There seems to be two major views of this.
1. Part of the Old Covenant is still in effect such as the Ten Commandments.
2. None of the Old Covenant is still in effect as it has been replaced with the New, better Covenant.
So which is it? What does the Bible say?
One of the most popular scriptures to both prove and refute the Old Covenant being still in effect is Matt 5:17. There are many interesting things going on in this and surrounding passages. Many only state part of this scripture as evidence that the Old Covenant, at least in part, is still in effect. “Don’t think that I came to destroy the law…” This misses the point however. We have to take all of the passage into consideration to understand what Jesus was saying.
At the end of that verse, Jesus states that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. Further, he goes on to state that nothing will pass from the law until all things are accomplished and that heaven and earth would pass away first (Matt 5:18). Even stranger, he goes on to say that the listeners there had to exceed the Pharisees’ righteousness (who were the strictest observers) and that even the least command was still in effect (Matt 5:19-20). From the rest of this scripture, it seems like both of the original assertions are incorrect!
So, we have to look at the timing of this. Just as the Old Covenant was established by blood (Heb 9:18), so was the New by Jesus’ (Matt 26:28). In Matt 5, Jesus was still referring to the Old Covenant because it was still in effect. It seems he was stating that no matter how strictly the old law was observed, it could never make us perfect based on our inability to fulfill it. Only Jesus could.
This fulfillment was three-fold:
1. He lived (fulfilled) the Old Covenant perfectly (Matt 5:17 as above).
2. He accepted the curse on himself for all people who weren’t able to live the Old Covenant (Gal 3:13, Deut 28:15-68).
3. He gave us the blessings that he earned by living the Old Covenant perfectly (Gal 3:14, Deut 28:1-15).
To these points, most might agree. However, we still have a whole lot of mixing of the Old and New when the Old has been permanently set aside. Even the very architecture of the Old was removed in 70AD (as alluded to all throughout the New Testament in passages such as Matt 24 and Heb 8:13). The law was but a shadow (Heb 10:1). The New Covenant is so much better and doesn’t need those shadows anymore!
This is also when “heaven and earth” passed away. In the Old Testament, this was a reference to Israel (such as Isaiah 1:2 ). The end of the Jewish world, or age, was often referred to (examples: Matt 12:32, Matt 28:20, Heb 9:26). Likewise, I believe this complete removal of the Old Covenant system in 70AD to be what Jesus was referencing here by the passing away of heaven and earth. This could go much deeper when delving into the meaning of the new heavens and earth, but that strays outside the scope here and deserves at least a post on its’ own.
But isn’t it okay to uphold things such as the Ten Commandments? The law was good, yes, but we as humans were unable to uphold it. If we attempt to enforce any of the old law onto ourselves or others, we place ourselves under the curse of the law thereby insulting what Jesus has already done for us. This would insinuate that Jesus didn’t do enough, that he didn’t fulfill the law in our place, and there is something that we have to do to pick up his slack. This, in effect, denies the New Covenant and is an insult to the Spirit of Grace (Heb 10:29)!
But can’t we enforce the Ten Commandments on other “ungodly” people? I would say no. First, because the new law is written on their hearts and in their minds (Heb 10:16). We all know God (Heb 8:11). Secondly, we can’t mix the old and the new (Matt 9:16-17) for reasons already stated. If we insist that God’s law isn’t written on everyone’s hearts and minds, we violate scripture. If we concede that it is, then we can certainly show people Jesus’ love through our lives, but we must trust him to work in theirs. After all, we tend to readily admit that we have no understanding of his ways and plans. Therefore, we have no understanding of how he may be working in the lives and through the situations of people we only condemn by the external circumstances we can see. This is where we pray for them and for us to just be able to love them through it.
So, if everyone already knows God and doesn’t need to be taught about him, as he states through Jeremiah, what about the Great Commission? This is simply spreading the good news of the New Covenant so others can live by the Holy Spirit and not an external set of rules or human leadership. We are free from the curse of the old law!
The covenants, old and new, can be though of as contracts. But, when did we except them, and when did Israel? Israel confirmed their acceptance of the contract three times (Exodus 19:8; 24:3, 7), but when did we accept the New Covenant? If I may continue with the contract analogy, Israel consigned themselves to be responsible for “purchasing” their salvation by obeying the terms of the contract. However, Jesus paid the old and new contracts in full. The old contract was paid off, thereby being set aside though we get all the benefits. The new contract, with even better promises (Heb 8:6), was given to us with all the requirements already paid in full (Heb 7:22). All we have to do is accept it. It would be like if someone bought us a new car and hauled the old clunker away. All we have to do is accept and it’s ours. (Even the insurance, taxes, and tags are paid, with free gas for life!) No other requirements are necessary because the Holy Spirit directs us from there (Romans 2:14-15). Would we continue to insist that we keep our old clunker deathtrap that requires constant maintenance and threatens to kill us? Or would we just accept the new car with all the additional features and none of the hassle? The old clunker was good while it lasted, but it’s time to be placed in the compactor!
Forcing old laws onto others tends to drive them away, and rightly so, as that covenant has been removed!
This is the beauty of the New Covenant. Why would we try to implement the curses of the Old Covenant on ourselves and others especially knowing that no one has the ability to uphold it?