The earliest threat to the unity of the church was teaching about the believer’s obligation to the Old Testament law. As the gospel spread out from Jerusalem, more and more Gentiles began to believe and come into the church. Some Jews taught that the believing Gentiles had to keep the law to truly be saved. The apostle Paul and others began to argue strongly against this teaching. As a result, a council was convened in Jerusalem to discuss this question.
Acts 15 summarizes the discussion. Four men spake. Paul and Barnabas then told of how they had taken the gospel to Gentiles in Asia Minor and how God had blessed their ministry. James spoke of how God had foretold the conversion of the Gentiles. The plan to save Gentiles was God’s plan all along. Peter told of how he had first taken to the gospel to the Gentiles of Cornelius’ household. Those Gentiles were saved by faith while Peter was preaching. They received the Holy Spirit without doing anything instructed in the Mosaic Law. The conclusion of the council was that the law is unnecessary for salvation and that Gentiles are under no obligation to keep the law of Moses.
The question of the believers obligation to the law did not go away. The question is addressed in the book of Galatians. The simple, clear answer given in that book is “no.” If salvation begins by faith and the Holy Spirit is received by faith without the keeping of the law, then how could keeping the law be necessary for the Christian life? Salvation and sanctification are accomplished without the keeping of the law. (Galatians 3:1-3)
The New Testament is clear that the law has been done away with by Jesus. First, the law is a unit. If a person is under obligation to keep one part of the law, then he is obligated to keep all the law. (Galatians 3:10, 12) The separating out of the law into civil and ceremonial portions is not a valid division. If one part of the law is done away with, then all the law is done away with. The book of Hebrews makes a strong argument that the priesthood formed by the law of Moses was changed by Jesus. (Hebrews 7) The sacrifice of Jesus took away the sacrifices under Moses’ law. (Hebrews 10) Since the law is a single unit, the doing away of the priesthood and the sacrifices means the entire Mosaic Law has been done away with. Second, the law has been abolished by Christ. (2 Corinthians 3:7-11) Hebrews 7 says the Mosaic law was put away because it could not save. In Hebrews 8 we are told that the Old Covenant under the law of Moses was replaced with a New Covenant in Christ. The New Testament could not be more clear. The law has been done away with by Jesus. “There is a truly a setting aside of the former commandment.” (Hebrews 7:18) The Old Testament law is abolished by Jesus. No one, not even the Jews, are now required to keep the law of Moses because it’s purposes have been fulfilled in Jesus.
Does this mean Christians are not under any law at all? Of course not. The Christian is under Christ’s law. His commandment is simple, “love one another.” (John 13:34) The command to love one another is explained in Romans 13 and James 2 as a keeping of the last six of the ten commandments. Galatians 5 and 1 John 3 describe loving one another as selfless, Spirit-filled living that ministers to those in need. The Christian is under a law. The law of Christ is not the law of Moses but it does shares some commands in common with the Mosaic law. Though there is similarity between the two laws, the Christian must not imagine he is obligated to keep the Mosaic law. The Christian is under obligation to a great law, the law to love God supremely and to love others sacrificially.