Jesus, in announcing His purpose in Matthew 5:17, states, “I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.” Jesus made it clear that the New Testament gospel is not contradictory to the Old Testament law; rather, it is the ultimate fulfillment of the spiritual intention of the law.[i] He elaborated, “not even the smallest detail of God’s law will disappear until its purpose is achieved” (Matt. 5:18).
Throughout Jesus' life, He fulfilled and demonstrated His fidelity to God’s law in every area of His life. He was “born under the law” (Gal. 4:4). He did not submit to the traditions of the Pharisees; instead He always did what God commanded in the Law (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5). He fulfilled the Law in His teaching, which often put him in conflict with the scribes and Pharisees. He “redeemed us from the curse of the law” by His death, thereby fulfilling the requirements of the Law (Gal 3:13).[ii]
Jesus and the New Testament Apostles taught that the moral law of God has not changed and that believers should obey them. Believers are obligated to obey God’s commandments because “keeping God’s commands is what counts” (1 Cor.7:19).[iii] “Paul views the law of Moses as a subset of the law of God, so believers are not subject to the law of Moses, but we are subject to the law of Christ (1 Corinth. 9:19-21).” [iv]
What is the difference between the law of Moses and the law of Christ? The law of Moses includes the Ten Commandments, the ceremonial laws, dietary laws, national laws of the Jews, and more. The law of Christ referred to in Galatians 6:2 and 1 Corinthians 9:21, is much simpler. It is the highest ethics of Scripture summed up as loving God and loving your neighbor (others) as yourself. Jesus emphasizes that all the rest of the Law (the law of Moses) and the Prophets were based on these two laws - loving God and others (Matthew 27:37-40; Mark 12:28-34). These two moral laws, which are clarified and amplified in various ways throughout the New Testament, are what Christians are commanded to obey.
Christians are obligated to obey only that which is explicitly renewed from the Old Testament law that is considered part of the New Testament “law of Christ.” In practice, we should look to the New Testament for those commandments that express God’s moral will for us as new covenant Christians. We should still read the Old Testament, but the New Testament teachings should inform our obedience to Old Testament law.[v] Christians are under the New Testament covenant established by Christ and are not obligated to the Old covenant (cf., Jer. 31:31-34; Matt. 26:26-29; Heb. 8:8-13).
Some people have taken the fact that we, as Christians, are not under the law of Moses as an excuse to sin. In fact, Paul had to deal with this in Romans 6. In Romans 6:15, he says, “Well then, since God’s grace has set us free from the law, does that mean we can go on sinning?” He goes on to answer, “Of course not!” Since, as Jesus said, the whole law of Moses depends on the commands to love, and we are commanded to love as Jesus loved us (John 13:34–35), we cannot use our freedom from the law of Moses as an excuse to sin. Instead, because of that love, we will want to avoid sin (which separates us from God), and we will want good for humankind. We are not tied legalistically to rules, but we are obligated to please God by obeying His commandments (John 14:15, 21, 23; 15:10; I John 2:3; 5:3; 2 John 1:6), and showing His love to everyone (1 John 4:7-8, 11-13, 19-21; cf. Romans 6:16-18).
Hindson, Edward E., (General Editor). “The Gospel of Matthew,” In Bible Commentary, pages 1159-1254. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1975
Moo, Douglas J. Romans. NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House, 2000.
Wiersbe, Warren W. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol.1. Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989.
[i] Edward E. Hindson, (General Editor). “The Gospel of Matthew,” in Bible Commentary. (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1975), 1176.
[ii] See Warren W. Wiersbe. The Bible Exposition Commentary. Vol.1. (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1989), 22. Ideas from paragraph derived from Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary.
[iii] Douglas J. Moo, Romans, NIVAC (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2000), 222
[v] Ibid. 224