We have been looking at the Exodus story and for the past few weeks we have been dealing with God’s covenant which includes the Law of God. The purpose of the Law is a very important issue for those who are following Jesus. God has given commands and we must take them seriously if we are to declare that God is God and I am not. I plan on writing a couple blogs this week to help us learn how to read the Law of God and respond to it with Gospel-centrality.
The Law begins with the 10 Commandments but ultimately includes 613 laws given to the Hebrew people in the context of their covenant with God. These covenant gives the stipulations of their relationship with God and also forms them as a nation, being God’s people who represent Him on earth. God will tell His story through these people and in light of this covenant. But what we find is that from the human side, nobody keeps the covenant and the laws given by God. While God is faithful, the people are not. They hold multiple covenant renewals, places where the people come back to God and say, “We will do this!” But it does not take long for them to start pursuing other things and failing to keep the rules God has set forth. If the primary purpose God gave the Laws was to govern and control his people so that they would keep all His rules, well, we can say the Law is a complete failure, not just for them, but for us as well. We don’t keep God’s rules either, and so all the Law can actually do is render us guilty and without remedy. So God must have a greater purpose in giving these Laws. This past Sunday I shared eight Biblical reasons God gave the Law, and wanted to write a blog to reiterate those. My hope is that this and other blogs on the topic will help navigate the issue of how we are to read, deal with, and respond to the Law of God.
1. To demonstrate the Holiness and Righteousness of God – The first thing we learn from the Law is the character of the Law-Giver. God wrote the 10 Commandments in stone with His own hand (Exodus is careful to note that Moses did not transcribe for God, but rather God gave Moses completed tablets). We learn from this that there is One God who is a personal being, and that His moral character is perfect in holiness and righteousness. In His perfections God is setting the standard of conduct for people if they are going to know Him and live in relationship. That standard is also perfection, it has to be, because God is a perfect, holy, and righteous God. An example, the command “Thou shalt not bear false witness” is important because a society based on untruth and dishonesty is going to collapse. But on a greater level this command points us to the character of the God who wrote it, and He is a God of truth, God cannot, will not lie. We can trust him completely. The command points us to God’s character.
2. The holiness of His people – By keeping the commands of God as a corporate people, the Jews would demonstrate themselves as different and separate from the nations around. God gives the Law to His people and not to the nations. This is important. While the 10 Commandments do trace their issues in God and His creation, and therefore are principles for all people, they were given specifically to the Hebrews who had already been redeemed and brought into a relationship with God as their King. As the nation is shaped by the concepts set forth in the Law they will look distinctively different than the nations that surround them, and the difference will show that they have a different King.
3. To protect and provide for His people – Every Law flow from God’s care and His desire for the joy and well-being of His people. So each Law provides some level of protection for His people as they live in a fallen world, and each law contains good provision for them as well.
4. To reveal our guilt and give knowledge of sin (Romans 7:7-9) – While all this is good so far, the truth is that the Law presents us with a significant problem in our humanity. We don’t keep God’s Law. Conservatives tend to use the Law as a tape measure to rule everyone else, often hoping for a return to some kind of glory day when everyone used to keep the 10 Commandments. The thinking is that if we could return to that sort of time all would be right again. The problem is that there was never one of those glory days, nobody keeps the Law. But religious types can avoid really dealing with the inner purpose of the Law themselves by noticing how others do not keep it and comparing themselves to them. Progressives tend to see the Law as nothing more than an attempt to limit their personal autonomy and something used by religion to control people. They don’t have to deal with the truer purpose of the Law because they reject it outright as outdated and controlling. But both groups miss the point. God is God, He can command what He wants. But I do not keep His Law. But the very purpose of the Law is so that I will see the utter ruin of sinfulness in myself. In Romans 7:7-9 Paul acknowledges that he has always been a person who covets. But then he read the Law that says, “Thou shalt not covet.” He then realized he had a problem. It wasn’t someone else’s problem, it was his. And the Law didn’t stop his coveting, rather it made him covet more. So the conservative is right in saying that the Law is from God, but utterly wrong in trying to apply the Law to everyone else. The progressive is right in saying the Law exposes guilt, but wrong in saying that it is controlling. Both need to see the Law as a gracious gift from God that exposes our own guilt so that we will daily be reminded of our utter sinfulness and complete need for a gracious Savior who will rescue and forgive.
5. To show us that our goodness and good works cannot save us (Romans 3:19-20) – Most of us spend our lives on some form of a self-salvation project. We think we can make ourselves right with me, right with God, and right with the world around through some form of morality, good deeds, kindness, and fulfilling activity. In other words, we have created a list that leads to goals that will bring ultimate purpose and shape our identity into what we want to become, and our journey is all about the list. And of course, we believe the list also leads us to God who will willingly accept us when we become the person we believe He wants us to be. But as we honestly read the Law of God we should come to a simple conclusion, I can’t be all that God asks of me. As long as I offer my good works and moral living to God as the basis for my acceptance and the core of my identity I actually find myself at odds with and accountable to God. So any self-salvation project leaves me guilty before God and helpless to actually remedy my condition. The Law therefore is a beautiful gift of God’s grace that shows me that no amount of good works and right living will absolve guilt and make me right with God. This leads me to grace as my only hope.
6. To be fulfilled by Jesus in our place (Matthew 5:17) – Jesus said that He did not come to abolish the Law but the fulfill the Law. This is actually a massive statement. Even the most self-righteous religious Pharisees could never make the claim that they actually fulfilled the Law. As the Law of God is formed in the Old Testament it becomes a sort of job description describing the person that has the qualifications to actually enter God’s presence. But once the description is given there is a huge problem, nobody fits the description. This is one of the major themes of the Old Testament. Every character we encounter has major flaws and does not fulfill the Law. They all need forgiveness and redemption, and must offer sacrifices for their utter failures. This is most evident on the Day of Atonement when sacrifices were made for the people to atone for their sins in the past year. The first sacrifice was made specifically for the High Priest who had to have his own sin dealt with before he could come before God on behalf of the people. Nobody fits the job description… until Jesus! He perfectly kept the Law. And His keeping the Law is so much more than an attempt to give us an example on how to live. His obedience to the Law is respresentative. In other words, He kept the Law or me. I plan to write more on this in a second blog, so I’ll elaborate more then, but just realize that Jesus is the only person in all of human history who fits the job description laid out in the Law.
7. To lead us to Christ (Galatians 3:24) – Paul calls the Law a school teacher or guardian that leads us to Christ. God’s ultimate purpose in the Law is that it should lead us to Christ. The Law should produce a humility in me that shows me that I am utterly helpless, but it should open my eyes to the need for a redeemer who has both fulfilled the Law for me and who has died in my place as a sacrifice paying taking the justice due to me as a Law-breaker. My tendency is to read the Law in a way that my focus is on the things I think I do well (at least better than others). But what I should do when reading the commands in the Bible is see that on every level I fail. Even when I keep some aspect of the Law, if I read with religious lenses I will become proud and will judge others who don’t keep the rules I keep. Of course, they are judging me or the ones I don’t. So every command in the Bible should point me to Christ first and foremost.
8. To be written our hearts as the result of the Gospel (Hebrews 8:10) – Believing the Gospel does not mean that the commands of God end. But it does mean that we never see the commands of God as the basis of our relationship. Every aspect of our acceptance by God is a result of grace, God’s loving and benevolent act in our life bringing us what we do not deserve and taking for us what we do deserve. But a heart that experiences grace will grow in love toward God and that leads to the desire to honor God with obedience. Marriage is a great picture of this. Imagine a husband and wife get married. She is a neat freak and it really bothers her that he leaves his clothes laying all over the room, and that he actually expects her to pick them up and wash them for him. At first it agitates him, but as they grow in their relationship she loves him and even shows him grace in this issue. Over time the husband begins to value his wife and love the relationship with her and as a result he begins to work on cleaning up after himself and even does a few loads of his own laundry. He begins to do things that his wife desires because he is loved and loves her. This cleaning up the room is not the basis of the relationship it is the outcome of the relationship. In the same way God has loved His people, has poured His grace into their lives, and has sacrificed His perfect Son so that they can have a relationship with Him. Then He gives them the presence of the Holy Spirit and the wonder of His revealed Word. Followers of Jesus will begin to be changed from the inside out as they long to honor the God who loved and saved them, so they will begin to demonstrate that love by obedience. But obedience is never permission to pride, because even the keeping of commands is a result of grace and leads us to awe of our God.