A Few More Thoughts on the Law

Since I am an Old Testament PhD student I like to think about the Law given by Moses.  It is a good thing to wrestle with how the Law applies to Christians today and how we should think about the Law.  Of course we know that we are not saved by the Law, we are saved by Christ, but the Law for many Christians is still a thing of mystery that we just don’t quite seem to understand how it fits with the Gospel.  I have talked about the Law in several other posts, particularly one HERE, arguing that the Law is a grace of God.  I have received several questions lately from church members regarding how the Law should be understood by Christians and providentially heard a lecture series that dealt with aspects of the Law all within a week of each other.  I thought it would be good to give a few more pointers on how a Christian should think about the Law.  Here are few in no particular order:

1. The Law was fulfilled by Christ.  This principal comes from Matthew 5:17-20, and really should be the guiding principal for Christians as we think about the Law.  This passage says several important things.  First, Jesus did not abolish the Law and Prophets but fulfilled them.  Now this needs a little explaining.  The word ‘fulfill’ in this passage comes from the Greek word πληρω which means ‘to make full, to fill up’.  I think it is important to see that this word translated as ‘fulfill’ by the NASB in English is pointing to the fact that Jesus ‘filled up the Law’.  He did not fulfill it in a ‘completed’, ‘it’s over and done’ sense, but rather filled it up with content and that content was Him.  As I have heard used as an illustration, it is as if the Law gave us a cup and Jesus was poured in.  The cup is not the complete picture but when Jesus is poured in now we have the whole picture.  This is why Matthew 5:18 can say that nothing in the Law is passing away until everything is completed at the end of all time.  The Law is still in affect but it has been filled up with Jesus.  Jesus fulfills the Law by living the perfect life for us, He fulfills it by revealing the archetype it was looking forward to, He fulfills it by accomplishing the salvation it hoped for, and He fulfills it in many other ways.  When you think about the Law as a Christian think about how Jesus fills the Law up with content and meaning at each and every particular.

2. The Law was a grace of God.  I have argued this idea HERE in another article, but I wanted to expand on this idea just a bit.  In the article cited above I argued the Law was a grace, first because John calls it that in John 1:16 (Jesus being the grace given on top of the grace of the Law so that John can say ‘grace upon grace’), and second because it gave sinful Israel a way to relate to a Holy God.  In a lecture series at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary I heard Dr. DanielBlock give two lectures on some aspects of the Law.  In his second lecture he showed from Ancient Near East literature that most peoples of the ANE were begging their gods to reveal how they should best serve and relate to their gods.  Israel became the peculiar people because YHWH did reveal to His people how to relate to Him!  It was a blessing that this Holy God would tell the people exactly how He wanted His people to relate to Him.  This was also meant to be the envy of all the other nations.  Thus Israel was to be the city on a hill that God had meant it to be drawing all nations to Himself.  Israel was to draw the nations to a God that pulled no tricks but told his worshippers exactly what He demanded of them.  When you think about the Law think about how it was a grace of God to allow a people to draw near to Him in relationship.

3. The Law teaches us about God’s Holiness.  If it was a grace to reveal to Israel how it should relate to God then the peculiarities of the Law tell us something about God’s character and how He should be worshipped.  This is why Christians can still appeal to verses in the Law to understand God’s Holy demands on humanity. God’s Holiness demands Holy worshippers and the Law was instruction on how to become an acceptable worshipper.  Now some of you are already thinking, “But some of the Law is just weird and I don’t understand why God would demand His people to do certain things.”  That is ok you don’t have to understand why God demands to be worshipped in a certain way.  He gets to define His worship not us.  He is God.  But we should think deeply about the parts of the Law that disturb us and think about what those Laws say about God, what they demand of man, and how Christ filled up even the odd demands of the Law.

4. The Law was meant to distinguish Israel as worshippers of YHWH.  As Israel followed the distinctions of the Law they set themselves apart from the rest of the world.  They did things different and that is what God wanted.  He wanted and still wants his people to be distinct from the world.  As modern evangelicals we have let this principal slide in the name of contextualization in missions, Christian freedom, and thinking that the Law is over and done and has nothing to teach us.  Part of what it teaches us is that God’s people should be different.  We should not accommodate to the culture just because we think something is cool but rather seek to understand how God would have us act first.  When you think about the Law consider how God was distinguishing His people from the world.

5. The Law reveals our sin.  Romans 7:7-8 tells us this.  It shows us all the ways in which we fall short of being a Holy people.  When you read through the Law think about the ways in which it is revealing the very sin nature of humanity.  The law has always demanded a heart that follows God; that can be seen in the many times Deuteronomy talks about the heart.  Maybe the reason the Law is so hard to accept at times is because it is confronting our sin.

6. The Law when followed by faith administered God’s forbearance.  I want to be careful how I say this but I think it is important.  As evangelicals we often ask how people in the Old Testament were saved and I think this is it:  They followed the Law of God by faith (Think Galatians 3:7-9).  Now did the Law save them?  I want to answer with a resounding NO!  But we have to wrestle with the fact that many, many times in Leviticus it says that if the worshipper will fulfill the prescriptions of the Law ‘their sins will be atoned for’ and ‘they will be forgiven’(See Leviticus 4:31, Leviticus 5:10 and many others).  So we have to understand how the Law fits into our understanding of salvation.  I think Romans 3:23-25 and particularly Romans 3:24-25 give us the answer to this perplexing question.  Paul is telling us in this Romans passage that basically God in His forbearance looked over previous sin and in the fullness of time put all sins on Christ.  Again the Law does not save, it was the people’s faith in what God had said at the time that invoked His forbearance of sins until Christ and the Law was a part of that.  It is in Christ only that God dealt with the sins of the world.

I hope these prescriptions in thinking about the Law help you.  At some point I may take up some of the more daunting and perplexing instructions in the Law and see if I can shed a little more light.  If you found this article helpful, or if you have some particulars in the Law that really bug you, I would love to hear from you.

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