Should Christians Obey the Old Testament?


  • Christ alone entirely fulfilled the righteous requirements of the Old Testament Law, and thereby all who receive Christ are counted as righteous entirely on the basis of their repentance and belief in Christ.
  • The evidence of our receiving Christ is that God the Holy Spirit indwells us. He produces his fruit in us that is entirely consistent with the ultimate heart and principles of the Old Testament Law (and go far beyond the mere externals and shadows established by the Old Testament Law).


When we use “The Law” we are referring to the entirety of the Old Testament (as it is used in John 10:34; Rom. 3:10-19; and elsewhere).

#1: God Desires the Law’s Intent Obeyed (Over the Letter of the Law)

  • Psalm 51:16-17; Isaiah 1:10-15; 58; Hosea 6:6 (cf. Matt. 9:13); Amos 5:21 – Israel wrongly believed that outward ritual/obedience pleases God.
  • Matthew 5:17-48 – Jesus reveals and interprets God’s true heart behind and within the law, exposing man made additions and false interpretations by the Pharisees.
  • Matt. 12:1-8 – Jesus wants us to look to the intent of the law over the outward letter
  • Matt. 19:1-10 – though a provision was made for divorce, Jesus shows that the Law does not endorse divorce.
  • Matt. 23:23-24; Mark 12:33 – Jesus sees weightier matters within the law
  • Romans 2:26 – you can keep “the righteous requirements of the law” without being circumcised

#2: The Law’s Intent = Love God; Love Others

  • Matt. 22:36-40
    • John 13:34-35; Gal. 6:2 (cf. John 5:24 with 1 John 3:14) – especially love for each other
  • Gal. 5:13-14; Romans 13:8-10; James 2:8 – “loving our neighbor” = summary of Law.
    • 1 John 4:7-13 – Of course, this implies we love God first.

#3: The Law Exposes Our Guilt in Loving God and Others

  • Matt. 5:27-28, 31-32, 38-39 – “You have heard it said” = what they were taught about the Law. “I say to you” = what the Law really teaches. In doing this, Jesus shows that lusting, anger, etc. reveal guilt in God’s law
  • Romans 3:9-20; 7:7 – The law is a mirror that shows our true condition as sinful and without hope on our own.

#4: Jesus Alone Fully Obeyed the Law

  • Matthew 5:17
  • Rom. 3:26; 2 Cor. 5:21 – Only if Jesus is righteous can God still be righteous to say that Jesus paid the price for sinners
  • Heb. 4:15; 1 Pet. 1:19; 2:22; 1 John 3:5 – Jesus = Perfect; sinless

#5: The Law Reveals Jesus as Savior/Messiah to Follow

  • Luke 24:44 – the entirety of the Old Testament points to Jesus
  • Acts 3:21-26; 8:32-35 – Jesus was prophesied in the Law
  • Romans 3:21-26 – though following the Law does not make us righteous, the law does point toward Jesus as the Savior
  • 1 Cor. 5:7; Col. 2:11-23 – Jesus is the “substance” (v. 17) of the Law’s dietary laws, festivals, and sabbaths (v. 16)
  • Hebrews:
    • 1-2: Jesus is better than Angels (who were part of giving the law, cf. Acts 7:53; Gal. 3:19)
    • 3-4: Jesus = ultimate Sabbath
    • 5-9: Jesus = ultimate High Priest
    • 10: Jesus = ultimate Sacrifice

#6: Only Those Who Follow Jesus Are Judged Righteous by the Law

  • Acts 15:6-11 – saved in faith in Jesus, not works of the Law
  • Rom. 4:5-6 – “justifies the ungodly” – we are imputed with Christ’s righteousness though not being righteous on our own
  • Rom. 10:4 (also vv. 9-10) – “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes”
  • Heb. 10:14 – Christ’s sacrifice forever perfects believers

#7: Those who Follow Jesus receive the Holy Spirit Who Leads Us Into the Law’s Intent

  • Ezekiel 36:26; Jeremiah 31:31-34 (cf. Heb. 8:7-13) – the law externally taught people how to follow God; but it prophesied a time (and “new covenant”) when we’d have an indwelling knowledge, heart, and law.
  • Gal. 4:4-7; 5:2-6, 18-23; 6:14-15; Eph. 1:13; Rom. 7:6; 8:3-4, 9 – the Holy Spirit within is the seal we are righteous with God, and leads us to walk out the law’s intent

#8: Christians Aren’t Judged by Letter/Ritual of the Law, But Can Discern God’s Heart/Principles through the Law

  • Acts 15:28-29; 1 Cor. 9:19-23 – here it’s clear the entire law is not binding, but certain elements of it may be followed at certain times for a witness to others
  • Rom. 2:26 – uncircumcised people can be completely faithful to the “precepts” of the law (though circumcision is part of the letter of the law)
  • Rom. 14:1-13 – it’s perfectly fine if people are personally challenged and convicted to follow specific rituals of the law; it becomes wrong when they see their righteousness before God as dependent on their following the rituals and/or teach that others MUST follow these rituals.
  • Rom. 15:1-4; 1 Cor. 5:7; 9:9 – these (and other) passages show how the Law reveals eternal principles for us to follow
  • 1 Cor. 6:12; 10:23 – though the law does not make us righteous, it is not therefore wise to abandon
  • Gal. 5:13-15 – the law informs Christians how to live, even though they aren’t under it
  • Col. 2:16; Heb. 10:1 – Further, how would we know what loving God and loving others looks like without the Bible (including the O.T. Law!)? It is compared to a shadow. Just as a shadow tells you varied things about a person and is consistent with the substance of that person, so the Law helps us know about God, His love, etc. The Holy Spirit will always lead us consistently with what God has revealed in his Word.

Romans: Case Study

I bolded the passages from Romans (above) to see how a single book weaves together all of these themes. Romans is not the only book to do this, but I believe it is the most thorough on this topic. And studying one book on these themes can help us see how the 1 Bible written by 1 Author (God) can similarly emphasize these varied themes at different parts.

~ Thanks to my brother and friend Ross Whitman for helping compile these notes.

4 thoughts on “Should Christians Obey the Old Testament?

  1. we are not declared righteous on the basis of our repentance and faith in Christ but on the basis of Christ’s righteousness that we receive by faith.

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