What is the purpose of God’s law? Some think the Bible is simply a rule book. This perspective completely misses God’s saving message. Yet, to fully appreciate God’s love, we need first to understand his law.
The Bible speaks of three categories of laws:
- Civil laws governed the nation of Israel.
- Ceremonial laws dictated how Israel was to worship in the Old Testament.
- The Moral law is summarized by the commands to love God and one another.
The Gold Standard
This law is all about holiness. It reflects God’s glory. He is perfect in every way. God has no sin, and nothing impure can enter his presence (Revelation 21:27). The law then serves as God’s standard for access into his presence. “Be holy, for I am holy” (Leviticus 11:45). Jesus repeated this command,
“Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.”Matthew 5:48
Some, trying to keep this command, assume God means you should try your best or simply become perfect someday? Surprisingly, that’s not what God is saying at all.
He says, “Be perfect.” It is written in the same grammatical form as the commandments. Your employer doesn’t expect you to just become on time someday. He wants punctuality right now. How much more with God’s perfect expectations!
In fact, trying to approach God by means of your obedience to the law places you under the curse of having to obey everything perfectly (Galatians 3:10). You could never disobey the law even once (James 2:10). Jesus emphasized that every stroke of God’s law must be fulfilled (Matthew 5:18). No wonder the Bible teaches “no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law” (Romans 3:20).
We cannot live up to God’s standard of perfection.
Look in the Mirror
When we take an honest look at God’s law, it doesn’t show us how good we are. Instead, it shows just how far we’ve fallen. Adultery includes lust. Hate is condemned as murder. The law makes us conscious of sin (Romans 3:20). Paul wrote, “I had not known sin, but by the law” (Romans 7:7). God gave us an abundance of commands to make us aware of our own sinfulness. An honest look in the mirror of God’s law shows a lying, blasphemous, covetous, thieving, adulterous murderer for whom hell awaits (Revelation 21:8). The law doesn’t justify me. It condemns me.
What Does this Reflection Drive you to?
Turning back to the law in desperation won’t change the appearance of your reflection in it. Imagine breaking your mother’s heirloom vase. You try to glue it back together, but you know it will never be the same. Every time you looked at it, you would be reminded of what you did. In the same way, the law cannot save. If it could, Christ died for nothing (Galatians 2:21).
Hope for Holiness?
When we finally acknowledge we could never achieve the holiness God demands, we turn to the only one who is holy. The law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:24). The ultimate purpose of the law is to drive us back to God and trust in his solution.
Since we couldn’t be holy, God sent a substitute who could. Jesus rescued us by living under the law perfectly in our place (Galatians 4:4). Jesus didn’t abolish the law; He fulfilled it.
“What the law could not do…God [did by] sending his own Son”Romans 8:3
The perfection God demands is the same perfection he provides in Christ. This perfection is credited to us by trusting in Jesus as our substitute.
The Law’s Role for Christians
Does the law still apply to Christians? Yes and no. It is not the path through which we can become right with God. That would be impossible. In fact, trying would actually be a rejection of what was already accomplished for us by Jesus. This is why the Bible teaches we are no longer under fear of the law, but instead, we are under grace (Romans 6:14).
Yet, in his grace, we are made holy, i.e., “set apart.” We stand out from the world around us. Now we delight in God’s law (Psalm 1:2). We don’t obey God’s commands out of duty or obligation to earn his favor because we have to. Instead of fear, we have freedom to live a life of thanks and follow God’s commands because we want to. We do so with the joy and confidence that we’re already covered with Christ’s perfect record.
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