I can't begin to count the times I have heard or been in conversations about the Law. That's the Law of Moses, as in the Ten Commandments - and a lot more.
Some say the Law is no longer valid. But then others respond, "So, you mean it's okay to murder, steal and chase your neighbor's wife?" Well, no, comes the reply. Of course not.
Others say the Law is still in effect, and we are obligated to keep it. But then some respond, "So, you mean we're supposed go to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices?" Well, no, is the reply. Of course not.
So what's the answer? Is it or isn't it? Can it be true that the Law is gone and anything goes? Of course not, and common sense tells us that. Or can it be true that we are all - or at least the Jews - still obligated to the Law? That's a problem because there are provisions in the Law that are impossible to keep in our time. There is no Temple in Jerusalem, for example, so there cannot be sacrifices.
Nevertheless, my belief is that God's intent is that the Law is no longer in force.
That doesn't open the door to social anarchy. Here's why: The Law seems to be in two general categories: religious and social. The first deal with how we relate to God. The second with how we relate to our neighbor. Included were some fundamental principles of an orderly and just society, things that were common to many cultures, and were merely codified and perhaps somewhat modified. Not much really new, however. The part about our relationship with God, however, was new, and that's the central question here. Is this part of the Law in effect today?
Yes and no.
First, the word law is translated - mistakenly - from the Hebrew word torah. It means something closer to teaching or instruction than it does law. Torah is God's teaching to Israel. It contains law, but it isn't primarily a book of law.
Second, torah is singular: There is one law. The Torah is a unity, a body of teaching, and is not divisible. Paul wrote somewhere that he who offends in one point of the Law offends in all of it. Same principle. So, either the Law is in effect - all of it - or it is gone - all of it.
Now, if we argue that it's in effect, we are left with a major obstacle: Since there is no Temple, it's impossible to keep a major part of the Law: sacrifices. That leaves us between a rock and a hard place.
What does the Bible itself say about the duration of the Law?
First, Jesus said it would endure unchanged until "all is fulfilled." Whatever that means. And Jeremiah said a day would come when, rather than being written on tablets of stone, the law would be written on the hearts of God's people.
So has that happened? I think it has. I think the "stone law" was replaced when God's law was written on our hearts, bringing a change of nature, and that happened at Pentecost. On that day, the Law lost its reason to be. On that day, the purpose of the Law was fulfilled or complete: To guide and show the way to the Messiah.
So, considering the questions that sparked this: First, are we still obligated to keep the Sabbath? The answer is yes, but not by the Law. We are "obligated" by the Holy Spirit who leads us into God's presence, that we may be refreshed, and that we may be transformed into his image. Second, is it okay to murder, etc? Of course not. Wasn't, isn't, and never will be. I don't even consider the question a sincere one, since everything in us shouts that these behaviors are not okay and are to be condemned.