Today is Independence Day in the United States. It is a day that commemorates the signing of the Declaration of Independence by the Continental Congress, which declared that the thirteen original colonies were free of the rule of Great Britain. Thus, Independence Day is a day on which we celebrate our national freedom. And since this day which celebrates our nation’s political freedom, falls on the Lord’s Day, it serves as a great catalyst for us to be reminded of an even greater freedom–our spiritual freedom.
In Romans 8:2, Paul declared that “in Christ,” we have been “set…free from the law of sin and death.” To what law is Paul referring? In the very next verse, Romans 8:3, “Paul linked this ‘law’ with the law of Moses, which was tied to the flesh as well as to sin and death.”1 Elsewhere Paul referred to Mosaic Law as a “yoke of slavery” from which “Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1). This begs the question: why is freedom from Mosaic Law a blessing? Freedom, in one sense, refers to a lack of oppression. In other words, being oppressed is the opposite of being free, and oppression exists where unnecessary requirements are enforced. Such is the basis for referring to Mosaic law as “a yoke of slavery” from which we have been set free.
This freedom from Mosaic Law becomes most evident in Acts 15 when the issue regarding Gentile circumcision is addressed. Conflict had arisen in the first-century church when some Jewish members of the Jerusalem congregation went to Antioch and tried to force Gentile Christians in that congregation to adopt the requirements of Mosaic Law, particularly circumcision. In response to this situation, a meeting was held in Jerusalem between representatives of the church in Antioch (i.e., Paul and Barnabas) and the elders of the church in Jerusalem. The apostles, who served as the authoritative representatives of God’s will at that time, were present to determine whether or not Gentile converts should be required to keep the Law of Moses. Based on the experience of Peter with Cornelius’ household (Acts 15:7-11, 14) and an understanding of the prophets (Acts 15:15-18), the apostles along with the elders of the Jerusalem congregation concluded that they “should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who [were] turning to God” (Acts 15:19). In other words, they recognized that forcing Mosaic Law on the Gentiles would have been oppressive and wrong since God had clearly indicated that it was no longer necessary to keep Mosaic Law. As a result, the only commands they enforced were for Gentile converts “to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood” (Acts 15:20). The reason they enforced these policies was because all of these activities could be associated with idolatry. Thus, at the conclusion of this meeting, it became apparent to the church that Jesus was “the guarantor of a better covenant,” and, as a result, “He [made] the first one obsolete” (Hebrews 7:22; 8:13).
What makes Christ’s covenant better than the old covenant? Though many benefits could be identified, for the sake of this article, we will consider just one, which is the fact that the New Covenant’s sacrifice is far superior. The Old Covenant required participation in the complex sacrificial system, which consisted of different sacrifices for different purposes. There were five basic sacrifices under Mosaic Law: burnt offerings (Leviticus 1; 6:8-13), grain offerings (Leviticus 2; 6:14-23), fellowship offerings (Leviticus 3; 7:11-21), sin offerings (Leviticus 4-5; 6:24-30), and guilt offerings (Leviticus 5:14-6:7; 7:1-10). Some were employed when you needed to seek God’s forgiveness, some were utilized when you simply wanted to worship God, and others were used when you needed to be pronounced clean. The problem with this sacrificial system is that it could not forgive sins. As the author of Hebrews pointed out, “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:4). So, the sacrificial system, though useful, was inadequate when it came to salvation.
Meanwhile, the New Covenant is built on a single sacrifice that is more than adequate to resolve our sin problem. The sacrifice was Jesus, who, as our “Passover Lamb” (1 Corinthians 5:7), “died for us” so that we might be “justified by his blood” and “saved…from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:8-9). And, it should be noted that unlike the animal sacrifices under the Old Covenant, Jesus’ sacrifice was adequate for dealing with our sins. Hebrews 10:12 says that “Christ…offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins.” In other words, Jesus’ sacrificial death serves as a permanent sacrifice for our sins and eliminates the need for a sacrificial system. As a result, we don’t have to return to the temple and offer animals on the altar every time we sin, and we don’t have to enlist the services of a scapegoat to escort our sins away. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, our sins can be forgiven once and for all, and, as a result, we can be “set…free from the law of sin and death.”
1Paul Pollard, Romans: An Exegetical Study, Truth for Today Commentary (Searcy, AR: Resource Publications, 2018), 263.