Understanding the law

John 1:17 NIV “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

After the Fall of man, God set the redemption plan in motion in order to bring man back to a place of fellowship with Him. God was going to descend into the realm of humanity to be able to save man from the bondage he sold himself into. This would mean that God had to enter the world through a particular human family, and this family would belong to a certain group of people.

God in His sovereignty decided that His Seed would come through the lineage of Abraham and his descendants. God made a covenant to Abraham and promised that through him the family of the earth shall be blessed. This blessing was about salvation; the rescue of man from the bondage of Satan and reversal of the curses that followed the Fall. The covenant with Abraham was a foretaste of the covenant through which God would bring salvation to mankind.

Then, there was an interjection; what we now refer to as the Old Covenant (Galatians 4:19). The law was the basis of the Old Covenant. The law was an offer to a people who complained about God’s faithfulness and wanted to merit God’s goodness on their own terms. It was the terms of a bilateral covenant between God and the Jewish nation, Israel in the wilderness (Exodus 19:5; Exodus 24:3; Leviticus 26:46; Deuteronomy 5:2; Deuteronomy 29:1; Hebrews 8:9).

The law eventually became a set of 613 requirements that were supposed to regulate almost every aspect of Jewish life; from dietary regulations to sanitary rules, to wardrobe restrictions, social relations, judicial procedures, agricultural guidelines, and so on. Jewish rabbis later grouped those for pedagogic reasons under three categories: Commandments – the Moral law; Judgments – the Civil/Social law, and Ordinances/Statutes – the laws governing Ceremonial rituals. However, the whole list of requirements in the law was not sorted or separated into parts, but mixed up together to make up the body of one indivisible unit.

Some have tried to differentiate the law of Moses from the law of God, suggesting, for example, that the Ten Commandments made up the law of God that reflects His moral character and has not been done away with, while the law of Moses was made up of all the other laws given by Moses, with blessings and curses attached to it. They say it is this aspect of the law that was done away with by the finished work of Christ. The problem is that even the Ten is further modified to nine by those people, because they say Sabbath is no longer applicable. But is this true? Do we have the right to break the law down into bits and cherry-pick what we think we can keep from the fragments? This is an impracticable separation to make. In the book of Luke, chapter two, which talks about the dedication of Jesus, the Bible says He was brought to the Temple according to the law of Moses. The passage later interchangeably refers to the same thing as the law of God (Luke 2:22-24).

In Romans 7, when Paul was lamenting about the impossibility of the law and its inability to motivate righteousness, he was specifically referring to the Ten Commandments. It was in the Ten that it was written “You shall not covet.” We cannot live up to the Ten Commandments, even using the interpretation of them by Jesus. For example, He defined adultery as looking, and murder as getting angry with your brother.

In addition, in 2 Corinthians 3, where Paul referred to the law as the ministry of death and condemnation, he was specifically talking about the Ten Commandment, because that was only the aspect of the law that was engraved on stones.

The law is an all-or-nothing system – if you fail one, you have failed all, and you will earn the harsh consequences thereof (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10; James 2:10). Even God Himself knew it was impossible for man to keep the law. The purpose of the law, according to Paul’s writing, is to shut every mouth (Romans 3:19b) and bring man to plead, “guilty as charged!”

The law in itself is good (Romans 7:12) and it has its place (Galatians 3:24), but it is not for the righteous (1 Timothy 1:8-9). The law reveals sin in man and exposes man’s inability to meet the righteous standard of God.

For us today as Christians, the law as a whole has been fulfilled, abolished, nailed to the Cross, and replaced by Jesus. In Part 2 of this article, we shall consider the relationship between the law and the believer.

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