Do we have to follow the Law?
Every so often, the modern church wrestles with problematic question of what to do with the Mosaic Law. Do we still have to obey the 10 Commandments? What about the other parts, that nobody does…like animal sacrifice, dietary restrictions, and ceremonial washings?
The early church dealt with the same questions, and some people were trying to add the law’s requirements in addition to following Christ.
1 Timothy 1:5-7
Now the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith. Some have deviated from these and turned aside to fruitless discussion. They want to be teachers of the law, although they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.
A little cultural context will help here. If you were a Jewish teacher of the law, then you were at the pinnacle of the Jewish social, religious, and political society. For those who became Christians and had come out of Jewish culture, their understanding of who the top people are was formed by looking at the lives of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Paul had to spell out the relationship of the law to the believer for the church in Galatia also:
Before this faith came, we were confined under the law, imprisoned until the coming faith was revealed. The law, then, was our guardian until Christ, so that we could be justified by faith. But since that faith has come, we are no long under a guardian, for you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.
Since Jesus came to fulfill the law’s requirements for all of us, those who trust Jesus for eternal life have been declared righteous (i.e. – not guilty) and will not be judged by the law. As such, the Mosaic Law no longer governs the life of a believer. Apparently, these wannabe teachers Timothy was encountering in Ephesus were so blinded by status-seeking that they did not grasp this foundational truth…and so they don’t understand what they are saying or what they are insisting on.
Does this mean that the Mosaic Law is useless and should be set aside entirely? Paul doesn’t think so:
1 Timothy 1:8-11
Now we know that the law is good, provided one uses it legitimately. We know that the law is not meant for a righteous person, but
for the lawless and rebellious,
for the ungodly and sinful,
for the unholy and irreverent,
for those who kill their fathers and mothers,
for the sexually immoral and homosexuals,
for kidnappers, liars, perjurers
and whatever else is contrary to the sound teaching based on the glorious gospel of the blessed God that was entrusted to me.
The law still serves a legitimate purpose in this world – it continues to show sin for what it is. The law clearly points out the ways in which humanity has driven a wedge between us and God. The law points out that we can’t bridge that relationship canyon with our own efforts.
Given the multicultural mix that was the city of Ephesus, the law was certainly applicable to those outside the church…and so was the law’s penalty – eternal separation from God.
When used legitimately, the law is good because it reminds us how much we needed to be rescued, and how much those outside the family still need that rescue.