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Why Do Christians Only Follow Some Old Testament Rules?

Have you ever wondered why Christians dismiss certain Old Testament laws but cherish others?

Maybe you’ve tried to have a conversation with someone about their lifestyle or behavior only to have a defensive accusation returned to you because you “only follow the parts of the Bible that are convenient.” Maybe you’ve had that conversation with yourself.

I understand why people are so defensive and quick to point out Christian’s hypocrisy. The truth is, over the years Christians haven’t done the best job of practicing what we preach, even worse, the loud minority has given the impression Christians experience some sick enjoyment from declaring rule-breakers hell-bound. It’s one thing to tell someone “you’re going to hell” it’s another thing to say it like you’re happy about it.

When someone is cynical about a Christian’s morality message, it’s easy to jump to the accusation that Christians “pick and choose” which rules are important and which ones we let slide. You’ve probably had someone argue Old Testament scriptures about homosexual behavior by saying, “but the Bible also says not to eat shellfish.” It’s true, there are laws against seafood, cutting hair, tattoos, murder, and sexual immorality all in the same rule book. Does that mean Christians are supposed to obey all the laws given by God in the Old Testament? No. Let me explain.

The Old Testament has 613 laws (rules) God gave to the people (Israel), and while some of them make sense, some of them are just silly. What’s important to know is God was not giving you 613 laws, he was giving them 613 laws.

“But wait a minute,” you’re thinking. “I thought the whole Bible was inspired by God. Does that mean we get to throw out every law that is culturally irrelevant?” That’s a great question, and the answer is again, no. All laws were not created equal. When God gave Israel His commands He gave them in 3 categories:

Civil Laws

These are the laws we would describe as legal in nature. Keep in mind, not only was God teaching people how to have a relationship with Him, but he was also teaching them how to be a nation/country. In the same way, our forefathers created a constitution; God gave Moses rules to govern the land. Here’s an example:

Deuteronomy 23:19
“Do not charge interest on the loans you make to a fellow Israelite, whether you loan money, or food, or anything else.

Ceremonial Laws

These are laws that mattered because it was how a person was considered clean (forgiven) before Jesus came and died on the cross for everyone. In other words, God gave Israel instructions to follow so that it was clear they belonged to Him. Laws like: when to wash your hands, cut your hair, sleep outside of town, etc. Here’s an example of a ceremonial law from the Old Testament

Leviticus 11:3-4
You may eat any animal that has a divided hoof and that chews the cud. ‘There are some that only chew the cud or only have a divided hoof, but you must not eat them.

Moral Laws

These are laws that stand the test of time because to break them is to go against the very nature of God. The 10 commandments, for example, are moral laws that are not dependent on society or context. It’s always against the law to steal because theft is a symptom of discontentment and greed, and discontentment and greed aren’t God’s plan for people who serve a limitless God. We don’t murder because God gives life. We honor our father and mother because God establishes authority. It has been and will always be morally wrong to break moral laws.

Here is where it gets a little confusing, (I’m assuming you’re not confused yet.)

Technically when you committed your life to Jesus Christ and asked him to be your savior, you were freed from the law. That’s what Paul said in Romans 7:

Romans 7:6
But now we have been released from the law, for we died to it and are no longer captive to its power. Now we can serve God, not in the old way of obeying the letter of the law, but in the new way of living in the Spirit.

What that means is no one who has committed their life to Jesus Christ is obligated to abide by any laws. You read that right. There is no obligation for a Christian to abide by a list of rules. The reason we have no rules is because following Jesus is about belief, not behavior.

If reading that last statement excited you because you received permission to do things you thought were against the rules, that’s probably confirmation you have not fully committed your life to Jesus Christ. I don’t say that to make you feel guilty; we’re all a work in progress, I just think it’s important to know that God wants you to live a Holy life because you want to not because you have to.

So back to the original question, are we supposed to obey Old Testament laws? No. Not because they are irrelevant to modern culture, but because Jesus freed us from all civil and ceremonial laws when he died on the cross, and while on the earth, He raised the standard for all moral laws. He showed up making statements like

Matthew 5:2
“You have heard that our ancestors were told, ‘You must not murder. If you commit murder, you are subject to judgment.’ But I say, if you are even angry with someone, you are subject to judgment!

Matthew 5:27-28
“You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery. But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

In other words, Jesus showed up and said, “The problem is not what you do, the problem is what you want to do.” Jesus doesn’t want you to follow the letter of the law, He wants you to fall in love with the guy who wrote the rulebook.

Where there are teachings and commands in the New Testament made by Jesus or the Apostles, we obey them because we want to be obedient to the God we love. Not because we have to but because we want to, and if you find yourself wanting to obey less and less you don’t have a rule problem you have a relationship problem. (and just to be clear we all battle that temptation.)

Instead of asking the question, “What rules do I have to keep?” or “what things am I allowed to do?” start asking this question, “Am I willing to do anything God would ask me to do?” or “Am I willing to give up anything God would ask me to give up?” Be careful what you ask for though, I think you’ll find obeying the Old Testament laws is less challenging than total surrender.

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