"Similarly, some look at the standards God set forth in the Bible as obstacles that prevent us from enjoying life. However, the boundaries God places actually protect us from our worst inclinations and foster healthy responses to Him."We cannot be saved by the works of God's moral law. We can only be saved by turning from sin and turning to Christ, that is, repent and believe in God's only Son to give us forgiveness of sin, new life, freedom from sin, death, and the devil. (Romans 3:21-28)
But, we Lutherans believe that the moral law--summarized in the ten commandments and underscored and explained throughout both the Old and New Testaments--has not been done away with by God and that it cannot be abolished by human beings. (See, for example, Matthew 5:17-19, part of Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, in which He expounds on the intent of God's moral law and calls for His followers to abide by a more stringent righteousness than we see in the ten commandments.)
The moral law, sometimes called the Mosaic Law, named for Moses, who brought the commandments to the world from Mount Sinai, has three ongoing uses in today's world:
- 1. As a hedge on the sins of those who do not know Jesus Christ. That's because God's law is written on every human heart and acts as the unacknowledged standard for every notion of ultimate right and wrong that exists in the world. (See Romans 2:15-16, in which the apostle Paul talks about the effect of God's law on "Gentile unbelievers.")
- 2. As a mirror held up to us, by which we see our common need of forgiveness for sin and that forgiveness that can only come from Jesus Christ. (The passage cited above also gets into this second use of God's Law.)
- 3. As a guide for those who, having come to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ, seek to live in ways that are pleasing to God and that, God has revealed, is best for human living.
God is love, as 1 John tells us. But love is not indulgence. A parent will warn a child to look both ways before crossing the street, the child feeling that she or he is being restricted, when, in fact, the parent wants their child to live and be free from harm.
God wants to set us free of those toxic ways of life and thinking that will, if not cleansed by the forgiveness and love of Christ--the way He cleansed the temple in Jerusalem--will first, poison, and then destroy our relationships with God and with others, leaving us all in exile far from God and others.
That, by the way, is what hell is about, not the reunion place of people who knew how to have a good time, but as an island of isolation and continuing evil far from God.
This is why Peter reminds Christians: "As servants of God, live as free people, yet do not use your freedom as a pretext for evil" (1 Peter 2:16). The apostle is commending the third use of God's law. "You won't be saved by the moral law," he's saying. "But if you use your forgiveness as a license to do whatever you want, you will be walking away from Christ, from life with God." This is exactly why Martin Luther said that we Christians need to walk in daily repentance and renewal, to prevent the devil, the world, or our sinful selves from taking control of our lives.
King David has this third use of the law, as a guide for those wanting to stay in course in following the God you and I know through Jesus, when he wrote: "Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. See if there is any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting" (Psalm 139:23-24).
Thank God, we are saved "by grace...through faith...in Christ" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Thank God that He gives us His moral law to guide and prompt us to the foot of Jesus' cross, where forgiveness and new life can be found.