Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 4) Hebrews: Freedom from Dead Works

In the previous articles in this series (see links below), I believe we did a thorough job of addressing the claims of the email that sparked this blog series, but we received this comment on one of the articles, a response to the question in the series title: Must Christians follow the Old Testament Law? The comment:

“Short answer yes…all believers in Yeshua HaMashiach [Jesus the Messiah] must follow the Torah with the exception of blood sacrifice since Yeshua was the last ‘red heifer’. Believers are justified by grace and mature during the period of ‘sanctification’ as we live in obedience to the Law.”

Below, we will further address our big question, as well as address this comment about sanctification, as we look at the New Testament letter to the Hebrews. (As before, I will use the King James Version, since some of our friends appear to be King James-Onlyists, but also mix in my preferred modern translations [ESV, NASB] for clarity.)

HEBREWS: The “Necessity” of a Change

To start, we jump to Chapter 7 of Hebrews, where the author lays out how Jesus is the perfect high priest. Perfection could not be reached through the deeds of OT priesthood, whether for the priests themselves nor on the behalf of all of Israel (7:11); therefore, the OT priesthood was temporary. But Christ is “perfect forever” (7:28), the holy, innocent, exalted (7:26) high priest who gave the perfect sacrifice (himself) “once for all” (7:27). Leading up to this big conclusion, the author says some interesting things concerning the OT Law:

22 By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. (Heb 7:22 KJV)

In other words,

22 so much the more also Jesus has become the guarantee of a better covenant. (Heb 7:22 NASB)

And this is because,

18 For there is verily a disannulling of the commandment going before for the weakness and unprofitableness thereof. 19 For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God. (Heb 7:18–20 KJV)

To put it another way,

18 For on the one hand, a former commandment is set aside because of its weakness and uselessness 19 (for the law made nothing perfect); but on the other hand, a better hope is introduced, through which we draw near to God. (Heb 7:18–19 ESV)

And so,

 12 For the priesthood being changed, there is made of necessity a change also of the law. (Heb 7:12 KJV)

So, here we quite plainly see in God’s holy Word that the old covenant of the OT is just that: “old.” In fact, 7:18 speaks of its “weaknesses and unprofitableness” (KJV)—strong words, but this is what God’s Word says. Because of the coming of the only perfect priest, Jesus Christ, who offered the only perfect sacrifice (himself), there’s a “necessity” for a change in the law of God (7:12). Again, these are strong words about the OT Law right in God’s Word!

This theme continues throughout the following chapters in Hebrews. The OT priest was an “example and shadow of heavenly things” (KJV)—a “copy and shadow” of heavenly truths (ESV) (8:4-5). Jesus brought a “better” covenant because the old covenant was not without fault (8:6-7). Again, these are the words of the Bible itself:

But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises. For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. (Heb 8:6-7 KJV)

After citing OT prophet Jeremiah, who speaks of a “new covenant” (Jer 31:31-34), the author of Hebrews states, 

 13 In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. (Heb 8:13 KJV)

In other words,

13 In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away. (Heb 8:13 ESV)

The covenant of Moses is “obsolete,” which includes the Aaronic priesthood, the earthly sanctuary (the Jerusalem temple), and the Levitical sacrifices. As scholar F.F. Bruce writes in his commentary on Hebrews, “The age of the law and the prophets is past; the age of the Son is here, and here to stay.” 

Chapter 9 begins with referring to the first convenant’s “ordinances” (KJV) or “regulations” (NASB) of divine service and goes into a description of the OT tabernacle and its operations. Yet, all of the rituals could not make anyone “perfect in conscience” (NASB); thus, “food and drink and various washings, regulations for the body” will only be “imposed until a time of reformation” (9:10 NASB). Immediately, the author states,

 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 (Heb 9:10–11 KJV)

Notice the flow of thought: The OT rituals could not make us perfect, SO they were temporary, BUT Christ has now come. Thus, these OT rituals are “dead works”:

​​14 How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God, purge your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (Heb 9:14 KJV)

 Therefore, the first covenant is gone and we’re under a new covenant (9:15, 18), because…

For the Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near… For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. (Heb 10:1, 4 NASB) 

Christ took away the first covenant to establish the second covenant (10:9), and by this new covenant “we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (10:10 KJV, also 7:27) and “For by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (10:14 KJV, also see 7:27, 13:10).

Then, in 10:16, the author cites Jeremiah 31:31-34 for the second time in this letter, where God speaks of a new covenant where his Law will not be something external, but internal to God’s people:

But this shall be the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel; After those days, saith the Lord, I will put my law in their inward parts, And write it in their hearts; And will be their God, And they shall be my people. (Jeremiah 31:33 KJV)

With the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit into all who declare Christ as Lord and Savior, this divine promise became a reality. 

Conclusion & 2 Corinthians 3

Therefore, we strongly agree with our friend who left the comment saying that Christians no longer have to perform sacrifices as God’s people did in the OT. But to defend his comment that Christians need to continue to follow the rest of the OT Law to grow in sanctification is quite an uphill battle. Based on everything we looked at in this series, I would say the burden is on him to convince us from God’s Word. God’s Word repeats many times that Christians are under a new, different covenant. Under the new covenant, it’s Christ’s sacrifice and the indwelling Holy Spirit that sanctifies us, that makes us holy. 

I think our friend would agree with me that walking in the Spirit in obedience to God’s Word as imitators of Christ is how we continue to grow in that sanctification, to grow more like Christ, but I see no evidence in the NT that that means continuing to follow the OT ritual and religious laws. Of all the NT passages that speak of growing in sanctification, any hint of that meaning we continue to follow the OT Law is absent. Yes, we walk in obedience to God, which means following his moral law, and there is a clear continuity between the OT and NT in this sense. In fact, I have defended the importance of the OT in relation to the NT before. But I see no evidence in the NT that saved believers in Christ need to continue to follow the OT ritual and religious law. All the evidence points in the opposite direction. 

In fact, I believe Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 3 are sufficient to close us out and put this to rest. Echoing Jeremiah 31:33 once again, Paul contrasts the Old and New Covenants—that which is written with ink or on stone tables (the Old Covenant) versus that which is written by the Holy Spirit on the human heart (the New Covenant) (3:1-5)—and this “hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life (3:6 KJV). He then speaks of those still reading the Old Covenant as having blinded minds, as if having a veil over their faces, a veil only Christ can remove (3:14):

16 Nevertheless when it shall turn to the Lord, the vail shall be taken away. 17 Now the Lord is that Spirit: and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty. 18 But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (2 Corinthians 3:16–18 KJV).

Christians are sanctified—made holy, set apart—through both the atoning sacrifice of Christ and the receiving of his Holy Spirit, which changes hearts and renews minds. Moreover, the Christian continues to grow in sanctification—to grow more into the image of Christ—by continuing to walk in the Holy Spirit in obedience to Christ, which is true freedom (2 Cor 3:17), which includes freedom from the OT Law.

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

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)

Must Christians Follow the Old Testament Law? (Part 3) Acts: What to Do With Those Filthy Gentiles

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)

The New Paganism (Part 6) Are the Old Testament Faithful Damned Because They Lived Before Christ?

New Paganism Blog_02

The Old Testament Saints

Are the people faithful to God in the Old Testament still damned because they lived before the saving work and death of Christ? This is a question often asked by both Christians and skeptics. The quick answer is: No, they are not damned. The Old Testament faithful are saved by the work of Christ.

To conclude this series on pluralism and inclusivism, we’ll look at one more inclusivist claim of scholar Clark Pinnock. His inclusivist view proposes that one does not have to believe in Christ specifically to be saved, and one way he supports his argument is by pointing to the faithful who are saved in the Old Testament before the coming of Christ.

Surely, Pinnock claims, many loyal people of God written about in the Old Testament had saving faith long before Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. I believe he is correct here, as well see by the biblical evidence below.

Pinnock and other inclusivists name Abraham as a prime example. They are right in that Abraham had saving faith before Christ, but they are overlooking important details. Abraham was not a faithful “pagan saint” who came to salvation through his paganism.

First, Abraham came into a covenantal relationship with God by the self-disclosure of God himself, which is an example of special, not general, revelation. Abraham was likely a pagan before God revealed himself to him in Genesis 12, and all evidence indicates that not only did God initiate this relationship but also Abraham was not chosen for any particularly reason, including any sort of righteous behavior.

Secondly, this means Abraham clearly had correct information about God, which—as we have seen—is a requirement for salvation.

Thirdly, Abraham had faith in God’s promises, which would include looking forward to Christ, a promise going all the way back to the Fall in Genesis 3:15. God promises Abraham that through him all the families of the world would be blessed (Gen. 12:3), and Abraham “believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6). Immediately following this in 15:7–21, God and Abraham partake in a clear covenantal-sealing ceremony, and we see another covenantal milestone, symbolized by circumcision, between God and Abraham in 17:1–4.

Finally, Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of God’s promises. Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

We also see this idea in the Book of Hebrews: “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world.” (Hebrews 1:1-2). Take a moment to read Hebrews 10:1-18, where this fleshed out.

Interestingly, Pinnock cites Romans 4:1–25 to support his view, but Romans 4:20–25 actually counters his view. Paul writes, Abraham had “[n]o unbelief… concerning the promise of God” (4:20), and he was “fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised” (4:21).

Abraham is not an example of an adherent of another faith moved to saving faith by the Holy Spirit; quite the contrary, he is a man in covenantal relationship with the true God through the self-disclosure of that one true God, and a man with complete faith in the promises of God (Heb. 11:17–19), which include the promise of the coming Christ.

If there is any question about this, Jesus himself says to his fellow Jews in John 8:56, “Your father Abraham rejoiced that he would see my day. He saw it and was glad.”


“The Faith Hall of Fame”

Hebrews 11, sometimes nicknamed “The Faith Hall of Fame,” mentions many Old Testament saints who lived in faith. As with Abraham, inclusivists cannot use this to support their case; all those Old Testament saints mentioned knew the God of the Bible, not some generic god or false faith, and believed in God’s promises.

Wellum writes, “[T]he entire context of Hebrews 11 describes a ‘faith’ which is rooted in God’s covenant promises, now brought to fulfillment in Christ.” Hebrews 11 starts by making this clear enough: “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation” (11:1–2). “Commendation” is defined as an award involving praise and can be also translated as “approval.” Likewise, Hebrews 11:13 tells us, “These [Old Testament saints] all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar.”

Their faith was not in some false religion with some partial truth about God; as in all of the Old Testament, their faith was specifically rooted in the one true God and his promises of salvation.

Thus, Abraham was justified by faith alone, which is confirmed by Paul (Rom. 4:1–25), and Paul confirms believers before Christ are destined to become “sons” (Gal. 3:23; 4:1). Hebrews 11:39–40 confirms that other Jews and pagans were saved by their faith before the coming of Jesus.


In closing, a careful reading of the Bible shows that Pinnock’s inclusivist interpretations of Scripture are not biblical. One must have knowledge of Jesus Christ to benefit from his salvific work, and the Holy Spirit only works in giving saving faith in connection to Christ. The idea of “pagan saints” in the New Testament era is unfounded, and Old Testament saints were saved by God’s self-disclosure and their faith in God’s future promise of salvation through Christ.

Read Part 1: The New Paganism (Part 1) Pluralism: Are There Many Paths to God?

Read Part 2: The New Paganism (Part 2) Inclusivism: Is Knowledge of Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Read Part 3: The New Paganism (Part 3) Exclusivism: Why is Jesus Needed for Salvation?

Read Part 4: The New Paganism (Part 4) Does the Holy Spirit Work Apart from Christ?

Read Part 5: The New Paganism (Part 5) Saved Pagans in the New Testament?


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