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We hear that we are no longer under the law. It even says so in Galations:

Galations 3:23-25
Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian.

It seems 1 Corinthians 10:23 also supports this.

But yet, Jesus said that he did not come to abolish the law:

Matthew 5:17-18
“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."

What did Jesus mean that he did not come to abolish the law, but fulfill it, especially since it seems from later in the Bible that he did abolish the law.

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Hi Richard, I've answered a similar question over on BH.SE. Let me know if you'd like me to adapt it for your question here? –  Jack Douglas Dec 26 '13 at 17:17
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7 Answers 7

I think part of the difficulty comes as a bit of confusion as to what is meant by the law and its application.

When the law was introduced, it was never intended to be the instrument by which man would save himself, but it was the instrument through which man was to be saved. In a very real sense, man is saved through the fulfilment (keeping) of the law. When Christ fulfilled the law, he earned the privilege of life. Those who are in Christ, likewise, share in his righteousness and are delcared righteous right along side him. In that sense, the law has always stood and and will continue to stand.

That being said, though, it's important to realize that we basically choose whether the law applies to us individually or not -- through grace, we can choose to be in Christ, or we can choose to stand on our own merits when we're judged. In that sense, too, the law still stands.

Paul talks a good deal about this in the book of Romans, and the whole book gives a much more complete (and competent :) ) version of an explanation that I'm about to...

I think it's important to realize the role of the law. I'm going to jump arount a bit, but if we start with Romans 7:7-12, I think we can make a little more sense of this (emphasis mine):

Romans 7:7What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. For apart from the law, sin lies dead. 9I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died. 10The very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11For sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. 12So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.

There's a certain bit of irony when the law is introduced to human nature. Being rebellious and sinful that we are, we latch on to the specifics as a means to found outlet for our repressed frustrated rebellions. The law was never meant to save man, but rather was a contrast between the holiness of God and the depravity of man. The law offered life through its fulfilment and death through its violation. This is a subtle but significant key, I think we somehow overlook when discussing grace, as this seems to be exactly how Jesus came to be our savior offering us hope for life...He earned that right by fulfiling the law.

That being said, there's still hope for us wretched sinners:

Romans 7:4Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God. 5For while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death. 6But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the written code.

Looking at the block starting with v.7 we see that the law is not bad (in fact it's good) just because we use it as a springboard for badness. The law is good, and it's been fulfilled by Christ. He was the one who fulfilled it; not us.

When we look on the Romams 8, Paul clarifies a bit more (Emphasis mine):

Romans 8: 1 There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. 3For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, 4in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. 5For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.

The righteous requirement of the law has been fulfilled in us (those who are in Christ Jesus) by virutue of us being in Christ. The law has been fulfilled, there is, therefore no condemnation for those who are clothed with Christ's righteousness, but we should remember that those who live according to the spirit set their minds on spiritual things and will see to live in accordance with God's moral law. Romans 6:15 reminds us of this, but note, (Paul does suggest again that we're not under the law, per se):

Romans 6:15What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means! 16Do you not know that if you present yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which leads to righteousness? 17But thanks be to God, that you who were once slaves of sin have become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed, 18and, having been set free from sin, have become slaves of righteousness. 19 I am speaking in human terms, because of your natural limitations. For just as you once presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness leading to more lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness leading to sanctification.

With his blood, Jesus purchased us from death. Jesus was the fulfilment of the law; not us. Because of that, we are bound as slaves of righteousness. We're not going to fulfill the law in our own lives, and we're not expected to; but lest we use this as an excuse to sin without rein, we are supposed to set our sights on righteousness out of gratitude and duty to our Savior. Those who understand the Gospel (the goodness of God, the wickedness of sin, the graciousness of God to provide a savior) will, naturally seek to please the God who save them and whom they serve, and the best way we can know what this is it to look to the law He's given us.

ETA: TL;DR:

When Jesus came to fulfil the law (i.e. obedience leads to life; disobedience leads to death) he did just that. Notice He didn't say, that old law's no good, don't worry about it (i.e. abolish it); what he did, instead, was to come saying the law is good, and he is the fulfulment of it.

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+1 Good answer, I also like the summary at the end. –  dcreight Jul 10 '13 at 22:38
    
+1 God's standard hasn't changed: "we basically choose whether the law applies to us individually or not -- through grace, we can choose to be in Christ, or we can choose to stand on our own merits when we're judged. In that sense, too, the law still stands." –  Xeoncross Mar 18 at 19:43
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It means that while the gospel state supersedes and makes the Mosaic Covenant obsolete, it does not do it by opposing it but by becoming the perfection and fulfillment of it.

The ceremonial law was made obsolete by Christ as he was what all the sacrifices pointed to. The civil law was made obsolete as the kingdom was no longer a physical Israel but an invisible one.The moral law was made obsolete in that the Mosaic Law was a renewal of the covenant of works and not based on faith in Messiah therefore it was written on stone, but now the law is written as a principle of life through a new birth.

This does not mean any aspect of the Law is opposed, or destroyed by Christ. On the contrary by his blood we enter God's Kingdom and obey his laws.

7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, transitory though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that brought condemnation was glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. (2 Corinthians 3:7-10, NIV)

Notice what was glorious, the Ten Commands, the sacrifices, etc. now has no glory, but just as the Sun does not destroy the Moon when it appears in its blaze of glory, so,the gospel does not destroy the Law. The Moon has no light of its own but only promises that a Sun exists and will come for it reflects its glory. In the same way the Law was not built on faith but pointed to faith, once faith arrived the Law was fulfilled and made obsolete.

The law is not based on faith; on the contrary, it says, “The person who does these things will live by them.” (Galatians 3:12, NIV)

By calling this covenant “new,” he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear. (Hebrews 8:13, NIV)

Another way of looking at it is high school does not destroy kindergarten, but when you come of age adult things make you put away childish things. Under the Law we were God's people are like little children taught by a tutor, only later becoming adults in the gospel. Adulthood does not oppose and destroy childhood:

23 Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. 24 So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. 25 Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian. (Galatians 3:23-25, NIV)

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From what I've been able to discern as a High School student in a good Christian school, the Law of Moses is now and always has been relevant only to rewards in heaven, given when you obey the Spirit.

Think of it like the relation between dog and trainer, when the dog does something that the trainer wants him to, the dog gets a reward. The Spirit is our trainer and we are the dog. When we follow the law under the Spirits direction, we get rewards in heaven.*

As far as the relation between Matt. 5:17-19 and Galatians goes, Paul had always meant that the Galatians church members were not under the law for salvation like others were telling them, but that they were saved by God's grace. The first commentator also had a good point in saying that Romans explains it better.

I think I may have just written a modern parable there!

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Welcome to the site! I look forward to hearing more from you. As a new visitor, I'd invite you to read the FAQ. These posts are recommended reading as well, as they give guidelines for giving better answers: meta.christianity.stackexchange.com/questions/tagged/… –  David Stratton Oct 10 '12 at 5:09
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Here is my answer to a similar question What does it mean for Jesus to fulfill the law? on BH.SE.

Firstly, what is the law, and what is its purpose?

The law is a manifestation of the perfect holiness of God, and was given to us (humanity) to show how utterly unable we are to meet God's standard by our own means, strength or works (Romans 7:7). It shows us our sinfulness as a contrast to God's holiness. Old Testament saints who were called righteous relied upon the grace of God for their right standing with God, not their success at keeping the law.

When Jesus is said to have fulfilled the law, it means that He perfectly kept the law of God, and never sinned (1 Peter 2:22). This was therefore a manifestation of and testimony to His deity. Obviously something no other man could possibly do.

He didn't come to abolish the law means that the law remains the law and is (still) perfect (Romans 7:12). Even after we enter the New Pact in Jesus' blood (Mark 14:24), which places believers under grace not under law (Romans 6:15), therefore in a sense abolishing the law for believers, the law remains as a testament of God's holiness and our inability to meet His standard. Something that remains true even after conversion (Romans 7:19).

So, to answer your question: It meant that He never sinned, and therefore that He is God. As a result of that, it also means His sacrifice was a full (infinite) payment for sin, and therefore that the just punishment for transgression of the law (of all believers) was fulfilled too. He fulfilled the law for us, because we couldn't. He didn't come to abolish the law, because He didn't just say "the law no longer applies", He came to pay the penalty for the breaking of the law.

A good way to understand this is to compare it to the difference between cancelling ("forgiving") a debt, and paying the debt. In one, payment is made which fulfills the obligations of the debt, and in the other payment is withheld and the obligations of the debt are not met. This is an important point because it shows that God's justice is not violated in dispensing mercy and forgiveness to believers. God remains just while at the same time able to show mercy to sinners. Something that is present in no other belief system outside of biblical christianity.

Jesus fulfilled the law, He didn't simply abolish it.

Hope that helps.

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I apologize for the length of this answer, but I have shortened it as much as I can without losing some very important facts.

All Scripture is quoted from the King James translation.

Having read your question and the comments and the answers several times I felt compelled to add my understanding of the Scriptures concerning this question.

Your question takes into account both the old and new Testaments. However, I think you may have missed one central point which is highlighted in the difference between the Old Testament and the New Testament. The Old Testament is essentially and introduction to the New Testament. By that what I mean is that without the Old Testament to look at; We could not understand Jesus mission and why things had to be the way they are. Let us take a look at the Old Testament, and how it relates to the New Testament.

What did I mean by saying that the Old Testament was an introduction to the New Testament? Essentially the Old Testament explains the need for a Messiah, Christ, the Savior. You are correct in your assumption that the law was given to the Jewish nation, and the reason for that was that this was God's chosen nation; and by that is meant that this was the nation through which God had decided to facilitate the salvation of man. So why did man need salvation to begin with?

When God created man; God created man with a free will, but free will has no meaning unless there is a choice. God gave man that choice by placing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the garden of Eden. What we need to take into account about this is that it is not the knowledge of good and evil, which makes man unacceptable to God. God himself has the knowledge of good and evil as did Jesus when he was on the Earth. Also we must understand is that God created both good and evil. This is obvious from the fact that there was rebellion in heaven; which of course is evil , and at the same time there were good Angels defending the Lord; and this prior to God's creation of man.

As with taking a single verse from the Bible and trying to understand its meaning without taking into account the remainder of the chapter, and the book, it does not lead to complete understanding.

Here is an example:

John 17:11 And now I am no more in the world, but these are in the world, and I come to thee. Holy Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one, as we are.

Taking this verse alone, we are left with no true understanding of what Jesus is saying. However, in light of these other versus we get a better understanding.

John 10:26 through 30 But ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep, as I said unto you. My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: And I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one.

When we take into account these other versus we understand that what Jesus was saying is that he and his father have predestined certain people to be saved. And when we expand our text to include the entire chapter, we understand that Jesus is here talking to the to the Pharisees. I will not quote the entire chapter here for the sake of brevity, but you can read the remainder of the chapter for yourself. And expanding our reading further to include the entire book of John we come to understand that what John is doing is explaining not only why people need salvation but the method by which they can obtain it. In order to fully understand we must take this same process to the entire Bible.

I stated that the Old Testament was an introduction to the New Testament. So exactly what did I mean by that statement? The Old Testament, beginning with Genesis 1:1 through Malachi 4:6 we find it is a history showing alternately the disobedience of God, God's reprisal, and finally, man's re-acceptance of God's will.

The significance of that cycle lies in the fact that even though man rejects God that God is forgiving and will accept man upon man's repentance.

Therefore the message of the Old Testament is summed up in:

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;

So what does all of this have to do with your original question?

This is actually the message of the gospel, and what we have to understand is that a benevolent God created man out of love and as with all of his other creations God not only desired that these creations be made but that they be eternal.

Genesis 1:31 And God saw every thing that he had made, and, behold, it was very good. And the evening and the morning were the sixth day.

At this point we have to remember, that the world and man were all pristine when God pronounced everything as very good. But it did not remain that way due to the disobedience of man, and in doing so man knew what the punishment for that disobedience would be; and in rebelling, accepted God's promise of retribution.

Genesis 2:16 and 17 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.

In the verses above we learn two things;

  1. God provided all of man's needs in that he gave him every tree of the Garden except one.

  2. We learn a basic fact of the nature of man in that he was not satisfied with God's abundance, but desired to have it all even to the point of suffering God's ire.

After having giving you the background. Now we shall take a look at the selection of the nation of Israel as God's chosen people.

To begin with, We need to analyze God's association with Abraham and the Abrahamic covenant.

Genesis 15:6 And he believed in the LORD; and he counted it to him for righteousness.

The key here is the that belief in the Lord is counted as righteousness, and that then is the key to salvation, that being that we believe and trust God. By that I do not mean that we believe that there is a God, but that we believe that he not only has our best interest at heart and that he loves us beyond our knowledge, but that we trust that he will provide all of our needs and the thing which separates us from God is our greed and desire for everything, and not just what God knows is our needs.

Jesus said:

Matthew 6:8 Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him.

and,

Matthew 6:32 (For after all these things do the Gentiles seek:) for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye have need of all these things.

Here I'm skipping over some important stuff because this is basically far too long. However, I will be happy to give the rest of this to you in chat if you will bear with the fact that I am very very slow in the chat.

So to the point of Jesus, saying that he came not to do away with the law, but to fulfill the law.

What Jesus meant by this was that if you look back at the nation of Israel. They have not stayed true to the word as they should have, and by not doing so they have forfeited God's protection. However, if we take a look at John 3:16 and 17.

John 3:16 and 17 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.

If we substitute the words 'his creation' for the word the 'world' we gain a better understanding of God's motives. Then at this point we go back to what God said to Abram in that God credited Abram with righteousness because of his belief.

'Abraham believed God, and God credited it to him as righteousness.' That same precept applies to us in that our belief is credited to us as righteousness. If we applied that to the gospel. What we find is that salvation does not actually depend upon Jesus death and resurrection, but upon our belief that his death and resurrection, paid our sin debt in full. You may think that is a foolish statement, but let's take a long look at it.

Luke 1:26 And in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth,

Matthew 1:21 And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.

In Luke, chapter 1 verse 26, We find that Gabriel is sent from God. And In Matthew, chapter 1 verse 21, we learned that God is telling us that Jesus will save us from our sin. But when we contrast that with John 3:16, we find that. John says those who believe will be saved. So how do we resolve the apparent disagreement between the two?

In order to blend these two. We have to go back to God's ascribing righteousness to Abraham for his belief. If we were to take Matthew, chapter 1 verse 21 in a literal sense we would have to accept this that Jesus death and resurrection would have covered the sins of everyone. This however is not true. Jesus himself said, that his sheep would hear his voice, while those that were not his sheep would be listening for their masters voice.

This can only mean that not everyone was saved by Jesus death and resurrection, and so we are left only to believe that what John said is true that only those who believe, are saved.

So how does this answer your question the answer is, quite simply, that the law has not been done away with; but instead it means that the law is still just as much in effect today as it was when God gave it. the difference is that through our belief our sins are washed away by the blood of Jesus. So therefore I can only determine that those who do not believe Jesus was the Messiah remain under the law. And those who have accepted salvation, even though they are still under the law, their disobedience of the law has been forgiven because they believe that Jesus sacrifice has obliterated their disobedience

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What did Jesus mean that he did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it? KJV

Galatians 3;23-26

23 But before faith came, we were kept under the law, shut up unto the faith which should aterwards be revealed.

24 Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith.

25 But after faith is come, we are no longer under a schoolmaster.

26 For ye are all children of God by faith in Jesus Christ.

Galatians 3;23 Sinners are bound by the law, that is, they are obligated to the requirements and judgements of the law.

Galatians 3;24 The law points us to Christ, that through faith in him we are pardoned.

Galatians 3;25 As believers in Jesus Christ, we are no longer obligated to the judgements of the law.

Galatians 3;26 As children of God, we uphold the law.

Matthew 5;17-19

17 Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil.

18 For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled.

19 Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.

Proverbs 28;9 He that turneth away his ear from hearing the law, even his prayer shall be abomination.

John 3;16 For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.

God sacrificed his Son to satisfy the judgement of death upon Adam and Eve. The law and its requirements are fulfilled through the life and death of Jesus Christ. James 2;8-13, " the royal law according to the scripture" Jesus Christ, in fulfilling the law, did not abolish it, He magnified it. The law according to the scripture is the ten commandments, and they are immutable. Believers having the righteousness of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, keep the commandments of God.

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Re "the OT laws are still in effect"? Well they have not been abolished have they? However the religious ceremonies associate to the OT laws do not resolve the offenses committed under this code. Sacrificing an animal in your place fails to produce a residual issue, but the sacrifice of a man in your place who just happens to be the only begotten son of the living God results in an entire different matter. For the OT code of laws do not allow any possibility of resolving that sin. What is Jesus illustrating regarding the wineskins? The new wine goes into a new wineskin, i.e. law, which does allow for the resolution of the sin of only one a man's murder. However it is only past sins that are forgivable. NOT having the faith to repent of the one sin of Jesus' crucifixion is in and of itself a sin by law and is the sin which is not forgivable. The grace of God is that by Jesus' crucifixion it was justifiable to make a change of the law in regard to what God had promised to his son.

"And for Your lifeblood I will surely demand an accounting. I will demand an accounting from every animal. And from each man, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man."

And Pal you ain't outside of the box this term of God, 'each man,too,' he has put your tail in, are you?

The law was fulfilled by making an addition to it.

See Isa. 2:3, Isa. 51:4b, Acts 7:53, Gal.3:19, Rom. 2:13, Rom. 5:20, Heb. 7:12 The OT law or written code was delivered at Sinai. The new law was delivered in Jerusalem.

Those who have the faith to obey it will be declared righteous by God. Those who refuse cut themselves off from obtaining the right to eternal life.

"For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." — Rom. 2:13

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This wouldn't be so bad an answer if it didn't have an argumentative, completely non-constructive tone. "And pal" and all. Try to keep the hostility/condescension to a minimum. See What kind of behavior is expected of users?. We highly value professionalism at all StackExchange sites, which is one of the reasons they're less likely to degenerate into arguments such as those you'd find at typical discussion forums. –  David Stratton Aug 31 '13 at 15:56
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Please also see Guidelines toward a polite, academic tone –  fredsbend Sep 1 '13 at 14:38
    
@David a bit of a nit-pick, but I'd replace 'arguments' with 'fights'. By definition, here on Stack Exchange, we welcome arguments (in the Plato sense, not the throwing-plates-at-eachother sense) where we can make our case and support it with facts and references and then methodically determine the most relevant, useful, and sturdy arguments via voting and comments. –  corsiKa Oct 4 '13 at 20:13
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protected by David Stratton Aug 30 '13 at 18:41

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