Grace, faith and law. Law is mentioned 29 times, faith 21 times, and grace 7 times. Grace and law are not complete opposites; God has always been gracious and there will be “law” in heaven.
What is the “Law”? a. Narrowest meaning: Ten Commandments (the “2 tables” were duplicates, not 2 parts of Decalog). b. The Pentateuch: Five books of Moses. c. The entire Old Testament (Prophets “laid down the law” as well as predicted). d. ALL law; the Torah. e. “Natural Law”; conscience. Moral function of the soul. The mind “knows” right from wrong; misdoer has a “feeling” of guilt. f. A principle, or rule, either good or bad.
Sometimes the “law” of Moses is divided into Ceremonial, Civil, and Moral. This is a convenient distinction, but the 3 are inseparable. Paul meant all three when he said we are not “under” law (5:19). We disobey Second Commandment (images), 4th (Sabbath Day, 6, 7 (transgressors were stoned). Civil laws (hygiene) were enforced by priests.
What was the purpose of the Law? 1. Theoretically, if a person kept it perfectly (which was an absolute impossibility) he would “live”. Christ did, under “impossible” conditions (compare His temptation to Adam’s trial). It is important to note that Christ lived and died “under the Law”; the Old Testament lasted until Pentecost! 2. To codify right from wrong. While all men have a conscience, it can be hardened so that almost nothing is “wrong”. Abraham was polygamous. Israelites took 2 eyes for 1, and abandoned wives without divorcing. (Rms 7:13) 3. As a restraint upon sin, for people lacking the inner motivation of the Holy Spirit, who did not indwell men until Pentecost. (Gal 3:23-25) In the case of the Israelites, these rules reached right down to items of diet, personal cleanliness, sensible farming. Much of this makes good sense today; some is obsolete because of refrigeration, modern medicine, etc. 4. As a pattern by which believers could demonstrate their faith. This was especially true of the ceremonial laws, which pictured Christ and salvation. It was also true, say , of Sabbath-observance; this was a good “civil” law (rest) but it was also a sign of being God’s people. (Eek 20:12) We obey God’s laws today not to show our faith, but as an automatic result of having faith. Nobody, even the most righteous, came anywhere near perfection; but it was the attitude, spirit, effort, “heart” that God looked at. David – “man after God’s own heart.” (I Kings 14:8 – “kept my commandments”.) John 17:6 “…they have obeyed your word.” All failed badly, but were facing right direction. Not a matter of degree, but basic attitude.
Punishment of sin in the Old Testament. The penalties were severe because of Point 3 (see above), and disobedience was treason (a capital offense today). The disobedient “cut themselves off”, willfully. Death kept them from adding crimes. Physical death did not imply spiritual (we all die). Christ had not atoned for the “sin of the world”. The fewness of the faithful required stern measures, much like rules regulating a nursery, or laws regarding “endangered species”.
How are we “free” from the Law? 1. Obviously, the “ceremonial” elements are obsolete; why bother with pictures when you have the real thing? (There is nothing wrong with keeping some pictures; Paul circumcised Timothy. We use many “pictures” in the New Testament, but they easily become images!) Error comes when ceremonies become compulsory, even Sabbath-keeping. 2. In the New Testament, God’s law is written on the heart (Hebs 8:8-12). A Christian KNOWS God’s will, wants to do it, and is ABLE (through Christ) to keep it. Christ did not keep law perfectly for us, finished. Continues to do so (“Active obedience”); the new man does so perfectly. The soul has right attitude, despite faults. (see point 4 above) 3. The Old Testament laws have no application, per se, to the Christian. The whole Old Testament was inspired (in some ways “more” than the New Testament); it is valuable for example (I Cor 10:11) and for illumination (for example, Jesus as the “Lamb of God”). Caution: The Old Testament really begins with Exodus; Genesis is introduced like Gospels are to the New. So, capital punishment (Gen 9:6) is in force today! Not abrogated. 4 Unbelievers are still under law (I Tim 1:8-10); have it written on their conscience (Rms 2); will be judged by their failure to keep it. 5. The Law is a poor teacher of sin, by itself. It only aggravates sin and the sinner (Rms 7:7-13) The “pedagog” in Gal 3:24 did not do any teaching. The Christian knows sin better and hates it more than any non-Christian (I Tim 1:15). 6. Insistence on keeping the Old Testament law leads to self-righteousness (think of the rich young ruler). The Old Testament law is simple compared to the expectations of the New. (Read Matt 5-7; Gal 5:13-6:10; Eph 4:17-6:20; Col 2:20-4:6)