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When we think of law, we generally envision a code of regulations designed to suppress antisocial behavior. Such was not the chief intent of the law given to Moses. Just as covenant signaled a personal relationship like that between parent and child, so the law was meant to be the guidance a parent gives to children for their health and welfare. Covenant and law are inseparable. Indeed, the Bible calls the law, as typified by the Ten Commandments, "the book of the covenant" (Exodus 24:7; 2 Kings 23:2, 21). In Hebrew, the word torah, usually translated law, actually means teaching--religious instruction about the responsibilities of covenant life (Jeremiah 6:19; Job 22:21-22; Proverbs 3:1).

God never intended the Jews to view the Mosaic law as a set of rigid, burdensome, and irrelevant rules. The prophets never teach that outward acts, however correctly executed, have any efficacy whatsoever apart from a sincere love for God. As Jesus, Paul, and James noted, the essence of the law was first to love God and then to love one's neighbor (Deuteronomy 11:13-15, 22-23; 15:7-11; Matthew 22:34-40; Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8). Without those loving prerequisites, perfunctory obedience to regulations and rituals was always odious in God's eyes (Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8).

God never intended people to view the Mosaic law as a means of meriting forgiveness. God's favor was the reason for the law's existence rather than a reward for obeying the law. God chose Israel because he loved them for Abraham's sake, not because he expected perfection from them (Deuteronomy 7:7-11). Jews call the Ten Commandments "the Ten Statements," and they consider the first one to be: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery" (Exodus 20:2). All obedience to law is predicated on gratitude and represents a loving response to God's mighty acts of grace and mercy (Deuteronomy 6:20-25).

As it eventually does to all good things, human sinfulness twisted and perverted the law. Jesus clearly taught that he came not to abolish the law but to fulfill or perfect it (Matthew 5:17). Paul also asserts that the law of Moses was holy and good (Romans 3:31; 7:12). What both Jesus and Paul opposed was the misunderstanding and misapplication of the law on the part of religious leaders who substituted ceremony and rituals for personal holiness and adherence to regulations for true religion. When Paul writes, for example, in Ephesians 2:15 that Christ abolished the law, he is referring to the ceremonial law that men had enthroned and that Christ's personal sacrifice rendered obsolete. The moral law, reflecting God's unchanging, loving character, did not change. Obviously, it is the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2) as well as of Moses that we should love God and one another.

As Paul explains in Galatians 3-4, Gentiles (non-Jews) were not included in the Sinai covenant God made with Israel. They benefit, however, from the covenant promises God made to the pre-Mosaic Abraham, and they enjoy peace with God through Christ. Justification through ceremonial law-keeping (circumcision and sacrifice) could never have saved the Gentiles. If it could have, then Christ died for no purpose. But even for the ancient Jews, ritual law-keeping never satisfied the need for grace they felt (Psalms 103:8-11; 51:1-2).

God gave his law to Moses as a gift of mercy. It was not a poorly conceived idea on his part that needed to be rectified later. It was simply the teaching of a prior covenant. Now Christians are under a new covenant. While the old ceremonial law has been replaced, their faithfulness to the moral teaching of scripture remains the barometer of their salvation. If Christians disdain the law of Moses, they have not yet attained to the mind of Christ.


This page contains a single entry from the blog posted on July 2, 2007 4:28 PM.

The previous post in this blog was Covenant.

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