey the Old Testament Law. Well, yes, if you mean the Moral aspect of the Law, and that we understand that doing so does not earn our right standing with God. No, if you mean that by it, believers today should go out and sacrifice lambs and goats at the altar. It is important that we understand these proper distinctions and applications.