This is the third in a series of posts on why Christians are no longer under the Jewish laws as found in the Old Testament in order to atone for our sins and find favor with God. See my earlier posts for more information.
III. No Longer Under the Law
1. Paul’s Explanation of Grace, Not Law
In Romans chapter 7, the Apostle Paul makes a strong case that Christians are no longer under The Law. But which law is he talking about? Of course we are no longer under the sacrificial system, as Paul wrote in today’s epistle (Romans 8:3-4):
So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son… and … declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. He did this so that the just requirement of the law would be fully satisfied for us, who no longer follow our sinful nature but instead follow the Spirit. NLT
Our sins are gone thanks to Jesus’ work, and we are freed from the Ceremonial Law as well. Rather than following the letter of the law, we are now free to serve God as led by the Spirit, as Paul wrote in Romans 7:4b, 6b:
And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God… Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit. NLT
So life in Christ is freeing – we are free to follow the Spirit’s leading, living according to the spirit of the law, not the letter.
2. Jesus’ Comments on The Law
Jesus said this about The Law in Luke 16:16-17:
“The law and the prophets were in effect until John [the Baptist] came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is strongly urged to enter it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.” NRSV
Jesus said this about the law in Matthew 5:17-18, 20:
“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. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished…
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” NIV
There are three points being made by Jesus in these related passages.
a. The Law Is Forever
The first point is that The Law is forever – the requirements of the sacrificial system of atonement don’t go away. God established that system because blood must be shed to atone for sins. Leviticus 17:11 tells us:
For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement. NRSV
Hebrews 9:22 echoes what it says in the Leviticus passage, that we are made pure and forgiven by the shedding of blood:
Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins. NRSV
This shedding of blood is a vivid reminder of the ugliness of sin, and the fact that sin results in spiritual death. Romans 6:22-23 tells us that sin results in death, spiritual death, which we can avoid when we accept what Jesus did on the Cross for us:
But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. NRSV
The requirements behind the sacrificial system will never go away, so every generation needs Jesus, who fulfilled those requirements once for all.
b. Nobody Can Fully Obey the Law
The second point Jesus made is that we can never fully obey the law. The Pharisees scrupulously tried to observe the Ceremonial Law, so they were generally considered by the people to be super-righteous. Jesus told the crowd that “… unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20, NIV) The point is that only through Jesus can we enter the Kingdom of Heaven, not through our own works, no matter how hard we try.
c. Atonement under The Law Ended with John
The last point made by Jesus is that The Law was in effect until John the Baptist came (Luke 16:16):
“The law and the prophets were in effect until John [the Baptist] came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed, and everyone is strongly urged to enter it.”
By this Jesus was referring to the Old Testament sacrificial system to achieve forgiveness for sins, mainly because that was the only way then. With Jesus, the sacrificial system was rendered unnecessary because Jesus fulfilled its requirements, as he said in Matthew 5:17:
“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.” NIV
In summary, the requirements of the Law are in still effect, but Jesus fulfilled them for us because we couldn’t do it ourselves. The Apostle Paul summarized this inadequacy in today’s epistle (Rom 8:3):
The Law of Moses was unable to save us because of the weakness of our sinful nature. So God did what the law could not do. He sent his own Son in a body like the bodies we sinners have. And in that body God declared an end to sin’s control over us by giving his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. NLT
More on this topic in a future post.