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The Moral Law and the Ceremonial Law


Some Christians say the Bible states that the law was done away with. I understand that the laws dealing with sacrifices were done away with because Christ fulfilled those with His death. But how can I explain that the Ten Commandments are still in effect?

Steve Answers:

Seventh-day Adventists sometimes have the reputation of trying to be saved by obeying the Ten Commandments. I suppose some are indeed attempting that impossibility.

Many Christians use the following scripture as evidence that the law was done away with when Christ died: “God wiped out the charges that were against us for disobeying the Law of Moses. He took them away and nailed them to the cross” (Colossians 2:14, CEV).1

Does this indicate that the Ten Commandment law was done away with? Did Christ nail the law to the cross when He died? It sure looks like it, at least at first glance.

Before we go any further, allow me to point out two things that many readers overlook. First, the “Law of Moses” isn’t necessarily the “law of God.” The actual term used in Colossians 2:14 isn’t used anywhere else in the Bible, so that makes it hard to compare it with other Bible passages. In the original language, the word rendered “nailed” is actually a legal term used in reference to a legal document in which “Paid in Full” or “Void” gets handwritten over the top of the document. 

Some people believe that Colossians 2:14 applies to the ceremonial law, which symbolically pointed forward to the death of Christ through such practices as killing a lamb when one confessed his or her sins, etc. Since Christ has died, killing a lamb doesn’t make sense anymore because the “Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29) has
already died.

Others think that Colossians 2:14 applies to the moral laws of right and wrong, such as the Ten Commandments. What do you think? Did Jesus nail

Understanding Colossians 2:14
I don’t think this verse says that Christ did either! This is the second thing I wanted to point out regarding Colossians 2:14.  When the apostle Paul wrote that “He took them away and nailed them to the cross,” what is the antecedent of “them”? Does “them” refer to the “Law of Moses” or to the “charges that were against us for disobeying”?

I think that Christ nailed to the cross the charges that were against us for disobeying the ceremonial law and the moral law! Because of the death of Christ we are forgiven!

Colossians 2:14 isn’t about nailing the law to the cross. It’s about our sins being forgiven because of Christ’s death on the cross!

So where does that leave us concerning the Ten Commandments today? I think that most Christians don’t want any commandments, if they can help it.  Like all humans, we don’t want to have to obey. If I mention to some Christians that the seventh day of the week is the Sabbath, they usually chafe at my suggestion because they don’t want to change what they’re used to. They tell me that the seventh-day Sabbath is part of the law that was done away with at the cross.

I sometimes do the same thing when someone points out something that I do that may not be in line with God’s Word. Here’s the reason we resist truth:  we’re naturally sinful. Paul wrote it this way: “The sinful nature is always hostile to God. It never did obey God’s laws, and it never will. That’s why those who are still under the control of their sinful nature can never please God” (Romans 8:7, 8, NLT).2

When I ask other Christians about the first commandment— You shall have no other gods before me—they still think it’s the way to go. Same with most of the others—honor parents, don’t kill, steal, lie, or commit adultery. (Some tend to gloss over coveting and swearing.)

However, there’s something about the fourth commandment that seems to bother countless Christians. When questioned, some begin by admitting that they are lax about Sunday observance, but the idea of switching to the seventh day seems to push some people over the edge. They resist making this change and explain it by saying, “The law was done away with at the cross.” Of course, that doesn’t explain why they attend church on Sunday or why God prohibits them from murdering others.  Truth is, they just don’t want to change. 

I can relate. Can you? I may not have issues with the Sabbath, but there are other things in my life that I don’t want to change.

Check out these verses about God’s law! “Those who depend on the law to make them right with God are under his curse, for the Scriptures say, ‘Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all these commands that are written in God’s book of the Law.’ Consequently, it is clear that no one can ever be right with God by trying to keep the law. For the Scriptures say ‘It is through faith that a righteous person has life’” (Galatians 3:10, 11, NLT).

Later in the same chapter, Paul writes: “Is there a conflict between God’s law and God’s promises? Absolutely not!  If the law could have given us new life, we could have been made right with God by obeying it. But the Scriptures have declared that we are all prisoners of sin, so the only way to receive God’s promise is to believe in Jesus Christ” (Galatians 3:21, 22, NLT).

If you’re trying to obey God’s law to be made right with God, give it up! The law shows us that we need a Savior (see Galatians 3:19 and Romans 3:20). To be right with God, your only hope is complete trust in Jesus!

Does that mean the law is done away with when a person trusts Jesus? No. Instead of the law being outside of us, the law moves within us because God places His Spirit in us to create a desire to obey Him. Romans 8 really captures this process perfectly. Read it in The Living Bible. Here’s a quick summary found in Romans 3:31: “Well then, if we are saved by faith, does this mean that we no longer need to obey God’s laws? Just the opposite! In fact, only when we trust Jesus can we truly obey him” (TLB).3 Don’t get into an argument with someone about keeping the law. Get into agreement about completely trusting Jesus. Then help each other follow the Holy Spirit’s promptings to change your lives in all areas, including keeping the Ten Commandments. That’s when you’ll start to live!


1Scripture quotations identified CEV are from the Contemporary English Version. Copyright  American Bible Society 1991, 1995. Used by permission.
2Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright  1996. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, Illinois 60189. All rights reserved.
3Verses marked TLB are taken from The Living Bible, copyright © 1971 by Tyndale House Publishers, Wheaton, Ill. Used by permission.

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