Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What is "the Law"?

A few weeks ago, our congregation began reading the Bible together, three chapters or so every day. In this way, we'll read all sixty-six books in a year's time. Each Wednesday at two different times, one in the morning and the other in the evening, we get together to discuss the readings from the previous week. We had our second morning session earlier today. The discussion was animated and interesting.

One person asked what was meant by "the Law" when speaking of the Bible.

This was a great question since in the early books of the Old Testament, there are all sorts of laws or commandments laid down by God for the descendants of Abraham, God's chosen people, the Israelites. (AKA: Hebrews)

In the Old Testament, three kinds of laws can be identified:
(1) Civic or civil law
(2) Ritual law
(3) Moral law
The first category refers to what we usually mean when we talk about the law in everyday conversation. Civic or civil law governs how society functions socially and politically. The civic or civil law of Old Testament times is no longer relevant because we don't live in a theocratic society as the ancient Hebrews did.

Ritual law or sacrificial law dealt with all the regulations surrounding the offering of sacrifices for reconciliation with God which ultimately was centered on the Temple in Jerusalem. It incorporated dietary rules and things like circumcision, all designed simply to set apart the Hebrews behaviorally and physically from those who did not follow Yahweh, their Lord. (The term holy means set apart.)

These laws are no longer needed because, as the New Testament book of Hebrews reminds us, "it is by God’s will that we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all" (Hebrews 10:10). This is what John the Baptist was talking about when He saw Jesus and said, “Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). The ultimate sacrifice for sin has been made in Jesus Christ, Who took all of humanity's sins to the cross. His sacrifice renders further sacrifice unnecessary, along with all ritual laws associated with ritual sacrifice. God confirmed this for Peter when He revealed that, after Jesus' death and resurrection, all foods are clean.

The moral law encompasses the Ten Commandments and the explications and explanations of it found in both the Old and New Testaments. The moral law tells us God's will for human beings for all time. It's what Jesus referred to when He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever 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 does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:17-19).

God's law cannot save us from sin and death above all, because none of us is capable of keeping it perfectly. Salvation from sin and death only comes to those who repent (turn from sin and turn to Christ) and believe in Christ.

But the law reflects God's will for us, shows us our need for repentance, and reveals why Jesus, Himself innocent of sin, had to become the perfect sacrifice for our sin. (If a sinless man dies because of our sin, it shows you what a serious matter sin really is.)

The uses of the Law will be the subject of another post.

1 comment:

Jesse Harmon said...

You had another sermon a while back on this same subject, or something similar. I can't find it though.

You directed it to me, but I can't remember where it was.