God’s Law for Believers Today

The Bible says, “The Law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul[i] and God knows that we need this kind of restoration today. As believers we are bound by Christ to fully conform to the Law’s righteous demands with our hearts, minds and bodies. The LORD said that this kind of full conformity is in fact, what it means to love Him – “Whoever has my commandsand obeys them, he is the one who loves me.[ii]

 Someone may ask, “What! A perfect standard?”  To which the answer is a resounding: Yes. Think about it: If God required less from us, it would be ungodly.  He cannot desire less than the best for Himself and for us. And so Jesus says, “Be ye perfect therefore as your Heavenly Father is perfect.”[iii] And yet who among us can claim such perfection? No one. Unfortunately that admission is the precise point at which most Christians leave their consideration of God’s Law. That is very sad.

Jesus made it clear that “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”[iv]

CHRISTIANS DO USE THE LAW OF GOD:

The old divines distinguished between the three uses of the Moral Law: pedagogical, evangelical and magisterial.

The first use is the pedagogical use. It comes from the word “pedagogue” or teacher. It refers to the use of the Law as a means of instruction, specifically, teaching non-believers of their need for Christ. Like a bright light it illumines God’s holy character; like a mirror it shows the ugly truth of our unholiness, sin and guilt, as well as God’s consequent judgment and just wrath towards those outside of Christ. It exposes their need for a Savior.  It is the “bad news” that is pre-requisite for the proper reception of the “good news” of grace and mercy in Jesus Christ. It is, after all, quite sensible for person to refuse a cure, when they don’t have a disease. The Law provides the diagnosis of their dire spiritual condition.  Is this a part of our evangelism efforts?

The second use is the evangelical use, and it’s for evangelicals, or Christians. The Law is a guide for Christian living, an instruction manual on how to love. It serves the function of a mirror for believers as well, showing us where we need to repent and trust God more. Another thing it does is show us what Jesus is truly like. He is not only the Author, but the Perfector of our faith. As we increasingly study and conform to His commands, our minds are renewed, we put on the mind of Christ more and more, our thinking begins to conform to His thinking, our perspectives align with His, and our attitudes, and our affections, and our habits.  We begin to desire and pray for things that He desires. We begin to see Him, as He shows Himself to us. In the Law we have “the wisdom from above” that enables us to “test and approve” what God’s perfect will is for us in the specific situations of our lives.

The third use is the magisterial use, and it is for the magistrate, or the civil government. It is the standard of righteousness and justice for making laws, the morality that should be legislated. It is the wisdom for judges to seek out when deciding difficult cases.

Every Christian should take the time to study His commands in depth, or with a degree of diligence, and according to a plan. It’s easy to get bogged down in them, or distracted from this task. Satan does not want us to know our Father’s character, will, or wisdom for our lives, nor to experience the blessings that inevitably flow from such knowledge. “Blessed is the man…whose delight is in the Law of the LORD and on His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season, his leaf does not wither, whatever he does prospers.”[v]

In the Law we have the revelation of God’s own moral character which is our standard of morality. “Be holy, for I am holy.” In the Law we have the revelation of God’s will for our lives. We also have in it the “Wisdom from above” for our lives.

THE SAME LAW IN THE OLD AND NEW TESTAMENTS:

In the Old Testament there were three major types of law: Civil, Ceremonial and Moral. The civil law dealt with the government of the nation of Israel (which by the way was the only true theocracy that has ever existed on planet earth.) The ceremonial law distinguished between clean and unclean things and people, emphasized public health, diet and sanitation, as well as worship in the tabernacle and temple. It regulated the priesthood, prescribed means of worship, and various sacrifices and festivals. The civil and ceremonial laws of Israel foreshadowed Christ. They also provide the vital cultural backdrop for a proper understanding Old Testament characters and their actions. It is worthwhile to read and understand these laws.

The moral law is different. It is not limited to the time and place of the political nation of Israel because it pertains to God and His unchanging character. summarized in the Ten Commandments and it declared the holy and just character of God and His expectations for His people.

While the civil and ceremonial laws were restricted to the Nation of Israel, and because of that largely does not have use for the Christian today, the Moral Law has never changed for God’s people. The difference between the Moral Law for the Old Testament people of God and for the New Testament people of God is this: after the ascension of Christ, the Holy Spirit was poured out upon believers, writing the Moral Law upon our hearts. We understand the perfect righteous demands of the Law were fulfilled in and through Christ. The Moral Law is now written on the internal tablets of human hearts, as opposed to the external tablets of stone. Yet the fact that the Holy Spirit has written the Moral Law upon our hearts does not absolve us from the responsibility to study it and use it.

HOW TO RIGHTLY UNDERSTAND THE TEN COMMANDMENTS:

The ninety ninth question of the Westminster Larger Catechism deals with this issue. The eight principles it lays out are wonderful, but they can be a bit intimidating in the old and high language of the Puritans, so I’ll try to break it down and unpack them into modern times:

Principle #1: That the Law demands perfect, perpetual and personal obedience with the whole man. The Bible teaches that “the Law of God is perfect[vi] and “whosoever shall keep the whole law and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all.”[vii] The LORD Jesus taught that in God’s eyes anger at a brother makes one just as guilty before God as actual murder, when He said, “anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell…”[viii] Then he equated lust with actual adultery in the heart, “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.[ix]

Principle #2: That the Law is spiritual.[x] “Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment.[xi] Therefore it demands conformity of the whole person including body, mind, including the reason, the imagination, affections, will, words, behaviors, as well as the spirit.

Principle #3: That there is some overlap in the commandments. A thing may be required or forbidden in several commandments, but in different respects. For example, the tenth commandment forbids covetousness, and this as Scripture tells us is included as a form of idolatry which is forbidden in the second commandment.[xii]

Principle #4: That if a duty is required by a commandment, the contrary sin is forbidden. For example, the fourth commandment requires the duty of “remember the Sabbath” and in Isaiah we read of the implied sin forbidden: “not doing thine own ways, nor finding thine own pleasure, nor speaking thine own words…”[xiii] Also, if a sin is forbidden by a commandment, the contrary duty is required. For example, the first commandment forbids the sin of having any other God’s besides the LORD. Jesus gives us the implied duty which it requires: “Thou shalt worship the LORD thy God and Him only shalt thou serve.[xiv] Also where a promise is given, the contrary threatening is implied, and vice versa.

Principle #5: That what God forbids is at no time to be done; and what he commands, is always our duty. This is plain. As Moses said, “And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today? Only be careful, and watch yourselves closely so that you do not forget the things your eyes have seen or let them slip from your heart as long as you live. Teach them to your children and to their children after them.”[xv]  And yet every particular duty is not to be done at all times. This is not so obvious. Jesus demonstrated this principle regarding the duty required in the fourth commandment when he rebuked the Pharisees who had accused him of breaking the Sabbath. His hungry disciples picked grain and ate it as they walked through the fields. He said, If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”[xvi]

Principle #6: The sixth principle is quite unpopular. It states that if one sin or duty is forbidden or required, then all of the same kinds of sins or duties are forbidden or required; together with all the causes, means, occasions, and appearances thereof, and provocations thereunto. It’s unpopular because it strikes at the core of our impure heart’s desire to evade the duties or sidestep the prohibitions.

For example, the 5th Commandment requires the duty of honoring our parents – and that’s exactly what the Pharisees did – well, at least in their minds. They thought that because they were good at honoring them with their words, and obeying them as children, and rising in their presence that they were keeping the 5th Commandment.

All of those things are certainly required, but what about when it came to sacrificing time, energy and financially to care for them in their old age? They did not do so well. Instead they found a way to sidestep this duty, a loophole of sorts, similar to tax evasion. They could donate their estates to the Temple treasury, making it “devoted to the LORD” legally when they die.[xvii] So in their minds when their aging parents asked for help financially, they would refuse to help them saying: ‘Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God.’

For this reason Jesus harshly rebuked them: “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:  “‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.’”[xviii]

According to Jesus, if we try to get by with a minimum degree of obedience, we like the Pharisees, may be honoring him with our lips, while our hearts are far from Him. The Law demands wholehearted obedience.

Principle #7: That if God forbids or commands something for us as individuals, not only should we ourselves obey, but we also ought to do whatever we can (according to where God has placed us) to make sure that they are obeyed by others. For example, in the fourth commandment when God said to the fathers that “neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, your manservant, nor your maid-servant, nor your cattle, nor the stranger that is within your gates” it implies that the man is to do what he can to ensure obedience in those he is responsible for. We see this implied in what Joshua said, when he was speaking to the Israelites about choosing whom to serve: “As for me and my house” he did not leave it simply at “as for me.”

What does this mean for our dealings with those outside of our family? According to Jesus’ parable of the good Samaritan we are our neighbor’s keepers.  This was not a new invention. That’s why when God was giving the instructions to Israel, He said, “Thou shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart: thou shalt in any wise rebuke thy neighbour, and not suffer sin upon him.”[xix] It is always our duty to seek not only reconciliation, but also righteousness in so far as we are lovingly able to with our neighbor. After all, righteousness is the only path to true blessing, and that is what we are to desire for our neighbor. Are we too comfortable, or too cowardly to do this? Are we too apathetic?

Principle #8: That when something is commanded to others, we ought as we are able to help them. The Bible says, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”[xx] And also, when something is forbidden to others, we ought not to partake with them in what is forbidden them. The Bible says, “neither be partakers of other man’s sins; keep thyself pure.”[xxi]

And “Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them. For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret.”[xxii] A classic example of the latter is the “receiving of stolen goods.” We know that if something stolen is offered to us, we should not receive it. Just as if we see our brother falling into temptation we should do what we can to help him. “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”[xxiii]

My goal is to write a series of essays presenting a right understanding of God’s commandments, and touching on the uses and the application of the specific commandments for the believer today. It is my prayer that God would stimulate in myself and others further meditation, prayer according to God’s will, and true obedience, and in so doing a greater conformity to, and closer communion with God in Christ.

Coming up next week….The Tenth Commandment.

[i] Psalm 19:7 NAS

[ii] John 14:21 NAS

[iii] Matthew 5:48 NAS

[iv] Matthew 5:19 NIV

[v] Psalm 1:1-3 NAS

[vi] Psalm 19:7 KJV

[vii] James 2:10 KJV

Viii Matthew 5:21NIV

[ix] Matthew 5:28NIV

[x] Romans 7:14KJV

[xi] Matthew 22:37NIV

[xii] Colossians 3:5 KJV

[xiii] Isaiah 58:13 KJV

[xiv] Matthew 4:10 KJV

[xv] Deuteronomy 4:8-9NIV

[xvi] Matthew 12:7 NIV

[xvii] Matthew Henry’s Commentary, Leslie F. Church, Ed (Grand Rapids: Zondervan; 1961), 1279.

[xviii] Matthew 15:1-9 NIV

[xix] Leviticus 19:17KJV

[xx] Hebrews 10:24-25 NIV

[xxi] 1 Tim 5:22 KJV

[xxii] Eph 5:11 NIV

[xxiii] Gal 6:1-2 NIV

About Gary Stiltner
The LORD Jesus is the foundation, focus and purpose of my life. My God has truly blessed me, and done great things for me! I am loved by a wonderful wife, Elisabeth, and we have four beautiful children. Even though I'm a very sinful and weak person, His blood has washed me whiter than snow, and his love has made me filled with eternal happiness! I want to share His grace and truth with every person I that come into contact with. I received my BS (Molecular Biology) at Louisiana Tech University, and my M.Div at RTS in Charlotte, NC. I've had the privilege of serving as an outreach and evangelism pastor, a church planter and now as a teacher. I teach worldviews and apologetics, chemistry and physics to high school seniors. I also enjoy preaching at various churches as the LORD gives opportunity.

One Response to God’s Law for Believers Today

  1. Daniel Ray says:

    Thank you for bringing what has been lacking in much conversation about the Law. I am really looking forward to this series.

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