Are the laws of Leviticus 18-20 are applicable to us today?

Hi David,

Can you help us understand whether or not the laws of Leviticus 18-20 are applicable to us today?

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Dear Carson,

Thank you for this question. There is a tension in the New Testament about how we should consider the Law of Moses for the lives of Christians today. What we do know from Paul’s revelation of Jewish-Gentile relations, is that salvation through faith in the Messiah of God does not require Gentiles to obey the Law of Moses. On the other hand, we also know the the Law of Moses was perfect and spiritual, and taught what sin was, just not how to overcome it. There seems to be a biblical delineation between purity and moral laws to some degree. Laws which were creational (from pre-Moses, such as sexual immorality and oppression of the foreigner etc) which are carried in the Mosaic Law, and laws which were for the purposes of setting the people of Israel apart from the Gentile nations as an expression of covenant faithfulness until the time the Messiah would come.

For instance, circumcision became a big issue for Paul as he did not want the Gentiles to be circumcised, as this invalidated the inbreaking Kingdom-reality where finally the Gentile nations would were being reached and brought under God’s lordship through Jesus. At the Jerusalem Council, the Church rules that circumcision was unnecessary for Gentiles as a covenant marker, as this was specifically for the Jews, and various cultural customs (wearing fibres, eating clean foods etc) were invalidated for Peter so that he could relate to the new Gentiles who were being saved and brought into the New Covenant through Jesus (Acts). This was obviously generating difficulties for Paul’s Gospel of salvation through faith in the Messiah for Gentiles, as it contradicted older Jewish teaching on God-fearing Gentiles, and their need to become Israelites or obey the Law. However, at the Jerusalem Council, the early church rules on this problem, and concludes that Gentiles must abstain from sexual immorality (sins of the heart, creational sins), but are free not to be circumcised or obey kosher food laws (covenant signifiers). The New Covenant meant that they were no longer under this Law as a new covenant had been instituted, but the Law still had use in demarcating these immoral sexual acts for the Gentiles that represented clear departure from the true worship of God in Christ (Romas 1). The Law had no power to declare righteous, but it still existed to guide the early church in its discipling of the Gentiles into righteousness before God. In this sense, Leviticus 18-20 still has weight morally for the New Covenant Gentile follow of Jesus, but it isn’t their source of saving righteousness and they cannot perform it or fulfill it but by the power of the Holy Spirit within them who procures obedience through faith, by grace. We cannot come to it simply as a code that we attempt to obey, but when we live in the Messiah, we will end up living in obedience that is in accordance with Leviticus 18-20. If we fail and repent, none of its condemnation applies to the Christian as has been taken by Jesus on the cross, who fulfilled the Law in perfect love of God and neighbour - nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of God: “When you were dead in your trespasses and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our trespasses, having canceled the debt ascribed to us in the decrees that stood against us. He took it away, nailing it to the cross!” Collossians 2:14.

The Gospel is that good!
David.

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