Why is it important to differentiate between God's ceremonial laws and moral laws? Are they equally relevant to believers today?
Does the Bible draw a distinction between its moral laws and ceremonial laws? Does the Bible clearly state that these two laws are different? Yes, absolutely.
The history behind two sets of laws
On Mount Sinai, Moses received two different sets of instructions: Moral laws (Ten Commandments), which were written by God on tablets of stone and the ceremonial laws which Moses wrote in the Book of the Law.
Moral laws (Ten Commandments): And he gave to Moses, when he had finished speaking with him on Mount Sinai, the two tablets of the testimony, tablets of stone, written with the finger of God (Exodus 31:18).
Ceremonial laws: When Moses had finished writing the words of this law in a book to the very end, Moses commanded the Levites who carried the ark of the covenant of the Lord, “Take this Book of the Law and put it by the side of the ark of the covenant of the Lord your God, that it may be there for a witness against you (Deuteronomy 31:24-26).
In what ways are they different?
The Ten Commandments define what constitutes sin whereas the ceremonial laws set forth the solution to the sin problem—how to deal with sin.
Without the Ten Commandments, there was no standard or plumb line by which thought, word, and behaviour can be judged.
How was the sin problem addressed in the sanctuary? The Hebrew high priest’s duty was to minister at the altar, a function he shared with his fellow priests. He alone was permitted to enter the Holy of Holies once a year during the Day of Atonement, not without presenting a blood sacrifice (goats or bulls) first for himself and then for the sins of the people (Hebrews 9:7).
When Christ came, He entered the Holy of Holies, not with the blood of animals, but through the shedding of His own blood. Through a single sacrificial act, death at the cross, unlike the human priests who had to sacrifice repeatedly, He atoned for man’s sin for all time (Hebrews 9:11-12). Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins (Hebrews 9:22).
(The Holy of Holies refers to the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle where God dwelt. The Tabernacle was the portable earthly dwelling place of God among His people from the time of their exodus from Egypt up till their invasion of Canaan).
Why is it important to differentiate between God’s ceremonial laws from His moral laws?
The reason is obvious. With the shedding of Christ’s blood on the cross, the ceremonial laws (which outline the rituals needed to atone for man’s sins) have been abolished (Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9). Christ’s sacrifice is superior and final. He relieves human high priests of their ritualistic duties and makes animal blood sacrifices redundant. Thus, there is no scriptural basis for modern-day Christians to celebrate the Hebrew feasts, which are a part of the ceremonial laws of Moses and which belongs to the Old Covenant. http://bit.ly/2rpTCcu
Why moral laws superior to ceremonial laws
The first law—Ten Commandments—was written by God in stone, signifying that its precepts it would stand eternally. The second law—ceremonial laws—was written by Moses on parchment, implying that its precepts would be temporary.
The way these laws were placed also attests to differences in their significance. There were two sets of laws in the Holy of Holies—the Ten Commandments, written in stone by the finger of God, and placed inside the Ark of the Covenant, AND the ceremonial laws, written by Moses on parchment and placed outside the Ark.
After Christ’s death, the ceremonial laws were discontinued (Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9) because they foreshadowed the cross, but the moral laws (Ten Commandments) still remain. The latter is upheld in the New Testament and believers must continue to live by these laws. ***
To recapitulate, while the ceremonial laws have been abolished, God’s moral laws still stand. The latter, the Ten Commandments, have been simplified into two great commandments:
Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22: 37-40).
“The Gospel proclaims liberty from the ceremonial law but binds you still faster under the moral law. To be freed from the ceremonial law is the Gospel liberty; to pretend freedom from the moral law is Antinomianism.”
— Methodist commentator, Adam Clarke
“We are saved not by keeping the Law but by grace through faith. Though saved, we are still subject to God's moral laws but not the ceremonial and ritualistic laws. The foregoing sums up, in essence, the sticky debate on the role of the Law in the life of believers. Unless one differentiates between God's moral laws and ceremonial laws, one can be pretty confused. The ceremonial laws, such as circumcision, are no longer binding on modern-day believers.”
— Porridge for the Soul
CEREMONIAL LAWS VS MORAL LAWS—IN A NUTSHELL
The ceremonial laws of Moses, which belong to the Old Covenant, have been abolished (Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9). Paul also reinforced the fact that we are now living under grace and are no longer under the legalistic demands of these ceremonial laws, including circumcision (Galatians 5:1-6).
How about God’s moral laws? Are they relevant for believers today?
Paul stressed that we are justified by grace through faith (Romans 3: 21-24) BUT the law (God’s moral laws) still stands: “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law” (Romans 3:31).
Jesus echoes Paul’s teaching that God’s moral laws continue to be relevant today:
“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. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished?” (Matthew 5:17-18).
When Christ came, He simplified and condensed the moral laws of the Old Testament (The Ten Commandments) into two great commandments:
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 37-40).
TEN COMMANDMENTS (ANCIENT MORAL LAWS) UPHELD IN THE NEW TESTAMENT ***
After Christ’s death, the ceremonial laws were discontinued (Hebrews 8:13, Hebrews 10:9) because they foreshadowed the cross, but the ancient moral laws (Ten Commandments) still remain. The latter is still found in the New Testament and believers must continue to live by these laws.
Let’s now quickly run through the Ten Commandments and see how these Old Testament (OT) moral laws are upheld in the New Testament (NT):
In the temptation in the wilderness, Jesus upheld the first commandment (have no other gods) by refusing to worship Satan (Matthew 4:10).
Paul emphasised that no idolater will inherit God’s kingdom (Ephesians 5:5, 1 Corinthians 6:9), thus upholding the second commandment (do not make idols).
In the Lord’s Prayer, “hallowed be thy name” (Matthew 6:9) means we must revere and honour God’s name, in keeping with the third commandment (do not take the Lord's name in vain).
In Luke 4:16, as was his custom, Jesus went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, thus fulfilling the fourth commandment (keep the Sabbath day holy).
In Ephesians 6:1-3, Paul echoed the fifth commandment (honour your father and mother), adding that such obedience may lead to blessing and longevity.
Jesus told the rich young ruler in Luke 18:18-20 that he must follow God’s commandments, including the sixth commandment (do not kill), in order to inherit eternal life.
Paul taught in Romans 13:9 that believers should not commit adultery, in line with the seventh commandment (do not commit adultery).
In Ephesians 4: 28, Paul taught that ex-thieves must stop stealing and find honest jobs, in keeping with the eight commandment (do not steal).
Paul exhorted believers to put away lying and speak the truth in Ephesians 4: 25, thus reflecting the ninth commandment (do not bear false witness).
In Luke 12:15, Jesus warned against covetousness, stating that a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions, in line with the tenth commandment (do not covet).
Thus, if we examine the NT, we find so many references that endorse the Ten Commandments of the OT. If God’s moral laws no longer apply to believers saved by grace, why are the Ten Commandments mentioned, directly or indirectly, in the NT?
The Ten Commandments in a Nutshell
Do not have any other god before God.
Do not make yourself an idol.
Do not take the Lord's name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
Honor thy Mother and Father.
Do not murder.
Do not commit adultery.
Do not steal.
Do not bear false witness
Do not covet
GRACE AND LAW
Have God’s moral laws become irrelevant for believers saved by grace? Does grace do away with the Law? Has Jesus ever said “it’s all by God’s grace” and that the Law has been abolished for believers?