Purpose of the Old Testament Law

One of the most common misconceptions in the Church of Christ is the purpose of the Old Testament Law. Here it is assumed that as God gave the Israelites the Old Testament so that the people could know what they had to do to go to heaven, God has thus given us the New Testament.

This view has led many in the Church of Christ to believe that God’s love and acceptance is directly proportional to our own moral and religious obedience to the requirements of the New Testament. And because of this, many believe that unless a person does everything just right, they cannot be loved and accepted by God.

However, the purpose and ministry of the Old Testament law wasn't to save anyone, but to make our own sense of right and wrong more acute to make us understand how much we are in need of a Savior.

Jesus said that “unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven,” (Matt. 5:20) And many people in the Churches of Christ have tried in vain to attain an "acceptable" level of righteousness.

But the Bible says that if we will place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, that the very righteousness of Christ Himself is given to us. That is why Romans 3:31 says that by faith ‘we uphold the righteous requirements of the law,’ for the righteousness of Jesus is credited or imputed to us.

The law was never intended to save anyone, but rather to magnify our sins to such a degree that we would despair of ever trying to save ourselves by keeping the Law. It’s real purpose was to cause us to say, ‘God, if this is your standard of perfection, holiness and righteousness, -I can’t do it. Please forgive me and have mercy on me through Jesus Christ.’

In Roman society, children were often committed to the care of trusted slaves. This would happen when the child was between six or seven, and would last until puberty. These slaves and tutors were severe disciplinarians and were charged with guarding the children from the evils of society and giving them good moral training.

In the same way, Galatians 3:24 says that “the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be saved by faith.”

So how does the Law point us to Christ?

By showing us our inability of keeping the law perfectly, we come to realize we must stop trusting in ourselves and our own moral and religious performance and to place our faith in the Savior; Jesus Christ is the only way to heaven.

As our substitute, Jesus lived holy for us so that the basis of going to heaven would be based on His perfect life and not our own (1 Cor. 1:30). Jesus also paid the penalty for our sin that we deserved so that God would not have to punish us (1 Peter 3:18).

It is God’s desire is to reconcile mankind to Himself, not to judge them…”not imputing their sins against them…” 2 Cor. 5:19. And a perfect, righteous and holy God seeks to take away our sin and anything that would separate us from Him.

God has done this through Jesus Christ and He offers us the perfect righteousness we need, not based on our own goodness, piety or moral or religious goodness, but to all who will place faith in Jesus Christ.

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"For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe...Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith." Galatians 3:21-24

Other References:

Romans 4:3, 5:17, 6:23, 10:3, 1 Cor. 3:9, 2 Cor. 5:19, Phil. 3:9, 1 John 1:9