There is much confusion in the Church today on how much focus should we put on the law and how much impact does grace have in our lives. The Greek word for law in the New Testament is nomos. The thing that people get hung up about the law is that they think, how can they carry out all those 613 commandments? In the Old Testament, particularly the Books of Moses, Mosaic Law, Pentateuch, or the Torah, the Jews did not distinguish between the law as we do today. The term law referred to ethical law or moral law, civil law, and ceremonious law. Thayer’s Lexicon says that the law mentioned in the New Testaments for the purpose of Christians was frequently used to ascribe to the ethical or moral law. Jews did not distinguish between the different aspects of the law and combined all of it to one.
Jesus talks a lot in Matthew how the Pharisees and scribes obeyed the letter of the law, but they were only doing it to be seen. They had no true intention of following God. They were zealous for their rituals and they habitually following the traditions of men. That is why Jesus, who came not to destroy the Law or the Prophets, but came to fulfill it (Matthew 5:17) mentions the distinction between the Jews and the Gentiles. In the Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, and the Vinedresser and the Servants, and the Woe where He mentions the that proselyters will win one soul, but take them to hell with them, Jesus wanted to make a distinction between the outward ceremonious following of the law and the inward change that has to come from following the moral and ethical laws.. That’s what Paul is talking about in Romans 7:13-25.
The Jews were taking all these practices and not honoring the heart of God. Jesus says they would celebrate the feasts, but only to find the best place to sit, and not to honor God with it. They probably thought that food was the most important thing, but they forgot the purpose of the law of the feasts. In Matthew 23:3, Jesus says: “For they bind heavy burdens heard to bear, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers.” What I think He’s saying here is that they put all these religious ceremonious laws as an obligation, but when it comes to serving with the heart of the matter and treating people like they want to be treated, they don’t do anything to lift the burden. That’s why He says “My yoke is easy and My burden is light.”
Law is very important in society and without law people would go into anarchy. But this law, this ethical and moral law is based on love and not a bunch of rules you have to follow. This is where the Jews were failing. They wanted to hold on to all their traditions, but their heart was far from God. They wanted to honor Him with their lips, but their hearts were far from Him. That’s why Jesus said all of the law can be summarized in two parts: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor as you love yourself. It is all about the conscience and the development of human character to be perfected into the image of God so that we can be grafted into the Branch, which is Jesus Christ.
Every human being has been created with a conscience. Some people have their conscience seared. Even people, believers and nonbelievers, weigh their wrong and right actions by their conscience, but without the proper foundation, which is Christ, sometimes those lines get blurred and you do what is wrong and you think its right and you do what you think is right when it is actually wrong. People need discernment and judgment to discern what is right and wrong, and that’s where law comes into picture. Without a set of standards you wouldn’t be able to tell what you are doing is right or wrong.
There is a reason why God made us better than animals. Animals go based on instinct, and some have been conditioned to operate on reward and punishment. But they have no sense of reason even though they may be loyal and faithful. Without the ability to reason and distinguish what is right and wrong and why we made the mistakes that we made, it will be hard not to learn from them.
This is where I think that the Jews missed the point. They were doing the law, but they didn’t discern what was right and wrong. They had no conviction of wrong doing. Nonbelievers and believers alike have a universal conscience. John the Baptist and Jesus were always talking about repentance, and turning away from your sin. Nonbelievers can repent from sin, but they have no access to the Truth in which why they are sinning, which is Jesus. I am not saying that the Jews were like animals, but they were doing all these 613 things obsessively, and they were missing the point- to treat each other with love.
Let me use an example: You can do all this obsessive calorie counting to meet your quotas, but how many of you can keep that up for the rest of your life? It’s not the counting calories in themselves that make you lose weight, it is knowing what is the right and wrong foods to eat, and eat small portions, keeping sight of the bigger picture: a healthy lifestyle and when you seem to indulge yourself, then you either burn it off, or suffer the the consequences of eating the food that you did.
In the same way you can follow all the 613 commandments, but we cannot as people keep that up or we will become obsessive with them, and lose sight of the true purpose of them, which is to have the law written on our hearts, and the Holy Spirit will guide us in doing all these things. The Holy Spirit will tell you if you have done something you shouldn’t have if you are sensitive to it. When you eat a huge slice of chocolate cake, it looks so good and tastes so good, but deep down inside you knew you shouldn’t have eaten it you know it is wrong. Even for the people that are skinny and think they can eat whatever they want, they are doing real damage to their bodies by eating harmful foods. We can’t all be perfect in food, or in our spiritual walk, but we can learn how to be sensitive to know when we are making the wrong choices. The Bible says, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, but both will come to nought.” Our spiritual walk is so much more vital to our lives than the foods we eat, but in this example you can see that you have to see the bigger picture and not be so obsessive with details.
Nonetheless, we should all keep the moral and ethical laws found in the Old Testament, because not only are they God’s laws, which is a good enough reason to uphold them, but because they are good guidelines for society and without standards, structure, order, and justice, society we wouldn’t have structure and we could do whatever we wanted all the time. That kind of thinking leads to anarchy and chaos.