Jesus, the fulfilled covenant
“A new commandment I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 (NIV UK)
One of the most enduring arguments among religious scholars is “Which part of the Old Testament law has been done away, and what parts are we still obliged to observe?” The answer to that question is not “either/or.” Let me explain.
The Old Covenant Law was a complete package consisting of 613 civil and religious laws and regulations for Israel. It was designed to separate them from the world and lay a spiritual foundation leading to faith in Christ. It was, as the New Testament says, a shadow of the reality to come. It was not so much ‘done away’ as ‘fulfilled’ in the Messiah, Jesus Christ.
Christians are not under the Mosaic law. Rather, they are subject to the Law of Christ, expressed in love for God and fellow human beings. The New Covenant is personal, spiritual, and relational in nature.
During His earthly ministry, Jesus did observe the religious customs and traditions of the Jewish people, but with a flexibility that often surprised even His supporters. For example, He upset the religious authorities by the way He treated their strict rules for keeping the Sabbath. When challenged, He explained that He was Lord of the Sabbath.
The Old Testament is not obsolete; it is an integral part of the Holy Scriptures. There is continuity between the two testaments. We can say that God’s covenant has been given in two forms: Promise and Fulfilment. We now live under the fulfilled covenant of Christ. It is open to all who believe in Him as Lord and Saviour. It isn’t necessarily wrong to observe the Old Covenant regulations pertaining to the specific forms of worship and cultural practices if you want to. But doing so doesn’t make you any more righteous or acceptable to God than those who don’t. Christians can now enjoy their true “Sabbath rest”—freedom from sin, death, evil, and alienation from God—in a relationship with Jesus.
That means that the obligations we have are obligations of grace, ways of living in and under the gracious covenantal promises of God and His faithfulness. All such obedience then is the obedience of faith, of trust in God to be true to His Word and faithful in all His ways. Our obedience is never meant to condition God to be gracious. He is gracious and so we want to live in ways that keep us receiving His grace extended to us daily in Jesus Christ.
If our salvation depended on our fulfilling the law, we would all be doomed. But we can be thankful, Jesus shares with us His fullness of life in the power of His Spirit.
Gracious Father, The obligations we are under as your children are more comprehensive than ever were the commands of the Old Testament alone. Help us to fulfil them as you would wish. In Jesus’ name we pray.