The Law And The Gospel
We live in a day and age where people say, “rules are meant to be broken.” We love our independence and frown on the fact that we are under a perfect Lawgiver. No matter how independent we consider ourselves, as creatures of an awesome Creator, we are accountable to Him. The Bible does not try to prove His existence, but boldly declares that, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). We are not only created by Him, but we have been created in His image. If only we paused and thought about this truth deeply! We as mankind are unique and different from the animal world. We have been made to have dominion over the other creatures of this planet. Mankind has an incredible ability to think, reason, and even act as moral beings (Gen. 1:26-27).
Even though the Law of Moses was given in the book of Exodus, we know from verses like Romans 2:14-15 that, “the works of the law are written on man’s heart”. So, Adam, Eve and every person who lived before the Law of Moses was accountable to the righteous Creator. As one theologian said, “Would it have been wrong for Adam to have cut down the Tree and make a bat to kill Eve with?”1 When Adam and Eve disobeyed by eating of the forbidden fruit, they failed to trust God’s word and therefore to love God above all else. So, we can say that our first parents broke the eternal and moral law of God which was written upon their hearts even though they did not have the ten commandments in their hands. The sad reality is that from that day onwards we have lost all ability in ourselves to obey and fulfil God’s law and gain eternal life (Rom. 8:6-8).
Did God lower His standard of perfection just because sin entered the world? No! Certainly not. We see that God visited the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah in judgement (Gen. 18) and also the entire human race when He sent the great flood during the time of Noah (Gen. 6, 7). We can safely say that even before the Law of Moses was given, God judged His creatures by the eternal, moral law that flows from His perfectly righteous character. The ten commandments are a wonderful expression of His just character. During the time of Moses and the covenant with Israel, God gave many additional laws to Israel. One of the main reasons for giving so many commandments was to let Israel know how holy God is and also how impossible it is to fulfil the law in their own strength as a covenant of works (Rom. 3:20). Israel did say that they would fulfil all these covenant stipulations and be blessed by keeping the land (Deut. 27-29), but their history in the Old Testament clearly shows how terribly and often they failed. God’s patience finally ended and they were exiled from the land because of unfaithfulness to the covenant (Dan. 1:1-2).
The story of mankind would remain a tragedy had not the Lawgiver Himself made a way for us. Mankind like Israel will never be able to inherit eternal life with God because of our inability to obey God perfectly (Rom. 8:3). But praise be to God for Christ our horn of salvation! The incarnation of the Lord Jesus is the dawning of hope itself! It is very interesting to note how Jesus talked to religious, self-righteous people. To Nicodemus, he said, “You must be born again”. In other words, all your religious activities mean nothing, as God must give new life from above. He even spoke to a lawyer in Luke 10:25-28 who was asking about inheriting eternal life. Jesus took him to the Law and later said, “do this and live”. The Lord Jesus knew fully well that he could not do it and so could not inherit eternal life by himself (Gal. 2:21). So, He definitely used the Law to expose the man’s lack of righteousness. The real Law keeper and Saviour was pressing the lawyer to acknowledge his inability and trust in Jesus who is the hope and fulfilment of all God’s promises.
Our Sovereign God in His free grace from eternity past had given a redeemed people to His Son (Jn. 17:6). The Son had agreed to obey the Father’s will (Heb. 10:5-7). He had agreed to come in the fullness of time as the perfect mediator for His people (1 Tim. 2:5). The one who is the Eternal Word of the Father (Jn. 1:1), and the unique Son of God who is equal to God took on human flesh for us (Phil. 2, Jn. 1:14). He came to obey and fulfil all righteousness (Matt. 3:15). He was tempted at all points and yet without sin (Heb. 4:15). He submitted Himself to the plan of God and became for us our great Passover lamb (1 Cor. 5:7). He became sin who knew no sin that we would become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21). He became our wrath absorbing sacrifice, so that we can have the forgiveness of sins by His work on our behalf. He has become our sufficiency and our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:29-31). The coming of Christ has brought us from the shadows and ceremonies of the Mosaic covenant to all the realities they were pointing to (Col. 2:16-17). We have been brought into such an enlarged freedom from all the ceremonies, feasts and Old Covenant civil laws (Gal. 4:1-7). But, the most wonderful freedom is from the curse of the law that was going to sentence us to hell (Gal. 3:13-14).
Does this mean that the believer living under the New Covenant is freed also from any obligation to the eternal, moral law that flows from God’s righteous character? Certainly not! The very verses promising the New Covenant give us clarity in Jeremiah 31:33-34:
“For this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days,” declares the Lord: “I will put My law within them and write it on their heart; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. They will not teach again, each one his neighbour and each one his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they will all know Me, from the least of them to the greatest of them,” declares the Lord, “for I will forgive their wrongdoing, and their sin I will no longer remember.”
The law has become our delight now by the work of the Spirit in our hearts. The great secret of loving God and loving our neighbour as ourselves is a precious reality now in the believer’s life (Jn. 14:15). When we walk by the Spirit in love, we begin to walk according to the righteous precepts of God. For example, because the believer loves God, he would hate to take His name in vain. Or because the believer loves others, she will hate to steal from her neighbour because that will cause loss to someone she loves. And so, walking in love by the power of the Holy Spirit fulfils the law in the believer’s life (Gal. 4:14, Rom. 12:8-10).
The sense in which this takes place is very important. The believer is not under the Law as an arrangement of works to gain a standing before God. But, the believer is in grateful love with God’s law and desires to walk in it as it is a guide for his or her life. Although the believer will not be able to love God and man perfectly in this life, in Christ, every growing step is a delight to the Heavenly Father. Let us continually rejoice that:
“[we] have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind, and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words, which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they could not cope with the command, “If even an animal touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, “I am terrified and trembling.” But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.” (Hebrews 12:18-24)
1 Nick Batzig, https://feedingonchrist.org/understanding-the-law-and-its-uses/