The Law is Good (2)
For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all. James 2.10
Laws and the Law
In the Scriptures, various terms are used to refer to the Law of God. The Scriptures speak of the Law as precepts, rules, testimonies, statutes, ways, judgments, commandments, and word. We see this especially in Psalm 119, that remarkable poem of celebration and devotion to God and His Law. These different words suggest the many nuances of the Law, and they remind us that the one Law of God is made up of various categories of law, and those categories are made up of many specific instructions.
The Law of God is a tapestry of many threads, and all the threads, woven together in unity, contribute to the picture of divine goodness which the Law consistently presents.
The apostle James bears witness to the unity of God’s Law. Because unity is a central feature of the goodness of God, we expect God’s good Law to demonstrate unity as well.
So strong is the unity of God’s Law that, as James explains, to violate one of the commandments of God is to violate them all. When we covet, we don’t just covet. We want to possess something for our own happiness that belongs to someone else, so we have stolen from that neighbor, if only in our heart. When we covet, we look to something other than God to satisfy our soul. We make an idol out of a thing. We lie to ourselves about what we really need, and we stoke the fires of lust, which is the beginning of adultery. Coveting is the gateway to all sin, since when we covet, we turn our heart from the pure desire of God and His will to our own selfish interests. Coveting is thus an assault on all the commandments of God; the same is true when we lie, steal, lust, take the Lord’s Name in vain, or transgress against His Day.
The Law of God is one Law, since it comes from one God, with the sole purpose of directing our steps in love for God and our neighbors.
Categories of Law
The essence of the Law of God is the Ten Commandments. These are to the rest of God’s Law as the United States Constitution is to the laws of the various States, and all local and case laws of every kind. The Ten Commandments define the parameters of what is required in loving God and our neighbors (Matt. 22.34-40). They encode the spiritual DNA of God in ten concise words, and they give shape and direction to our understanding of all subsequent Biblical law.
Two categories of laws, precepts, judgments, and so forth further elaborate the Ten Commandments and teach us how to carry out the requirements of God’s love. First are the ceremonial or religious laws. These relate specifically to Israel’s practice of worshiping God. They provide details concerning the duties of priests and Levites, the various kinds of sacrifices God required, and certain other religious practices – feasts, offerings, things devoted to God, and the like – by which the people of Israel reinforced their memory of the grace and mercy of God and expressed their devotion and obedience to Him.
All these ceremonial laws have found their fulfillment in the life, death, and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the witness of the writer of Hebrews (chapters 7-9). Since Christ is our great High Priest, has replaced the Tabernacle and Temple with His own Body, and is the final, once-for-all sacrifice and offering for sin, there is no longer any need for the ceremonial laws of the Old Covenant. To be sure, Christ has introduced ceremonial laws of His own, which in many ways fulfill the purpose of Old Testament ceremonial laws, which was to point to Christ and His redeeming work. I’m thinking here of baptism and the Lord’s Supper, in particular. Further, just because the Old Covenant ceremonial laws have been set aside does not mean they do not yet hold principles from which we can draw in our worship and service to God. Paul makes this abundantly clear in 1 Corinthians 9.12-14.
A second category of Old Testament law remains valid as a source of guidance in loving God and our neighbors. These are the many civil laws, often stated in terms of case laws, that guided the everyday lives of the people of Israel in all their relationships, roles, and responsibilities. Not all these laws remain valid, and we do not expect to interpret these laws exactly as the people of Israel did. Subsequent sections of the Old Testament, together with the practice and teaching of Christ and the apostles, and the teaching work of the Holy Spirit, help us to understand the use we are to make of these statutes, precepts, judgments, and so forth. The body of Old Testament civil law holds many valuable and important principles to guide us in discovering and practicing the goodness of God in the land of the living.
Goodness in unity
The importance of the unity of God’s Law can be seen in the differing uses of the Law that Satan and the Lord Jesus demonstrated during our Lord’s temptation (Matt. 4.1-11). Satan tried to “cherry-pick” the Law to suit his own wicked purposes, latching on to a statute here and a testimony there to try to make Jesus, the Giver of divine Law, serve the devil’s wicked ends. Jesus, however, appealing to a fuller understanding and more complete use of the Law, refuted the devil and sent him packing.
The Law of God is one Law, one body of divine revelation that holds together with complete integrity. It is a tapestry of divine goodness. The Law guides us in learning the good works of love that we have been redeemed to know and live (Eph. 2.10). It ill behooves us to neglect the Law; rather, we must become so rooted beside its flowing and life-giving stream (Ps. 1), that its goodness shines in us as the righteousness and life of our Lord Jesus Christ, Who is Himself the end and objective toward which all the Law leads (Rom. 10.4), and the very embodiment of all the goodness of God.
1. Meditate on Psalm 1. Why do you think Christians don’t spend much time reading and meditating in God’s Law?
2. That the Law of God has a basic unity suggests that we cannot benefit from any of the Law unless we have a growing understanding of it all. Explain.
3. What would you suggest as a reasonable approach to becoming more knowledgeable of and familiar with the Law of God?
Next steps – Preparation: Find some way to fulfill what Psalm 1.1, 2 indicates should be our practice concerning the Law of God. Begin meditating daily on this holy and righteous and good Law.
T. M. Moore
Why is the Law so important? How can we understand it? What use does it have in our daily lives? These questions and more are addressed in our brief book, The Ground for Christian Ethics. This could be the most important book you’ll read this year. Order your copy by clicking here. Order several copies, and read and discuss it with some friends.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.