In the Old Testament, God gave different laws to guide people on how to lead an acceptable lifestyle under the standards of moral behaviors. Additionally, the laws were meant to point to God’s purity and expose people’s sinful nature. As such, all the 613 commandments in the Old Testament give directions on moral, judicial, and religious matters. The laws are a reflection of the character of God. Jesus says that the mouth speaks from the abundance of the heart.1
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As such, when God gave the laws, He spoke His character. However, when Jesus came to save humanity from its sinfulness, He introduced the concept of faith and Grace. Therefore, people are no longer justified by the law, but by faith. Paul says, “All are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”2 In the light of this understanding, the underlying issue is to understand the role of law in the gospel. This paper seeks to explore this subject using the thesis that under the teachings of Jesus Christ, the laws of people like Noah, Moses, and David, in the Old Testament, are lost to faith.
Jesus Christ and the Law
The teachings and actions of Jesus went against the laws that were being practiced at the time. However, Jesus clarified that he did not seek to get rid of the law. On the contrary, He says, “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.”3 In other words, Jesus meant that the purpose and the message of the law were being fulfilled through Him. The law talked about Jesus and by His coming, he fulfilled it.4
For instance, under the law, people were supposed to offer sacrifices as a way of atoning their sins. God instructs Moses, “You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you.”5 However, the law that required people to sacrifice for the atonement of their sins was fulfilled through Jesus Christ. Jesus says, “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”6
Therefore, anyone who believes in Christ through faith, he or she is not bound by the laws on sacrifices for atonement. Similarly, the Old Testament required people to observe different laws on purity. The book of Deuteronomy in chapter 23 gives directions on how people should behave to avoid uncleanliness. According to the law, leprous people were supposed to be isolated due to uncleanliness.7 Such individuals were not supposed to interact with other people.
However, in the gospel, Jesus interacted with leprous people and healed them. The Bible records, “Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. “I am willing,” he said. “Be clean!” Immediately he was cleansed of his leprosy.”8 Christ focused on how people related with each other and God as opposed to observing some laws that He has already fulfilled. He commanded His disciples to go out, heal the sick, and raise the dead through faith. This approach did not observe the law, which demanded the isolation of such individuals.9 In the Old Testament, people needed the law to live according to the standards of God and achieve righteousness. However, in the New Testament, Christ emphasized that righteousness came through faith. Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”10
In this case, people no longer need to observe the law in a bid to achieve righteousness. They simply have to have faith in Christ, which brings justification and forgiveness of sins. In essence, the law is replaced with faith. Therefore, it suffices to conclude that this law is lost in faith as highlighted in the thesis statement.
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The Use of Law and Gospel in Different Religions
Different religions interpret law and gospel disparately based on the underlying dogma. In Islam, the law should be followed as it was given in Quran by God to Prophet Muhammad. Quran is divided into three books viz. the Torah, which was given to Musa, the Zabur as received by Daud, and the Injil handed over to Isa11. The Torah in Islam is the equivalent of the commandments that Moses was given at Mt. Sinai to govern how people lived at the time. According to Islam, the law should be observed closely.
The only way to attain righteousness is by following what the law says. Quran notes, “Righteousness is the one who believes in God, the Last Day, the Angels, the Scripture and the Prophets… (Righteous are) those who pray, pay alms, honor their agreements, and are patient in (times of) poverty, ailment and during conflict. Such are the people of truth. And they are the God-Fearing.”12 As such, one’s actions play an important role in ensuring right standing with Allah.
In Islam, the gospel or Injil, is believed to be the original divine revelation from Isa, or Jesus Christ. Isa is believed to be one of the many prophets of God, and thus his teachings are not seen in the context of salvation. Given that Isa did not die and resurrect as a savior of the world according to Islam, law is not lost in faith.
In Judaism, the law, which is commonly known as Halakhah, is supreme and it should be followed carefully to avoid sinning against God. In most cases, Jews follow the Old Testament laws. According to the Jewish traditions, righteousness entails the fulfillment of all legal and moral obligations as stipulated in the law. As such, people are judged by their actions. For instance, all Jews must be circumcised according to the law. The Bible records, “This is my covenant with you and your descendants after you, the covenant you are to keep: Every male among you shall be circumcised.”13 Other ceremonies like the Passover, the Feast of Tabernacles, and observing the Sabbath are followed as a way of ensuring righteousness.
On the other hand, Jews do not see Jesus as the promised Messiah. According to them, the Messiah is yet to come. As such, the gospel, which underscores the salvation of humanity through Jesus Christ, does not apply to them. Their salvation will be realized upon the coming of the Messiah. Therefore, under the Jewish beliefs, the law has not been replaced or lost in faith.
The Use of Law and Gospel within Christianity
In Christianity, the law is used as a reminder of people’s sins. The law lays a foundation about the character of God. The Bible says, “Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy.”14 The law is used to differentiate between good and evil. Otherwise, if the law did not exist, Christians would be living in ignorance and indulge in the wrong practices. As such, it suffices to conclude that the message of the law is still alive in Christianity. In Romans 7: 7 Paul says, “In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, you must not covet.” The law causes us to feel guilt for our sins, which is good because the message of the gospel sets in at that point15.
According to the gospel, the law necessitates salvation by grace. Apostle Paul says, “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard. Yet God, in his grace, freely makes us right in his sight. He did this through Christ Jesus when he freed us from the penalty for our sins.”16 As such, we no longer need to observe the law to attain righteousness. Additionally, our actions do not play any part in ensuring right standing with God. In Ephesians, Paul notes, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.”17
Therefore, we cannot boast that we have been saved by observing the law. In fact, Apostle Paul says, “For no one can ever be made right with God by doing what the law commands. The law simply shows us how sinful we are.”18
Therefore, I need to have faith in the grace of Jesus Christ and I will be redeemed from my sins. Paul says, “Can we boast, then, that we have done anything to be accepted by God? No, because our acquittal is not based on obeying the law. It is based on faith. So we are made right with God through faith and not by obeying the law.”19 Therefore, under this understanding, it suffices to conclude that the law has been lost in faith.
The ministry of Jesus Christ changed the way the law operated. In the Old Testament, people had to observe all the provisions of the law in order to please God. However, the new dispensation under the gospel requires us to have faith for our salvation. The only way to please God is through faith. In Hebrews, the Bible records, “And without faith it is impossible to please God.”20 However, other religions do not believe the salvation story as presented in the gospel.
Islam holds that one should observe the law and ensure good deeds. Islam recognizes Jesus as one of the prophets, and thus the idea of gospel and salvation is not acknowledged. Similarly, Judaism follows the law as the promised Messiah is yet to come. The issue of replacing the law with faith is common amongst Christians. Righteousness can only be attained and sustained through faith in Jesus Christ and God the creator. As such, it suffices to conclude that under the teachings of Jesus Christ, the law has been lost in faith.
Bauer, Johannes. Encyclopedia of Biblical Theology: The Complete Sacramentum Verbi. New York: Crossroad, 1981.
Behan, Palmer. “Jesus’ Work in Galilee: The Beginnings of Opposition.” The Biblical World 35, no. 4 (1910): 273-281.
Beza, Theodore, and James Clark. The Christian Faith. Lewes: Focus Christian Ministries Trust, 1992.
NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011.
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The Quran. Hertfordshire: Wordsmith Editions, 2000.
Wessels, Anton, and Nicholas Wolterstorff. The Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an: Three Books, Two Cities, One Tale. Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013.
- Mathew 12:34.
- Romans 3: 24.
- Mathew 5: 17.
- Theodore Beza and James Clark, The Christian Faith (Lewes: Focus Christian Ministries Trust, 1992), 84.
- Leviticus 4:1.
- Mark 10:45.
- Leviticus 13: 45.
- Mathew 8:3.
- Palmer Behan, “Jesus’ Work in Galilee: The Beginnings of Opposition,” The Biblical World 35, no. 4 (1910): 275.
- Mark 16: 16.
- Anton Wessels and Nicholas Wolterstorff, The Torah, the Gospel, and the Qur’an: Three Books, Two Cities, One Tale (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2013), 102.
- Quran 2:177.
- Genesis 17: 10.
- Leviticus 19:2.
- Johannes Bauer, Encyclopedia of Biblical Theology: The Complete Sacramentum Verbi (New York: Crossroad, 1981), 54.
- Romans 3:23-24.
- Ephesians 2:8-9.
- Romans 3: 20
- Ibid 3: 27-28.
- Hebrews 11: 6.