This is a great question we have today: “Are Christians obligated to keep the Law of Moses?” The answer to that question is, yes and no. I’m going to explain what I mean by that in the next few minutes.
There’s three, and only three, codified laws that God has ever given to groups of people upon this Earth, and the very first one we could refer to as, “The Law of Conscience.” That is, God has given every human being a conscience that tells them when they’re doing right or wrong. The basic Law of Conscience is to treat other people like you want to be treated. That’s what we call the Golden Rule.
The Law of Conscience also incorporates the commandment, “Thou shalt not steal.” This is one of the 10 Commandments under the Mosaic Law, but it’s also in the Law of Conscience. Everyone who has ever lived has known it’s wrong to steal, because you’re not treating other people like you want to be treated.
Everyone who’s ever lived has known it’s wrong to lie. When they tell a lie, something in their heart says, “Oh no, you ought not to be telling that lie, because you don’t like it when people lie to you. You’re not treating them like you want to be treated.”
Everybody who has ever lived has known it’s wrong to murder another person, because that’s not how they want to be treated. They don’t want to be murdered. Everyone has always known it’s wrong to commit adultery, because that’s not how they want their spouse to be treated, or their future spouse to be treated. Something in their hearts says “This is a very sacred thing between a husband and a wife, and it should be preserved,” okay?
That’s the Law of Conscience. Paul talks about the Law of Conscience in his defense of the gospel, in his epistle to the Romans. Early on, in Chapter 2, he makes reference to that Law of Conscience. Let’s read through that reference in Romans 2:14 together.
Paul says, “For when Gentiles who do not have the Law…” obviously speaking about the Law of Moses, “do instinctively the things of the Law…” Now, no gentiles are doing instinctively the ceremonial things of the law, they’re doing instinctively the moral things of the law.
Paul says that when these Gentiles instinctively do the things of the law, “not having the Law, are a law to themselves.” So they do have a law, “in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (Romans 2:15).
This is often described as a little angel on one shoulder and a little demon on the other shoulder. There’s a conflict going on in the heart. It’s the conscience that God gave every single person. They’ll have to give an account one day, because He gave them this Law of Conscience. He expects them to abide by it. Of course, everybody transgressed that law, and thank God for Jesus. He makes a way for us to be forgiven of our sins, and to begin obeying that Law of Conscience.
All right. Now, the second codified law, the second set of laws that God has ever given out of a total of three, is called the Law of Moses. It’s not a singular law, it’s all the laws that God gave through Moses. I think about 613 of them. Guess what? Within the Law of Moses is also included the Law of Conscience.
Sure, even in the 10 Commandments you see basic moral requirements: don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, don’t commit adultery. These are basic, basic moral things, all in the Law of Conscience, but also of course, included in the Law of Moses. I the Law of Moses were a lot of things that had nothing to do with morality. They were ceremonial things. They had Levitical priesthoods, and there are all kinds of regulations there.
They were a political nation, so there was civil law included within the Law of Moses. A whole, whole lot of stuff. God only gave that law to a very limited number of people. Guess who? The descendants of Israel after God delivered them out of Egyptian bondage.
He only gave it to those limited number of people for a limited amount of time, until the promised Messiah should come. When Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world, and the curtain in the temple was ripped in half, that was essentially the end of the Old Covenant, even though people continued to keep it, because of their lack of knowledge.
All right. That’s the Law of Moses. Then finally, the only other law—sets of laws—that God ever gave to humanity would be the Law of Christ. Paul speaks about the Law of Christ in various places in his epistles, and it’s not a single law. It’s everything that Christ commanded.
In fact, remember He said this, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Of course, if you read through the gospels, you’ll see that a lot of what Christ commanded them is basic moral stuff that you find in the Law of Moses. And of course, also in the Law of Conscience.
In the Sermon on the Mount, He straightened out a lot of twisted teachings from the Pharisees and Scribes regarding those basic, basic moral principles of just telling the truth, not committing adultery, not stealing and so forth. All right?
That’s the Law of Christ. That was given to anyone who decides to follow Christ, and it begins with baptism. The first thing to do is to get baptized; that’s what Christ said to do. Then following Him, obeying His commandments, as they’re outlined by Christ. You can search for a lot of the laws that Moses gave in the gospels, and you won’t find them, because they’re not in the Law of Christ.
You can look for them also in the epistles, written by the apostles, and you won’t find many of those laws of Moses, but you will find the laws of Christ. Of course, you will find the moral, ethical laws of Moses. That’s why sometimes the apostles in the epistles quote from the 10 Commandments, or they quote, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” That’s an Old Covenant law, the Law of Moses, but it’s included in the New Covenant under the Law of Christ.
Now, I can prove all this by just showing you three verses from 1 Corinthians 9. This is Paul writing to the Corinthians about his evangelistic strategies, and he said in verse 19, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I may win more.”
Now, he talks about a specific strategy to reach the Jews. “To the Jews …” Now, he was a Jew, but he said, “To the Jews I became as a Jew.” What does he mean? He means “I kept all the Law of Moses when hanging around the Jews.” He said it another way in the very next phrase here. “To those who are under the Law …” that’s the Law of Moses, “As under the Law.” Obviously under the law of Moses. But then look what he says next. “though not being myself under the Law.”
“See, I’m a Jew, but I’m not under the Law of Moses, because I’m in Christ now.” Okay? The reason he did this, the reason he kept the Law of Moses when he was hanging around the Jews, is so that, “so that I might win those who are under the Law.” That’s why you see Paul doing certain things in the Book of Acts that are obviously oriented around the Mosaic law. He’s just trying not to offend the Jews that he’s trying to win.
Some people take those instances as proof to say, “Oh, Paul kept the Law of Moses.” Now you’re reading why he kept the Law of Moses sometimes, because now in Verse number 21, he said, “to those who are without law…” (that would have to be the Gentiles), I act “as without law.”
See, “I’m not going to be keeping the Law of Moses around the Gentiles, because that would be a hindrance to them, because they think, ‘Boy, is that what a Christian looks like? A guy who keeps all his ceremonial stuff and all his ritualistic stuff? I don’t want to do that.'” So Paul strips all that stuff away when he’s hanging around the Gentiles.
Listen what he says now, “though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ.” There you have it. Paul, a Jew, believed he was not under the Law of Moses, he was under the Law of Christ. Are you obligated to keep the Law of Moses? No, only keep the Law of Christ, but in keeping the Law of Christ, you will keep the moral and ethical laws of Moses, and you will keep, of course, the Law of Conscience. Thanks so much for asking this great question! God bless you.