Biblical law is confusing for both non-believers and believers. There are people who believe that all the laws are done away with, which makes no sense as there can be no sin without a law. Obviously the end of the world is brought about by man's sin therefore there must be a law to sin against! Others believe that if you are keeping any of the laws from the Pentateuch, then you should also be upholding the punishments of stoning and such, which generally leads them to lose faith in the Bible all together. Then of course we have people who follow the rules that suit them and dismiss the others without reason. This can't be right either. There has to be a defined law in place if we are expected to follow Christ. So what's the deal with these laws? What are we supposed to follow?
Types of Law
There are three types of law defined in the Bible: moral laws, ceremonial laws, and judicial laws. The moral laws concern behavior that God deems improper (such as those listed in the ten commandments, incest, etc.). The ceremonial law concerns how the feasts God mandates are to be held, while the judicial law concerns punishment for breaking the aforementioned laws. When Jesus died on the cross, He paid the price that was required of us for breaking the law with His own blood. The New Testament has a lot to say about the law and the ordinances, which is why it is easy for the devil to play with the words for those who don't study the word.
17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil. 18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. 19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus confirms here that He is not destroying the law, He is fulfilling the law. His fulfillment of the law is that His death on the cross counts as the sacrifice we should have to give after breaking a law. If we commit a sin (break the moral law) that according to the judicial law required us to be killed, we don't have to be killed because Jesus' blood pays that debt. This doesn't mean that the part of the law stating we must die or that we must offer a blood sacrifice has been removed—it has been fulfilled.
Exodus 21:13 says that God can redeem a man who commits murder, that is precisely what being washed in Jesus' blood means. There is a gospel song, "Blessed & Highly Favored" by the Clark Sisters, in which the lyrics are "it could've been me, it should've been me, if it wasn't for the blood!" This is what the fulfillment of the law is all about, that by believing in Jesus we do not owe blood for the sins we commit. That's not to say we have no longer sinned, but rather that we have grace—forgiveness and the chance to do better after messing up.
Now I praise you, brethren, that ye remember me in all things, and keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.
Paul has a lot more to say about ordinances which are the quotes many use to claim the law is completely abolished. Yet in 1 Corinthians, even Paul says that the ordinances are to be kept. Why do Paul's statements seem to conflict?
13 But now in Christ Jesus ye who sometimes were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. 14 For he is our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; 15 Having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances; for to make in himself of twain one new man, so making peace; 16 And that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby:
13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; 14 Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; 15 And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it. 16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: 17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ. 18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind, 19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God. 20Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances, 21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not; 22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?
In Ephesisans, Paul says that Jesus abolished enmity or hostility. The phrase "even the law of commandments contained in ordinances" reappears in Colossians 2:14, "ordinances that was against us." Paul is not saying that Jesus did away with the law of commandments but the hostility that stemmed for our inability to keep those commandments. Notice in the passage from Colossians 2, Paul uses the phrase "commandments and doctrines of men." He is referring to laws the Pharisees has implemented. Here, Paul is talking about laws that the church comes up with today. We are not bound by man's law, we are bound by God's moral law (since Jesus has fulfilled the ceremony and paid the judicial price). Obviously some law has to be in existence as the end of the world is brought about by rampant sin—sin being defined as breaking God's law.
11 But Christ being come an high priest of good things to come, by a greater and more perfect tabernacle, not made with hands, that is to say, not of this building; 12 Neither by the blood of goats and calves, but by his own blood he entered in once into the holy place, having obtained eternal redemption for us
A Modern Example
Often when people of today talk about God's law it becomes a discussion of hypocrisy and the idea of picking and choosing which laws they wish to follow. If a person says homosexuality is wrong, people will point to the passages in the Bible about stoning women who have premarital sex and accuse the person of hypocrisy. Well, both homosexuality and premarital sex (or sex with someone you don't marry, there are many passages saying a man is to marry the woman he has sex with if she is not his betrothed) are morally wrong. However, both have been paid for by Jesus—that does not mean that you can go out and behave however you wish, rather it means that both the person who engages in premarital sex as well as the person who engages in homosexual sex are equality able to be redeemed by Jesus. Neither needs to be stoned. Jesus' fulfillment of the law means that both people have the ability to confess their sin, ask for forgiveness, then attempt to do better. Murder, theft, lying, idolatry, sexual immorality, and the like are all still sins. Granted, during the pre-Jesus era we probably would have been more careful about our actions as we knew they bore a death penalty; today we have are blessed to have a Savior that has paid the price so that we don't have to be stoned for every infraction we make. Remember, the prize of eternal life is granted only if you believe in Jesus (John 3:16) because it is only through faith that we can be forgiven and it is only through faith that we will choose God's way over our own.
Note that Hebrews 10:26 tells us that there is no sacrifice for willingly committed sins (you know when said "Lord forgive me" then proceeded to do something you knew was wrong) because there wasn't a sacrifice mentioned in the Books of Law for willing sins, only unwilling sins. Only through faith and repentance can those be forgiven (evidenced by people like Abraham and Moses).
- "What is the difference between the ceremonial law, the moral law, and the judicial law in the Old Testament?". GotQuestions.org. 2015
- "What is the Ceremonial Law?". The Ceremonial Law. 2015
- Myers, Jeremy. "No Sacrifice for Willful Sin is Left". RedeemingGod.com. 2015
- Homosexuality in the Bible