Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 2) Romans: It’s the End of the Law as We Know It (and Paul Feels Fine)

In his letter to the Romans, Paul makes a similar argument as in his letter to the Galatians, which we looked at in the last article. Our friend who claims Christians must continue to follow the Old Testament (OT) religious and ritual law cites three passages from Romans to support his view (See the email below). When looking at the overall argument Paul makes in Romans, we see that our friend’s use of these three verses are one of the most common techniques used by those trying to justify fringe views: cherry-picking—that is, plucking a verse out of the Bible and ignoring the context around it. In order to take these verses as teaching that Christians are still obligated to keep the OT Law, one has to ignore much of the flow of Paul’s argument in his letter.

AN EMAIL

Dear brothers and sisters in Messiah!

All believers listen up!

In Galatians 1, Paul says that there is only one gospel and those who teach a different one are under a curse.

In 2 Peter 3:14-17, Peter warns that many will misinterpret Paul’s difficult to understand writings, resulting in lawlessness and destruction.

  • Paul always kept the Sabbath (Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4)
  • Paul kept the Feasts (Acts 20:6; Acts 20:16)
  • Paul instructed us to keep the Feasts (1 Cor 5:7-8)
  • Paul believed all of the Torah (Acts 24:14)
  • Paul stated that we establish the Torah (Romans 3:31)
  • Paul taught from the Torah (Acts 28:23)
  • Paul obeyed the Torah (Acts 21:24; Romans 7:25)
  • Paul took delight in the Torah (Romans 7:22)
  • Paul told us to imitate him (1 Cor 4:16. 1 Cor 11:1)

There was no New Testament when the disciples were preaching the good news, they were using the Old Testament to prove who Yashuah is.

Please take this Shabbat and study the above…

Blessings to you and your families!

Shabbat Shalom!

Sincerely,

XXXX XXXXXX

*Note: Since our author of this email may be a “King James Only-ist,” I will be primarily using the King James translation.

ROMANS: Righteousness By Christ Alone

Romans is a much longer, complicated letter than Galatians, but Paul’s flow of thought is not hard to see. Paul begins by explaining the sorry state of things; much of mankind is in rebellion against its Creator (Chapter 1-2). Even Jews, who were given God’s Law, fail to live righteously, leading Paul to ask in Chapter 3:

9 What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin (Rom. 3:9)

Or, to put it another way:

What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin (Rom. 3:9 NAMB)

So, both Jews and Gentiles fail to live up to God’s righteousness, and God’s OT Law shines a spotlight on this sad fact:

19 Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. 20 Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin.21 But now the righteousness of God without the law is manifested, being witnessed by the law and the prophets; 22 Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe: for there is no difference: 23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:19-23)

So, both Jews and Gentiles fall short of God’s goodness—there is no difference between them in this way—but immediately now we get the good news, that no difference also exists between Jews and Gentiles when it comes to being justified and redeemed by the blood of Christ:

24 Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: 25 Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God; 26 To declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus. (Rom. 3:24-26)

Thus, Christians are justified not by obeying the OT Law, but by faith in Christ. They are “justified freely by his grace.” Paul immediately continues:

27 Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? of works? Nay: but by the law of faith. 28 Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law. 29 Is he the God of the Jews only? is he not also of the Gentiles? Yes, of the Gentiles also: 30 Seeing it is one God, which shall justify the circumcision by faith, and uncircumcision through faith. 31 Do we then make void the law through faith? God forbid: yea, we establish the law. (Rom. 3:27-31)

So, being circumcised or doing any other part of OT Law is not the key to forgiveness of sins, justification, and righteousness, but faith alone in Christ. What Paul calls “the law of faith” leads to right standing before God.

Here, we come to the first verse in Romans referenced by our OT Law-following friend in his email (3:31). When cherry-picked out of context, it does appear to support his view. After all, it does say “we establish the law” or even “we uphold the law” (ESV). But we must understand this in the flow of Paul’s thought. It would certainly be odd for Paul to write this beautiful passage about Christians being made justified by Christ “without deeds of the law” in 3:28, only to have him say we need to still follow the OT Law in 3:31! No, Paul is not saying Christians must still follow the OT Law. The OT Law was fulfilled in Christ, as Christ himself said he would do (Matt. 5:17). Therefore, Christian faith in Christ also fulfills—established, upholds—the purpose of the Law. This will become clearer as we continue, as we see with Paul’s words in 8:4: 

“That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit.”

This statement in 3:31, then, immediately moves us into Chapter 4, where Paul uses Abraham as a biblical example of someone counted righteous through faith (4:3, 5). One of Paul’s big points is that Abraham was declared to be righteous before he received the command of circumcision (4:9-12); thus, righteousness is through faith, not works:

13 For the promise, that he should be the heir of the world, was not to Abraham, or to his seed, through the law, but through the righteousness of faith. (Rom. 4:13)

Similar to his letter to the Galatians, Paul says those who live in faith are descendants of Abraham. Righteousness and justification—by God’s grace—will be given to those who believe in Christ.

 16 Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace; to the end the promise might be sure to all the seed; not to that only which is of the law, but to that also which is of the faith of Abraham; who is the father of us all… 24 But for us also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; 25 Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification (Rom 4:15–16, 24–25)

THE LAW OF THE SPIRIT

Paul states Christians are “justified by faith” (5:1). This justification and righteousness before God is a “free gift” of God’s grace, meaning it’s not something earned through obeying religious rituals and rites. Otherwise, how is it in any way a “free gift” and a “gift of grace” (5:14-17)? Paul expands on this:

18 Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation [see Gen. 3]; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. 19 For as by one man’s [Adam’s] disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one [Christ] shall many be made righteous. 20 Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound: 21 That as sin hath reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord. (Rom. 5:14-21) (Emphasis mine)

So, where the OT Law shines a spotlight on humankind’s sinfulness, it also—at the same time—accentuates God’s grace! Reading this, I can’t help but think of Paul’s strong words from his letter to the Ephesians: 

8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast. (Eph. 2:8-9)

Likewise, he states later in Romans:

14 For sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under the law, but under grace. (Rom. 6:14)

Jesus proclaimed that he had come to fulfill the OT Law:

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill. (Matt. 5:17)

Christians do not have to fulfill the OT Law because Christ did it for us. This is what Paul is referring to when he writes,

10 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life... 19 For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. (Rom 5:10, 19) (Emphasis mine)

Jesus fulfilled the OT Law by perfectly living it out, something no one could do other than the God-man Jesus. Theologians call this Jesus’ “active obedience.” Then, he further fulfilled the OT Law by dying on the cross. Theologians call this Jesus’ “passive obedience.” Someone once pointed out to me that a law can be fulfilled in two ways: (1) Someone can obey the law or (2) one can break the law and then fulfill it by paying the penalty for breaking it. Thus, Jesus fulfilled the OT Law in two ways: He obeyed it perfectly, but he also took the penalty—our penalty—for breaking it.

Therefore, Christians are “dead to the law by the body of Christ” (7:4) and “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter.” (7:6) The OT Law shows us what sin is (7:7-25) and we all fall short, but…

22 For I delight in the law of God after the inward man: 23 But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. 24 O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death? 25 I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord. So then with the mind I myself serve the law of God; but with the flesh the law of sin. (Rom. 7:22-25)

Here, we come to the two other verses from Romans cited in our OT Law-following friends’ email (7:22 and 7:25). Yes, Paul states in these verses that he delights in the Law and serves the Law, but didn’t Paul just say Christians “serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter,” that is, not the written OT Law (7:6)? So, Paul is speaking of the “law of the Spirit,” not the OT Law, as we see in his immediate words to follow: 

There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. 2 For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus hath made me free from the law of sin and death. 3 For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: 4 That the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (Rom. 8:1-4) (Emphasis mine)

So, what the OT Law could not give, the law of the Spirit can: freedom from sin and death. Those who walk in the Spirit fulfill the righteousness of the Law. Even the Gentiles, who the OT Law wasn’t given to, have attained righteousness through faith, but Israel has not attained it because they tried to fulfill it through works, not faith:

30 What shall we say then? That the Gentiles, which followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness, even the righteousness which is of faith. 31 But Israel, which followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness… 3 For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God. 4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom. 9:30-31, 10:3-4) (Emphasis mine)

What was that again?

For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. (Rom. 10:4)

Later in Chapter 10, Paul gives us one of the great statements of how salvation is attained. It says nothing about obeying the OT Law:

9 That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. 10 For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the scripture saith, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. 12 For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him. 13 For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Rom. 10:9-13)

In Chapter 11, Paul reminds us again that salvation is attained not through works, but by God’s grace:

5 Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 6 And if by grace, then is it no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Rom. 11:5-6)

Or, to put it another way,

So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Rom. 11:5-6 ESV)

Paul clearly teaches that right standing before God—which includes justification and righteousness—doesn’t come through obeying the OT Law.

THE WEAK IN FAITH

Like we saw in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, Paul’s big ideas are clear throughout Romans. We find nothing to suggest that Christians need to continue to obey the OT religious Law. Everything we see points in the opposite direction.

To close, let’s look at one last passage. In many of Paul’s letters, he encourages peace and unity within the young church, often calling Christians to humble themselves and put others’ needs before their own. In Chapter 14 of Romans, Paul writes that the church should not quarrel over opinions about non-essential practices. (Pause here and read Romans 14:1-15:1.) He specifically mentions disagreements over what Christians should and should not eat and the practice of “esteeming one day above another” (14:5). Here, Paul introduces his stumbling block principle. The idea is to not do anything that might make other Christians stumble in their faith, even if you have the right to do it. 

Since Paul mentions drinking wine (14:21), let me use drinking alcohol as an example of Paul’s Stumbling Block Principle. Since Jesus turned water into wine and there are no commands absolutely prohibiting the drinking of alcohol in the Bible, I believe it’s okay for a Christian to enjoy a glass of wine as long as one does not get drunk, since drunkenness is clearly prohibited in the Bible. Yet, many Christians feel strongly that Christians should not drink alcohol at all. According to Paul’s “stumbling block principle,” though I believe it’s biblically allowable for a Christian to drink wine, if I were around a Christian who was against doing so, I’d abstain from, say, having a glass of wine while I’m out to dinner with him. Though I have the right to do so, I’d forfeit this right for the sake of my brother in Christ.

This passage gives valuable insight into our debate about whether Christians need to follow the OT Law concerning religious and ritual practices. To be clear, Christians are obligated to follow the OT moral commands because they’re based on God’s unchanging character and purposes for creation. If there’s any question, many of those commands are repeated in the New Testament. Yet, we don’t find this with the OT religious commands because Christ fulfilled them through his perfect life and death. As we’ve seen, Paul in both his letter to the Galatians and Romans fills considerable space arguing that Christians are a people under the grace of God through faith and not under the OT Law of works.

In Romans 14, Paul specifically mentions debates about what is allowable to eat and if certain days should be esteemed as better than others (14:2-3, 5). These debates could certainly include dietary restrictions found in the OT Law as well as debates over days of sabbath rest, OT festivals, and holy days. This is certainly in line with the context of Romans (and Galatians) and what Paul writes in Colossians:

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. (Col. 2:16-17)

(Also see Galatians 4:9-10.) In 1 Corinthians, we get insight into one of these debates over food (see 1 Cor. 8) about whether Christians should eat food offered to pagan idols. Interestingly, Paul uses the Stumbling Block Principle here too (1 Cor. 8:9-13). Where it’s possible Romans 14 may not only be about dietary and holy day beliefs concerning the OT Law, it’s certainly a good possibility the OT Law is in view here based on the context of Paul’s letters. In fact, Paul writes in Romans 14:14, “I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself,” which is a clear reference to the ritual purity laws of the OT Law concerning food. Paul goes on to state,

17 For the kingdom of God is not meat and drink; but righteousness, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost… 20 For meat destroy not the work of God. All things indeed are pure (Rom. 14:17, 20)

Christ has set us free from the OT ritual purity laws. The Christian life has considerable freedom in comparison to life under the OT Law. Christians are under the new covenant, not the old covenant (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 11:25).

Now, let me point out one last—but important—thing about Paul’s Stumbling Block Principle: Paul refers to those who might “stumble”—that is, those who might have their faith in Christ shaken or injured by what people eat and what holy days they recognize—as the weak Christians! That is, those who are insisting that Christians must eat one thing over another or that Christians must recognize one day over another are, in fact, the weaker in faith! He starts this section by stating, 

Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations. (Rom. 14:1)

In other words,

As for the one who is weak in faith, welcome him, but not to quarrel over opinions. (Rom. 14:1–2 ESV)

We find a similar statement in 1 Corinthians:

9 But take heed lest by any means this liberty of yours become a stumblingblock to them that are weak. (1 Cor. 8:9)

And those who aren’t concerned about such things (yet are to conform to prevent weaker Christians from stumbling) are the strong in faith:

We then that are strong ought to bear the infirmities of the weak, and not to please ourselves. (Rom. 15:1)

To reiterate, Paul is so unconcerned about what to eat and what days are holy that he tells the strong in faith to go along with the weak because what Christians eat or days they recognize—for the most part—don’t matter.

To close, a warning from Paul:

17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them. 18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple. (Rom. 16:17-18)

Let me just say again how sad I think it is that this group of believers serving as witnesses of the gospel in an international, secular corporation has been hijacked by someone who has made things God’s divine Scripture deems insignificant a central focus of this group of believers.

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 1) Galatians: Paul Gives a Smackdown

Related GFTM Articles:

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 1 of 2) Are OT laws arbitrary, offensive & silly?

Making Sense of Old Testament Laws (Part 2 of 2) Why do Christians follow some OT laws & not others?

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Mark)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Matthew)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of John)

Is the Old Testament Irrelevant? Let’s See What Jesus Thinks (The Gospel of Luke + Series Final Results)

3 thoughts on “Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 2) Romans: It’s the End of the Law as We Know It (and Paul Feels Fine)

  1. Pingback: Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 4) Hebrews: Freedom from Dead Works | god from the machine

  2. Pingback: Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 3) Acts: What to Do With Those Filthy Gentiles? | god from the machine

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