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The Law of God

September 11, 2009

But we know that the law is good if one uses it lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8)

This passage of Scripture tells us something very important. The law can be a good thing, but it can also be a bad thing. What? How could God’s law possibly be bad? Well, the law doesn’t actually change, but it’s what you do with it that makes the difference. In this study, we want to look at the law in general, and then we’re going to look at how the law is to be used “lawfully.”

The REAL Law

Many Christians have often missed the Law for the laws. In their sincere and earnest attempt to keep the 10 Commandments they have neglected the real Law. I will never forget the shock I received when I realised that the 10 Commandments are not the real Law. This dawned on me when I asked myself, Did God ever have to tell the angels not to commit adultery? (I’m not even sure they can!). Or did He ever have to say to them, Honour your father and mother? Probably not. So what then is the real Law? Jesus answers this very question in Matthew 22:36-40. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “’You shall love the Lord your God with all of 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 neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.” Here we find the Law behind the laws – LOVE.

Paul speaks likewise in Romans 13:8-10. “Owe no one anything except to love one another, for he who loves another has fulfilled the law.” He then goes on to list part of the 10 Commandments and then says, “and if there is any other commandment, they are all summed up in this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.”

Now some people think that since love is the fulfilling of the Law, they can forget the 10 Commandments. Don’t be silly! Jesus said that all the “Law and the Prophets” spring from the great principle of love. If I love God, I will naturally keep the first four commandments because I won’t want to worship anyone else; I won’t want to worship idols; I won’t take His name in vain; I won’t want to neglect His Sabbath. Likewise, if I love my neighbour, I will naturally be keeping the last six commandments because I won’t want steal people’s stuff; I won’t covet what others have; I won’t be unfaithful or untruthful and so on. You see, love to God and to our neighbours is the centrepiece of Christianity. It points us to the Law behind the laws and reveals to us the motivation for keeping the commandments – because we love God and love our fellow man.

Keep in mind, love is something that is proactive, not inactive. Too often when we think of the Law, we think of all the things we can’t do. But the true Law is about the good things that we can and should do. One writer has said that “A religion which consists in thou shalt nots is bound to end in failure.” That is why we must look behind the laws to the real Law and see that it consists, not of refraining, but loving, and in doing so, the refraining will simply become the by-product of a loving relationship to God and others.

The PURPOSE of the Law

Now that we understand the real Law, let’s move on to briefly look at the purpose of the law. Before sin entered the world, Adam and Eve naturally lived the law of love. But once sin came in, it caused us to naturally do opposite. From the Fall through to the time God called His people out of 400 years in slavery, the law had been so long forgotten that God had to tell them not to do this and that, by speaking audibly from Mt Sinai and also writing what He had said in stone (Ex. 20). This became the moral standard for God’s people. But later on, man had glorified the law to the point that they thought it could bring them salvation.  This is why we find Paul combating against this idea so much in his letters, such as Romans 3:20, “No one will be justified by keeping the law.” So then, what is the purpose of the law? Why did God give it to us?

First, the Law of God is an expression of His character. How are we to know what God is like? Look at the Law, as we did earlier, and there we find love. 1 John 4:8 demonstrates the truth of this when it says that “God is love.” How silly it would be to say that the Law is done away with? If that were to happen, how would we know what God is like?

Second, the Law reveals sin. “For by the law is the knowledge of sin.” “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.’” (Rom. 3:20; 7:7). Elsewhere, the Law is compared to a mirror. It reveals to us our lost, sinful condition (James 1:23-25). The law is an expression of God’s character and this is why when we look at it, we see in it a reflection of how far short we are of that perfect character.

Third, the Law points us to Jesus. After seeing God’s character and how far we have fallen from grace, the law drives us to Jesus. He was the Law of love personified. He is the only One who has kept the Law perfectly – after all, it is a reflection of Himself! No matter how hard we might try, we cannot keep the law to be saved. We are saved totally, exclusively, definitively by the grace of God (Eph. 2:8-9). Whenever we fall, the law tells us that we have failed. Our only hope is in being led to accept the forgiveness of our sins at the foot of the cross. Paul paints a similar picture when he speaks of the law as our “tutor,” that leads us to Christ that we might justified by faith (Gal. 3:24).

Much more could be said on the purpose of the Law. But it must be emphasised again, that the Law is not a method of salvation, but it is a standard for holy living. This is the true meaning of our opening text, “the law is good, if it is used lawfully.”  The law is to reveal to us God’s character; it’s to reveal our own sinful character; and by doing so, it will drive us to Jesus. It is our standard for living lives of holiness for God, not for gaining salvation. We keep the Law not to be saved, but because we are saved. Jesus says that our love towards Him will be demonstrated in our loving obedience to Him (John 14:15).

Some may object and say that we are not under the law, but under grace. That’s true, but you know what? Grace is nonsense without the Law. If we don’t have the Law, we don’t have sin. And if we don’t have sin, we don’t need grace! This is why the Law is so important. It reveals our lost, sinful state and why we desperately need a Saviour.

Still others may think that those who keep the Law are in bondage and that it is restrictive to their happiness. But let me ask, If I kept the law of the land, am I going to be locked up in bondage or am I going to be free? If I keep to the speed limit to avoid getting a traffic fine, am I going to be happy or sad? You see, the Law is not in any way a burden or restriction to our happiness. In fact, in one place the Bible calls it the Law of liberty (James 1: 25; 2:12). It is there for our own good; in a similar way the law of the land is in place to protect us.

Let’s conclude our study on the Law with the Bible’s own conclusion. In Revelation, God’s people are described as “those who keep the commandments of God” (Rev. 12:17; 14:12). The reason why I believe in the importance of the Law is because those who follow God, right to the end, will be those who keep it. Jesus also describes His followers in the same way by getting back to the heart of the matter, “By this shall all men know that you are My disciples, if you have love one for another” (John 13:35).

Love is the fulfilling of the law (Rom. 13:10)

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One Comment
  1. Derek permalink

    Good stuff!! We need to get to understand this concept better and help people realise that there is something bigger than the law (read 10 commandments), the Law of Love! You’ve summed it up nicely, we can explore more. Thanks Ben

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