Question: How much of the Old Testament are we held to regarding the sacrifices and the Ten Commandments?
Paul and Barnabas brought this very issue before the apostles in Jerusalem because many Jewish believers in Jesus insisted that Gentile believers had to conform to Jewish laws and customs (Acts 15). Should Gentile males be circumcised when they come to Christ? Should Gentile believers offer sacrifices and worship on the Sabbath?
Here is the decision by the apostles in Jerusalem, confirmed by the Holy Spirit:
God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them [the Gentiles] by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of the disciples a yoke that neither we nor our fathers have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:8-11).
So the rule for all believers in Jesus is that we are not bound by the law of Moses. As the Scripture says:
Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ (Col. 2:16-17).
This idea of the sacrificial system, Sabbath day observance and celebration of religious holidays as being “shadows” of the reality found in Christ runs throughout the New Testament:
The law is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. For this reason it can never, by the same sacrifices repeated endlessly year after year, make perfect those who draw near to worship (Heb. 10:1).
Even when it comes to the Ten Commandments, followers of Jesus Christ are not under the law written upon stone, but under Jesus’ new commandment to love one another (John 13:34). As Paul says in Romans:
The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Rom. 13:9).
But here is the crux of the matter: The law, sacrifices and ceremonies are not bad; they are just incapable of changing a sinful heart into a loving heart. Only Jesus Christ and the indwelling Holy Spirit can transform a person from the inside out. Then, keeping the Ten Commandments becomes a desire, not a law.
So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith. Now that faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law (Gal. 3:24-25). The law, which highlighted our sin and condemned us, has been replaced in the life of the believer by the grace of God, who pardons our sins and transforms our sinful nature into a holy nature.