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The Law Of God
When we speak of the law of God, to what do we refer? Scripture uses this term in two ways. The law is a reference to the Word of God in general (John 10:34/Psalm 82:6; 1 Corinthians 14:21/Isaiah 28:11-12; Psalm 19:7; 78:1; Isaiah 1:10), and the law is a specific reference to the law of Moses (Matthew 7:12; Luke 24:44; John 1:17, 45; 7:19; Acts 13:15; 28:23; Galatians 3:10/Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:17; Psalm 110:4/Hebrews 7:20-21, 28). It is this law, the law of Moses, to which we now look.
The Lord came from Sinai, and dawned on them from Seir; He shone forth from Mount Paran, and He came with ten thousands of saints; from His right hand came a fiery law for them. (Deuteronomy 33:2)
This fiery law, which was to be read every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:9-13), is still a fiery law and it is still to be remembered.
Remember the Law of Moses, My servant, which I commanded him in Horeb for all Israel, with the statutes and judgments. (Malachi 4:4)
When Malachi was written, Israel was still under the covenant that was appointed and spoken through angels (Galatians 3:19; Hebrews 2:2), given to Moses (Exodus 31:18), and ratified at the foot of Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:1-31:18; Nehemiah 9:13; Galatians 4:24). Therefore, the Lord told the Israelites to "remember the Law of Moses."
There was a time when the people of God were not under this law. There was a time when there were no "Ten Commandments" to keep (Exodus 34:28; Deuteronomy 4:13; 10:4; Galatians 3:17) . There was a time when there was no circumcision commanded (Genesis 15:6; 17:10; Romans 4:10), no meat forbidden (Genesis 9:3), and no Sabbath to obey. Indeed, God made the seventh day holy from the beginning (Genesis 2:3), but He did not command its observance until the law of Moses in Exodus 16:23-30. Moreover, the "Law of Moses" did not come until Moses was over 80 years old (Exodus 7:7). There was a time, before the law, when God's people were not under the law; yet people were still found righteous before God.
Abel was not under the law, yet he was found righteous before God (Genesis 4:4; Matthew 23:35; Hebrews 11:4). Enoch was not under the law, and he pleased God (Genesis 5:22-24; Hebrews 11:5). Noah was not under the law, and he found favor in the eyes of God (Genesis 6:8; Hebrews 11:7). Abraham was not under the law, yet he was accounted righteous by God (Genesis 15:6) and received the promise that in him all the nations would be blessed (Genesis 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; Galatians 3:8). In the past, God's people lived godly and righteous lives, and were saved, apart from the law (Hebrews 11:13-16). In fact, salvation has always been through faith, even for those under the law (Habakkuk 2:4; Romans 1:17; 4:1-16; Galatians 3:11; Hebrews 10:38; 11:1-32). No one has ever, nor will ever, be saved by keeping the law (Romans 3:20).
I. What Purpose Then Does The Law Serve?
Paul answers this question in Galatians 3:19 with: "It was added because of transgressions" (Galatians 3:19). 1 Timothy 1:9-10 says,
the law is not made for a righteous person, but for the lawless and insubordinate, for the ungodly and for sinners, for the unholy and profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for sodomites, for kidnappers, for liars, for perjurers, and if there is any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine, . . . .
It is the law that brings the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20), and with the knowledge of sin, the reality of condemnation. The law actually brings a curse (Deuteronomy 27:15-26; Jeremiah 11:1-4; Romans 4:15; Galatians 3:10-13), kills (2 Corinthians 3:6-7), and condemns the ungodly (2 Corinthians 3:9, "ministry of condemnation").
Paul says that the law "was our tutor" (Galatians 3:24). What did it teach us? It taught us what was right (e.g. Deuteronomy 6:17-18; 1 Kings 11:33, 38), and it taught us about our utter wickedness. Paul writes,
What shall we say then? Is the law sin? Certainly not! On the contrary, I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, "You shall not covet." But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produced in me all manner of evil desire. (Romans 7:7-8)
As the law taught us what is right and exposed our utter sinfulness, with the work of the Spirit of God, "the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ" (Galatians 3:24). In other words, when a man sees the standard of God (the law), and therefore sees his sinfulness (Jeremiah 17:9), he can then see his need for a Savior (Luke 18:13).
Thus, the law serves as condemnation for the unjust (Romans 3:19), and as a tutor to those who would come to faith in Christ (Galatians 3:24).
II. Once Saved, What Is A Believer's Relationship To The Law?
During and after Moses, anyone who desired to come to God needed to come to Him through the covenant/law of Moses. Isaiah testifies to this by saying,
Thus says the Lord: "Keep justice, and do righteousness, for My salvation is about to come, and My righteousness to be revealed. Blessed is the man who does this, and the son of man who lays hold on it; who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and keeps his hand from doing any evil. Do not let the son of the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord speak, saying, 'The Lord has utterly separated me from His people'; nor let the eunuch say, 'Here I am, a dry tree.'" For thus says the Lord: "To the eunuchs who keep My Sabbaths, and choose what pleases Me, and hold fast My covenant, even to them I will give in My house and within My walls a place and a name better than that of sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that shall not be cut off. Also the sons of the foreigner who join themselves to the Lord, to serve Him, and to love the name of the Lord, to be His servants - everyone who keeps from defiling the Sabbath, and holds fast My covenant - even them I will bring to My holy mountain, and make them joyful in My house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and their sacrifices will be accepted on My altar; for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations." (Isaiah 56:1-7; see also Psalm 103:17-18)
The covenant to which the Lord refers ("and holds fast My covenant") is the covenant/law of Moses (Exodus 34:27-28; Leviticus 26:14-15; Deuteronomy 4:13) that was in effect at that time. Here in Isaiah, God promises salvation to those who hold fast to the law of Moses.
In Deuteronomy Moses said to the children of Israel,
Set your hearts on all the words which I testify among you today, which you shall command your children to be careful to observe - all the words of this law. For it is not a futile thing for you, because it is your life, . . . (Deuteronomy 32:46-47)
Taking heed to the law was Israel's life. If they would have believed God, and taken heed to His law by faith, they would have entered His rest (Hebrews 3:19). But they did not believe (Deuteronomy 32:20; Psalm 78:22, 37). So, even though they had the gospel preached to them (Hebrews 4:2), they perished nonetheless; because they did not believe (Hebrews 3:16-19).
So, condemnation and salvation came to people through the law, under that old covenant law of Moses. But, when the Lord Jesus came, He established a new covenant (Matthew 26:28; Mark 14:24; Luke 22:20; Romans 10:4; 1 Corinthians 11:25; Hebrews 12:24). This covenant is not the same as the covenant God made with the children of Israel through Moses (Jeremiah 31:31-32; Hebrew 8:6-13; 2 Corinthians 3:6). This covenant is a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22; 8:6), with a different priesthood, the old priesthood being annulled (Hebrews 7:18). The new covenant comes with a change of law (Hebrews 7:12), and results in the old covenant being made obsolete (Hebrews 8:13, i.e. old, pepalaiôke, used in Luke 12:33 and Hebrews 1:11).
Therefore, those who come to faith in Christ are not under the law, the law of Moses (Romans 10:4; Galatians 5:18). Because, those who have come to faith in Christ have died to the law.
Or do you not know, brethren (for I speak to those who know the law), that the law has dominion over a man as long as he lives? For the woman who has a husband is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives. But if the husband dies, she is released from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband lives, she marries another man, she will be called an adulteress; but if her husband dies, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she has married another man. Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another - to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God. For when we were in the flesh, the sinful passions which were aroused by the law were at work in our members to bear fruit to death. But now we have been delivered from the law, having died to what we were held by, so that we should serve in the newness of the Spirit and not in the oldness of the letter. (Romans 7:1-6)
Just what does Paul mean when he says that we have become dead to the law? Note, he says it is through the body of Christ (Romans 7:4). When Christ died, He took the punishment we deserved upon Himself (Isaiah 53:5). As He did this, He took the "handwriting of requirements," that is, the condemnation the law brings, and nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14; see also Ephesians 2:15).
Therefore, the death of Christ "wiped out" (Colossians 2:14) the curse and death and condemnation that comes with the law (Galatians 3:10-13; 2 Corinthians 3:7, 9). Everyone who has been crucified with Christ (Romans 6:3-4, 6; Galatians 2:20; 5:24; 6:14) through true faith in Him, has at the same time died to the law, that is, the requirements of the law. For in Christ, we are not under law, but under grace (Romans 6:14). In other words, the requirements of the law are no longer upon us. To follow Paul's illustration, there has been a death in the marriage. Therefore, the law concerning the old marriage is no longer binding. We are free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2; 2 Corinthians 3:7).
III. Does This Mean We Make The Law Of No Effect?
It is time for You to act, O Lord, for they have regarded Your law as void. (Psalm 119:126)
Do we now obliterate the law? Do we ignore it and see it as empty words? Do we do what the wicked do and regard the law as void?
Certainly not! On the contrary, we establish the law. (Romans 3:31)
How do we establish the law? We establish the law "through faith" (Romans 3:31-4:1-13).
For if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness would have been by the law. But the Scripture has confined all under sin, . . . (Galatians 3:21-22a)
Since "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23), and "there is none righteous, no not one" (Romans 3:10), no one can be saved through keeping the law. Men are too sinful. (Romans 7:14-24). For if righteousness came through the law, then Christ died in vain (Galatians 2:21). But, Christ did not die in vain. Because,
now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22)
The law brings the knowledge of sin (Romans 3:20), and pronounces men guilty before God (Romans 3:19). The law dictates the need for salvation by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8), because the law was a "ministry of condemnation" (2 Corinthians 3:9). The gospel, the good news, is a ministry of life (2 Corinthians 3:6). Thus, through faith we establish the very purpose of the law; that is, to reveal men's wickedness (Romans 3:19), and thus their need for a Savior (Romans 3:20).
IV. Once In Faith, Do We Now Live In Lawlessness?
Since we are dead to the law (Romans 7:1-6), no longer bound by its requirements, do we live as if there is no law? Do we live in anarchy? No! In Christ we fulfill the law.
There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:1-4)
The righteous requirement of the law is fulfilled in those who walk by the Spirit. Galatians 5:16 says,
I say then: Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.
Those who walk by the Spirit do not fulfill the lust of the flesh. And what is the lust of the flesh? It is breaking the law of God. The deeds of the flesh are all contrary to the law of God, as Galatians 5:19-21 illustrates.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
All of these things are against the law of God. But, those who walk by faith, who walk in the Spirit, these are sons of God (Romans 8:14); and these are those who fulfill the righteous requirements of the law (Matthew 22:40; Romans 8:4; Galatians 5:14). They do not covet (Exodus 20:17). They do not steal (Exodus 20:15). They honor their father and mother, etc. (Exodus 20:12). They live godly lives as a result of their trust in Christ (Romans 10:9-10; James 2:14-26).
V. What About Some Of The Specifics Of The Law?
In the old covenant, the law required sacrifices for sins (e.g. Exodus 20:24; Hebrews 9:22), but in the new covenant, Christ is our sacrifice once for all (Daniel 9:26; Isaiah 53:5-12; Hebrews 7:26-27; 9:23-28). Christ is our Passover (Deuteronomy 16:1; 1 Corinthians 5:7), our atonement (Psalm 65:3; 79:9; 1 John 2:2). He is the Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29; Revelation 5:9).
In the old covenant, the law required a Sabbath rest (Exodus 20:8-11), and those who did not keep it were to be put to death (Exodus 31:15; Numbers 15:32-36). In the new covenant, Christ is our Sabbath rest (Hebrews 4:1-10; Romans 4:3-5; 1 Peter 1:13), and we have the freedom to rest on the seventh day, or regard "every day alike" (Romans 14:5).
In the old covenant, there were food laws to be observed (e.g. Leviticus 11:1-23, 41-47; Deuteronomy 14:3-21), but in the new covenant, Christ declared all foods clean (Mark 7:14-20), and Paul wrote,
For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer. (1 Timothy 4:4-5; see also Hebrews 13:9)
The only kind of "food" that is still forbidden is blood, which is not food at all. It has been forbidden since the time of Noah (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:16, 23-25; 15:23; Acts 15:20, 29; 21:15).
In the old covenant there were different feasts to be observed (e.g. Numbers 28:26-29:40), but in the new covenant we are told not to let anyone judge us "regarding a festival or a new moon or sabbaths" (Colossians 2:16). In other words, we are not bound by such obligations. We are free to observe them and free to not observe them (Galatians 4:9-12; 5:1; e.g. 1 Corinthians 9:20-21).
In the old covenant there were specific commandments like not wearing a garment made of mixed linen and wool (Leviticus 19:19), or not shaving the sides of your head or disfiguring the edges of your beard (Leviticus 19:27). Hebrews 9:10 mentions "fleshly ordinances" under that old system, and says that they were "imposed until the time of reformation." "But Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come" (Hebrews 9:11), and we are no longer under such law (Galatians 3:25; 5:18; Romans 6:14).
VI. So, How Do We Now View The Law?
Are the Ten Commandments, now The Ten Suggestions? No, the Ten Commandments are still the Ten Commandments, and they still bring the knowledge of sin, stop every mouth, and reveal the world guilty before God (Romans 3:19-20). Those who walk by faith, who live according to the Spirit, fulfill them (Romans 8:4). As Paul wrote,
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." (Galatians 5:14)
What is the one word to which Paul refers? It is love. Jesus said,
"You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets. (Matthew 22:37-40)
All the law is fulfilled in love, love for God and love for your neighbor. Thus, those who walk in love fulfill the law. This is a believer's view of the law. He lives it, by faith, like the Psalmist who wrote,
Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. (Psalm 119:34)
So shall I keep Your law continually, forever and ever. (Psalm 119:44)
The proud have me in great derision, Yet I do not turn aside from Your law. (Psalm 119:51)
I remember Your name in the night, O Lord, and I keep Your law. (Psalm 119:55)
Indeed, the Psalmist was under the old covenant, and the believer today is in the new covenant, but, even in the new covenant, we keep the law in Christ, by not walking according to the flesh, but by the Spirit (Romans 8:4).
Moreover, the believer views the law as wisdom from God and that which brings knowledge, comfort, and hope.
For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
As an example of some of the learning that we gain, note how Paul referred to the law in 1 Corinthians 9:8-10 (Deuteronomy 25:4) and 1 Corinthians 14:34 (Numbers 30). In 1 Corinthians 9:9-10 Paul says God wrote these words in the law about oxen, not so much for the oxen, but rather for those who preach the gospel; that we might learn from the law "that he who plows should plow in hope," etc.. Likewise, in 1 Corinthians 14:34 Paul uses the law as an example of how women are to be in submission to men. The law is good (Romans 7:12; 1 Timothy 1:8). The law can be used, lawfully (1 Timothy 1:8), and there is much to be learned from it.
In Ephesians 5:10 and 5:17 we are commanded to find out what is acceptable to the Lord. One way to do this is to study the law. Much is revealed in the law about what is acceptable to Him (e.g. Leviticus 19:32-36; Deuteronomy 5:16, 29; 6:4-9; 10:17-20; 15:7-11; 19:15/Matthew 18:16/2 Corinthians 13:1/1 Timothy 5:19). Likewise, in this pursuit, much is revealed in regards to that which is not acceptable to Him, i.e. an abomination (e.g. Leviticus 18:22; Deuteronomy 7:25-26; 12:29-32; 18:9-12; 22:5; 23:18; 24:1-4; 25:11-16; 27:15-25). There is much to learn from the law of God, as the Psalmist writes,
Blessed is the man whom You instruct, O Lord, and teach out of Your law. That You may give him rest from the days of adversity, until the pit is dug for the wicked. (Psalm 94:12-13)
Open my eyes, that I may see wondrous things from Your law. (Psalm 119:18)
Your righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and Your law is truth. (Psalm 119:142)